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Money Monster

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****

Jodie Foster’s film does a good job of tackling the serious economic issues of today, in a fun and funny way. A few points are a bit over the top, but that probably goes down better for mass audiences than had this been more dour, like The Big Short. The story may be farfetched, but not as far fetched as what really happened in The Big Short. The best part of the film is the acting. And most of the actors in this movie do a fantastic job of it:

Jack O Connell;George Clooney

Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) takes TV host Lee Gates (George Clooney) hostage in TriStar Pics.’ MONEY MONSTER, © 2016.

  • George Clooney – Lee Gates is a fictional Mad Money guy. He has the flair and production values for a successful, awful Cable TV show. He also has a human side that he has tried to bury deep down inside. Unsurprisingly Clooney kills it.
  • Julia Roberts – Patty Fenn is leaving Money Monster to do real journalism again. She has a restrained personality, with feelings of guilt about abandoning her friend. She also cannot keep herself from doing her job, even when a kidnapper hijacks her show, or when the police are trying to keep people away from said kidnapper and Lee. Even without the outbursts that the other actors get, Roberts provides the backbone of the film.
  • Jack O’Connell – Kyle Budwell is a putz. He has a pregnant girlfriend, lame municipal job, and lost his inheritance when a shady investment firm “lost” $800 million dollars. Unlike Clooney & Roberts, whom I have seen in a combined 23 movies, I had never seen O’Connell before. He reminded me favorably of the now recently departed Anton Yelchin.1
  • Caitriona Balfe – Diane Lester plays a naive chief communications officer at that shady investment firm. At first she seems quite bland, but gets an opportunity to show some personality, which is nice.

The one name I have skipped so far was Dominic West’s. Everyone loved him as McNulty on “The Wire”, but can anyone name a good role he has had since? 300? Not great. 28 Days Later? Eh, he was okay. Rock Star? Amusingly bad. Punisher: War Zone? Just read the name, chief, youze know how bad dis film was.2  In this film he is not very good. As for the rest, there are a few other small roles that ran the gamut from amusing to meh. On the whole though, it is an excellent display of acting. If it gets, say, any best original screenplay nominations for Linden, DiFiore and Kouf, it will be due in great part to these performances.

1 Yelchin is best known for playing Chekhov in the new Star Trek franchise. He was a phenom, with notable tv appearances beginning as a teenager.
2 West played Jigsaw, a damaged mafioso named Billy.

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Central Intelligence

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In the era of remakes and comic book blockbusters, it is refreshing to see an unadapted movie. It is especially refreshing when neither of the main actors are white. It is difficult to pick out a quotation for this review, because I use single person quotations, not exchanges, and so much of the gold in this film comes from Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart’s exchanges.

You look like a Black Will Smith.

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Dwayne John & Kevin Hart in New Line Cinema’s Central Intelligence © 2016.

Its plot is like a less good Spy. That is not to say that the plot is bad, just that it reminded me somewhat of the amazing Spy. With a cute cameo in this film going to Spy’s star Melissa McCarthy. The cameo casting was phenomenal, and I will not pick a favorite therefrom. I will pick a favorite between Johnson and Hart—Dwayne Johnson. Am I biased because I loved The Rock and have seen half of his movies while I dislike every Hart film since 40 Year Old Virgin? Absolutely. Keeping that in mind, I thought that Kevin Hart was excellent as Calvin Joyner, current accountant and former high school hero. At his best, Joyner is a higher energy, funnier Roger Murtagh—Lethal Weapon’s Danny Glover. On the other hand, while Johnson’s Agent Bob Stone has Riggs’ crazy, he lacks Riggs’ charisma. Time and time again, the movie has the opportunity for Stone to become Jason Bourne, or James Bond, but with his jorts and fanny pack, Agent Stone remains consistent in who he is. He may no longer be the fat high school loser of his childhood, but that does not mean he never was that person.

Amy Ryan was solid as the film’s antagonist, Agent Pamela Harris. One of Pam’s underlings was the very credible Tim Griffin, whose Agent Stan Mitchell reminded me of his prior role as a CIA Agent, Nevins, whose boss was Agent Pamela Landy–Joan AllenSound familiar? What if I told you there was some stolen US intelligence information and that a super agent had been set up for it…yes! This film is a humorous version of The Bourne Supremacy. On acting and comedy alone, this movie is on the level of Spy. With its plot holes and contrivances, I considered giving this a lower score, but because it tried to be different and managed to have important non-white male characters it deserves a bump.  This special blend from Rawson Marshall Thurber–Dodgeball–of Spy + Bourne + Lethal Weapon = a tasty success!

****

X-Men: Apocalypse

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****

Who the fuck are you?

Michael Fassbender as Magneto/Erik Lensherr in X-Men: Apocalypse, © 2016 Fox.

Michael Fassbender as Magneto/Erik Lensherr in X-Men: Apocalypse, © 2016 Fox.

Just as in X-Men: First Class, the one F-bomb got the biggest laugh. Then it was  Wolverine–Hugh Jackman–saying it to Magneto and Charles Xavier–Michael Fassbender  and James McAvoy, respectively. This time is is Magneto, in tears1, about to slay his human co-workers for exposing him. So how does that line rank amongst the 8 X-Men films? Amongst the 3 back-in-time X-Men movies?2 How do other aspects and actors compare too?

The line itself, along with its delivery, ranks about equal to Wolverine’s. Fassbender’s Magneto is great, as always, and his young Magneto is as good as Ian McKellan’s old one. McAvoy’s Professor X is not as good as Patrick Stewart’s, but it is still very good. McAvoy really inhabits the character well, with his fumbling flirtations operating as a charming inconsistency—why is he less confident now than he was as a college student when he already knows a woman liked him?

As in First Class, Wolverine has one scene, but it’s a much more physical fan service scene than his “Go fuck yourself.” If you are a big enough fan to get the reference, then you will not be surprised when he appears in the film, and in the capacity in which he does so. The X-Men, comprised of Beast, Mystique, Quicksilver and Moira MacTaggert—portrayed by Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters, and Rose Byrne, respectively, have been captured by young William Stryker–Josh Helman, who is no Brian Cox. Stryker takes them to the Weapon X facility in Canada…goose bumps yet? This is recognizable since Wolverine heads there in X2. When we finally see Wolverine he is straight out of Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Weapon X” storyline. He proceeds to, as he did in the comic, butcher his way through every soldier and scientist in the facility. It was much cooler than just one great line. That said, by freeing him Jean Grey—Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner—is at least partially responsible for the murder of dozens and dozens of people. This is not addressed, nor does it appear to affect her, despite being telepathic (and empathic) and not sociopathic.

Sophie Turner as Jean Grey at the Weapon X facility, with Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), © 2016 Marvel & Fox.

X-Men: Apocalypse is clearly set in the 1980s. Sophie Turner in a blazer with shoulder pads as Jean Grey at the Weapon X facility, with Nightcrawler in a jacket designed for Michael Jackson or Eddie Murphy (Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), © 2016 Marvel & Fox.

Beast is still Beast, although Kelsey Grammer’s Beast in X-Men: The Last Stand3 provides a wonderfully cerebral representation that Hoult’s lacks. Also this Angel is as okay as Last Stand’s, but gets better scenes. In East Germany Angel–Ben Hardy–fights Nightcrawler–Kodi Smit-McPhee–in an underground mutant gladiator ring, until Mystique frees them both. Smit-McPhee does a good job as an awkward teen, but he is no Alan Cumming. After freeing Nightcrawler, Mystique brought him to a mysterious mutant named Caliban. I was certain that he was portrayed by Oscar winner Jared Leto. Nope. Tómas Lemarquis plays Caliban in a much more cutthroat way than I have always envisioned the mutant detecting mutant, but he definitely fits into this dark world. He loses his bodyguard, Psylocke–Olivia Munn, to the sway of Apocalypse.

Speaking of Apocalypse and the women of the film, this brings us to an awkward place because Apocalypse is choking Mystique in some of the publicity, which in our culture seems inappropriate because of the violence against women. While ironically the irreverent Deadpool did a better job of dealing with violence against women, this tone deaf approach actually works within the film itself. Apocalypse transcends gender and sex, which can be said at times for Mystique too, thus their shapeshifting violence did not bother me and films should not be judged by their ad campaigns.4

Mystique (Lawrence) losing a battle with Apocalypse (Isaac).

Mystique (Lawrence) losing a battle with Apocalypse (Isaac).

One thing that giant action serial movies can be judged on are their special effects. Firstly, this captured the excellent apocalyptic future of Batman v Superman—Dawn of Justice. While the colors were better than in Batman v Superman, there were a couple of X-Men Origins: Wolverine moments, specifically the flying intermodal shipping containers, and Evan Peter’s amazing Quicksilver trying to get through Magneto’s sphere of metal bits. On the plus side there is literally every other moment of Quicksilver moving at superspeed. Every. Single. Moment.

One way this film is better than First Class and Days of Future Past is by its villain. Oscar Isaac’s En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse comes across like a more powerful Bane (The Dark Knight Rises). I could not foresee the man becoming the force of nature that is En Sabah Nur. Wonderfully the opening in Egypt does not show a giant, or a monster, or even a man in his peak of power. Instead he is covered in armor and a headdress that masks his old, frail body. He was everything that Ultron (Avengers 2) should have been. Isaac’s performance created a surprisingly subtle character, who outdoes both Bane and Ultron. Probably Isaac’s best performance, although I have not watched Inside Llewyn Davis.

In closing5, the end exchange between Fassbender and McAvoy almost finishes verbatim from the end of X-Men! The McKellan/Stewart exchange gave me goosebumps. So this gave me goosebumps and through the power of nostalgia brought a tear to my eye. I leave you with screenwriter David Hayter’s words:

Magneto: Does it ever wake you in the middle of the night? The feeling that one day they will pass that foolish law or one just like it, and come for you? And your children?
Professor Xavier: It does, indeed.
Magneto: What do you do, when you wake up to that?
Professor Xavier: I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul who comes to that school… looking for trouble.

Apocalypse’s screenwriter Simon Kinberg changed the lines, removing “that foolish law”, and turning “that school” into “my school”. He created a similar ending, but in some ways a more hopeful one with Magneto walking away from Xavier’s School For the Gifted and not Xavier wheeling away from Magneto’s plastic prison. Sixteen years apart and they are still making wonderful X-Men movies. How astonishing! How uncanny!

1 I love crying Michael Fassbender as much as the next person, but he shed a lot of silent tears in this movie.
2 Oh, the problems with naming this…series. If I say “the original X-Men” one might think of the original X-Men movies. If I say the First Class X-Men, one might think I was making a qualitative judgment. If I say prequel X-Men, that would ignore the worldchanging ramifications of X-Men: Days of Future Past.
3 Thanks a lot Brett Ratner. I did think that Beast could have been physically more imposing.
4 The exception to this rule is when a movie promises something in previews that does not occur in the actual film. For example, I will never forgive Murder at 1600 for cutting the preview line, “Murder at 1600…an address that changes all the rules.” And I do not know if I approve of the posters with Jennifer Lawrence being choked. I understand the appeal in having your biggest star and the villain together, but it still feels a little funny.
5 I didn’t even get to how good Storm was! Alexandra Shipp was much better than Halle Berry’s Storm. I never even wrote the words “Four Horsemen”! There is just too much here to discuss!