X-Men: Apocalypse

Xmen

Director: Bryan Singer

Screenwriter: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, and Sophie Turner

For 16 years, Bryan Singer has managed the fairly difficult task of directing multiple entries within a franchise and having each one be superior to its predecessor.  His first three X-Men films (X-Men, X2, and X-Men: Days of Future Past) were each a step forward in terms of greatness.  While that streak does end with this year’s X-Men: Apocalypse, it is only because Days of Future Past was SO good!  X-Men: Apocalypse is a very good X-Men film and one that does not tarnish Singer’s legacy one bit.

Picking up the pieces of the shattered timeline left in the wake of Days of Future Past, Apocalypse opens in the early 1980s and finds Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) finally realizing his vision of a school for “Gifted” youngsters. Meanwhile, Eric “Magneto” Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), determined to disappear into anonymity, has taken a blue collar job in a steel mill and settled down off the grid with his wife Magda (Carolina Bartczak) and daughter Nina (T.J. McGibbon).  Unfortunately for both of them, an ancient mutant who goes by the name Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is accidentally unearthed from the rubble of his fallen pyramid by an old friend from X-Men: First Class, Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne).  Disgusted by the power of the “weak” in the modern world, Apocalypse decides to gather his “four horsemen” and duly wipe the slate clean of all undeserving people of Earth.

Whenever total annihilation of the human race is on the line, the stakes are admittedly high. However, the complex and clever time-rift that drove the action in Days of Future Past leaves the Apocalypse conflict feeling a little generic in comparison.  Consequently, Isaac’s performance as the main villain is also slightly underwhelming.  That being said, there is not much more to find fault with in this film.  Once again, the “First Class” cast fills the screen with charisma at every turn. Magneto specifically is given some powerful and intense developments that impact the story and the future of the franchise. In fact, all of the returning characters are used well. One of the only disappointments I had with Days of Future Past was that the relationship between Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank “Beast” McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) that was so ripe in X-Men: First Class was so utterly downplayed in Days of Future PastApocalypse rights that wrong by giving Mystique a more prevalent and endurable role and reuniting her with the rest of the team in a more meaningful way.  That said, Singer wisely does not fall victim to the temptation to overplay the fact that he has the number one actress in the world in his film by pivoting too much on Lawrence.  Instead he focuses more on the emerging powers of young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and her relationship with Scott “Cyclops” Summers (Tye Sheridan).  The introduction to these characters in the new timeline has been hotly anticipated and the film does a nice job of showcasing these characters and whetting our appetite for how their story will play out this time.

On the other hand, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg do struggle a little under the weight of including and introducing so many other new characters.  I recently stated that Captain America: Civil War is the first Marvel film to truly accomplish the goal of introducing new characters flawlessly.  Unfortunately, X-Men: Apocalypse falls short of that accomplishment.  Notable examples include Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-Mcphee), young Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Angel (Ben Hardy) all of whom remind us of similar character messes from films like Spiderman 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand.  The most glaringly troubling new character inclusion, however is Olivia Munn as Psylocke.  Munn has made a career as the quote/unquote “Booth Babe,” who stands around posing at comic-cons and looking pretty.  Ironically, her acting roles have been relatively far-removed from the geek culture that made her famous and at times she’s shown some real talent.  With X-Men: Apocalypse, she had her chance to reunite with comic

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Olivia Munn as Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse. Image from comingsoon.net

book culture and demonstrate some strength in that arena, but instead her character is relegated to appearances so overtly gratuitous that the audience is taken out of the movie so they can laugh at her impracticable hip-popping, silent stances alongside her team of mutant villains.  If you need more proof, read this article about how she needed lube to squeeze into her costume. The character is meant to be sexy, no doubt, but this is ridiculous.  Next time, give her a line or two of dialogue as well.

X-Men: Apocalypse does a very good job of furthering the X-Men storyline with style and excitement.  The film does struggle with some elements of execution, but none of them take too much away from its enjoyment factor. B+      

X-Men Apocalypse is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 14 minutes.  Stay tuned through the credits for another one of those characteristic Marvel post-credit stingers.  It’s a pretty deep reference though, so if you’re not a comic book nerd, you may need some assistance to make sense of it.

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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

NeighborsDirector: Nicholas Stoller

Screenwriters: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogan

Cast: Seth Rogan, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Ike Barinholtz

I mentioned in my 2014 review for Neighbors that while I liked the film, “we may be starting to see Rogan start drawing from the bottom of the well.”  Now 2 years later the follow up to that film seems to confirm my assumption. The good news is that Neighbors and its sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising fill a niche, namely the simple comedy.  Oddly enough, the traditional, simple, laugh-out-loud comedy is a dying breed.  Theatrical comedy is hitting such a level of broadness that if I see one more stupid, pointless buddy comedy, the eyeroll may be so intense I may never recover.  Seriously think about the last film that made you laugh in the theater that didn’t have superheroes or Kevin Hart teamed up with a white guy. It’s tough.  You’re likely to arrive at Spy or Trainwreck. So basically, it’s been a year since you laughed at a comedy in the theater. That alone is reason enough to go see Neighbors 2.

Rogan is back as Mac Radner who along with his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) and daughter Stella (Still played by those adorable twins Elise and Zoey Vargas) are finally getting out from under the tough times that ensued from living next to a fraternity.  They have managed to sell their house and are looking forward to living in the suburbs as they welcome their next child.  Unfortunately, the sale of the Radner’s house must go through an escrow period where the buyer can back out if any issues arise, and guess what…they do.  College freshman Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her friends dissatisfied with the antiquated and sexist ways of traditional sorority culture have decided to create their own independent sorority.  Where you may ask?  In a recently vacated property right next to good old Mac Radner’s house.  In need of guidance, Shelby happens upon disgraced former president of Delta Psi Beta, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), who is feeling the sting of a criminal record due to the consequences of his war with the Radners.  Teddy agrees to mentor Shelby and her friends as a way to feel valued but also as a way to get revenge on those Radners! Before you say, “Here we go again,” just know that this time it’s girls instead of guys, so it’s different.  Anyway, here we go again!

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising hits most of the same beats as its predecessor, but that’s not to say it isn’t entertaining.  It’s not as effective as the first film, but it does generate some genuine laughs and manages to be successful as just a simple routine comedy, nothing more.  One thing that does feel odd is the lengths the film goes to in order ensure that you know the filmmakers are not being sexist.  I mean if I’m looking for a movie with a message, normally I don’t look to a Seth Rogan movie.  But here I am getting a pretty sizable one about the rape culture of college campuses in the guise of an updated Feminine Mystique via unchartered sororities.  Now don’t get me wrong, that’s a fine message, but then why even invoke the Greek life at all? Why do these girls need a sorority to have their sense of value?  Also, there is not ONE mention of “going to class” or “getting an education” in this film, so let’s ease off on the pretense that there’s any kind of message here.  This is all simply a bold shout out by the five male writers that they are not misogynists.

Ok, so with that said, Neighbors 2 is a fine comedic installment that gets the job done when it comes to relatable, breezy humor. No need to “rush” out to see it, but if you want to laugh and learn how escrow works, then this may be the film for you! B

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 37 minutes.   

This is Where I Leave You

This is Where I Leave YouThis is Where I Leave You is one of those movies that feels like it would have been better off as a television series rather than a movie. First of all, there are simply too many characters to develop over the running time of a feature film, resulting in a film that feels very shallow. Secondly, it just so happens that every featured actor in the film, minus Jane Fonda, earned a reputation as a television actor. The high profile cast is certainly the story with this film, but when you take that out of consideration, there is not much left over to get excited about.

Jason Bateman plays Judd Altman, a radio talk show producer who gets a one-two punch from life when he discovers that for the last year, his wife has been sleeping with his boss and then that his father has suddenly died. Judd’s mother Hillary (Jane Fonda) tells him that his Atheist father’s dying wish was that his wife and four children sit Shiva, a Jewish mourning tradition where immediate family of the deceased spend a week at home all together receiving visitors. This becomes the impetus for the rest of the film. For the first time in years, Judd now finds himself face to face with his uptight older brother Paul (Corey Stoll), his careless younger brother Phillip (Adam Driver), his sassy sister Wendy (Tina Fey) and of course his over-sharing mother Hillary.  Fonda does get to have fun in her role as a mother who cares about her kids but not enough to not expose all sorts of embarrassing details from their lives in her best selling guide to raising children.

With all of this talent assembled, it’s a shame that most of what follows is one cliché after another. Timothy Olyphant does manage to evoke some real heart with his role as Horry, a brain injured neighbor and ex-boyfriend of Wendy’s. His scenes and those about him are the truest and strongest in the film even though he is a very minor character. In contrast, the budding relationship between Judd and a former high school squeeze, Penny Moore (Rose Byrne) becomes the focal point of the film and yet feels deeply artificial.

Director Shawn Levy is no stranger to films with lots of characters and no character development; he also directed the Night at the Museum films, the third installment of which is due out this December. Levy reduces This is Where I Leave You into a series of romantic follies where every character is in a relationship but suddenly wants to be with someone else. That would be fine if we were watching a Shakespearean comedy, but This is Where I Leave You has no satirical layer that makes this absurdity meaningful. These people become sitcom characters at best, and that’s why the small screen may have been a better destination for this story. C-

This is Where I Leave You is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes.

Neighbors

ImageRobert Frost once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The new Seth Rogan film, Neighbors pokes numerous holes in that philosophical statement and illustrates why Frost’s New Hampshire home was very, very well isolated.

This is not the first comedy film to go by the title Neighbors. In 1981, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi followed up the success of The Blues Brothers with a dark misfire about a suburban man (Belushi) whose life is flipped upside down by his obnoxious neighbor (Aykroyd). The film was a production nightmare and was also the last teaming-up of Belushi and Aykroyd before Belushi’s death. It was also a missed opportunity from a simple and potentially brilliant film idea.

Now, Rogan and co-writer Evan Goldberg seem to have righted a wrong by bringing their signature raunchy wit to their latest production.

Rogan plays Mac Radner, a new father, who with his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne), is trying to adjust to a new responsible life now that the carefree days are behind him. Caring for a newborn proves to have its challenges but none measure up to the challenges of having a fraternity move in to the house next door. Not wanting to be the square neighbors who have to tell the kids to, “Keep it down!” Mac and Kelly decide to play it cool at first and let these frat brothers know that they are still hip and young. They approach fraternity president Teddy (Zac Efron) and awkwardly suggest he and his buddies keep the noise down. Within days, however the frat parties are out of control forcing Mac to call the police and report a noise violation. It may as well have been the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand because it’s an all out war from that point forward.

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Robert Frost’s home in Derry, NH.

Teddy and his band of brothers (including such familiar faces as Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Jerrod Carmichael) pool all of their intellect and creativity and aim it not at academics but at the Radners. Carefully placed air bags, hysterically themed parties, and shenanigans aplenty increase the Radner’s misery and decrease the Radner’s home value, making it impossible for them to move.

But don’t count those Radners out yet. Mac and Kelly, along with their divorced friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo), do not go down without a fight.

Neighbors has the edge, pacing, and cringe-worthy raunch we’ve come to expect from the best of Rogan’s efforts. The jokes are funny, but we may be starting to see Rogan start drawing from the bottom of the well. Much has been made of Rogan transitioning from playing characters who are more juvenile to those who are more mature and adult. This “maturity” seemingly comes along with some retreads or re-purposing of jokes that he has used before. One example would be the interesting biological party trick Dave Franco’s character Pete is able to “produce.” This is identical to the interesting “gift” Jason Mewes’s character Lester is able to “achieve” in Zack and Miri Make a Porno. This is more of an observation than a criticism, but it will be interesting to watch how Rogan “comes of age” as a major player in the world of comedy. What certainly does work for this film is how well suited the rest of the cast is for supporting Rogan and Goldberg’s script. Rose Byrne holds nothing back in her performance as Kelly and with this film as well as her uptight and hilarious turn in Bridesmaids she has become a surprisingly comic actress for one originally so suited to drama. Efron is perfect as Teddy and plays the character with endearing charm compelling the audience to both revere and revile him. Much of the film’s heart is a result of the tumultuous relationship scenes between Efron and Franco. Lastly, the baby (played by twins Elise and Zoey Vargas) is flippin’ adorable!

Neighbors is a top-notch comedy and capitalizes on a simple but brilliant concept. B+

Neighbors is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes. Stay midway through the credits for more scenes of that flippin’ adorable baby!

The Internship

ImageListen beautiful babies, I only have time to say this once and whether you’re just a baby chick or a full grown hen there’s not a lot of people that don’t know the cadence of a metaphor-laced Vince Vaughn pep-talk speech, but if you haven’t heard one of these fast paced gems it’s an anecdotal mess – but the kind of mess where something may accidentally come of it, I mean Columbus thought he was in the West Indies but it’s no reason to ridicule the man, it’s the genocide that maybe gives the guy a damaged rep but hey you gotta get back on the horse man, and do it like a champion, a CHAMPION!  

And there you have the message of Vaughn’s latest buddy comedy, The Internship.  Not genocide, but a mess where something worthwhile might occasionally, accidentally come out of it.  Vaughn’s speeches have become less ‘cute’ and more cliché this time around, and so it goes with The Internship.  The film opens with the most uncomfortable scene of the year where two forty-somethings played by Vaughn and co-star Owen Wilson wildly sing Alanis Morrisette’s “Ironic,” which is ironically un-ironic as the scene is so cringe-inducing and not funny that you can’t wait for it to end.  Vaughn and Wilson play Billy and Nick, two guys who lose their sales jobs and nonsensically end up as interns at Google in a final attempt to get their hands on that ever-elusive American dream.  And just in case that wasn’t clear, prepare yourself for Owen Wilson’s tepid recitation of Langston Hughes’s “A Dream Deferred.”

Part of The Internship’s humor revolves around how old Vaughn and Wilson are compared to the young, spry geniuses typically courted by Google.  However, that humor is lost rather quickly as it becomes too apparent that Vaughn and Wilson are simply too old for this.  Wilson is especially awkward.  He showed such promise in a more mature role with Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris, but it seems his days are numbered as the immature feathered haired sidekick.  It’s laughable (in a bad way) to imagine that these two supposedly excellent salesmen still have live-in girlfriends and virtually no marketable skills.  Nick’s foray into selling mattresses for his brother-in-law (played by Will Ferrell in a moderately funny cameo) proves that these guys are stereotypical screen characters just waiting to prove their worth at some inevitable time when their charm can benefit some unorthodox circumstance.

Simply put, the first act of this film has hardly any redeeming quality and if you walked out, I wouldn’t blame you.  Nonetheless, if you suffer through the laborious opening, things do get better – not much better, but better.  Bill and Nick (a pair of more ubiquitous names would be difficult to imagine) eventually find themselves the underdogs on a team of further underdogs who must compete against other intern teams for a chance at a full-time job with the company.  The tasks are obscenely unconventional as the audience is constantly barraged by propaganda about Google’s progressive nature (Do Google interns truly take part in live competitive Quidditch matches?).  Nonetheless, once the exposition is complete, the film livens up a bit with an entertaining nightclub scene and a funny take on a “first date” scene when Nick courts an executive named Dana (Rose Byrne) who has conveniently forgotten how to have fun and needs a man to remind her of what’s important (actually, feminists may want to avoid the movie in its entirety).

Vaughn and Wilson teamed up once before in the incomparably better film, Wedding Crashers.  These two do have chemistry, but only if the material holds up.  Unfortunately for The Internship, it does not and only the screenwriter is to blame, Vince Vaughn.  Vaughn’s two other screenwriting credits, The Break-Up and Couples Retreat, happen to be equally vapid.  His writing relies on cheap gags, stereotypes, and in the case of The Internship, a strange motif where the bushier a character’s eyebrows, the more villainous the character’s intentions.  The Internship is basically a thinly veiled advertisement for the virtuosity and distinctiveness of Google.  Unfortunately, for the average paying theater-goer, the film is not as innovative as its subject.  Consider passing up this InternshipD