He SAID: Apocalyptic Fail

Scott F. Evans

Can we all just finally admit that the X-Men franchise isn’t very good?  This is the eighth film in this way-past-its-expiration-date series. Of that eight, maybe two of them are decent.  Maybe.  Fox has been cranking these things out since the beginning of the century with spin-offs and even a midway reboot followed by another reboot which basically did away with the previous films.

The studio started with the first three X-Men films, X-Men, X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand in 2000, 2003, and 2006 respectively.   Director Bryan Singer jumped ship before Last Stand started shooting and was replaced at the last minute by Brett Ratner.  The fourth film, X-Men: First Class was released in 2011 with Matthew Vaughn directing and a completely new cast of younger actors.  First Class was set in the 1960’s and served as a reset to the series.  This was followed in 2013 with another Wolverine sequel titled, simply, The Wolverine.  The Wolverine takes place directly after The Last Stand and doesn’t reference First Class at all.  Singer returns in 2014 to helm X-Men: Days of Future Past.  It was designed specifically to straighten out the franchise’s confusing timeline.  By the film’s end, it had basically erased the first three X-Men films and both Wolverine solo projects.

Or created a separate timeline.

Or something.

Point is, this franchise is a mess and needs to be put down.

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Singer returns with screenwriter Simon Kinberg, a few of the First Class cast, and several new faces for X-Men: Apocalypse. Even with the new additions, it’s become painfully clear that everyone involved has run out of things to say. Magneto, played for the third time by Michael Fassbender, has the exact same character arc from every X-Film he’s been in.  This time he gets a family in an attempt to switch things up, but the result is the same old story. To Fassbender’s credit, he’s such a great actor that I can’t tell if he’s just phoning his performance in or really trying to elevate the stale material he’s been given.

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James McAvoy, in his third outing as Professor Xavier, is also an excellent actor.  But you can see him desperately fighting to make something out of this exhausted screenplay.  He always seems to be just on the verge of tears. Honestly I’m not sure if the text calls for such emotion or if McAvoy is just that frustrated.

Conversely, the top-billed Jennifer Lawrence sleepwalks through this.  This is also her third time playing Mystique and it’s clear that Lawrence is over it.  She’s rarely in the character’s signature blue appearance and delivers her dialogue with the least amount of effort possible.  As bored and detached as she is, you’d think that Singer and Kinberg would either recast or write the character out. Nope! Instead, Mystique is shoehorned into this plot and about as useful here as Wolverine was in Days of Future Past.

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Evan Peters, who stole the show in his initial appearance in Days Of Future Past, is back with more to say and do. While his function is no different than it was the first time, his scene is longer and still as enjoyable.

Poor Oscar Isaac bows as the evil Apocalypse. If ever there was a disservice done to a stellar actor, it is this.  Buried under pounds of prosthetic makeup and hobbled with hackneyed comic book dialogue, Isaac is criminally miscast as the titular villain. The role could have been played by a bodybuilder with his lines dubbed in by any voice actor and it wouldn’t have mattered one bit.

apocalypse

Final thoughts on X-Men: Apocalypse… it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before. The story is painfully simplistic and filled with superfluous emotional flourishes that want desperately to  be significant.  None of the performances stand out enough to justify investing two and a half long hours of your time. The spectacle, which features more destruction than all of the past superhero movies combined, is so common now that it’s become tedious.

Just like this entire franchise.

RATING: Cable

 

She SAID: Get Your Hair Did

Shahada Karim

Do you know what good hair looks like? Kazumi Morton does. Dubbed ‘The Brunette Master’, Morton is known for treating tresses on the likes of Kristen Stewart and Zooey Deschanel. She’s also the mastermind behind the cult-status hair fixer Root Vanish.

Morton got her start at Vidal Sassoon and firmly established roots in Beverly Hills, San Francisco and New York. Now she’s found a permanent home at Kazumi Salon in Beverly Hills. The cozy loft is saturated with light, and embraces her philosophy of taking care of the hair simply and effectively, without gimmicks or potentially damaging products. Instead of obvious highlights and tricky styling, Morton focuses on rich nuanced hues to enhance each person’s unique complexion.

Services run between $75 and $600.

Kazumi Salon is located on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

She SAID: Curly Cue

Shahada Karim

We have officially stepped away from the need to straighten every hair within an inch of its life, and an increasing number of people are letting their curly flag fly. The challenge is to keep the curls as just that, without them devolving into frizz. The coming Summer curly cue 1 means high temperatures and humidity, but the latest crop of curl enhancers are more than up for the challenge.

Madame CJ Walker Coconut Oil is for the days when you just want your curls to do what they do, but stay hydrated and defined. This lightweight spray formula uses a universal age-old hair fix to keep frizz at bay without forcing curly cue 2curls to go crunchy and freeze into a specific style. One of the most attractive features is that it can be used on wet or dry hair, and works on a wide range of lengths and textures.

Living Proof No Frizz Nourishing Oil turns to technology to create a formula that acts and behaves like oil without the side effects. The buildable formula forms a barrier between hair and humidity, effectively blocking frizz on even the most coarse hair types. It can also be used on wet or dry air. And curly cue 3although it’s mostly chemical, you can spot a few favorites like Moringa and Jojoba oils in the ingredient list.

Qhemet Biologics Amla & Olive Heavy Cream goes back to basics to tackle hair that laughs at all products and just does whatever it wants. Specially formulated for thick unruly hair, the formula blends old world ingredients like Brahmi and Amla Oils to nourish the scalp and condition hair. It also contains MSM Sulfur, which has been proven to encourage hair growth. This is a solid case of ‘less is more’: the combination is so potent that there’s no need to pile it on.  A fully emulsified finger-full will easily distribute on the scalp and through hair and work to control frizz and define curls until you wash it out.

She SAID: Unmasked

Terri Kennerson

With Spring in full bloom and Summer not far behind, now is the best time to put in the work for the best possible reveal of fresh uniform skin in the coming months. If going to an expert and going down for a deep peel isn’t your thing, there are plenty of masks on the SEVEN VEILS MASKmarket that promise to work over time to unveil a fresh, plumper, younger looking you.

Normal/Oily/Combination: Habibi Seven Veils Exfoliating Mask works both as a purifying mask and a physical scrub. Forget the harsh apricot or walnut kernels of scrubs past; this one uses jojoba beads that melt as you move them over your skin. The formula is full of brighteners like Fullers Earth and turmeric, and deep hydrators like organic honey and ginseng oil. It can be used immediately as a scrub, or left on for 10-15 minutes to dry as a mask.citrus mask

Normal/Dry: Blithe Patting Splash Mask in Yellow Citrus & Honey is for anyone who doesn’t have the time or patience to wait for a mask to work its magic. If you’ve got 15 seconds, you’ve got the time to reveal new skin. The secret is Lactic Acid, which breaks up the proteins that bind dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. Blithe is the bouncy masklatest addition to the ever growing K-Beauty trend, and continues the message of youthful skin that looks genetic and completely effortless.

All: First Aid Beauty 5 in 1 Bouncy Mask uses rose bud extract and Vitamin C to plump and firm the skin. The gel texture is light and agreeable for most skin types. 10 minutes on, wipe off with a warm damp washcloth, and you’re good to go. It may not fool people into thinking that you’ve had 10 hours of sleep in a  hammock on the beach, but it’s pretty darn close.

He SAID: War of Marvels

Scott F. Evans

Marvel Studios continues its winning streak with Captain America: Civil War.  If nothing else, Marvel/Disney knows how to pick its talent.  After triumphing with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russo Brothers return to helm what may very well be the best superhero movie ever made.  They’re assisted by returning screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  This cinematic dream team seems to have taken the Marvel formula and redefined it, to make two of the best entries of the genre.  Forget Nolan.  Forget Whedon.  Forget Singer.  This squad has the superhero thing down to a science.

Civil War somehow manages to pull triple duty. It functions as the third in the Captain America franchise, addressing situations created in The First Avenger and continuing through The Winter Soldier.  It can be seen as the third Avengers film, following through on scenarios created in both of those earlier editions.  Civil War also works as a fourth Iron Man movie, with Tony Stark evolving beyond just Cap’s foe.  It also introduces two new major characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Black Panther and the studio’s version of Spider-Man.  These two heroes will headline their own solo films in the next couple of years.

Even as it juggles a massive supporting cast (every character gets at least one shining moment) Civil War is Cap’s story.  Markus and McFeely boldly present the character with a situation so personal, that he behaves in an uncharacteristic but completely believable way.  The film tackles some weighty issues: responsibility, duty, friendship, loyalty… and has a fair amount of pathos.  But it never becomes ponderous. Even with a run time of two and a half hours, it never drags.  Civil War is a serious film that knows it’s still a comic book.  The Russo Brothers keep the pacing breezy, and pepper in enough action to more than satisfy fans of the genre.

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The cast is key. Most of the players from practically every Marvel movie make an appearance.  Chris Evans turns in another excellent performance as Captain America.  He nails this character each and every time.  Robert Downey Jr is (as always) so good as Iron Man, that you almost forget that he had a decades long career before landing this iconic role.  Maybe it’s the script, but he feels even more dialed in than before.

Anthony Mackie and Scarlett Johansson once again lend their expert support as The Falcon and Black Widow.  This is the fourth time both have played these characters so it’s no surprise that they handle the roles with aplomb.  Johansson has shined as Black Widow since her debut in Iron Man 2, with her best performance coming out of Winter Soldier.  She’s just as good in this one but isn’t afforded as much screen time.  Mackie absolutely resonates as Falcon. He was good in Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man.  But in Civil War, the filmmakers give Falcon much more to do, and Mackie relishes every moment of it.  Returning as Bucky Barnes, Sebastian Stan finally gets to show off his acting chops.  He’s been good in all of the Cap movies, but this time he gets to show that he’s more than just an action figure.

Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland nearly steal the show, bowing as Black Panther and Spider-Man respectively.  Boseman brings a fierce nobility to the role.  And even with his limited screen time, Holland already shows signs of being a better Spider-Man than previous iterations.

I could continue to gush about Captain America: Civil War, but I think you get the point.  On its own, it’s a great film.  As part of a specific genre. it’s easily in the top five.  As the last of a trilogy, it makes the Captain America series arguably one of the best, most consistent franchises in recent cinema history.

RATING: Theater

He SAID: Miles Ahead

Scott F. Evans

Don Cheadle’s passion project, Miles Ahead is a cinematic improvisational jazz rift.  It doesn’t always work and sometimes loses the audience, but the love and creativity are here on full display.

Miles Ahead, directed and co-written by Cheadle, isn’t some unduly reverent biopic that ticks off important events in Davis’ life.  Instead the bulk of the film takes place during Davis’ self-imposed exile from performing in the mid to late 1970’s with flashbacks from the 1950’s and 1960’s juxtaposed throughout.  This is where the film both succeeds and fails. The scenes taking place in the 70’s center around a pseudo caper with Davis and music journalist Dave Braden as they chase down a stolen master tape of Davis’ latest recording. miles ahead 1

The performances are solid enough, but the film’s limited budget really shows as Davis and Brill get into car chases, shootouts and fistfights.  The staging becomes confusing and begins to look like a television show.  Even though the story is fictitious, this film highlights the drug addiction and despair that Davis was actually enduring at the time.

Thankfully, Cheadle’s wise enough to keep the pace lively and sprinkle in liberal amounts of humor. The film never does the typical biopic, making audiences suffer through yet another story of a musician being destroyed by their personal demons.  Davis was musically silent during this era (coming off his experimental late 60’s output) so it’s ironic that this is where the film falters.  Just as Davis gambled with his established style, miles ahead 3Cheadle mirrors him with the film’s structure.  And like Davis’ music of the time, it only works if you’re willing to go with it.  If you’re a film traditionalist (as I am), it doesn’t quite work.  But even though I don’t think it all comes together, I applaud Cheadle for taking this route with Miles Ahead instead of a more standard (stale?) approach.

Where Miles Ahead scores is during the flashbacks as we see Davis’s relationship with his first wife Frances.  Davis composes some of his classic material during this time, but that’s a secondary concern.  To be clear, this movie isn’t about the music.  The music is important, but Cheadle is interpreting Davis the man, not the legend.

Cheadle is, of course, perfect as jazz legend Miles Davis.  He’s so good that you forget  you’re watching such a recognizable actor.  It goes beyond the surface trappings of the curly afro, ostentatious shades and spot on raspy voice.  What makes his performance work is that Cheadle makes Davis a human being.

As good as Cheadle is, Emayatzy Corinealdi matches him as Frances.  A good actor, she’s also gifted with a strong presence and charisma that really comes off the screen.  Corinealdi has the same pixie-ness that Frances had. The chemistry between Corinealdi and Cheadle is undeniable, and that makes them a joy to watch. Ewan McGregor also does good work as Dave Braden.  He’s likeable and also has good chemistry with Cheadle.  This character feels like a studio mandate, but thankfully Cheadle and co-writer Steven Baigelman never allow the film to revolve around Braden.  He’s in nearly every scene set during the 70’s, but Miles Ahead is never about him.

Miles Ahead is no Ray or Walk the Line.  It isn’t interested in tradition.  It’s jazz, or as Davis called it “Social Music”.  Experimental.  Improvisational.  Divisive.  A crowd pleaser that’s uncompromisingly personal.  It fails just as hard as it succeeds.  If you’re looking for another paint-by-numbers biopic, take a pass on Miles Ahead.  If you want to learn more about the musician, there’s a great documentary from 2001 called The Miles Davis Story.

But if you want to watch a piece of jazz… Social Music… then give Miles Ahead a watch.

RATING: Theater