X-Men: Apocalypse Review: Super-meh


Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Simon Kinberg

Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac

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Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 144 minutes


3/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The weak villain.

Halfway through the ninth X-Men franchise installment, X-Men: Apocalypse, four characters walk out of a cinema having just seen Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. One character discusses the A New Hope‘s ground-breaking aura. Another praises The Empire Strikes Back‘s darkness and complexity. Finally, another snarkily retorts: “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst”. Although a throwaway jab at X-Men 3: The Last Stand, the line perfectly sums up my feelings about this latest entry. Sorry Apocalypse, you shot yourself in the foot.

This series, kicking off back in 2000, set the bar for action-adventure storytelling and superhero cinema with a modest and mature first installment. Since then, the genre has launched into the x-men-6-2bc1b619-fbb6-4faf-9a71-45464932d131stratosphere. The franchise has been on a rollercoaster ride of stellar (X-Men 2), unique (The Wolverine), and terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) entries. Following up the kooky X-Men: First Class and exhilarating X-Men: Days of Future Past, Apocalypse dives into the 1980s’ brightly coloured, discomforting void. The world has grown weary of mutantkind, with the events of Days of Future Past now
etched into modern history. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has built his college for gifted students in Westchester County, New York. Meanwhile, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) learns of old frenemy Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto(Michael Fassbender)’s return to the war between them and humanity.

That synopsis barely scratches the surface regarding Apocalypse‘s multitude of plot-threads and character arcs. All-powerful being En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), inadvertently awoken by CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert(Rose Byrne)’s activities, gathers his ‘Four Horsemen’ – Lehnsherr, Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy), and Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn) – to help obliterate the world. Earth-shattering events draw Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Michael-Fassbender-X-Men-Apocalypse-TrailerTill), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into the battle.

Sadly, X-Men: Apocalypse pales in comparison to trend-setters Days of Future Past and Captain America: Civil War. The movie cherry-picks plot-strands, sociopolitical messages, emotional moments, and memorable sequences directly from earlier X-Men flicks. The overall narrative (end of the world, blah blah blah) is lifted from countless blockbusters before it. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, Days of Future Past) and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, once again, explore Xavier and Lehnsherr’s push-me, pull-you dynamic, Raven’s wavering allegiances, William Stryker(Josh Helman)’s shady dealings, new mutants brought into Xavier’s school, and recurring characters making googly eyes at one another. It’s not bad, just too familiar. In fairness, thin sub-plots including Lehnsherr’s Polish family life torn asunder and younger maxresdefault (1)mutants becoming friends make for several interesting patches.

At an exhaustive 144 minutes, Apocalypse feels overstuffed, underdeveloped, inconsequential and bloated simultaneously. The nihilistic worldview, washed-out colour palette and dreary atmosphere permeate. Worse still, Despite the terrific Quicksilver, nuclear warhead, and Auschwitz set-pieces, the third act becomes a mind-numbing blend of mutant powers and cataclysmic destruction. For all the bluster of exotic locations, pretty performers, Logan/Wolverine(Hugh Jackman) cameos, and millions of dollars, the movie crumbles thanks to its titular villain. After a blistering opening sequence, depicting Apocalypse’s Ancient Egyptian origins, the character is given nothing but cheesy dialogue and vaguely defined abilities. Isaac, one of Hollywood’s most promising talents, is stranded under layers of costuming, prosthetic make-up, and voice modulation.

The low-three-star Apocalypse survives primarily on its cast’s enthusiasm and inherent charisma. Pulling themselves through silly dialogue, McAvoy and Fassbender are compelling leading men. Imbuing Xavier and Magneto with warmth, both thespians treat the material with respect. Dodging the Mystique maxresdefaultmakeup at every turn, Lawrence brings her deer-in-headlights/contractual-obligation facial expression to an underwritten character. Fortunately, Hoult, Peters, Smit-McPhee, Sheridan, and Tuner get just enough screen time to develop chemistry and lasting impact. However, Munn, Shipp and Hardy barely register in glorified henchman roles.

Despite going through sequels, prequels, and reboots, the X-Men franchise needs yet another shake-up. X-Men: Apocalypse, like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, just cannot compete against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Less really is more, and Deadpool is starting to look a lot better.

Verdict: A middling, overstuffed superhero flick.

Bad Neighbours 2 Review: On the Fence


Director: Nicholas Stoller

Writers: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Stars: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz

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Release date: May 20th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Zac Efron.

Worst part: Chloë Grace Moretz.

Comedy-sequels are like Australian Prime Ministers – there is plenty of them, but most of them are completely forgettable and ultimately disposable. For every 22 Jump Street-sized slice of wacky, self-aware genius, we get 50 Zoolander 2/Horrible Bosses 2-level disasters. Certainly, Bad Neighbours 2, or the poorly titled Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising, is far from the worst comedy-sequel Hollywood has pumped out recently. However, it’s still a cynical and mindless distraction unlikely to test the brain cells.bad-neighbours-2-image-1

Bad Neighbours 2 kicks off with married couple Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) in a blissful haze after the birth of their first child. Despite their friendly nature, the pair struggle to act responsibly around their young daughter Stella. On top of expecting their second child, Mac and Kelly must also comprehend the 30-day escrow set prior to selling their old home and moving into their new McMansion. Predictably, newly established sorority Kappa Nu – led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) – moves in next door. Before long, with arch nemesis Teddy(Zac Efron)’s help, Kappa Nu becomes a hard-partying cacophony of post-teen chicks.

My review of Bad Neighbours 2 could best be summed up by replicating my write-up of Bad Neighbours. In true comedy-sequel fashion, this instalment hurriedly turns into a spineless remake of the original. Granted, the 2014 surprise hit showcased the extraordinary talents of its underrated cast and crew. It also provided an enjoyable mix of gross-out gags, fun characters, and thoughtful themes. This time around, director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek) and the 5 credited screenwriters broadly duplicate every plot point, character type, and running gag from the first. Of course, neighbors_2Mac and Kelly unite with married friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) to drive the sorority out of the neighborhood. This time, however, they team up with Teddy after the sorority turns against him. So that’s…something.

This installment had the potential to be worth more than just the sum of its parts. With such a talented acting, writing, and directing ensemble, the comedic moments should have put it several notches above most comedy-sequels. However, in reaching backwards too often, the comedy is disappointingly hit and miss. Oddly enough, the quick-fire mix of gross-out humor and light-hearted character moments works effectively despite its lame slapstick gags. The sequel also fails to invest in its views on gender equality, age and social status. The women are depicted favourably for feats like becoming mothers, creating the first sorority able to throw parties etc. Simultaneously, the men – including Efron’s character – are seen as too old, square, and ‘rapey’ to function. Although intriguing, the movie continually hammers the same points without quit.

Bad Neighbours 2 relies on its esteemed cast’s charisma and sharp comedic timing. Rogen, surprising effecting in Steve Jobs last year, proves he’s still a charming leading man. Byrne, known for a vast array of drama and comedy performances, once again proves her ability to adapt to any role and genre. Efron is the stand out performer here, providing a mix of arrogance and sympathy to elevate an otherwise wacky screen-shot-2016-01-19-at-60519-pmcharacter. For anyone interested, there is a whole section devoted to his impressive muscular figure. Sadly, Moretz quickly becomes an annoying, whiny presence in what should have been an intriguing role. Like with the original, small turns from Barinholtz, Gallo, Lisa Kudrow, Dave Franco, and Hannibal Buress deliver big laughs.

Bad Neighbours 2, although a slight cut above most comedy-sequels, still resembles a haphazard attempt at capturing lightning in a bottle. Despite a top-notch cast at its peak, the hit-and-miss humor and lack of follow-through makes for an unremarkable and pointless return to the neighbourhood.

Verdict: Another forgettable comedy-sequel.

This Is Where I Leave You Review – Family Foibles


Director: Shawn Levy

Writer: Jonathan Tropper (screenplay & novel)

Stars: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver


Release date: October 23rd, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The tedious gross-out gags.

Hollywood’s latest home-for-the-holidays venture, This Is Where I Leave You, strives to speak to, and for, the masses. Promising relatable situations and interesting characters, this big-budget dramedy strains and creaks whilst grounding itself. Crafting a slicker-than-shoe-polish version of reality, these movies, despite their commendable intentions, never convince. How can they be realistic, anyway? They feature ultra-wacky set pieces and ultra-popular celebrities. Even character-actor Corey Stoll, seen in the background of several recent movies and TV shows, has more money than everyone in Kansas combined.

Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll & Adam Driver.

Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll & Adam Driver.

Fuelled by Kings of Leon, American Authors, a relatable concept, and a starry cast, TIWILY‘s egregious marketing campaign highlighted the broad appeal. Given these actors’ big-and-small-screen successes, the formula seemed destined for positive results. The poster, plonking each big-name next to one another, sums up modern entertainment’s pros and cons. Sadly, the words “formula” and “conventional” linger throughout the final product. The movie, the latest in a series of familial dramedies, isn’t any better or worse than August: Osage County or The Judge. Like the aforementioned celluloid distractions, this dramedy’s reach drastically exceeds it grasp. The story kicks off with a wholly fantastical version of New York City. Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is a radio station manager living the dream. Coming home early from work, he’s shocked to discover his wife Quinn(Abigail Spencer)’s year-long affair with Judd’s favourite shock-jock/boss Wade (Dax Shepard). After three months of excessive remorse, heartache, and beard-growing, the newly divorced Judd is informed of his dad Mort’s passing. The Altman family – rounded out by matriarch Hilary (Jane Fonda), Judd’s sister Wendy (Tina Fey), older brother Paul (Stoll), and youngest Philip (Adam Driver) – come together for the funeral. As per Mort’s last request, the family must sit Jewish mourning custom Shiva. Stuck in their old home for seven days, the Altman’s past and present quarrels collide. Amongst the chaos, several key players show up to further elevate or deflate each family member.

Jane Fonda & Debra Monk.

Based on Jonathan Tropper’s book of the same name, TIWILY feels like an all-too-literal adaptation. Handing screenplay duties over to Tropper, the movie seemingly utilises every page to fill its 103-minute run-time. The original material, perfect for novel length, is lugubriously laid out across this cumbersome script. Like many dramedies, there’s way too much going on. Throwing in more sub-plots and characters than needed, the narrative’s top-heavy structure wains half-way through. The quiet parts, despite straining against the movie’s glorious sheen, deliver subtle and genuine moments. Certain character interactions, bolstered by its engaging cast and witty dialogue, are almost worth the admission cost. Several sequences work efficiently, depicting insults and stories thrown between troubled by fun-loving people. However, crushed under the narrative’s immense weight, the central plot-strands lack emotional weight or sustenance. Bumping into school friend/manic pixie dream girl Penny (Rose Byrne), Judd’s story-line is predictable, soulless, and tepid. Drowning in an ocean of A-listers, montages, and clichés, Bateman explores yet another sad-sack character. This dramedy – lacking the class, bravado, and cockiness of Arrested Development – adds to the comedic actor’s post-TV slump. However, thanks to quick-wit and charisma, the nice-guy lead delivers a measured performance. In fact, Judd, despite his conflict’s tiresome twists and turns, is the most likeable and intriguing character. The surrounding family members, defined by specific traits (new breasts, baldness, immaturity etc.), are mean-spirited and one note.

“It’s hard to see people from your past when your present is so cataclysmically screwed up.” (Judd Altman (Jason Bateman), This Is Where I Leave You).

Rose Byrne.

Rose Byrne.

Director Shawn Levy (the Night at the Museum series, The Internship) applies his hack-and-slash style to this subdued dramedy. Levy – whose  filmography includes Cheaper by the Dozen, the Pink Panther remake, and Real Steel – isn’t known for intelligence, verve, or sensitivity. Touching on adultery, familial strife, and religion, its concepts construct only silly scenarios and corny ramblings. Despite the premise, the family’s Jewish heritage is picked up and dropped without warning. Certain sequences, despite the lack of consequences or emotional resonance, deliver big laughs and nice moments. Getting high in a synagogue, Bateman, Stoll, and Driver’s characters deliver comedic and dramatic shades. Also, Fonda’s ever-lasting figure is given significant attention. Playing an open-minded writer/therapist, Fonda charges through the role. The movie serves to boost its actors’ career trajectories. Fey, known for writing and leading better comedic material, excels despite her underwhelming and manipulative sub-plot. Contending with old-flame Horry (Timothy Olyphant) (suffering permanent brain damage from an accident several years earlier), her character’s conflicts deserve more development. In addition, Phillip’s sub-plot – fighting to keep his relationship with older girlfriend/therapist Tracy (Connie Britton) going whilst fighting off former conquests – serves to kickstart slapstick gags and wild misunderstandings. Furthermore, Paul and his zany wife Annie(Kathryn Hahn)’s attempts to conceive yield even-more-implausible set pieces. Despite the misjudged material, character-actors Debra Monk and Ben Schwartz get enough time to shine.

Biting off much more than it can chew, TIWILY is hindered by a lackluster filmmaker and tiresome screenplay. Tropper, despite handing his own material, misjudges the adaptation process. Crafting too many story-lines, characters, and twists, the book-to-film translation lacks joy, weight, or warmth. Despite the distasteful, A-listers-pretending-to-be-normal phoniness, the cast succeeds. Bateman, despite playing yet another down-on-his-luck loner, is charming and affable. Meanwhile, Fey, Stoll, Fonda, and Driver craft entertaining moments. Ultimately, this self-conscious effort never surprises, inspires, or even convinces. Welcome to Hollywood!

Verdict: A charming yet cloying dramedy.

Bad Neighbours Review – Battle for the Street


Director: Nicholas Stoller

Writers: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien

Stars: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco


Release date: May 9th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Efron’s charisma.

Worst part: Several irritating supporting characters.

Director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek) has, without a doubt, become one of Hollywood’s most successful and bewitching talents. His efforts, raking in major profits and alluring new performers simultaneously, fit a certain formula that modern audiences are infatuated with. His comedies, featuring gross out gags and a hint of sensitivity, reach multiple crowds whilst providing blood, sweat, tears, and fits of laughter. I’m stating this because his new feature, Bad Neighbours, breaks the mould by being more substantial than his previous works.

Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne.

Congratulations are in order for this dexterous filmmaker. Many filmmakers, no matter what their reputations may suggest, descend after their first or second efforts. With comedy being a tough nut to crack (no euphemism intended, I swear), Stoller bounces back from The Five Year Engagement to deliver a smart, electrifying, and consistent comedy. Obviously, neighbourhood feuds are commonplace. Undoubtedly, most of us have come across loud, obnoxious, or even dumbstruck citizens living next door. Therefore, to discuss this issue, Stoller’s latest comedy throws fraternities, major pranks, and legal conundrums at its charming lead characters. Bad Neighbours looks on in horror as a naïve couple, Mac Radner (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), move into their quaint, suburban home after birthing their lovely child Stella. Watching over the neighbouring houses, the couple’s underlying problems steadily rise to the surface. Sadly, this couple’s pressing situation gets worse when a fraternity moves in next door. The frat house’s inhabitants, led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), seek to raise the roof off their comfortable new abode. Inevitably, the frat’s momentous parties throw Mac and Kelly for a loop. Before long, the claws come out and the battle for the neighbourhood begins.

Zac Efron & Dave Franco.

This premise, though ripe with brash jokes and valuable life lessons, does seem predictable and convenient. What kind of Home Owners Association or council group would allow a fraternity to move into a suburban neighbourhood? Confidently, the movie itself never lingers on this issue. Thankfully, thanks to its inherent charm and over-the-top comedic moments, the audience is also able to overlook this problem. From the opening scene, in which Mac and Kelly struggle to have sex in every room with their child watching on, the movie establishes a light-hearted tone and ambitious sense of humour. Despite the tiresome premise, the feud is brushed over by montages and shocking gags. Aware of its own conventional ideas, the movie’s glee-filled surprises and intelligent revelations lend wisdom to this otherwise immature farce. The battle, kick-started by an irritating police officer, allows our misfortunate characters to let loose upon the neighbourhood. Gracefully, the movie achieves a charming glow and memorable moments early on in the first half. Despite the contrived situations and perplexing motivations, the plot, unlike with several of Judd Apatow’s efforts, is never tied down by dour characters or a bloated Length. In fact, like Efron’s character, Bad Neighbours is toned, witty, and ever so slightly unhinged.

“We’re throwing a Robert De Niro party. It should be pretty loud.” (Teddy (Zac Efron), Bad Neighbours).

The ultimate party!

Inevitably, Bad Neighbours, during the kooky and delectable second half, leans on its impatient characters for guidance. Once the major conflicts kick in, the story takes a break to reflect upon each character’s burgeoning flaws. Thanks to this adult/teen conflict, Mac and Kelly look down upon the frat members and, more importantly, themselves. With Mac lurching back into his party-fuelled roots, their relationship becomes tarnished and battered by the neighbouring party-hounds. More importantly, maturity is this party’s overarching theme. Dressing down Efron and Franco’s loudmouth characters, the second half occasionally delves into their touching bromance. Providing the recommended hangover cure for its own party sequences, Bad Neighbours is surprisingly good for the soul. However, the party sequences, amplified to an insatiable degree in the second half, are highlights in this hysterical and unconscionable farce. The fistfight-and-neon-light-fuelled finale showcases several enjoyable gags and the lead actors’ immense chemistry. Relying on familiar ticks, Rogen’s likeable persona and bubbly sense of humour powers this slapstick-laden comedy. Elevating the obvious weed, dick, and fart jokes, Rogen is an enjoyable and empathetic screen presence. Enthusiastically, Efron turns his Brad Pitt-level charisma up to 11. As the frat’s energy-and-denial-choked leader, Efron’s cheerful performance and impressive physique will draw viewers in. In addition, Byrne cements herself as an intricate and expressive comedic force as the troubled housewife.

Dodging Apatow’s irritating and incessant tropes, Stoller’s latest effort, like Efron’s character, stands head-and-shoulders above everything else. With Rogen, Byrne, and Efron carrying this conventional and dodgy premise, the comedic moments and wise speeches lend fits of intelligence to this overwhelming and manic gross-out comedy.

Verdict: A hilarious and breezy farce.