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Movie Review – X-Men: Apocalypse

May 27, 2016

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As the ninth entry into the X-Men film franchise, and the fourth directed by Bryan Singer, it’s impressive that X-Men: Apocalypse can still feel fresh and tell a new story worth telling. That’s not to say it’s without its faults, but overall, Apocalypse gives the ‘First Class’ trilogy a satisfying conclusion. Minor spoilers may follow, but I won’t give anything away that you couldn’t reasonably assume from the trailers.

Let’s start with the negatives. As with almost all comic book movies, the X-Men films being no exception, there’s just too many characters. I appreciate that the writers know their source material and want to include as many fan-favorites into their movies. But inevitably, some characters are given way too much importance with absolutely no context or development. Psylocke (Olivia Munn) is far and away the worst offender. With a high-profile casting choice and a constant presence in all of the film’s marketing, it’s incredibly disappointing that she’s relegated to a completely forgettable henchman. Or rather, it’s incredibly disappointing that a forgettable henchmen was over-hyped and miscast with Olivia Munn.

Speaking of poor use of high-profile casting, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is about as bland as comic book villains come. Now Isaac has proven himself as a great actor. Despite his endless charm, he can totally pull off creepy and manipulative (see Ex Machina) as well as selfishly jerky (see Inside Llewyn Davis). Unfortunately, he’s never given a chance to do anything memorable as Apocalypse, and winds up as nothing more than a run-of-the-mill angry purple guy who yells a lot. Which I swear I just saw somewhere…

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And lastly, how Professor X (James McAvoy) loses his hair is really lame. So this might sound nit-picky, but Charles Xavier’s bald head is iconic. First Class even makes a joke about how he doesn’t want to shave off his hair. So for a movie that’s supposed to help show how McAvoy turns into Patrick Stewart, the hair thing could have actually been a pretty funny, if not compelling moment. Instead, it’s a huge missed opportunity.

With that, there’s still plenty to like about this movie. First is just how well it handles the ever-growing franchise universe that it fits into. Throwbacks to earlier movies, especially those that take place in this story’s future, are well thought out.

The obligatory Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) cameo works well because it’s just that–a cameo. Days of Future Past was a great movie, but changing the story to feature more Wolverine only took away from the great Professor X/Magneto story the First Class trilogy set out to tell. Though Wolverine’s appearance is more significant than it was in First Class, it doesn’t distract from the real story that’s being told. And it’s just fun.

Speaking of fun, Quicksilver (Evan Peters) returns with another wonderfully choreographed and over-the-top slow motion scene. The prison escape in Future Past was maybe its best sequence, and we’re given a worthy follow-up here. It’s more or less used for comic relief this time, but it’s just long enough to be enjoyable without bogging down the story.

But the absolute best part of this movie is Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Although my biggest complaints with the movie are with its new villains, they’re not what drive the main conflict of the story. The most compelling conflict in the film–or throughout the whole First Class trilogy for that matter–is with Magneto’s struggle to deal with all the loss he’s faced. Without giving anything away, Apocalypse shows us what’s probably the most heartbreaking thing we’ve seen happen to Magneto yet. And yeah, I do remember that we’ve already seen him taken away from his family in a Nazi concentration camp and seen him watch his mother get murdered by Kevin Bacon. I’m not saying what he goes through in this movie is necessarily more tragic than those events, but the audience is given just the right amount of exposition to really sympathize with him.

I honestly consider Magneto to be the greatest comic book villain of all-time. And even those who don’t think so can’t deny that he’s right up there with the likes of the Joker or Lex Luthor. And the reason is because he’s (usually) fighting for a wholly justifiable cause. What makes him a bad guy are just the methods he uses, but (usually) not his motives. Fassbender, just like Ian McKellan before him, brings so much genuineness to the character that you almost can’t help but root for him.

X-Men: Apocalypse is certainly not a starting point for anyone just getting into the X-Men film franchise, but for those of us who have been with it since the beginning, it’s a more than worthy entry into the series and a satisfying conclusion to the First Class trilogy.

My rating: ★★★★☆

‘The Force Awakens’ Predictions

December 10, 2015

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We’re exactly one week away from the first (public, U.S.) showings of “Star Wars – The Force Awakens.” Obviously, this is one of the most highly anticipated and hyped releases ever, thanks largely to J.J. Abram’s ability to tease fanboys like me. So here it is: my predictions for what will go happen in the latest “Star Wars” film. Let me acknowledge that I know few (if any) of these ideas are uniquely mine; the internet is full of speculation as to what will go down. Here’s where I come down on guessing some of the big unanswered questions:

Rey is Han and Leia’s kid. Obviously the “saga” films have to follow some descendant of Anakin Skywalker. And obviously Han and Leia shack up for at least a little while after Endor. My guess, things go pretty well for the Rebels after they blow up Death Star II. So Han and Leia settle down, have a kid, then something (let’s call it the First Order) shows up which forces Leia to hide her kid on some random desert planet for its protection (hey, Luke turned out alright). And if that’s not obvious enough, just look:

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I’m not convinced that Daisy Ridley isn’t the actual love child of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.

No other kids. Not any that will play a significant role, anyway. There’s lots of rumors that Kylo is a Skywalker. And that Finn is Lando’s or Mace Windu’s kid. And that BB-8 was conceived after R2’s first night serving drinks on Jabba’s sail barge. Trying to make all these big connections to old characters is a cheap gimmick. Remember how much we loved when we found out that Anakin built Threepio? Or how much more we learned about Boba Fett after we met his dad? Or how much Yoda and Chewie’s friendship made sense? Sure, there will be have to be some things connecting the old cast with the new. But having too many new characters wind up being someone familiar’s kid would just seem too limiting, both in terms of the actors’ performances and the characters’ development.

Luke’s still good! J.J. and Mark Hamill have both made statements that suggest there’s something up with Luke. Considering how dark things got in “Jedi,” there’s lots of speculation that Luke winds up finally giving in to the Dark Side. I say there’s no way. Sure, Luke starts to go down a bad path when he starts hacking at Vader’s hand. But in that moment he realizes that he can make the choice that his father couldn’t. Luke makes it pretty clear to the Emperor that he’d rather die than give in to his anger. He’s still naive and improperly trained, but that’s exactly why Luke can make such a conscious, deliberate decision. He’s pure good at that point, and I don’t think anything can take that away.

Except that Luke probably accidentally created the new evil. One of the more plausible theories I’ve heard is that the new baddies–the Knights of Ren–were formed by Luke as the new crop of Jedi. Considering how naive and improperly trained he was, he probably wasn’t all that great at managing a group of crazy powerful wizards. I’m guessing Luke winds up in self-exile after he realizes how badly he screwed up, despite his good intentions, solidifying him as the Yoda or Obi-Wan of the new trilogy.

Han lives. There’s lots of reasons why fans think he’s going to be offed. First, Harrison Ford famously wanted Han killed off at the end of “Jedi.” From what I can tell, that was because Ford saw Han become a significantly more boring character in that movie. And he’s right. I don’t think killing Han off is what would have made Ford come back to the role. I think writing him as an interesting character is what brought him back. So I don’t see that as being any proof that Han will eat it in this movie.

Secondly, there’s the idea that Han’s death would give the audience a reason to hate the bad guy who killed him. Except that I wouldn’t hate Kylo Ren for killing Han. I’m a petty fanboy. I’d hate J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan for doing it.

Third, and a really common one online, is the idea that Han sacrificing himself would be a way for the character to fully overcome his selfishness and loner lifestyle. Except that Han already does this. Several times. In each movie. He chases down all those Stormtroopers on the Death Star. He searches for Luke, even though his Tauntaun will freeze before he reaches the first marker. He takes a shot at Vader without skipping a beat. he lets himself get frozen in Carbonite. He volunteers to lead the ground troops to destroy the Death Star shield generator. Han’s already proven himself as a hero. He’s just reckless and insanely lucky, but that’s why we love him.

There will be a post-credits scene. Well, it’ll be a sneak peek at “Rogue One.” Which will still be awesome.

Ryan’s Oscars Picks 2014

March 2, 2014

Best Picture ☆
Ryan’s Pick: 12 Years a Slave
Actual Winner: 12 Years a Slave

Best Actor ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Actual Winner: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Actual Winner: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Supporting Actor
Ryan’s Pick: Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Actual Winner: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Supporting Actress ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Actual Winner: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Animated Film ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Frozen
Actual Winner: Frozen

Cinematography ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Gravity
Actual Winner: Gravity

Costume Design
Ryan’s Pick: 12 Years a Slave
Actual Winner: The Great Gatsby

Director ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
Actual Winner: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)

Documentary (Feature)
Ryan’s Pick: The Act of Killing
Actual Winner: 20 Feet from Stardom

Documentary (Short) ☆
Ryan’s Pick: The Lady in Number 6
Actual Winner: The Lady in Number 6

Editing ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Gravity
Actual Winner: Gravity

Foreign Film ☆
Ryan’s Pick: The Great Beauty
Actual Winner: The Great Beauty

Makeup
Ryan’s Pick: Bad Grandpa
Actual Winner: Dallas Buyers Club

Original Score ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Gravity
Actual Winner: Gravity

Original Song ☆
Ryan’s Pick: “Let it Go” (Frozen)
Actual Winner: “Let it Go” (Frozen)

Production Design ☆
Ryan’s Pick: The Great Gatsby
Actual Winner: The Great Gatsby

Short (Animated)
Ryan’s Pick: Get a Horse
Actual Winner: Mr. Hublot

Short (Live Action)
Ryan’s Pick: The Voorman Problem
Actual Winner: Helium

Sound Editing ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Gravity
Actual Winner: Gravity

Sound Mixing ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Gravity
Actual Winner: Gravity

Visual Effects ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Gravity
Actual Winner: Gravity

Screenplay (Adapted) ☆
Ryan’s Pick: 12 Years a Slave
Actual Winner: 12 Years a Slave

Screenplay (Original) ☆
Ryan’s Pick: Her
Actual Winner: Her

Final Score: 18/24 (75.0%)


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