X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which - as we all know - is not nearly as terrible as you all say it is. What Apocalypse is, though, is knowingly camp, occasionally bold and - at the very least - well-intentioned, even if its intentions are frequently crushed to smithereens under the weight of its own hubris. And if you ask me, which I'm afraid you already have by virtue of reading this far, it's still better than First Class.
After a satisfyingly exhausting unpicking and rethreading of the X-Men universe's chronology in Days Of Future Past, Singer and writer Simon Kinberg have opted for the easy way here: big bad guy threatens human extinction, recruits bad mutants to his cause, good mutants fight back. It's not big and it's not clever, but it is a lot of fun: the pre-title scene alone features some spectacular Cairo-based carnage which sets the tone for the FX-heavy two and a bit hours that follow, and while some of it is kind of baffling, none of it is boring - and certainly not the opening titles, which play out like the complete history of mankind as recalled by a hyperactive child who was once shown a picture of the Mona Lisa.
Meanwhile meanwhile, dozens of other mutants are doing stuff and saying things and noticeably failing to look twenty years older than they did five years ago when they were in the 1962-set First Class. At some point they all get together and have a superpower-off, and that's basically it. I can't defend Apocalypse on the grounds of intelligent, soul-searching, groundbreaking storytelling, but I can defend it on the grounds that a) it doesn't really claim to be any of those things - unlike, say, Batman v Superman - and b) it gleefully rewrites both the history we know (leaving us in a world with no nukes and no Auschwitz) and the series' own internal history, and expects you to keep up with it. It doesn't really take the time to ponder what any of that means, but never mind because OOH LOOK THERE'S WOLVERINE!
Return Of The Jedi (for the second time in the film, in fact), but come on, Nightcrawler wears Michael Jackson's Thriller jacket! What's not to like? Apart from all the things I just said were bad.
Ultimately, whether or not you'll go for X-Men: Apocalypse can probably be ascertained by your reaction to two specific sequences within the film: the first shamelessly rehashes the best scene of Days Of Future Past; the second is a lengthy plot diversion which exists solely to insert an inevitable cameo. Both scenes betray a disappointing lack of originality, but they're also undeniably entertaining, delivering the kind of magic only the X-Men can provide. There are better and worse films, there are better and worse superhero films, there are better and worse X-Men films. In fact there are better and worse films in this current trilogy of X-Men films. But in a series sixteen years and eight movies old (nine if you must insist on including Deadpool), it seems to me you could do a lot worse than produce a new entry that slots somewhere in the middle.
Thursday, 19 May 2016
Monday, 16 May 2016
I suspect I wasn't alone in this experience (even the entirely fictional last sentence); certainly writer/director John Carney knows what I'm talking about, which is why he's very kindly made a film about our joint obsessions. Sing Street is that film: a nostalgic glance back at the glorious mid-1980s, its life-shaping music and the heartbreak of being catastrophically incapable of getting off with a fit sixth-former.
Improbably-named newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays our surrogate, Cosmo, dumped into a new school with no friends and immediately bullied by a potato-shaped moron. Into this bleakness - which is somehow still funny, because John Carney doesn't do realistic bleakness - shines Raphina (these names, man), a stunning, untouchable older girl sculpted from equal parts starlight and hairspray. Carney's fantasy begins the moment Cosmo approaches Raphina and asks her to be in a video for his band's new song: the first fantasy being that there is no song yet, nor even a band; the second that any boy in Cosmo's position would surely have sooner spent the rest of his school days peering over a book at Raphina in the distance than actually attempting to talk to her.
That sequence is also notable because, despite coming across like a rousing climax to the band's story, there's a whole other act left to unfold in which Cosmo and Raphina determine their fate. It's to John Carney's credit that he purposefully structures his film so as not to focus on the relationships between the band members but to celebrate the naive optimism of young, stupid love. The cruel side of the music business belongs in a more downbeat sequel, just as the hinted-at darkness of life in a catholic school is drowned out by the unstoppable power of a heart-stopping bass riff or synth line.
Everybody Wants Some!!, Sing Street also concerns itself with a young man's search for identity, and one of its best running gags sees Cosmo turning up to school each week with a fresh hairstyle and makeup regime based on whoever he saw on Top Of The Pops last night. Freedom of expression and rebellion against authority also figure strongly, as you'd expect, and while these themes court accusations of cliché, Carney brushes them aside with a delightful cast, a soaring soundtrack and a succession of pop videos that recall the madcap antics of Flight Of The Conchords.
Carney dedicates his film to brotherhood, and Cosmo's relationship with his big bro (Jack Reynor) is undeniably heartfelt and endearing. But to me - poor, brotherless me - Sing Street is more powerful in its offer to let me spend a couple of hours in an alternate universe where that third-year kid plucked up the courage to chat up the hot sixth-former and became a rock star in the process. I can only hope that in that universe, the other me is equally enjoying a film about a short-sighted, balding film blogger and thinking how great it would be to be him. Well sorry pal, only one of us can live this dream.
Monday, 9 May 2016
The first day of college - again, remember the end of Boyhood? - is just over three days away, and freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) rocks up on campus, The Knack's My Sharona thumping from his car's speakers like a fanfare announcing not just a new wave of music, but a new decade and a new chapter in Jake's life. It was at this point, seconds into the film, that I suspected I would fall for it; my suspicions were confirmed shortly thereafter when Jake and his crew of new housemates executed a flawless drive-by rapalong to The Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight. A mile-wide smile slapped itself across my chops and hardly budged until the end credits, when it only got wider. (Trust me on this one: Marvel can only dream of a post-credits sting as fantastic as this film's.)
You don't have to be a fan of '80s music to love Everybody Wants Some!!, but it helps. You do have to be a fan of Richard Linklater's style of filmmaking though; don't go looking for convoluted plotting or far-reaching character arcs here. You're spending a few days following the adventures of a group of young men whose principal interests are babes, booze, bongs and baseball, and the pursuit of all these forms what can loosely be called the plot. But there's much more going on beneath the surface: Jake's new digs are in one of two houses containing other baseball-playing freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, and his navigation of the shifting social structures at work in this animal kingdom form his journey through the film.
And so, in a world with only about two actual adults (a baseball coach and a history professor, neither of which are treated with much respect), it's up to the students to determine the men from the boys. Many of the seniors look about 35 thanks to some enviable facial hair, but it's Tyler Hoechlin's McReynolds who's ostensibly the alpha male - although Linklater gleefully turns the concept on its head by dressing him in crop-tops, tight shorts and knee-high socks. In fact most of these pussy-hungry menchildren strut about in outfits offering the least room for manoeuvre while playfully slapping each other on the bottom; the thematic seam of discovering who you really are runs through Everybody Wants Some!! at multiple strata, and one of its many pleasures is only realising some of them days - if not weeks - after viewing.
As that final treat over the end credits sends you home with a doofus grin, you wonder what might become of Everybody Wants Some!!'s semi-bright young things. They've tried everything from disco to country to punk, and it's hard to tell if any of them are any closer to finding themselves than they were when My Sharona pointedly announced a new dawn at the film's opening. But Linklater's intention is not to drone on about tedious lesson-learning or the acquisition of crucial life skills; instead he deliberately leaves his characters suspended in that magic hour when actions had no consequences and anything was possible. That's obviously just the way he prefers to remember his college days, and it's the way you'll want to remember them too.