“Captain America: Civil War” movie review

Civil_War_Final_Poster‘Marvel’ous! Nearly a complete departure from the conventional comic book superhero movie genre. Avengers 2.5 is a politically-charged superhero movie that will catch you off guard and provide you with a mostly non-cartoonish plot filled with well-developed conflict and character development. Witness some of your favorite Marvel superheroes secede from the Avengers and oppose those who they once fought side-by-side. Along the way, you also get to meet some new additions to the team that will provide some awkward comedic sequences in this otherwise serious movie. Deep dark secrets come to the surface that threaten the very possibility of the team ever having any hope of reunification. Captain America: Civil War is a brilliantly produced film that will have even those who typically do not care for most superhero films leaving the theatre satisfied and anticipating the next installment in the series. Although it is really an Avengers movie, there is still enough focus on the title character to support the choice of titles for this action-packed epic adventure.

Captain America: Civil War takes place not long after the catastrophic events at Sokovia and following another destructive battle, the United Nations and U.S. Government decide to intervene and put The Avengers in check. Opposing the team signing onto an international agreement defining how this group of “vigilantes,” Captain America (Chris Evans) falls away from the group and seeks his own destiny frocked with vengeance and misplaced allegiances. With the once unified team fracturing, a covert former Soviet operative is plotting the destruction of The Avengers from the inside out. Much in the vein of the American Civil War, The Avengers are split and Captain America forms his team while Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) attempts to hold the team together and honor the agreement with the United Nations. The once inseparable Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) must choose sides and decide where allegiances truly lie.

It isn’t often that a genre typically filled with high concept, shallow plots can surprise you with a narrative radiating with anthropological and political themes and subtext. The brilliance of Captain America: Civil War is that it provides the audience with equal parts action-packed fight choreography and well-developed dramatic plot with prolific amounts of character conflict. Furthermore, the story will exceed your expectations of the ability to tap into one’s superficial response to action-packed stimuli and activate the deeper emotions of allegiance, betrayal, and self-preservation. For those who have not seen the previous movies in the Captain America series–another admirable element of this installment, is not causing those who have yet to watch the previous CA movies to feel left out of the excitement. Provided you have seen the preceding Avengers movies, this one will keep you trekking along with your favorite Avengers universe characters. There are certainly minor elements or past relationships that are introduced in the previous CA movies, but most likely you will be able to pick up on the aforementioned as you watch Civil War.

Another observation of this installment in the Captain America/Avengers franchises respectfully, is the movie’s success in both including current characters and introducing new ones without the film ever feeling too crowded, as it was with Batman v Superman. In addition to the Avengers minus Hulk and Thor, the audience is introduced to an adolescent Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and are re-acquainted with Ant Man (Paul Rudd). As I am not familiar with the comics, I cannot comment on this Spider-Man in respect to staying true to the comic, but I found this incarnation of Spider-Man to be on the verge of annoying. Perhaps that is how he is suppose to be, but it did not fit in with how he has been historically portrayed in cartoons and movies. However, the inclusion of both the respective characters did not feel forced as it so easily could have. Since the film primarily focussed on Captain America and secondly Iron Man, the large cast of characters was handled efficiently. The writers could include all these characters in one narrative, but shift the focus from character or character thus never overstimulating or overwhelming the audience with the development of such a dynamic ensemble cast.

Ordinarily, I do not speak so highly of superhero movies; but this film left me feeling quite satisfied and pleased with how well the film played off as a serious movie complete with plenty of opportunity for emotional connections. That being said, the one sequence of the movie that I did not find as entertaining or fitting is the elaborate “civil war” battle on the tarmac. Was it choreographed well? Yes. Was it instrumental in moving the plot forward? Yes. Did it effectively fit in with the rest of the mood and pacing of the film? No. Moreover, that entire sequence of scenes just felt awkward. And, that is mostly due to the inclusion of the naivety and immaturity of Spider-Man and witty/sarcastic/near-juvenile antics of Ant Man. Perhaps if only one adolescent-like character had been added, that part of the film would not have felt so awkward. As to not give away the reasons for the solemn mood of the film, I cannot go into much detail; but, the manner which this scene was written and directed just felt out of place and interrupted the otherwise excellent pacing and mood of the story. I agree that most serious movies need comedic relief in order to generate an emotional rollercoaster, but this was just a little too funny with respect to the rest of the film.

The summer blockbuster season is officially underway with the undoubtedly successful opening weekend of Captain America: Civil War aka Avengers 2.5. Unlike last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, this installment will take you on fantastic journey of emotional mountains and valleys of character and plot development. This film proves that a superhero movie can be both fantastically action-packed and dramatic. The political subtext will also provide friends and family countless hours of discussion and analysis. Although this is not an adult superhero movie in the way Deadpool was, there is still language and violence that may not be appropriate for young kids. Still, one of the earmarks of a summer blockbuster is a movie that can attract and please both teens and adults, and this is definitely a great example. Hopefully, this movie is an indicator of an exhilarating summer season at the cinema.

PS. Notice the nod to Disney’s D23 Club? I did!

“Hail, Caesar” movie review

HailCaesarA brilliant post-war self-reflexive commentary on the Hollywood studio system. Go inside classic showbiz! Before the decentralization of “Hollywood” filmmaking, the big studio was king. And Hail, Caesar captures the socio-economic mountains and pitfalls of the decline of the Golden Age of Hollywood perfectly, complete with a pure message about love, dedication, and highbrow humor along the way. You couldn’t have asked for a better cast. From the excellent writing to the impeccable acting, this film is sure to provide you with old-school style entertainment paired with plenty of topics of discussion–especially for cinema scholars and historians like myself. Return to the Hollywood that still inspires dreamers today and experience life in the studio system. This is one of the best self-reflexive films about Hollywood itself since Singin’ in the Rain. Although, the social-commentary is more or less a plot device that plays in the background while the main plot is the true focus of this exceptional narrative. Truly a remarkable film that will likely find its way into sociology and film studies classes alike.

Hail, Caesar takes place during the final days of filming of an adaptation of the story of the Christ. During a set break, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is drugged and kidnapped by a couple of extras and taken to a secluded beachside mansion in Malibu. Meanwhile, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), head of physical production for Capital Pictures, is busy running the show–from personnel management to the shuffling around of actors. Early on, you learn that Mannix is being aggressively pursued by the Lockheed corporation and he must decide either to pursue a career that will allow him to be with his family more and retire early or remain in Tinseltown to head up production and develop motion pictures.

Where to begin?!? As a peer-reviewed published cinema [and themed entertainment] scholar and historian, there are are so many different ways of applying a critical analysis to this film. Leaving the cinema last night, I was perplexed as to how to write about it. Ordinarily, I have a general idea of the direction I will head in my review by the time the credits roll–not this time. There is definitely a subplot in the movie that would be great material to dissect and analyze but I don’t want to spoil that for you; although, I can say that is is very apropos for that period in 1940s/50s Hollywood.

In order to analyze the material that I found most interesting, I want to first spend a moment on the film itself. Even before watching it, you already know that it boasts a brilliant cast and thankfully everyone lives up to the expectation that comes with their respective talent. From the leading players down to the A list cameo appearances, all the actors bring a unique flavor to the overall recipe of the movie. One of the elements that stands out the most is the attention to detail in the classic Hollywood production design. Essentially, we are watching a movie containing the making of another movie. The matte backdrops and traditional rear projection doesn’t stop in the story of the film being made in Hail, Caesar, but the classic production styles and designs cross over into the production of the Hail, Caesar itself. From the color schemes to the wardrobe and makeup, the attention to detail is flawless. Although much more humorous and satirical than the epitome of self-reflexive post-war Hollywood films, Billy Wilder’s Sunset BoulevardHail, Caesar does a superb job of going inside the word of showbiz and highlighting positive and negative consequences of the former studio system.

The film opens up with Mannix pulling Gloria DeLamour (Natasha Bassett) from an unauthorized photoshoot because the image the studio has of her could be tainted. That is really the first glimpse into what life was like for stars who worked in the Hollywood Studio System. Not limited to the talent, Mannix even told directors who would star in the pictures that they were hired to direct. Capital Pictures pulled a cowboy off his motion picture to then star in a drawing room comedy. When you worked for the studio, you worked FOR the studio. From your image to the projects you worked on (whether talent or technical crew), your every move was managed by the studio heads. Sounds like the perfect setup for exploitation, doesn’t it? In many ways, yes. However, the studio system also provided a central hub for working in motion pictures. One of the scenes shows Mannix walking down a corridor of editing offices, and that is something that isn’t quite the same today. Studios had exponentially more full-time staff until the final collapse of the studio system in the late 1950s/early 1960s. You had a regular job Monday-Friday and were typically on a salary. You were provided meals and other amenities during the work day. Yes, many aspects of your career were managed–even down to who accompanied you to the premiere of the film you either worked or starred in. But, many more people were employed by the studio directly than today. Just something to think about.

The studio is aptly named Capital Pictures. And rightly so, because at the heart of the movie, the two-fold plot of the film contains socio-economic commentary. The counterpart to the socio-economic side is about being dedicated to one’s true passions. Mannix can easily represent anyone who has a job that they work hard at and are dedicated to but often drawn to opportunities that would be easier and make more money. Do you choose to follow your passion? Or, do you choose the easy way out that would be more profitable? You will have to see the movie in order to discover how Mannix dealt with that real-world conundrum. Although the story of the passion of Christ is a backdrop in the film, it actually plays quite an important role near the end of the third act. The message of love transcends the screenplay (being shot in the movie) and impacts the actors and studio leadership. There are so many wonderful elements to discuss in Hail, Caesar and I have just touched on a few of them. I encourage you to make your way to the cinema this weekend in order to experience it for yourself.