Saturday, September 3, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Year 8, Day 247 - 9/3/16 - Movie #2,442 - viewed on 5/17/16 

BEFORE:  Yep, I'm messing with the timestream again - I couldn't NOT go to the movies and see this on the big screen, since I didn't want to wait for the DVD, though my TV is a pretty good size, it's still not as good as going out to the theater, where the screen fills my whole field of vision.  And I've been to the movie theater several times this year already, this will be my FIFTH time in five months, all in the name of keeping current with the superhero films.  Umm, and "Nerdland".  Umm, and "London Has Fallen".  OK, so it's not all about superheroes.

But it's very tricky to time my actor linking to coincide between the films I watch at home and the films in wide release - heck, it's hard enough getting the linking to work between the films I already have in my collection and the new ones I find on premium cable every week.  I got really lucky with Paul Rudd and the "Ant-Man"/"Nerdland" connection, and I was able to time the link to "Batman v Superman", but I can't always make it happen.  So, I cheat.  I watch the film now in May, write the review and I don't post it until I can link to it, which I'm guessing will be in mid-August.   Did I guess right?  

Even better, this third "Captain America" film has so many stars in it, and so many cameos, that I can pretty much go anywhere from here - it's an embarrassment of linking riches.  I'll probably have so many choices that I'll want to re-organize the watchlist, just to find a film that would otherwise have linked to one (or none) films, which was languishing at the bottom of the list, and rescue it.  Depending on what runs on cable between now and then, I could link to "Chef", or "Ricki and the Flash", or "Godzilla", or "Sausage Party", or "The Big Short" or even "Ted 2" - or something I haven't even thought of yet.  We'll have to wait and see.

I just re-read my review of "Avengers: Age of Ultron", and I had an issue with the theater trying to upsell me to an IMAX ticket, which prompted me to defiantly ask for a ticket in regular, non-3D, non-IMAX, just out of spite.  That was on a Tuesday afternoon while I was under-employed, and now I'm going back to the same chain on a Tuesday evening, for another non-IMAX, non-3D viewing.  See what you did?  You're still not getting an extra four dollars out of me.  

And while I'm at it, what's the deal with making the popcorn and drinks refillable, but only at the LARGE size?  If I have a large, then I don't need a refill, because I'm not a family of five!  A large soda is too much for me these days, so I get the SMALL soda for a better popcorn/soda ratio.  But sometimes with a small, that's when you need a refill.  (Anyway, the sodas are serve-yourself at this chain, so really, why buy a large when you can surreptitiously refill a small cup?  Nobody checks...)  But let's focus on the popcorn - I appreciate them letting me put butter halfway up, which is my wont, but the free refill is a meaningless gesture, because the large fills me up.  I only request a refill if I want to bring my wife some popcorn (she'll probably be asleep when I get home, though) or if I want to feed a homeless man on the way home.  But he probably shouldn't have all that sodium, it's bad for the blood pressure.  

EDIT: Change of the original plan, now Sebastian Stan carries over from "Ricki and the Flash".  

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (Movie #1,800), "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (Movie #2,023)

THE PLOT:  Political interference in the Avengers' activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.

AFTER: If anything spoiled the movie for me, it wasn't knowing what was going to happen - it was a very loud A/C unit in theater 6 of the (very big theater chain, rhymes with "Schmoes") on 34th St. in Manhattan.  During the loud action scenes it wasn't a problem, but during the dialogue scenes, it was louder than the movie, and I'm sure that's not how it's supposed to be.  After the film (because I didn't want to miss anything) I pointed out the problem to the manager, because that's how I roll, and I got a hearty "Thank you" for my efforts, but I worked in theaters twice in my life, I might have been on the manager track at one point, and I know that when someone reports an issue like this, it's also because their movie experience was compromised, and in MY day, that used to earn you a free pass for next time.  Something to think about, Schmoe's.  I've been to your theater FOUR times this year, and now I"m not coming back until you have quieter air conditioning, or louder movies.  Suck on that. 

First off, let's get the nits picked about the differences between the comic books and the movie.  In the original Civil War, the South fired on Fort Sumter and then South Carolina seceded from the Union... No, wait, that can't be right.  In the original COMIC BOOK "Civil War", the U.S. Government filed the Superhero Registration Act, which was meant to bring superheroes under control, after a team of heroes called the New Warriors fought a villain named Nitro, who had explosive powers, and they failed to prevent him from blowing up an elementary school in Connecticut.  Meanwhile the Hulk was known for going on rampages in places like Las Vegas, and other superhero battles generally caused a lot of collateral damage.  

The Marvel heroes split into two factions, those that favored government control of heroes, and those that believed that the heroes were capable of policing themselves - basically, Team Iron Man and Team Captain America.  The X-Men were neutral on the issue, a bunch of super-villains fled to Canada, a couple of heroes died, and Spider-Man revealed his identity to the world.  (They retconned that last one out of existence, very poorly, as with all Spider-Man retcons...)  At the end of it, Captain America was in jail, Iron Man became the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and a team of Avengers went underground, while half of the Fantastic Four went on vacation.  (Then Cap was killed, but don't worry, he got better.  Comic book death, am I right?)  

Now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe Civil War starts in a different place, but it still turns into Team Iron Man vs. Team Cap.  The team is labelled responsible for collateral damage, some caused by Ultron in the last Avengers movie, and some caused by the Winter Soldier, aka Cap's former childhood friend and WWII sidekick, Bucky.  Here it's not the U.S. govmint trying to rein in superheroes, it's the U.N. - and instead of the Superhero Registration Act, it's called the Sokovian Accords.  But the result is the same, one of those big crossover events or something we comic-book readers would look forward to in an issue #50 or #100, where this team of Avengers fights THAT team of Avengers, and they charge at each other from opposite sides of the cover, with one team on the right and the other on the left.  Who wins?  Who cares, we just want to see the Avengers (or the X-Men) fight each other!   

Civil War is supposed to be (symbolically, anyway) about whether we should have a strong central government, or whether the heroes (like the states) should decide what's best for their themselves.  But come on, even in a political debate, do you tune in to get each candidate's open, honest opinion about a topic like healthcare, or do you want to see a lot of name-calling?  Be honest now - the topics are definitely more important, but as we're seeing this election, it's the name-calling that makes the news.  And so it is with the Avengers, or with "Batman v Superman" - you really just want to see a cool fight.  To other people, the Superhero Registration Act is a thinly-veiled take on the Patriot Act, and a commentary on how difficult it is for a government to provide both security AND freedom for everyone these days.  Anyone who goes through a screening at the airport can confirm that.

But getting all of the Avengers to fight each other feels a little cheap, no?  Bread and circuses, hearkening back to Roman gladiator fights to entertain the masses?  God, I admit it though, I want to see this fight, and all the little fights inside the big fight.  Black Panther vs. Winter Soldier.  Hawkeye vs. Black Widow. Vision vs. Scarlet Witch!  Ant-Man vs. Iron Man!  Falcon vs. Spider-Man!  And the biggest one of all, Iron Man vs. Captain America!  And again!  And again!  Really, this is like superhero porn, all this close-combat fighting - so depending on where you stand, it's either the high-water mark for "Avengers" films, or the moment where the MCU started to feed on itself.   You make the call. 

In another sense, however, and the reason this is a "Captain America" film, and not an "Avengers" film per se, is that it concludes the trilogy of Cap movies.  In the first film, Cap fights in WW2 with Bucky, and then in "The Winter Soldier" he finds him again, and then in "Civil War" he, umm, finds him. Again.  But this time Cap is able to break through some of his programming, and turn most of him back to the good side, as he promised to do in the 2nd film.  But Iron Man feels that he still needs to be held accountable for all the black ops missions he did for the Soviets, and this, more than anything else, prompts the rematch/showdown.  

My wife asked me tonight why, if Captain America represents Amurica, is he not all fat and lazy?  I could only respond that it's the super-soldier serum that keeps him thin, like heroin or meth would. Or maybe steroids is a better analogy, because it represents the "win at all costs" mentality that defines our country.  (Kids, don't do drugs.  At least, not when you're kids.)  The comic book has struggled with this issue, asking how Cap could be seen as a hero to children if he gets his power from drugs.  Sometimes they take away his super-serum for a few months, while other times the response from Marvel is "Hey, look over there!  It's a new number 1 issue!"  

UPDATE: Since viewing this film a few months ago, Marvel Comics has started a sequel to its original "Civil War" mini-series, with the unoriginal title of "Civil War II".  As I write this codicil, the series is just about half over, and though it differs from the original series in many ways (it's not "Team Capt. America" vs. "Team Iron Man", for example, since Captain Marvel is heading up one faction).  And it's not really about superhero registration, it's about the problems associated with using a psychic to prevent crimes and superhero meltdowns that haven't happened yet.  But it's similarly about two groups of superheroes fighting each other, and when you do that, you have to take the heavy hitters like Thor and Hulk out of the equation, just to keep things even.  The Marvel film series accomplished this by having Hulk take a leave of absence after "Avengers: Age of Ultron", and Thor's busy, I guess with the events taking place in his next movie.  The comic books accomplished this by having Thor off in space somewhere (not seen since "Secret Wars") and Hulk's dead.  Well, the Bruce Banner Hulk is dead, there's a younger, more Asian Hulk.  And Banner's only comic-book dead, he'll be back at some point, I'm sure.  

Also starring Chris Evans (last seen in "Snowpiercer"), Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "The Pick-up Artist"), Scarlett Johansson (last seen in "Lucy"), Anthony Mackie (last seen in "Ant-Man"), Don Cheadle (last seen in "St. Vincent"), Jeremy Renner (last seen in "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation"), Chadwick Boseman (last seen in "Get on Up"), Paul Bettany (last seen in "Transcendence"), Elizabeth Olsen (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Paul Rudd (last heard in "Nerdland"), Tom Holland (last seen in "The Impossible"), Emily VanCamp, Daniel Brühl, Frank Grillo, William Hurt (last seen in "Winter's Tale"), Martin Freeman (last seen in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"), John Slattery (also last seen in "Ant-Man"), Hope Davis (last seen in "The Hoax"), Gene Farber, John Kani, with cameos from Alfre Woodard (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Marisa Tomei (last seen in "Alfie"), Jim Rash (last seen in "The Way Way Back"), Stan Lee (last seen in "X-Men: Apocalypse").

RATING: 8 out of 10 command codes

Friday, September 2, 2016

Ricki and the Flash

Year 8, Day 246 - 9/2/16 - Movie #2,441    

BEFORE: Meryl Streep carries over from "Heartburn", and so does her daughter, Mamie Gummer, who played her daughter in both films.  I know, it's a bit of a stretch.  But I've also got my unintended theme for this past week - family dysfunction.  From King Lear's ungrateful daughters to Barry Lyndon's bratty stepson, to the tension between Addie and her father-figure Moses in "Paper Moon". Then we had the tension between spouses in "Heartburn" and the wacko love-triangle in "Yentl", with a woman dressed as a man marrying a man's bride in his place, so that he could be with her later.  

Tonight, it's an absent mother returning back into her children's lives.  What a week it's been...

THE PLOT:  A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family.

AFTER: Another story based in real life, just like "Heartburn" - this film's writer, Diablo Cody, based the story on her mother-in-law.

I had a little trouble with the main character at first, largely because of her choice of music - why would she be covering songs by Tom Petty and the Rolling Stones, instead of singing her own songs?  Ah, but this in itself is somewhat insightful, she's not an A-list rocker, and the band is sort of a cover band, and she has to keep a day job at the grocery store to make ends meet.  So I'll allow it, even though it seems like a bit like a cheap way to get a bunch of rock songs that we all know into the film.  (Still, would the same band that covers Petty and the Stones have any interest in covering Lady Gaga and Pink?  I'm not sure...)

And if you're on the fence about Streep's ability to sing rock songs and play guitar, you can just tell yourself that perhaps the character is not supposed to be that talented, it's an easy out.  Her rock-star status is really there to create the reason why she left her family, and that's needed in turn to create the drama caused by her return.  And oh, what a lot of drama there is - primarily she comes back to help her daughter deal with a sudden divorce, but then there's the anger and resentment that comes to the surface, since she hasn't seen her children in what, 20 years or more?  

Getting together for a dinner with her sons only brings more family secrets to the surface, along with more anger, more resentment - and you wonder how bad this family's relationships are going to get before they start to improve.  

Still, there's a lot to like here - like the fact that Ricki's ex-husband is married to an African-American woman, and that's not any kind of issue at all.  That's notable and appreciated.  That one of Ricki's sons is gay and again, not a big deal, perfectly normal.  What's not cool is the sort of backwards politics that Ricki represents, when she can't quite wrap her head around the fact that her son is gay, and not bisexual.  Why the need to give her a bit of a conservative outlook?  She also speaks an aside or two while on stage against Obama, saying that "all the trouble" began in 2008.  I get that there are a few conservative rock stars, like Ted Nugent and Kid Rock, but this felt out of place for Ricki, especially considering her income level.  I would wager that most Republicans have more money in the bank.  Definite NITPICK POINT - why are the rich people in Indiana portrayed as hipstery, environmentally-friendly liberal Democrats, when the struggling rock star espouses the party line of the GOP?  

And I really liked the ending - wedding bands are nearly universally horrible, and it's nice to see some music played at a wedding that's relatively good.  Having a good time at a wedding isn't necessarily going to resolve this family's issues, but at least it's a start.  And here's a case where trying to fix everything with the power of rock music makes sense, unlike, say, "Star Trek Beyond".  Yeah, I'm still marveling at the hokey-ness of that one.     

Also starring Kevin Kline (last seen in "The Conspirator"), Rick Springfield (last seen in "Hard to Hold"), Audra McDonald (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Sebastian Stan (last seen in "Ant-Man"), Nick Westrate, Hailey Gates, Ben Platt (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Charlotte Rae (last seen in "Bananas"), Rick Rosas, Joe Vitale, Bernie Worrell, Gabriel Ebert, with cameos from Bill Irwin (last heard in "Interstellar"), Diablo Cody.

RATING: 6 out of 10 tattoos