Captain America: Civil War

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2016

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Christopher Markus/Stephen McFeely

Based on “Captain America” created by Jack Kirby & Joe Simon

If you had asked me a couple of days ago what my favorite Marvel movie is, I’d have said with no hesitation at all; “The Avengers.” But that was before I saw CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. I am now prepared to not only proclaim that not only is CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies but also that it just may be the best superhero movie made to date, period.

I might have said this before in my reviews of “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” but it bears repeating, I think. One of the strengths of the MCU is that movies featuring characters in their solo movies take their time to explore the worlds in which these characters operate. So Iron Man movies are about technology and ways they can be used or misused for good or evil. Thor movies are full of mythology, fantasy and cosmic adventures. And Captain America movies are about political struggles, the role of government intelligence agencies in modern warfare which is so different from the way Steve Rogers knew war back in World War II. And morals are always at the forefront of a Captain America movie. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Captain America movies are so popular now because Steve Rogers embodies a way of life and adherence to core beliefs and morals that we as a country and people have gotten away from but desperately long to get back to. But not Cap. He’s The Last Stand-Up Guy and he’s not ashamed of it either.

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Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is engaged in a covert mission in Lagos. His job is to keep a biological weapon out of the hands of Crossbones/Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo.) Cap has brought along as backup The Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) The Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and The Scarlet Witch/ Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen.)

They do manage to secure the biological weapon but during the intense fighting, Wanda accidentally destroys an office building which kills a dozen citizens of the isolationist African country Wakanda. This brings King T’Chaka (John Kani) and his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to spearhead what comes to be known as The Sokovia Accords. U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt) presents The Sokovia Accords to The Avengers. If they agree to it and sign it, a United Nations panel will control their activities and supervise The Avengers.

Steve thinks it’s a lousy idea and is surprised that Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is all for it. Tony is obviously still dealing with PTSD brought on by not just the Chitauri Invasion of New York but the events of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” as well. Unbeknownst to his friends, Tony’s many chickens have all come home to roost in a big way and that is why he insists that The Avengers sign and abide by The Sokovia Accords.

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The situation grows even more hostile and volatile when the representatives of over a hundred countries meet an a conference in Vienna to ratify The Sokovia Accords. The conference is bombed and all the evidence points to James Buchanan Barnes/Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) as the bomber. This situation divides The Avengers even more as Steve believes that Bucky shouldn’t be held responsible for crimes he committed while in a brainwashed state as The Winter Solider.

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The Black Widow, War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle ) The Vision (Paul Bettany) and Spider-Man/Peter Parker take Stark’s side while The Falcon, The Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) side with Captain America. The battle lines are drawn but there two wild cards in the deck; T’Challa has inherited not only the kingship of Wakanda but the heritage of The Black Panther as well. His agenda does not exactly line up with either Captain America’s or Iron Man’s as he is driven by pure vengeance to exact punishment on the murderer of his father.

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And in the background, quietly and methodically working on a plan to destroy The Avengers is a man named Zemo…not the one you’re thinking of. But he is no less dangerous. One of the jaw-dropping moments in this movie that is full of them is watching how Zemo manipulates every other character.

I’m not gonna pussyfoot around on this one; CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is such a finely crafted piece of superhero cinema I honestly am in awe of what the directors, writers and cast have done here. The movie works as both a Captain America solo movie and as an Avengers movie as well, which in itself is no small feat. There’s an exceptionally large cast of characters packed in here but everybody gets a chance to shine. I appreciated how the movie slowed down for such treats as the conversation The Vision and Wanda have while they bond over cooking dinner. I loved the scene where Rhodey and Sam are arguing their points of views about The Sokovia Accords. Remember that these are two black men who have both served in the U.S. military. But they have very different ideas about the role The Avengers should play in the world. And while we’re on the subject, when was the last time you saw a superhero movie that had three black superheroes in prominent roles?

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The discussions the characters have about The Sokovia Accords, their responsibility in how they use their powers and their views on how the public sees them now is something that I found fascinating. The world governments are starting to think that maybe superheroes really aren’t all that nice to have around since they seem to attract death and destruction (something that The Vision himself points out in one of the movie’s best scenes.)

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR manages to give us the superhero action we crave (the Free-For-All Brawl at the airport is now the greatest superhero fight scene EVER.) while giving us plenty of deeper emotional stuff such as The Avengers having to deal with the consequences of their actions. The world has united in their demand that The Avengers simply not level cities and then go home in time for Corn Flakes and watching Captain Kangaroo.

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And I have been waiting all my life to see The Black Panther on a movie screen and now I have. Chadwick Boseman (along with Paul Rudd) walks away with the MVP award. And you all know how I feel about Chris Evans. The guy IS Captain America. ‘Nuff Said. And let me just say that I have never been a big Spider-Man fan but after seeing Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his smokin’ hot Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) I wouldn’t mind going to see the next Spider-Man movie.

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Bottom Line: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is spectacular entertainment from start to finish. I judge superhero movies by this: do they make me feel the same sense of excitement and wonder that I got from reading the comic books when I was 12 years old? Do they put me in touch with those feelings I got on a Saturday afternoon when I pulled out a stack of of my favorite comics books and read them for hours on end? CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR does indeed make me feel that way. Most movie series decrease in imagination, excitement and pure fun. Not this one. Each succeeding Captain America movie has been better than the one before and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is no exception.

 

 

Captain America: Civil War Guest Review by Sean E. Ali

I know what you’re thinking…”But..but…Derrick! Where’s your review of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR?” Well, it’s hard to review a movie I haven’t seen yet. And I won’t be seeing CIVIL WAR until this Tuesday or Wednesday. I very rarely go see movies the day or weekend they open. I’m long past the age where it was exciting to go see a movie with a crowd. I much prefer going during the week and catching a matinee where the theater is a whole lot emptier and quieter.

But thankfully, Sean E. Ali has caught the movie reviewing bug and based on the numbers his previous reviews of “Batman V Superman” and “Keanu” have been racking up, you guys have been enjoying them greatly. So here he is again with his review of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Enjoy!

From the “Life During Wartime” File…

Don’t want CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR spoiled at all?

Then run away, run away now!

After that, I blame Derrick Ferguson for this epic novella that you’ll be reading from this point on…

…he’s got me in the habit of writing one of these whether I want to or not now…

…but feel free to read or ignore until I dig up the next “Moment of Utter Coolness”…

Now, let’s begin…

Here’s why Marvel’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR will work out better than Warner Brothers/DC’s “Batman V Superman”…

…patience.

Sure it was also a superior storyline, better characterization, the right mix of seriousness, light moments and action (in other words all of the things missing from “Batman V Superman”), but it was all because Marvel played a long slow hand over tossing all their chips on the table in the hopes of grabbing a big pot with little effort.

The game, as they have played it to date, has been a successful one. Marvel Studios have released 13 films and for the most part, those films have garnered generally positive reactions from the audience and the critics. And yes, I hear you “Iron Man 3” haters screaming but I’m one of those folks who dug the film despite its shortcomings and it’s possible CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is the best of their releases since “The Avengers.”

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Now of course the film isn’t absolutely perfect…

…okay I’m just saying that for you nit pickers later, I could care less about the flaws; this film blows everything else out the water in its genre.

Except for disguises. Seriously whenever Steve Rogers goes underground, the authorities should just start grabbing athletically built blond guys wearing windbreakers, baseball caps and dark glasses…

C’mon, you know I’m right!

Seriously, throw me a friggin’ bone here, Marvel, hair coloring, wigs, those old school Groucho Marx glasses mustache combos…

Call Tom Cruise and get Ethan Hunt in with the tearaway facemasks already!

Now this is the part where SPOILERS may come up so be ALERT

If you want to go watch it first then debate the points later, feel free to run to the theater, buy a big bag of popcorn (butter in between, please) and enjoy the show.

Don’t worry about me, I’m sure I can occupy my time until you get back…

Just don’t call me a SPOILER because you weren’t ALERT

So go ahead…

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Siri?

Put on my waiting for folks to get back playlist…

Shoo-be-do-be-doo-be-shoo-be-do-scooby-doo…

Frapadapadapdap….

Y’know, in the old days on those ancient BBS circuits, you used to have to type out “SPOILER SPACE” when you didn’t want folks to immediately see something that might have been spoiler like in nature…

You’d think we’d have just gone with SPOILER ALERT then, but we didn’t…

…kind of silly how I just sort of drifted onto that train of thought…

I’m sorry, what was the question?

Shoo-be-do-be-doo-be-shoo-be-do-scooby-doo…

Frapadapadapdap….

And, you’re back!

The film rocked, right?!

Or did you even go see it before I wasted my time above…?

Well whichever, too late run, because here we go…

The film opens with a flashback in 1991 where we see your Winter Soldier and mine having a bunch of random words read to him from a book while he does the default animal scream bit. These words are apparently some kind of trigger reset (or gibberish he’s just really sick of hearing when he asked for Samuel L. Jackson’s reading of GO THE F*CK TO SLEEP) because he’s about to go on a mission. The job involves running a car off a lonely road and into a tree. In what is possibly a nod to current events on “Agents of SHIELD”, the Soldier removes several packages with blue fluid in them, he looks properly slowly faced and we bring up the title credits…

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…in the present day, the Avengers are on a covert tracking mission in Lagos. The team assembled is Cap, Black Widow, the Falcon and Scarlet Witch (I’m guessing War Machine was off doing military stuff and Vision was trying on cardigans… just go see the flick for that part) they are looking for a group of terrorists who have been hitting police stations across the land lead by Crossbones, the guy who fought Falcon and was the second in command of Cap’s commando group in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. An anticipated attack happens, our heroes spring into action, a great scene showing the teamwork this new batch of Avengers have picked up since they got together in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, the Falcon and Black Widow have a pretty decent chase scene and then…

…well let’s just say things kind of blew up in a bad way and leave it there.

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In the aftermath of their latest adventure, the public is starting to question whether or not having superheroes roaming the world willy nilly is such a good idea. The Avengers it seems have been doing a fairly decent job of saving the world, but not so good at collateral damage or public relations damage control. As we’ve already seen in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, the team isn’t looked upon favorably in a few places. Tony Stark alone is associated with weapons of war that he once manufactured that are still in use by military forces and other less legitimate groups across the globe. The fact that they bounce around the world leaving a lot of smoking craters in their wake, answerable to no one has folks on edge. With what happens in Lagos being the latest incident of a bad thing happening while doing a good thing. The governments of the world are no longer able to turn a blind eye to the issue as the latest… mistake kills members of a delegation from Wakanda, a reclusive African nation that has recently made gestures indicating their willingness to participate on a larger world stage.

Meanwhile, after a brief bit of backstory in an interlude on the holodeck (no we didn’t leave this film for a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” flick, but if we did, Tony Stark invented the holodeck and you’re welcome Captain Picard.) Tony Stark, who is going through a personal crisis or two which he pushes away by hiding behind his work and passing out endowments to fund research for pretty much every student at MIT, is confronted by consequences of the Avengers recent battle against Ultron on a very direct, very personal level while waiting on an elevator. The encounter added with Tony’s own guilt over creating Ultron in the first place, along with his own private troubles and the Avengers latest public disaster leaves him in the right frame of mind for…

…the Sokovia Accords, which is a White Pages phonebook sized way for the rest of the world to say: “Please, oh please, Avengers, could you not blow anything up the next time you save the world? Please and thank you, love, the United Nations.” The Accords would put the Avengers under the header of sanctioned international peacekeeping force, which would be called into a situation only if requested. So basically Interpol but with flashy code names and better toys.

Tony’s hot to get everyone on board so they can put this whole thing in the rear view and shift the burden of responsibility from his team to the world’s governments (“Hey sorry we blew up Bolivia, guys, but remember, YOU called US when Porcupine and the Eel held up that Mom and Pop deli instead of a cop…). He believes that this will give the team sanction to operate with a system of accountability that would foster trust and win back the public. Part of that is driven by his own guilt and Tony shows up to Avengers HQ thinking this is going to be a slam dunk once the rest of the team hears it. Tony’s pitch sells War Machine, Vision, and surprisingly Black Widow, while Scarlet Witch is on the fence and Sam’s not sure either. He just didn’t count on one thing…

…Steve Rogers, Captain America himself, is not on board for this. Given the events of the last film he was in, Steve digs in as the opposing voice, to Tony’s slam dunk proposition. Cap’s fearing that their own interests and agendas could corrupt these governments like the World Council that backed S.H.I.E.L.D only to be duped by HYDRA in purpose. Plus the whole superhero thing is all about being able to respond to a world class threat without going through a ton of red tape. Granted the battles of the Avengers both as a group and on their individual capers have occasionally brought their fair share of collateral damage but as Steve tells Tony, he feels the safest hands to determine where they go to prevent even greater loss of life are their own.

Their debate is ended by an unexpected interlude as Steve is called away on a personal duty where he gets a sort of affirmation that his point of view, while unpopular with some of his peers, is the correct course of action. As this scene closes, The Widow shows up and lets Steve know she’s on her way to sign the Accords as the Avengers representative along with Tony. She asks Steve to join them and he turns her down. Sam sticks with his partner and the lines are quietly drawn…

At the signing, we meet up with a few folks, but the biggest deal of the day is the contingent from Wakanda, fronted by King T’Chaka and his son T’Challa. T’Chaka is there in the spirit of good faith with the hope that this will signal a new chapter in peaceful cooperation with the world at large and the Avengers who want to protect that world…

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…since this is a Marvel flick, we don’t get that peace. The meeting has barely begun when there is an explosion hat kills several members in attendance. The culprit is identified shortly after the event: the Winter Soldier, or as Captain America knows him, James Buchanan (“Bucky”) Barnes his one time best friend. The Avengers, now led by Iron Man, are tasked with bringing the Soldier in. Cap and the Falcon are also trying to get to the Soldier to determine if he really were responsible. And as the two head towards each other on an inevitable collision course, a third party has joined the hunt, a man dressed in black who is determined to beat them both and kill the Soldier…

…and in the background is another player that most Captain America comic book fans will recognize by his family name…

…Zemo.

Which is a good place to end the spoiler stuff.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is a nicely done piece for this genre. It’s a well told and highly enjoyable story. The characters have clear motivations, introduces newcomers to the MCU: The Black Panther and the most amazingly accurate portrayals of Peter Parker and Spider-Man I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching (or ignoring when the too damn fine for words Marisa Tormei was on the screen playing Aunt May like Mary Jane Watson.) And the story was much deeper than the usual “let’s team up and beat the crap out of those guys” Marvel films. The hard core DC fans who said that Marvel is just big dumb fun apparently have missed the last Captain America film and will probably miss this one to avoid being proved wrong.

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If you’ve been on this ride for the last eight years you’ve watched these characters grow into the people they are now so the Tony Stark we met way back in “Iron Man” is still with us, but he’s been seasoned by his experiences. Plus Robert Downey Jr. sells the role because, let’s face it, Tony’s path mirrors his own life including the search for redemption part. Chris Evans is pitch perfect, as always, as Captain America who is still a man out a different time who has run out of time as he becomes an outlaw to save his friend. Since it’s a Captain America film, we get his supporting cast more than anyone else’s so Anthony Mackie is there as the Falcon for the bulk of the game and Sebastian Stan mixes in nicely as he plays Bucky getting slowly back to the guy we first met in initial Captain America movie. The rest of the gang does their part well, especially Jeremy Renner has finally become a fully realized character as Clint “Hawkeye” Barton over his other appearances in the role to date.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is “Captain America 3”, “Iron Man 4”, and a prequel to both “Black Panther” and “Spider-Man” without getting bogged down with all the extra heroes. The way the film was directed gives me confidence for this team since they will be doing the next big pair of “Avengers” movies where the character count is expected to be higher. The film also tackles the very thing detractors of the Marvel films say they don’t cover and that “Batman V Superman” didn’t really cover: the consequences of their actions so far.

The CIVIL WAR theme was subtly played out on a few levels, outside of the main conflict. you had Tony Stark wrestling with his conscience, Steve Rogers with his loyalty to his friends old and new and his remaining true to his ideals, sure those are a given just below the battle of authority versus autonomy or the oversimplified version: security versus freedom in a post 9/11 and post-Patriot Act world. Tony wants something he built to not be headed on the road to destruction and ruin and the Avengers are part of his legacy to build a better world. Steve’s need to do what he feels is right to stand up for the little guy against those who would try to dominate and bully them is at the core of his character. But both men are suffering from knee jerk overreactions, which force knee jerk overreaches in their respective philosophies. They’re both right to a degree and they’re both wrong to a degree with an answer somewhere in between. But, as it goes with most overreactions, everyone’s going from the gut with emotions hot where there should be cooler heads. Time out isn’t really an option when you’re dealing with people who could literally level a city faster than a DC movie.

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But dig a little deeper because I’m fairly sure that even the writers and the Russos didn’t notice all the other things set into motion that the actors brought out in their parts of the conflict. You had Natasha Romanov’s conflicted nature literally making her a double agent by way of stream of consciousness as she struggled to decide what side she wanted to stand on. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is long overdue for a solo film and, as she shows here, we’d be lucky to get one while she’s still on the clock. Natasha is literally our insider audience watching the same show we are and being equally conflicted about what team to stand on as she sees the extremes her friends go through defending their positions. As I said earlier, Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton steps up and stands by Cap even if it cost him his family while he fights to keep the government overreach away from that side of his life. While it wasn’t covered until later, Hawkeye’s motivation is simple enough: Stark’s betrayed them and Rogers hasn’t. Spider-Man is introduced as a kid struggling with his power and responsibility suddenly thrust upon him as is T’Challa who is the same position with a radically different scale to deal with. One represents youthful idealism overwhelmed but determined to do his best, the other is youthful pragmatism tempered by a wariness that comes from isolation. Both are pushed into this conflict through tragedy, both are trying to work out exactly what they’re supposed to do now that they’ve lost the the respective role models that shaped their lives. Bucky struggles to become the man he was when he was one of Captain America’s Howling Commandos, but before the film ends is faced with his past as an assassin returning to haunt him and the knowledge that even despite his situation, his redemption may never balance the scales enough in the eyes of those affected by his actions…

Even the characters without a conflict like War Machine, who, in a way, pays the highest price in this affair physically, or Sam Wilson’s Falcon who finds out that the price for loyalty is sometimes tragedy even when it involves superheroes, are on opposite sides because of their respective experiences in their lives. Both men are military, both have seen active combat, both are pilots, both understand the chain of command and its purpose for maintain discipline and order in the ranks, and both think their partners in crimefighting have the correct view. If there is a reason for the separation that I can find, it’s where we meet Sam in his introduction to the MCU as opposed to Rhodey when he came on the scene at the very beginning. Rhodey’s active military, he’s a combat pilot, a high level officer and already at the beck and call of the U.S. Government. If anyone’s a poster boy for a registration program, this is the guy. Sam Wilson, on the other hand, is a former medic, as well as a soldier. When he shows up in “Winter Soldier” he’s mustered out of the service and is a vet helping other vets deal with things like PTSD. He’s part of the family, but no longer interested in going into a forward area because of the political agendas of politicians who will never and, in most cases have never, had to deal with the reality of armed combat and the unique version of hell that truly is. So while they don’t fight with the same passion as the leads, they have in their previous appearances logical reasons for taking specific sides other than being the sidekick.

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But if you really squint a little, you can see (or maybe “create” is a better word) real world associations all over the place. When Tony is confronted over the Avengers actions in their fight with Ultron, I felt like that was not only a quiet nod to the upcoming “Luke Cage” series on Netflix, but also a Black Lives Matter moment. The fight in Lagos not only set up the foundation for the film, but it could be quietly interpreted as a statement on US foreign policy with regard to foreign wars. Specifically with how the US deals with African and Middle Eastern conflicts right down to their not giving losses of life and collateral damage there the same priority as the loss of a fictional European nation blown up by a robot…

…and oddly enough was also a sort of Blue Lives Matter moment.

There are other reaches in there, and your mileage may vary based on your creativity and ability to imagine things not actually in evidence, but CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is a damn sight more subtle and intellectual than you’d like to believe…

…if you convince yourself of that.

You have all these disparate elements flying around and you are able to track them all, and appreciate them all. You’ve been with these guys for the bulk of their runs so all the groundwork has been laid. By the time we get down to the final act there’s a twist takes the whole idea of conflict down to its most basic level. The plot changes the whys and wherefores for Bucky, Iron Man and Captain America which takes everything we’ve already seen to this point and flips it on its head and makes it personal for all three…

…and then there’s still another twist that takes this film from the usual superhero flick is contained in a final serious spoiler that you should ignore if you really don’t want to know…

Ready? Then here we go…

…well maybe I won’t after all, that might be a little too much.

No really, watch the film through to the end and you’ll realize pretty quickly, despite the resolutions of various plot lines it all boils down to a final truth you’ll figure out with Zemo’s last lines in the film.

So should you see CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR?

If you don’t I might have to find you and smack you upside the head before grabbing you by the earlobe and walking you into a seat myself.

If you’re a fan you’re probably already on your way. If you’re a fan of the Distinguished Competition and trying to hold out to make a point that “Batman V Superman” was better…

…just go already, friend, you’re not fooling anyone.

Don’t worry though, DC finally did something bright by bringing in Ben Affleck as an Executive Producer on the “Justice League” movie so you folks should have plenty to cheer about in a year or two…

…until then, why don’t you come on in the theater this weekend and see how it’s done…

…I’m looking over at you Zack Snyder and David Goyer.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is everything “Batman V Superman” should’ve been…

…and it’s everything you expect from Marvel…

…and it changes everything, for real, for the next phase of the MCU because every character that went in does not come out of the film unchanged.

Plus it’s a heck of an adventure.

I think I’ll walk down the street and see it again right now…

I’ll even save you a seat.

Enjoy the show with my compliments.

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Keanu: Guest Review by Sean E. Ali

Once again Sean E. Ali is back with another guest review. This is the second one he’s done for The Ferguson Theater. He did one for “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” and if you like this one then by all means go and check that one out. Mr. Ali, if you please…

Possibly the most fun I’ve had watching the story of a kitten and the company he keeps…

If you’re a fan of Key & Peele, this is right up your alley…

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…or if you ever wondered what would happen if Cheech and Chong were in New Jack City, you might enjoy it…

…or if you love post Wham George Michael, then you’ve got a good reason to go.

No, seriously, George Michael is all over this one and it’s pretty hilarious when done right.

It’s a 10 minute skit stretched out to ten times that amount, with a couple of fish out of water in as absurdly stretched reasoning as you’re gonna get to go back to gangsta thug parody…

…but honestly, you’re not going to this for a plot, so check your brain at the door and don’t look for logic and it should work out fine…

KEANU‘s that silly comedy to escape to with a bunch of folks who are all way too possessive of the cutest kitten on film this week.

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You’ll either love it or you’ll get a little bored with it because it’s a reliable cliché on a low budget…

Me? I’m in the first part; it was just funny enough despite knowing what was coming pretty much the whole way through.

You’ll go, you’ll enjoy it, and it’ll reset your brain so you’re ready for “Captain America: Civil War” to blow you out of your seat next weekend…

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The Jungle Book

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2016

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Jon Favreau

Produced by Jon Favreau and Brigham Taylor

Screenplay by Justin Marks

Based on “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling

I am honestly not a fan of 3D at all. I consider it a novelty, a gimmick. Most of the time it’s distracting me from what I really want to do. Which is to get into the movie and enjoy it. I don’t get the fun of having things flying off the screen at me. On top of that, I wear glasses and I really don’t like to have to wear another pair just to watch a lousy movie. And I’ve really been pissed the past couple of years with what I perceive as a deliberate effort on the part of movie theaters to force people to see a movie in 3D. You know the scam: a theater will schedule multiple showings of the 3D version of the movie that you want to see and relatively few showings of the same movie in 2D (is that the correct term?) Nine times outta ten I opt to walk away from the movie or go see something else rather than be forced to see the movie in 3D.

Now, I say that to say this: if you can, then see THE JUNGLE BOOK in 3D.

As a baby, the man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is found wandering the savage jungles of India by the majestic black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) who acts as his teacher/mentor. Bagheera gives Mowgli into the care of a wolf pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and his mate Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Mowgli is raised in the ways and laws of the wolf. But try as he might, Mowgli cannot quite keep up with his wolf siblings and has to resort to his human ingenuity at building tools to even things up.

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During the dry season, there is a truce called during the seasonal drought. This means that all the jungle denizens can gather at the local watering hole to drink in peace without fear of being eaten by the predators. It is here that the viciously bloodthirsty Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) learns of Mowgli’s existence. Shere Khan hates all men since they know the secret of making fire, which the animals call The Red Flower. Shere Khan’s scarred face is the result of his being burned by men. Shere Khan vows to keep the truce but only until the drought is over and then he will kill Mowgli.

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Not wishing to place his adoptive family in danger, Mowgli elects to leave on his own. Bagheera volunteers to escort Mowgli to the nearest village of men where he will be safe among his own kind from Shere Khan. But the wily tiger has anticipated this move and follows the pair. He ambushes them and while Bagheera holds off the tiger, Mowgli escapes. While waiting for Bagheera he falls under the hypnotic spell of the giant python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson). Mowgli is rescued by Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). The two become fast friends and Mowgli agrees to stay with Baloo. Life is good until Bagheera shows up and convinces Baloo that he can’t protect Mowgli from Shere Khan. While they bark and bite over the fate of the man-cub, Mowgli is kidnapped by the Bandar-log (monkeys) who take them to their leader, the Gigantopithecus ape King Louie (Christopher Walken). The panther and the bear set off to rescue Mowgli. But even if Bagheera and Baloo can save their human friend from King Louie and his army of monkeys, Shere Khan is waiting for his opportunity to take his revenge…

You wanna know how much I enjoyed THE JUNGLE BOOK? Would you believe I actually forgot about the 3D? For one of the very few times I was watching a movie where the 3D did the job it’s supposed to do and pulled me into the movie and immersed me and enabled me to truly get lost in the story. And the CGI is spectacular. There’s just no other way to describe it. Visually this is one of the most impressive imaginary worlds I’ve seen on screen.

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Neel Sethi is a wonderful young actor. Although I’m sure he must have been reacting to a lot of things that weren’t there, this young man sells it without blinking an eye. He’s charming and looks as if he’s having a lot of fun and his expressive face works with his dialog in communicating to us at all times exactly what Mowgli is thinking and feeling.

I’m curious as to why such a big deal was made of Scarlett Johansson’s role as Kaa since it amounts to nothing more than a glorified cameo. Idris Elba steals every scene he’s in as Shere Khan and makes the character a truly terrifying, unpredictable force to be feared and reckoned with. And even though the movie isn’t a musical, I mean, c’mon…how can you not have Bill Murray sing “The Bare Necessities” and Christopher Walken sing “I Wan’na Be Like You”? Some will complain that the songs throw off the tone of the movie but I don’t think so. They’re lighter, whimsical moments that are nice homages to the 1967 animated “Jungle Book” as well as giving us a break from the more serious, darker elements of this version.

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So should you see THE JUNGLE BOOK? If you’re a fan of the original (and breathes there a living soul who isn’t?) then don’t waste anymore time. Go see it. People BMW about remakes but if they’re done with as much respect for the original as this one and with this level of technical, artistic and creative talent they can truly be a joy to watch and great way to spend an afternoon at the movies. Enjoy.

106 Minutes

Rated PG: But parents, be advised…there’s still some stuff here that might frighten the little ones, especially the scenes with Shere Khan. But then again, kids are pretty jaded these days and watch far more violent stuff at home so what do I know? Anyway, just thought I’d let you know.

Hardcore Henry

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2015

Bazelevs/Versus Pictures/STX Entertainment

Written and Directed by Ilya Naishuller

Produced by Timur Bekmambetov

The concept of telling a movie’s story from the perspective of the protagonist isn’t exactly as new or as revolutionary as HARDCORE HENRY would have you believe. You go back to 1947 and you’ll find one of my favorite movies to use this gimmick; the film noir classic “The Lady In The Lake” starring and directed by Robert Montgomery who plays Raymond Chandler’s iconic private eye Philip Marlowe. We see Montgomery at the beginning of the movie where he explains the gimmick. With just a few exceptions, such as when Marlowe looks in a mirror, the entire movie is told from the viewpoint of Philip Marlowe. In essence, the audience is playing Philip Marlowe.

The technique is handled cleverly in “The Lady In The Lake” because there’s an actual story being told there with characters we care about and a mystery to be solved. In fact, watch it long enough and you’ll forget the gimmick. That never once happened to me while watching HARDCORE HENRY. The movie relentlessly and unmercifully goes out of its way to bash you over the head with the gimmick from start to finish. The result is that for 96 minutes what you’re doing is watching a first-person shooter video game. And as anybody can tell you, there are two activities that are usually more fun to do than to watch: sex and playing video games.

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Henry (You) wakes up in laboratory with his memory gone and missing his left arm and left leg. A cyberneticist named Estelle (Haley Bennett) claims to be Henry’s wife and outfits him with bionic limbs. She informs him that due to a horrible accident, much of his body has been replaced with bionics, granting him superhuman strength, stamina and agility. Before she can explain much more (that happens a lot in this movie) the lab is attacked by a group of mercenaries. They’re led by the psychotic Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) who demonstrates fearsome telekinetic abilities that Henry’s bionics are no match for.

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Henry and Estelle escape the lab which is on a gigantic airship by escape pod but are ambushed by Akan and his men and Estelle is taken. Henry is rescued by Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) who plainly knows more than he is telling but before he can tell Henry, he’s killed. But don’t worry. Jimmy shows up repeatedly in the movie. Every time he’s killed, another Jimmy shows up. His function in the movie is to more or less get Henry to the next level of the game with hints, clues, and information. Henry makes his way through various levels such as a hi-tech whorehouse, a foot chase through Moscow, and an abandoned hotel before reaching the final level: Akon’s skyscraper where he has to fight his way to the top through an army of cyborg super-soldiers. And naturally he has to fight the final boss, Akon himself.

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Let me just say that I fully realize that I’m not the audience for this kind of movie. The action sequences are all done in shaky-cam which is a technique I despise thoroughly. I’ve seen maybe three of four movies where it used effectively and this ain’t one of ‘em. I think it’s a lazy way to make a movie and I don’t go for that excuse that it’s a way for the director to make the audience feel like they’re part of the action. If I want to feel like I’m part of the action I’ll show up at a Klan cookout with a couple of white women on my arm. I’m paying my money to see the action up on the screen, thank you very much. I consider it a waste of my time and money to get action sequences that consist of the camera wildly whipping around and everything is a blur.

I will say this: if you’re looking for violence then this is definitely the movie for you. I’ve rarely seen a movie with this much profanity, blood and carnage. The violence is incredibly nasty, brutal and downright pornographic. And mind you, I enjoy profanity, violence, and carnage as much as any of you. I just prefer that it have a reason to be happening, is all.

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The acting (haw!) in this is nothing to cheer about. It continually baffles me how Sharlto Copley showed so much promise, character and charisma in “District 9” and “The A-Team” has never demonstrated it since in anything he’s done. He works his moneymaker off trying to give his Jimmy character some coherent reason to keep the movie’s plot together but he’s sabotaged by the fact that HARDCORE HENRY is built around a gimmick that goes on for far too long. HARDCORE HENRY plays as if a 15 year old first-person shooter enthusiast was given ten million dollars and told to go make a movie. It gets my vote for worst movie of the year so far. And remember, I’ve seen “Deadpool” and “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Go see at your own risk.

Rated R

96 Minutes

Breakin’

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1984

Canon Films/MGM/UA Entertainment Company

Directed by Joel Silberg

Produced by Allen DeBevoise/David Zito

Screenplay by Charles Parker/Allen DeBevoise/Gerald Scaife

Music by Michael Boyd/Gary Remal

Those of you who have listened to episodes of Better In the Dark where Tom Deja and I talk about 1980s movies already know how I feel about BREAKIN’. I’ve called it the “Gone With The Wind” and the “Citizen Kane” of breakdance movies. Not that there’s a whole lotta breakdancing movies as a genre to compare it to. But there’s many reasons why we still remember and love BREAKIN’ for what it does. Because what it does it does extraordinarily well and does it with no pretension whatsoever.

Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) is struggling to make it as a dancer in L.A. Along with her friend Adam (Phineas Newborn III) she studies jazz dancer under the tutelage of Franco (Ben Lokey) who believes in strict discipline and classicism when it comes to dance. He also has the hots for Kelly. Kelly wants to be a success and become a professional dancer but there are lines she will not cross. But she does cross one line when she becomes friends with street dancers Ozone (Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quinones) and Turbo (Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers). They may not be classically trained dancers but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the best. And they most certainly are. Except when it comes to battling their dance rivals Electro Rock.1428808894_4.pngOzone and Turbo could more than handle Electro Rock when it was just Poppin’ Pete (Timothy Solomon) and Pop N’ Taco (Bruno Falcon). But then they add a chick, Lil’ Coco (Vidal Rodriguez) and that changes the whole game. It changes it even more when Kelly offers to team up with Ozone and Turbo, forming a group called TKO that incorporates her jazz dance/classic moves with their street dance/breakdance. The results are a whole lot of fun to watch.

And make no mistake; there a solid reason why BREAKIN’ has lasted this long and is so highly regarded as a dance film. Well, by me at least. It’s just downright Fun to watch. And a large part of that is because I was there when all this was going on and it’s a way for me to revisit my past. My friends and I must have gone to see BREAKIN’ at least half a dozen times in the theaters (remember this is 1984. You could see a triple feature on Manhattan’s 42end St. for three bucks) breakin mar %2811%29

I will admit a large part of the reason why we went back to see it repeatedly was Lucinda Dickey. No great actress, she. But damn, she was smokin’ hot. In fact, none of the leads in BREAKIN’ were great actors. But they were authentic and honest and they had charisma and chemistry. Adolfo Quinones and Michael Chambers are like the Green Hornet and Kato of breakdancing. I love the fact that they unabashedly dress like superheroes. Because in their minds, that’s exactly what they are. And they made me believe they were. The relationship between the three characters is what drives a lot of the movie and they sell it. Not through their acting but through their personalities. That gives BREAKIN’ an almost documentary feel at times.

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But then there are other scenes such as Boogaloo Shrimp’s dance with a broom that is a homage to a similar scene Fred Astaire did in one of his movies. Boogaloo Shrimp’s breakdance homage to that scene is just as exhilarating and vital as the original. It’s the very definition of how one piece of art can influence another.

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This is the movie that infamously has Jean-Claude Van Damme as an uncredited dancer. And Christopher McDonald wins the “Who The Hell let HIM In This Movie?” award for this one.

That’s not to say that I can’t find any fault with the movie. Lucinda Dickey and Adolfo Quinones can’t sell the heavy emotional scenes between their characters. And I chalk it up to their simply not having enough experience to do so. But there is one scene where they do sell the emotion. Ozone takes Kelly to watch some street dancers. One of them is a kid on crutches. Despite the fact he does not have the use of his legs, he dances. Ozone points to him and says; “THAT is what dancing is all about. Look at his face.” A face that expresses nothing but pure joy. And that is exactly what BREAKIN’ is about. It’s about the pure joy of dancing. You want to honor what BREAKIN’ represents? Then get up and dance while you’re watching it. When the sound track plays a piece of music like Al Jarreau’s“Boogie Down” or Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody”? get up and dance your ass off.

Rated PG 
1 hr. 30 minutes

 

 

Sugar Hill

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1974

American International Pictures

Directed by Paul Maslansky

Produced by Elliot Schick

Written by Tim Kelly

Here’s the brilliant thing about SUGAR HILL. It’s not just a Blaxplotation movie. It’s a very good one, in fact. And it’s a good horror movie that also merges the revenge movie genre as well. But here’s where SUGAR HILL really takes the cake as it’s also a superhero origin story as well. SUGAR HILL takes four different genres and seamlessly blends them together and makes them work without a hitch or bump.

Diana Hill (Marki Bey) cautions her boyfriend to sell his club to a powerful gangster, Morgan, (Robert Quarry). When the boyfriend refuses, Morgan has him killed. In turn, Diana seeks the assistance of Voodoo Queen Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully). Mama Maitresse invokes Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley) The Lord of The Dead. Baron Samedi is tickled by the arrogance of Diana and agrees to help her, giving her power to raise up zombies to do her bidding. Diana uses the walking dead to gain her revenge on the Morgan and his crew.

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And that’s it. There’s not a whole lot of plot in this movie. Oh, there’s a tease of a subplot with a police detective named Valentine (Richard Lawson) investigating the mysterious murders of Morgan’s gangsters. He gets involved because it seems as if there’s a mysterious tall black man with striking eyes that just happens to be near whenever these guys gets killed. Now see, we know it’s Baron Samedi but Valentine doesn’t.

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Okay, so we got our Blaxploitation and our horror movie and our revenge movie elements. But where does the superhero element come in? Here it is:Whenever we see Diana Hill, she’s got straight processed hair and dressed in regular clothes and speaking in a nice, calm voice. But when she’s in her Sugar Hill, Queen of The Dead mode she’s sporting an Angela Davis ‘fro and wearing a white skintight jumpsuit showing off cleavage that Teresa Graves would be jealous off. And she speaks in a voice that would give Batman pause.

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And by the end of the movie, Baron Samedi passes on a gift to Sugar Hill that bestows upon her his power on Earth. She’s now the Queen of The Dead and can summon them to do her bidding. So there’s our superhero element.

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We’re not going to go into the acting of this movie as there really isn’t anybody to point to as a standout except for Richard Lawson and Don Pedro Colley. The two of them are always standouts in anything the do and they really shine in this one.

So should you see SUGAR HILL? Absolutely. When anybody asks me what Blaxploitation movies they should see, SUGAR HILL is always in the Top Ten. It’s a movie that embraces a lot of genres and it’s simply just a helluva fun movie to watch.

91 Minutes

Rated PG