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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Susan Granger at the Movies: ‘X-Men Apocalypse,’ ‘Sing Street,’ ‘The Meddler’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

Celebrating Memorial Day weekend, Bryan Singer once again wrangles Marvel’s mutants through another adventure, “X-Men Apocalypse,” set 10 years after “Days of Future Past” (2014).

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This time, the super-villain is Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the world’s first and most powerful mutant, invincible/immortal En Sabah Nur, who ruled ancient Egypt circa. 3600 B.C. before being entombed in an immense pyramid - until he awakens in 1983 at the height of the Cold War in the Reagan era.

After hibernating for 5,500 years, the petulant Pharaoh is not a happy camper, now that “the weak have taken over.”

Vowing to “wipe clean this world,” he solicits disillusioned Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and his colleagues Warren Worthington/Archangel (Ben Hardy), Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp) into becoming his legendary “four horsemen.”

Working with Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) enlists rejuvenated Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy), who supplies younger versions of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) from his School for Gifted Children, along with Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Jubilee (Lana Condor).

Working with screenwriters Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty, and Dan Harris, director Bryan Singer utilizes his 16 years of experience with this franchise as he desperately tries to blend multiple time-shifting, semi-coherent plotlines with remarkable CGI, particularly those of Quicksilver and Nightcrawler.

Problem is: there’s no character development, which means no emotional investment. Previous installments focused on the love/hate relationship between Erik Lensherr and Charles Xavier; there’s too little of that here.

Plus, Singer mixes and matches so many spandex-clad mutants with a myriad of mystical powers that it’s confusing. Even Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) does a clawed cameo.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is a fatiguing 5, filled with a multitude of mutants.

Set in Dublin during the economic depression of the mid-1980s, “Sing Street” is a sensitive, perceptive coming-of-age fable by Irish writer/director John Carney is the third in his trilogy of engaging, music-themed, semi-autobiographical films, following “Once” and “Begin Again.”

When his perpetually bickering, financially-strapped parents (Aiden Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy) transfer idealistic, 15 year-old Connor Lalor (newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) to a tuition-free Christian Brothers Catholic school, he’s brutally set upon by the local bully and the creepy head-master.

As an emotional escape and to impress an ambitious girl, Conor decides to form a New Wave pop band called Sing Street, riffing on the derelict Synge Street location of the school, recruiting keyboardist Ngig (Percy Chamburuka), multi-instrumentalist/composer Eamon (Mark McKenna) and business-savvy Darren (Ben Carolan).

Amid derision and scorn, he’s befriended by the object of his affections, beguiling 17 year-old Raphina (Lucy Bounton), who lives in a group home for orphaned girls and yearns to escape to London to become a model. A Sing Street music video would be just the ticket!

As his schoolboy quintet takes shape, he’s also supported by his stoned, music-wise older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), who inspires him with Duran Duran’s music video “Rio.” It’s significant that – in the closing credits – the film is dedicated to “brothers.”

Wearing flamboyant costumes and Boy George make-up, the adolescent band plays British pop. While avid music enthusiasts have told me that some of the band’s choices are a year or two out-of-sync with the time frame, the modest concept is great fun.

On the Granger Gauge, “Sing Street” is an energetic, enjoyable 8 – nostalgic music to your ears.

Although writer/director Lorene Scafaria may have based “The Meddler” on her own overbearing mother, she misses far too many chances for inspiration and insight.

Recently widowed Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon), a Brooklyn native, has moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be near her 30-something daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), a perplexed, perpetually pouting TV writer who was recently dumped by her boyfriend Jason (Jason Ritter).

Marnie is well-off financially and she loves her new apartment, conveniently situated near The Grove, which she aptly compares to Disneyland’s Main Street. But she’s lonely. So she calls and texts Lori incessantly - until Lori says, “I think it’s time we set some boundaries.”

Undaunted, good-hearted Marnie starts befriending strangers - like the ambitious lad (Jerrod Carmichael) at the Apple Store, Lori’s pal (Cecily Strong) who yearns for an elaborate lesbian wedding, and a retired cop (J.K. Simmons) whom she meets when she inadvertently strolls into the filming of a movie scene.

If Lorene Scafaria had made this into a sitcom, it might have worked better because it’s far too shallow and contrived to work as a feature film.

Susan Sarandon is Scafaria’s saving-grace. Her Marnie is so kind, loving and generous that it’s difficult not to succumb to her maternal charm. On the other hand Rose Bryne’s weepy Lori is so self-absorbed that it’s hard to elicit any sympathy for her trials and tribulations.

In supporting roles, J.K. Simmons seems to be channeling Sam Elliott, while Amy Landecker’s therapist emerges as simply annoying.

Curiously, the most effective scene is when Marnie is alone in her kitchen. Using the rim of a glass, she presses a hole in the center of a slice of bread. Placing it in a heated skillet, she cracks a farm-fresh egg into the center of the hole, cooks the egg to perfection and then slowly, lasciviously consumes it.

On the Granger Gauge, “The Meddler” is an intrusive 4, totally lacking in empathetic spontaneity.

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( Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)


Posted 05/25/16 at 10:31 PM  Permalink


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