At The Movies: X-Men: Apocalypse

I was really looking forward to the newest X-Men film. And not just because it’s another superhero movie.

They were finally bringing in my favorite X-Man – Angel – and my favorite X-Woman – Psylocke – and surely this time, with franchise-starter Bryan Singer at the helm, they would get it right.

You see, Angel originally appeared — and did nothing — in the series’ third outing, “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Psylocke was in it too, but so briefly and out-of-character that you wouldn’t know it. The movie — which Singer wasn’t involved in — is widely viewed as the nadir of the franchise (unless you count “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”).

8597c6f8d30a096991f53d0e8081feadc1f43dedSo I waded through two more X-Men movies and a couple of Wolverine movies and finally, Singer announced he was going to do “X-Men: Apocalypse,” and it would feature an all new, all shiny Angel (Ben Hardy), and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) in her actual iconic costume instead of those black leather flight jacket everyone else is forced to wear. And there they both were in the previews. And they looked awesome.

Yes, I was really looking forward to the newest X-Men film.

And then I saw it.

Let’s just say, you’re better off being a Cubs fan than an Angel fan.

So, “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Is it a bad movie? No. It’s an X-Men movie. As such it has a good cast and decent special effects. Some nifty action sequences, plenty of drama and a bit of humor.

Wait. Did I say it was an X-Men movie? I meant to say it’s a Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) movie, with copious amounts of Mystique because she’s played by mega-hot Jennifer Lawrence now, and a smidgen of Wolverine because you can’t have an X-Men movie without Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

i6gzgnAnd that’s the main problem with “X-Men: Apocalypse.” We are six movies into this franchise and still beating the same dead horse, over and over. I’m not at all a fan of death in comic-book movies but would someone please kill Charles and Eric so the rest of the team can do something? Why is Magneto in every X-Men movie? He’s the villain. You don’t see the Joker in every Batman movie, nor would you want to, no matter how popular he is.

What’s the point of introducing new characters or recasting old ones if they’re never going to do anything but stand in the background while Eric and Charles chat? They’re even at the point where they simply repeat dialogue from earlier movies. Somebody give this franchise to the Russo brothers. They know how to juggle a dozen superheroes and give everyone something meaningful to do. Poor Colossus had to leave and join Deadpool to get any meaningful screen time.

If ever a movie franchise needed a reboot, it’s this one. And yes, I’m aware that they’re in the middle of a reboot. But “X-Men: Apocalypse” is just so repetitive. Magneto is either good or evil depending on the needs of the story; Quicksilver (Evan Peters) gets a cool moment to show off his super-speed (but it was done better the first time); Jean(Sophie Turner) is sooo powerful (but will her powers consume her?); Wolverine goes on a berserker rage but has to do most of it off-camera because, you know, blood. Mystique’s importance is blown out of proportion because, like I said, Jennifer Lawrence. Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is reduced to being a mutant taxi. Cyclops’ (Tye Sheridan) and Storm’s (Alexandra Shipp) roles are downplayed — as usual. And finally, it doesn’t help that Apocalypse (Oscar Issacs) is the least developed and thus least interesting villain in X-Men movie history.

My apologies. I realize this is more a rant than a movie review but sometimes you just gotta let it out.

 

 

 

 

 

On Stage: Jersey Boys

“Jersey Boys,” the musical biography of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is back in town for another run at the Fox Theatre. This is the fourth time the Tony Award-winning show has played at the Fox which means this is my fourth time writing about it. (Granted, one of those times I had HULK write the review, but he’s retired from theater criticism so I’m on my own.)

You may wonder, “What more can you say about ‘Jersey Boys’ that you haven’t said before?” I’m not sure. That’s why I’m stalling. I thought about just rerunning a previous review but the only one I could find online was by the big green guy. Suffice it to say, if I didn’t love the show I wouldn’t come back every time it does. Trust me, I haven’t been to every engagement of “Mamma Mia!”that comes to town.

OK. So. For the “Jersey Boys”-impaired, a recap: This is the story of three guys from New Jersey — Tommy DeVito (Matthew Daily), Nick Massi (Keith Hines) and Bob Gaudio (Drew Seeley) who achieve Rock and Roll Fame and Glory when they team up with The Man with the Amazing Falsetto Voice — Frankie Valli (Aaron De Jesus).

 

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Aaron De Jesus, Drew Seeley, Matthew Daily and Keith Hines in a scene from “Jersey Boys.” Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The show plays out like any good “Behind the Music” bio with each of the band members getting their turn at narrating the tale. It’s a familiar story with a Jersey twist: Poor kids make it big and along the way encounter heartache, betrayal, brotherhood, music industry shenanigans, death, drugs, sex, profanity — but most of all — rock and roll.  “Jersey Boys” is a high-energy showcase of classic rock featuring such hits as “Rag Doll,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Working My Way Back To You.”

De Jesus hits all the right notes in the challenging lead role and his companions do fine work as well. As usual, my favorite is the sad-sack Nick, who doesn’t come into his own until the second act.

The only downside to last night’s performance was the woman sitting in the aisle across from me, who proceeded to violate every rule of theater etiquette. If you can’t sing like Frankie Valli, you really shouldn’t try. Especially in public.

She probably won’t be back, so if you’re a fan of the days of early rock and four-part harmonies, or you just want to have a good time, then walk like a man (or woman), fast as you can, to the Fox before “Jersey Boys” is gone.

“Jersey Boys” runs through Sunday at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

 

At The Movies: Money Monster

“Money Monster” is a C+ thriller with A-list talent that delivers a .. what? ..B, B+, B- level movie? I don’t know how it adds up, I’m not a teacher. This is why I don’t give films letter grades.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, a blowhard financial expert on cable television. You know the type. Julia Roberts plays his longtime and long-suffering director, Patty Fenn. Lee is the star of “Money Monster,” in which he prances around on stage and tells people what to do with their money.

moneymonster_posterOne day a blue-collar loser named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) sneaks into the studio during a live broadcast. He pulls out a gun and straps a bomb-vest on Lee. Kyle is upset, you see, that he invested all his savings on Ibis Clear Capital based on Lee’s assurance that it was a sure thing. A “glitch” in the company’s programming somehow cost the business 800 million dollars, a small portion of which was Kyle’s future.

Kyle doesn’t want his money back, he wants answers. But Lee doesn’t have them, and the company spokeswoman (Caitriona Balfe) is only interested in her talking points — which only enrages Kyle all the more. Kyle wants to hear from the Ibis CEO (Dominic West), but he’s off somewhere on his private plane and off the grid.

Directed by Jodie Foster, “Money Monster” doesn’t break any new ground but it’s a decent thriller. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to portray Wall Street as a villain these days and O’Connell gives a solid performance as the common man struggling to get by and feeling like the system is rigged against him. Clooney and Roberts also do good work as they try to stay alive while trying to figure out what really happened at Ibis.

 

At The Movies: Captain America: Civil War

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo revitalized Marvel Studios — which wasn’t in dire straits to begin with — when they put together “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” They continue to bring their winning formula of smart storytelling with wildly frenetic action in the third and latest in the series — “Captain America: Civil War.”

It’s no small accomplishment juggling a dozen superheroes, one villain, and assorted supporting cast and still tell a coherent, compelling story while still delivering plenty of exhilarating action scenes as well as heartfelt character moments. It’s no wonder the duo have been tapped to take over “The Avengers” franchise.

So, in the wake of the last big Marvel film — “Avengers: Age of Ultron” — the world, along with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), is feeling a mite skittish about people with enhanced abilities. The final straw takes place in Nigeria after an operation involving the new Avengers — Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) ends in tragedy.

ZutcdmyThe world’s governments put together the Sokovia Accords, which would require the Avengers and any other superheros to register and work for an international governing body if they want to use their powers in public. Cap refuses to sign the accords, feeling government control of superheroes would be a bad thing. Much discussion follows and alliances are formed.

When the time comes for the accords to be publicly unveiled, an explosion rocks the building where the ceremony is taking place. The No. 1 suspect in the bombing is Cap’s old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), a.k.a. The Winter Soldier. Cap is determined to clear his friend’s name, but to do so means going up against Iron Man, those Avengers who stand with him, and newcomers Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

Every superhero story must have its villain, and for this one the role goes to Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). While most actors playing villains deliver outlandish performances, Bruhl is always calm and understated. And unlike most villains, he seems to have accomplished his goal.

“Captain America: Civil War” is sooooooo much better than the comic that inspired it. The action scenes are filled with incredible moments —  from the opening sequence to the free-for-all at the airport to the final, brutal face-off between Cap, Iron Man and Bucky.

It is amazing how cleanly the Russo brothers pull together such a complicated tale with so many characters and yet give everyone a chance to shine. Sure, some people get more screen-time than others but no one is left with nothing to do. Oh granted, there’s not enough Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), but that’s probably just me.

Newcomers Boseman and Holland prove themselves worthy of joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m not sure if I’m going to get used to Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. She’s just too…you know…not Aunt May.

Despite its large cast, the focus is still on Steve Rogers, his strong moral code, and the difficult places it takes him. Evans continues to shine in the role, and Downey also impresses as his usually lighthearted character goes down a dark path.

In fact, while there are plenty of comic moments, this is a darker Marvel film than audiences will be used to — especially in the final act. That final segment, while truly gripping, hinge on what I consider major suspension of disbelief. And it has nothing to do with superpowers. I’ll leave it there.

“This story changes everything” is a tired, overused phrase in the comic book world, but “Civil War” really does leave our heroes in a much different place than they started. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the future.

 

 

 

(Don’t) Read More About It: Marvel’s Civil War

So yesterday I stated that the Marvel Comics mini-series “Civil War” — the one that inspired the new Captain America movie — was a waste of the paper it was printed on. Now I will make my case for why I believe this to be true.

To be fair, “Civil War” probably wouldn’t be a bad story if you accept that it takes place on an alternate-universe Earth where half the Marvel superheroes are really evil.

Top 6 Reasons Why ‘Civil War’ (the comic) Was A Disaster


108529-20367-civil-war1. Clor

This story takes place during a period of time when Thor, God of Thunder, Son of Odin, was missing and presumed dead. So it was quite surprising at the end of issue 3 when Thor shows up. Even more surprising, he shows up on Tony Stark’s side (If there’s anyone who wouldn’t be taking orders from the U.S. government — it’s Thor). But even more surprising is when Thor blows a hole through Giant-Man’s chest.

Yep, Thor kills Giant-Man. Oh, but don’t worry — it’s not really Thor. It’s a clone of Thor. You see, at some point Tony Stark secretly took a DNA sample from his good friend and hid it away until his friend died, then he and Reed Richards used Thor’s DNA to create a clone that they thought they could control. But then it turns out he couldn’t really control him and Clor turns out to be a kill-crazy monster.

2. Hunt Them Down …

Image25-1In the real world, superheroes are a reactive bunch. They sit in their mansions and towers and caves and wait for the Trouble-Alert to go off and then deal with whatever villain is causing trouble at the moment. You’ll never see an issue of “Iron Man” in which Tony Stark is actively trying to track down members of the FBI’s Most Wanted List.


But in the Civil War world..
. as soon as Superhero Registration is the law of the land, Stark and his team are setting traps to catch the rebels and generally scouring the cityscape trying to find them. And when that doesn’t work, they actually bring in super-villains — crazy, violent killers like Bullseye and Lady Deathstrike — to go hunt down their friends.

3. … and Lock Them Up

In the real world, superheroes aren’t too concerned with incarceration. They catch the bad guys, turn them over to the authorities, and go back to their mansions, their towers, their caves. The authorities lock up the villains but eventually they escape. And the circle of life continues.

But in the Civil War world… Stark and Reed Richards personally supervise the building of a super-prison to put their friends in. And to make doubly sure their friends don’t escape, they put the prison in the Negative Zone. It’s like for years they didn’t give a damn about keeping bad guys in prison, but as soon as it’s their former partners they’re locking away, they want to make damn sure they can’t escape. After all, if Captain America escapes from prison he might — you know — help people.

4. Your Friendly Neighborhood Peter Parker

Every big-event mini-series has to have at least one unexpected, mind-blowing, internet-breaking moment. A moment that will be spoiled for the reader because it will be breathlessly announced days in advance by USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, or whatever media outlet Marvel (or DC) is in bed with at the moment. Usually these big moments involve death. Somebody dies, the media make a big deal out of it, Marvel sells lots of comics, then a few months or maybe a few years (depending on how popular the dead character was) later, the person comes back to life. Until the next big event. And the circle of life/death/resurrection continues.

spidermancivilwar-e1425244955634In “Civil War,” the BIG EVENT was the public unmasking of Spider-Man (Giant-Man’s death just wasn’t big enough). Despite being the superhero who most zealously guards his secret identity, for some reason Peter joins Tony Stark’s side and in a gesture to show his support for superhero registration — Pete unmasks at a press conference.

 Now you may be saying, “that’s weird. Isn’t Spider-Man’s secret identity still a secret in the movies and the cartoons?” Yes. Yes it is. It is in the comics as well. You see, about 10 minutes after the unveiling, Marvel realized what a screwed-up idea this was and once all the money was raked in and the media had moved on, they quietly reinstated his secret identity. I don’t remember how they did it. Probably magic. Or Mephisto.

While he joins Tony in the beginning, by issue 5 Pete has realized that Tony has lost it and leaves to join the resistance. This is one of the few areas in which the story makes sense, aside from the fact that Pete never should’ve joined Tony in the first place.

5. Whose Side Are You On: Punisher Edition

It won’t come as a surprise that The Punisher was against government control of superheroes. But then, he’s not a superhero; he’s a guy who hunts down and kills criminals. What is surprising is that Captain America would allow him to join the rebel alliance. In the real world, Captain America frowns on people who kill criminals.

Still, it did lead to one of the best, actual in-character bits in the series. Late in the game a couple of supervillains show up at Cap’s hideout, offering their assistance. Castle shoots them both in the head, because that’s what he does. Cap realizes the mistake he’s made and Frank is kicked out.

6. Oh, We Need To End This Thing, Don’t We 

So far I’ve been picking pretty mercilessly on the pro-reg side, but it’s not like Cap was without flaws. In the real world, when the government passes legislation you don’t like you either (a) sue and hope the courts overturn it; (b) protest and hope to change public opinion so the government will change the law; (c) defy the law with the understanding that you’ll go to jail.

5civilwar7I don’t know what Steve was thinking with his “lets go underground and do good deeds and avoid our friends and eventually this will blow over.” The law doesn’t blow over.

At any rate, after 6 issues of cat-and-mouse, things needed to come to a conclusion. This happens when both sides collide in a major donnybrook on the streets of Manhattan. Cap has Iron Man down and is about to put him out when the good people of New York — who often play a major role in Marvel stories — gang-pile on Captain America and chide him for defying the law. At which point Steve has a moment of clarity and ceases hostilities. He’s arrested, all the other rebels I think are given amnesty and Tony becomes head of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Aftermath

Superhero Registration remains the law of the land for the next few years. Cap is shot dead on the courthouse steps shortly after his arrest. He gets better.

Everyone conveniently forgets Peter Parker is Spider-Man. I covered that silliness earlier.

Some of the rebels continue to fight the good fight while staying underground. Hawkeye, who had been MIA throughout the series (thankfully – I hate to think what would’ve happened to him had he been part of the story), returns to New York and naturally joins the underground Avengers.

3871621-8396111159-iron%Thor returns from the dead and sets up Asgard over Oklahoma. When he finds out what Iron Man did in his absence, he beats the crap out of him. This was probably my favorite post-Civil War comic.

Things get even worse for Tony when Norman Osborn (aka The Green Goblin) weasles his way in high government service. Tony self-lobotomizes to keep Norman from getting the names of all the superheroes who have registered. Eventually Norman overplays his hand and the Superhero Registration Act is repealed. It turns out the government realizes that the government is less trustworthy than the superhero community.

I’m sure the movie is much better.

 

 

 

 

Why Can’t Superheroes Just Get Along?

“Captain America: Civil War” finally opens stateside this week. It has so far received near-unanimous acclaim, which is good to hear. Especially since the comic book that inspired it is so, so, god-awful.

I can’t say that “Civil War” is the worst comic that Marvel ever published. No, the lovely Steve McNiven art alone keeps it from earning that low honor. But lordy, is it a terrible story.

But, but, it’s one of Marvel’s most successful comics! 

Now, now. You know better than to equate success with quality. Just look at the “Transformers” movies, or the state of country music since 1980. Yes, “Civil War” has its share of shocking moments, and ‘kewl’ moments, but it’s all flash and “LOOK AT ME!” attention-getting over, you know, telling a decent story with characters who are acting like they’ve always acted.

Published in 2006-7, “Civil War” was a 7-issue mini-series written by Mark Millar. Millar is no hack, he wrote a series of “Ultimates” books that were some of my favorite comics. But this was not his finest hour. The art is by Steve McNiven and, as mentioned earlier, is the book’s one saving grace.

CIVIL-WAR

Before We Begin… 

What with the recent release of “Batman v Superman” and now “Civil War” you may be asking, “Why do superheroes fight each other all the time? Shouldn’t they be out fighting villains?”

Good question. I think the answer comes down to boredom to a large degree, and the natural inclination of fans to think “my hero is better than yours.” I mean, we all know that in a Captain America vs. Red Skull fight that the Skull is going down. Dr. Doom may be a genius megalomaniac, but we all know that he’s always going to lose to that cursed Reed Richards.

But put Captain America against Iron Man? Now, we’ve got drama. Plus, we’ve got two separate fan bases who will support their guy no matter what. It leads to excitement, it leads to attention from mainstream media, it leads to arguments on the Internet, it leads to big sales. These are the things that comic book companies crave.

In fact, the Marvel Cinematic Universe loves hero-v-hero fights so much that their heroes really do seem to spend more time fighting each other than the bad guys. We haven’t even got to Civil War yet but we’ve already seen: Iron Man v War Machine; Iron Man v. Thor; Iron Man v. HULK (Iron Man really has issues); Thor v. HULK, Hawkeye v Black Widow; Captain America v Winter Soldier; Winter Soldier v Black Widow; Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch v The Avengers, and, of course, Ant-Man v Falcon.

The only Avenger who hasn’t got in a fight with any of his comrades is The Vision, and I’m pretty sure I saw a Thor v Vision scene that got cut from “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” It was on YouTube.

It would be nice if the brain-trust behind the movies would spend a little more time developing bad guys rather than have our heroes constantly in-fighting. But back to our main story.

Of Course You Know, This Means Civil War

The comic version opens with a team of teen superheroes, The Young Warriors, running around making a reality TV show. They encounter some bad guys, there’s a big explosion, and lots of innocent people are killed.

As a result, the government passes the Superhero Registration Act, which requires all superheroes to register with the government and become government soldiers if they want to use their powers in public. Steve Rogers, beacon of freedom and liberty, opposes the law and goes underground along with those superheros who support him. Tony Stark, beacon of big business and government oppression, leads the charge to stop the rebel alliance.

Sounds exciting, no?

Tomorrow: Top (I haven’t decided how many yet) Reasons  “Civil War: The Comic” Is So Terrible

 

 

 

 

On Stage: The Sound Of Music

It’s hard to believe I’ve been writing theater reviews for around two decades now yet until last night I’d never seen that most musical of musicals — “The Sound of Music” — performed live on stage.

Oh, I’ve seen the movie. A few times in its entirety and countless times in bits and pieces. I’ve even attended the “Sing Along Sound of Music.” But the live version had somehow always eluded me until now.

While it made its Broadway debut in 1959, this classic collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II is best known for its 1965 film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

It’s based on the memoir “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers” by Maria von Trapp and tells the story of a young woman who is kicked out of a nunnery for being too spirited (not in the religious sense) so she’s sent off to serve as a governess to seven children. Their father, a strict disciplinarian and military man, finds Maria too chaotic at first but is soon drawn in by her siren songs about the joys singing. Oh, and the Second World War is looming in the background.

But then, you knew all that.

03.TheSoundofMusic.KAnderson.VonTrappKids

“The Sound of Music” is now playing at the Fox Theatre. Matthew Murphy photo

So what separates the movie version from the stage show? Little things, mostly, but a few big things. I found the stage show moved at a much brisker pace, but maybe that’s because I usually watch the movie on television where it’s near 3-hour running time is padded an extra hour with commercials.

The stage version includes a couple of songs that were left out of the movie, and in turn the movie added songs that are not performed on stage. These “new” songs — sung by the Captain (Ben Davis), Elsa (Teri Hansen) and Max (Merwin Foard) — are certainly the weakest in the repertoire but they do shed more light on the Captain/Elsa relationship.

But hey, nobody wants to hear Elsa and Max sing anyway. This show is all about Maria (Kerstin Anderson), the kids (Paige Silvester, Jeremy Michael Lanuti, Maria Suzanne Knasel, Quinn Erickson, Svea Elizabeth Johnson, Mackenzie Currie and Audrey Bennett), and the Captain. They all deliver spirited versions of the classics — “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “Edelweiss” and so on.

The real vocal standout, though, is Melody Betts, playing the Mother Abbess. Her rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” was a real showstopper. And not just because it came at the end of Act One.

This production of “The Sound of Music” lives up to the show’s reputation. The cast and orchestra are terrific, the costumes are sharp, the set design is stylish. It’s a classic show that’s perfect for the whole family.

“The Sound of Music” runs through May 8 at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. http://www.fabulousfox.com/