X-Men Apocalypse

I’ve never really loved the X-Men movies, but I kind of enjoyed The Last Stand. I tell you this now so you know to take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the world’s first mutant, was worshiped as a god by ancient Egyptians. The power he was born with was the ability to transfer his consciousness from one body to the next, rejuvenating himself whenever his current body neared death. As an added bonus he retains the superpowers of all the people he possesses. While performing his latest ritual of transference, which will place him in the body of a mutant who possesses healing powers like Wolverine’s, his enemies manage to bury him deep below the ground.

Fast forward to 1983 and Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) stumbles upon a group of dumb asses who revive Apocalypse. Once the big blue cheese-ball is free he decides to “cleanse” the world of non-mutants. This guy can kill ya just by glancing in your direction (unless you’re a leading character, naturally). Despite his limitless powers he decides he needs four guardians—or “horsemen,” if you will.

It’s immediately clear this movie wants to cram in every first- and second-rate mutant from the source material it can. Angel is probably the lamest of them. He simply isn’t a character who translates well to the screen, which is just as apparent today as it was ten years ago (yes, it really has been ten years since The Last Stand). And I know a lot of fans were excited about Psylocke’s authentic look in this film, but because Bryan Singer has already established his “superheroes must wear black” rule she sticks out like a sore thumb in a movie that’s all thumbs from the get-go.

So Magneto has been lying low since the events of Days of Future Past. He has a wife and child now. I’m sure you already know how that’s going to turn out. Long story short: Magneto, Storm, Psylocke, and Angel form Apocalypse’s modern horsemen and they have absolutely no problem with his genocidal tendencies. It’s an idea that probably sounded cool in the writing room, but requires all kinds of logic-deflecting to make it work. A Holocaust survivor probably isn’t going to jump on board with a villain whose plan feels so Final Solution-y, but it’s not the first time Magneto has shown signs of cognitive dissonance.

I haven’t even gotten to the good guys yet. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is one of those bored action heroes who’s too cool to react to anything with any kind of human emotion. Sophie Turner’s Jean Gray is already being nudged toward Dark Phoenix territory. Once again the best part is the Quicksilver scene, but we’ve been there, done that. Meanwhile James McAvoy’s Professor Xavier is a snore and it feels too late to salvage the romantic subplot between him and MacTaggart, but they try anyway.

So the most striking aspect of X-Men Apocalypse is its absurdity. If Roger Corman had been known for excessively expensive films he could have made movies which felt a lot like it. It’s a good thing he didn’t because the overproduced slickness of Apocalypse works against its B-movie charm. Otherwise it’s one of the best dumb movies I’ve seen a long time. So much of this stuff feels exactly like the kind of mindless storytelling I would have concocted with my action figures when I was eight.

I’m okay with that. I just can’t believe something so goofy could be made in this age of Brooding Superman and Dark Fantastic Four. It turns out it’s as refreshing as a cold drink on a summer day even though it can’t hold a candle to Captain America’s most recent outing. Bryan Singer has just confirmed what I’ve long suspected: he is a massive dork. There’s just something extremely satisfying about seeing legitimate movie stars act so serious in a ridiculous action movie. Outside of the Quicksilver stuff the intentional jokes are terrible, but you’re going to laugh a lot anyway.

Good show, Singer, but making fun of The Last Stand was a low blow. You either die a hero or live long enough to become Brett Ratner.

Vice’s OUTSIDER documentary series

So begins Zack Carlson’s intro to the maiden episode of OUTSIDER: “For the past forty years, Grandmaster YK Kim has built an empire of martial arts and self-help seminars. But what few of his devoted followers know is that in 1987 he was the producer, co-director, and star of his very own action movie… which nearly destroyed him.” Carlson is one of the minds behind the Alamo Drafthouse’s success, not to mention the fanatical movie collector who discovered Miami Connection by accident. Today it’s among the most beloved lost-and-found movies of all time.

I have no idea if this is going to be a regular series or what, but I sure am digging it so far. The first finely produced mini-doc focuses on the creator of Miami Connection while the second one profiles Laz Rojas, an aspiring filmmaker who currently lives in a hotel whenever he’s not sleeping in his car. There’s also a bonus video in the form of Rojas’s claim to underground fame: excerpts from the four-hour long demo reel he used to send to Hollywood agents, which found a viral life of its own.

Check out OUTSIDER here.

Revisiting The Toxic Avenger II & III

At the beginning of Toxic Avenger IV, Stan Lee’s voiceover-cameo recounts the events of the first film before going on to say, “Then… two rotten sequels were made. Sorry about that.” Considering I’ve seen these two movies about a billion times more than I saw part IV, I wouldn’t say they were rotten. I  actually prefer Toxie’s makeup and John Candy-like voice to the version that appeared in the fourth film.

The biggest problem with the back-to-back sequels is they were intended to be one film until co-director Lloyd Kaufman, upon realizing they had shot too much footage, had the brilliant idea to split the one movie into two. (Troma’s recent Return to Nuke ‘Em High Vol. 1 seems to suffer from the same decision, which was allegedly suggested by Kaufman’s friend, Quentin Tarantino.) Instead of leaving the excess fat on the editing room floor, there’s a ton of padding in between the stuff we all wanted to see.

And don’t get me wrong: a lot of the stuff we wanted to see is present, albeit smothered. The first sequel opens with a hilariously stupid fight scene before the promising pace is abandoned for an overuse of voiceovers and an absurdly extended interlude in Japan. It’s rather like having to sit through Melvin’s vacation footage and only one of the two fights there is any fun. A lot of the footage that’s used in Toxic Avenger II will later be recycled for Toxic Avenger III, sometimes with replaced dialogue, sometimes unaltered, but always at the expense of us—the audience—groaning.

In other words, there’s a good movie between the two. If a skilled editor hasn’t made a supercut yet, here’s a prime candidate. I haven’t even touched upon the fact there are too many versions of the film and the director’s cut I purchased more than a decade ago somehow isn’t the definitive one.

When I was younger I preferred part II because I actually liked that stuff in Japan, but now that I’m older it’s clear the third film, The Last Temptation of Toxie, is the better picture. Like the end of the previous film, the opening of part III was obviously shot after Kaufman decided to split the film into two. The fight may not be as long and complex as the one which opened the previous movie, but its brevity helps establish the pace a little better and believe me: this movie can use all the help it can get.

Toxie’s romance with Claire (even Kaufman has stated he doesn’t know why they changed the character’s name from Sarah) is unexpectedly cute for a movie like this. Toxie literally sells his soul to pay for the operation to restore her eyesight—and get his mother a microwave oven. That’s our little Melvin, a selfless darling, and we can only hope the needless Hollywood remake will repeat those aspects of the franchise rather than focus only on the goofy stuff.

So how do the sequels compare to the original? Do you even need to ask? Nothing in these films is half as funny (or downright wrong) as the punks who squash a little boy’s head with a car before beating an elderly woman to death. Nor is the dialogue quite as poetic as, “I’ve always wanted to cornhole me a blind bitch!”

Unless you’re a completionist, or a die hard Troma fan, it’s perfectly acceptable to skip these sequels. But there is some of that old magic there. It’s just in short bursts, few and far between.