X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 24 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of Violence, Action and Destruction, brief Strong Language and some Suggestive Images

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Directed by: Bryan Singer

Written by: Simon Kinberg

(based on the X-MEN comics by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Helman, Ben Hardy & Lana Condor

After seeing the stinger at the end of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, X-MEN fans were greatly anticipating the big screen appearance of the X-Men’s greatest foe: Apocalypse! With Bryan Singer returning to direct, it seemed like nothing would potentially go wrong with this ninth(!) installment in the X-MEN franchise. While APOCALYPSE definitely has its moments and glimmers of great potential, I couldn’t help but be reminded of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND during multiple points. APOCALYPSE isn’t quite as bad as that film, because it still manages to maintain a big dumb fun sense of entertainment. Still, prepare to be underwhelmed.

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The year is 1983 and the events of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST have changed the world. Mutants and humans find themselves in danger when En Sabah Nur (a.k.a. Apocalypse, played by an unrecognizable Oscar Isaac) awakens from a centuries-long slumber in his Egyptian tomb. This intimidating villain was history’s first mutant and has acquired a vast variety of powers throughout the years, making him pretty much invincible. Apocalypse is looking to break down our world and build a better one on top of it, recruiting four horseman along the way: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and a newly enraged Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Pitted against Apocalypse and his four horsemen are Professor X (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Havok (Lucas Till) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), alongside newcomers Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Phoenix (Sophie Turner), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). It’s mutants vs. god-like mutants in a showdown that will determine the fate of the world as we know it.

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The X-MEN films often stick out in the crowded superhero genre, because they usually tackle subplots of self-discovery, prejudice, and civil rights as addressed through mutants. While APOCALYPSE has some of these elements, they are mostly overshadowed by a sloppy script covering familiar ground that’s already been seen many times before. This is basically a clichéd, by-the-numbers “good vs. evil” tale that happens to feature the X-MEN. To make matters worse, the screenplay is downright messy and unfocused. It seems like attention was being paid to the wrong details and important scenes were missing (opening up plot holes along the way). This ultimately leads to pacing issues that immediately spring up with four (count ’em, four!) prologue sequences before the main plot can even begin.

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Though he’s a clichéd and one-dimensional baddie, Apocalypse remains cool nonetheless. Played by an unrecognizable Oscar Isaac under layers of make-up and a forty-pound costume, this evil mutant has various abilities that make him seemingly unstoppable. There were multiple points in this story where I wondered how the X-Men could possibly hope to defeat him. Though his preachy monologues can get repetitive, Apocalypse is genuinely scary in his ability to manipulate matter (making for lots of cool kills), teleport, being super strong and having psychic powers to boot. Though he may look a bit ridiculous, this cinematic version of Apocalypse more than resembles his comic book counterpart.

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Other fresh faces come from a new class of young mutants and three of Apocalypse’s “horsemen.” It occasionally feels like APOCALYPSE is trying to cram too many mutants into one film and spends a lot time reintroducing each of them, which slows down the movie’s already mixed momentum. While I love the character of Psylocke and Olivia Munn is positively breathtaking in the role, she really isn’t given a whole lot to do other than fight. Storm and Angel both receives a strong introductions and then don’t do much afterwards. The horsemen (save for Magneto) mainly stand around, make Apocalypse look cool, and then engage in a quick fight or two.

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I was really excited to see Tye Sheridan as Cyclops and Sophie Turner as Phoenix…but they both seem to be hit or miss in their roles. It’s almost as if they want to emulate James Marsden and Famke Janssen’s versions of the characters, but are also trying to do their own thing. This results in two uneven characters from performers who seem slightly uncomfortable in their roles. Kodi Smit-McPhee more than makes up for their shortcomings as Nightcrawler. McPhee has been hit-or-miss in his past roles, but Nightcrawler is easily one of his best performances. He nails the awkwardness of this teleporting, blue-tailed mutant. It doesn’t really bear mentioning how Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, and Michael Fassbender are in their roles, because they all have their parts down and have done so for two movies.

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APOCALYPSE’s script suffers from a by-the-numbers plot, missing beats, and lots of filler (included for fan service and setting up future installments). The villainous William Stryker (Josh Helman) appears yet again and pads the film by an extra twenty minutes, but the pay-off to this comes in purposely erasing the worst X-MEN movie (no, I’m not talking about THE LAST STAND). The Blob and Jubilee make blink-and-you-missed-it appearances, which seemed like a waste of time for fans altogether. If you’re going to include these characters, show them doing something other than being dragged unconscious out of a fighting ring or walking down a hallway. Also, the Quicksilver scene from DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is replicated here to an eye-rollingly excessive degree.

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On the positive side of things, APOCALYPSE excels in Magneto’s storyline. This tragic metal-bending villain is easily one of X-MEN’s most complex characters and a few powerful scenes expand upon his tragic past. The film looks good and is packed with convincing special effects. Though it becomes too over-the-top in places, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE remains entertaining enough. I am happy that I watched it, but probably won’t subject myself to it again, unless I’m doing an X-MEN marathon. APOCALYPSE is the third-worst X-MEN film (better than THE LAST STAND and ORIGINS: WOLVERINE) and is far from terrible, especially given the high quality from the rest of the series. If you’re an X-MEN fan, you’ll probably find things to like in this mixed bag installment. Still, prepare to walk away underwhelmed.

Grade: C+

MORTDECAI (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Language and Sexual Material

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Directed by: David Koepp

Written by: Eric Aronson

(based on the novel DON’T POINT THAT THING AT ME by Kyril Bonfiglioli)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn & Jeff Goldblum

Full disclosure: I didn’t have high hopes for MORTDECAI. Seeing as the backlash against this film is substantial and it has become one of the biggest flops of the year thus far (right behind JUPITER ASCENDING and BLACKHAT), my expectations were set pretty low for MORTDECAI. At the most, I was hoping for a couple of laughs and a guilty pleasure (ala I, FRANKENSTEIN). Even with these tepid feelings going in, MORTDECAI still wound up filling me with hatred against every ounce of this movie. It’s the worst kind of bad film there is: an unfunny comedy.

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Charlie Mortdecai is a moustached art dealer who happens to sell stolen goods and elaborate faux replicas. Though his family was wealthy and he still holds an estate, Charlie is on the edge of bankruptcy and financial ruin. When he’s recruited by an inspector (who happens to be a former friend with a crush on Johanna, Charlie’s wife) to track down a stolen painting that is also being hunted by various groups of dangerous people (Russian thugs, a thief named Emil, and Hong Kong gangsters). This leads to many wild, crazy antics with Mortdecai constantly being thrown into harm’s way with Jock, his man-servant, constantly getting him out of these sticky situations. While Charlie is away, the Inspector is also trying to start an affair with Johanna. If none of those things sound the least bit entertaining, then don’t worry because there’s also a lame subplot about Mortdecai’s newly grown facial hair.

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Director David Koepp has been involved with cool projects in the past, but MORTDECAI definitely is the worst thing he’s ever slapped his name on. To be fair, Koepp didn’t write the screenplay, but it feels like this film is trying desperately to get laughs. It throws everything at the wall and nothing sticks. There are fish-out-of-water situations with Charlie being in Los Angeles, awkward puns, bits of innuendo, and even room for brief puke and fart humor. Every single one of these sight gags, puns and scenarios feels dusty. One character even says the same joke twice in the space of 15 seconds in an attempt to get at the very least a chuckle. While the line is dead on arrival the first time it’s uttered, hearing it repeated a second time really hits home how MORTDECAI is beating the skeletal remains of a dead horse that has long since decomposed. As if things couldn’t get any worse, the R rating is wasted as this felt like a PG-13 flick all the way through. No profane language (save for one instance) or any jokes push the envelope. It’s as tame as can be.

MORTDECAI, Paul Bettany, 2015. ph: David Appleby/©Lionsgate

The film becomes downright unbearable during the final 30 minutes. I was tempted to give up and turn this movie off. That almost never happens when I’m watching a film either. I usually have no urge to do anything else but stick the film out until the end credits begin to roll. The real problem is that MORTDECAI feels like it has an ending and then continues forward for 30 more minutes of horribly unfunny material. It shouldn’t come as a shock that every performer isn’t exactly at the top of their game in this one. Ewan McGregor and Gwyneth Paltrow seem disinterested in the movie they’re making (I can’t say I blame them). Johnny Depp is cashing in on the typecast cartoon character that he’s recently become known for playing (hopefully BLACK MASS turns that around this September). It’s clear that Depp was trying to channel a Peter Sellers sort of Clouseau character, but even Steve Martin did it better in those mediocre PINK PANTHER reboots. The only one who seems to be having any fun is Paul Bettany as Jock, but he still didn’t get any decent laughs or lines.

MORTDECAI, Johnny Depp, 2015. ph: David Appleby/©Lionsgate

MORTDECAI is awful. It’s beyond awful, this is anti-comedy. This is the sort of film that you could show someone and it could entirely turn them off the concept of laughing ever again. It’s clear that this was nothing more than a quick paycheck for everybody involved and I’m so very glad that it tanked at the box office. MORTDECAI is a depressing, laugh-free waste of time that just might go down as the worst film in Johnny Depp’s career. Yes, I’m also taking TRANSCENDENCE into consideration when I say that.

Grade: F

DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence, Grisly Images, Terror throughout, and Language

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Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Written by: Scott Derrickson & Paul Harris Boardman

(based on the book BEWARE THE NIGHT by Ralph Sarchie & Lisa Collier Cool)

Starring: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris, Joel McHale & Chris Coy

Scott Derrickson scared the ever-loving shit out of me with 2012’s SINISTER. With that film aside, the man really hasn’t got another solid horror flick to his name. EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE came off as a TV court-room drama mixed with a watered down version of THE EXORCIST and suffered from plenty of clichés as a result. In his latest offering, Derrickson goes back to the much traveled road of demonic possession with a different angle this time around. DELIVER US FROM EVIL is essentially a feature-length episode of COPS: Exorcist Edition. This is a disappointing and mostly bland police procedural that happens to have a demonic spin on it. It sounds like the recipe for a winner on the outside, but suffers from clichés from both the horror genre and the cop thrillers. It’s not horrible by any means, but barely passable is hardly the description that anybody wants to hear about a movie they’re paying to see on the big screen.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL, Eric Bana, 2014. ph: Andrew Schwartz/©Screen Gems/Courtesy Everett Collection

Based on the supposedly true experiences of cop-turned-demonologist Ralph Sarchie, DELIVER US FROM EVIL begins with a group of soldiers in the Middle East venturing into a foreboding cave. Faster than you can say Pazuzu, the men are ambushed by a mysterious force in the dark. Three years later in the Bronx, Ralph Sarchie is investigating a series of horrible crimes revolving around satanic rituals and demonic possession. Aided by a renegade priest, Ralph does everything within his power to put a stop to this evil force at work…but will it be enough?

DELIVER US FROM EVIL, back, from left: Joel McHale, Eric Bana, 2014. ph: Andrew Schwartz/©Screen

That’s the set up of this supernatural horror flick and it does have potential. The trailers and marketing material for DELIVER US FROM EVIL looked mighty scary, especially given how freaky SINISTER was. I had high hopes for this film and it just wound up being standard on nearly every level. The one thing that Scott Derrickson excels at is spooky atmosphere. While I was never scared, the visuals were gruesome and reminded me of SE7EN with demonic spirits. Every bloody opportunity in this deserved R rating is taken, although the film never becomes an out-and-out gorefest. I liked that every plot development was being treated with a state of seriousness, even though the script is strewn with clichés around every corner. Speaking of clichés…

DELIVER US FROM EVIL, Joel McHale, Eric Bana, 2014. ph: Andrew Schwartz/©Screen Gems/Courtesy

Damn near every jump scare is basically a loud stinger with an animal screeching (whether it be bats, dogs, cats, mice, or even lions in a zoo). It got grating and silly. I mean, shouldn’t the horror genre have moved past the cat jump scare at this point? Also, haven’t cop movies moved past the wise-cracking sarcastic partner? I ask this, because The Soup’s Joel McHale is cast as Ralph’s hardened partner whose always ready with a bad punchline in the face of danger. It may be because McHale has been seen as comedic actor for so long, but I couldn’t buy him as this serious badass police officer with a sense of humor. Eric Bana does a good job as Ralph, but that’s about all I can say about his performance. Edgar Ramirez is the best actor here as the most unusual priest and almost seems to be channeling an action hero style to his character. Every cast member portraying possessed victim does the typical hissy voices and animal characteristics, though the make-up job on them is decent enough.

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A couple of completely unnecessary things pad out the overly long running time as well. The movie takes its sweet time getting to the initial team-up of Bana and Ramirez’s characters. One might argue that it’s entirely too long of a first act. Then there’s the haphazardly constructed plotline of Ralph’s dark past resurfacing (complete with typical visions and canned children’s laughter meant to come off as unnerving). Finally, the tie-in to song lyrics from The Doors is just plain silly and seems to be used only as an excuse for the end credits to use Break On Through. Despite the solid atmosphere and creepy visuals, DELIVER US FROM EVIL suffers from a basic script and completely average execution. This is likely to go down as yet another forgettable horror flick that looked promising, but failed to deliver (pardon the pun).

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One reason for my mere apathetic response I felt at the end of DELIVER US FROM EVIL might be attributed to the complete excess of big screen demonic possession movies as of late (e.g. the awful DEVIL INSIDE, the bad RITE, the good LAST EXORCISM and its terrible sequel, and the passable POSSESSION). I can’t say that’s definitely the case though, seeing as plenty of good horror flicks bring fresh scares to well-worn formulas. Scott Derrickson’s DELIVER US FROM EVIL doesn’t come off as compelling or emotional or even frightening. It’s a film that sputters along from set piece to set piece, but never fully takes off. In some ways, that’s arguably worse than if it had just been an all-out disaster.

Grade: C

IRON MAN 2 (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence, and Some Language

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Directed by: John Favreau

Written by: Justin Theroux

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke & Samuel L. Jackson

The first IRON MAN was a competent and enjoyable superhero origin story, even though it fell into some pitfalls of the superhero film. It set up the characters well and got a ton of development out of the way. Of course, since it banked and it was the first in a series of films that set up THE AVENGERS, it was certain that we had not seen the last of Tony Stark or his special suit. Of course, a sequel was in production to further along the blueprint for The Avengers Initiative and this one would be more packed to the gills with action, right? You’d actually be wrong on that second guess. IRON MAN 2, though far from terrible, is just an okay sequel to a good predecessor.

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Since Tony Stark announced that he was Iron Man to the world, he’s become even more of a celebrity figure. The US military wants him to turn over the Iron Man suit to the government because they see it as a possible weapon (both against them and one they could utilize against others). Tony Stark flat-out refuses and incurs the anger of a fellow weapons designer, Justin Hammer. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to everyone, the dangerous Ivan Vanko is plotting a calculated revenge against Stark. Tony Stark’s problems don’t end there though, because the very device that is keeping him alive is also killing him with a toxic presence in his body. Can Tony Stark save himself and the day? Will Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko succeed in their separate plots to humiliate/kill Iron Man? Will plenty of set up be thrown in for THE AVENGERS? Seeing as this is a superhero movie, you should know the answers to all of the above.

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Robert Downey Jr. hops back into the role of Tony Stark, which fits him like a glove. Gwyneth Paltrow is likable enough, reprising her role as Stark’s significant other. Don Cheadle has come in to play James Rhodes, a role that belonged to Terrence Howard in the previous film, and is fantastic as somewhat of a sidekick to Stark’s superego. Mickey Rourke is great as the insane creepy Russian Ivan Vanko. Sam Rockwell, as good an actor as he is, doesn’t really come off as the intimidating type and I never really saw him as anything other than a whiny loser. This may have been exactly what they were aiming for in his character, but there was potential in this role that never seemed to be fully realized.

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The production values are spectacular, as they should be when one considers the massive budget this film had. I personally enjoyed many of the little nods thrown in that reference THE AVENGERS film and there are winks for fans of the Marvel universe (a Captain America shield here and a Thor hammer there). Samuel L. Jackson goes from brief cameo to full-on supporting character as Nick Fury. These nudges and winks for the fans are fun enough. However, it seems like there’s far too much exposition here and not enough action.

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The story begins with promise and a showdown between Stark and Ivan at a Grand Prix is appropriately exciting. The final 40 minutes are also a rollicking good time. However, it’s the middle section that drags. The final showdown between Tony and Ivan also feels a bit like a boss fight in a video game and ends far too quickly. This should have been the most intense and riveting sequence in the entire film, but it resolves itself in a bit of an anti-climactic way.

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IRON MAN 2 is a fun time. It winds up being on the lower end of the Marvel cinematic universe so far. The predecessor is far better and so is the crossover film between all of the heroes, but this winds up being just an okay sequel to a superior origin story.

Grade: B-

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