Tuesday, May 31, 2016

X-Men: Age of Apocalypse

The latest entry of the X-Men saga is the sixth (or the ninth if you count ‘Deadpool’ and the two ‘Wolverine’ spin-offs) in the long-running franchise that began way back in 2000.  Applying the ‘Star Wars’ chronology to the series would make ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ Episode 3, following ‘X-Men: First Class’ and ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ but prior to the events of the original trilogy.

Set during the Cold War Reagan era in 1983, ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ brings another popular X-Men story arc to the big screen by featuring one of its greatest villains, the original alpha mutant En Sabah Nur, aka “Apocalypse.”  Extremely powerful both physically and in the astral/psychic dimension, Apocalypse can also augment/enhance the powers of other mutants, which he put to good use in recruiting his biblical “four horsemen”: Pestilence (Psylocke), Death (Angel), Famine (Storm) and War (Magneto).  Like the rogue AI Ultron in Avengers 2, Apocalypse has a god complex and seeks to remake the world in his own vision, which can only be realized by tearing down the existing world order and starting afresh.  Needless to say, that doesn’t bode well for humanity.  Can Professor X, Mystique, Beast, the non-mutant Moira MacTaggert and a handful of young protégés including Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver put a stop to his plans?  Of course they can, but you have to watch the movie to find out how they do it.

Notwithstanding the negative reviews citing its “tired” plot, “too many” characters and “clichéd” villain, I find ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ to be an immensely fun and enjoyable superhero flick with its near perfect blend of action, character development and humor.  It even features a great cameo from Hugh Jackman.  Maybe these critics are simply tired of another X-Men movie (this is the ninth film with at least one X-Men in it over the past 17 years after all), but all I can say is “give me more!”  I also love the fact that each movie in this series is steeped in historical flavor and set in a different decade, which means the next installment should be taking place in the 1990’s.  Director Bryan Singer has a gift for storytelling and depicting characters we care about, and with ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ he demonstrates once again why our beloved “uncanny” X-Men remains the most successful and lucrative Marvel film franchise outside of the official MCU.

Grade: A

Forget Team Captain America and Team Iron Man.    It's "Team Defend" versus "Team Destroy" baby!
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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Good Fellas

Writer/producer/director and sometimes actor Shane Black, famously (or infamously) known for such mindless popcorn guilty pleasures as ‘Lethal Weapon’ 1 and 2, ‘The Last Boy Scout,’ ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight,’ ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ and most recently ‘Iron Man 3,’  returns to his campy action movie roots with the Russell Crowe/Ryan Gosling neo-noir retro buddy action-comedy ‘The Nice Guys’ which, in the final analysis, is more fun than it ever has a right to be despite being a veritable mess.

Set in L.A. during the funky and groovy 1970’s, ‘The Nice Guys’ follows the adventures (or rather misadventures) of “locked and loaded” enforcer Jackson Healey (Crowe) and his sidekick, "charmed and dangerous” private dick Holland March (Gosling), as they try to solve “the mysterious case of the dead porn star.”  Along the way, they come across the “crazy and beautiful” dame-in-the-yellow-dress Amelia (Margaret Qualley, daughter of Andie MacDowell), who’s hunted by goons “Blue Face” and “Older Guy” (Keith David) as well as “cruel and unusual” hitman “John Boy” (Matt Bomer).  Helping the bumbling duo is Holland’s “sweet and sassy” teenage daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), who channels her inner Nancy Drew to help her dad take down the anything-but-nice-guys, aka the Detroit auto industry.

Over the top, oftentimes frustrating and saddled with an unnecessarily convoluted plot, ‘The Nice Guys’ is vintage Shane Black and we just wouldn't have it any other way.  Despite its flaws ‘The Nice Guys’ is everything the critics (90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) say it is: a fun, joyful and über-violent romp down memory lane.

Grade: A-

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Sorority Blues

What’s worse than going up against a houseful of misbehaving and hard-partying frat boys?  Taking on a houseful of hormonal sorority girls gone wild, of course.  The sequel to 2014’s edgy R-rated comedy-of-embarrassment hit ‘Neighbors’ (reviewed here: http://moviesaccordingtodave.blogspot.com/2014/05/bad-fences.html) pits parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) Radner against a sorority led by spunky marijuana-smoking college freshman Shelby (Chloё Grace Moretz, much grown up since her ‘Hit Girl’ days but still cute as a button), who took a stand for gender equality by starting her own independent sorority after she discovered from Selena Gomez that the sorority at which she was pledging is not allowed to throw its own parties and can only attend frat parties.
Like its predecessor, ‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’ banks on the hilarious situations that arise from conflict when Mac and Kelly embarked on their “anti-fun” campaign against college kids who just want to party.  This includes the usual pleading at first to “keep it down” before escalating to intimidation tactics and outright sabotaging of the sorority’s fundraising efforts by stealing their weed. With the help of their partners-in-crime Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) as well as former frat boy-turned-ally Teddy (Zac Efron), the Radners pulled out all the stops in their campaign to evict the sorority girls-next-door at all costs.
While the spiraling ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ premise isn’t as consistently funny this second time around, the saving grace of ‘Sorority Rising’ is that it maintained the heart and spirit of the original.  Because when the dust finally settles in the ‘Civil War’ between these neighbors (does the poster below remind you of a certain recent ‘Captain America’ poster?), they still managed to mend fences and find common ground in the end.

Grade: B

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The Monster of Wall Street

Perhaps it is all too easy to dismiss ‘Money Monster,’ Jodie Foster’s big-screen directorial debut, as a politically motivated polemic against corporate greed and misbehavior in our “Occupy Wall Street” era of socio-economic discontent.   That would be unfortunate, because ‘Money Monster’ isn’t so much a politics-disguised-as-art statement as a riveting crime thriller and fascinating study of desperation and the length at which a person can go to seek answers when he has nothing left to lose.

Charismatic investment guru and TV personality Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the star of a popular show on the Financial Network in which he provides “can’t miss” stock market tips.  On the show following the mysterious crash of one such tip due to a “computer software glitch,” he was rudely interrupted by down-on-his-luck deliveryman Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), who demanded concrete answers for how he lost $60,000.00 on Gates’s surefire financial advice.  What followed is a tense life-and-death hostage drama on live television which held the nation spellbound even as we, like the movie’s villain, sought the answers for which he risked everything for.

Tightly plotted and snappily paced, MM maintains its suspense throughout by parceling out its revelations slowly and assuredly.  George Clooney was excellent as we witness his gradual transformation from Wall Street apologist to sympathetic ally in his realization that you simply can’t explain something like this away with a “glitch in the algorithm.”  Julia Roberts was also in fine form as the show-runner and producer, who displayed great equanimity and calmness throughout the whole ordeal.  MM may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who keep an open mind will not be disappointed.

Grade: B+

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Friday, May 6, 2016

A House Divided

‘Civil War’ is the highly anticipated third and final entry in the Captain America trilogy that began with the rather mediocre ‘The First Avenger’ and continued with the superlative ‘The Winter Soldier’ (reviewed here: http://moviesaccordingtodave.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-rogers-ultimatum.html).   As the second straight CA film helmed by the talented Russo brothers, it is also the best in terms of sheer melodrama, thrilling action scenes and epic-ness of scope, feeling more like an Avengers movie with its large ensemble cast  than a humble standalone Cap movie.  With ‘Civil War,’ Disney/Marvel has done it again in exceeding our expectations and making us hopeless addicts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Russos follow the tried-and-true James Bond/Mission Impossible formula of whetting our appetites with an opening teaser set-piece action scene before the main event.  The opening scene of 'The Winter Soldier' saw Cap and Black Widow battling Batroc and his goons onboard a ship.  In 'Civil War' it was Cap, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Falcon fighting Crossbones (disgraced former SHIELD agent/Hydra mole Brock Rumlow) and his henchmen in Lagos, Nigeria.  While ‘The Winter Soldier’ was a paranoia-infused conspiracy thriller playing off our fears of an all-powerful Big Brother government controlled by sinister and shadowy forces (Hydra), ‘Civil War’ can best be characterized as a political/espionage/chase movie in the gritty hard-hitting Jason Bourne mold.  Inspired by the comic book storyline of the same title, the film splits the Avengers along political lines and pits Team Iron Man against Team Captain America in the ultimate “Super Power Beat Down.”  This isn’t the misunderstanding and half-hearted two-minute scuffle we saw in Batman V. Superman, folks.  Our heroes are fighting for their deeply held beliefs (in the case of team leaders Steve Rogers and Tony Stark) or their loyalties to the two team leaders over the so-called “Sokovia Accords,”  enacted to restrain them from wreaking the massive destruction and collateral damage in the Avengers films as if the Chitauri and Ultron had nothing to do with it.  For the first time ever, ‘Civil War’ also introduced a character from a rival studio with the new Spiderman v3.0 (Tom Holland), who provided us with a glimpse of his geeky awestruck charm and wisecracking humor.
Jam-packed with action, conflict, melodrama (including a shocking “revelation” in the final act), bromance (let’s face it, the CA trilogy is all about Cap and Bucky) and a good dose of levity and humor (thanks, Ant-Man!), ‘Civil War’ leaves us wanting more even after its bladder-unfriendly run time of two hours and twenty-seven minutes.  So whose side are you on?  Should our heroes be reined in and allow themselves to be controlled by a world body in order to minimize the damage of their well-intentioned but destructive actions, or are they only accountable to their individual morality and convictions?  There are no easy answers, but the critics are right in one thing: ‘Civil War’ is a perfect example of why we love superhero movies.
Grade: A+
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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Key & Peele's Excellent (or Not) Adventure

Comedy Central’s comedic duo Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele get their first feature film, the R-rated stoner/drug dealer/gang-banger/feline comedy caper ‘Keanu,’ an unlikely homage to Keanu Reeves and the Matrix trilogy.  Wait a minute, did I say feline you ask?  You heard right, this violent comedy in the vein of ‘Pineapple Express’ also features the cuddly furry too-cute tabby below voiced by ‘The Matrix’ and ‘John Wick’ star (in a brief dream sequence, this isn’t ‘Doctor Doolittle’ after all) he’s named after.  Now how can you say “no” to that face?
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Key & Peele take on dual roles in the movie as badass “Allentown Boys” killers Oil & Smoke Dresden as well as stoner suburbanite cousins Rell & Clarence, whose bumbling misadventures and escapades take most of the running time of ‘Keanu.’ What makes ‘Keanu’ so funny is that these homies may be “brothas” in skin-tone, but they act like anything but. When a cat adopted by Rell (Peele) at a time of personal crisis (his girlfriend dumped him) is cat-napped by black gangstas who call themselves the "17th Street Blips" (a mashup of Bloods & Crips) in a home break-in, Rell & Clarence go to great lengths trying to get him back by passing themselves off as badass Allentown Boys "Tectonic" & "Shark Tank" to the gang's leader Cheddar (Method Man aka Clifford Smith). While undercover to recover Keanu, they work with tough gang member "Hi-C" (Tiffany Haddish), Cheddar's trusted and capable right-hand woman.

Skewering everything from ‘Scarface’ to George Michael, ‘Keanu’ is consistently funny and never boring.  While Key & Peele demonstrate that the comedic prowess they have shown on Comedy Central and MAD-TV are no fluke, the true star of the show has to be the kool kat Keanu himself, who managed to save the day in the end without losing his ability to look adorably cute throughout.
Grade: A-
No cats were harmed during the filming of this movie.    Just people. photo KeanuPoster_zps3jgadij2.jpg

Punk Rockers Versus Skin-Heads

There’s something undeniably compelling about siege films, whether we’re talking about movies in which the people under siege can fight back (e.g. ‘Die Hard,’ ‘Home Alone’) or are mainly helpless victims (e.g. ‘Panic Room,’ ‘The Strangers’).  Most fall somewhere in between because, when faced with a life-or-death flight-or-fight situation in which “flight” has been irrevocably taken away, you really have no choice but to fight or die fighting at the very least.
Indie director Jeremy Salnier’s ‘Green Room’ is the latest entry in the genre and tells the harrowing tale of four members in a punk rock band called “The Ain’t Rights” who, being down on their luck and hard up for cash, reluctantly played a gig in front of a group of white supremacist skin-heads.  Bravely (or stupidly, depending on your point of view) flipping them off by doing a cover of The Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” the band blew through their set and were ready to skip town fast but one of the members left her phone behind, which resulted in a series of unfortunate happenstances that led to the band (and a local girl) being trapped and struggling for their lives against a group of skin-heads led by the soft-spoken Captain Jean-Luc Picard, ahem, Patrick Stewart.
‘Green Room’ has all the ingredients of a solid siege thriller: nail-biting tension, tightly wound suspense, a menacing villain and victims you actually give a damn about.  Like 2011’s ‘You’re Next,’ the movie also features an unexpected heroine in the guise of Amber (Imogen Poots) who, like the former film’s Erin (Sharni Vinson), only gets tougher and more determined as the situation becomes ever more dire and hopeless.

Grade: A
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