Monday, May 30, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

        Director Bryan Singer knows his subject matter so well, nine films into this franchise,  that his ease of storytelling has become second nature. Building upon the mythos of earlier X-Men films, Mr Singer and screenwriter, Simon Kinberg have crafted a terrific addition to the series. The one caveat, going in you better know your X-Men mythology otherwise you may find yourself lost navigating the characters.

          James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are back as Charles "Professor X" Xavier. So are Jennifer Lawrence as Raven, Nicolas Hoult as Hank McCoy, Rose Bryne as CIA agent,Moira MacTaggert, Lucas Till as Alex Summers, and Evan Peters as Quicksilver. New faces include Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, Kodi Smit- McPhee as Nightcrawler, Ben Hardy as Angel, Olivia Munn as Psylocke, Alexandra Shipp as Storm, and Oscar Isaac as  mega-villain, Apocalypse.

          Many superhero films attempt to take the comic characters into the real world and sometimes fail when they forget the source material. This film works beautifully as an X-Men comic (or if you prefer, graphic novel) come to life. It's the closest you can come to reading the book and seeing the action as you imagine it in your head, played out on the screen.

           It's a long film ( 2 and 1/2 hours) but its a very full story that takes its time bringing all its pieces together for a terrific climax. There is  plenty of action, drama and humor through out. It even manages a surprise or two. And stay through the credits for an important clue for the ongoing saga.

Alice Through The Looking Glass

        Director Tim Burton steps aside and just produces this sequel to his imaginative take on "Alice In Wonderland". While new director, James Bobin does a credible job, the films sorely lacks Mr. Burton's macabre sensibility and humor.

         Mia Wasikowska returns as Alice and is joined again by Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter, Ann Hathaway as The White Queen, and Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen.  The vocal talents of Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Timothy Spall, and Michael Sheen also return as the various CGI characters of Wonderland. Joining the cast for this sequel is Sacha Baron Cohen as the human/machine hybrid, Time.

           The plot has very little in common with the original story.  Instead, Alice returns to Wonderland to help the Mad Hatter, who has grown despondent and physically ill after discovering his family may all still be alive but with whereabouts unknown. Alice must borrow the Chronosphere, a device which powers time itself to help the Hatter. Time, of course can't exist without the device making it very dangerous for Alice to use it.

             Far removed from the original plot, the story builds up the character of Time and Mr. Baron Cohen is very good in the role but it diminishes Mr. Depp's role as The Mad Hatter, who ends up with little to do. It's really a waste of Mr. Depp's talent and instead gives Mr. Baron Cohen a chance to really shine. Ms. Wasikowska is a stalwart Alice and a role model for pre-teen girls everywhere.  Ms. Hathaway has little to do as The White Queen. Ms. Bonham Carter as the crazy and villainous, Red Queen chews up the scenery.

             Visually the film is a kaleidoscope of color and movement. The CGI work is excellent but unfortunately even the colorful characters of Wonderland, (Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit etc...) are given a back seat to the main plot.  It's a good concept but it belongs in a different film. Time, his seconds,  his grand clock and castle are amazing but it's not a Wonderland story. It bogs down in dreary details but does pick up enough for an exciting climax.

              If Alice ever decides to return to Wonderland, I hope the studio decides to keep the story about Wonderland and all it's outrageous characters.  Don't mess with the Classics. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Man Who Knew Infinity

       Buried among the start of the summer "blockbuster" season is this gem of an Indie film, based on the true story of Indian Mathematician, Srinivasa  Ramanujan, the first Indian to be awarded a Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge.

        Fans of "A Beautiful Mind" and "Good Will Hunting" will certainly appreciate a story centered around mathematics. But rest assured, you don't need be a math scholar to appreciate the moving and human story of this brilliant man. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) plays Ramanujan, and once he leaves India for England in 1918, he begins a five year collaboration with the mathematician G. H. Hardy (played by Jeremy Irons).

        The friendship that develops between the two men is the core of the story. The very human drama doesn't shy away from the racism and class struggles of the period. Mr. Ramanujan's life in England is far from easy but his early critics and scholarly snobs soon can't ignore his brilliant mind. Mr. Hardy and John Littlewood remain his biggest supporters and working together amass volumes of work that are still studied and applied in today's mathematics.

          Mr, Patel and Mr. Irons have wonderful chemistry together and Mr. Patel is such a charming and engaging actor, it's easy to root for his character to succeed. While the script focuses on the two men, there is a sub-plot of Mr. Ramanujan's wife, (Devika Bhise) and mother (Arundhati Nag) that he left behind in India that becomes integral to the story.

           The is a terrific drama anchored by two excellent performances and a story not easily forgotten.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Money Monster

     Director Jodie Foster brings out one of George Clooney's best performances in years in this new thriller. Mr. Clooney plays Lee Gates, the host of a TV financial advice show, high on entertainment as well as stock tips. His director, Patty Flynn, is played by a very effective Julia Roberts. 

      What starts out as typical episode for them soon escalates into a tense hostage situation when a young man named Kyle ( Jack O'Connell) takes over the studio with a gun and an explosive packed vest. Ms. Foster balances comedic moments with real suspense as she brings together the puzzle pieces of a story more complicated than it seems.

       Mr. Clooney completely disappears into his role and is generous sharing his screen time with Mr. O'Connell. Except for two short moments, Mr. Clooney and Ms. Roberts have no scenes together. Her character Patty spends most of her time talking into Lee's earpiece, keeping him focused while investigating Kyle's motivation for his desperate action. Mr O'Connell's Kyle is all blue collar and jitters as he stalks the TV studio with his finger on the detonator, demanding answers.

       Co-starring is Giancarlo Esposito as the police captain in the street trying to avoid a violent end, Dominic West as the oily CEO of the company that lost all of Kyle's savings, and Caitriona Balfe as Mr. West's Communications Director. Also co-starring  is Christopher Denham as a sorely put upon producer and Lenny Venito as a gutsy cameraman, both providing welcome comedy relief.

        This fast paced thriller with a cautionary message is a safe investment of your time at the movies.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

         The Marvel Studios juggernaut rolls on.  This latest installment in the Marvel film universe does not disappoint. Filled with terrific action sequences but anchored by an strong and emotional script, the film works on every level.

        While Captain America may be in the title, make no mistake, this is a full blown Avengers outing with the team choosing sides after the U.S. Government decides Superheroes should be regulated and not given free reign to act on their own. The concept is taken from a terrific event story line in the comics that was so successful, Marvel is launching a "Civil War II" this summer in the books.

       What works so well is the balance of screen time for the characters. While Captain America, The Winter Soldier, The Falcon and Iron Man have the majority of screen time, all the characters have excellent moments of their own including an "amazing" cameo or two. And the additional balance of emotion and gravitas to the action all make for a very well rounded film.

       You can argue illogical plot points but it's a superhero movie after all and you have already checked your logic at the door. This is pure escapism and fun so I can't argue a few origin changes to suit the story or illogical actions by the characters. Fans should be attending with full knowledge of the characters and backstories. If you are coming in as a novice, it's best to brush up on earlier films or the comic archives.

       Kudos to everyone at Marvel studios for getting their movies right. There is a grand plan in motion and so far, there hasn't been a misstep unlike a certain other brand. As they used to say in the old days, "Make Mine Marvel".

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Elvis & Nixon

 It's not an easy task to create an entire film around a famous photograph but that's what director Liza Johnson and writers Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes manage to do successfully in this lighthearted romp down memory lane. The story is true but entirely surreal.

     The year is 1970 and Elvis Presley decides he wants to meet with President Richard Nixon to convince the President he should become a "special agent at large" to fight the war on drugs. The film is not a traditional comedy per se but the events and story itself are so comedic, you can't help but laugh throughout the film. 

      Kevin Spacey is absolutely spot on as Nixon and Michael Shannon does an excellent job channeling the essence of Elvis, even if he really looks nothing like him. The supporting cast of Nixon's aides are Colin Hanks as Egil Krogh, Evan Peters as Dwight Chapin, and Tate Donovan as H.R. Halderman. Tracy Letts is John Finlator, the head of the Bureau of Narcotics in a very funny scene when Elvis pays a visit. Best friends, Jerry Shilling ( Alex Pettfer) and Sonny West ( Johnny Knoxville) accompany Elvis to Washington and help facilitate the historic meeting.

       The film is a time capsule of a specific event and era that is captured perfectly. It's fun and very entertaining.