X-Men: Apocalypse

A handful of elements are here that I could mention to promote this film. It works well on so many levels. The only question I really had while watching was: “Is it too long?” After the energetic applause at the end in the sleepy town theater I watch movies in, I’d say they got this length just right.

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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Cast

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence

Directed by

Bryan Singer

Written by

Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg

Other Info

Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Rated PG-13
144 min

First, the Spolier Free Zone!
James McAvoy as Professor X (Charles Xavier) and Michael Fassenbender as Magneto are back in what is sure to be one of the most highly expensive and possibly the greatest earning film of the X-Men franchise yet. Of course, that’s an opinion which is fitting in an op/ed review by a largely unpaid blogger. It is however, my strong feeling.

These movies have so much going on. For the “X-Laymen” like myself, it can be difficult to follow all the little innuendos and stories going on simultaneously. I put that there as a disclaimer to assuage the more rabid fans of X-Men. I do my best here.

The story is about an early campus that looks more like a house where the X-Men mutants are in a school run by Charles Xavier. Now, speeding through time way back to the Egyptian pyramid times, we have the opening shot. Sabah Nur is a worshipped king (of sorts) who, through the help of a mutant, is able to become immortal.

He’s evil, never a question about it. Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year) plays this role in a quite hate-able manner which fits in well with other roles he’s played. To make a short summary stop here, he awakens in the time aforementioned and tries to take down the whole world with the help of the X-Men. Yep, that’s the bare bones of it. I could say so many good things about this movie. I loved the characters in this I haven’t seen before (or at least not much). Olivia Munn is one of Apocalypse’s “henchman.” She does a fantastic job and I really hope she turns good so we can see her in new movies. For effects and multiple characters doing exciting things onscreen, I highly recommend this film. It is a tad long at 2hr 24min so bring caffeine. Having said that, what a ride! I can’t wait to see it again.

Next, Spoilers may follow!
My word to the wise: Charles Xavier’s love affair with Moira McTaggert is hovered and hovered over until finally they delve into it fully. Because I am a romantic at heart, I loved this story. Some will find it overly sentimental. The evil folks make evil look really good in this film. They do a lot of destruction. There is a scene when a bomb hits the X-Men school that is a work to make Lucasfilm jealous.

The history of Magneto AKA Erik Lehnsheerr (Michael Fassenbender) is quite elaborately explained. I did wonder, because it was rather long) why they didn’t have an “Origins” film on him the way they did on Wolverine. Perhaps they don’t want us to get too close to him. Nightcrawler (Kodi Scott McPhee) is absolutely hilarious. He strikes me as a secondary character in a movie but I almost could see him having his own movie. He’s a lot funnier than Captain America ever was. So there you go!

Things to Ponder:
Does a franchise as successful as this merit ticket-buyers or does it have to earn people’s money again, every installment?

Why are we shown that “good” is better in this film. The evil mutants seem to be having a LOT of fun? How could they have shown that good is a better choice in this film?

Who is more fun to watch in film: Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) or Professor X (Patrick Stewart)

Feel free to leave a reaction to one or more of these questions, or about the film.

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Captain America: Civil War

Captain America appears once again in a movie with his name as the banner. Strangely however, a legion of other stories and superheroes weave through this film and it watches more like the next Avengers film. Cap has a backseat purpose.

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Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Cast

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America
Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark/Iron Man
Scarlett Johanssen as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

Directed by

Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Written by

Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeeley (Screenplay writers)

Other Info

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13
2h 27min

Comic books are fun, but they’re hard to get and I mean that on two levels. A good comic book tells a story in 2 dimensions. A good movie made from a comic book, transfers that “good stuff,” for example the story and superheroes, and translates that into a movie experience. 

Because I read a lot of reviews, I can see there is an either/or in comic book movies: some say they stayed true to the comic and the movie excelled as a result. The other one is when a comic book connosieur slashes and trashes the director for taking too much license in the making o the movie. I  don’t know comic books well, which might explain why I didn’t like this film as much as the critics as large. Maybe I should read more comics?

My first question was: “Why so many superheroes when this is a movie called “Captain America?””

I binge watched the two prequels to Civil War before seeing it at the cinema, as did my wife. I can tell you the first two really held my attention and Cap (as he is called in all of them) is the focal hero of the movies. That made it a lot easier to follow and get on board with. Civil War has too many superheroes exhibiting their individual strengths and weaknesses.

All the while there is a ploy by politicians to gain control of the Avengers due to their reckless modus operandi. Cap’s reins from the other two movies is named “Bucky” and I don’t want to give any spoilers but there is so much back story and attention given to him you might as well have named it “Bucky: Civil War.” Still, he has some interesting abilities and his interplay with Cap is somewhat interesting. I’d call that part of the story “just above a snore.”

We do get to see some action. There is an almost unforgivable about of people having dialog and no action. This to me was a crime. All I can imagine is that it would make more sense if I only read the comics. Because I felt the movie did not live up to its name “Captain America” and should have been named “Avengers,” and because of some laboriously long dialog with no action, it lost two stars with me. I have to say, enough comic book aficionados will go see this no matter what I say but to all the others I cannot recommend this film. I have high hopes for the next one though.

The Jungle Book (2016)

This is a trip through the jungles of India adults and children will never forget. Disney nailed it with this one.

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I liked the cartoon from 1959 and I figured this might be boring. I was happily wrong! This is one of the best family movies I’ve seen in a long time, probably since Disney’s all animated feature, “Meet the Robinsons.”

The Jungle Book is a 2016 American fantasy adventure film directed by Jon Favreau, written by Justin Marks and produced by Walt Disney Pictures. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s eponymous collective works and inspired by Walt Disney’s 1967 animated film of the same name,[[6] The Jungle Book is a live-action/CGI film that tells the story of Mowgli, an orphaned human boy who, guided by his animal guardians, sets out on a journey of self-discovery while evading the threatening Shere Khan. The film introduces Neel Sethi as Mowgli and also features the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito and Christopher Walken.

The best part of this film for me was of course the animals. Out of all those animals, I liked the wolves best. We have a longstanding tradition in the family of going around and everyone telling our favorite part. My daughters liked different animals from me so I imagine many animals appeal to many different viewers. The wolves were amazing.

Scarlett Johannsen is an incredible boa constrictor. In fact all the characters are voiced incredibly well. My wife and I had fun figuring out who the voices were. Some were easier to detect than others. They spared no expense in the casting.

The film was directed by Jon Favreau. When I discovered this I got excited for him the way you do when you hear a high school friend has done something. I loved him in “Swingers” and “Chef.” To me it’s a sign of a great artist that can act in films like that and also direct an amazing film like this under the Disney banner.

I recommend this one highly.

Midnight Special

“Midnight Special” combines million dollar effects with a really low budget backdrop. It’s an odd combination that works on a sci fi level with mixed results.

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“Midnight Special is a 2016 American science fiction-drama film written and directed by Jeff Nichols, and produced by Sarah Green and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones. The film stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, and Jaeden Lieberher.[ The film is Nichols’ fourth full-length film and his first studio production.[ It was selected to compete for the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival.[6]

The film revolves around Roy and his biological son, Alton Meyer, escaping federal and local officers, after discovering that Alton has special powers.

The film began a theatrical release on March 18, 2016 by Warner Bros. Pictures, expanding wider in subsequent weeks. It has garnered positive reviews from film critics.” (Wikipedia)

If you recall the Heaven’s Gate cult, you’ll think you’re there in the beginning. A cult, though never identified as religious, is always annoying to me in movies. The exception of this was “Big Love” on HBO a while back. I liked the humor of a polygamist living as a Mormon with his bitchy wives. That worked on a comic level.

This film unfortunately kept me hanging and didn’t deliver. I expect sci fi to be sort of in inner adventure. The thrill of creativity and invention is always there, beckoning me to the screen with popcorn in my mouth.

From this point, there may be minor spoilers.

In this film, it’s a chase that is only barely a thrill. There’s nothing thoughtful or new.

I also like sci fi that presents another world. That is damn interesting when done right. I’m reminded of Lucas’ THX. We get to see what these magical dopplegangers of us do on a higher plane. We get allusions to that world but it is never shown. Having said that, there is light, a lot of light. The way it bleeds like milk reminded me of “Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.”

A LOT is left unexplained. I kept hoping it would make sense. As a married man, I had to keep reassuring my wife it would make sense. She pretty much hoped for the same thing I did. I am shocked so many critics are lauding this film. As usual when I dislike a movie, I will go and read a few of them. It’s averaging in the high 80’s on Rotten Tomatoes and elsewhere. S, you maybe should see it on that basis until I get my head together.

Until then, Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst have me stumped on this one. They are 2 of my favorite actors but I honestly did not find much joy in them delivering their roles. I’m sorry to say this one did not do it for me. Because I could watch Michael Shannon read food labels and be entertained (check out “Take Shelter”) it only lost 2 stars.

Seventh Son

“Seventh Son” is a masterpiece replete with witches, dragons, shape shifters, “spooks,” creatures, and other engaging remnants from medieval mythology.

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Seventh Son (2014)
Cast

Jeff Bridges as Master Gregory
Ben Barnes as Tom Ward
Julianne Moore as Mother Malkin

Directed by

Sergei Bodrov

Written by

Charles Leavitt, Steven Knight

Other Info

Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Rated PG-13
1h 24min

Can witches save the day? I suppose in “Seventh Son” they can try. Our age-old fascination with witches is shown on the big screen here. There is a new concept I hadn’t heard of called the “spook” profession. These are basically witch hunters. They are endowed and recruited through generations to destroy bad witches. Jeff Bridges is a powerful one. Ironically we find he once had a romance with a witch but he is evermore hateful of witches and his occupation is to burn them so they don’t cause cataclysmic trouble.

And so we have the backdrop for this epic tale. It’s more sorcery than good and evil. We learn that sometimes good witches watch over the land as other times, evil humans do more hard than any evil witch could ever do. This story line requires your full attention so if you’re a “multitasker” as you watch films, you’ll need to set your phone down and take in the foundation of the story which are very interesting indeed.

Like so many movies these days, it is based on a book. I can’t imagine a book being as visually stunning as this film is. I felt like I was on a swashbuckling roller coaster most the time. The effects didn’t come cheap, the film cost almost 100 million dollars to make. The good news for them is that it did well at the box office earning well above and beyond its costs. I gave this quasi-medieval action, adventure, fantasy a perfect 5 stars. I recommend it!

Zootopia

Disney has made a fun, innovative, colorful, and well scripted film here. Don’t let the little rabbit make you think of “HOP,” it’s a ton better than that. Plus, there’s a fox voiced by Jason Bateman so right there you are already out of the “HOP” solar system.

Zootopia (2016)
Cast
Ginnifer Goodwin

as Judy Hopps

Jason Bateman

as Nick Wilde

Idris Elba

as Chief Bogo

Directed by
Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush

 

Written by
Jared Bush

 

Genre, Rating, Length, etc.

Animation, Action, Adventure
Rated PG
1h 48min

Of course I give this film 5 stars, a perfect score. I’d give it more but I don’t want to appear as if I’m gushing. And this over a rabbit and a fox nonetheless. Well, actually there are a whole zoo of animals, hence the title. While we’re on the subject of the film’s name, I can’t help but wonder it this is Disney’s way of describing the Animal Kingdom theme park history. Actually I mean a fictional history like they did with the films “Tomorrowland” and “The Haunted Mansion.”

It’s a story of a police cadet that gets an assignment in Zootopia, the Los Angeles of cartoon cities. This police officer is a small female rabbit with not much for brawn but she makes up for it in enthusiasm. Through a strange course of events, she befriends a crooked fox and the two have adventures. They are the only ones who can stop a crooked plan to zombify the citizens.

There is a lot here and all of it is wonderful. I loved the elephant ice cream clerk and fox’s “baby” that turns out to be a deep voiced pygmy fox, a partner in crime. The critics are loving this film and so am I. I love the voice actors. Jason Bateman should get an Oscar, his fox character is pure genius. I recommend this film for any age.

The BFG (2016)

This is a repost from last year, the BFG is now streaming on Netflix!

With highly advertised Summer films like The Secret Life of Pets out this Summer of 2016, this film has a lot to stand up to. Fortunately for the giant, he is 26 feet tall so he can stand up to audiences with confidence. Some movies like The BFG should not be over analyzed but rather surrendered to. It has been engineered to take you away as if you were in a dream. Some of the finest names in movie making, including Spielberg as director, have joined forces to do that. Set controls for the heart of childhood, The Big Friendly Giant is here to sweep you away.

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The BFG
Cast

Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton

Directed by

Steven Spielberg

Written by

Melissa Mathison (screenplay), Roald Dahl (based on the book by)

Other Info

Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Rated PG
117min

There are two main characters: Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the BFG (Big Friendly Giant – voiced by Mark Rylance). Both characters don’t quite fit into their respective worlds and find a special friendship with each other. There isn’t much by way of plot but that’s not a problem. The tenderness between BFG and Sophie is so powerfully developed and delivered, they can do anything and it’s engaging. Just watch them opening “dream jars,” for example. The plot is thickest when the other, larger giants threaten to eat Sophie. When that’s not happening, Sophie and BFG spend quality  time in “Giant Land.” At some point, they solicit the aid of a “head of state,” (I’ll call her that to not spoil the surprise of who she is) and the bad giants are dealt with.

bfg1-6628521At one point, BFG tells Sophie giants have been walking about since the beginning of time. There is no growth or transformation in either character, it’s not that sort of film. We are meant to admire them like art hanging in a gallery. Along those lines, one should remember the book is by Roald Dahl, all his books are highly visual. You see a world that is a reflection upside down on a lake. You also see peoples’ dreams in little pixie sizes, squeaking. There are signature silly words here just like inWilly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, when a rich human serves him toast and jam, he yells out, “Scrumtapdiliumpcious!”

The main reason The BFG is effective and entertaining because it’s simplified. This is how it should be with a Spielberg film. He’s been making movies since the 1970’s and should know by now a few things that work. He leaves the worthless stuff out. Through the 2000’s his direction was hit and miss. I recall a couple real misses as examples: Cowboys and Aliens and Super 8. I went in to both expecting the caliber of E.T. and instead got uninteresting, worthless movies. Bbfg2-8733606ut after all the modern trial and error, it’s great to see him hit the bullseye again with The BFG. I want to recognize the screenwriter Melissa Mathison as I type my review. She has been a collaborator with Spielberg on several project including ET. She passed away tragically from cancer last year. She was only 65. By way of trivia, From 1983 to 2004, Mathison was married to Harrison Ford; they had two children together.

In conclusion, this is the Summer of 2016, and as most movie viewers know there is some family film competition, including The Secret Life of Pets. While a CGI character, the BFG has a lot of personality in his face and body movements. Clearly byt looking at the actor, you can see they fashioned him after Mark Rylance. He’s well known for winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. The casting of Rylance in the BFG was an excellent choice. To me, he IS BFG. While it is performing slowly at the moment at the box office, I truly hope a lot of people get a chance to see this film.

Have you seen this film? Care to see it? Leave your thoughts about the film in the comments.