Friday, June 10, 2016

Reviews: X-Men: Apocalypse, Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping

Today I bring you two new reviews from two movies with a colon in the title.  We'll start with Bryan Singer's latest mutant-fest X-Men: Apocalypse, the SIXTH X-Men ensemble film in the franchise and the fourth directed by Singer.  This movie picks up where X Men: Days of Future Past left off.  Proffesor X (James McAvoy) is back in school leading a new class of mutants including the return of some favorites from the original trilogy (Cyclops, Nightcrawler and  Jean Gray - played by Sophie Turner aka Sansa Stark from GOT), and a few memorable returning characters from the previous film led by the very entertaining Quicksilver (Evan Peters).  He ends up doing battle with an ancient mutant named Apocalypse from ancient Egypt played with gusto by the current it-actor Oscar Isaac.  The entire mutant squad ends up banding together and doing battle with big bad Oscar in a plot that's not all that original.

The CGI and the action are decent overall and the story is pretty entertaining but just like Captain America: Civil War, we suffer from superhero bloat in this film.  There are just too many mutants to keep track of and some extra character we really don't care about.  I don't know why Rose Byrne was even written into this film.  Her character simply gets in the way and we never get a proper back story (well those of us who are not comic book nerds).  As for the acting, Michael Fassbender as Magneto is at the top of his game.  He has some great sequences of personal grief and you keep thinking to yourself that he is above this genre of film and should be hunting a long overdue Oscar elsewhere.  Speaking of Oscar, Jennifer Lawrence is back for her third spin as Mystique/Raven and from what I could tell she seems to be checked-out of this series.  I just don't think she "fits" in these films anymore.  Her range is so much broader than the source material and it almost comes off as she's not being challenged enough in these roles.  A lot of the "new/returning" mutants are well cast (even Storm isn't THAT bad), but there's one glaring problem and it lies in Olivia Munn's acting.  As Psylocke (a character I had never heard of before this movie BTW), she doesn't have many lines to deliver and she looks good for the most part but her character just seems forced and TOTALLY not needed.  She really doesn't even do much until the final battle sequence and I just felt that she was stuffed in to give some added eye candy.  I really do think that in the next franchise installment there needs to be some thinning of the mutants.  Less is more.

So, yes this movie is entertaining and it does fit well in the overall X-Men universe but it's not particularly memorable.  Despite a lot of good action sequences and some much needed comic relief from Quicksilver and Nightcrawler this movie just didn't live up to my expectations overall.  The film needs to be a little shorter and not have Olivia Munn in it but as-is, I can only give it 3.5 out of 5 JRs.  Civil War was definitely better and I'm kinda personally tapped-out on comic book movies for a while.

Saturday Night Live has without a doubt contributed the most to comedy in film over the past few decades.  Some of the best comedic movies in recent memory probably have at least one SNL cast member involved.  One of the better recent exports is Andy Samberg and his two buddies Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer that form The Lonely Island.  The trio is let go and not restrained in any way in their latest collaboration Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping, a This is Spinal Tap take on the boyband/pop era of music.  The movie comes off as a sequence of SNL Digital Short sketches that are very funny and witty and serve as a showcase for the collective creativity of The Lonely Island.  In fact, one of the song sequences from the film was already released as a Digital Short on a recent episode of SNL.

Directed by Schaffer and Taccone, Pop Star brings the audience into the ridiculous life of Samberg as Conner 4 Real, a solo pop artist who recently broke from his rap trio The Style Boyz (Schaffer and Taccone once again).  All of the production excess and bloated entourage that Conner employs is lampooned to great heights. There are quite a lot of cameos that play along with the proceedings including Seal, Michael Bolton, Simon Cowell, Adam Levine, Snoop Dogg and countless others.  The movie itself is a hard R, with a lot of cursing (fuck yeah!) and one really awkward but hysterical scene showing full frontal male nudity for a minute or two too long.  The acting is pretty solid for a comedy (including a LOT of supporting SNL stars) and relative unknown Chris Redd shines as Conner's opening rap act on tour Hunter the Hungry.  Samberg and company don't take themselves very seriously and if you do the same, you'll find this movie very funny.

What makes this movie better than what we see on screen is the movie soundtrack itself.  Even though The Lonely Island is clearly goofing on pop music throughout, the songs themselves are actually quite catchy and hilarious to listen too outside of the theater.  I was set to give this movie a solid 3.5 rating but the next day I spent my morning commute listening to song after song from the film and laughing my ass off.  Everything is over the top and there is this perfect amount of randomness to The Lonely Island's humor that it totally works for me.  The end product is a very entertaining (albeit brief) parody of the pop music landscape.  A 4 out of 5 JRs for one of the funniest movies of 2016 thus far.  These three talented friends and comedians should now have free reign to continue to collaborate and create quality comedy at a larger scale.  You can probably wait for video on this one though as most of the film comes off as a Digital Short that you would usually watch on TV anyways.