George Clooney and Jack O'Connell in Money Monster


In Money Monster’s opening sequence, you can sense director Jodie Foster and her cast going for the slick, workplace-comedy pizzazz of Aaron Sorkin’s walk-and-talks in The West Wing and Steve Jobs and not quite getting there. George Clooney, as the braying host of a Mad Money-esque financial-advice program, alternately smooth-talks and ignores technicians and guests minutes before air time, and Julia Roberts, as the show’s director, trails him with exasperated good humor. Yet something feels off. You recognize the jokes as jokes, but because they’re delivered with such over-calculated disregard and nobody appears emotionally connected to their dialogue, they’re not very funny. However, right after the live broadcast begins, a young man with a gun and bomb-lined jacket interrupts the proceedings, and threatens to kill the host unless his demands are met. And then the oddest thing happens: Money Monster starts to become really funny.


It’s no secret that Marvel Studios routinely tosses a bonus scene or two into the end credits of its comic-book movies as a means of jacking up anticipation for adventures, and Avengers, yet to come. I rarely stay for these things, as I’m usually more than ready to leave the auditorium by the time “Directed by ...” flashes on-screen, and I didn’t stick around for the credit cookies in Captain America: Civil War, either. (From what I understand, one of them is designed to build interest in Ryan Coogler’s forthcoming Black Panther. Personally, I was on-board with the project the instant I saw Coogler’s name attached.) But about halfway through the good Captain’s new solo outing – one that’s really an Avengers sequel in everything but title – I suddenly found myself nearly giddy with excitement for an upcoming Marvel flick without having to wait for the inevitable teasers. Halfway through, you see, is when Spider-Man arrives.


In the first minutes of Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner), at the tail end of a 1980 summer, arrives at his new college digs: a frat-less frat house populated entirely by fellow members of his baseball team. Upon entering, he walks to the kitchen, and the moment he gets there, the kitchen’s ceiling cracks and crunches and ever-so-slightly caves in; the guys upstairs, it turns out, have been filling a waterbed that’s clearly heavier than the second floor will allow. They come down to survey the damage, which is considerable. They marvel at how bad things almost got. And then they pop open some beers and move on to other matters.


One of the most revered sketches from Comedy Central’s Key & Peele – the sublime Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele series that ended its five-year run in September – is titled “Phone Call.” In it, Key stands at a street corner talking with his wife on his phone, sweetly promising to take her to the theatre. Out of a nearby building walks Peele in a black jacket and baggy jeans, dialing his own cell as he approaches the crosswalk. The men make fleeting, wary eye contact, and after they do, Key’s yuppie, assuming the role of street tough, resumes his conversation substituting “dem” for “them” and “dat” for “that,” and telling his wife, “I’mo’ pick yo’ ass up at 6:30, den!” Peele, who began his own phone convo with “’Sup, dawg?”, gives Key a nod of recognition and crosses the street. But the instant Key is out of earshot, Peele’s own tough-guy façade crumbles with his phone friend. “Oh my God, Christian,” he says with swishy panic, “I almost totally just got mugged right now!”

Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain in The Huntsman: Winter's WarTHE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR

Imagine a live-action version of Disney’s Frozen minus the songs and charm, and designed by the production team behind HBO’s Game of Thrones. That’s The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Now stop imagining that, because it’ll give you nightmares – though probably more coherent ones than the nightmare that is this tonally baffling hodgepodge of suffocating seriousness, incoherently staged combat, and baggy-pants comedy.


Nearly all action movies, even those in which the action is determinedly family-friendly, live or die by their villains, and director Jon Favreau’s remake of Disney’s The Jungle Book has a phenomenal one: the Bengal tiger Shere Khan, voiced by Idris Elba. Scarred from a murderous tussle with a human and left with only one functional eye, this creature – created, as all the film’s animals and landscapes are, via the magic of CGI – prowls his kingdom with lithe, dangerous authority, and manages to one-up even Jeremy Irons’ Lion King meanie in terms of fierceness and frightening malevolence. Yet Shere Khan’s visage and movements aren’t half as scary as Elba’s maliciously insinuating vocals that fall somewhere between a purr and a growl, and while listening to these deliciously evil readings, I had a perhaps heretical thought regarding this movie and its reported $175-million budget: Wouldn’t all this have worked much better as a radio play?

Kristen Bell and Melissa McCarthy in The BossTHE BOSS

As far as her recent movies are concerned, only one thing separates a good Melissa McCarthy comedy from a bad one, and that thing is Paul Feig. (Those awkwardly unfunny previews for Feig’s forthcoming Ghostbusters reboot, however, make me wonder how long that’ll be the case.) In the director’s Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy, McCarthy has been a blistering and wonderfully human riot, but the films themselves are so solidly constructed that you know they would’ve worked even with someone less naturally gifted in her roles. Yet the same can’t be said for the dismal Identity Thief, or the tonally nuts Tammy, or the debuting The Boss, which finds McCarthy’s ex-con entrepreneur Michelle Darnell seeking redemption through a makeshift Girl Scout troop, homemade brownies, and excessive bullying techniques. In each one, when she isn’t being humiliated, McCarthy is the best thing in it. In each one, that’s hardly saying much.

Helen Mirren in Eye in the SkyEYE IN THE SKY

Eye in the Sky concerns an impending act of drone warfare on a seemingly peaceful village in Kenya, and it’s one of the few films of its type released since 1964’s Fail-Safe: a pulse-pounding, nerve-racking inaction thriller. One scene after another finds individuals or cloistered rooms of military officials doing little more than staring at screens – in governmental war rooms, in flight simulators, on iPhones – and awaiting orders from higher-ups before they themselves can make any decisive moves. Yet the experience of director Gavin Hood’s thoughtful nail-biter is nonetheless spellbinding. The seconds feel as though they last many minutes (in the best way), and the cumulative 100 minutes feel like they’re over in a flash.

Tom Hiddleston in I Saw the LightI SAW THE LIGHT

The opening credits for I Saw the Light reveal that writer/director Marc Abraham’s bio-pic was adapted from Colin Escott’s book Hank Williams: The Biography. That “Just the facts, ma’am” title would’ve been perfectly fitting for Abraham’s staid, logy, passionless movie, too – although Hank Williams: The Skimming of the Artist’s Wikipedia Page would’ve been even more appropriate.

Henry Cavill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeBATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice never gets better than its wittily imagined, narratively essential scene of mass destruction five minutes into the movie. It never gets worse than the thunderously oppressive, soul-draining two hours and 20 minutes that follow.