CGB Review of X-Men Apocalypse (2016)

So the next time you take a trip to Cairo (I’m sure you’re planning on it), be sure not to resurrect any all-powerful mutants.  If you’ve seen the movie already, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

This is my review of X-Men Apocalypse!

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Apocalypse is known as the first mutant to ever come into existence.  In addition, he is also all-powerful and able to transfer his consciousness into another person’s body so that he can continue to live on.  Yikes!  As you can imagine, when Apocalypse resurrects and begins gathering followers (including the disheveled Eric/Magneto) to do his bidding, Professor Charles Xavier, Mystique and their allies must bring Magneto back to the Light and put an end to Apocalypse’s plan for world destruction.

The Hits
Oscar Isaac is excellent as Apocalypse.  While he’s not as terrifying as, say, Captain Vidal (Pan’s Labyrinth) or Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger (Black Mass), there is an unsettling chill to his character.  Also, I did think it was interesting how his “transferring-his-consciousness-to-another-person” thing resembles demonic possession; not so much in the prologue, but in the third act when [SPOILER ALERT] he tries to transfer his soul into Charles Xavier’s body and Charles is valiantly resisting becoming possessed by the malevolent foe.
There are a lot of good scenes that work well on their own and the engaging action is well-choreographed.   The action is filmed in a way where you can actually see what’s happening between the characters who are in combat.
Nightcrawler is like Finn from Force Awakens: Absolutely lovable!  There’s an innocence and innate goodness to him that makes him endearing.  It is a little cliché that he’s being presented as a “demonlike creature whose actually a good guy while his angel counterpart is one of the bad guys” thing, but that overdone irony is not emphasized very much.  I was actually relieved when Apocalypse turns Angel’s wings silver because Angel’s previously white wings looked uncomfortably similar to Archangel Michael’s wings.  Oh, and did I mention that Nightcrawler is Catholic?  Yep, he be a Catholic mutant!  🙂
Quicksilver is also an awesome character!  He’s basically a less crude Wade Wilson/Deadpool; witty, cool and confident.  Luckily while he has some similarities to Deadpool, he’s not a blatant carbon copy of the character.
While I, as a Jennifer Lawrence fan, am getting a bit tired of J-Law always playing the “strong woman who is strong because she has to be” archetype (don’t believe me?  Watch Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games series; don’t even bother with watching Joy), I did like her arch as Raven/Mystique; the reluctant role model who is looked up to after standing up to Magneto in X-Men: First Class, but who personally looks upon that episode in her life as a tragedy.  Also, I just gotta say it: Her hair in this movie was rockin’!  I guess I just really like the “structurally-messy” look.  🙂

The Misses
It seems as though there was supposed to be a “Mystique redeems Magneto” subplot somewhere in the script because Mystique keeps acting as if she is responsible for bringing Magneto back to the side of good and truth.  If this is the case, then it wasn’t well-conveyed.
So I saw this movie with a friend of mine who has seen it twice already.  Even though we both enjoyed the film, we both have one issue with the script: Pacing and story structure.
Yes, the pacing in this movie could have been better.  While individual scenes are intriguing by themselves, the movie itself never completely comes together as a cohesive narrative.  Some scenes feel separate from each other and even unnecessary at times.  To be fair, the story comes together in the third act, but 50% of this movie could have used some polishing.

X-Men Apocalypse is an intriguing mess.  The overall story is scattered, but the good performances, suave villain and sequences within the narrative kept my attention all the way through.

Since this is the third Superhero movie review where I’ve name-dropped Saint Michael (see my reviews for Winter Soldier and Batman v. Superman), I’m gonna end this review with Saint Isaac Jogues because why not?
So Saint Isaac Jogues, pray for us.

CGB Review of Foxcatcher (2014)

Have you ever wanted to see Michael Scott’s dark side?  Then this is the movie for you!

This is my review of Foxcatcher!

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This is the tragic true story of Mark and Dave Schultz, two U.S. Olympic Wrestling champions who join Team Foxcatcher, which is led by multimillionaire John E. du Pont.  The brothers train to compete in the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea.  However, a chasm between the brothers divides them as Mark finds himself in the clutches of John du Pont’s manipulation.

The Hits
To prepare for the role, Steve Carell watched 100 hours of footage of the real John du Pont and it shows in his performance.  Like J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, Steve Carell is another guy who needs to play antagonists more often.  Where Simmons’ Terrence Fletcher was the erupting volcano spewing lava on those who displeased him, Carell’s John du Pont is the slow burn, the blue flame under the kettle.  This is the kind of man who could start a cult.  On the surface, he seems like a harmless man who would give you a passing “hello” on the city bus.  However, he has a way of appealing to the needs of people who lack a sense of personal identity.  He starts off as a kind, attentive father figure, then gradually shows his true colors as a chilling, methodical coach.  In all honesty, I’m kind of scared to watch reruns of The Office now.  Just watch his performance and you’ll be thinking the same thing.
For a movie that is both a sports flick and a psychological drama, the two genres blend together very well.  Wrestling is a backdrop while the main focus is the parasitic relationship between Mark Schultz and John du Pont.

The Misses
We need to talk about Channing Tatum.  Between this, Dear John and Jupiter Ascending, it seems to me that he is uncomfortable with getting too emotional.  In scenes that require him to become enraged, he comes off as mildly annoyed.  To his credit, his face can be expressive, but his dialogue and his reactions are lacking.

While I’m not a fan of sports movies, I was intrigued by the atmospheric, escalating tension of Foxcatcher.  Steve Carell is unrecognizable as an arguably dangerous character because evil comes in subtle packages and often when your guard is down.
I will end this review with a quote that best sums up the impact of this film:
“As a society changes, as what’s held sacred and who’s empowered shifts, so do the paths through which evil enters in, the prejudices and blind spots it exploits.  So don’t expect tomorrow’s predators to look like yesterday’s. Don’t expect them to look like the figures your ideology or philosophy or faith would lead you to associate with exploitation.  Expect them, instead, to look like the people whom you yourself would be most likely to respect, most afraid to challenge publicly, or least eager to vilify and hate.
Because your assumptions and pieties are evil’s best opportunity, and your conventional wisdom is what’s most likely to condemn victims to their fate.”
–Ross Douthat

Saint Sebastian, pray for us.

CGB Review of American Hustle (2013)

I loved Silver Lining Playbook and I despised Joy, so I had no idea what to expect from this David O. Russell flick.

This is my review of American Hustle!

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Between this and Joy, I’m starting to see a pattern with David O. Russell films: His movies can be hard to summarize.  Alas, I will do the best I can to provide a summary.
American Hustle is the wild story of Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, two con artists who are forced by F.B.I agent Richie DiMaso to set up elaborate sting operations on corrupt politicians, which include Camden, New Jersey, Mayor Carmine Polito.  While that’s going on, Irving must balance his tumultuous romance with Sydney and his troubled marriage to Rosalyn, an unstable woman who may have Histrionic personality disorder (“a mental condition in which people act in a very emotional and dramatic way that draws attention to themselves…” https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001531.htm).

I remember coming home one night and my parents were watching this movie.  “How’s the movie?” I asked.  My mom gave it a thumbs down while my dad had fallen asleep.
After watching this flick, I can see why.

The Hits
This is what film reviewers called “an actor’s piece.”  It’s the kind of the film that is made specifically to showcase an ensemble cast of A-list actors.  I kept watching this flick for the performances.  I commend Christian Bale for putting on all that weight and he sells the character of Irving as a scheming, self-preserving con man.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn is the only character I cared about.  With a believable Boston accent, Jennifer Lawrence portrays Rosalyn as an endearing basket case.  She is manic without becoming annoying, immature without coming off as too childish, and incredibly sympathetic.  Honestly, I wish the movie was told from her perspective.  I could watch her confrontation with Amy Adams’ Sydney over and over again.
The costumes, hair styles and make-up in this movie all resemble the craziness of the late 70’s and early 80’s.   If there’s one thing David O. Russell does really well, it is dressing his actors in a way that captures the mood of the era that his movie is set in.
Finally, I would like to point out that David O. Russell does handle his unlikable characters correctly.  Basically an unlikable character is made easy to root for if:
A. They get their comeuppance
B. They are forced to rise above their flaws.
C. Their reasons for being scum is well explained.
American Hustles takes Option C by writing Irving and Sydney as survivalists.  These characters are con artists because they have both grown up knowing the world to be a cruel and corrupt place where survival is the only option.

The Misses
It’s pretty obvious that Amy Adams doesn’t curse often in real life.  Granted, cussing excessively isn’t exactly a desired talent, but if you are making a movie and you want your actors to use choice language, make sure that they’re convincing at it.  Also, and I don’t mean to pick on the talented Ms. Adams, but was her character written to be British or American?  She keeps changing her accent sporadically.  This makes sense when she is pretending to be Lady Edith Greensly, but when she keeps changing accents during an intense argument with Irving, it comes off as odd.
Oh, Bradley Cooper, I don’t like picking on you (I’ve done it three times now with Aloha, Burnt and Joy), but am I the only one who feels that Bradley Cooper didn’t have much to work with in this film?  Irving, Sydney and Rosalyn are fleshed-out, but Richie (Cooper) and Carmine (Renner) are only identifiable by their hairstyles and not by their personalities.
It has been said that you can make a good story about anything.  However, to pull this off, good writing is a requirement.  American Hustle is a case of great actors trying to make do with a scrambled story.  Just like Joy, American Hustle is the equivalent of walking in on an intense conversation between strangers and having absolutely no idea what’s being said.  I was totally lost during the first five minutes of American Hustle and that’s because it throws us into a convoluted argument between characters we’ve just met.  A storyteller doesn’t have to spell out every minute detail, but there need to be some clarity about what’s going on and what’s at stake.  I couldn’t be engaged in the story because it’s poorly structured with gigantic leaps in time and too many characters.  By the second act, scenes either go on for an eternity or move so quickly that you’ll miss something if you blink.

If you enjoy movies that showcase a large cast of A-list actors, then you might like American Hustle.  However, personally, I could only be invested for so long before the scattered story became difficult to follow and I just stop caring.

Saint Matthew, pray for us.