Browse Month: May 2016

RECAP: Heat

Heat (1995): Michael Mann

More than 20 years after appearing in The Godfather: Part II, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro finally appeared together on screen. To drive home the point, both were credited on screen in the opening titles.

Heat hit theaters between Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans and The Insider. Each film is memorable for its uniqueness and Mann’s particular brand of camera work.

And yes, this movie nearly reaches three hours, but three compelling hours, wrapped around an all-time great gun fight.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: A cop and robber find themselves more alike than not, try to kill each other anyway.  Continue Reading

RECAP: Ant-Man

Ant-Man (2015): Peyton Reed

Before sneaking into theaters between and Avengers flick and a Civil War flick, Marvel’s Ant-Man was troubled. Its first director backed out. Then another, but he left his work on the script. Finally, the movie endured a phase shift, when Marvel moved it from Phase Three to Phase Two, which has got to be the most 21st century thing anyone has written about a movie.

Ant-Man was always going to be Marvel’s weak link in the phases. Turns out that the movie made a less-than-ant-sized box office, banking $180 million in the US. That puts it near the bottom of the list for Marvel, ahead of the debut of Captain America and practically tied with Thor’s. Those guys are mainline Avengers.

Ant-Man draws on Marvel’s expanded universe you’ve heard much about by now, leaning on other characters seen and unseen far more than any other character introduction movie yet seen.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: A reformed thief returns to crime for one last gig, and his most important, in a shrinking suit.  Continue Reading

SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: Captain America: Civil War

There’s a moment in Captain America: Civil War when a bad guy narrates his evil plan. Yes, you’re right, every bad guy in cinema history has narrated his evil plan.

While he narrates, Captain America fights Iron Man. Their fight is titanic, nearly in the mythic sense of that word, because these two men are possibly metahumans.

Chris Evans‘s third solo headlining turn as the eponymous captain is his, and Marvel’s, most ambitious project to date.

2012’s The Avengers was a culmination of sorts, a party picture with each Avenger cracking wise when not cracking alien skulls. Their enemies were literally out of this world. It was an easy film to get behind, a movie made for the rah-rah crowd.

Civil War shatters all that good will. True, this is the second movie of 2016 to feature two Hall of Fame comic book heroes fighting each other. Unlike Batman v SupermanCivil War won’t allow the movie’s other plots to drown it out. The central superhero conflict IS the noise.

Cap and friends begin the movie united, fighting more baddies with the tested Avengers-style teamwork. Old demons are haunting them. Villains of movies past creep back, forcing the Avengers to choose sides–sign away their crime-fighting rights or not.

Central to the plot is, again, the brainwashed Bucky Barnes, childhood friend of Steve Rogers. A recycled plot disappointed this reviewer in Star Wars–The Force Awakens, but Civil War offers more than enough different side dishes to complement last night’s leftovers.

Robert Downey, Jr. earned $50,000,000 to bring Tony Stark to screen and nearly make this movie a dual headliner. Downey earns every dime with his Stark attitude and barely veiled despondency and anger about the bodies Iron Man and the other Avengers keep leaving in his wake.

Evans, time and again, nails Captain America. Always the stalwart of, not democracy, but “what’s right,” Steve Rogers takes the American ethos of individual choice to its logical extreme–answering to no one. Evans plays Cap as a man certain of his rightness and willing to accept the price of that certainty.

Civil War could be called Avengers Lite. Excepting Thor and Hulk, the gang’s all back, and two new guys replace those AWOL Avengers. Spider-Man, played by actual teenager Tom Holland, oozes with youthful glee, characteristics the movie, stuffed full of heavy theme, craves.

Spidey earns a long debut scene. Luckily, with five standalone movies behind him, the public needs little introduction to the character. It’s enough for the movie to say “Hey, here’s a new Spider-Man.”

Earlier the audience meets Chadwick Bozeman as T’Challa, a prince of the African fake-nation of Wakanda. When that nation suffers from a terrorist attack, T’Challa suits up in his alter-ego Black Panther, a terrific fighter who wears a suit made of vibranium (same as Captain America’s shield), crosses paths with some of the Accord-signing Avengers.

Throughout Civil War Panther’s motives remain unclear, but his martial skills are shown often. And that vibranium suit.

All this adds up to the longest run time in Marvel history. It’s worth it. The fight scenes and effects are stellar, possibly Marvel’s best, and the emotional stakes have never been higher for these heroes. Civil War is Marvel’s The Dark Knight moment.

Exploder viewing guide: FIRST RUN WATCH

RECAP: Sicario

Sicario (2015): Denis Villeneuve

What’s more dangerous, more convoluted than policing the drug trade? That question is raised by the 2015 drug update Sicario. What does “sicario” mean? According to the intro, it’s what the Jews called people who actively opposed Roman leaders. In Mexico, a sicario is a hitman.

Acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins picked up his 13th overall and fourth consecutive Oscar nomination, all of them losses. The visuals were terrific, but I found Johann Johannsson’s Oscar-nominated score the movie’s real star.

Deakins and Josh Brolin both worked on another movie focusing on the drug war around El Paso, 2008’s Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: The US wages secret war against the Mexican drug cartels.  Continue Reading

RECAP: Big Game

Big Game (2014): Jalmari Helander

Finnish writer/director Jalmari Helander cooked up a fun story that evokes Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” What if, instead of hunting humans, you hunted the most powerful human in world history–the American president?

That’s the movie Big Game is. What startles most is the price tag: $10 million. Samuel L. Jackson earns at least half that per movie, plus someone had to pay Ray Stevenson, Victor Garber, Jim Broadbent, Felicity Huffman, and the other Finnish actors on screen. And there’s the crew and all that.

Despite the absurdly low sum for shooting the film, Big Game finished its production as the most expensive movie ever produced in Finland. In per capita terms, the movie would equate to a $600 million dollar production in America. No movie has yet cracked half that figure.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: A Finnish boy stumbles upon the biggest prey of all time–the President of the United States–and tries to save him so his dad will consider him a man.  Continue Reading

RECAP: Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011): Joe Johnston

No one had ever avenged before Steve Rogers stepped into a Vita Ray chamber and became Captain America. Perhaps I should say that no had ever Avenged, capital A, before.

Long after the world learned who Iron Man was, Marvel introduced us to Captain America, and man red, white, and blue enough to make Norman Rockwell swoon, a guy as wholesome as General Mills adult cereals, not a do-gooder, but a do-bester.

What better opponents to do-besters than the Nazis? When you want a heroic character, make them stand against National Socialism and the hero comes up aces every time.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: A scrawny, scrappy kid from Brooklyn transforms into Captain America, the only man strong enough to defeat Hydra, a sinister Nazi science organization, and its leader, Red Skull. Continue Reading