Month: February 2017

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

captain-america-civil-war

2016 – Half of the Avengers vote for Trump; the other half votes for Clinton. 

In my review of The Green Hornet, I took issue with the fact that one of the biggest fights was the two good guys beating each other up. Why not have your biggest fights be against the bad guys?

Well, Captain America: Civil War is basically a two-and-a-half-hour conflict (I won’t say “fight” because they fight for maybe a combined 10 minutes) between the good guys, and there is no bad guy. What a dumb concept that is, from a dramatic perspective: do we really think that Captain America will kill Iron Man? Or that Spider-Man will kill Ant-Man? Or that Falcon will kill Black Panther?

By the way, who the fuck are “Falcon” and “Black Panther”?!? And why is the guy’s name “Black Panther”? Panthers are black. That’s like calling someone “White Dove” or “Silver-Backed Silverback Gorilla.” Or is it because the guy is black?

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the plot.

Remember how Star Wars fans criticized the original trilogy because there wasn’t enough politics, and applauded the prequel trilogy for including a lot more politics? Well, the brains at Marvel were paying attention, because this movie is like The American President meets All the President’s Men. We don’t want plots like “supervillain threatens the world,” we want a plot like “the United Nations writes up an enormous treaty limiting superhero activity and the superheroes disagree over whether to sign it or not.”

That’s the actual storyline of this movie. The storyline is shit.

Oh, and there is a bad guy, but he’s the 14th-billed person in the cast. When you have a superhero movie with at least 13 superheroes and ONE villain (who is in no way super), you’ve got a problem. Carrying on the tradition of Marvel making its very few well-known cool villains as lame as possible, we get Zemo.

Not Baron Zemo:

Bad-ass

Bad-ass

No, just Zemo:

Suck-ass

Suck-ass

I mean, come ON. This guy is more of a nerd than the guy they got to play Spider-Man, who is supposed to be a nerd! He looks like The Miz’s gay younger brother. And the costumes… there’s no comparison. Super-cool Baron Zemo has a sick mask and nice fur highlights. Ultra-lame movie Zemo looks like he’s relaxing backstage at the Strawbridge and Clothier catalog shoot. He sucks, doesn’t do anything, and (not a spoiler, since it’s a Marvel movie) doesn’t die at the end.

The bad guy is shit.

Skipping about two-thirds of the way through the movie (because, honestly, NOTHING happens for the first two-thirds), we finally get what I presume everyone wanted: the big fight, Team Iron Man vs. Team Captain America, the world’s most well-known heroic characters all in one scene!

civil-war-lame-lineup

That’s obviously… uh… Swoop Man there on the left, and… um… Metal Arm on the right, and I think the other guy is Green Arrow, and… alright, I honestly only know Captain America and Ant-Man, who looks exactly like the Cobra Strato Viper with a silver helmet:

civil-war-strato-viper

But okay, maybe Team Iron Man will have all the well-known guys.

captain-america-team-iron-man

Since the one on the left is Black Panther, is the guy on the right Black Iron Man (he’s also actually a black guy)? Also, you have to note how ridiculously unbalanced these teams are. The fact that this is even a fight really strains credibility.

The hero vs. hero battle is decent, for a battle in which you KNOW nobody is going to die. But keep in mind that the rest of the movie is this:

"I make a motion for more long talking scenes." "APPROVED!"

“I make a motion for more long talking scenes.” “I second that.” “APPROVED!”

It’s like 12 Angry Men, with superheroes! Please note that the character who is a ROBOT is wearing a button-up blouse with a sweater. And nothing says “excitement!” like multiple carafes of water!

Everybody talks about how Spider-Man is in this movie and how awesome he is, but honestly, my cup runneth over with Spider-Man at this point. Tom Holland does a decent job, but he’s no Tobey Maguire. And Aunt May… let’s talk about Aunt May for a moment. This is Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-1

In the movies, THESE are Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-2 civil-war-aunt-may-3

And in Captain America: Civil War, this is Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-4

Aunt May… is shit. They had one – ONE – character who is universally accepted as an elderly woman, and they get Marisa Tomei (of hot The Wrestler sex scene fame) to portray her. Simply abominable.

Some readers think that I’m faking my dislike for these movies. I’m not. I genuinely did not like Captain America: Civil War in almost any way. I thought it was logistically ponderous, visually uninteresting, and dramatically flat – all the hallmarks of the increasingly bloated Marvel “cinematic universe.”

The movie I saw just before this one: John Wick: Chapter 2. It was like having the best sex of my life, then cutting my own balls off and vomiting into the wound.

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IT FOLLOWS

it-follows

2014 – After an ill-advised sexual tryst, Jay (Maika Monroe) is told she’s caught the worst STD imaginable: a shape-shifting supernatural creature who will relentlessly pursue her… unless she can “pass it on” to someone else…

This is a “rules” horror movie, like Gremlins (don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight) or The Ring (watch the tape and you die in seven days). Within the self-contained worlds of such movies, these rules function just fine. Unfortunately, killjoy know-it-all rules lawyer types flock to this genre like distressed patrons to the bathroom of a Chinese buffet.

Just look at the IMDB message boards for It Follows: “Trap it in a vault, then brick up the wall.” “Gay sex?” “Just pass it to a successful hooker.” “Semi simple problem to solve to be honest.” “What if you constantly stayed airborne?”

*SIGH* Yeah, you’re all geniuses. Now shut up. The point is, you have to accept a movie like this on its own terms. If you do, it’s a genuinely frightening and disturbing experience.

There’s a sense of bleak desolation that hangs over everything, even the few “happy” scenes. Our heroine Jay, her sister Kelli (Lili Sepe), and their friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi), live in Detroit, and the area hasn’t looked this bad since OCP ran things.

Jay, who seems to be the object of desire for every male character in the movie, decides to get intimate with her new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). Things go well until he chloroforms her, ties her to a wheelchair, and explains that she’ll now be stalked by the titular “it.”

“It” moves toward you at a walking pace and can look like anyone, from a total stranger to a loved one – but most often like a creepy naked person. Once “it” catches you, you die and “it” goes back to following whoever came before you in the chain. Honestly, I don’t feel too bad for Jay. I’ve been told worse things on dates.

Fear, paranoia, and a sense of steadily encroaching doom pervade the rest of the whole production. While Maika Monroe turns in the best performance, balancing vulnerability with an endearing resilience, all of the relatively young cast does a fine job. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell largely eschews cheap “jump scares” in favor of steadily building tension and atmosphere.

What’s most fascinating, however, is Mitchell’s inspiration for the film – a recurring dream from his youth in which he was hounded by multi-level marketers. Mitchell acknowledges that he used “the basic idea and feeling” of this constant pursuit and harassment, and adds that his parents “got involved in a multi-level marketing scheme around that age, so I imagine it was something to do with that.”

When viewed through this lens, the movie becomes less a fable about the dangers of casual sex and more a cautionary tale about the agony caused by someone constantly hawking special makeup or “health” supplements.

Just as “it” follows its victims based on an ongoing chain of sexual encounters, so loathsome multi-level marketers pursue one person after another to add to their “downstream.” Just when you think you’ve satisfied them by ordering some junk jewelry or skin cream, BOOM! They’re back, having exhausted the rest of their pipeline. Just as “it” takes the form of friends and loved ones, you can easily come home one day to find your friend, your lover, or your spouse transformed into something monstrous, greedy, and inhuman.

Strains the mind a bit, doesn’t it? But filmmakers have used far more innocuous things as a source for scares. And like its own silent, faceless antagonist, the unsettling effect of It Follows will stick with you long after you’ve watched it.

SUPER BOWL LI

2017 – A big-market team with legions of fans takes on a small-market team that no one cares about. WHO WILL WIN?!?

I have to give the NFL creative team credit – after a few missteps earlier in the season, they executed a near-perfect storyline to close things out and stave off disaster for another year.

They really dug themselves a hole at first, though. Never before had creative blunders nearly resulted in the ruin of the promotion itself. Remember when they thought an insurgent Colin Kaepernick was going to be the anti-hero the people would rally around? Remember Cam Newton’s hats and Odell Beckham’s backstage antics?

All the guys they were counting on to sell their video games and T-shirts let them down.

Ratings declined 8% for the 2016 season. The playoff games were dull and poorly-worked. The championship they ended up with – perennial favorite New England vs. chronic choke artist Atlanta – could not have been, on the surface, less inspiring. Creative had vastly misjudged the league’s audience, which was getting sick of a sterile, gutless, predictable product.

Then someone – and I hope they get a bonus or a promotion for thinking this up – decided they already had the perfect angle. While the “Attitude Era” of professional wrestling had the rebellious Stone Cold Steve Austin battling the insidious machinations of the reviled “Mr. McMahon” character, the NFL had the ready-made conflict of baby-face Tom Brady vs. the power-hungry “Mr. Goodell” character. Initially relegated to a secondary storyline behind heroic anthem protests and rookies with stars on their helmets, the “determined Patriots fight the system” plot was tailor-made for the big stage.

The fact that everyone knew what the result was going to be didn’t matter – what mattered was how they got there. Who better to save the league than the guy they built up, in the patriotic post-9/11 era, as the greatest of all time? Therefore: Brady sets nine records (including most Super Bowl MVP awards, passing yards, and wins as a QB) and ties a tenth; Belichick wins the most Super Bowls as a head coach; the Patriots pull off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history; and the game becomes the first Super Bowl to go to overtime. The eeeeevil Mr. Goodell, who was out to get the poor Patriots all year, got his comeuppance in front of a delighted nation.

It was everything an audience could wish to see. More than anything, the league simply could not afford a boring game – either a low-scoring affair or a lop-sided blowout. Something dramatic needed to happen.

Creative needed audiences on the edge of their collective seats, and they pulled out all the stops to do it. The series of plays toward the end of the first half, which saw the Patriots in three consecutive 3rd down situations, was a staging masterpiece. Each time, a flag flew. Each time, the flag was for defensive holding against the Falcons, keeping the Patriot drive alive and resulting in their only points of the first half.

One quibble I have – and this is admittedly a minor one – is that NFL creative seems to rely on this “halftime” thing a little too much. “Halftime” in the NFL is like Hulk Hogan suddenly becoming invincible at the end of a match; it’s a mystical, magical, inexplicable thing that we’re just expected to swallow without question. “They made some halftime adjustments,” we’re told, but can we really swallow the Patriots going from completely inept on both sides of the ball to historically dominant after a brief rest?

Another clumsy moment: the mysterious loss of communication on the Falcons’ sideline during the third quarter. Unfortunately the FOX broadcast caught practice quarterback Matt Simms tapping his earpiece and saying, “I can’t hear shit.” Fortunately they had soulless cardboard cutouts like Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth, who were so busy belaboring an obvious point that they never even mentioned the incident.

Buck and Aikman were similarly silent regarding the pass interference call that made the Patriots’ game-winning overtime touchdown a foregone conclusion, and that’s their real skill. Their almost identical monotone voices help smooth over any little bumps in the performance. Audiences will usually miss an obvious momentum-shifting flag after Aikman spends five minutes bawling about great downfield blocking.

This was an unqualified success for NFL creative. The media, at least, is already crowning this “the greatest Super Bowl ever played.” I’m not sure about that, but it was exactly what the league needed to reassure advertisers that their millions of dollars are still well-spent.

I, for one, can’t wait to see what they whip up in 2017.