A look at the new movies I saw this week.
All The Way
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Bradley Whitford, Melissa Leo, Anthony Mackie, and Frank Langella
Synopsis: This HBO original film chronicles the first year in the presidency of Lyndon Johnson (Cranston). The action picks up shortly after JFK's assassination and follows Johnson through his impromptu run for the White House, where he was elected to his first term in 1964. Many people know about the legislation that was accomplished during Johnson's presidency, and many know something of the crass reputation of the man. This film captures both — following his partnership with Hubert Humphrey (Whitford) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Mackie). It shows how he had to balance a lot of competing interests at home while getting sucked deeper into the quagmire in Vietnam. It's a well paced movie that features and excellent performance from Cranston, a decorated actor who should be a front-runner for an Emmy with his work here. He disappears into the role and carries the film. This is the second political docudrama from HBO this year, and it's the better film. It's certainly worth checking out.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.
Starring: James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, and Rose Byrne.
Synopsis: The modern wave of comic book franchises owe a lot to the X-Men. Back in 2000, when director Bryan Singer gave the world “The X-Men” as part of that summer’s offerings, the landscape at the movies looked very different. In 2000 Marvel was still eight years away from launching its empire, Christopher Nolan hadn’t started filming on his first Batman film and Tobey Maguire had yet to embody Spider-Man on the big screen. Comic book films were a rare find after the Superman franchise died out in the 1980s and the Batman franchise followed in the 1990s. But Singer had a vision for telling a story about these heroes, who I loved watching in cartoon form on Saturday mornings. And his film was a hit, making many of these X-Men characters into stars. Sixteen years later Singer is still hard at work on the franchise, which has now spawned eight films, including “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the latest film in the franchise, which opened on May 27. Though it’s not the best of the “X-Men” films, it proves the franchise still has legs. And it delivers a summer blockbuster that I’d argue is more satisfying than the heavily hyped “Captain America: Civil War.” “Apocalypse” concludes the second trilogy of “X-Men” films, this one beginning with “X-Men: First Class,” which introduced the younger version of these characters in 1963. “Days of Future Past” advanced the story in the 1970s and now “Apocalypse” jumps to 1983, where the effects of the events in the previous installment still linger. “X-Men: Apocalypse” marks Singer’s fourth time in the director’s chair for X-Men films. By now, he has a great feel for the world and the characters. That makes sense when you consider he set the blue print for the tone and feel of this world back in 2000. “Apocalypse” has to accomplish a hard task. It has to tie up all the loose strands remaining from “First Class” and “Days of Future Past” while setting up a new generation of heroes for the future. This could mark the final X-Men film for McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence, but likely won’t mark the end of these stories on screen. In addition to all that, “Apocalypse” tells a complex story that’s a rich part of the comic tradition for these heroes. That’s a tall order, but the film handles it all well. The character introductions don’t feel rushed or forced, and all of them fit into the overall story being told here. And the payoff for this story feels move emotionally grounded and more earned as a result. Some have quibbled that the story feels rushed. It is a lot of narrative to pack into 144 minutes. But watching the film, I felt it had a strong pace and made the most of its talented and diverse cast. But what helped set it apart is the emotional payoff in the third act, which feels earned not only from the action in this film but in the previous two installments. This certainly feels like a concluding frame, while also offering the promise of a new beginning. I have always appreciated the tone with which these X-Men films present the world. It feels different than the glut of superhero films out there, and works well. There are action sequences and big stakes, but there’s a more fascinating story at work. These films have always felt more cerebral than other comic book films, and that’s true of “Apocalypse” as well. I enjoyed this film a lot. To me, it’s been the best of the summer blockbusters so far. I hope this cast makes more films, and I look forward to seeing the next generation of heroes continue to grow into their roles, too.
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images.
Verdict: Four stars out of four.
Starring: Michael Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Idris Elba and Jenny Slate
Synopsis: I'm late to the party with this movie, which debuted in the Spring and comes to DVD and Blu-Ray on June 7. But it's still in theaters, and I watched it this weekend. I'm not a huge fan of animated films. It's probably my least favorite genre. So it takes a lot to hook me. But "Zootopia" did it in spades. I liked the characters and the animation, and the voice work is great, too. Bateman and Goodwin are hilarious together and really carry the film. Some have complained that the film pushes too much of a political message. I would say that it offers thoughts on the dangers of racism, segregation, and prejudice, but I didn't feel like the film was overly preachy. It's a fun movie going experience with some really colorful characters. It's well worth checking out.
Rating: PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.
Friday, June 3 — "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," "Me Before You," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows"
Friday, June 10 — "Warcraft," "Now You See Me 2," "The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Experiments"
Friday, June 17 — "Finding Dory," "Central Intelligence"
Friday, June 24 — "Independence Day: Resurgence," "Free State of Jones"
Wednesday, June 29 — "The Shallows"