X-Men Apocalypse: Movie Man Jackson

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One can never prepare for the Apocalypse. It just happens. After stopping Bolivar Trask and his sentinel program by way of time travel, the X-Men live in a world where they may not completely be accepted, but they are tolerated. The year is 1983, and Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) still leads his school for the gifted. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) freelances for a living as a mercenary, and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has found new meaning in a quiet life with family.

Mutants, especially those with the strength and skill of Xavier, Mystique, and Magneto, are easily the most powerful beings on the planet. But unknown to everyone, they aren’t the first of their kind. In the pyramids of Egypt, an ancient one, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac) rises from his centuries-long slumber. He is the world’s first mutant, with power no one can come close to matching. He doesn’t like what society has evolved into, and takes it upon himself, with help from some chosen mutants, to cleanse it. This is the end of the world as the world knows it.

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Yours truly seemed to be one of the few that had a little more disappointment with Days of Future Past than most. I blame X-Men, not necessarily superhero, fatigue. It’s crazy to think that the X-Men movies have been around for over 15 years, and now, they return with X-Men: Apocalypse. High or low, expectations are a hell of a thing to go into a movie with, and thanks to my indifference to DoFP and a 49% RottenTomatoes rating as of this writing for the latest in the series, my expectations for Apocalypse couldn’t be more grounded. Which is probably why I had a solid time, all things considered.

McAvoy or Stewart? Days of Future Past’s time-traveling storyline was kind of confusing. For better or worse, longtime series director Bryan Singer’s story is much more straighforward this time around. Conventional may be the word thrown around, and it is valid. Yet, it is interesting that in a year of superheroes battling essentially due to ideologies, the one comic book series that has used ideology consistently over its franchise length to pit main characters against each other is sort of absent here. It does appear, but it isn’t a main cog of the story like it has been in prior installments. In an odd way, I found that “refreshing” in an X-Men movie.

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Singer’s never really disappointed from a visual aspect in his X-Men movies. He doesn’t disappoint in Apocalypse, either. It’s obviously more CGI-reliant more than some of its other comic-book counterparts due to its characters’ otherworldly powers, but a treat to behold. Those (read: everyone) who liked Quicksilver and his scene in the previous feature will be excited to know that he’s a more prominent character this go-round, with an equally impressive, if not exceeding, sequence to boot.

In X-Men: Apocalypse, Singer has given the series its first pure villain in Apocalypse, played by Oscar Issac, to much of the Internet’s distaste. Not distaste in Issac, but the baddie’s appearance and motivation. From a sheer aesthetic standpoint, yours truly believes Apocalypse is menacing, the epitome of pure evil with his look and distorted voice. It’s where the other part disappoints; En Sabah Nur’s reason for wrecking havoc is taken out of the Villainy 101 textbook: Because he can and wants to rule the world. What he plans on doing with it, no one knows. He’s dangerous and one wants to see him get defeated, but the question is, why cast Issac for a fairly shallow role that anyone could have played?

The rest of the cast features some reoccurring standouts and some empty space. James McAvoy might be a better Professor X than Stewart at this point, with more character. Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Evan Peters are solid lynchpins, with the latter being the most memorable out of the three here. “New” X-Men in Jean Gray, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler are in good future hands with Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, respectively. But the scene stealer is still Michael Fassbender, always impressive in any scene he’s in. Sadly, the Four Horseman sans Magneto are duds. Until the final fight, they are more or less relegated to standing idly behind or next to Apocalypse with nary a word said. Easily forgettable.

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The third film always seems to be the worst out of a trilogy to the majority audience. But X-Men: Apocalypse is still the tried and true X-Men, just more conventional and less complex. It’s not the end of the world, or this franchise.

B-

Photo credits go to screenrant.com and comicbookmovie.com.

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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising-Movie Man Jackson

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I guess this is why living in a cardboard box wouldn’t be a bad thing. After defeating frat leader Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) in a truly epic battle for the neighborhood block, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne) now live in peace, raising their youngster and prepping for another. The incoming newborn has prompted the family to buy a new house, and sell their own home. Luckily, they’ve found a buyer.

But, they do have to make it 30 days in escrow before the sale is official. Easy, right? Not anymore, because a new sorority has moved next door. Led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), she wants to throw parties that aren’t ones put together by douchey frat bros, and has no care if Mac and Kelly lose their sale. Once again, neighbors are fighting one another, and this time, the opposition the couple face appears stronger than before. To dethrone this “Buffalo Bill” sorority, they will need a “Hannibal Lecter” in Teddy, in order to prevail again.

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The first Neighbors (or Bad Neighbours as it seemed to be known throughout most of the world) was a relative surprise, both financially, critically, and even in the performance department. Yours truly didn’t love it, but all in all, some good laughs and a nice message were found. The money made warrants a sequel, and here it is with Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. Is this installment of family versus college social organization as good as the first?

One thing is for certain with Neighbors 2, most people will not be able to claim it to be offensive. Even as an R rated comedy, take out the F bombs and requisite graphic nudity and it is quite harmless when compared to similar movies. It is rather postmodern and wears it on its sleeve from the first few minutes on and throughout. Whether it be interracial marriage, gay marriage, or gender equality, returning director Nicholas Stoller takes the previous template but switches the point-of-view to prevent it from being a complete rehash with a bit more social commentary.

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While the plot is generally in the same mold as the first, Neighbors 2‘s plot sadly feels a lot more stretched than the original, not to mention just lacking the laugh out loud humor. A few slapstick gags are effective, but much of the dialogue fails to elicit more than a mild chuckle, at least in the theater I was in. Repeated jokes about Jews, Minions (because Universal is the distributor!) and feminism are amusing the first time, but boring the fifth and sixth times. After a while, the progressive approach, as good-natured as it is, comes off as more of a crutch for lackluster writing as opposed to a support for genuinely funny moments strung together.

The writing does the cast no favors, but all try to do what they can with what is given. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne still have chemistry, and as such, it hurts more to see their jokes not land because they really are trying. Much more supporting this time is Zac Efron, as self-deprecating as ever. Though he is a supporting character, his entire character arc is most fulfilling and complete, which makes Neighbors 2 as much of his story as the two clashing groups.

Chloe Moretz is talented, but here, she looks to be a little out of her element in comedy, actually somewhat dull in this. Her character has meat, but she’s not the type that one necessarily thinks of when having a huge role in a comedy, and her being in the cast feels more like having a big name attached for the hell of it as opposed to contributing real value. That can be said for most of the rest of the cast, whether returning or new. Many are just there.

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Aside from the themes, Neighbors 2′s best thing it may have going for it is how it ends. There’s real finality that would be undone if another film were to be made. Even good-natured neighbors can become old after a while, right?

D

Photo credits go to newsflow24.com, comingsoon.net,and uni.com

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Spy: Movie Man Jackson

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 “I look like someone’s homophobic aunt!”

No one ever suspects the cat lady of anything. Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is a member of the CIA. But, she isn’t one of those agents out in the field. She does her job from a desk, assisting her colleagues such as Bradley Fine (Jude Law) in a 30,000 foot view role supplying the details of a given mission. By no means a thankless job, Susan does desire getting out into the field one day.

That one day comes when Agent Fine, Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), and all other agents are all compromised in a particular mission involving Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), an international arms dealer looking to sell a potentially world-ending weapon to the highest bidder, including terrorists. An unassuming person is needed to get close to Rayna, and Susan’s number is called. Although having no formal field training in 10 years, there is no time for the farm. Susan education in becoming a Spy is going to be trial by fire.

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As of this writing, Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation is a month and a half away, and Spectre is a little under five. That doesn’t mean that 2015 has been devoid of espionage flicks, though. With Kingsman: The Secret Service and now simply Spy, the year has brought movies that draw inspiration from the genre’s most widely known franchises. Spy, while poking a little fun at the movies that came before it, is clearly its own, not so much a parody on the genre but one just set in the espionage world.

Since breaking out in 2011’s Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has become one of the faces of comedy, male or female. In Spy, she is reunited with Paul Feig, who directed Bridesmaids and well as 2013’s The Heat. It is clear that the two are on the same wavelength, and are a tandem that can continue to churn out film after film and make money on it. What Feig has done here, though, is make McCarthy’s character a bit more fleshed out than previous roles. Sure, the character motivation of “wanting to prove others wrong and do it for…” is used often, but works when done right, and it works for the most part here, even enhancing the comedy.

The plot is basic, which is fine, with the obvious setup to kick the story into motion. And it moves at a consistent pace. The only time the two-hour length is felt is in the final act, where the movie becomes almost fully action-oriented and not all that impressive with something that is supposed to be the climax. However, Feig does well enough overall in directing the action, with a highlight being a catfight that manages to be visually impressive and somewhat funny.

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Even though Melissa has a more well rounded character than movies past, Melissa character’s in this is still stamped with her own brand of comedy. The self-deprecating weight bits are left out here, but the aggressive, sharp-tongued zingers remain. Some land, some don’t. In yours truly’s eyes, McCarthy is the female version of Kevin Hart; someone who has a huge following but seemingly just as many who dislike their comedic stylings. There likely isn’t enough here to convert someone from a McCarthy hater to a lover, but haters may be surprised with her if this is given a chance.

The nice thing about this is the fact that though she is top-billed, others in the cast make their comedic presence known. Likely an unknown to most, British comic Miranda Hart plays Susan’s right-hand (wo)man, and best friend. She’s awkward, kind of horny, and energetic, and it is the type of role character that some people may love, and others could find annoying. I felt both sides of the spectrum. Fellow countryperson Peter Serafinowicz gets to be the guy who just wants to desperately make love to Cooper, and isn’t afraid to let his hands to the talking along with a goofy accent. Rose Byrne is no stranger to comedy at this point, but she has never been better here as a snobby, patronizing, and extremely cold rich villain who knows she’s this way, and doesn’t try to act like she isn’t. She has solid, mano a mamo moments with McCarthy that show her impressive wit and delivery.

With all that said, the real scene-stealer happens to be Jason Statham, cranked up to a comedic role he’s never done before like he does here. Every scene that he appears in is an absolute riot, talking about his legendary, yet unverified and unfathomable, exploits. It is fun to see Statham as we’ve never really seen him before, and he appears to be having fun taking on some of his prior roles.

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Spy is a Melissa McCarthy vehicle, but the great thing about it is that there is enough outside of her from the rest of the ensemble to make this enjoyable for those who aren’t fans. Who knows? Perhaps this is the start of a Bond-like franchise.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to theguardian.com, heraldsun.com.au, and denofgeek.com

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This Is Where I Leave You: Movie Man Jackson

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“You guys are idiots. But you’re my idiots.”

How do you get an oddball family to reconnect after years and years of not doing so? An unfortunate passing of their patriarch of course! This Is Where I Leave You begins with Judd Altman (Jason Bateman), an average and seemingly middle aged man with a solid career and healthy marriage. While coming come to celebrate his wife birthday, he stumbles upon a most unfortunate revelation: His wife is doing his boss, and has been doing so for a year.

His life now in shambles, Judd gets a call from his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) learning that their father has passed away. This of course forces the Altman family to come together for an impromptu reunion. The funeral was one thing, but as told by their mother (Jane Fonda), their father’s dying wish was for the family to spend one whole week under the same roof obeying the Jewish mourning tradition known as Shiva. In this one week the Altman clan’s already shaky-at-best bonds will be tested, but maybe just maybe some appreciation for each other will arise out of it.

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With a simple but relatable premise mixing comedy with family drama, This Is Where I Leave You sets up to be a solid piece of entertainment, bolstered by a very recognizable and accomplished cast of actors. Well, at least on paper that is. TIWILY (nice looking abbreviation), has its moments but also its fails, in turn making a movie that is pretty average and disappointing with the promise it possesses.

The movie’s screenplay is written by Jonathan Tropper, who also happened to write the novel that this is based on. With the continuity there, you would think that the script would carry over to the other medium without a hiccup. If only it were that easy. I have not read the book, but I kept on thinking when viewing that maybe some things were lost in translation from the pages to the big screen. Despite its simplistic presence, there is a lot going on here that gives the movie a bloated feeling with so many characters crossing paths and constantly coming in and out and back in again.

Comedy-wise, there are some good laughs to be had, and they generally come through the dialogue of the characters in this less-than-desirable situation. By that sense, it is written well and the characters sound like real people. Any film with Jason Bateman and Tina Fey in it is going to be planted in the comedy genre, but TIWILY has a great deal of drama and heavyness in it, and it is a little unclear as to what it really wants to be. In a nutshell, it is a dramedy but it shifts tonally so often and so quickly between scenes that it becomes a little difficult to buy into. Seriously, there are musical cues that give clear indication to the audience, almost as if the movie is telling us “OK, it’s time to stop chuckling and time to get serious.”

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With the cast assembled for this, what most are given to do from a character sense underwhelms. Really, only Bateman’s character gets fleshed out and explored, and not surprisingly, he gives a very effective performance. His character is one to sympathize with and get behind, and his growth throughout is evident. The same cannot be said for the rest, mainly because they just aren’t allowed to. They are saddled with template characters seen before in other places, be it the irresponsible and outspoken young buck of the family (Adam Driver), the uptight boring brother (Corey Stoll), or the politically incorrect and unabashed matriarch (Jane Fonda). It is to their credit along with the solid dialogue that they’re still able to generate laughs, but that doesn’t translate into investment to their characters. Even the growth of these characters (aside from Bateman’s) that the movie desperately wants you to buy into feels nonexistent.

As a direct result of the lack of inability to make the characters interesting, it is a bit of a stretch to buy everyone as a family. You end up seeing Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, and company as themselves. This in turn makes the film almost like an extended comedy skit suited for Saturday Night Live in certain places. Sure it is still fun to watch, but since TIWILY is rooted around a dysfunctional family unit, believing that this is a real family is crucial to the experience. It appears that even the actors themselves ham it up to prove that this is such a dysfunctional family. Not every movie has to be believable, but certain ones suffer more if the feeling is not present.

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With so much promise, it is a big downer to see This Is Where I Leave You as it is: A middling family-get-together-from-hell film that is inconsistent and more familiar to other stuff than desired. Evidence of what it could have been is strewn here and there just enough to not be completely down on the movie, but it will still most likely leave one in a “wishing more from it” state of mind.

Grade: C

Photo credits go to theyoungfolks.com, wallpaperseries.com, andwegotthiscovered.com.

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Neighbors: Movie Man Jackson

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“You call the cops, you violate the Circle of Trust, Focker.”

Is it Neighbors or Bad Neighbours? Regardless, at least we know the presence of neighbors in some shape or form is evident. In this new film, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are Mac and Kelly Radner, a married couple with a newborn in tow. Though uneventful, life is good. Mac has a solid job, Kelly is a stay at home mom, and the neighborhood they reside in is very conducive for the raising of a child.

All that changes when a college fraternity moves into the neighborhood. It would bad enough but possibly doable if they were houses down, but no. This frat is right next door to this couple, and this is not one of the polite business networking frats. Led by its legend-seeking president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), this organization majors in raging. An initial effort to exist in the same vicinity is made, but this effort doesn’t last long. There can be only one way this ends. Who will be forced to move first?

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I didn’t have high hopes for Neighbors, but a few takes here and there from some of my favorite reviewers upticked my expectations. After watching, I do not share the overwhelming love that others may, but by and large it works. While not a complete laugh riot, it is amusing enough as a whole.

The premise sounds familiar, but it really isn’t. There may be films that have moments and subplots of feuding neighbors, but none that base their entirety around it. For that alone, it was different. Even if some humor appeared forced, respect is given for straying away from the same old same old in a story sense.

And the story itself has got some heart to it. It is an unexpected look at two men who despite seemingly being at different points in life, are really similar. In short, the movie alludes to the fact that nothing lasts forever. Both have fear of the unknown and end up masking it in various ways, and Neighbors does a good job at examining what each man is afraid of. This is just a small part of the movie’s high production. It never looks cheap, and there is some nice looking editing and action shots, especially when the party elements are at a fever pitch. Pretty nice stuff for a raunch comedy.

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If only the humor was more prevalent. It is far from a comedic bore, but there are some stretches where nothing more than a slight chuckle was had. The movie is not a non-stop laugh fest, and not every comedy has to be. But with no humor to be had in certain scenes, some sections moved slower than others.

Pure conjecture, but the first half of the movie felt less humorous than the second. Makes sense somewhat; this half and mainly the first third is rather mundane in introducing us to these main characters. Still, things do not truly take off until the “bros before hoes” party. At this point on, the laughs were had consistently.

Oddly enough, the slapstick elememt in this is much more memorable than the dialogue. I say oddly because slapstick often invokes sentimemts of lazy effort (to me at least), but here it was funny! From a physical standpoint, there are many noteworthy scenes, known immediately when viewed. If only the dialogue matched the hilarity found in the gags. Not devoid of humor, but not laden with it either.

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Three main stars make up the bulk of Neighbors. At this point in his career, Seth Rogen is who he is, and that is not a bad thing. He plays the well-meaning, occasional pot smoking, lovable man-child that has been done by him before. He is generally funny and endearing if a bit too loud during various instances. His wife, played by Rose Byrne, has some solid material in this one. Generally I have never been a fan and even hated her in most of her roles, but she is tolerable here and gets many chances to shine.  Lastly, Mr. Zac Efron may be starting to find his way in comedy. He has some really good lines and reactions in multiple situations, and it should be intriguing to see where he goes from here.

Other bit players include Dave Franco as Efron’s right hand man, Ike Baronholtz as Rogen’s work buddy, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a frat member. Franco has comedic talent, and also more of the poignant and reflective moments in the movie. Barinholtz may be a little too over the top, but not completely grating. It feels like CMP has been around for ages, yet he is my age. His career is still young, but these are his types of roles minus Fright Night and Kick-Ass. Nothing that hasn’t been seen before.

Neighbors may not be a top notch comedy, but it has genuine heart and enough humorous moments to recommend a view. It should serve as a nice change of pace amid the superhero films and monster movies already in theaters or scheduled to arrive shortly.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to beyondhollywood.com, designtrend.com, & wallpaper series.com.

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