Movie Review ~ Endings, Beginnings


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A Los Angeles woman unlocks the secrets to her life after meeting two handsome best friends at a party.

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Jamie Dornan, Sebastian Stan, Wendie Malick, Matthew Gray Gubler, Lindsay Sloane, Ben Esler, Shamier Anderson, Kyra Sedgwick

Director: Drake Doremus

Rated: NR

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  When I was growing up, if I disappointed them the most crushing thing my parents could say to me was “We love you, we just don’t like you right now.”  Even though it still reaffirmed that they cared for me (and my parents were awesome and endlessly supportive through my many flights of fancy) and highlighted that my actions had an impact on how people perceived me, losing that bit of luster even for a moment was heartbreaking.  While movie characters aren’t quite on the same level as letting down your family, I found that phrase popping up often while watching Endings, Beginnings.  I truly like most of the actors in the film, I just didn’t like any of their characters.

It’s the story of Daphne (Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars), a California artist moving back into the pool house of her sister and brother-in-law after breaking up with her latest boyfriend.  You get the sense she made the decision to end things but is already having second thoughts because she can’t quite get him (or a hazy encounter with another unidentified man) out of her mind for much of the film.  Deciding to go cold turkey on men and alcohol for six months, she looks for work but finds it hard to stay away from her vices for long.

That’s when she meets two men in quick succession.  Jack (Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades Freed) is a slick success story that charms the side of Daphne that craves stability while the handsomely rumpled Frank (Sebastain Stan, I, Tonya) meets her needs for satisfying love without deeper emotion.  Both, on their own, might not be all that she is looking for but together they provide a yin and yang that leaves her feeling whole.  Writer/director Drake Doremus (Like, Crazy, Equals) gives this modern love triangle a few sharp edges but the crux of the decisions Daphne has to make tend toward the soap operatic the more involved she gets with both men.

For a time, Endings, Beginnings creates a dreamy mood that invites you into Daphne’s world and that’s due in large part to Woodley’s charisma which continues to shine through.  Though she’s never been as good as she was in her star-making turn in 2011’s The Descendants (WHY didn’t she get an Oscar nomination, I ask you?), she has a good showing here even making the semi-improvised dialogue not sound like remnants from an acting class exercise.  The longer the movie goes on, though, the less you relate to the character because she stops being somebody real and morphs into a creation that could only happen in the movies.

As the men in her life, Dornan and Stan provide at least some interesting stakes for her to gamble on, even if they seem to exist only to get her to hop off the wagon of no men and no drinking.  That they actively push her to drink and don’t always respect her boundaries is a little off-putting, to be honest, and feels just a tad antiquated in a film as modern as this purports to be.  In small supporting turns (too small for my taste), Wendie Malick (Scrooged) has a few nice scenes as Daphne’s mom and the always reliable Kyra Sedgwick (Man on a Ledge) shows up as a friend in Daphne’s weekly art clutch.  I’m so used to seeing Malick playing vamp-y women that it was a nice change of pace to find her so restrained and while Sedgwick’s character seems designed only to spout sage advice and then disappear, at least she breaks up the monotony of scenes with Daphne and her men.

One more thing before I go.  I don’t know why I noticed this but the amount of smoking in this movie was absolutely obscene.  I’ve never mentioned this in any review before because it hasn’t been something that’s caught my eye but I swear I could smell smoke emanating from the screen at times because there are so many cigarettes consumed ad nauseam by Daphne, Jack, and Frank.  It’s used so much, I half expected it to be a plot device later in the movie…spoiler alert…it’s not.  I guess I just find it surprising that a filmmaker in 2020 would choose to feature this vice so prominently when it isn’t essential to any character or plot element.

For Woodley’s performance, I would give this a cautious recommendation with the caveat that the film gets markedly weaker as it goes along before completely disintegrating.  Here’s hoping Woodley gets another chance soon to play a mature character like this and can sink her teeth into a script that meets her step for step – she’s obviously willing to go the distance in her performance.  Now let’s get her something solid to work with.

Movie Review ~ Avengers: Endgame


The Facts
:

Synopsis: After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War, the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos’ actions and restore order to the universe.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sebastian Stan

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 181 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review: My advice right off the bat for all of you planning on seeing Avengers: Endgame is not just to avoid spoilers but to avoid any liquids for several hours before the show. This will save you the hard decision on when is the best time to run to the bathroom and let you fully enjoy this grand finale from the creative minds at Marvel Studios. After 22 films and more than 10 years, the time has come to finally close the book on the Marvel Cinematic Univerise as we currently know it. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly more stories to be told and countless movies to be made but there won’t ever be a time when all of the characters we have come to know and love (and maybe not care for at all) will be in the same film at the same time.

While this review will not contain any spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, it’s hard to discuss this movie without giving away key plot points from 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. Read on with confidence that your enjoyment of Avengers: Endgame isn’t going to be spoiled in advance.

First, a refresher.

At the end of Avengers: Infinity War the big purple baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin, Oldboy) had achieved his goal of gathering the six infinity stones and used them to wipe out half of the population on earth. With a snap of his fingers, Thanos “dusted” some of our beloved characters who were part of the unlucky 50% that were collateral damage in a misguided attempt at population control. As seen in subsequent films Ant-Man and The Wasp and Captain Marvel, no one was spared with people either turning into particles carried away on the air or left behind to mourn their fallen loved ones.

Avengers: Endgame starts so casually (the Marvel Studios logo and title card appear at well-timed points later) that I wasn’t even sure the movie had begun. It’s like the days when you had a double-VHS to watch and just popped in the tape and things picked up right where you left off. Suddenly, you’re just back in it like a whole year hadn’t passed since the last movie ended. Picking up with a character we haven’t seen in some time, the movie quickly moves forward in establishing where our heroes are and takes its time in bringing them back together again.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have wisely been given the time to really explore the lasting effects on all who remain and convey to us their feeling of loss. Just like audience members were left all torn up after the snap from Thanos, so too are these super men and women who don’t know how to move on from the tragedy. While much of the 181 minute run time is devoted to amazing action sequences and visual effects that represent the tippy top of quality yet seen in these films, there’s almost an equal amount of space given to continue to give these comic book characters a dramatic arc that feel completely earned at this point.

The film kicks into high gear when an Avenger feels like they’ve figured out the key to identifying what happened to the people that disappeared…and gathers the group together for a final mission that will take them to places, emotions, and alternate dimensions heretofore unexplored. Much the way the previous film found a creative method in pairing up the Avengers to divide and conquer, directors Anthony and Joe Russo juggle multiple storylines without ever letting things fall by the wayside or allowing audiences to get ahead of the action. Two hours into the movie and I still had no idea how it was all going to end.

End it does, though, and with the kind of rousing action and developments that feel just even if they sting.   Every fan has a theory of who will survive until the credits and who might emerge as a new leader but I would say that you shouldn’t go into the movie trying to figure out how things will wrap up. Stay present in the moment and leave it to the writers and directors because they have your ultimate best interest (and entertainment) at heart.

As has been the case over the entire series of films, the impressive cast roster is what truly sets the Marvel films apart. Leading the pack is Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge) as Tony Stark/Iron Man. We’ve seen Tony grow from cocky businessman to cocky hero to cocky recruiter of future Avengers and his investment in this last film is right up there with his all-time best work. The character could easily have become abrasive and unlikable but Downey has always managed to keep him just ever so slightly on the tolerable edge as tough but lovable. There’s also good work from Chris Evans (The Iceman) who we’ve seen become a leading man before our eyes. Evans wasn’t always the most interesting actor in films but he’s shown such growth since he first took up Captain America’s shield that you know that whether he continues with the films or not (I’m not telling!) he’ll have another career in films where he isn’t always in battle with foes from space.

Continued good work from Chris Hemsworth (Rush) as Thor shows how the actor came back from having a character start off shaky until he finally found his rhythm and made the Norse god something memorable and unexpectedly funny. After two previous Hulks failed to make the role their own, I’m eternally grateful that Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) was enlisted to take over way back in The Avengers. And if you can’t get enough of Scarlett Johansson’s (Under the Skin) Black Widow and her ever changing hairstyles you won’t have to wait too long as a standalone origin film centered on her and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, Tag) is about to go into production.

As for the rest of the supporting players, you can’t throw a gummi bear at the screen without hitting another familiar face that pops up from an earlier film – most are expected sights to be seen but there are a few nice surprises along the way. I don’t want to mention any of them but will let you pick out your favorites along the way. Even from a filmmaking perspective, this is a great looking movie that has been composed with care featuring excellent performances. There’s a somber shot near the end of the movie that calls back to that first amazing camera work in The Avengers which managed to capture all our heroes in one long swoop of action.

Filled with rousing moments (I almost got out of my seat and started jumping up and down for joy in one goose-bump inducing scene) and peppered with gasp-inducing twists that will likely have you reaching for your Kleenex, the emotional payoff in the last 45 minutes is equal to anything I can recall from the last decade. Yeah, it’s easy to dismiss this as another superhero movie in a long-standing franchise that will make billions of dollars but this is something more robust, more special.  There’s no denying that everyone involved knows they have a responsibility and shows great respect for each loose end that is tied up. It may have taken over twenty films to wrap up those loose ends but the wait was ultimately worth it. I just look forward to see what happens next.

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Phase One
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Phase Two
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ant-Man (2015)

Phase Three
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Black Panther (2018)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
Captain Marvel (2019)
Avengers; Endgame (2019)

Phase Four
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

The Silver Bullet ~ Destroyer (2018)

Synopsis: A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace.

Release Date: December 25, 2018

Thoughts: Wow, Nicole Kidman continues to just be on a roll. It’s so interesting to see this actress continue to grow and flourish with each year, constantly surprising audiences with her choices and performances.  Her bets may not always pan out but her films are never not worth noting.  Coming out of its debut at several fall film fests, the buzz for Destroyer is that it’s another strong performance from Kidman (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) in an otherwise troubled film but this first look has got me hooked to know more.  Directed by Karyn Kusama (check out her spooky The Invitation on Netflix pronto!) and co-starring Sebastian Stan (I, Tonya) and Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), it’s another transformative role for Kidman and one I’m quite intrigued to see.

Movie Review ~ Avengers: Infinity War


The Facts
:

Synopsis: The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Sebastian Stan, Don Cheadle, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Pom Klementieff, Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong, Sean Gunn, Tom Holland, Josh Brolin, Idris Elba, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Benicio Del Toro, Karen Gillan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Peter Dinklage

Director: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 156 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: The ultimate villain of Avengers: Infinity War is going to be anyone that spoils what happens in this all-star extravaganza, the culmination of 19 films over 10 years that have made up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a true believer in the power of a spoiler-free experience, I’m reluctant to even talk too much about the movie here, lest I give away even a whiff of the game-changing developments worked up by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. However further you venture to read, know that Avengers: Infinity War may be the first toll of a bell signaling the end of an era but there’s still a few clangs yet to ring out.

With the action picking up two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the film wastes no time in diving into the action as big baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice) continues his quest to procure six Infinity Stones by any means necessary. With two stones in his possession by the time the title card is displayed, you get the distinct impression that Thanos isn’t going to be defeated easily no matter what brand of superhero gang sets about to stop him. Sending minions to Earth to gather stones protected by Vision (Paul Bettany, Transcendence) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, August: Osage County), Thanos searches for the remaining gems in truly out of this world locations.

If Thanos secures all six stones in his gauntlet he’ll have power over the entire universe and be able to wipe out half the population with the snap of his very large and in charge fingers.   Never fear, though, because according to Marvel there are about 64 main characters featured and while not all of them get as much screen time as you’d think, there is often more than enough action to go around. Markus and McFeely concoct some believable ways to separate the various heroes as they unite to stop Thanos from achieving his goal. Even better, the combos of who is working with whom are surprising and often quite entertaining…but in an effort to maintain some suspense, you’ll have to see the movie to find out who teams up.

With the exception of two notable stars (again…not telling) the gang is all here, down to supporting players that haven’t been seen for a while. Even if A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow (Thanks for Sharing) get limited screen time it’s nice to see these familiar faces along the way because their appearances act like mini Easter eggs, rewarding the actors as well as devoted audience members. Arriving a little over two months after Black Panther smashed all box office records, it would have been easy to do what Justice League did after the success of Wonder Woman and give a bit more attention to a breakout star like T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, Get on Up) but the filmmakers wisely keep things level.

The main stars that anchor the action are Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., The Judge), Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Vacation), and Quill (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World) with some nice supporting turns from Captain America (Chris Evans, The Iceman), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher). In hindsight, it feels like the popular Guardians of the Galaxy are favored in the action ever so slightly more than a few of the veteran Avengers but watching the movie in the moment there is a greater feeling of equity. There’s little room for new characters to be introduced and when they are, like Peter Dinklage’s (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) painfully serious but ultimately silly turn, it feels like time is being taken away from the people we want to see.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have stuffed this prize package with an abundance of get-your-moneys-worth riches, from eye popping visual effects to spectacularly pitched action sequences. The finale is a showstopper, an all-out blitzkrieg assault that takes place in multiple places with numerous characters and still it’s never hard to follow what’s going on. It takes a special hand to guide these types of action set-pieces and their fourth film for Marvel has the Russo Brothers finding full scale power in their directing. That style in direction marries nicely with Trent Opaloch’s (Elysium) stunning cinematography that isn’t overrun by the dynamite visual effects. Alan Silvestri’s (The Croods) score is, as always, instantly recognizable and eternally heroic.

Do yourself a favor and get your bathroom breaks out before the film starts because at 156 minutes from start to finish it’s a commitment. You can’t afford to miss much, though, so even a well-timed pee break might set you back, especially in the last ten minutes. As with all Marvel movies, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t leave until the final credit has disappeared because there’s only one post-credit scene and it’s at the very end. Missing this one in particular would be a mistake.

The next Avengers movie is set for release in May 2019 and by that time two more Marvel films will have seen the light of day (Ant-Man and the Wasp in July and Captain Marvel in March 2019). Not every question is resolved by the end of Avengers: Infinity War and I’m more than interested to see what gets answered between now and next year…just do yourself a favor and see this one before anyone can spoil what happens. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…or that I let the cat out of the bag either.

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Phase One
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Phase Two
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ant-Man (2015)

Phase Three
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Black Panther (2018)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Movie Review ~ I, Tonya


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.

Stars: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Mckenna Grace, Bojana Novakovic, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Walter Hauser

Director: Craig Gillespie

Rated: R

Running Length: 120 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  As I triple-axel my way ever closer to middle age, I’ve started to notice something all-together irritating.  Recently I’ve begun to see that movies based on real events have become less of an educational opportunity for me but more of a memory-jogging excursion into my teenage years.  Yes, I’m getting so old that I can actually remember where I was when Princess Diana died, when O.J. Simpson took that famous joyride in the white Bronco, and I definitely, 100% remember where I was during the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. Like most of America, I was glued to the tube watching not just the stunning athleticism on display but wondering how the drama of the previous months was going to play out.  We’ll get back to that because while ardent fans will remember who skated their way to the gold, silver, and bronze this is, after all, a spoiler-free blog and the events leading up to these Olympic games are the climax of I, Tonya.

I’ll admit going into I, Tonya with a little prejudice not just toward its subject but also it’s star.  Over the years the name Tonya Harding was equated with the horrible attack on her colleague and competitor Nancy Kerrigan.  While the tabloids were busy painting Harding as an evil conspirator, the makers of I, Tonya (including star and executive producer Margot Robbie) are more interested in showing the genesis of the famed figure skater, her struggle to the top, and her mighty (and maybe ultimately unjustified) fall from grace.

Framed by a series of interviews inspired by the words of the actual people involved, I, Tonya takes a while to stand on its own.  At first the narrative device gives the film a cheapness that isn’t helped by stars Robbie (as Harding) and Sebastian Stan (as her ex-husband Jeff Gilloly) laboring under some troublesome make-up, wigs, and facial hair to age them into their early ‘40s.  It’s when writer Steven Rogers (Love the Coopers) and director Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours) do away with the tell vs. show method and cease with the random breaking of the fourth wall that the movie scores major points and takes on a life of its own.

Skating through Harding’s early years as a child phenom pushed by her chain-smoking foul-mouthed domineering monster mother LaVona (Allison Janney, The Way Way Back) into her adolescence and early marriage to the abusive Gilloly, all of the standard biopic bases are covered.  Harding comes from less than ideal circumstances and soon learns that handmade costumes and skating programs set to rock music aren’t going to win her a place in the hearts of the judges.  Looking for a more wholesome specimen to represent the world at the Olympics, the judges score Harding lower than her peers even though it’s well known she could skate rings around them.  There’s two great scenes where Harding confronts the judges, one ends with Harding hurling a gem of vulgarity and the other that makes you feel even more sorry for the young woman that just wants to be recognized for her ability, not her perceived personality shortcomings.

Harding was surrounded by people that wanted her to succeed not for her benefit but for theirs above all else.  LaVona looks to her daughter to be the bread-winner and save her from her life as a waitress, Gilloly obsessively loved his wife but couldn’t handle her need for independence after being brow-beaten by her mother and abandoned by her father.  Then there’s Gilloly’s friend and Harding’s bodyguard Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) who hatches a jokey plan for psychological warfare on Harding’s foes that ultimately became the plot to injure Kerrigan.

I’ve struggled mightily with Robbie ever since she broke onto the scene in The Wolf of Wall Street and there’s always a feeling of potential that’s never fully embraced.  While she received much attention for her role as Harley Quinn in the odious Suicide Squad and biffed it earlier in 2017 with Goodbye Christopher Robin, here she made me a believer in the accolades she’s garnered for playing Harding.  Early scenes feel awkward as the Australian Robbie adopts a trailer trash slack drawl but she eventually finds her groove, leading to a supremely satisfying turn in the final ¼ of the movie.  There’s a short scene with her attempting to put on her game face (literally) in a mirror that alone should get her an Oscar nomination.

Robbie’s ably supported by Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Janney, the latter of which goes all out as a nightmare of a woman that doesn’t have a motherly instinct in her body.  Her justification of why she behaves the way she does toward her daughter is hysterical, enlightening, and very very sad.  Playing her first coach and one of her only true allies, Julianne Nicholson (August: Osage County) is also a strong presence in the film.  Though Robbie and Janney are getting the awards attention, for my money Hauser’s dimwit bodyguard is the one that needs a bigger spotlight for his deliriously droll performance.  It may look easy to do but his excellent timing and perfectly pitched physicality is more memorable for me than anything else.

It’s not all rosy for I, Tonya though.  Relying on some wince-inducing soundtrack choices that are far too on the nose, Gillespie throttles into his audience with too many asides to cameras and leaps back and forth in time.  While Robbie can skate, the scenes where she’s recreating Harding’s famously difficult performances are done using a double with Robbie’s face unconvincingly digitally inserted over the stand-in.  This never, ever, looks good and too often produces laughs as it seems Robbie’s face and the skater’s body are playing two different emotions.

Yet for all its wobbly construction issues I was left reeling by the committed performances and that’s what pushes this one ahead into something worth seeking out.  I’m almost positive this is the best we’ll see Robbie for a while so I’d advise to strike while the iron’s hot and see what all the fuss is about.  While Janney is wonderfully acerbic, I’d favor Laurie Metcalf’s equally troubling mother in Lady Bird over this performance if I was forced to choose in an Oscar pool.  This one might not get a perfect score, but in uncovering more about Harding than most people have seen, it gets top marks.

The Silver Bullet ~ I, Tonya

Synopsis: Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.

Release Date: December 8, 2017

Thoughts: Well this looks like a wild ride. The brouhaha surrounding the infamous conspiracy involving figure skater Tonya Harding’s involvement in the injury of her competitor Nancy Kerrigan was the stuff of tabloid dreams.  Over the years Harding has faded from the public eye but  I, Tonya aims to drudge up events that have been on ice for some time.  Directed by Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours), while the movie looks like a black comedy at its bleakest and darkest (I get shades of Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, no?), I’ve already heard buzz that it’s one you’re either going to get a huge kick out of or feel like you need a shower after to wash away the mean grime the film leaves on you.  I’m still nowhere near sold on the overall impact of Margot Robie (Exhibit A: Goodbye Christopher Robin) but if the Oscar rumors are true about co-star Allison Janney (Minions) then all shall be forgiven…for now.

Movie Review ~ Captain America: Civil War

captain_america_civil_war_ver18
The Facts
:

Synopsis: Political interference in the Avengers’ activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.

Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl, Tom Holland, Marisa Tomei

Director: Anthony & Joe Russo

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 146 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: With the release of Captain America: Civil War we’re now 13 movies deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and no one would blame you if you think all the Marvel films are starting to blend into one another.  Before taking in the screening of CA:CW I was chatting with a friend, mentally trying to put together what events happened in which film and who was introduced when. I’m not as devout a fanboy to pull the connections out of thin air so it took me a while and in all honesty to full enjoy the offerings in CA:CW you’ll want to go back and re-watch 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I made the mistake of not revisiting the earlier films and paid the price, too often playing catch-up.

So let’s just assume you’re up to speed with the goings on involving our superheroes, namely Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, The Iceman), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., The Judge), & Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Her).  Opening with a boffo action/chase sequence that finds Captain America, Black Widow, Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Godzilla), and Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain) stopping the theft of an infectious disease, the group winds up inadvertently bringing about the deaths of innocent civilians.  The ramifications for their mission, compounded by the previous massive destruction seen at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron is cause for the US Government (led by a mostly awake William Hurt, The Doctor) to step in, attempting to regulate the Avengers with the help of the United Nations.

While most of the team is willing to go along with being governed, Captain America is wary of signing his name for fear of being unable to help whomever and whenever he pleases (and interesting reversal for a man once used as wartime propaganda).  When his friend Bucky Barns (Sebastian Stan, Ricki and the Flash), aka the Winter Soldier, is possibly framed for a bombing at a peaceful meeting of foreign dignitaries, Captain America goes against his fellow Avengers and sets out to clear Bucky’s name while avoiding his former allies.  Add into that some secrets from the past that link Iron Man to the Winter Soldier and a mysterious man (Daniel Brühl, Rush) with a bone to  pick with our heroes,  and you have a globe-hopping film that alternates between vengeance and allegiance.

I’m not going to lie, there’s a whole lot going on here but directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (returning to the director’s chair after Captain America: The Winter Soldier and getting ready to direct the final two-part Avengers finale) and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely manage to juggle the characters, action, and multiple plotlines with striking ease.  Even Joss Whedon, who so memorably delivered The Avengers with nice complexity, couldn’t produce a follow-up that flowed as well as CA:CW does.

You may not remember every little Easter Egg that pops up and the action scenes may be slightly overwhelming but it’s never a chore to keep up with the pace.  Okay, it’s about 15 minutes too long (it’s the longest Marvel film to date) and the performances tend to be on the stoically self-aware side (especially from Downey Jr. who seems to be going after a special Oscar for eye acting) but it’s the kind of crowd-pleasing adventure that audiences went looking for in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

What’s nice to report here too is that some of the most exciting parts of the film haven’t been spoiled in trailers…in fact some sequences from the trailers have been edited to REMOVE spoiler characters and developments.  Marvel has a way with the element of giddy unexpected surprises and there are several neat-o secrets waiting for you.

Aside from the actors mentioned above, special shout-outs go to Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up) as Black Panther and Tom Holland (The Impossible) as Spider-Man.  A reboot of a reboot of Spider-Man was of little interest to me but Holland’s introduction gives my Spidey senses hope that another take on the web slinging hero isn’t the worst idea in the world. If the character feels like a late addition to the mix, it’s because the deal to bring Spider-Man over to Marvel from his home at Sony didn’t happen until the eleventh hour, necessitating some obvious Spidey shoe-horning to take place. Boseman, as an African prince seeking justice for a fallen family member, is a cool addition to the group and a post-credit scene (the first of two) gives us a small idea of where he may turn up next.  Jeremy Renner’s (The Bourne Legacy) Hawkeye, Don Cheadle’s (Flight) War Machine, Paul Bettany’s (Mortdecai) Vision, and Paul Rudd’s (Wanderlust) Scott Lang/Ant-Man all have their moment of glory though this is ultimately Captain America’s movie so enjoy them while they’re there (especially Rudd’s cameo which is better than a lot of Ant-Man).

With the uptick of comic book movies arriving in theaters, a small backlash is developing and I think it’s mostly out of overall fatigue.  With each new Marvel movie, it’s becoming almost a necessity to go back and review everything that came before…something that’s good for movie theaters and their marathon screenings but bad for audiences that don’t have the time to devote hours and hours to do their homework.  Recent failures like 2015’s Fantastic Four reboot and the critical disappointment in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (for the record, I liked it, get over it) might have given the Marvel studio heads a moment of fear.  Yet their output is just continually in another league than their competitors and their juggernaut franchise lives to fight another day with Doctor Strange arriving before 2016 is over.

Check out my reviews of these other Marvel movies: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Solider, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, & Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Bronze

 

bronze

Synopsis: A foul-mouthed former gymnastics bronze medalist must fight for her local celebrity status when a new young athlete’s star rises in town.

Release Date:  March 18, 2016

Thoughts: Already generating sizable buzz for a much ballyhooed gymnastic sex scene, The Bronze is a movie I’m going to approach very carefully…as if I were advancing on a raccoon wild with rabies.  You see, I can already tell it’s a movie I’m either going to enjoy a lot or hate a lot…with very little wiggle room in between.  There’s a red-band trailer out there you can find with a lot more F-Bombs that seem to be used without much purpose…so I’m hoping there’s more to it than following the exploits of a foul-mouthed has-been slumming around in her hometown.  They already made that movie and it was called Young Adult and I liked it just fine then. Almost never seeing the light of day due to its original studio going belly-up, Sony Pictures Classics is showing some faith in this one and getting it out there, a positive sign.  Final scores will be tallied once it’s released in March.

The Silver Bullet ~ Captain America: Civil War

captain_america_civil_war_ver2

Synopsis: An incident leads to the Avengers developing a schism over how to deal with situations, which escalates into an open fight between allies Iron Man and Captain America.

Release Date:  May 6, 2016

Thoughts: It’s the beginning of the end of the latest phase of the Avengers Marvel Universe.  After two movies where he was clearly top dog, Captain America (Chris Evans, The Iceman) has to contend with the larger than life  presence of Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr, The Judge) and some familiar Marvel faces from movies past.  While I’m a fan of Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I must admit that I’m getting a little fatigued with these films.  With so many other studios jumping on the bandwagon and an oversaturation of Avengers-related entries slated for release over the next several years everything is just starting blur together for me.  Focusing on a battle between allies, Captain America: Civil War has a lot riding on it, and hopefully by next summer I’ll be ready for a dose of superhero adventures.

Movie Review ~ The Martian

1

martian_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

Stars: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis

Director: Ridley Scott

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 141 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: At 77, director Ridley Scott has directed films across seemingly all genres.  Starting with his first film, 1977’s war drama The Duellists to his breakout hit Alien two years later, it was clear that Scott had something going for him.  Not that there weren’t stumbles along the way (1985’s Legend, 1992’s 1492: Conquest of Paradise) but for the most part Scott has exceled in drama (1991’s Thelma & Louise), historical epic (2000’s Gladiator) and even the occasional bit of fluff (2006’s charming A Good Year).  Still, sci-fi is where Ridley Scott has felt most at home and be it the aforementioned Alien, 1982’s polarizing Blade Runner, or even his more polarizing sorta-Alien prequel Prometheus in 20012 he always (for me) delivers the goods.

So it’s with great pleasure that I report that not only is The Martian the best film I’ve seen yet in 2015 but it’s Scott’s most appealing work in years.  Based on the hit novel by Andy Weir that’s been well adapted by Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods), The Martian is one of those big crowd pleasing epics that audiences won’t see coming.  I’d imagine most people will turn up to see an outer-space action film starring Matt Damon (Interstellar) but what they’ll get instead is a full bodied, full blooded, blockbuster in the making that continues to impress with each passing twist.

I was worried that Weir’s first person narrative would be tough to adapt but Goddard has fleshed out not only our titular character but a host of his comrades along the way.  Now, characters that were intriguing on the page leap to life fully formed and ready to play a part in a rescue mission taking place several light years away.

Through a series of unfortunate events, astronaut Mark Watney is left for dead during an emergency evacuation of his team from their Mars outpost.  His captain (Jessica Chastian, Mama) and fellow teammates (Michael Pena, End of Watch; Kate Mara, Fantastic Four; Sebastian Stan, Captain America: The Winter Solider, and Aksel Hennie, Headhunters) have no choice but to save themselves after it appears that Watney has perished in a harsh Martian sandstorm.

But miraculously Watney has survived, though it can be argued that his current situation is little better than his presumed one.  While he has enough food to last a little over a year, the next spacecraft isn’t scheduled to return for another four so he has to put his botanist skills to the test to make his own food supply while staying alive in a small habitat that isn’t designed to last as long as he’ll need it to be.

Back on Earth, a NASA authority figure (Jeff Daniels, Looper) has to deliver the bad news of a man dying on his watch but when a tech (Mackenzie Davis, That Awkward Moment) notices some satellite images that suggest someone is still alive on Mars, he teams with the mission leader (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave) to devise a way to get Watney home.  This choice is mostly to rescue the stranded astronaut but also a tiny way to save face in the eyes of media scrutiny.

At nearly two and a half hours, your bladder may shudder in fear but make sure to go before the movie starts because you won’t want to risk missing a single second of the adventure this movie takes you on.  The running time flies by due in no small part to Scott’s skill as a director and Matt Damon’s bravura performance.  If we didn’t care about Watney or like Damon the film would have sunk faster than the other movies about Mars released in the past two decades (though I liked John Carter better than, well, everyone).

The Martian is a nice opportunity for Damon to show some nuance that sometimes feels lacking in his roles lately.  His is a powerful, mesmerizing performance and it should easily put him on the short list for Oscar recognition.  From Damon on down the cast is excellent.  I was wondering why Chastain would take such a ho-hum role, until a late in the game Hail Mary that I won’t spoil tells me exactly what attracted her to the part. Daniels is appropriately gruff, Ejiofor is galvanizing, and what a treat to see Kristin Wiig (The Skeleton Twins) as serious-minded media correspondent for NASA.  As the characters are introduced it felt like an abundance of riches and their presence makes the film that much more polished.

With the advancement of special effects it seems like anyone can make you believe that you’re in outer space floating weightless but there’s something truly incredible about the production design and visual effects on display here.  Seamlessly integrating green screen technology, it’s the first film in a long while where I couldn’t tell where the effect ended and reality began.  Couple that with Harry Gregson Williams’s gorgeously haunting score and exemplary cinematography by Dariusz Wolski and you have a film that’s a real stunner.

I can’t remember the last time I left a film so fully satisfied and, better yet, energized.  Rocketing to the top of Best Picture frontrunners, the film has all of the elements that could help it nab the top prize.  We’re pretty far off from the final nominees and the dramatic films seem to rise to the top of the pile but I’m going to be pulling for The Martian to find its way into the mix.  Don’t miss it and feel free to spring for the 3D too, the effect works well to give Mars a unique depth while letting computer read-outs pop out at you.  Seriously…not to be missed.