Tag Archives: Anthony Mackie

Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017

To tie in with our latest podcast where Owen reviews Lionsgate’s new sci-fi adventure film, Origin Wars, we take a look at what else the genre has to throw at us this year.
The content of this post is courtesy of @LionsgateUK.
Continue reading Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017

Captain America: Civil War

Civil War

“Sorry” might always seem to be hardest word, Elton, but “accountability” might be the most unsexy. Particularly so if you’re trying to build a 147 minute long action movie around such a concept.

Let’s chuck in a few more terms, shall we? How about “legislation”, “treaty” and “U.N.-Accord”?

Captain America: Civil War could easily have suffered from dry, phlegmatic, po-faced earnestness, wallowing in miserableness as a collection of dumbfounded superheroes sit on the naughty step and think about what they’ve done.

Instead, fresh from the Sokovia fallout of the dreary misstepping Avengers: Age of Ultron, our eclectic band of merry super-powered chums begin the third instalment of Marvel’s Captain America trilogy with a skirmish in Lagos. As perpetually happens around these unregulated vigilantes / brave protectors (delete as applicable), chaos, destruction and collateral damage is never too far behind.

Just as they were after the hundreds of deaths from the New York alien-attack in Avengers Assemble, the crashing helicarriers in Washington DC during The Winter Soldier, and of course the omni-shambles of Age of Ultron‘s Sokovia rescue, it’s the Avengers who are held responsible for the loss of innocents’ lives in Nigeria. Thus begins a slow dissection of the role played by a group existing outside of the law, punctuated by enormous and often exceptionally well paced inter-fighting punch-ups.

Policing the planet as they see fit in this fantasy world of magic crystals, impenetrable metals and super soldiers, it takes no time at all for General Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt) to step in on behalf of a world scared half to death by a rogue, unregulated group of suited, walking, fighting nuclear bombs, tick-tocking their way towards a potential armageddon.

Although in name this is a Captain America sequel, it certainly feels much more comfortable as the Avengers follow-up many hoped for last year. Returning after a successful stint helming The Winter Soldier, directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s wizardry with a camera has thankfully kept consistency in tone with the franchise, as Civil War continues to be a hard-hitting, politically-charged commentary with genre-defining action sequences and equally solid performances from a cast slotting back into place like a well-worn suit made of iron with a robot friend called Friday inside of it.

Friends and ideologies clash frequently during the blockbuster – and only some of the time by using their words and not their vibranium inventions. OK, most of the time the hullabaloo breaks out into bouts of armour-clad blows, rather than democratic discussions. But it’s still much more “talky” for a blockbuster than perhaps one is used to. And, crucially, it just isn’t boring. It’s full of engaging and often thought-provoking dialogue. Quips and visual gags worm their way into some of the more serious conversations, but it still attempts to raise some tough topics.

Just as Mark Millar’s 2006 comicbook series (upon which this film is loosely based) dealt with a post-9/11 society, fearing a self-appointed world-police, too powerful to stop – or even if stopping them was the right or wrong thing to do – so too does the Russo’s version relate events to the real world. Civil War could quite passably be an analogy for gun control in the US, amongst other things.

For example, on one side, there’s Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) position as the man doing his best to negotiate a fair deal for his pals, arguing that the best way to arm is to disarm and sign the UN’s proposed Sokovia Accord (akin to the “superhero registration act” in the comics). On the opposite side is Steve Rogers’s (Chris Evans) team who feel it’s their duty to step-up whenever they need to, operating without the bias of any government agendas.

It could be argued that one side represents the regulation and control of firearms, with the other in support of the people’s right to bear arms (albeit briefly). The moment that the two teams clash in an epic showdown – the likes of which we haven’t seen performed as accomplished as this since Whedon’s Phase One concluding team-up some four years and six movies ago – puts paid to this exact notion from that point onwards. But there’s still a lot to be read into this movie. Prepare for more astute observations crossing your path in the weeks and months to come from thousands of other bloggers and writers.

Anyway, let’s take a quick look at the teams on either side of the scrap:

Team Cap
Against the idea of becoming United Nations controlled agents, restricted to fighting only the causes upon which they determine suitable

  • Captain America / Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – Leader of the movement and the main protaganist for whom the film’s perspective is mainly viewed from. Evans appears to be having a blast and his enthusiasm is infectious – but my God those are some seriously intimidatingly large muscles.
  • Falcon / Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) – Cap’s best friend and winged companion has an increased role in Civil War and benefits greatly from it. The first time that Falcon has been more than a bit-part character and Mackie handles the responsibility with aplomb. He actually appears to have a purpose on the team rather than being Cap’s fluffer.
  • Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – Previously the ex-Hydra assassin was a feared villain, but Stan’s portrayal of the man, turned into a complex and emotionally fragile victim with an edge of danger, sees him sit comfortably alongside his former buddy in Rogers’ motley crew.
  • Scarlet Witch / Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) – The only Sokovian in the Avengers; traumatised and emotionally scarred by the events in her home country and those in Lagos, Wanda adds an extra dimension to the story, even if it is somewhat unrealised potential.
  • Hawkeye / Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) – Thank Christ there’s no longer any weak attempts to puff out Hawkeye’s background with side-plots about his family that go nowhere and add nothing. He’s about as close to writer Matt Fraction’s version of the character that we’ve had so far and, although brief, is Renner’s best turn as Hawkguy yet.
  • Ant Man / Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) – Continuing to surprise, despite only a small (excuse the pun) part to play in Civil War, what Rudd does, Rudd does well. Fantastically well, even. He’s a highlight in what was already the best scene in the entire movie.

Team Iron Man
In favour of the UN’s Sokovia Accord, ensuring the Avengers are regulated by defence experts in order to limit the civilian casualties from their endeavours to save mankind

  •  Iron Man / Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) – For all intents and purposes, RDJ might as well share equal billing. It’s as much Iron Man 4 as it is Captain America 3. His role shows just how much the former weapons manufacturer has developed since first outing himself as a superhero in 2008’s Iron Man, bringing things full circle.
  • War Machine / James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) – If Falcon plays the role of Captain America’s sidekick, then War Machine fits as Iron Man’s. Provides the logos to the debate relative to Falcon’s pathos. But man, Don Cheadle is looking old.
  • Black Widow / Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) – The cynical may say Black Widow is only on this side of the fence to balance the teams’ female quotas. Nevertheless, the role she plays provides a contrarian narrative and further develops her relationship with Rogers from The Winter Soldier.
  • Vision (Paul Bettany) – The suave-voiced red-skinned being is reduced to the role of babysitter for much of his screentime, but twice Bettany gets to show off his acting talents with moments of profundity that keep the near God-like being grounded and relatable.
  • Black Panther / T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) – Making his debut, the Prince of fictional African country Wakanda is forced to pick a side in his pursuit of vengeance. Boseman’s suitably unplaceable accent aside, he makes as much of an impact as one could hope for (if not more) in such a role. Bring on his solo film in 2018!
  • Spider-Man / Peter Parker (Tom Holland) – Yes. Yes, yes, yes. This is how to do Spider-Man. It’s only taken 14 years, but this is it. Holland is perfect as the web-slinging wall-crawler in a larger role than perhaps expected. Currently in pre-production ahead of release next year, Homecoming looks set to be the fun adventure that the character deserves, if Civil War is any evidence to go by.

Regardless of the fact that we already have twelve characters squished into the two-and-a-half-hour long film, some people might be wondering where the other chaps are. Where’s Thor, Hulk, Fury, Maria Hill, Phil Coulson (still) – heck, why are Ant Man and Spider-Man being invited to the big leagues but Daredevil, Jessica Jones, et al left un-namechecked?

It’d be pure speculation to suggest answers. It could have been a creative decision made by the Russo brothers or writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, with Thor and Hulk especially deemed too over-powered for a film like this.

It could have been Marvel big cheese Kevin Feige laying down the law. Ruffalo and Hemsworth might have been too busy with other projects. Who really knows? The same principle applies as it always does in these situations: It really doesn’t matter. These are the characters selected. This is all you’re getting. Deal with it, as the meme goes.

The biggest issue lies not with who isn’t in it, but with who it does include. Incorporating Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo (an arch-nemesis of Captain America’s in the comics) structurally speaking makes a lot of sense when you lay out a blueprint for the entire movie.

However, the motivations behind his actions are at best understandable and at worst weak, predictable and a disservice to the character’s history. Also, he doesn’t wear purple pyiamas. What’s up with that?

Oh, right, yeah. It’s a bit naff.

Realistically, Zemo is somewhere in between the two, languishing around the “ordinary” mark. Hats off to Brühl for a competent account of himself as an actor, but Zemo is far from necessary in a film already overstuffed with characters. He adds nothing that couldn’t have been done equally well with, say, the returning Frank Grillo in a beefed up role as Crossbones.

Either way, it’s irrelevant as Captain America: Civil War is still very much worthy of your time. With a larger cast than any previous Marvel film, it somehow manages to balance screen time to an extraordinarily even degree, putting much of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to shame.

Yes, it may gradually escalate towards a big climactic fight scene, as happens in every Marvel superhero comic book action film ever, but the route it takes to get there combined with the rationale behind it makes the deciding brawl more meaningful than your average crash-bang-wallop finale.

Civil War is interesting, exciting, often fun and slightly unconventional. It goes straight into the top tier of the studio’s output and will doubtless only improve on future rewatches.

Christmas With The Coopers

love-the-coopers-the-christmas-movie-you-need-to-see-this-holiday-season-707877

“Just don’t mention Jesus, tax or gun control.”

It’s CHRISTMAS! That means we’ve been listening to carols in the shops for a month; mince pies have been on the shelves for two and we are slap bang in the middle of another period of a bunch of moronic boiled piss over some imaginary boogie man trying to “ban Christmas because it offends them”. It also means we get to see who is in film purgatory this year as the latest ensemble Crimbo film hits theatres.

This year’s rotten, stinking turkey of a film is Christmas with the Coopers; a family comedy drama with a cast so great, so fully loaded, that it couldn’t possibly fail. Could it? One giant family, fully populated with Hollywood greats all spending Christmas together sounds great. Grandad and family patriarch Alan Alda; Diane Keaton, John Goodman and Marisa Tomei bringing up the next generation; followed by Olivia Wilde and Ed Helms. All joined by the outsiders to the family Amanda Seyfried and Anthony Mackie, everyone has a story and everyone is trying to get home for Christmas dinner.

So, a quick run down of what’s going on, because it’s so stupidly complicated that I swear it started life as a Christopher Nolan film. Alda spends his days chilling in a local cafe, sweet talking waitress Seyfried who’s just being nice to the old dude. Keaton and Goodman are planning to tell the family they are seperating at Christmas dinner so spend the whole film bickering like, well, an old couple. Tomei is the petty sister who spends he whole film in the back of Mackie’s police cruiser having been busted for stealing a tacky old broach. Wilde is avoiding home, and her mum’s pity, and decides to drag along a soldier, waiting for a plane to take him to his first deployment but stuck in a snowed in airport, home to pretend she has a man. Helms is a recently unemployed dad trying to find a job and make Christmas for his kids. It’s all just so, so complicated, and so convoluted, and takes so bloody long to get to some kind of point that by the time everyone is introduced and explained, I’m already half asleep. As everyone travels, with varying degrees of success, towards home where a light and breezy happy ever after is guaranteed because, let’s face it, it’s a Christmas movie and we’ve all seen this film a hundred times before.

All of this narrated to us, via the family dog, voiced by Steve Martin, clearly just here to make us all go “who the fuck is that? I know that voice? Who is that?” For the entire hour and three quarter running time.

For shit’s sake. Can’t we have a year off from these things? Christmas With The Coopers is easily one of the worst of these movies I’ve seen in a while. It can’t tell if it’s a comedy about families falling apart and getting back together, or a long, drawn out drama about families falling apart and getting back together! For every forced gag there is an equally strained attempt at dragging a lump into your throat as everyone learns the meaning of life, the universe and everything in it over one Christmas Eve. I mean, this film made me laugh a measly three times! Two of those times came from the same joke, told twice, both of those times were shown in the film’s trailer! Ok, the third laugh was awesome. I pissed myself at a supremely childish but amazingly timed fart joke. But these jokes, and the amazing comedy talents of greats like Alan Alda and Olivia Wilde just can’t save this over long, boring, mainly unfunny sack of reindeer crap!

But hey. At least this one doesn’t have Vince Vaughn in it.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

 

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier

By Carole Petts

 

I liked the first Captain America. I mean, I really liked it. The attempt at welding a war film onto a modern superhero popcorn flick was appreciated because they got so much right – capturing the essence of Steve Rogers and summoning memories of Raiders of the Lost Ark into the bargain. But I fully appreciate that this isn’t a view shared by everyone. If you’re one of those people, the good news is that we’ve got the obligatory origin story out of the way now. The better news is that this film replaces the war component with an espionage thriller, with largely successful results. The even better news is it may well be the most important Marvel film to date.

Captain America was a little underused in Avengers if I’m honest. Maybe that was because he was the last Avenger to get his own standalone film, but I felt he was often relegated to comic relief for not understanding present day references. If you’ve seen the deleted scenes you’ll know that there was originally a lot more focus on him having to adjust to modern life, and that these were cut for pacing but with a promise that the theme would be expanded in Winter Soldier. The problem with that is, he’s been in the modern world for a while now – long enough that he greets every new popular culture recommendation with a weary smile and a fresh entry in his notepad.

Not long enough, however, to fathom the extent to which liberty itself has been devalued. The film wastes little time in getting to the crux of the story – freedom has a high price, and S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t prepared to pay it in the present climate. Of course, this directly conflicts with the very notion of what Cap was created for, and it makes for an effective analogy in these NSA-monitored times. But this is nothing compared to what happens next – a betrayal of enormous proportions rips the organisation apart, and Cap must decide who of his new-found compatriots he can trust.

The main issue facing anyone writing a Captain America film is the same as that facing a Superman writer – the character is cinematically boring, someone who will never have a moral dilemma because you know he will always choose the right path. Winter Soldier sensibly averts this problem by pairing Rogers with a strong ensemble cast who bring a moral flexibility – and therefore a welcome uncertainty – to proceedings. Even if we know he will always do the right thing, the same can’t be said of Black Widow or Nick Fury. Alongside the regulars is Falcon, a character familiar to Captain America readers and one who, I must confess, I wasn’t sure would work in this setting but absolutely does. This is due in large part to a winning performance by Anthony Mackie who brings a healthy dose of humour and sarcasm to proceedings.

There’s no getting around the fact that the less you know about the film, the more you will enjoy it. There are certain items that stuck in the craw a bit – the villain reveal was a bit silly to my mind, and its daftness will almost certainly be chalked up to being in the original comic storyline (it isn’t). Happily the ramifications are much, much greater than the mechanism itself, and this is swiftly forgotten in the ensuing political melee. There is a box-ticking final 20 minutes of fighting. Cap’s new helmet makes his ears stick out and he looks stupid. And his discovery of the Winter Soldier’s identity is dragged out a little long for my liking, despite the actor and character being prominently displayed in advertising up to this point and also the fact that this is a faithful translation of the story arc (I should point out that my non-comic reading partner thought this was well-paced though, so this may have been impatience on my part).

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy this film. That’s not the case. I loved it. But I can’t tell you why, because it would spoil the myriad twists and surprises that Winter Soldier has in store. If you’re not a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you might enjoy it anyway for the mix of action and espionage. If you are a fan, you can’t afford to miss it because the reverberations from this film will echo around the MCU for a good while…and you should definitely not leave before the lights go up.

 
Carole will watch most types of film and particularly anything starring Nicolas Cage, leading to her firmly-held belief that The Wicker Man remake is the funniest comedy ever produced.  She hates Grease.

Pain & Gain

Pain and Gain SunbedWhen a director is as critically and artistically reviled as Michael Bay (best summed up in this classic song from Team America) it’s sometimes difficult to admit that they haven’t always been terrible at what they do. Films like The Rock, Armageddon, and Bad Boys may lack the subtlety and originality of the truly great films of our generation, but they are, on the whole, entertaining blockbusters in a style that has been sadly lacking in recent years.

This is pretty much all Michael Bay’s fault to be honest, with a decade of films that are all at once dumb, bombastic, sexist, and interminably dull despite the constant crash, bang, wallop of CGI ‘action’ scenes. Bad Boys 2 started the rot, and by the time the third Transformers film rolled into town everyone but teenage boys and the toy manufacturers were praying for his career to be taken out the back and shot as humanely as possible.

Then something strange happened. I, along with other film fans of sound mind and body, suddenly got excited about a new Michael Bay film. Based on a fascinating true life story, and starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Pain & Gain promised something we never thought possible; Michael Bay attempting his version of an indie film. And you know what, it’s actually not a bad film.

The story focuses on Wahlberg’s character Daniel Lugo, a former fraudster who is trying to live a straight life while ferociously pursuing the American Dream. He spends almost all of his time at his gym, sculpting the perfect body while training clients to realise their full physical potential. His confusion of ambition and greed leads to a bizarre scheme that involves kidnapping one of his mega rich clients, and violently persuading them to sign over everything to him. The weak link in the operation being his accomplices; a born again Christian battling addiction (Johnson), and his best friend and gym protégé (Anthony Mackie).

What follows is both highly entertaining, and morally troubling. The central performances are brilliant, with Walhberg and Johnson giving their best performances in recent years. A brilliant mix of comedy, desperation, and outright violence; along with Mackie they are the glue that holds this film together. They are ably supported by Tony Shalhoub as the kidnap victim who you never feel an ounce of sympathy for, and Ed Harris who is brilliant, but also rapidly turning into Peter Weller by the day.

The troubling aspects of this film are two-fold. Firstly, Bay’s misogynistic themes are right to the fore here with his usual slow-motion shots of women’s scantily-clad behinds, or the off-hand way almost every male character treats the women in their life. Even more questionable is the tone of the kidnap and resulting scenes of violence and torture, especially considering we are constantly reminded that this is based on a true story. I’ve read the original newspaper article the film is based upon, and the protagonists are not loveable, misunderstood oafs, but calculating psychopaths. This revisionism leaves an exceptional bad taste in the mouth as the credits role and the obligatory ‘where are they now’ title cards roll.

And yet…

It’s ultimately a very entertaining film, and at times matches Bad Boys for its gleeful style of pitting buddies against explosions and worst case scenarios. If you can leave your conscience and morals at the door (and I don’t blame you if you can’t) I dare say you’ll have a great time watching this film. The saddest thing about this whole project is that Bay appears to have treated it as a little holiday, and he’ll very shortly get back to making Transformers 4 and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot that nobody wants. Still, at least then I can go back to happily slagging him off.

Pain & Gain is released in UK cinemas on 30th August.