Pop Heap

Assorted thoughts on a couple pop songs the radio has recently, incessantly played:

Between this and “Stitches”–a song I’m convinced is a blatant death threat to an ex (courtesy the lines “Needle and thread/Gotta get you out of my head/Needle and thread/Gonna wind up dead”–Shawn Mendes seems determined to encapsulate every shitty, entitled attitude associated with Nice Guy-ism. Slathered in a voice which registers as whiny and pleading, the song is a plea for a woman to dump her boyfriend for Mendes. Presumably this is on the basis Mendes is a “gentleman” and the boyfriend is “just not right for [her],” rather than on, say, any specific reason or even a deep, unrequited feeling. I mean, come on, Shawn, you’re asking someone to ditch some dude to shack up with you and the best you can muster is “Tell me why are we wasting time”? The lyrics are entirely placeholder, the kind of fluff you could pluck from any thousand songs which purport to be about love, but are, in fact, about possession of a woman. When Mendes screeches the titular lyrics, he isn’t making a case for any sort of relationship, based on mutual trust and respect and passion, but for having something he can maintain as his. I imagine his face scrunched and contorted as he sings, evoking more disgust than swoon in his object of attention as she walks off one last time, finally tired of his manipulative bullshit.

If one could use any musical act to sum up Clinton-era neoliberalism, Meghan Trainor certainly has the career to justify it. “All About That Bass” is a catchy, radio-friendly/PSA-ready little number, a nice message of body inclusiveness sung by someone who only registers as “big” by the entirely skewed perspective of the entertainment industry (this is also quaint next to, say, Sheer Mag’s Tina Halladay). Steadily, she’s moved from the kumbaya spirit with each new single towards mythologizing herself as a newly-accepted representative of the elite. “Me Too” could almost be seen as the final form of this transformation, a 3-minute monument to Meghan Trainor wearing gold and getting into VIP sections with an entourage and free drinks. The lyrics, and Trainor’s cadence, almost begs comparison to the excess of hip-hop, but it feels false for two reasons: 1) More than three-fourths of the lines don’t rhyme (one verse attempts “piece” with “VIP”, “drinks” with “me”, and “Tom Cruise” with “achoo” before finally getting one right…”to” with “do”); 2) If nothing else, hip-hop’s focus on bling was in direct defiance to white, ruling class elitism, showing off their success to a culture which attempted to suppress them. There’s a reason videos of wild house parties loaded (seemingly) with riffraff, on the grounds of stately mansions, became a staple of the genre. In contrast, “Me Too” is all gatekeeping: a wealthy white woman talking about how awesome she is while getting let into the roped off section of a club. She isn’t crashing the party, she was let in. Self-aggrandizement shouldn’t be this boring.

 

Suicide Squad

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It’s easy to pin down what works in Suicide Squad and what doesn’t. David Ayer’s DC entry wants to be all about psychopaths and freaks, barely contained by a system all too happy to use and abuse them. Dirty Dozen filtered through Ayer’s Sabotage. It’s there on the screen. Wrangled by black ops heavy Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a group of super-villains–fronted heavily by master assassin Deadshot (Will Smith) and the Joker’s psychologically abused queen Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie)–are tasked with stopping an arcane something-or-other from bringing about the end of the world. Kept in line with explosives planted in their necks, each member of Task Force X nonetheless schemes and maneuvers for the way out. They mutter to one another as they walk torn up, abandoned city blocks, under SEAL escort and besieged by an army of zombies with pulsing, obsidian sacs for heads. Lurking around the edges is Joker himself (Jared Leto), looking to spring his love/plaything from the joint.

With these elements in play, the film repeatedly brushes up against, but never fully embraces, genuine danger. Bogged down in the front half with multiple introductions for each character and concept, scored to a rapid procession of classic rock (Warner Bros. clearly desiring some of that Guardians of the Galaxy audience), Suicide Squad starts sluggish, only to breeze over its central threat. The squad, for the most part, is rendered too sympathetic for audiences, without ever being shown as too monstrous. Their arc toys with dissolution and betrayal, while angling for a redemption arc (particularly Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo, who spends the film atoning for the accidental immolation of his family, before throwing himself at an equally fiery adversary). Deadshot and Quinn toy the most, orchestrating an escape plot as they protect el blando handler Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), but both are ultimately selfless (the former is a wannabe-good dad, the latter wishes for a quiet domestic life with her puddin’). Even the Joker, running up with his furry/cosplay-themed henchmen guns a-blazing (clearly intended to upset the film’s dynamic), never amounts to more than a nuisance, his showy hand gestures, Nouveau Riche excess, and mannered speech suggesting a Wall Street banker went to Hot Topic. By contrast, Davis’ performance as Waller is all calculation, ready to execute anyone who no longer meets her needs. She breezes in, keeping the nutjobs in line by being more dangerous.

Despite the unsatisfying handling of its conceit, Suicide Squad does, like the previous DCU films, have a sharper, better handle on comic book storytelling than Marvel’s Avengers mega-franchise. Where that series arrived at connected universe hysterics through regurgitation of the same blockbuster template, the DC films have (in desperation to catch up) barreled ahead, explaining only when absolutely necessary. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice depict surrealism and violent, often cosmic horror intruding on the everyday, its superheroes almost unfathomable. Suicide Squad is more literal, even with candy-colored flashbacks and a late turn into wish fulfillment, but Ayer explodes Snyder’s template with high-tech master assassins, super-powered gangsters, crocodile men, sorcery, and grieving samurai women with soul-devouring blades, jumbled together like it’s nothing. It might have more in common with New 52’s continuity nonsense than John Ostrander and Kim Yale’s hyper-intense underworld, but the world it presents is appealing.

Will it End? – Movies 2016: June & July

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  1. Jurassic Park (1993) – dir. Steven Spielberg
  2. Hot Fuzz (2007) – dir. Edgar Wright
  3. Bridge of Spies (2015) – dir. Steven Spielberg
  4. Comforting Skin (2011) – dir.Derek Franson
  5. The Other Side of the Door (2016) – dir. Johannes Roberts
  6. Interstellar (2014) – dir. Christopher Nolan
  7. Small Soldiers (1998) – dir. Joe Dante
  8. Crocodile Dundee (1986) – dir. Peter Faiman
  9. Torment (2013) – dir. Jordan Barker
  10. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) – dir. Robert Zemeckis
  11. The Assassin (2015) – dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien
  12. Deadpool (2016) – dir.Tim Miller
  13. Alien 3 (1992) (Special Edition) – dir. David Fincher
  14. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) – dir. Guy Ritchie
  15. The Shallows (2016) – dir. Jaume Collet-Serra
  16. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) – dir. Jonathan Frakes
  17. Kingergarten Cop 2 (2016) – dir.Don Michael Paul
  18. Re-Animator (1985) – dir. Stuart Gordon

 YTD: 138

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July

  1. Triple 9 (2016) – dir. John Hilcoat
  2. Destroy All Monsters (1968) – dir. Ishiro Honda
  3. Lethal Weapon (1987) – dir. Richard Donner
  4. I Smile Back (2015) – dir. Adam Salky
  5. Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) – dir. Richard Donner
  6. Blade II (2002) – dir. Guillermo del Toro
  7. Vampires (1998) – dir. John Carpenter
  8. Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) – dir. Roland Emmerich
  9. Ghostbusters (2016) – dir. Paul Feig
  10. Escape From New York (1981) – dir. John Carpenter
  11. The Invitation (2016) – dir. Karyn Kasuma
  12. Mean Girls (2004) – dir. Mark Waters
  13. Bring It On (2000) – dir. Peyton Reed
  14. Star Trek Beyond (2016) – dir. Justin Lin
  15. Basic Instinct (1992) – dir. Paul Verhoeven
  16. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) (Ultimate Edition) – dir. Zack Snyder
  17. Maniac Cop (1989) – dir. William Lustig
  18. The Fugitive (1993) – dir. Andrew Davis
  19. Green Room (2016) – dir. Jeremy Saulnier
  20. Aliens (1986) (Special Edition) – dir. James Cameron

YTD: 158

“Don’t Worry About It”

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For bringing Mega Man into three-dimensional gaming, Keiji Inafune’s Capcom team broke down the character’s essence. Set in a flooded far future, where treasure hunters loot the cavernous ruins of a precursor civilization to power the surface world, Mega Man Legends fixates heavily on equipping the Blue Bomber. Shops offer parts for your buster gun and items to help in a bind, but the meat of this endless reconfiguration comes from scrounging up busted devices and discarded schematics during dungeon raids. Hand them off to Mega Man’s adopted sister, Roll, and she’ll give you specialty weapons and equipment–rocket skates, springs to help you jump higher, and a drill that can bust down specific walls in seconds. Each addition prompts return trips to previous sites. Dig around enough, and you’ll uncover a honeycomb of these ancient halls, loaded down with deathtraps and prowling murder machines to test your walking, customized tank against.

Mega Man Volnutt is also as much a do-gooder as previous iterations. Crash landing on an island with his family, he immediately strives to make himself useful to the sleepy community, doing odd tasks or helping a pregnant woman get to the hospital. Beyond platforming superheroics, where he fights off a group of tenacious, if ineffectual, pirates, Volnutt is a jack of all trades. Give him a purpose and the right tool, then let him plow through.

Significantly, Volnutt is happy to compartmentalize these aspects of his life. While his exploration intersects with attempts to repair his family’s broken ship and a mandate to stop the pirates from inadvertently unleashing doom, a steady, dreadful realization of familiarity dawns on the boy. Arcane writing he’s able to read. Dormant tech he knows how to operate. The implications become all too clear by the time a genocidal final boss rolls around to confirm them. Yet, Volnutt never discusses this with anyone, even when it’s clear it troubles him. When prompted by Roll to open up, he simply responds “Don’t worry about it.”

The line is a brush off, but it also sums up the conflict of Legends. The smiley, perpetually sunny Kattelox Island (and, presumably, the world it inhabits) exists within the craggy walls of older civilizations which suffered calamity. Cautious and fearful, they’ve responded by taking on soft domesticity, rarely exploring and happy to watch game shows or read comics to forget (rather than acknowledge) the danger which lurks beneath their feet. Paradoxically, all their material comfort rests on gems which must be looted from these dangerous places. Volnutt, like other diggers, walks in both worlds, and learns the consequences of the two mingling too much. Given the happy-go-lucky milieu of the surface world Inafune and crew have constructed–where crippled girls can walk within moments of hospitals getting new equipment and even the pirate scourge are cheerful, loveable dorks as likely to fall in love with their enemy as they are to shoot at him–it’s natural a people pleaser like Mega Man would avoid distressing the populace. So, he keeps his work at work, in the dark underbelly, where monsters wait to rise again.

Star Trek Beyond

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The Star Trek reboot series, shepherded by J.J. Abrams, so far posits a universe in continual existential crisis with itself. Characters hem and haw over their place in the universe and their destiny. They seek answers from an older source. Star Trek had a Kirk and Spock so thoroughly upended by the time-travel machinations of Eric Bana’s Nero, their mutual, retconned neuroses made them bitter, almost homicidal rivals; it took the intervention of Leonard Nimoy to put them on the path to uneasy pals. Into Darkness mired things further, events causing Wrath of Khan-level calamity at a time when the Enterprise crew weren’t matured enough to handle it, prompting Spock to phone up his older self for spoilers. Similarly, Star Trek Beyond begins in a place of navel-gazing uncertainty: Kirk (Chris Pine) celebrates the birthday marking him outliving his father by drinking alone with contraband liquor, pondering his Federation career (another invocation of Wrath of Khan); Spock (Zachary Quinto) reacts to the news of Spock-Prime’s (Nimoy) death by maneuvering to cut all ties with his crew mates and serve his fellow Vulcans. Neither has the heart to tell the other of their abandonment. Explicitly, they are lost without some manner of role model to latch onto or strive for, and need to find advancement, in career and life, without that guidance.

Cue a rescue mission on the wrong side of frontier space, which turns out to be an ambush. The Enterprise crew crash, get separated and hunted down by the warlord Krall (Idris Elba), on an outlaw planet littered with other marooned ships and abandoned remnants of earlier civilizations. Justin Lin, co-writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung cherish this opportunity to split up the crew: Kirk and Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) get mired in treachery and pew-pew shootouts; Scottie (Pegg) finds kinship with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), another victim of Krall’s bushwacking who has repurposed a derelict Federation ship as her house (and taken a liking to 80s/early 90s hip-hop); Spock and Bones (Karl Urban) crash the hardest, shrapnel lodging in the former’s abdomen with enemy forces closing in fast (their banter, the other half of a subplot where Bones becomes confidante and unlikely go-between for the inexpressive Kirk and Spock, is the film’s biggest joy). In between whiz-bang setpieces, frequently involving the crew navigating zero-gravity or broken, tumbling architecture (Lin and his effects crew visualizing the turmoil of his leads), even Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) get some hero moments, where previously they were background filler. This inclusive approach is also a humorous reminder the Fast and Furious films (which Lin shaped across four movies into its own Avengers-style franchise) have more in common with that fuzzy ideal of “classic Trek” than nerds will ever care to admit.

Lost in all this shuffle, however, is what could/should have been Beyond‘s most intriguing character: the villain. Krall–armed with a whirring, clicking Giger suit (which allows him to vampirize other lifeforms, making him impossibly old) and commanding Guyver drones which pilot attack pods that swarm over their targets like bees–is all coiled, purposeful menace, hunched over and ready to pounce. A suggestive animosity towards the Federation and its soft imperialism aligns him closely with Isaac Hayes’ Duke in Escape From New York. Like the Duke, Krall has taken life outside the edge of civilization as an opportunity to carve out an anti-empire built on pure force. Pegg and Jung position him as exactly the opposite the aimless, emotionally wounded Kirk and Spock need. Unfortunately, he and the planet he lords over are given little room, hints at a hierarchy between his loyal followers and feral remnants of other crews he’s shipwrecked appear and are never mentioned again. Krall’s then subsumed in a twist designed to make him a more direct foil to Kirk, but cheapens the character, contorting him into yet another demagogue like Peter Weller’s second baddie from Into Darkness. This third act maneuver, in spite of Krall’s marginalized position in the film, unbalances Beyond, leaving Kirk and Spock’s uncertainty hanging as they fall back on status quo.

Ghostbusters 2016

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Funny and at times utterly charming, yet the Ghostbusters reboot/make is never convincing. Drawing on the broadest points from the Ivan Reitman-helmed namesake possible, including the same dynamic of disgraced academics and roped-in prole busting ghosts, Paul Feig, Katie Dippold and crew hinge their film on a procession of toy-making and flailing, Apatow cringe comedy (naturally, one character has to learn about the value of self-acceptance and friendship). It’s a hollow core, drowning in noise.

This manifests most clearly in characterization. Reitman’s film centered on the intersection of capital, fringe science, and belief. Cynical hucksters, true believers, and paycheck seekers, all wanting some combination of success and validation as they stumbled, with illegal, calamitous technology they barely understood, against eldritch horrors. The jokes arose from these conflicting personalities and the teeming, glib, dismissive New York they operated in. Ghostbusters 2016 lacks both this range and depth. The central quartet–played by Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones–are all do-gooders with little motivation beyond proving ghosts are real and, later, saving the city. What distinguishing personality traits exist only for crowbarring jokes: Wiig’s Gilbert is prone to freakouts and lustful overtures towards dim-witted receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth); McCarthy and McKinnon (as Yates and gadgeteer Holtzmann, respectively) alternate between the Ray/Egon-style cranks and collegiate pranksters; Jones’ subway worker Patty is a sassy infodump. Undeniably, the rapport between the cast is naturalistic: the film hits its groove when the Ghostbusters begin to assemble, glibly commenting on whatever scraps they end up working with (namely, when Gilbert unknowingly helps Yates and Holtzmann steal supplies from  the Z-rate MIT knockoff they were booted from). Yet, despite this, too often their behavior veers wildly for the express purpose of a gag (during the first big ghostbust, Holtzmann decides to pull a boo scare joke on Gilbert, for no discernible reason), a plasticity matching the shiny Times Square of the film’s climax. No way anyone in Ghostbusters ’16 has a life outside the screen.

What’s especially disappointing is the way Feig and McCarthy have gone backwards. Following the success of their team-up with Wiig, Bridesmaids, the two spun off into a partnership which seemed to improve in iteration. The Heat used Bridesmaids‘ sad sack personality as grist for a gender-bent Lethal Weapon. Last year’s excellent Spy went further, catapulting McCarthy into a mean fuck-up, who was still the smartest person in the room, then watched her work within the insanity around her. This trajectory was ideally suited for a Ghostbusters update, fronted by McCarthy’s anti-glamor and Feig’s eye for mayhem (the fantastic, DIY aesthetic of the Ghostbusters equipment in this film even lends itself to this). Instead, it’s Wiig at the center, playing a woman torn, in that most movie of fashions, between career and friendship. Sad, soft, fuzzy and nonthreatening, with only the faintest sign of life. This Hollywood milieu undermines the humor of watching the outcast and the overlooked pulverize gentrified New York property with  nuclear guns.

Independence Day: Resurgence

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I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that, for all the flaws in his movies, Roland Emmerich does come across as a considerate director. Hokey and sentimental, formulaic and safe, sure, but the evidence is all over his films he’s at least thought through an idea of them. His most well-regarded film (and perennial cable favorite), Independence Day, hits all the cliches for disaster movies and alien invasion flicks, tracking multiple (though almost entirely American) POVs attempting to process the sudden arrival of city-sized alien ships, and the apocalyptic havoc they beam down. After the immediate horror, worldwide survival instincts kicked in, causing humanity to unite in a last ditch attempt to defeat the menace (spearheaded by America, of course). Emmerich’s 20-years-later sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, explodes this culture shock into a vast sea change for the species. Petty geopolitical squabbles were left behind in ’96, allowing Earth to build sleek, glittering cities, vast public transits, and an X-COM style defense team with moon bases across the solar system, all courtesy of appropriated alien tech. Naturally, the sense of security gets shattered when the aliens return for another round, upping the size and stakes with an Atlantic-sized colony ship dropping to obliterate the planet. It’s also here where Resurgence‘s weaknesses become pronounced.

While Emmerich and co-writers Dean Devlin, James Vanderbilt, Nicolas Wright, and James A. Woods hammer out the particulars of its post-Independence Day Earth, they leave their dramatic arc inert. Independence Day constructed its macro-plot out of a rough assemblage of estranged lovers, broken homes, and a changing definition of family, extinction clarifying to them the importance of kinship. Beginning Resurgence with the assumption those principles stayed rock solid for two decades leaves little narrative direction. If the stakes of the previous film were “will humanity unify in time to save themselves,” this should be “will the unity hold?” Instead, the writers choose to dither. Returning players Jeff Goldblum, Vivica A. Fox, and Bill Pullman don’t wrestle with the then-and-now dynamic as much as they get shunted into board pieces; newcomers Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth, and Jessie Usher (uncomfortable and stiff attempting to be Will Smith’s stepson) work through a nothing space cadet friendship/romance subplot, marking time until the next CG dust-up. He may have thought through what his utopia would look like, but Emmerich forgot any reason to make anyone else care for this vision.

Will It End? – Movies 2016: April & May

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April

  1. Falling Leaves (1912) (short) – dir. Alice Guy
  2. A Horrible Way to Die (2010) – dir. Adam Wingard
  3. Nightmare City (1980) – dir. Umberto Lenzi
  4. The Objective (2009) – dir. Daniel Myrick
  5. Ganja & Hess (1973) – dir. Bill Gunn
  6. Body Melt (1993) – dir. Philip Brophy
  7. No Telling (1991) – dir. Larry Fessenden
  8. Mutant (1984) – dir. John Cardos
  9. Blackhat (2015) – dir. Michael Mann
  10. The Beyond (1981) – dir. Lucio Fulci
  11. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) – dir. Shinya Tsukamoto
  12. Kill List (2011) – dir. Ben Wheatley
  13. El 56 (1988) (short) – dir. Lucrecia Martel
  14. Trouble Every Day (2001) – dir. Claire Denis
  15. Spacebound (2013) (short) – dir. Ellen Su & Kyle Moy
  16. Tourist Trap (1979) – dir. David Schmoeller
  17. Æon Flux (2005) – dir. Karyn Kusama
  18. Cop Car (2015) – dir. Jon Watts
  19. The Maze Runner (2014) – dir. Wes Ball
  20. The Hallow (2015) – dir. Corin Hardy
  21. Cypher (2002) – dir. Vincenzo Natali
  22. Habit (1997) – dir. Larry Fessenden
  23. Hush (2016) – dir. Mike Flanagan
  24. Citizen Kane (1941) – dir. Orson Welles
  25. Cut Her Out  (2015) – dir. Tiffany Heath

YTD: 96

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May

  1. Keanu (2016) – dir. Peter Atencio
  2. Adventures in Babysitting (1987) – dir. Chris Columbus
  3. Kung Fury (2015) (short) – dir. David Sandberg
  4. Zombie (1979) – dir. Lucio Fulci
  5. Manborg (2013) – dir. Steven Kostanski
  6. Mission: Impossible III (2006) – dir. J.J. Abrams
  7. Ava’s Possessions (2015) – dir. Jordan Galland
  8. Bloodsport (1988) – dir. Newt Arnold
  9. The Mutilator (1984) – dir. Buddy Cooper
  10. To Catch a Thief (1955) – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
  11. The Quick and the Dead (1995) – dir. Sam Raimi
  12. The Darkness (2016) – dir. Greg McLean
  13. Project A (1983) – dir. Jackie Chan
  14. American Mary (2012) – dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska
  15. The Woman (2012) – dir. Lucky McKee
  16. The Nice Guys (2016) – dir. Shane Black
  17. The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) – dir. Wes Ball
  18. Zero Tolerance (2015) – dir. Wych Kaosayananda
  19. Society (1989) – dir. Brian Yuzna
  20. Night of the Demons (1988) – dir.Kevin Tenney
  21. Days of Thunder (1990) – dir. Tony Scott
  22. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – dir. Bryan Singer
  23. The Mummy (1999) – dir. Stephen Sommers
  24. Mabel’s Strange Predicament (1914) (short) – dir. Mabel Normand

YTD: 120

Apocalypse

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Incrementally, Bryan Singer’s X-Men films have moved away from the easily digestible (and tone deaf) racial allegory towards something more abstract. X-Men: Apocalypse, a glacial epic designed to further shred the notion of continuity, is premised not just on  awkward pubescence (Nightcrawler’s teleportation, Jean Grey’s house-shaking psychic nightmares, Cyclops’ uncontrollable lasers ejaculating from his eyes) but on the ability of youth to shatter the planet, literally and figuratively. We’ve gone from special effects as backdrop for adequate fight scenes or a way to drive plot to a core element tying spectacle and theme together. Crisscrossing the globe, as the scattered X-Men contend with the return of ancient mutant and would-be conqueror En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), we’re treated to vistas awash in energy beams, cityscapes rending into futurist pyramids, Earth’s entire nuclear stockpile ejected into space (at once), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) slinking around underground mutant fight clubs full of 80s reference points, and a dialed-to-11 repeat of Quicksilver’s big moment from Days of Future Past.

This time around, his near-time-stopping super-speed is pitted against a massive explosion. Needle-dropping to the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Singer plays it like every nerdy boy’s power fantasy: Quicksilver (Evan Peters) staging elaborate rescues (even stopping to save a dog and some goldfish), dancing around, having a couple laughs at the squares, scarfing down some pizza, the movie literally pausing to awe at how much this admitted loser can accomplish when he applies himself (the extravagance also mocks how bland and ineffectual the version Marvel concocted for Avengers: Age of Ulton is). Elsewhere, sometimes-friend, sometimes-enemy Magneto (Michael Fassbender) contends with more personal tragedy just as he’s recruited by Sabah Nur to wreck the world. Facing down his pain at Auschwitz, and encouraged to tap into the full potential of his powers, Magneto twists and rips the horrifying relic into arcs of metallic dust. Soon, he’s turning everything into swirling wreckage, a Pollockian expression of all the rage and disgust brewing under his calm demeanor.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, the plot of Apocalypse broadly resembles portions of the original X-Men 3 pitch from Singer and writers Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty. That proposed film, which also would have been the Dark Phoenix Saga, was wrapped in the first two film’s obsessions with evolution, and would have culminated with Jean becoming the X-films’ equivalent of a Star Child. Now, with Simon Kinberg in tow, the trio have concocted a scenario where Louise Simonson and Jackson Guice’s blue-skinned, Darwinian monster forces the mutants to abandon all pretense of control, unleashing world-breaking carnage colored like a pop concert light show. Blockbuster filmmaking as advocacy for transhumanism, in all its horror and splendor.

Nice Guys

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Brimming with slapstick, Byzantine machinations, and sex-obsessed burnouts, Shane Black’s The Nice Guys is a mutant of a film. An 80s buddy action-comedy in 70s dress, using modern, digitally-recreated L.A. skyline, the period trappings are both vivid and flat. This artificiality belies the fact the movie is about something more than its subject. It’s not simply how the neo-noir plotline–a missing persons case where barely-competent PI Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and wannabe do-gooder/thug-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) cross paths looking for a hyper-paranoid, rebellious girl–explodes every which way, roping in the porn industry, hitmen, the Big Three automakers, and government collusion. Black’s script bleeds dramatic irony and surrounding texture: references abound to smog, suffocating birds, and killer bees, a prelude to our modern sense of environmental doom. A Justice Department heavy monologues, “What is good for Detroit is good for America.” The image of Richard Nixon, that enduring symbol of power escaping accountability, recurs both bombastically (as a vulgar hallucination) and subtly (on a magazine during a bathroom stall skit, covering up Gosling’s tricky dick). Everyone makes predictions about the future we know are incorrect. March and Healy (and March’s spunky, foul-mouthed daughter Holly, played by Angourie Rice) aren’t experts, dismantling the conspiracy through brawn or intellect. They bungle their way through (March especially, distracted either by booze or women, if not both)–good enough, but incapable of dealing any decisive blow to the responsible, behind-the-scenes figures.

This sense of powerlessness extends to how Black stages action. Panicked, fumbling, often indecisive, whether it’s Healy momentarily scaring off two goons with a shotgun or March surviving a fall off a building by mere inches (his enemy being the messy alternative), control of a situation is at best momentary, at worst nonexistent. Even after finding their missing girl, a shootout with a mob sociopath induces her into a flight response, which in turn goes south. Every fight, then, is a rough patch of collected individuals and their conflicting desires, tripping each other up. No one emerges a winner on any ideological stage. Their only victories are personal.