Every aspect of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping feels calculated and constructed for success. The structure of the film is largely borrowed from Rob Reiner/Christopher Guest’s classic mock-rockumentary, This is Spinal Tap, with a bit of VH1’s “Behind the Band” to update the format for younger audiences. It also updates the subject, switching from the fading hair bands in the 1980s to an indictment of pop/hip-hop stars of today, primarily focusing on a character very obviously based on Justin Bieber. While the jokes are consistently funny for at least two-thirds of the film and the music parodies created by The Lonely Island are at least as successful as the work they have done for “Saturday Night Live” over the years, something about Popstar feels a bit too safe. Even a scene of graphic male nudity (thanks to a contribution from producer Judd Apatow, who takes his efforts to use male genitals in a majority of his film one step further by offering his own for this gag) can’t save this film from being less shocking than reality itself. Anyone who has read about the spoiled-brat behavior of Bieber over the years or follows the narcissistic ramblings of Kanye West’s twitter feed will realize that real life is far more absurd than anything offered in Popstar.
I can’t judge how the blending of zombie horror with Jane Austen’s classic text worked in Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, but it was an all-around awkward cinematic endeavor in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The film adaptation by Burr Steers tries to please too many audience demographics and instead succeeds at none. Many have remarked that the most successful aspects of the film are those which remain closest to Austen’s original story, and though I would agree, these are also the parts of the film that reminded me of the far superior adaptation by Joe Wright a little over a decade ago. Like Spider-Man, apparently this is a narrative we must endure a new incarnation of for each generation.
In the latest adaptation of the Wong Fei Hung narrative, Rise of the Legend, comparisons are bound to be made with previous martial arts film classics that have tackled the same subject. Unfortunately, this latest endeavor starring Eddie Peng in the iconic role lacks the humor of The Legend of the Drunken Master, the epic qualities of the Once Upon a Time in China franchise, and the charisma of their stars, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. What Rise of the Legend does have is polished visuals that modernize the cinematic action to emphasize cinematography over the pure physical abilities of its star. The past films were more about the action choreography, whereas Rise of the Legend becomes about the camera work instead. Sometimes this emphasis on visuals works as a welcome distraction to the obvious shortcomings in other areas of filmmaking, though it occasionally runs the risk of being as soulless as any number of CGI-filled summer blockbusters.