Tag Archives: Films

‘Captain America: Civil War’ a strong entry in MCU

It seems as though a new superhero movie is coming out every few weeks. Most of them pass by and out of memory just as quickly as they came, but there are a few superhero films that stand above the rest, that peak more interest than the normal reboot/sequel, and fans had circled “Civil War” on their calendar ever since it was announced.

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the film features Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) struggling to keep the Avengers together as the government cracks down on their exploits as civilian casualties pile up. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is in favor of registering with the United Nations and the proposed Sokovia accord, but Steve is not sure. When his friend Bucky/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is implicated in a terrorist plot, the Avengers fracture between those siding with Captain America and maintaining their independence and those siding with Iron Man and starting public accountability.

Some of the action scenes are a bit nauseating as shaky cam takes over in place of actual dynamic action, but the set piece between the two rival teams of superheroes is one of the greatest in any superhero film; fun, interesting, action-packed and dramatic.

Marvel has always had a problem with maintaining dramatic stakes in its films. They are not going to kill off Iron Man or Captain America (they are worth billions of dollars) so how do you keep a movie engaging when there is literally no chance of your heroes biting the bullet? “Civil War” solves this issue by focusing on the relationship between Captain America and Iron Man. The characters may not die, but the relationship between them may come apart and the audience is kept interested by focusing on how Steve Rogers and Tony Stark develop as friends, turn enemies and how they will ultimately end.

Captain America is not a complex character. It is difficult to give him an internal dilemma and once he makes his decision in “Civil War”, there is not a lot going on internally. This is a detriment, but not a fatal one for the film. His actions serve as a counterpoint and seeing how far he is willing to go to maintain his friendship with Bucky and his independence is engaging enough.

And no MCU film has quite gone to the lengths of digging deep into the character’s soul a la Batman in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy. Doubtless this is to keep the audience as wide as possible, but there are moments for “Civil War” to go a bit deeper, especially with Iron Man in particular. With Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) out of his life, guilt plaguing him and his best friend leading a resistance against him, the film suggests the depths of his sorrow, but could go even deeper, perhaps hinting at his alcoholism as it does in the comics. It is a wasted opportunity to build some escalating themes into his character.

For those who enjoy the MCU films, “Captain America: Civil War” will be an enjoyable experience, one of the best of entries alongside “Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” But for those who have issues with the previous MCU films, those issues (lack of deep character revelations, franchise-building, cluttering narratives, uninteresting villains- though that is better in this film) will find more to complain about to some degree.

But kudos to the studio for making “Civil War” more than just another superhero film. There’s heart, fun and dynamism here.

‘The Lego Batman Movie’ a tribute to the character

Batman is awesome. That is in itself the joke that runs throughout “The Lego Batman Movie.” But even the most awesome character ever needs a little help sometimes to feel whole.

Directed by Chris McKay, “The Lego Batman Movie” focuses on the relationship between Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) and his fear of having a family again. Though he is awesome and the public adores him, Batman is lonely. When he accidentally adopts an orphan named Dick Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera), he is set on the road to accepting family once again.

The film is full of jokes for everyone: kids, adults, Batman-novices and hardcore-Batman aficionados. It is not as strong as the original “The Lego Movie”, with the film serving as more a straight-forward acceptance story and it is pretty easy to see what is coming next. It is also not quite as ingenious, some of the jokes not really landing with the force they should.

But while the plot is rather ho-hum, the icing around the cake is colorful, fun and pleasing enough that the film’s 90-minute run time goes by smoothly.

Batman is a cultural phenomenon, a character that has bypassed the superhero genre into common vernacular. With so much history and such a huge fanbase, the creation of a parody of him in lego-brick form accentuates just how ingrained into our American mythology he has become.

In this age of superhero pandemonium, “The Lego Batman Movie” fits by taking our preconceived notions of Batman and playfully poking fun at him in a way that doesn’t debase the character, but complements everything we love about him: his coolness, his strength and his vulnerability. For those who love the character, it is an enjoyable ride.

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ a strong, if familiar, war film

A pacifist who enlisted in World War II? That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Yet it actually happened.

“Hacksaw Ridge” is the true story of Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) who refused to carry a gun yet survived World War II through ingenuity, saving dozens of soldiers along the way during one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war, and becoming the first man in American history to win the Medal of Honor without firing a weapon.

Director Mel Gibson brilliantly captures the titular battle in the South Pacific, utilizing a wide range of cinematic skill to evoke the horrors of war. Indeed, if the film had just been the battle, it would have been great, but the first hour of the movie, setting up Desmond’s character and his backstory, is very slow and filled with cringe-worthy “dramatic moments” (the awkward love storyline with a personality-less woman, the standing up to authority speech, the oppressive father figure who just needs to understand his son). It’s a shame that the characters in the film are one-dimensional and that the script is just so-so. It is a rather cheap way to establish empathy with a character.

Garfield is fine in the lead role, held back by that on-the-nose script. You wouldn’t consider the experience a waste of time; it just is very familiar and blatant. If you walk in expecting a war drama with strong action and don’t mind the rather shallow characters, you won’t be disappointed. Anyone looking for something a little bit deeper or more interesting will be left wanting.

‘Sully’ a traditional, solid movie

“Sully” tells the story of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” where a commercial airliner, under the navigation of Chesley Sullenberger, performs an emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York City after it loses its engines in a bird strike.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film is a sturdy crowdpleaser, building up subtle moments to Sully’s vindication that he did indeed do the right thing. Tom Hanks is great in the central role, showing his unease about being called a hero and the exploration into that label from the world.

It is not especially showy, but that may be to the film’s betterment. Too often directors go for the big moments, showing off rather than letting the story speak for itself, but Eastwood has always gone with a very workmanlike approach, carefully constructing each moment to last as long as it needs to. The execution of the landing is wonderfully realized, using all of Eastwood’s cinematic technique.

If there is a detriment however, it is that there is not a lot of story to actually hold the film together. The crash landing occurs, there’s an investigation, the results of that investigation, and the end. It goes by rather breezily and barely clocks in at 90 minutes.

At its core, the film is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, not necessarily as individual heroes, but collectively. It is a film worth remembering for substance rather than flash.

‘Manchester by the Sea’ a miserable experience

Sitting through Manchester by the Sea is about the equivalent of a visit to the morgue. It is a joyless slog filled with despair, misery and regret.

Lee (Casey Affleck) is a janitor in Boston. When Lee’s brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), dies from his heart condition, Lee is forced to return home to care for his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), a high school kid. Patrick is a  brat who juggles two different girls and just wants to get laid and stay in town. Lee tries to convince Patrick to move back with him to Boston and, over the course of the story, we learn why he doesn’t want to stay, as his tragic backstory involving his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), and his three children unfolds.

It is now common knowledge that drama movies are consistently rated higher by critics than comedies. As so, if the quality of Manchester by the Sea was translated into a comedy, it probably would have been panned, but since it is a ‘thought-provoking drama’, it gets Oscar-nominated instead. Just because a film has dramatic moments and deals with heavier issues does not mean that it is a quality work.

Sure, Casey Affleck is great in the lead role, and there are some good moments of the characters on boats, but the film is just a depressing experience. There are not enough happy moments to counteract the misery, and you don’t really care about the characters that much. With a bloated run time of over two hours, it’s just misery, misery, misery, leaving you unable to take anything from the experience.

For those looking for a good time at the movies, Manchester by the Sea is not for you. For those looking for a thought-provoking drama, Manchester is still not for you. For those who would like the equivalent of a battering ram to the heart for two hours with no apparent hope for the future, go see Manchester by the Sea. You’ll love it.

‘Moana’ beautiful, fun

Boasting beautiful animation, an engaging (if familiar) story and strong musical numbers, Disney’s Moana is an enjoyable cinematic experience.

Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) is destined to lead her Polynesian island community, but the island’s resources are drying up. The sea calls to Moana, who must embark on a quest to return the heart of the goddess Te Whiti before the darkness overwhelms her home. She enlists the help of the demigod, Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson).

Directed by the duo of Ron Clements and John Musker (past credits include Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog among others), the film features several of the traditional Disney tropes: a princess, the bumbling sidekick, the quest, nature as a guide, the biased father-figure, the helpful grandmother. But while the story is rather so-so in terms of creativity, the songs and the visuals are great. The water in particular looks terrific and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tunes are sure to stick in your head for better or worse long afterwards.

The film does an excellent job of really utilizing its location to tell its story. You can practically smell the sea-breeze off the screen. It is to Musker and Clement’s credit that they imbue the film with such energy and really bring Polynesian culture to life.

When given the choice between the familiar told well or the unfamiliar told poorly, telling stories smartly always wins. While Moana is nothing that new, it is fun, it is enjoyable, and it is another strong Disney entry in its recent revival (started not-so-coincidentally when John Lasseter took over as head of Disney animation).

‘Doctor Strange’ a worthy addition to MCU

Another origin story. Another weak villain. Another redemptive hero. Another shallow love interest. Another Stan Lee cameo. Another post-credits scene. More CGI action. In spite of the continuing weaknesses of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, “Doctor Strange” still manages to be a fun and enjoyable ride.

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a cocky surgeon who crashes his car and irreparably damages bones in his hands. Searching for the ability to cure his ailment, he travels to a remote village across the world and meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who teaches him about the mystic arts and prepares him for a confrontation with a fallen student, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who seeks to bring an evil demon to Earth.

Cumberbatch is strong as Doctor Strange, blending a good mix of pompousness with vulnerability. Tilda Swinton is also a very good Ancient One. Rachel McAdams has a needless role as a trophy girlfriend for the doctor, but she isn’t as grating as Natalie Portman or Gwenyth Paltrow in similar roles. And Mads Mikkelsen is pretty pedestrian as another bad guy who wants to destroy the world, blah blah blah.

The true star of the film are its special effects, with its bending buildings and parallel dimensions and magic and demons. It makes the film a visual feast and helps smooth over the fact that the story itself is pretty bland.

But at least the environment is different. The MCU now has wizards and magic and some pretty crazy science behind its latest hero. While Captain America’s films are espionage dramas and “Iron Man” is modern action and “Guardians” is 1980s sci-fi, “Doctor Strange” is psychadelic new age fantasy. So while its story is familiar, at least Marvel puts that story into different genres.