Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Here Comes the Sun Edition

I don’t know what the weather has been like in the rest of the country, but it has been a rainy mess here in upstate New York. It’s just been grey, thunderstorms are a daily occurrence and, to add insult to injury, it has been on the chilly side.So this morning I was slightly confused by this bright orange globe in the sky. I’d almost forgotten what a sunny day looked like in Albany. I’m taking this as a sign of good things to come; the yucky weather certainly hasn’t done much to life people’s spirits lately (mine included).

Another good omen – the pop culture roundup! While I’m enjoying some sunshine, get yourself caught up on the pop culture that you might have missed in the last week.

Television

Movies

Trailers

  • Murder on the Orient Express:

 

  • Room 104:

 

  • The Mountain Between Us:

 

  • The Deuce:

 

  • American Made:

 

  • It Comes At Night:

 

  • Ballers, season 3:

 

  • Three new spots for The Dark Tower:

 

 

 

  • Preacher, season 2:

 

  • Broad City, season 4:

 

  • The Mist:

 

  • The Last Tycoon:

 

  • Seven Sisters:

 

  • Numb, at the Edge of the End:

 

  • Swedish Dicks:

 

  • Manhunt Unibomber:

 

Music

Books

Stand-up

Theater

Odds and Ends

Mashups and Supercuts

  • The Red Keep from Game of Thrones recreated in LEGOs:

 

  • A supercut of characters saying the name of the movie that they are in:

 

  • 40 Years of Hip Hop:

 

  • The Gang says God Dammit:

 

  • He-Man meets DMX:

 

  • Sesame Street parodies Orange Is the New Black:

 

 

Logan – A Review

The X-Men movie franchise has been something of a roller coaster ride. When the original X-Men movie came out in 2000, it helped kickstart what eventually would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe domination. I didn’t know very much about the X-Men; up until that point my familiarity with superheroes was limited to the major players: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man. X-Men was the first movie that introduced me to the wide and diverse world of superheroes and I was instantly fascinated. It helped that X-Men was a decent movie; sadly, as the franchise continued, its track record got a little shakier. Perhaps my wonder at this new world simply wore off, but the rest of the X-Men related movies were something of a mixed bag. I think I was disappointed in X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand and I certainly thought that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not good. When the franchise rebooted itself with X-Men: First Class, I thought that they may have righted the ship, but X-Men: Apocalypse proved that they were still plenty capable of terrible franchise installments even with the new cast.

Through it all, one constant of the greater X-men universe has been Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Even when the movie he appeared in was crappy – including his first solo outing – Jackman was always a solid guardian for the character. While most of the main X-men were portrayed by different actors during the long run of the franchise, no one else has donned the claws other than Jackman, which has led to some much needed reliability in a series of movies that has jumped around in time. But 17 years is a long time to play a character, so I wasn’t totally surprised when word came down that Logan would likely be Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine. All good things must come to an end eventually. I would have gone to see Logan simply to see Jackman’s sideburns one last time regardless, but when the news came down that Logan would not only be based on the popular comic book story Old Man Logan, but that it would also be rated R, my interest was definitely piqued. Though I haven’t read Old Man Logan, I’ve been anecdotally hearing about this story for years and how it is really dark and gritty it is – and y’all know that I love dark and gritty. Deadpool’s runaway success last year made studios a little more comfortable with the idea of an R-rated superhero movie and while a lot of the R-Rating in Deadpool goes to raunchy and delightful jokes, the idea of a superhero movie will real violence and real consequences only served to potentially heighten the stakes of Logan and increase the world wariness of Wolverine. Despite the bad aftertaste that X-Men: Apocalypse left in my mouth, I was willing to let my expectation for Logan rise ever so slightly. I was cautiously optimistic, but still prepared for Hugh Jackman’s final performance as Wolverine be a letdown.

Thankfully, Logan was really great and took full advantage of its rating to make a definitively adult superhero movie. It isn’t just a lot more violent (though it definitely is), but it is able to explore a lot of ideas and topics that don’t really fit into a PG-13 movie: carrying the burden of killing a lot of people, loss of family, and questioning your purpose. There aren’t a lot of quips in Logan and there aren’t man attempts to make this a lighter movie. Logan is also freed from the burden of setting up the next X-Men or Marvel movie and it takes full advantage of that luxury by focusing on telling this one particular story without having to remind us how it fits in the larger MCU. No characters are forcefully shoehorned in and references are made to actions that have happened off-screen prior to the film that Logan doesn’t feel that it has to explain or fully explore. It trusts that a grown-up audience can make inferences and doesn’t need everything spelled out for them. For me, it was a refreshing change of pace.

Logan takes place in 2029 and Wolverine/Logan is one of the last surviving mutants. No new mutants have been born in last 25 years and Wolverine’s best days are behind him – he is visibly older and he no longer heals like he used to. He’s earning money as a chauffeur while he and mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) secretly harbor and care for Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who suffers from senility and an inability to control his telepathic abilities (which isn’t good for anybody). Logan is approached by a Gabriela Lopez (Elizabeth Rodriguez) to transport a young girl Laura (Dafne Keen). She and Laura are running from Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Zander Rice (Ricard E. Grant), who have a keen interest in Laura. This assignment pulls Logan out of retirement and puts him on a collision course with not only some “bad hombres” but with his own destiny and legacy.

As usual, Hugh Jackman is solid as Wolverine and finally has a movie around him that allows him to play a much more nuanced version of the character. Jackman is definitely going out on a high note, as Logan is easily one of my favorite installments in the X-Men franchise. I’m always going to like the old weary version of a character to the young version, so Logan is right up my alley.  It’s not a perfect film – these movies have always struggled with creating well-rounded female characters – but the singularity of its focus and its relatively small cast allows the film the space to breathe and tell a well-crafted story with a focus on the people as well as the action sequences, which benefit greatly from minimal use of CGI. The fight scenes feel realer and fresher because the viewer is closer to the action and now that people actually die (sometimes gruesomely) on screen, there is a real urgency to every time that Logan unsheathes his claws. The viewer is also very aware of the toll that each battle takes out of Logan; with the specter of invincibility removed, there is more investment in the outcome. It all felt realer and rawer; there is an urgency to the film as it feels like most of the characters are on borrowed time – and they know it.

In between all the mayhem, there are also some quieter moments that permit the film to explore the emotional connection between the characters. Patrick Stewart is always great, but as deteriorating and feeble Professor X he has found a new note to his character that allows him to flex different acting muscles. He and Wolverine have always had a special relationship and Logan allows that bond to be examined. As potentially the last of their kind, that bond is only intensified and both actors have some very powerful scenes together. Adding Laura to the mix creates a family dynamic that is fun to watch.

Even though I was pretty sure that I knew how Logan was going to end, it was still an enjoyable ride to be on. By keeping it simple and with the freedom afforded by a R-rating, I think that Logan is not only a great superhero movie, but a great movie full stop.  Personally I’d like to see superhero movies continue to follow this pattern, though that is unlikely given the larger picture of Marvel movies and the box office receipts that rely on the younger set being able to see these films in the theater. But even if it is unrealistic for all superhero movies to fit the mold of Logan, I hope it’s a direction that they don’t abandon. With the right actors, story, and the shackles of servicing a multiverse removed, superhero films can certainly elevate their game and explore some more interesting terrain. If Hugh Jackman does indeed ride off into the sunset, never to play Wolverine again, he picked a stellar jumping off point. He’s done that character right for 17years and finally the character has done Jackman right as well.

Logan is currently in wide release.

X-Men: Apocalypse – A Review

X-Men_Apocalype_UK_Poster

Apocalypse – I really had higher hopes for you.

When the next villain was teased at the end of the confusingly titled X-Men: Days of Future Past, I was intrigued despite not knowing much about who Apocalypse was. The idea of a villain that was also a god had real potential, despite the fact that I knew he obviously would be vanquished as that’s kind of how these movies play out and these films take place before the original X-men movies, where no reference to Apocalypse is made. My comic book loving friends were also relatively pumped for the arrival of Apocalypse and his four horsemen (horsepeople?), so while I knew the ultimate outcome would be in the favor of the X-Men, I thought that Apocalypse would provide them with a real challenge.

Unfortunately, X-Men: Apocalypse was ultimately disappointing. There were brief moments of excitement and fun, but this franchise is really beginning to show signs of fatigue. For me, it was too much of what we’ve seen in other X-Men movies without much personality or originality to liven things up a bit. There are only so many times that you can see the same basic character beats and plot lines play out before you get bored and I think Apocalypse was that point for me. Even the actors seemed pretty uninterested in what was unfolding around them; when you have Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy at your disposal, the end product should be a lot more interesting.

X-Men: Apocalypse opens in ancient Egypt, where Apocalypse (Isaac), believed to be the first mutant, rules. He is betrayed by some of his worshipers and entombed until being awakened in the 1980s. He isn’t on board with modern life and decides that he needs to destroy the world in order to save it (questionable logic at best). He then sets out to recruit his four “horsemen” to assist him, including Magneto (Fassbender), who has been a fugitive since the events at the end of Days of Future Past, which have made Mystique (Lawrence) something of a folk hero. Apocalypse also wants to tap in the powers of Professor Xavier (McAvoy) and…well, a bunch of other convoluted stuff happens. Needless to say, the good guy mutants want to put an end to Apocalypse’s plans for world domination. X-Men: Apocalypse also marks the first introduction of young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and new mutants Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Jubilee (Lana Condor). Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Lucas Till, Evan Peters and Josh Helman all reprise their characters from previous X-Men films.

At this point, the X-Men franchise really needs to find a new direction to go in, so it’s not lather, rinse, and repeat with these storylines. Magneto is always a bad guy…until he isn’t. We’ve been watching Xavier try to save his friend for nearly 16 years now and it’s getting a little boring – especially since we know that this battle will wage on for the foreseeable future of the franchise as this tension was at the heart of the original X-Men film. The same goes for Mystique, who we know won’t stick with the good side either. The allegiances in these films are so flimsy and the character arcs are simply rehashing the same issues that we’ve already seen play out several times already. The introduction of the new mutants might add some interesting dynamics if they were actually given something to do; Psylocke and Angel have maybe 10 lines between the two of them in the film; we know very little about them or what their motivations are in this whole fight. Munn is definitely a bad-ass, but I couldn’t have told you her character name without looking it up. There are so many characters in play that they have a tough time servicing all of them; I would have much preferred learning more about some of these new characters than dealing with the Magneto/Xavier dynamic for the hundredth time. If you have Jennifer Lawrence locked up under contract, you should probably actually use her. She doesn’t have much to do in Apocalypse, to the detriment of the movie.

A lot of these issues wouldn’t have been so problematic if they had done more with Apocalypse. Oscar Isaac is unrecognizable in the role, both because he’s hidden under all the blue makeup and because there is absolutely no trace of his charisma or charm. Despite his backstory, Apocalypse isn’t the big bad that I was hoping that he would be. Not only is what he is really trying to accomplish a bit unclear, but he seems to take a pretty haphazard attitude in reaching his goals. His recruitment of his “horsemen” is random at best; if I was putting a team together to destroy the world, I might want to do more research beyond “these are the first four mutants that I came across.” I’m not really sure what Angel is bringing to the table and I will never be convinced that Storm is a real threat. Maybe you wouldn’t be able to recruit some of the most powerful mutants out there, but he probably should have put more thought into the whole thing. In all honestly, I could probably have taken Apocalypse out, and my superpower is just being snarky.

None of this is the fault of the actors, who do the best with what they’re given. There are also some nice fight sequences in the film that liven things up a bit, which is what you need in a movie like this. But it’s saying a lot that the most memorable and fun sequence in the film involved Quicksilver (Peters) and is basically a carbon copy of the scene that he had in Days of Future Past. Even the best part of Apocalypse is a retread.

Some other thoughts:

  • All these decade jumps make it very hard to keep track of how old everyone is supposed to be. Vulture investigates and not surprisingly, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
  • I think they missed a real cross-promotional possibility by not using Metallica’s “My Apocalypse” somewhere in this movie.
  • A lot of criticism has been levied at one scene in particular in the movie.
  • Since I’m such a big Game of Thrones fan, I had a tough time seeing Sophie Turner disappear into the role of Jean Grey. Mostly, I was hoping she would get to keep those powers as Sansa Stark, which would be a pretty big game changer for her Game of Thrones character.
  • I wouldn’t want to be an X-Man, not because I wouldn’t want the powers, but because they seem to have no fun at all. There is absolutely no joy in any of these characters; I’m sure being a mutant is hard, but there’s got to be some fun to be had as well.
  • There was a post-credits sequence that made absolutely nothing to me. Screenrant explains what it all meant.

Honestly, X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t a bad movie, just kind of a boring one. It’s too much of the same old that we’ve seen throughout the franchise, which means that it’s predictable and showing signs of fatigue. They need to find a new angle or something new to say in order to breathe some new life into these films; they were able to do that when they did X-Men: First Class but that concept seems to have run its course. They should either clean house and focus more on new mutants or perhaps make a villain that lasts for more than one movie – anything that would shake up the same basic formula that these films are regurgitating with little variation. So many superhero movies are cranked out now every year that you really have to do something different to stand out. X-Men: Apocalypse was a perfectly serviceable superhero movie, but ultimately is just recycled storylines from previous X-Men movies. Hopefully this is a transition movie that will eventually lead to something a little more original or interesting down the road. Otherwise, this may be a franchise that will coast on fumes for a while.

X-Men: Apocalypse is currently showing nationwide.