Review of “X-Men: Apocalypse”

En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac) has been alive for many lifetimes and is the leader of Egypt 5000 year ago. Born the first mutant and able to transfer his consciousness from one body to another, En Sabah Nur is being transferred into the body of a mutant with healing abilities which would likely make him nearly immortal when some of his guards turn against him and seal him within a pyramid buried deep underground. With the public finding out about mutants in the 1970’s, a cult has developed around the myth of En Sabah Nur. CIA operative Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating one of these cults in Cairo when she witnesses the awakening of En Sabah Nur but doesn’t realize what she sees. En Sabah Nur, seeing how the world has changed by absorbing information from a satellite TV connection, puts into motion a plan to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth and rule a world of only mutants. He recruits four followers giving their mutant abilities a boost. First is Storm (Alexandra Shipp) who is able to control the weather, next is Psylocke (Olivia Munn) who can project psychic energy in the form of a purple sword or whip, third is Angel (Warren Worthington III) who flies with wings of metal growing from his back and the last is Magneto (Michael Fassbender) with the ability to control metal and magnetic fields. En Sabah Nur detects the mind of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) while he is using Cerebro to look for Magneto. Overwhelming Xavier, En Sabah Nur abducts him with a plan to use his psychic abilities to contact all living minds. Xavier’s students and fellow instructors Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), along with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) join forces to stop En Sabah Nur and his Four Horsemen from bringing about an apocalypse.

Perhaps it’s superhero burnout. Perhaps it’s the release of this film close to the vastly superior “Captain America: Civil War.” Maybe it’s just the quality of this film. Whatever the reason, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is a flat, uninvolving and somewhat repetitive mix of visually exciting CGI action and mind-numbing complications leading to a predictable ending and a post-credits scene that will only excite someone steeped in X-Men comics lore. I don’t hate “X-Men: Apocalypse” but I believe it could have been better.

My main issue with the film is it never involves the audience emotionally. Even when given a chance to with the death of a young mutant, it is tossed off like something meaningless. It never feels like there are real consequences to what happens in “X-Men: Apocalypse” as the ending is telegraphed by an early scene, showing us who will be responsible for the “good” mutants beating the “bad” mutants.

If you feel like that’s a spoiler you haven’t been paying much attention to the “X-Men” movies over the years. Director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg don’t stray too far from the formula that has been the staple of X-Men and other superhero movies. While the film does drop a few hints about what may come up in future installments (including that post-credits scene), it doesn’t really stretch the lore of these characters the way “X-Men: Days of Future Past” did. That film committed what many fans thought of as an unforgivable sin and completely reset the timeline of the movie universe. This film stays locked within the lines and acts like there are hot lava alligators lurking past the comfortable and expected edges. They are characters based on comic books. They can be and do ANYTHING! They aren’t constrained by time, physics, death or any other rule we normal humans can’t violate. They brought Professor Xavier back after we watched him die in the third X-Men movie and gave us absolutely NO explanation and we all collectively went “ok.” Play with these characters and stretch them in directions that aren’t straight from the moviemaking rule book. After all, (SPOILER ALERT) Marvel comics just made Captain America a HYDRA agent. If they can do that, you guys can give audiences some surprises when it comes to these films.

“X-Men Apocalypse” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, action and destruction, sequences of violence and some suggestive images. Buildings are ripped from the ground and cars flung in the air but no loss of life is seen. One cameo appearance by an X-Men favorite leads to lots of dead bodies and some puddles of blood. Mystique is nearly choked to death. A woman and child are killed with a bow and arrow. There are other examples of mutant on mutant mayhem. I’m not exactly sure what the suggestive images are referring to as I don’t recall anything other than a couple of female costumes that might be considered such. Foul language is infrequent but there is one “F-Bomb.”

The story of “X-Men: Apocalypse” is rather convoluted but the idea behind the story is simple: Mutants are still feared and often abused or put on display by humans so En Sabah Nur uses mutants’ anger and fear to make them his soldiers. It seems fairly straightforward but for some reason Bryan Singer and the makers of the movie feel the need to throw in a great many complications, locations and action scenes to muddy the waters. “X-Men: Apocalypse” is an overwrought mess that needed to be reined in before it hit theatres.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” gets two stars out of five.

Love, music and more mutation hit screens this week. I’ll see and review at least one of these movies.

Me Before You—

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping—

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows—

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Review of “Elvis & Nixon”

Just before Christmas in 1970, the biggest rock and roll star in the world, Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon), is sitting in his Memphis mansion of Graceland watching three TV’s simultaneously. Flipping through all the channels, Elvis comes across various news reports about a protest against the Vietnam War, illegal drug use and radical minority groups demanding civil rights. Disgusted with the condition of America, Elvis shoots all three TV’s with his ever present .45. Elvis goes to the Memphis airport and boards a plane for Los Angeles to pick up his friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) who works as a film editor for a movie studio. Elvis convinces Jerry to accompany him on a trip to Washington D.C. On the flight to the nation’s capital, Elvis writes a letter on American Airlines stationary to President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey) offering to become an undercover drug enforcement officer. Elvis and Jerry hand deliver the letter to a gate at the White House where it gets into the hands of Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters), Deputy Assistant to the President. He then takes it to fellow presidential assistant Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and the two take the letter to White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman (Tate Donovan) arguing that having a popular figure like Elvis seen meeting the President could boost his likability with a broad cross-section of voters. Haldeman reluctantly agrees and allows Chapin and Krogh to approach Nixon with the idea. Nixon says no but when Jerry and fellow Elvis friend Sonny (Johnny Knoxville) meet with the White House aides, Jerry suggests involving Nixon’s daughters. Unable to say no to his daughter Julie, Nixon reluctantly agrees to see Elvis.

Based at least in part on an actual event, “Elvis & Nixon” takes a lighthearted approach to the subject matter turning a meeting between two of the most iconic figures in American history into a farce. Both men are utterly clueless about each other and about real life, turning their get together into a comedy of inappropriate behavior and ridiculous requests. As funny as this part of the movie is, the true strength of “Elvis & Nixon” is the relationships between the singer and his friend Jerry Schilling, as well as the work relationship between Dwight Chapin and Egil Krogh. Both are stellar examples of actors perfectly cast in well-written parts.

First and foremost, praise must be liberally heaped on to the two actors in the title roles. Both Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey are brilliant as Elvis and Nixon. Each could be forgiven for turning their characters into the kind of silly impressions we’ve seen on numerous television shows; however, each man does subtle things to suggest they are the character while bringing unique aspects to these two well-known men.

Shannon gives Elvis a quiet dignity while at the same time infusing the music icon with a simplistic view of life and the world. He wants to see the President so that shouldn’t be such a big deal, after all he IS Elvis. The script provides Elvis with a level of depth and understanding of how he is perceived by those around him and by the public that is at times heartbreaking. Elvis knows he has become a caricature and the gold jewelry and sunglasses is part of his costume. He is also aware of how some in his circle see him as a conduit to fame and wealth. Elvis is generous to a fault to those that work for him and he knows how some of his entourage takes advantage of that. While being aware, Elvis can’t help himself as the script makes it clear trying to buy people’s love and appreciation comes from a feeling of insecurity. Despite these fleeting moments of clarity, Elvis is also a bit self-deluded, thinking he can implant himself unrecognized with radical groups and drug dealers to work undercover for the government. This misplaced idea of how he can singlehandedly bring down these perceived threats to the country are almost as sad as his understanding of how some in his posse see him as a bank. Shannon’s dedication to both sides of Elvis’ personality as shown in the script is commendable.

Kevin Spacey, also known for playing another corrupt president in “House of Cards,” does a terrific job portraying Nixon. Showing the famously un-hip president giving in to the demands for a picture and autograph from his daughter, as well as the political benefits of being seen with one of the most popular entertainers in the world, shows the most powerful leader in the world capitulating to the desires of his then 22-year old youngest child. Spacey does a pretty good impression of Nixon, emphasizing his hand gestures, stooped posture and his frequently written about feeling of inadequacy. Both with his aides and with Elvis, the script has Nixon express his views about growing up poor, having to work hard with nothing handed to him and his opinion on the looks of Jack Kennedy. Spacey’s performance really comes alive during these bits of dialog as well as when Nixon is angered about something. Never falling into a comedic caricature, Spacey delivers a believable performance of a well-known historic figure.

Alex Pettyfer, Colin Hanks and Evan Peters all are terrific as Jerry Schilling, Egil Krogh and Dwight Chapin respectively. Schilling is portrayed as a friend of Elvis wanting nothing in return. He merely wants to help his friend fulfill what he sees as a somewhat silly dream. Pettyfer gives an honest and grounded performance. It is also one that by the end of the movie sees the character grow into something different than when the film starts. Pettyfer is one of the few people within the Memphis Mafia that is able to tell Elvis the truth and isn’t looking to get anything from the relationship except friendship. Both Colin Hanks and Evan Peters, wearing simple business suits and slicked back hair, are the epitome of political underlings. Close to power but without any real power of their own, Krogh and Chapin are enthusiastic about their work in the White House but realistic about the man they work for. They see his weaknesses and attempt to mold what they say to the President in a way that will mostly likely guarantee acceptance of their ideas. It is a masterful bit of writing and it is delivered with zest and enthusiasm by Hanks and Peters.

The overall story of the film, while somewhat inconsistent, manages to capture the period of the early 1970’s and the different Americas contained within the one country. The separation of black and white culture, one that largely still exists today, is put into stark contrast by the film by never showing black and white people in the same places except by necessity. There is an obvious division of race that isn’t seen by Elvis even while he’s in the middle of it. The paranoia of Nixon and those on the right about the various movements within the country as well as the ramping up of the war on drugs is also captured by the movie. The whole point of Elvis desire to meet with the President springs from the feeling the U.S. was being overrun by communists and hippies. Law and order and patriotism are what Elvis wanted to spread around the country through his undercover work. Just like almost everyone else, the movie shows Nixon hoping to use Elvis to further his own agenda. Imagine that, a politician using a celebrity for political gain.

“Elvis & Nixon” is rated R for some language. The “F-Bomb” gets dropped by several people over the course of the film. There are also a few scenes of smoking.

While it’s a small film from a director that doesn’t have that many features under her belt, “Nixon & Elvis” deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. It isn’t a deep and meaningful film. It doesn’t shine a light on the human condition and illuminate our place in the universe. “Elvis & Nixon” does nothing but entertain, putting two of America’s biggest cultural icons in a room together and letting the goofy chips fall where they may. It is a refreshing respite before the beginning of summer blockbuster season.

“Elvis & Nixon” gets five stars.

The countdown clock to “Captain America: Civil War” is nearing zero but we have one more week before the CG fireworks begin. This week, there’s a cat kidnapping, maternal musings and animated…animations coming to a screen near you. I’ll see and review at least one of these films.


Mother’s Day—

Ratchet & Clank—

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