Ghostbusters (2016)

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2016

Sony Pictures/LStar Capital/Village Roadshow Pictures/The Montecito Picture Company/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Paul Feig

Produced by Ivan Reitman/Amy Pascal

Written by Katie Dippold/Paul Feig

Based on the 1984 motion picture “Ghostbusters” Directed by Ivan Reitman and Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Particle Physicist Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) once completely believed in the supernatural and the paranormal due to her having experienced a haunting as a child. But now as an adult, a teacher at Columbia University and anxiously awaiting word on her tenure she’s more concerned with her standing and reputation in academia.

Which explains her hysteria when she learns that a book she co-wrote years ago with her then best friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has resurfaced and is being sold on Amazon. The book threatens her tenure so she goes to visit Abby and persuade her to take the book down. Abby is still researching the paranormal along with her partner, brilliant engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) who has the IQ of a Time Lord and the eccentricity to match. Abby agrees to take the book down if Erin will assist her on an investigation. The investigation fires up Erin’s belief in the supernatural again and gets the three of them fired from their teaching positions.

However this just gives them the excuse to open up shop as “The Department of Metaphysical Examination” (don’t worry, that name doesn’t last very long) above a dilapidated Chinese restaurant along with dim-witted himbo Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) as their secretary/receptionist/Man Friday. While the three scientists get to work building equipment to study and capture ghosts, MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) has some pretty frightening encounters with subway ghosts herself which lead to her contacting the three scientists and after discovering she enjoys the excitement and camaraderie, joins the team. She brings with her not only an encyclopedic knowledge and history of New York but transportation for the team, a hearse that Holtzmann lickedy-split pimps out into a custom ride to tote their equipment they dub “Ecto-1” and The Ghostbusters are born.

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And just in time because occultist Rowan North (Neil Casey) is planting devices all over Manhattan. Arcane devices that stimulate the mystic energies of ley lines that intersect at a key point, The Mercado Hotel in Times Square, itself a building with a grisly and horrendous history of paranormal activity. North’s purpose? Nothing less than to bring about The Apocalypse and rule a world of ghosts. Time to fire up those proton packs and save the world, ladies.

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The Ghostbusters Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones) in Columbia Pictures’ GHOSTBUSTERS.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: it’s a waste of time arguing if the 2016 GHOSTBUSTERS is better movie or even equal to 1984’s “Ghostbusters.” It’s like arguing about who the best James Bond is. It’s not fair to any of the other guys to compare them to Sean Connery because his performance is so iconic that there’s no way you can honestly and fairly put him up against anybody that followed him because they just can’t win. No way. (And watch how much feedback I get on this from the fans of George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.) Same thing with these two movies. The 1984 “Ghostbusters” is such a landmark that it has rightfully become a classic. It’s a damn near perfect movie in terms of balancing humor with horror, acting and story with imaginative verbal and visual jokes that are still gut-bustlingly hilarious today.

But here’s the thing; 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS doesn’t even try to go toe-to-toe with the earlier movie. We have the basic set-up and the familiar props such as the proton packs (along with new weapons based on the same technology). Ecto-1, the Ghostbusters logo and callbacks to the earlier movie such as the cold open where an innocent bystander just happens to encounter a malevolent spirit. And The Ghostbusters having their first major victory in capturing a ghost in a public place where everybody can see that ghosts are indeed real. So there’s an awful lot that’s familiar here. But everything else is brand new as far as the characters and the story is concerned and that was the best move the director and writers could have taken with the movie. These characters aren’t copies of the originals and we don’t get a rehash of a story we’ve seen before.

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I’ve got no problem with the acting. Kristen Wiig doesn’t know how to be anything but funny and she and Melissa McCarthy are a delight to watch work together. They have a number of scenes where they engage in humorous back-and-forth double-talk that I’m half-convinced they improvised. And I’m always happy when Melissa McCarthy doesn’t take the lazy way out and fall back on being The Funny Fat Girl as she’s way too funny for that to be her default comedy mode. Leslie Jones is more manic than her co-stars but that’s okay because we love it when Leslie Jones is manic and gets some of the movie’s biggest laughs as a result. Chris Hemsworth is nothing less than hilarious playing a big, dumb, good-looking hunk and you can tell he had a lot of fun in this movie.

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But it’s easily Kate McKinnon that walks off with the MVP award for this movie. She effortlessly steals every scene she’s in. Like I said earlier, Holtzmann must have the IQ of a Time Lord since she comes up with the wildest and coolest gizmos, gadgets and weapons with no trouble at all. Nothing The Ghostbusters encounter phases her, freaks her out or surprises. She, however, takes a manic delight in freaking everybody else out. Holtzmann is, more than any of the other characters cut out for this life. She’d be right at home with Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers, she’s just that cool.

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So should you see GHOSTBUSTERS? Absolutely. It’s not a remake at all. Re-Imagining is the best way to describe it and it’s done with respect and admiration for the original. It loves the original so much that it doesn’t try to be that movie and instead works hard at being it’s own movie and it succeeds. GHOSTBUSTERS is a welcome two hours of fun in what has been a dismal movie year. Go see and enjoy.

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116 Minutes

PG-13

The Legend of Tarzan

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2016

Village Roadshow Pictures/RatPac Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by David Yates

Produced by Jerry Wentraub/David Barron/Mike Richardson

Written by Adam Cozad/Craig Brewer

Based on the character “Tarzan” created by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Before I get into the review of THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, a bit of personal history. Some of you have heard this story before so bear with me a bit for the benefit of those who haven’t. I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs when I was in Junior High School but it wasn’t through his Tarzan books. I devoured his John Carter of Mars books, his Pellucidar and Venus series and historical novels such as “The Rider” “The Outlaw of Torn” “The Mucker.” I read his Tarzan much later on, mainly because they were reissued with gorgeous Neal Adams covers.

Once upon a time in the 1970s, I’m riding on the ‘G’ subway train home from school, reading a Tarzan novel. To this day I can’t recall which one it was even though every other detail of what happened on that train is still as fresh as if it happened today. Three grown men I didn’t know sat down next to me and demanded to know why I was reading a Tarzan book. They described it as “white man’s bullshit” and “racist garbage.” And that’s just about the only part of their descriptions I can relate to you and still keep this review clean. Just trust me when I say they were very colorful. One of the men was particularly vexed at me and loudly expressed his view that at the next stop he and his companions should bodily escort me off the train and give me the thrashing I so richly deserved. It was actually a lot more profane than that but again; I’m trying to keep it clean. I didn’t get thrashed but I will tell you this: it was a long time before I read a Tarzan book in public again.

But I did keep on reading Tarzan. Because I loved the way Burroughs told a story. Yes, I realized the racist elements in his Tarzan stories. But I also realized that if I cut myself off from his books I would be depriving myself of some truly excellent stories and characters. So I had to make a decision about how I would approach reading material (and movies and other works of art) that were created in a supposedly less enlightened time. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

So what has all this to do with THE LEGEND OF TARZAN? Because it’s a Tarzan movie that is rightly set in period and it’s kinda hard to do a Tarzan movie without Tarzan being The Great White Savior. It’s just that simple. The very DNA of Tarzan has racial biases and assumptions that have to be dealt with and not simply ignored. But I think that by putting Tarzan in a story where he mainly has to save Jane sidesteps the awkwardness of having him save African warriors who most certainly don’t need a Tarzan to save them. But I also do realize the image of Tarzan as such is still a polarizing one so a lot of people have no use for a Tarzan movie. Believe me, I understand.

In fact, when we meet Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), he doesn’t even want to be called Tarzan anymore. He’s fully embraced being John Clayton III aka Lord Greystoke and living in London with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). He’s asked by The House of Lords to return to Africa on a diplomatic mission on the invitation of King Leopold of Belgium to inspect the development of The Congo. He’s got no interest until he’s informed by the U.S. envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) that there’s a strong possibility Belgian mercenaries are enslaving the Congolese. Williams persuades John to accept Leopold’s invitation and take Williams along so that Williams can find the evidence needed to stop Leopold. John agrees and of course, Jane goes along as well since unless we have her kidnapped by the bad guy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) we don’t have a plot.

Rom is working with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) leader of a savage tribe guarding the location of the fabulous diamonds of Opar. Mbonga agrees to give Rom diamonds in exchange for Tarzan since Mbonga seeks revenge on Tarzan. So once Rom kidnaps Jane, we’re off and running since the movie’s taken a considerable amount of time setting up the situation and the relationship between the characters so we can get into the jungle action, right?

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Right. There’s a considerable lot of it that comes our way. With the kinda stuff we expect to see in a Tarzan movie: Tarzan swinging through the trees, hanging out with apes. I would have liked to see Tarzan fighting a lion or leopard, though. Or riding an elephant. And it’s unforgivable that not once does he let out with the classic Tarzan yell. Oh, we do hear a version of it, but c’mon. Tarzan’s yell is like Batman’s Batsignal or Superman’s ‘S’ symbol. It’s who he is.

Alexander Skarsgard is solid as Tarzan. He does interesting things with his body language and the way he holds his arms and uses his hands that I’ve never before seen an actor in a Tarzan movie do. And I like the way that as the movie goes on, John Clayton sheds more and more of his Western garb as he reclaims more and more of his savage heritage. In fact, the movie could easily be subtitled; “How Tarzan Gets His Groove Back” since it quickly becomes obvious to John Clayton that maybe he’s allowed himself to become too civilized and he’s got to get back to what he really is in order to save his wife.

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Margot Robbie is a lot of fun to watch as Jane and she and Samuel L. Jackson strike the right note with their characters and realize they’re in a jungle adventure movie so they should be having fun while doing so. Jackson’s character is based on the real-life soldier, lawyer, adventurer and journalist George Washington Williams and is an interesting enough character to deserve his own movie. Especially when you do your homework and find out that Williams actually did expose Belgium’s exploitations and slavery of Congolese natives and resources. It’s grating indeed to see him as the comedy relief when you know the background of the real-life Williams and Jackson’s performance takes a little getting used to as he’s pretty much playing a modern day black man in the 19th century but since he’s Sam Jackson, we forgive him. And in a movie that takes itself so seriously, a laugh here or there is badly needed.

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If there’s a major disappointment here acting wise, it’s Christoph Waltz. This is his second performance as a villain that has bored me. There’s nothing particularly memorable about Rom who doesn’t seem very interested in his own plans and schemes and if the villain can’t get excited about his own villainy then why should I?

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So should you see THE LEGEND OF TARZAN? Only if you’re going to see it purely as an action-adventure movie. Because the movie works it’s money-maker off to be just that. It does it’s best to give us a Tarzan that is true to the spirit of the character Edgar Rice Burroughs created while still being sensitive to modern day audiences. It’s a noble effort for what is just supposed to be a summer action movie. I enjoyed it but I fully realize that most people can’t say: ‘It’s just a movie,” and go with it. It has amazing locations, impressive action sequences, excellent special effects and plenty of Alexander Skarsgard’s truly impressive musculature that the ladies will no doubt enjoy.

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Rated PG-13

110 Minutes

 

 

 

 

Stripes

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1981

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Ivan Reitman

Produced by Daniel Goldberg/Ivan Reitman

Written by Len Blum/Harold Ramis/Daniel Goldberg

Ask most people what they consider THE Definitive Bill Murray Comedy and you’re going to get many answers. Some will go all the way back to “Meatballs.” A whole lot will say “Caddyshack” or “Ghostbusters.” A lot more will say “Scrooged” or “Groundhog Day.” Then you’ll have those that will cite “Rushmore” or “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Seeing as how I’m not a fan of either one of those we’ll just push on.

But if you were to ask me what my definitive Bill Murray Comedy is, I’d always answer with STRIPES. Why? Maybe because it appeals a whole lot to who I was back in 1981 when I saw the movie. I was irreverent, foolhardy, undisciplined and more than a bit of a total asshole which is exactly what the John Winger character that Bill Murray plays in this movie is. So I identified a lot with that. But it’s also more than that. STRIPES is a superior comedy that highlights the team of Bill Murray and Harold Ramis to their comedic utmost. I mean that everything these cats do in this movie is funny. STRIPES is one of those rare comedy movies that just doesn’t run out of steam. The longer it goes on, the funnier it gets. And it’s the best kind of comedy. The kind in which we’re laughing with the characters and the situations they get into and not at them.

John Winger (Bill Murray) loses his job, his girl and his apartment all in the same day and on an impulse decides to join The Army and be all the best that he can be. His best friend Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) joins up with him because he’s that Best of Best Friends: the one that will totally and completely assist you in making a stupid mistake.

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Winger and Ziskey are a little older than your usual recruit so they’re not as down with the gung-ho attitude of their younger platoon mates (John Candy, John Diehl and Judge Reinhold). And Winger soon finds himself in serious contention with their drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates) who is having his own problem with the platoon’s new commanding officer, the supremely incompetent Captain Stillman (John Larroquette). But Winger and Ziskey soon find the rigors of basic training softened by their blatantly sexual relationships with female MPs Hansen (P.J. Soles) and Cooper (Sean Young).

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Through a series of misadventures I would not dream of revealing here just in case you have never seen STRIPES (and if you haven’t then what is wrong with you?) Winger, Ziskey, Hansen and Cooper find themselves in the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle, which is basically a tank designed as a family RV invading Czechoslovakia to rescue Captain Stillman and their platoon who themselves mistakenly invaded Czechoslovakia thinking that Winger and Ziskey were Russian spies. Look, just watch the movie, okay?

I truly enjoy watching Bill Murray at work in every single scene in this movie. Not only is he as funny as we expect him to be in the funny scenes but there are actually a couple of scenes where we see flashes of the dramatic actor we would see in later movies such as “Lost In Translation” “Get Low” and “Hyde Park On Hudson.” I really like how Harold Ramis ended up with the Hot Chick in this movie instead of his co-star. And STRIPES is the movie that will make you wish that he and Murray had co-starred in a lot more movies. In this movie he shows how he was truly the perfect foil and balance for Murray’s type of humor.

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What else can I say about STRIPES? There’s Warren Oates and his understated performance as Sergeant Hulka. Oates is funny here because most of the time he’s on screen he’s not trying to be funny. But when he is trying, he knows how to sell the scene. And he knows how to play dramatic in a comedy movie such as in the scene where he and Murray have a confrontation in a bathroom. The scene isn’t played for laughs and in the context of what we have come to know about the two characters and their relationship to each other, it works. John Candy and John Diehl have some great scenes together that I enjoyed a lot because I know from interviews I’ve read and seen with him I think I have a good sense of how smart John Diehl is and I appreciate that you have to be really smart to plat really dumb. The Classic “Army Training, SIR!” scene where Murray and his platoon totally kick all kinds of ass in drill techniques in front of the Army brass.

The bottom line is this: I consider STRIPES to be one of the smartest and funniest comedies to have come out of the 1980s. You want to see Classic Bill Murray at his best, watch this one.

106 Minutes

Rated R

 

 

 

Free State of Jones

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2015

IM Global/STX Entertainment

Screenplay written and directed by Gary Ross

Produced by Scott Stuber/Gary Ross/Jon Kilik

Story by Leonard Hartman

I’m a huge fan of summer movie season counter programming. I appreciate film studios that realize not everybody wants to see CGI heavy superhero blockbusters, sci-fi spectacles or hyper violent action movies. So they’ll throw out movies that are for audiences who maybe want a little more meat on their cinematic bones to chew on. So you think that FREE STATE OF JONES would be a slam dunk to draw in audiences. Well, reportedly it’s not and after having seen it for myself I know why. This movie wouldn’t have drawn in audiences no matter what season of the year it was shown. Matthew McConaughey gives it his all along with solid supporting work from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali and Keri Russell but it’s just not enough to sell the story which is at best rambling and at worst, downright confusing.

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Matthew McConaughey (center) and Mahershala Ali (center left) star in THE FREE STATE OF JONES

In the middle of the horrendous hell that is one of the most brutal and savage battles of the Civil War, Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) watches as his son is killed. Knight promptly deserts from the Confederate Army and returns to his home in Jones County, Mississippi, hiding out in the swamp with other deserters and runaway slaves. Knight gradually becomes aware of the outrages committed against local farmers whose crops and livestock are stolen by the army who leave the rich plantations unmolested. Knight organizes the deserters, slaves and farmers into a very effective guerrilla militia and their reprisals against the Confederates cause such carnage that the Confederates actually have to turn their attention from the Union Army to try to deal with this threat.

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Knight attempts to make a deal with the Union Army that is rebuffed and so, feeling as if he and his people have been abandoned by both sides, establishes the Free State of Jones. At least for about two minutes of screen time and then it’s quickly forgotten. Which left me disappointed as I found the concept of this truly ragtag and highly unlikely band of founding fathers attempting to form their own independent state amidst the turmoil of the Civil War a highly fascinating one. And like many fascinating stories, this one is based on events that actually happened. Indeed, a man named Newton Knight led a band of Confederate army deserters known as The Knight Company that fought against the Confederacy during the Civil War. Now that’s the story I wanted to see.

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Unfortunately, FREE STATE OF JONES settles for being just another Great White Savior Movie as most of the movie’s running time is taken up with Knight establishing a post Civil War mixed-race community and his relationships with his black wife Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and his white wife Serena (Keri Russell). Some obligatory runtime is given to his friendship with Moses Washington (Mahershala Ali) an ex-slave who becomes Knight’s right-hand man and later on is instrumental in organizing free blacks to vote. There’s also an unnecessary subplot taking place 85 years after the events of the movie as one of Knight’s descendants finds himself in court defending his right to marry a white woman. The movie jumps all over the place and there are way too many scenes that start promisingly and then go nowhere. They just end abruptly and go onto something else, leaving me sitting there saying; “Wha hoppen?”

Despite the strong acting of McConaughey, Mbatha-Raw, Russell and Ali, the movie lacks energy and drive. Most of the cast we never really get to know at all and there’s far too many scenes of McConaughey standing around looking pained and heartbroken at the various injustices being committed against his black friends who he has come to love and acknowledge as his extended family. FREE STATE OF JONES is a movie with a lot of potential that left me frustrated as there’s actually a great story in there that should be told and I hope that someday it will be. Wait for this one to show up on Netflix or some other streaming service.

139 Minutes

Rated R

 

 

 

 

The Fallen

 

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2015 

Directed by Alex Popov

Written by Bradford James Jackson

YouTube is a trap. You and I both know it. How many times have we gone to YouTube just to look up one video and ten hours later we come up for air, having totally lost ourselves in just watching one video or movie after another? And with good reason. The amount of really good stuff to watch on YouTube considerably outweighs the crap. And Odin knows there is well and truly a whole lot of crap on there.

But that’s if you only want to watch crap. And there’s a lot of people who deliberately seek out the worst stuff to watch. But that’s them. Me, I’d rather spend my time watching good stuff and when I get a recommendation to watch something like THE FALLEN it makes me appreciate YouTube all the more.

On a ragged, blood-soaked plain in Scandinavia, 613 A.D. two bands of rival Vikings clash in savage combat. The winners survive at a high cost; their king is sorely injured and they face a long and difficult trip home across cruel, wintery mountains. The Vikings make a litter for their king and set out on their journey. They run across a strange metallic object that one of their number claims is a Valkyrie come to take them to Valhalla. The metallic object opens and what emerges from it is a being who will indeed send the Vikings to Valhalla but is certainly not a Valkyrie.

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It doesn’t take long before you realize that what we have here is pretty much “Vikings Vs. Predator” as the alien creature begins to hunt the Vikings who in turn decide to hunt the alien right back. The conflict that ensues is horrifically, even gleefully violent. It’s also entertaining as hell.

THE FALLEN is listed as a “proof of concept” short film. My understanding is that such films are made to generate interest and perhaps spark funding for longer, feature length versions of the short film. And THE FALLEN does end with a teaser that could indeed lead into a longer movie. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to see badass Vikings with swords and battle axes taking on high-tech alien warriors?

The special effects and production values are the real stars of this short film. That’s not to say that actors aren’t good at what they do but let’s face it, in a 20 minutes short film you don’t have a lot of time to build deep, meaningful characterization. Most of the Vikings are there to get killed in deliriously gory ways. The special effects are quite imaginative and surprisingly sophisticated as is the costuming and location shooting. You can see that the people who worked on this movie truly and honestly cared about what they were doing.

I’ve provided a link so that you can check it out for yourself if you’re so inclined. And with a 20 minutes running time I think you will be. I’ve never heard of Alex Popov before but he’s a director to watch. He knows how to direct action and he knows how to direct quiet, thoughtful scenes as well. There’s a scene with the Vikings sitting around a campfire talking about their situation and their dying king that manages to do quite a lot in a short amount of time. THE FALLEN is an impressive piece of work and everybody associated with it should be proud.

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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