Highly entertaining 'Apocalypse'
Owls Head — X-Men: Apocalypse (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 143 min.). The third X-Men film after the timeline reboot in "X-Men: First Class" (2011) is a highly entertaining adventure that focuses more on action than character -- with some exceptions -- and introduces some new mutants for the viewers to enjoy. They include Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers, aka Cyclops and the younger brother of Alex Summers, aka Havoc (Lucas Till, who basically gets written out now that he is TV's young Angus MacGyver); Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler (with a fun makeup job that includes a tail); Alexandra Shipp as Ororo Munroe, aka Storm; and Lana Condor as Jubilee. The viewer also meets and gets to know a lot about the younger Jean Grey, the telepath played by Sophie Turner.
Of course, the Big Bad is also new. That is En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac in heavy makeup and clothing), the world's first mutant, who has absorbed the powers of other mutants through the ages as he keeps transferring his mind into younger bodies. In fact, it is during one of those transfers, set in Egypt of 3,000 B.C. -- the film's prologue -- that an attempt is made to destroy him by some of his guards because he is thought to be a false god. I love anything to do with ancient Egypt, so this opening is a pure delight, and it results in En Sabah Nur being entombed for 5,000 years. En Sabah Nur has been given the name Apocalypse as well, because he always strengthens four mutants to be his attack crew, or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as they have become known to mankind.
After he is accidentally awakened by CIA operative Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne, whose character's memories of previous work with Professor X and the X-Men have been erased), Apocalypse assembles the team of weather-controlling Storm, the winged battler Angel (Ben Hardy), energy-manipulator Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (the returning Michael Fassbender). Magneto, aka Erik Lehnsherr, has been hiding out in Poland for the last decade, living as a family man with a wife and young daughter. Tragedy brings him to Apocalypse's side, while Angel had been forced into cage fights in Germany, with Nightcrawler as his newest opponent, until Nightcrawler is rescued by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who prefers being non-blue and known as Raven these days. Both Scott, who has just discovered his out-of-control destructive vision, and Nightcrawler, a teleport, are brought to Professor Xavier's (James McAvoy) school for education and training, although the school is more about education these days and less about creating an X-Men team. Also arriving at the school is the returning Peter Maximoff, aka Quicksilver (Evans Peters), who has another fun slow-motion scene, this time rescuing everyone from the school after an explosion.
Apocalypse feels the world has been sullied and is now ruled by the weak, so he decides to destroy everything mankind has built, using Magneto's enhanced powers, with only the strongest mutants surviving to live under his rule. A subplot involves Col. William Stryker (a returning Josh Helman) imprisoning some of the young mutants, which leads to a mayhem-filled cameo by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).
Bonus features include audio commentary by co-writer/producer/director Bryan Singer and screenwriter/producer Simon Kinberg; 15 extended/deleted scenes with optional introductions by Singer (28:11; includes two more scenes with Alex Summers and a funny visit to the mall, set to the song "Safety Dance"; a gag reel (8:20); two wrap-party videos (4:46), a multi-part making-of documentary (63 min.) that covers characters and plot, plus some future teases; and two photo galleries. Most of the extras are entertaining. Grade: film and extras 3.5 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Wild Oats (Anchor Bay DVD, PG-13, 86 min.). Let's hear it for our older actresses and actors. This delightful comedy pairs Shirley MacLaine (film debut in 1955) and Jessica Lange (film debut in 1976) as longtime friends in Liberty, Illinois. MacLaine plays retired history teacher Eva Fenton, whose husband has just died, while Lange is Maddie Reynolds, whose husband has left her and moved in with his very young secretary (her best friend turns out to be the waitress who serves Eva and Maddie at the restaurant after the funeral). Some of the film's fun and tone comes early as, during the wake for her husband, Eva is approached by her daughter (Demi Moore, film debut 1981, as Crystal) and a real estate woman about upgrades she could make to the house so it would sell easier.
What really sets the plot moving, however, is when Eva receives the check from her husband's insurance policy. Instead of the $50,000 she was expecting, it is for $5 million. One very funny bit has Eva trying to call up the insurance company about the mistake, only to get constantly frustrated by the company's automated phone "tree." (Believe me, I know that is the truth.) Maddie convinces Eva to deposit the check and then, since Eve has just discovered Maddie's grim medical outlook, the two book a flight to the Canary Islands and check into a luxurious hotel. While they are having fun during their stay, the chance for romance surfaces for both of them. Or are the men con artists? It does not help that Eva and Maddie have Internet fame now.
Eva is wooed by Lacy Chandler (Billy Connolly, film debut 1978), who either is putting on an act or is starting to suffer from memory loss -- maybe both because he does seem to duck out in time to have Eva stuck with the dinner bill. Maddie meets a young hottie (Jay Hayden as Chip), who has just broken up with his girlfriend, and she teaches him all about "The Graduate." Meanwhile, back home, the case has been assigned to insurance investigator Alvin "A.J." Vespucci (Howard Hesseman, film debut 1968, of "WKRP in Cincinnati" fame), who rounds up Crystal and they fly off to bring her mother back. Another character is local wine "warlord" Carlos (Santiago Segura), who is having wife problems. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (New Zealand, Sony DVD, PG-13, 101 min.). This is an unexpected delight. Sam Neill and Rima Te Wiata play Hector and Bella, a childless couple who live on a farm near the bush in New Zealand. They take in a troubled Maori youth, 13-year-old Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), who has about run out of foster homes and is facing juvenile detention next. However, with Bella's quiet, undemanding encouragement, Ricky, who likes hip-hop and creates haikus, starts taking to the isolated life, even though he still talks about being a gangster in the city. Then Ricky is given a dog, which he calls Tupac, as his first-ever birthday gift.
Everything seems rosy until a tragedy has child services worker Paula (Rachel House) determined to take Ricky back into custody. Ricky runs off into the bush, only to be found days later by his rather grumpy, new Uncle Hec. However, before Hec can return Ricky to the farm, the 65-year-old trips and breaks his ankle, meaning the pair have to stay rather stationary for a couple of weeks. And while this leads to good bonding time between Ricky and Hec, Paula has set the authorities on a manhunt for the pair in the bush. They also have become Internet sensations. A comedic run-in with three hunters -- with another to follow -- has the pair learn there is a reward on their heads. So, they go deeper into the bush. Among their adventures are cooking an eel for dinner and running into Psycho Sam, who dresses like a bush. Director Taika Waititi ("What We Do in the Shadows," the upcoming "Thor: Ragnarok") keeps a light touch on the proceedings and has a cameo as the minister.
Bonus features include audio commentary by Waititi and actors Neill and Dennison; a brief behind-the-scenes look (3:27); and a blooper reel (2:28). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2 stars
Blood Simple (1984, Criterion, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 95 min.). This is the Coen Brothers' first film, a noir, with Joel directing, Ethan producing and both co-writing. The main characters are the owner of a small bar, the Neon Boots, in a rural Texas town (Dan Hedaya as Julian Marty), his bored wife (Frances McDormand of the Coens' "Fargo" as Abby), her lover (John Getz as Ray) and a private detective (M. Emmet Walsh as Loren Visser). The detective confirms to Julian that his wife is cheating on him, so Julian eventually asks the detective to get rid of the lovers. Once that is accomplished, the Coens begin a series of twists. All of the film's violence and death actually derives from miscommunication, leading to its mixture of horror and farce.
Bonus features include a look at shooting the film (71 min.) with the Coens and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, whose lighting in the film is superb; a conversation (35 min.) with filmmaker Dave Eggers ("A Hologram for the King") and the Coens about the film's difficult production history and the brothers' careers; new interviews with McDormand (26 min.), who made her debut in the film, and Walsh (17 min.); interviews with composer Carter Burwell and sound mixer Skip Lievsay (17 min.); and a pamphlet essay by novelist and critic Nathaniel Rich. The print is from a new, restored 4k digital transfer. Grade: film and extras 4 stars
Reign: The Complete Third Season (Warner, 4 DVDs, NR, 748 min.). The show stars Adelaide Kane as Queen Mary Stuart, Torrance Coombs as Sebastian "Bash", Megan Follows as Queen Catherine, Anna Popplewell as Lady Lola, Craig Parker as Lord Narcisse. Rachel Skarsten as Queen Elizabeth, Celina Sindem as Greer, Rose Williams as Princess Claude and Jonathan Keltz as Leith Bayard. As the season begins, Queen Mary and King Francis (Toby Regbo) realize they are more powerful together than apart, hoping to leave behind the hurts of the past. Elizabeth, the "Virgin" Queen of England, is new to the Court and faces opposition on all sides. The set includes all 18 episodes, but no bonus features.