“X-Men Apocalypse 3D” has a bad case of superhero bloat. This episode, set in the late 1970’s, begins in ancient Egypt where a ceremony appears to invent Magneto as Apocalypse, a character sort of like the Mummy, only a little more angry with a lot more power. Suddenly dozens of characters come out of the woodwork to fight on the good and bad sides. Olivia Munn runs around in tights and a bathing suit and gets about three lines but does a lot of jumping and running and posing. James McAvoy reminds the super power kids to be sure and use their powers for good. “X-Men Apocalypse” feels like another reboot of the Avengers, with so many characters it takes a genius to keep them straight. This is a fan’s movie. The rest of us would do best to stay away. Does it deliver what it promises? Superhero saga. Is it entertaining? Long and confusing. Is it worth the price of admission? Same old thing.
I’m a sucker for Greta Gerwig. She manages to combine 2016 manners with screwball comedy charm. She’s won my heart in her indie comedies. The Trailer for “Maggie’s Plan” gave me a case of “wanna see it.” The plot comes right out of the 1930’s. Gerwig as Maggie meets teacher/writer Ethan Hawke and falls for him. But Hawke has a difficult wife, played with a Danish accent by Julianne Moore. Love conquers all and Maggie and Ethan get together. Except Maggie figures out she made a mistake. So she goes to ex-wife Moore and offers to give him back. Despite the delightful plot, “Maggie’s Plan” feels long and talky and sometimes almost grinds to a halt. Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader as Maggie’s pals add a little fizz. Maggie’s riffs on motherhood and sperm banks are fun, and a plot twist involving the daughter of the new marriage will remind some of the delightful “Crossing Delancey.” Does it deliver what it promises? Independent comedy. Is it entertaining? A little long and talky. Is it worth the price of admission? Gerwig fans won’t mind.
“The Nice Guys” pays tribute to the kind of detective movies Hollywood made in the 1970’s—movies that quoted and updated the great film noir stories of the 1940’s. The movie gets a nice jolt from its pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, two hapless private eyes working way above their pay grade. The plot turns on porn stars, big business, and the dirty smog that choked LA in the 70’s. One of the best elements of “The Nice Guys” is the use of still available locations to establish the time frame. The boys roar in their vintage cars past neon signs, coffee shops and hotels with elevators that look out on the skyline. “The Nice Guys” plays out through a haze of pot smoke, smog, and 70’s music. Be warned: “The Nice Guys” revealed the movie’s best gags in the trailer. The rest of the story involves the auto show, a court case and the search for the daughter of justice department official Kim Basinger. A couple of big scenes, including a porn star party, devolve into chaos and don’t add much. If “The Nice Guys” succeeds we might see a sequel or two in the future. With a little focusing and tightening that might be a good idea. Does it deliver what it promises? Old school private eye “R” rated comedy. Is it entertaining? Funny at times but most of the funniest bits are in the trailer. Is it worth the price of admission? You could do worse.
Kate Beckinsale has great fun as seductive manipulative Lady Susan in director Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella “Love and Friendship. ” Beckinsale begins the story mourning the death of her wealthy husband while letting us know she could care less. The death requires a search for a new husband and income stream. While she’s at it, Beckinsale has a 16-year-old daughter in need of a husband. Her plan begins with a visit to Beckinsale’s brother-in-law where prospects abound, including Xavier Samuel who seems appropriate for either Beckinsale or her daughter. “Love and Friendship” celebrates words and conversation although some may find it talky. Beckinsale excels as a woman well aware of her assets and her reputation as the greatest flirt of her time. Many years ago Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny starred in director Whit Stillman’s “The Last Days of Disco.” I liked that movie and wanted to see the two actresses again. Unfortunately Sevigny doesn’t get much to do as an American friend whose husband has forbidden her friendship with the controversial Beckinsale. The story wraps with a thoroughly modern conclusion and an abrupt but satisfying ending. Does it deliver what it promises? Drawing room comedy based on Jane Austen. Is it entertaining? Sometimes talky but often fun. Is it worth the price of admission? For Austen fans.
“Money Monster” has the advantage of wonderful casting. George Clooney plays a smug financial cable TV host who dances and shouts and wears funny hats as he plugs hot stock tips which sometimes work out and sometimes don’t. The voice of reason in his earpiece is not his conscience, but rather his director/producer Julia Roberts who often uses code words to encourage him to dial it back and get to the next topic. Jodi Foster directs this thriller with her usual competence. Things turn from lively to life threatening when struggling package delivery man Jack O’Connell bursts onto the set with a gun and vest bomb he demands Clooney wear. O’Connell has taken one of those stock tips and lost everything and now wants answers. The hostage situation on live TV certainly gives “Money Monster” a jolt and creates real tension. Finding the answer to O’Connell’s demands opens a mystery surrounding CEO Dominick West. As the drama plays out, the situation turns a little too contrived. For all of its star power and hostage situation tension, “Money Monster” speeds to a fizzle at the end. “Money Monster” has great scenes, funny moments, star power, and taps into the current rage against Wall Street and the wealthy elite. It raises good questions but doesn’t quite answer them. Does it deliver what it promises? Stars and a tension filled plot. Is it entertaining? Yes, although several plot points feel contrived. Is it worth the price of admission? Yes. Go for the entertainment and don’t expect anything beyond.
Tilda Swinton plays a rock star with edge and credibility in this jaw dropping comedy thriller. Vacationing in Italy with her lover Matthias Schoenaerts following throat surgery, they’re idle is interrupted by the arrival of Tilda’s ex and former manager Ralph Fiennes. Not only does his invade their privacy, he also brings along his seductive daughter played by Dakota Johnson, who helps ignite this tension filled story. Fiennes is the guest from Hell, jabbering controlling and annoying. Johnson lies low simmering seductively and telegraphing to us that the young woman has plans. Much is made of Swinton’s silences in her performance. As her character has endured throat surgery, she whispers hoarsely. Viewers can read more into her silence once this story ends. Swinton and Fiennes remain among the most interesting actors of our time. Schoenaerts hold his own. Dakota Johnson rises above her work in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” She shows talent and adds zest and mystery to this Hitchcock style comedy thriller. Does it deliver what it promises? Great performances and a sock-o ending. Is it entertaining? Holds your attention. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the season’s best.
“Captain America: Civil War” trots out a dozen of Marvel’s superheros all of whom will most likely show up in franchise films for years to come. The plot boils down to Chris Evans as Captain America at odds with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man over control of the superhero universe. An opening melee gets the attention of a world more than a little tired of the collateral damage of all those Superhero fights. I like that touch of reality. I mean really, who cleans up the mess these guys leave? Iron Man favors letting the UN sanction the Avenger’s missions while Captain America wants the freedom to decide on his own. What’s this, the 2016 election? Well maybe a metaphor or more likely a nice plot device to pit two teams against each other and fill the screen with cgi fights and explosions. Two newcomers steal a lot of this show. Chadwick Boseman appears as Black Panther, itching for revenge for the death of his royal father. Boseman’s costume looks really cool. Boseman’s on the Iron Man team, as well as a rebooted Spider Man played by Tom Holland as an immature gee whiz super hero in the making. Boseman’s cool and Holland’s funny. Scarlett Johansson joins Captain America’s freedom fight. Paul Rudd creates some nice moments as ant man. The two teams have at each other due to several misunderstandings involving the Winter Soldier. Since it’s all a misunderstanding I doubt Marvel fans will pick sides but rather wait for bygones to be bygones. “Captain America: Civil War” joins “The Avengers” in pursuit of box office blockbuster gold. If you’re a fan and willing to embrace the two and a half hour running time, get in line now. Does it deliver what it promises? Gigantic super hero blockbuster. Is it entertaining? Some great moments. Is it worth the price of admission? For fans.
Comedy Central stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele turn out one of the year’s funniest movies in “Keanu”—the quest of two modern day cowards to retrieve a cute kitty cat taken by a fearsome drug lord. As in the classic Hope and Crosby, Abbott and Costello, and Cheech and Chong comedies, the boys–complete wimps—somehow find a way to survive the mean streets where they land. “Keanu” (Peele names his cat for Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”) pokes rapid fire fun at every drug dealing action movie made. The out of it duo manages to bring George Michael music to the ‘hood in their Honda minivan while convincing drug lord Cheddar — played by Method Man — that they’ve executed the competition and know their trade so well they can train his gang in the art of dealing. “Keanu” the kitty cat becomes the ultimate prize in a no holds barred all out gang war end all street chase equal to anything dreamed up for “Lethal Weapon one, two, or three.” “Keanu” is classic hilarious “R” rated and broadly funny. Please note the liberal and multiple throwing around of the “N” word to great comic effect. Does it deliver what it promises? Comedy about two cowards determined to retrieve a kitty cat. Is it entertaining? Delightful. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year’s funniest.
Director Gary Marshall — who made his name in sitcom comedies including “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley” — has a new gig. Marshall makes sentimental comedies about holidays. This started with “Valentine’s Day” in 2010 which did enough business to win Marshall the chance to follow with “New Year’s Eve.” Now comes “Mother’s Day” cut from the same cloth and following the same formula. Big name stars Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and Jason Sudeikis mix plot lines about divorce, parental cut-offs, adopted children looking for their parents, and the loss of a spouse. Marshall pours on the sentiment and goes for the easy gags. Occasionally “Mother’s Day” feels like a replay of “Steel Magnolias” except without the great acting of Sally Field. I suppose a few husbands, or children will drag their mothers to see “Mother’s Day” and I suppose those being dragged will enjoy the attention. A much better mother-daughter film called “The Meddler” opens this weekend with Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne. “The Meddler”–now that’s a gift. As for “Mother’s Day” maybe we’d better warn July 4th. Garry Marshall’s looking for another holiday. Does it deliver what it promises? Overly sentimental plot line stew. Is it entertaining? I suppose somebody might like it. Is it worth the price of admission? Not in my book.
Susan Sarandon begins “The Meddler” as the mother from hell, hovering over daughter Rose Byrne in ways that make the term “establishing boundaries” utterly laughable. When her husband dies in New Jersey leaving her quite well off, Sarandon sells her home and moves to L.A. to get closer to her daughter. The invention of the i-phone gives Sarandon multiple ways to invade Byrne’s privacy and life. About a third of the way into the story it becomes apparent both mother and daughter are grieving the loss of their husband and father. Along the way, we get a more sympathetic feeling for Sarandon, and after a few good deeds and a spark of romance with J.K. Simmons, “The Meddler” turns into a satisfying story of moving on, and of love and loss and messiness. Casting Sarandon helps humanize this story. The chemistry between Sarandon and Rose Byrne also helps. When J.K. Simmons appears in a story these days, that’s always a good sign. “The Meddler” has a lot going for it. Does it deliver what it promises? Mother/daughter comedy drama. Is it entertaining? Starts irritating ends charming. Is it worth the price of admission? Lovely and lovable.