X-Men: Apocalypse – Movie Review

From director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg, X-Men: Apocalypse resurrects the first and most powerful mutant to do battle against the infamous X-Men.

Release Date: May 27, 2016
Writer: Simon Kinberg
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne

Since the dawn of civilization, the first mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) escaped death by moving his essence from mutant host to mutant host. With each transition, he would take on that mutant’s power. As he became more powerful, the humans around him would worship him as God.

That is until that last transition, when the human, who served him, revolted and was able to defeat Apocalypse. But defeat and death are two different things. For the next several millennia, efforts have been made to dig Apocalypse from his grave. All attempts unsuccessful…until the 1980’s.

It has been ten years since the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has built a school out of his mansion home. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has been rescuing mutants from abuse and exploitation. In the process, she has become a hero to other mutants. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has withdrawn into hidden seclusion with his new wife and daughter.

At the new school, Xavier gives each student a proper education and help in controlling his/her powers. With dreams of one-day uniting humans and mutants, Xavier is optimistic about the progress of his school. He is faced with some challenging students. Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is a telepath, which is more powerful and more dangerous than Xavier. Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) emits a dangerously powerful optic blast from his eye and needs help controlling it.

The students are now called prematurely into action when Apocalypse arrives and recruits his four horsemen: Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Oliva Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and yes…Magneto. After the betrayal of his friends and neighbors, Erik’s wife and daughter are killed. As Magneto, Erik joins Apocalypse to once and for all put an end to the reign of humans on Earth.

As you can see, there is a lot of story going on in X-Men: Apocalypse. This is also the main problem of the movie. In a superhero movie, audiences want action and except for a few minor set pieces, the action does not happen until the third act of the film. The first two acts hint at the powers of most characters, but it is really Xavier and Magneto who have the action. This action is McAvoy putting his fingers to his head and people doing what he says. Then there is Magneto with his hands in magicians pose while special effects happen around him.

If there is anything good about this X-Men movie, it is the final fight in the third act, when everyone’s powers are on display. This is the moment that the movie feels like a comic book. The exception is the horrible fights with Beast (Nicholas Hoult). It looks awkward and clumsy. The wire work just looks silly. The problem is you will have to sit through the first two acts to get there.

The early part of the film has good acting, over the top comic book drama, and a little too much humanizing the characters, so that we can relate to the story. You can tell the film still needed more exposition. It is still unclear, what Apocalypse’s powers are. The big cameo just at the end of the second act looks rather silly and a waste of the talent.

Again, my complaint is that we want to see mutant powers in action. It’s clear that Jennifer Lawrence is a big star…rightfully so. But as the chameleon, Mystique, she changes from maybe twice and is rarely ever in her blue makeup. Is this the perk of being a big star. Kodi Smit-McPhee is cool as my favorite X-Men, Nightcrawler. There is a lot of teleporting. Thank you, Bryan Singer. Evan Peters also returns as Quicksilver with a scene that almost tops the slow-motion segment in Day of Future Past. Nice try, Bryan Singer.

By no means, is X-Men: Apocalypse a great X-Men movie. It is barely a good one. By no means, is it as bad as Superman v. Batman. With the strides that Marvel Studios and Disney have brought to the superhero genre, we expect better from a team that is rich in amazing source material.

Buddy Solitaire – Movie Review – Newport Beach Film Festival

Buddy Solitaire is a touching comedy that comes to us as part of the 2016 Newport Beach Film Festival. Buddy is a stand-up comedian on his last leg and desperately needs to find new material. His life is falling apart with a neglected girlfriend and an unhealthy relationship with his mother.

2016 Newport Beach Film Festival
Writer:
Keung Lee
Director: Keung Lee
Cast: Brandon J. Somberger, Sally Kirkland, Leann Lei, Mirela Burke, Garret Sato, Samba Schutte, Jason McBeth

Buddy Solitaire (Brandon J. Somberger) is a stand-up comedian who is at a crossroads in his professional career. This burnt out comedian thinks he can spark his creativity by teaching stand-up comedy at a counseling center where his girlfriend, works.

After his first day of teaching comedy to the center’s therapy group, Buddy finds new material in the members of the group. Almost immediately, the details of each member’s problem become an integral part of Buddy’s stand-up. But as time progresses, Buddy begins to develop a real relationship with each person.

Buddy Solitaire is clearly an independent film. Sometimes the lack of money can come across on screen and can pull you out of the film. This includes an audio hum early in the film and the use of the same room to appear to be several different comedy clubs. Harmless, but then that is the appeal of independent films.

What Buddy Solitaire loses in a low budget film, it makes up for in a solid story of redemption. Yes, there are comic elements with Buddy as he teaches a group of counseling patients how to be a stand-up. The real joy of the film is Buddy’s relationship with his mother. Sally Kirkland is brilliant as a former stand-up from an era long ago. She is clinging desperately to the fame she once had and at the same time, finds her only comfort in the son she consistently abuses mentally and emotionally. This relationship is a classic codependent spiral that mothers and sons usually come out incredibly damaged.

I had only a few issues with Buddy Solitaire. Some elements of the stand-up comedy did not ring true for me. As mentioned earlier, Buddy volunteers at his girlfriend’s job at the counseling center. He hopes that his interactions with the clients will inspire new material, and it does. But the jokes he tells about the clients are not necessarily that funny and may not inspire the brilliance that is now attributed to Buddy.

Aside from that, the acting, primarily from the leads, is good. Brandon J. Somberger is strong as the title character, Buddy Solitaire. His stand-up delivery is good, he brings the right emotion to scenes with his mother and he carries the movie. Writer/Director Keung Lee does a masterful job with his first film. He manages to tell a touching tale with comedy and produce a film the feels professional without giving away the low budget he had.

 

Nice Guys – Movie Review

From writer/director Shane Black, The Nice Guys is a fun comedy thriller returning the fun the buddy films that has been missing since his first movie, Lethal Weapon.

Release Date: May 20, 2016
Writer: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Director: Shane Black
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourri Rice, Matt Bomer

Taking place in 70’s Los Angeles, where the smog keeps its citizens indoors, and the gas shortage keeps them from leaving, two private investigators search for a missing girl, Amelia (Margaret Quailey), who doesn’t want to be found.

Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a real private investigator hired by the mother of a murdered porn star to find her daughter after she sees her two days after her death. As a former cop, March takes small jobs from elderly seniors to support his daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice). Jauckson Healy (Russell Crowe) wants to be a private investigator, but realizes that he is more valuable as a hired thug. Healy is hired by Amelia to stop March from finding her.

Shane Black tells a fantastic story of these two unlikely PI’s. It is clear that director Black likes to play against type. As March, Gosling appears to be the goody-two-shoes and straight-laced investigator, but he has problems with drinking and literally stumbles into the important clues. As the hired thug, Crowe plays Healy as the healvy, who wants nothing to do with the immature behavior of March.

Black is at his best by keeping audiences on its toes. Little mundane details at the beginning of the movie play a role in complicating. Black also likes to play against tropes and The Nice Guys becomes a series of mishaps that work together to solve the big case. Never knowing exactly where the movie is going next makes The Nice Guys the fun thriller to see this year.

Angourie Rice is fantastic as March’s daughter Holly. She is constantly in danger or constantly puts herself in danger and has the maturity to get out of tough situations. Although, this movie makes March a really bad father by all of the time his daughter is captured or almost killed.

Humorous moments come from the banter between March and Healy. It also comes from the fact that their plans of solving this case ever work the way they think.  The Nice Guys will hopefully find its way to becoming Black’s next franchise movie. Please let a sequel be in the works.

Comfort – Movie Review – Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival

Comfort is a sweet romantic comedy about a courier who gets mixed up with the daughter of his company’s most important client. Comfort is one of the funniest entries at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

2016 Los Angeles Asian American Film Festival
Writer/Director: William Lu
Cast: Chris Dinh, Julie Zhan, Kelvin Han Yee, Billy ‘Sly’ Williams

Comfort has a unique premise to cross into the rom-com genre in a while. Cameron (Chris Dinh) is a courier in Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a chef. Cameron suffers from Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a disease that causes extreme sensitivity to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Like a vampire, Cameron can only exist during the night.

Cameron’s boss, Eddie (Billy ‘Sly’ Williams) needs him to make an important delivery for his best client, Martin (Kelvin Han Yee), the King of Hot Sauce. Martin asks Cameron for a favor. He needs Cameron to pick up his daughter Jasmine (Julie Zhan) at LAX, because he has to stay late to finish an important hot sauce ad campaign. Cameron, in turn, gives Jasmine a late night tour of Los Angeles. Soon a friendship and romance develop.

Comfort walks that fine line between romance and schmaltz. Comfort saves itself with a well-disciplined story from William Lu and good acting.  Writer/Director William Lu manages to capture discussions of love, life and romance that feels real. There’s a lot of sweet comedy set in the landscape of late night Los Angeles.

As an Asian-American myself, I’m also excited to see good acting and the cast of Comfort is fantastic, funny and real. As the film’s lead, Chris Dinh and Julie Zhan are so likable that you cannot help but root for them to find romance. Chris’ performance is subdued and low key with a subtext of a dreamer. Julie is sweet, attractive and plays as Cameron’s inspiration to reach his dreams.

Captain America: Civil War – Movie Review

Captain America: Civil War manages to do everything Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice failed to do. That tells a fantastic story involving way too many superheroes and introduce new characters in a meaningful and exciting way.

Release Date: May 6, 2016
Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Director: Joe & Anthony Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Mackie, Scarlett Johansson

Similar to the Marvel Comics event that pitted hero against hero, Captain America: Civil War pits Captain America (Chris Evans) against Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in a physical and moral battle. After the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the United Nations demand that all powered humans register with their governments and submit to its authority as well.

Iron Man is for hero registration because even the most powerful hero needed to be kept in check and held responsible for collateral damage when acting alone. Captain America is for civil liberties and can not submit to a government agency, especially when lives are at stake.

A crisis occurs when the debate over the matter is interrupted when a bomb is set off next to the U.N. Headquarters. The explosion kills many including the leader of Wakanda, King T’Chaka (John Kani). Video footage shows that the bomb was set by the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). The U.S. decides to engage supporting heroes to capture and even kill the Winter Soldier. This includes the new hero, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who decides to avenge the death of his father.

Captain America knows that if the Winter Soldier did set the bomb, he did not do it of his own free will. In fact, a new villain reveals himself in the shadows, Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). Zemo was the one who reactivated the Winter Soldier and turned him once again into a killing machine. Zemo is intent on bringing down an empire and his plan involves finding the secret lab that created ten other Winter Soldiers.

Teams have been formed. Team Iron Man consists of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Panther, War Machine (Don Cheadle) and amazingly Spider-Man (Tom Holland) (pun intended). Team Captain America is Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

Captain America: Civil War features three amazing chase/battle scenes. The ultimate battle between the heroes at an airport feel like it leaps directly from a comic book. It’s fun and incredible. The final battle between Captain America and Iron Man is both sad and satisfying.

The tight story from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely makes this long movie feel like you want more. It succeeds in so many ways. First, Let’s face it, this movie has a lot of heroes and it’s easy to be lost in the sauce, but every character has a moment to shine, not only in battle but as individual characters.

Second, the story introduces two characters: Black Panther and Spider-Man. Both characters make a bold statement in the movie. Black Panther is a prince avenging the death of his father as well as donning the new responsibility as the leader of a nation. His motivations of anger are justified and his character arc leaves you excited for the upcoming Black Panther movie.

Spider-man is also interesting in the sense that he really isn’t needed in the movie. Clearly, he was added because Marvel wanted to show off that they have Spider-Man back in the Marvel fold. The movie could have done without Spider-Man. Give credit to Markus and McFeely, they tell the Spider-Man story in a way that is fun and exciting. Tom Holland brings an element of Spider-Man that we haven’t seen in the other films and that’s Peter Parker’s need to constantly comment and make smart remarks throughout an entire fight. His moments with Tony Stark are hilarious, especially the moment that Stark makes Peter admit the kid is “Spider-Man.”

Zemo, played by Daniel Bruhl, is one of the most understated villains so far. Without throwing a punch or threatening to destroy the world, his actions are slowly revealed and the impact of his plan is everything you expect from a villain. He is the reason Captain America and Iron Man fight to the death, making him one of the best villains in the MCU, even though you’ll forget Zemo when you walk out of the movie.

Making a movie like Captain America: Civil War has challenges that need to be faced or the movie will fail. Under the direction of Anthony and Joe Russo, those challenges are met from beginning to end. These challenges include the problem of too many heroes. Everyone has a moment to shine. The reason for the heroes to battle one another are solid and make sense. There is no clear hero. Both Iron Man and Captain America is morally right to do what they are doing and you find yourself shifting back-and-forth regarding who is right. Also a story that has as many holes plugged up as possible.

Captain America: Civil War is the best Marvel movie to date, but it clearly could not have been great without the films before it. Solid story and stunning action pieces with an ambiguous sense of right and wrong make this film the one you see over and over again.

The Tiger Hunter – Movie Review – Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival

The Tiger Hunter is the directorial debut of filmmaker Lena Kahn. Its world premiere was at the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The story follows Sami Malik (Danny Pudi), who moves to the United States to become successful in hopes of winning the heart of his love, Ruby (Karen David).

2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
Writer: Sameer Gardezi, Lena Khan
Director: Lena Khan
Cast: Danny Pudi, Jon Heder, Karen David

The Tiger Hunter takes place in 1979 in a small village in India. Young Sami Malik is the son of the village’s hero, the legendary Tiger Hunter. But titles don’t make you rich and his childhood sweetheart, Ruby, is going to America with her father, General Iqbal (Iqbal Theba) to find a suitable husband. Seeing this as his only chance to prove he is worthy to be husband to his love, the village pulls its resources together to send Sami to America, where he has an engineering job waiting for him.

Unfortunately, Sami’s arrival to the United States is fraught with problems. Sami is mugged the moment he leaves the airport. The job he was promised is no longer available, so Sami takes a temporary job in the mail room. With no place to live, Sami bunks up with a friendly stranger, Babu (Rizwan Manji), who lets him stay at his apartment where he literally shares a bed with 8 other roommates.

Sami now has only a few weeks to become a successful engineer, live in a mansion and earn a salary worthy of the respect of his love’s father. On his way, Sami befriends his co-worker Alex (Jon Heder) who helps him navigate New York.

The Tiger Hunter is a visually stunning tale of romance. Although the Aladdin-like story for Sami and Ruby is familiar, writer/director Lena Khan tells the tale through the eyes of the Indian culture. The backdrop of the 70’s paints a tale of foreign immigrants, who were doctors, engineers and upper-middle class in their homeland, who are now busboys and mailroom clerks in the new America.

Dani Pudi is sweet and funny as Sami. Sami is hard-working and determined to succeed with the odds against him. The cast of the Tiger Hunter is filled with many South Asian actors who have made a name for themselves in film and television including Rizwan Manji, Iqbal Theba and Parvesh Cheena. They bring their comedic sensibilities to the film making The Tiger Hunter a well-packaged love story.

The Tiger Hunter is definitely one of the highlights of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, garnering the coveted Opening Night feature. The mainstream comedy of love will appeal to broad audiences and will stand as a proud representation of the Indian culture in America.