Movie Review – X-Men: Apocalypse

May 27, 2016


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…


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: ★★★★☆


2016 Summer Movie Pool

May 24, 2016


Congrats to Dave C. for winning the 2016 Summer Movie Pool! Check back around April for the 2017 entry form!

Original post:

Time for our annual Summer Movie Pool! If you’re interested in playing, just fill out the embedded form below!

Ryan’s Oscar Predictions 2016

February 28, 2016


As always, here are my predictions! Keep in mind, these are my predictions for who WILL win, not necessarily who I personally think deserves to win. I’ll update with the actual winners and tally my accuracy later.

 Best Picture – ‘The Revenant’

Best Director – George Miller, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Best Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio, ‘The Revenant’

Best Actress – Brie Larson, ‘Room’

Best Supporting Actor – Sylvester Stallone, ‘Creed’

Best Supporting Actress – Alicia Vikander, ‘The Danish Girl’

Best Original Screenplay – ‘Spotlight’

Best Adapted Screenplay – ‘The Big Short’

Best Cinematography – ‘The Revenant’

Best Costume Design – ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Best Film Editing – ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Best Makeup and Hair – ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Best Production Design – ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Best Score – ‘The Hateful Eight’

Best Song – ‘Til it Happens to You’, ‘The Hunting Ground’

Best Sound Editing – ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Best Sound Mixing – ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Best Visual Effects – ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Best Animated Feature – ‘Inside Out’

Best Documentary Feature – ‘Amy’

Best Foreign Language Film – ‘Son of Saul’

Best Animated Short – ‘Sanjay’s Super Team’

Best Documentary Short – ‘Body Team 12’

Best Live Action Short – ‘Ave Maria’

Score: 15/24
Far from my best year, and it hurts especially hard to miss both Director and Picture. But ‘Spotlight’ was a worthy winner. And I’m glad ‘Ex Machina’ was recognized as much as it was.

‘The Force Awakens’ Predictions

December 10, 2015


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:


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.

Farewell, Dave

May 21, 2015


Tonight I said goodbye to my all-time favorite late night talk show host, David Letterman. The web and TV have been full of much-deserved tributes to Letterman in the lead-up to his final Late Show broadcast. Even though he wasn’t always the most watched or even most liked host, it’s nice to see all the appreciation for his absurdist humor and deliberately prickly demeanor.

Letterman leaves behind an incredible legacy, but his greatest contribution to late-night comedy is unfortunately the least emulated. Letterman’s show was smart. Not just because he was smart, but because he assumed his audience was too.

A perfect example of what set Dave apart from his competition can be seen in every opening monologue. Content-wise, there was little difference between Letterman’s openings and anyone else’s–same format, same cheesy and predictable punchlines, same shallow mockery of celebrities and politicians. The difference was that Dave knew these jokes were dumb, and he knew his audience knew it. Leno, Fallon, even Conan all tried to play these awful bits for big laughs. Dave knew better. He knew they were lame. He knew that making fun of Bill Clinton or Kim Kardashian was low-hanging fruit. If a joke didn’t hit, he’d just give a wry smirk and move on. In fact, he sometimes seemed to deliberately parody the format and style that he helped institutionalize.

Additionally, Letterman brought on smart guests and had smart interviews. Short of Sterwart and Colbert (who will be a more-than-worthy successor), no other host brought on more artists, political leaders, or writers. And even if it was just some Hollywood actor, Dave never let an interviewee get away with simply plugging their project.

My absolute favorite interview Dave ever did was with then-Presidential candidate George W. Bush. Letterman had been trying to get a Bush/Gore debate on his show for months. Supposedly Gore agreed to it immediately, but wound up appearing on the show alone. Eventually, a terribly unprepared Bush came on just a few weeks before the election.  I was 14 when I saw this broadcast, and it’s the exact moment when my political consciousness was born.

I could go on and talk about how much my sense of humor or taste in music was shaped by Dave. But I can’t imagine recreating ‘Will it Float?’ in the school cafeteria or being introduced to Warren Zevon because of Late Show are unique to me. Instead, I’d rather give credit to Dave for teaching me that there’s no need to dumb yourself down for anyone else’s sake; people are generally smart enough to figure things out. And if someone isn’t, the people who are probably think it’s hilarious.

Thanks, Dave.

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