Temporary Apocalypse (X-Men: Apocalypse, 2016)

X-Men-Apocalypse-IMAX-posterThere is a scene in X-Men Apocalypse where, as a group of students are leaving Return of the Jedi, Jean Grey states “But we can all agree the third movie is always the worst.”  It is a pretty clear shot at X-Men: The Last Stand.  That was the movie Apocalypse Director Bryan Singer skipped and is pretty widely seen as a disappointment after X2.  Except, whether they realized it or not, the joke is kind of a jinx.

See, X-Men: First Class and X-Men:Days of Future Past?  They were quite good.  They are entertaining and filled with terrific performances and nice use of characters from the vast history of the X-Men Comics.  After the Last stand and the damage done by X-Men Origins: Wolverine the series went back to the beginning.  Introducing us to Young Charles Xavier and Magneto.  McAvoy and Fassbender brought characters we knew as aging leaders to young men trying to make the world a better play, but always coming to odds with how to do that.  Then, in Days of Futures Past, they brought the past and future together, to try and fix the timeline, fixing the flaws of Last Stand and Wolverine.

And this brings us to X-Men Apocalypse.  I was looking forward to it, as it was most of the team that brought us the last two installments.  Yet again, the central focus is the relationship between Xavier (McAvoy), Magneto (Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).  Beast (Nicholas Hoult) retuns, as does Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne).  We are also introduced to a younger Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Jubilee (Lana Condor).  Of course, smartly, the film brings back Evan Peters as Quicksilver…and he steals the show a lot…again.

First, the good.  Again, as I said, Quicksilver is just fantastic.  Yeah, he is not really like his counterpart from the comics.  In the comics, he is arrogant, impatient and snippy. This is explained in the comics by Quicksilver essentially seeing life as being a continuous wait at the DMV, at least when he has to move at the rest of the worlds pace.  Evans approach is more of a lighthearted goofball who enjoys and savors his speed.  And it really works.

The performers are good choices.  I like that they kept the faith element for Nightcrawler.  I know his creator never cared for that addition…but I always liked the combo of swashbuckler swordsman Christian who happens to look like a demon.  Setting young Storm in Cairo was a nice touch, acknowledging her history from the comics.  There are a lot of great visuals. And yet…

The story is just a mess.  There is so much going on, so many introductions, characters get lost.  Jubliee, who was a pretty big character in the comics for over a decade is barely a side character.  We never even see her mutant powers in action.   Angel is just a random passerby in the film, for all intents and purposes.  Both he and Psylock (Olivia Munn) get precious little to do and zero character development.  The film routinely feels like it is advertising “There will be a deleted scene on the blu-ray fans!” as it transitions from moment to moment.  Maybe those deleted scenes will make Apocalypse feel threatening.  When some of us expressed concern about the pictures of Apocalypse on Entertainment Weekly’s cover last year, we were told to not assume this was the final look, they will Fix It In Post, so to speak.They did not.  Or at least not enough.  In spite of hiring a terrific actor (Oscar Isaac), Apocalypse just never feels as frightening as the film keeps telling us he is.

And it is clear the film is going for epic.  But it just never feels that way…because the film takes forever to get through it’s big dramatic moments.  There is a sequence that is supposed to be the big Jean Grey moment.  She walks dramatically into battle towards Apocalypse.  There is a standoff going on the mental plane involving the psychic characters…and the film spends a ridiculous amount of time on dramatic shots of Jean Grey walking.  And walking.  And walking.  Instead of being thrilled by a big moment, I was just wanting them to get to the moment.

And there is a dramatic image from the trailers…that turns out to be the filmmakers taking a cue from Superman IV: the Quest for Peace.  The film just shambles along from scene to scene, never feeling coherent or particularly great.  And after the last two films?  A pretty big disappointment.  I mean, it is okay, but it was a real drop after the last two films.  And Deadpool.  It is okay for an X-Men movie means it might be slightly better than the Last Stand.

Player vs Player (Captain America: Civil War, 2016)

Marvels_captain_america_civil_war_posterCaptain America: Civil War was a risky gamble.  It has a bloated cast.  I mean, Captain America is joined by practically everyone (Except Thor and the Hulk).  The film was also going to be introducing us to a couple Major Players in Both the Black Panther and Spider-Man.  There was always the possibility that this would be so bogged down, we would have Marvels first failure…the first Marvel film that outright sucked.

And the film should be a huge mess.  We are being introduced to characters left and right.  And as usual, the villain of the film is pretty thin.  And yet, somehow?  The film works.  It stand and manages to remain extremely engaging.  The film is dealing with the fallout of collateral damage we have seen through the previous films.  All that destruction we have seen through the Avengers, Thor, Captain America the winter soldier.  Culminating in an event in this film in which an attempt to save people kills several visiting Wakandans.

The United Nations is determine to intervene.  And Tony Stark, after being confronted by an angry and heartbroken mother (Alfre Woodard) whose son died in Ultron’s Sokovia attack, is determine to see it happen.  He, quite understandable, sees a need for Oversight.  And this is what sets off the Conflict within the Avengers.  Steve Rogers is certain that being shackled and having to get permission to fight the bad guys is a bad idea.  We of course, sympathize with Cap, but one of the things the film does very well?  The character motivations.  They make sense.  You understand why they choose the way they do.  And the the fact that certain characters miss the villain’s big plan is quite believable.

The film is action packed, but not at the expense of the overall story.  The characters get meaningful exchanges and yet, the film avoids feeling overly bogged down by a sense of self importance.  The events matter, questions are asked, but without the self aggrandizing approach other Super-hero films had recently.  Not naming names.  The cast does great work with the script they were given.  They bring the characters to life.

And then there is the humor.  This is by no means a light film, but it has very effective humor.  The film is not afraid that if we laugh we might miss “the important and heavy epic story being told”.  These people are friends.  They have history.  They care about each other.  And that is what gives the story it’s real conflict and weight.  But it is also those established relationships that allow the fun.

Of course, the big question was…Spider-Man and the Black Panther-will they work?  It is nice that we do not get an origin story (it should be pretty clear that T’Challa was already the Black Panther, he is not becoming the Black Panther for revenge).  But he does get a nice story arc focusing on the thirst for vengeance, leading him to wisdom in his new role as King.  Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa as young, confident royalty.  And yet, when he suffers lost, he gains a restrained ferocity.

And Tom Holland?  He is Spider-Man.  The portrayal of Spidey in this film was almost instantly lovable.  His rapid fire chatter was dead on.  He looked great in costume and his position of siding with Tony makes complete sense.  I am genuinely excited to see both Spider-Man and Black Panther’s solo films.

James Gunn (Director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films) said this was the best Marvel film to date.  And, in the end, if it is not actually the best?  It is pretty darn close.  This is a terrific adventure and worth seeing.

Boys and Ghouls At the Movies Part 3 (Ritual, 2006)

TFtC_RitualThe third and final (to date) Tales From the Crypt film is Ritual.  You would not realize it is a Tales From the Crypt film though.  The reception to Bordello of Blood resulted in the third film being released scrubbed of any Tales From the Crypt Connections.  The “Tales from the Crypt Presents” was added to the DVD Box when it was released in the U.S. as a direct to video release, but the film remained as it was in theaters.

This means that the film lacks anything connecting it to the series.  Unlike the first to films (which opened and closed with the Crypt Keeper voiced by John Kassir) There is no Crypt Keeper host. No actual references in the titles, no entering the Crypt Keeper’s house and no comic book cover.  The irony here is that while they removed those things to avoid the connection after the failure of Bordello of Blood, this generic Voodoo horror thriller desperately could use the flavor of Tales from the Crypt, or at least an actual alteration to the formula as Demon Knight had done.

Written by the Director of the first Fast and Furious film Rob Cohen and the film’s Director Avi Nesher it is loosely based on the 1943 film I Walked With a Zombie.

It tells the tale (get it???) of a disgraced Doctor named Alice (Played by Jennifer Grey) who takes a job in Jamaica tending to a young man with encephalitis.  He believes he is a zombie under a curse.  And someone seems to be using Jamaican Voodoo to attack Alice.

There is a bit of humor to see that as the films went on, they had less star power than the original show.  But the film tackles a topic the show already did, and the show did it in the so much better.  This film lacks the humor that was such a big part of the TV series.  Which results in a dull and boring film with low level effects.  It is not that the film lacks talent, it is that they have a guy like Tim Curry and just give him nothing to do.  Why would you want to do that?

Of course, based on this image?  Maybe leaving the Dreadlocks sporting Crypt Keeper out of the film was a good idea…

Tales-From-the-Crypt-Presents-Ritual-tales-from-the-crypt-18665943-900-506

 

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Part3 (The Abyss, 1989)

the_abyss_posterBefore Terminator 2, James Cameron made the Abyss.  As with almost every film he makes, he introduced revolutionary technology.  Without the Abyss (and it’s now simple “Water Tentacle”, we may not have seen any of the other revolutions in digital effects that followed).

But it is not the effects that make this film a joy to watch.  It is the storytelling.  Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio play estranged husband and wife Virgil (nicknamed Bud) and Lindsey Brigman.  They seem to be on the outs, but it is clear throughout the film, neither is truly ready to give up on the other.  They run an underwater mining rig and their crew is a raggedy band.They joke, argue and love each other like a weird mismatched family.  They are asked by the government to help Navy Seals get access to a nuclear sub that has crashed in mysterious circumstances.

In addition, the crew starts to experience strange phenomena, such as bright pink lights in the water and strange water formations indicating a greater intelligence at work.    They end up discovering something amazing, but at great personal risk.

Harris and Mastrantonio are superb in their roles and really sell a great and deep love between each other.  Michael Beihn’s performance as a Navy Seal struggling with serious paranoia issues adds the real element of danger.  Cameron manages to give us a film with relationships that feel worn and very real.  The story has both grit and beautiful wonder.  It is tense at time, romantic at other and inspiring and hopeful.

Now, the theatrical version leaves out some big stuff, and so I recommend checking out the longer Director’s Cut which gives a bit more heft to the end of the film.  This is one of Cameron’s gems, even if it got kind of lost in the collection of films.  Why the Blu-Ray release is so delayed is genuinely confounding to me.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Part 2 (Leviathan, 1989)

Leviathan_PosterAlso in 1989, we were treated to Leviathan. This was set at a deep sea mining facility.  Getting close to rotating out, they discover a sunken ship called the Leviathan.  In hopes of claiming riches, they brink back a safe.  But the safe just contains video tapes and a bottle of vodka.

The next morning, one of the crew is struck ill and dies.  But this is only the beginning, as the mysterious disease that killed the man seems to be actively altering his body.  Soon, a another crew member dies.  After the Doctor (Richard Crenna) confirms no other crew have symptoms, he and Crew Boss Beck (Peter Weller) decide to get rid of the  bodies.  But before they can, it fights back.  While trying to get rid of it, part of the body is sliced off and continues to grow while the crew is unaware.

The film is basically Alien underwater.  The crew uses flame throwers to move around and fight it through labyrinthine hallways.  They monster knocks off the various crew members until only a few remain.

This is a great cast.  Weller was fresh off Robocop, you had Ghostbuster’s Ernie Hudson, Amanda Pays , Richard Crenna and Daniel Stern in pivotal roles.  Then there are the effects.  It is obvious this was made on a tight budget and a tight time frame.    The Creature Effects were overseen by the Stan Winston Studio.  This team included Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis who now run Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.They manage to create a fearsome looking creature, in spite of not being given a specific design to work with.  The director wanted a kitchen sink approach which results in the monster being somewhat of a mess, but it still work quite well most of the time.

If the only two movies that came out in 1989 about undersea crews fighting a monster were Leviathan and Deepstar Six?  Leviathan is flat out the better film, in part due to it sticking so closely to the Alien Formula.  But 1989 saw one other film which broke new special effects ground and left these two films in the dust.

The director George P. Cosmatos followed this film up with Tombstone.  Really.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Part 1 (Deep Star Six, 1989)

Deepstar_Six_Poster1989 saw three competing sci-fi/horror films.  One stood out above the other two, but we will get to that one later.

First up is Sean Cunningham’s Deep Star Six.  Cunningham was known primarily for producing and directing the first Friday the 13th.  He is probably more well known for his producer credits.

It is the story of an underwater nuclear test facility.    One morning they discover an underwater cavern.  it apparently housed a whole underwater ecology of it’s own…and it sets free a large creature that starts working it’s way through the crew.  The creature turns out to be a large and ancient crab-like beast.   It damages the sea base, forcing the remaining crew to figure out a way to decompress and then take them to the surface.  oh, and the creature stands between them and the only remaining way to get to the surface.

While the effects are decent, there is nothing that this film offers in chills or scares.  It’s most redeeming quality is that it has a pretty good cast.  It is loaded with talented character actors.  And Greg Evigan (who seemed like he would be on a big star path before he joined the Tekwar Franchise) is pretty likable as the fish out of water, so to speak. but the film itself is only memorable in that it was competing for audiences against two other films with similar  concepts in the same year.

Science Gone Mad Part 3 (Real Genius, 1985)

real_genius_posterThere was a time when Val Kilmer was primarily doing goofball comedies like Top Secret or playing supporting roles like Iceman in Top Gun.  Not like when he was a serious actor in Batman Forever.

Anyways, Real Genius was a little more grounded in reality than the other two entries in Science Gone Mad.  There is no alien technology or magic genies.  Instead, it follow the story of young science prodigy Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret).  He has graduated from high school early and been accepted to a University renowned for it’s science genius students.  Mitch goes in with high hopes.  There he meets his roommate, Chris Knight (Val Kilmer).  Chris is popular with the student body and seems to be more interested in applying his brilliant mind to having fun, an annoying trait to his professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) who needs Knight’s intellect to complete a project for him.

Mitch also meets a hyper-kinetic you woman named Jordan (Michelle Meyrink) whom he is quickly smitten with.  She is a genius whose mind is in constant think mode, ideas flowing at a rapid pace.  There is also the mysterious guy who seems to live in Mitch’s closet.

It is not all fun and games, as Mitch finds that there are bullies among geniuses as well.    At one point, he makes a pained call home to his parents, feeling defeated.  This very call is used to humiliate him publicly.  Jarret is especially sympathetic as the scene plays out.

The film mostly goes for light humor, but does know when to be more serious, without it totally messing up the flow of the film.  It is funny and the characters are very likable.  Martha Coolidge draws strong performances from the cast (this is Val Kilmer’s second theatrical release) and along with the writers, keeps the film focused.  It never goes off the beaten track.  We only get the information we need, experiencing the important story points.  Even the jokes function towards telling the story.  There is a running joke in which Mitch enters a class room, and there are fewer students each time, as students are leaving tape players to record the lecture…eventually, he is the only person as the room, as the teacher leaves a tape player in the room playing his lecture.  Really, the joke shows how lonely it is for Mitch and how he is having a hard time assimilating into the culture of the university.

Chris Knight is not an original character, he is the goofball genius we have seem many times.  But Kilmer imbues him with a real charm.  Knight looks after Mitch like a little brother, trying to help him break free of his uptight fears of failure.  He wants to get Mitch to open up to life’s possibilities.  And Mitch is both sympathetic and pretty endearing.  Atherton is terrific in his trademark role as “Authoritarian Asshole”.  And you cannot help but like Meyrink’s Jordan.  She is a sweet, super smart chatterbox and it is weirdly endearing.

Real Genius is a highly fun comedy that has the right amount of thoughtfulness running through it.  It is a smart comedy with the hint of dumb (but only enough to make you laugh).

Unbearable Whiteness of Being

So, the Brits are making a weird post 9/11 road trip movie following the apparently true tale of Michael Jackson, Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor going on a road trip after…well, 9/11.  I suppose it is ripe for a comedic take.

But the main reason anyone is talking about the film is they cast Joseph Fiennes as…wait for it… Michael Jackson.

The most iconic black celebrity in the past 50 years of pop entertainment…is set to be played by a white guy.  The defense, of course, is that the film takes place at a point where Jackson looks really white.  And so, if they cast a black actor, they would have to do a lot of make-up to lighten the actors skin.

The thing is, Jackson never expressed a disdain for his blackness, he saw himself as a black man.  Many claim he bleached his skin.  This is certainly a distinct possibility, as he had vitiligo.  This often occurs in patches, and bleaching is actually a way to try and even out skin tone in patients.  People stick to the belief that Michael Jackson was trying to look white, due to his extensive surgeries.  There is no actual evidence of this, other than people want to believe it.  But the fact is, there is no basis for this.  What seems more likely, is Jackson fell into the same trap as many other celebrities who get plastic surgery.  He became obsessed with getting operation after operation, likely to sometimes “fix” previous surgeries.

Casting white actors in black roles has an effect that is quite different than doing the reverse.  There are many roles for white actors out there.  But in television and film, your cast is often comprised of white people.  And frankly, Fiennes does not look like Michael Jackson simply because he is white.  I mean, if Joe was a dead ringer for Jackson, there might be a defense here…but literally the only thing they have in common is paleness.

Fiennes will, in fact, have to go under extensive makeup and prosthetic effects to look like Jackson.  So, this is different from doing the same for a black actor how?

Suicidal Glee

Folks are talking about the new Suicide Squad Posters…and drawing comparisons to the Superman V Batman posters.

Here is the new trailer:

Uh…and here is the most recent Batman v Superman:

Notice anything?  Like the posters?  The trailer for the Suicide Squad suggest an energetic and fun film.  I was not sure how well the Suicide Squad would translate, after all, it is comprised of established bad guys from the DC Universe.  There is a sense of goofiness amid the grit and violence.  The attitude coming across is not grim.

Batman V Superman?  It seems like a dour and angry affair.  Nobody cracks a smile (aside from Lex Luthor).  It is trying so hard to scream “Epic”, it misses that there should be cheer.  It should be inspiring.

Suicide Squad (like Deadpool) is showing a gritty violent side paired with a wink and a smirk.  A bit of joy, almost.  Batman v Superman?  It pairs gritty and dark violence with a joyless intensity.  And I wonder how that can be.  How is it that the band of bad guys forced to be heroic looks way more fun than Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman???

Early Reports of Death

deadpool-movie-poster-2016

The early reports from folks who have seen Deadpool are coming in, and they are quite positive.  Deadpool is a film that exists predominantly due to the fact that fans (and that includes Ryan Reynolds) want it really bad, like really bad.

And yet, part of me suspects it may be an overall flop, even if it is loved by critics.  Right now?  It is the fan community getting to see it.  Of course, Fox wants that positive word of mouth.  And it is encouraging to hear that the filmmakers really get what makes the comics and character so entertaining.

The ad campaign is very tongue in cheek and funny.

And yet, I wonder…will that all translate to success with a wider audience?  Is the Deadpool fanbase enough to make this film a hit?  Will the dark and violent humor translate outside that target market?  It make, but I suspect that right now, this film may not be the success some are anticipating, precisely because it appears to be very reverent to it’s source material.

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