X-Men: Apocalypse spoiler-free review

There is a short scene in X-Men: Apocalypse that sees several of the new characters discussing the quality of the films in the original Star Wars trilogy, all of them agreeing that the third film is always the worst. It’s an obvious piece of meta-commentary on the original X-Men trilogy that takes a shot at X-Men: The Last Stand while praising director Bryan Singer’s original two films, which is gaudy enough on its own – but those paying attention will remember that X-Men: Apocalypse itself is the third film in this new timeline. Is this just a staggering lack of self-awareness, or a direct acknowledgement from the film-makers that they’ve badly messed up? It really doesn’t matter. X-Men: Apocalypse is a bad film all the same.

The story this time sees the various characters we’ve been following over the last couple of X-Men films reunite in order to try to stop an ancient mutant named Apocalypse and his four horsemen from taking over the world. It’s a simple tale of good vs bad basically, far removed from the more soap-operatic, character driven drama of the previous films in the franchise, and unfortunately X-Men: Apocalypse suffers for it.

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Jack’s Bad Movies – Left Behind

IMDB’s description

A small group of survivors are left behind after millions of people suddenly vanish and the world is plunged into chaos and destruction.

Left Behind poster

The movie opens with Chloe Steele (Cassi Thomson) coming home from college for her birthday. Expecting to spend the weekend with her family, she is surprised to discover her father, Rayford (Nicolas Cage), has to unexpectedly leave to pilot a plane to London. This isn’t a bizarre occurance or anything, he happens to be a pilot as his primary occupation, cheating on his wife is his second one.

Rayford, an unlikable guy who planned this trip to spend a weekend away with a stewardess, says things are fine between him and his wife, but that isn’t true. I guess things really went bad in their marriage when his wife Irene (Lea Thompson) found religion and starting babbling about the Rapture. An event believed by some Christians to signal the second coming of Christ / end of the world. Would you believe that her new views, which are driving a wedge into her family, end up playing a part in the movie? Let’s watch and see.

Chloe confronts her father at the airport about his cheating ways, which he denies, and he departs on his flight. She in turn decides to take her younger brother, Raymie, to the mall after bickering with her crazy mother. While at the mall Raymie suddenly disappears, leaving all of his clothes behind. Chloe is in shock. Sure, her younger brother has played the disappearing act before (that’s what younger brothers do), but never with this level of commitment. As Chloe attempts to get some help, other people in the mall are also having a freak out. Looks like all the children are gone, and also a few adults. A driver-less car crashes into the mall. Chloe catches a special news report that says that people (mostly children) across the world are missing, and that panic has ensued. The smarter patrons of the mall see this opportunity for what it is, and massive looting starts.

Jump back to plane flight to London. It looks like a bunch of people have disappeared as well, including all the children and the co-pilot, leaving behind their clothing. Sidenote: I’m not sure I’m comfortable with a Rapture in which everyone shows up to the party naked. The passengers pretend to be upset about the missing people, but are probably secretly grateful to enjoy a long flight with more seats and no annoying kids.

Rayford can’t seem to raise anyone on the ground, and suddenly realizes there is a plane right in his flight path. I’m not a pilot, but it seems to me that once you realize something is going to collide with you, you’d want to immediately veer out of the way. But alas, I must be mistaken, for Rayford makes repeated requests for the other plane to move. That plane obviously has no pilots left, and between this, the missing co-pilot, and the small plane that crashed in the mall parking lot that I am only mentioning now, we can safely conclude that most pilots are devote Christians. Rayford finally considers turning at the last possible moment, getting his plane damaged in the process. Unable to raise the ground and with a damaged plane, Rayford decides to turn around and head back to New York.

I forgot to mention that when Chloe caught up with her father at the airport, she bumped into some famous reporter and they seemed to hit it off. That guy is on the plane, and wouldn’t you know it, he is also a pilot, or something, because he ends up helping Rayford out quite a bit, including as co-pilot and taking pictures of the leaking fuel that catches on fire.

Back at home Chloe receives a voice mail from her father about his plane’s condition and assumes he is dead. Returning to her house, she also discovers her mother’s jewelry in the shower, but her mother is not to be found. I guess Chloe knows that her mother always showers fully bejeweled, or something. She decides to mosey on over to her mother’s church, only to discover the only one there is Pastor Barnes. Barnes explains that God took all the good people to heaven, including Chloe’s mother, but left him behind to be a messenger. Not really though, he was left behind because he didn’t believe in the product he was selling (his words, not mine).

Despite a damaged plane which is leaking fuel (sometimes on fire) at an alarming rate , Rayford takes the time to investigate the disappearances of people around him. He finds a few Christian items amongst the co-pilot’s, missing stewardess’, and missing passengers’ clothes. His conclusion? They all shopped at the same airport gift shop before leaving for London. Rayford tells the stewardess he was having an affair with about his wife’s statements concerning the rapture and he thinks all the good people have been taken off the Earth. The stewardess is more concerned to learn that Rayford was married than she is to learn she is one of the damned left to suffer the Apocalypse. Priorities, I guess.

Meanwhile, Chloe, seeing New York City going to pot and thinking her whole family is gone, decides to climb the Brooklyn Bridge (or some other bridge) and commit suicide. Just as she is ready to jump she receives a call from that reporter guy. They don’t have anywhere to land and they are dangerously low on fuel. Chloe was, of course, the logical choice to call in this situation. Chloe procures a truck and manages to clear a space for the plane to land. The remaining passengers and crew deplane only to see New York City in flames. The reporter says it looks like the end of the world, but Chloe tells him that it is only the beginning (of the end). Things are looking up for that stewardess though, because Rayford’s wife is out of the picture.

If you look at that IMDB description at the top you’d see a couple of glaring inaccuracies. To me is suggests most of the people were taken off the Earth, but that isn’t what happened. Also, the world isn’t plunged into chaos and destruction until the end of the movie.

This movie is apparently based off a series of books which mostly focus on the aftermath of the Rapture as those “left behind” deal with a crumbling world that apparently no longer has any good people on it.

Revisiting The Terminator

The film that put James Cameron on the map, The Terminator is quite rightly seen as a science fiction classic, a film that has had enormous impact on modern pop culture thanks to both the lasting impression that The Terminator made and the huge career boost that James Cameron received afterwards. Without The Terminator, I very much doubt that we would have seen the rest of James Cameron’s filmography come to fruition, never mind the number of actors that he has since helped turn into film stars.

The story follows Kyle Reese as he travels back in time from a post-apocalyptic future in which an artificial intelligence known as Skynet has taken over the world. His mission is to protect Sarah Connor from a killing machine known as a Terminator that was also sent back in time to kill her thanks to the fact that she is destined to give birth to the leader of the human resistance.

The time travel mechanic is a creative and tidy way to set the story in motion, and allows James Cameron to hint at the much larger world he has created without it getting in the way of the progression of the story and the momentum that is being built from the very start. It also allows Cameron to easily explain why Kyle can’t call for back up, and why the police and authorities are simply unable to help – it’s a very smart way of ensuring that their is no easy way out for the main characters, keeping them isolated and on the run for the entire movie.

Which is important, because at it’s core The Terminator is little more than a slasher flick with a science fiction flair. The Terminator itself is the ultimate slasher bad guy, a silent, expressionless, intimidating and virtually unstoppable killing machine that is never too far behind our heroes, who are hopelessly outmatched. The best example of this is during the now iconic assault on the police station – even dozens of cops on their home turf can’t do anything to stop the Terminator, really upping the ante and making the Terminator feel as dangerous and unstoppable as it is meant to be, while at the same time showing us how capable Kyle Reese must be to have successfully fought the Terminator off several times before now.

Potentially more important, The Terminator manages to avoid the casual misogyny and conservative politics that are now synonymous with the slasher genre, defining itself as markedly different during a time when slasher flicks saturated the market – no doubt a part of why The Terminator was both a critical and commercial success in it’s time and why it still stands up as a solid piece of film making over 30 years after it’s initial release.

It’s also worth pointing out how well developed the relationship between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor is in The Terminator when compared to Terminator Genisys, and it’s mostly because of the subtle but important character work that the The Terminator does with Sarah Connor both before and after her first encounter with Kyle Reese. You can understand completely why a vulnerable and scared Sarah Connor would seek comfort in the only man in the world that knows what she is going through, but the equivalent of this in Terminator Genisys is (like everything else in the film) rushed, forced and ultimately unsatisfying.

And the only reason that this all works as intended is because of Cameron’s ability to recognise and work within his limits. His original idea for The Terminator also included a liquid metal robot that would go on to be the primary antagonist in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but he cut it because he knew that the visual effects available in 1984 weren’t good enough to do the idea justice. This restraint is noticeable throughout The Terminator, which saves it’s limited special effects for important moments and manages to do more with it’s modest budget (just $6 million!) than films that cost upwards of 20 times as much – I’m looking at you, Terminator Genisys.

I still stand by my opinion that The Terminator should never have been a franchise, with the phrase “diminishing returns” very much applicable to the series after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but that’s neither here nor there – The Terminator is a testament to the importance of inexperienced directors being given the opportunity to prove themselves, showing us the potential longevity of a film when an idea is executed well by someone who knows what they are doing. Even if The Terminator has since been overshadowed by it’s own sequel, it’s still an important and entertaining film that shouldn’t go under appreciated.

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Review – Turbo

Turbo Poster

Turbo is a film that doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it the type of story where the character isn’t satisfied with their existence and hopes for something more from life (such as A Bug’s Life)? Is it a racing movie where the lead character needs to grow up a little (such as Cars)? Is it a super hero origin movie (such as Spider-Man)? Unfortunately this movie is all three, and it doesn’t do a good job with any of them.

Theo / Turbo is a garden snail who happens to live next to the current Indy 500 champion. As such he obsesses and dreams of being a professional racer. After nearly killing himself a few times, trying to prove he is faster than he is, he sets out on a rainy night to get away from his sad slow existence. Eventually he accidently finds himself involved in an illegal drag race. When the driver hits his nitrous oxide Theo / Turbo undergoes a Spider-Man type transformation that turns him into some kind car / snail hybrid. Rather than just making him fast, it also gives him headlights, taillights, a radio, and a backup beeper. From there a series of even more improbable events leads him to have an opportunity to fulfill this dreams.

It is somewhat distracting to me that all of the snails can understand English being spoken by humans. From our perspective the snails also speak English, but of course none of the humans can hear or understand them. It is also distracting that once the nature of this special snail is revealed to the public (and the world at large) that the scientific community doesn’t appear to be at all interested in it.

Overall this movie was not very good. I remember only thinking a couple of things were funny or clever. I saw this movie at a drive-in theater with a number of children. In general those kids were bored and were more interested in snacks than laughing at the movie. I don’t remember really hearing any laughter at all through the film. So even as a movie just for kids I don’t think it delivers well. It reminds me of Bee Movie, which also felt flat.

So in the end this is a movie that is trying to be A Bug’s Life without the diverse bug characters, Cars without the growing up, Spider-Man without the character development, and Bee Movie will all its so called comedy. Maybe there is a demographic who is looking for that kind of movie, but it isn’t adults or children.