Tag Archives: Captain America

Knives Out

27 Nov

 

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“Knives Out” is a good, old-fashioned whodunnit with a healthy serving of droll comedy. Yes, comparison to classics such as “Murder by Death” (1976) and “Clue” (1985) are apt. That first film had Truman Capote, Peter Sellers and Peter Falk (not to mention the voice of Fay Wray) among its eye-grabbing cast; here we have Chris Evans trading his “Captain America” duds for J.Crew gear as a slack, spoiled preppy, as well as Michael Shannon – who, as General Zod in another universe, could have been Cap’s foe, Jamie Lee Curtis, dandy Don Johnson, Toni Collette and the impeccable Christopher Plummer. The real centerpiece, however is Bond boy Daniel Craig as a private gumshoe named Benoit Blanc who, while not quite Clouseau wacky, is imbued with scads of quirk, overconfidence and a twangy, near-Southern drawl. It’s such a radical departure, you can’t stop gawking at Craig in every scene he’s in.

The film, shot in and around Boston, marks something of a changeup too for director Rian Johnson, who’s done everything from quirky indie (“Brick” and “Looper”) to big budget blockbuster (“Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi”). Living in a quaint New England manse, renowned murder-mystery scribe Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) celebrates his 85th birthday and then dies when his nurse Marta (Ana de Armas, Ryan Gosling’s comely virtual love interest in “Blade Runner 2049”) gets his medications mixed up. Is it suicide, an accident, Harlan acting out one of his plots or something more nefarious? 

That’s the game afoot, and while it’s not particularly grabbing in its own right, there’s a rich potpourri of bloodsuckers who stand to benefit from Harlan’s departure and are thus prime suspects, be it his snarling son, Walt (Shannon), in charge of the publishing empire; his sister, Linda (Curtis), married to the self-righteous Richard (Johnson); their aloof son, Ransom (Evans); or Joni (Collette), wife of Harlan’s late son, who still holds a prominent perch. It’s not the plot providing the fun as much as the rubs of the twee and the entitled coming off with biting satire. Harlan is so dignified and magnanimous you can almost hear him bellowing from his grave as his blood squabbles around the remains.

As the crew stays around to hear the reading of the will, Craig’s Blanc sleuths about with varying degrees of success, but endless dry wit. The script by Johnson does what it needs to,. with just the right amount of red herrings, plot twists and deft humor. The best is the family’s insistence on the inclusion of Marta as “one of them,” yet none can remember if she’s from Colombia, Ecuador or Nicaragua. It underscores the absurdity of the insincerity of the well-off. In consumption, the film may be a touch overbaked – in length, and holding itself a little more grandly than it should – but still, as served, it’s great holiday entertainment if you just want to feast, fill up and let someone else take the wheel.

Avengers: Endgame

25 Apr

‘Avengers: Endgame’ was a long time coming, and it’s another exceptionally long time going

 

And so it begins, or ends, and no matter how you see it, it’s a long one. “Avengers: Endgame,” the de facto part two of “Avengers: Infinity War,” clocks in at more than three hours – 30 minutes longer than “Infinity” and chock full of maudlin eddies that should have been pared back. That said, “Endgame” gets the job done, passing the baton as it closes out a long-running chapter with some sentimental eye rubs. Where Disney’s Marvel Universe goes from here is likely a focus on new blood such as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). They’re both in “Endgame,” tossed in as inert garnish.

In case you need a rewind: At the end of “Infinity War,” Thanos (Josh Brolin), blessed with the unholy alignment of all six infinity stones (the power of a god to create and destroy), has eradicated half the life in the universe and, with that, half of the Avengers crew. We catch up with Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) floating near-dead in space, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) searching desperately for his wife and children and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) spit out unceremoniously of a five-year time warp – in a beat-up Ford Econoline or the like, to boot. The film moves along sluggishly for the first half-hour, and I’d be wrong to tell you fully how it flies, but the simple answer is: The remaining Avengers crew need to somehow turn back the clock. Given that this is Marvel, and a superhero fantasy (the opening with Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” is nearly as ingenious as the use of “Mr. Blue Sky” in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – is there some mandate for classic rock songs with “Mr.” in the title in the Marvel Uni?) that time travel quest – with semi-hilarious film references to “Back to the Future” – happens sure enough, and the “Infinity War” with Thanos gets something of a do-over.

Before that the film notches some of its greatest self-deprecating wins, namely in that the buff god of thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), some five years after Thanos’ win in Wakanda, is now a potbellied booze bag looking like the portly Val Kilmer, “large mammal” portrayal of the latter-years Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.” Or take the Hulk/Bruce Banner, (Mark Ruffalo) who has gotten his raging greenness and mild manner intellect to come to terms. And then there’s Hawkeye, who’s been bestowed the worst hairstyle imaginable – an unholy marriage of a mullet and a mohawk. How and why this choice was ever made is never explained and demands a film of its own, but yes, it’s a weird alternate reality out there, and not necessarily a bad one. As one observant Avenger points out, with half as many humans on the planet the water in the Hudson is now so clean, pods of a resurgent whale populations are hanging out where there were once toxically polluted slurries.

Ultimately “Endgame,” like “Infinity War,” both directed by the brothers Russo (Anthony and Joe, who made the far cheekier and superior “Civil War”) turns into a major CGI boggle of superheroes battling a herd of creepy-crawly things from another planet. Amid all the chaos there’s one gratuitous yet neat scene where an all-female phalanx of supers try to get the final wold-saving run done, and yes, Captain America (Chris Evans, with the requisite square-jawed woodenness)  is there to anchor the whole shebang; in very (too) small metes, we also get Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford and Tilda Swinton. It’s a very crowded affair.  Some big names and friends move on and out with a tear or two to be shed, but I was more struck by other matters looming at the edges of the frame, including nature’s resurgence in a less populated world, curiosity for how far Brie Larson and the “Captain Marvel” franchise can realistically go and, most of all, that haircut Renner is saddled with. It’s indelible and unshakable. If his Hawkeye could travel back in time to the 1990s there would be NHL hockey teams north of the border that would surely inject him in the first line based on hair alone.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

7 Jul

 

There’s plenty big and small in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” and I’m not talking about the diminutive or gigantic sizes its superheroes can achieve – and do, often and to great effect – but the elements of film. On the small, there’s a hive of plot activity, but little of it resonates or at least feels fresh or smart. On the big (or gigantic) is a kick-ass ensemble that plays off its sharp leads smartly, with fervor and punch in every frame.

For those of you who missed the cornerstone “Ant-Man” a scant few years back in 2015, you don’t need to back up and catch that less interesting flick before diving in. What you do need to know is that “Ant-Man” is part of the whole Marvel Universe run by Disney and that the hero known as Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) sans the suit, is serving the end of a two-year house detention mandated by the FBI for his participation in a fracas over in Germany, seen back in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016). It’s also why Ant-Man didn’t put in a show in Wakanda this year for “Avengers: Infinity Wars.”

All of the crowd-pleasing heat of the film flows through Rudd and his quirky, blue-eyed likability, be it Lang’s wisecracking antagonism of an FBI caseworker (Randall Park, bringing the same sourpuss charm he’s made a career of on “Fresh Off the Boat”) who pops in for random house searches, or his parries with testy ant-suit inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). The on-again-off-again romantic dynamic with Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), which gave the first film a reason to be seen, bears fruit again and elevates Hope to superhero status as the other half of a bill that can shrink or enlarge. Hank’s also got a magic remote that can shrink cars and even entire buildings if properly configured; and there are those German shepherd-sized ants with massive mandibles that help run Hank’s shrinkable lab.

Fun stuff, but Hope and Hank newly believe they have a chance to rescue mother/wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, who’s not in the film enough) from the quantum plane purgatory she’s been lost in for the past decades (there’s plenty of highfaluting mumbo-jumbo like this, and it’s best to just roll with it). The key to getting the right coordinates to her locale is implanted in Lang’s head through a dream or something of an out-of-body experience. To get there’s something akin to “Fantastic Voyage” (1966), but also one of the least interesting plot threads. Meanwhile, Lang, saddled with an FBI ankle monitor, has gone AWOL and there’s a Tom Wolfe-style restaurateur (Walton Goggins) who moonlights in black-market technology and wants Hank’s shrunken lab, while an entity known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), ever angry and able to walk through walls, wants to disrupt the quantum plane quest for her own ends. Perhaps the most daunting obstacles are Lang’s ex-wife (Judy Greer) and daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) who pop in via FaceTime at the most ill-timed moments looking for soccer cleats; even better is Lang’s security firm business partners, Luis (Michael Peña), Kurt (David Dastmalchian), and Dave (Tip “T.I.’’ Harris), who are both burdens and saviors, and quite effective as comic relief.

Peyton Reed, who test drove the cast for the 2015 outing, feels more comfortable and in control this go-round. The action sequences are seamless, funny and, with their use of big-small toggles, ever surprising and fresh. As much as Lilly gets near equal time – and she’s more than worthy – this is the Rudd show, and that’s not a bad thing; he’s just more the loose cannon, while the former “Lost” star anchors the film with emotional stability and grit. The combination of the personal and uproarious scenes such as Ant-Man summoning winged ants for transport that get picked off by a seagull put “Ant-Man and the Wasp” in the comedy-cum-action camp with the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Deadpool.”

Avengers: Infinity War

27 Apr

‘Avengers: Infinity War’: Marvel’s universe has built to a climax, which isn’t this movie

 

Some might find this a bit of a spoiler, but it’s really more of a public service announcement: If you go into “Avengers: Infinity War” thinking it’s a neat, trim chapter like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or “Captain America: Civil War” let me set you and the record straight – this is a “Part One.” Somewhere around the two-hour mark of the two-and-a-half-hour running time, I thought to myself, “How that heck are they going to tie this all up in less than 30 minutes?” They do, kind of, with a massive smackdown on the grassy plains of Wakanda pitting warriors and superheroes against a limitless pack of mutant space dogs, but how it ends isn’t an ending. It’s not even like Han Solo getting frozen in “Empire Strikes Back”; the last scene simply ends. You expect another scene, but the credits roll.

“Wah!” you might think, but a quick walk through IMDB shows myriad actors employed by the Marvel universe have signed up for a mysterious “Untitled Avengers Movie.” I can help all the people at Disney and Marvel: Your untitled film’s title is “Infinity Wars, Part Deux.” Continue reading

Doctor Strange

6 Nov

What is it about superhero movies that takes top-shelf thespians and reduces them to two-dimensional ashes? Patrick Stewart was able to maintain his poise in “X-Men,” and Robert Downey Jr. formed an amiably snarky extension of himself as brash billionaire Tony Stark in “Iron Man,” but mostly actors slap on the muscle suit and spout platitudes. Don’t get me wrong – I love seeing Chris Evans square-jawed and righteous as Captain America, but what’s he like first thing in the morning? Is he a grump, does he loosen up after two beers, and does he ever have a bad hair day? Answers mortals need if they’re to relate.

110216i-doctor-strangeFor all their power and pop, these tales of the übermensch are pretty pat affairs; backstory and arch-villain, that’s how they go, a two-step do-si-do. “Doctor Strange,” sadly, is no exception, despite the more cerebral and human orientation of its protagonist and the inspired casting of Sherlock Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, as the doctor. It’s not for Cumberbatch’s lack of effort, but anytime you have a team of writers – three, in this case – tying to communally distill the tortured essence of an uber-being grappling with a newly acquired superpower, loss of former self and world annihilation by some unhinged megalomaniac with his hand on the button and a battalion of minions on call, you’re in a dark place. And we’re not talking about inner conflict.

The film begins promisingly enough, with Cumberbatch’s Dr. Stephen Strange showing off his cutting-edge skill as a neurosurgeon – grandiloquently so. He’s an arrogant can-do with a god complex, and would either bond immediately with Downey’s Tony Stark at a cocktail reception or get locked in a nasty head-to-head vying for the alpha male spot. Everything’s hunky-dory – there’s even playful banter and a spark of romance with the fetching, overworked ER doc (Rachel McAdams) – until Strange’s Lamborghini goes off the road, the result of distracted driving (looking at cranial scans while bobbing and weaving at 100 mph). In the crash, the doc’s life-saving hands are shattered, recovery is frustratingly slow and no procedure, no matter how experimental, can get him back to his scalpel jockey self. Broke and broken, Strange heads off to Kathmandu after hearing of a mystic cult where the mind heals the body. Continue reading

Captain America: Civil War

6 May

The good news about the latest Marvel project to land on the screen is that it’s livelier and more entertaining than the other “Avenger” offerings – even if this one technically waves the “Captain America” banner. “Captain America: Civil War” is a follow-up to the last Cap adventure, “The Winter Soldier,” with Cap’s troubled old pal and fellow modified, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) at the heart of the drama again. If you don’t recall, Bucky’s a Manchurian candidate of sorts, a brainwashed mercenary with a bionic arm who’s just as nails-tough and superhuman as Cap. In short, he’s lethal, and because his brain’s been scrambled and put back, he’s a sleeper cell who’s been in the hands of wrong-minded parties.

050516i Captain America- Civil WarThis has ramifications across the Avengers’ alliance. Bucky’s been underground since Cap put him down, but shadowy images show Bucky pulling off an assassination in Africa and there’s something about a 1991 incident for which we keep going back to video footage and getting new insight what happened and how the pebbles of one cold act ripple through time.

In the now, those ripples have become waves that put the square and righteous Captain America (Sudbury’s Chris Evans) at odds with old steel claptrap, aka Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), first over an accord that seeks to limit the Avengers’ doings because too much collateral damage has befallen the world (a diverted bomb blowing up a building full of innocents, for instance) and later because of darker reasons tied to that mysterious 1991 incident.

When Stark and Cap square off, the teams line up for a street rumble of sorts. You could think of it as the Sharks vs. the Jets. It’s more chest pounding and posturing, and while there’s no Hulk or Thor in the mix, Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), newly drafted, steal the show with wide-eyed naiveté and mini-man maxims. it’s a delicious add to the regular bang-boom-pow auto cycle. Many of the usual suspects, such as Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and other additions, such as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), fall into the background; Vision (Paul Bettany) like the similar-colored and suited Spider-Kid, gets some of the best dialogue, especially cooking a meal for the Scarlet Witch to ease her anxieties – the kicker being that he has no idea what paprika or food tastes like, as he’s never eaten. Continue reading