Captain America 3: Civil War (2016, Anthony & Joe Russo)

One of the better Disney/Marvel superhero movies (not counting the X-Men, which are almost all better than the infinity-stone saga, or whatever we’ll ultimately call these things). After a few civilian deaths are caused while saving the entire planet from certain destruction, everyone is angry at the superheroes and propose they be commanded by the UN instead of by an absent Sam Jackson (maybe he’s dead – someone mentioned the collapse of SHIELD?). While this is happening, Captain America’s old buddy The Winter Soldier (I missed the last movie, but he seems to be a Manchurian Candidate version of the Captain with an iron arm instead of a magic shield) is framed for killing an African king. The Captain wants to check in with his friend before antiterror squads kill him, but Iron Man says no, we have to let the UN tell us when/where to intervene, and an Avengers-rift is formed – a loud, punchy rift! These guys solve all of their problems through punching. Also it’s a three-hour movie with few interestingly-shot action scenes and no memorable images (no wonder it opened with a Bourne sequel trailer).

So, let’s see, UN Iron Man is joined by his buddy War Machine, Black Widow, Vision, the dead king’s son Black Panther, and a newly-recruited teenage Spider-Man

And the Captain is joined by his buddy Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Falcon and Ant-Man. So it’s six on six. No Thor or Hulk or Loki or Gwyneth Paltrow this time.

I guess the Captain’s team wins – it’s his movie, after all, and Black Widow defects at the last minute, War Machine is badly hurt, and Black Panther is pretty cool about accepting the truth that Winter Soldier didn’t really kill his dad, but in a weird twist, Iron Man is angry when it turns out Winter Soldier actually killed HIS dad. All this mayhem was somehow orchestrated by an anti-superhero crusader called Zemo, who despite his supervillain name is just a regular guy.

These Russo brothers made the last Capt. America and I guess are making the next two Avengers. Before all this happened, they were best known for You, Me and Dupree. I would’ve already covered most of these heroes in my Avengers 2 writeup but I apparently chose to make a point about how forgettable a movie it was instead. New (to me): Winter Soldier is Sebastian Stan (The Martian), Black Panther is Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in 42), Spider-Man is Tom Holland (The Lost City of Z, Broadway’s Billy Elliot) and the evil Zemo is Daniel Bruhl (the nazi war hero/actor in Inglorious Basterds).

Jen Chaney:

[Civil War] doesn’t contain a moment that enables the audience to emotionally relate to the characters the way Spider-Man 2 did. It entertains, but it doesn’t transport to the degree that, say, The Dark Knight or even Superman: The Movie did … it’s a sign that the bigger the mob of infighting superheroes gets, the more difficult it becomes to leave a space in the crowd and let the audience in, too.

The Raid: Redemption (2011, Gareth Evans)

Team of cops raid a fortified apartment building, taking it floor by floor, encountering new surprises and challenges, like a vertical Snowpiercer (I’m aware that High-Rise is being called a vertical Snowpiercer but I haven’t seen that yet).

Our hero Rama is working with noble Sgt. Jaka and traitorous Lt. Wahyu, targeting drug lord Tama, his operations guy Andi and his lead fighter Mad Dog. Allegiances shift mid-fight as the Bad Lt. starts getting people killed, and Andi turns out to be Rama’s long-lost brother, teaming up with him against Mad Dog. Pretty much everyone dies (100+ body count) except the brothers, and Rama shall return in part two.

Two brothers, Bad Andi (left) and Hero Rama:

That’s the Bad Lieutenant in the middle:

Won a Midnight Madness award in Toronto against You’re Next and God Bless America. Director Gareth Evans made the demon death cult episode of V/H/S/2 which is funny because I had the same complaint about it – cool looking action with story problems.

Mad Dog gets the drop on Sgt. Jaka:

The movie achieved the highest honor a foreign film can receive: having two of its lead actors recruited for a Star Wars sequel (SW also recruited the lead of 2011’s other apartment building assault flick, Attack The Block). Before that, our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) appeared in Keanu’s Man of Tai Chi, Sgt. Jaka (Joe Taslim) in Fast & Furious 6, Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) in Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse, and lead baddie Tama (Ray Sahetapy) in Captain America 3.

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016, Richard Linklater)

I don’t have the critical skill to explain why a slice-of-life movie following a college baseball team’s party antics for the three days before classes begin seems so essential right now.

Katy liked it but the drunk girls gave her unpleasant flashbacks to Saturday Night Fever‘s rape scene and she was unhappy that the college freshmen looked to be in their mid-20’s.

Let’s see, Jake was our freshman protagonist, Beverly was the girl he likes and Beuter was his cowboy roommate… I guess Jay was the argumentative freshman pitcher with giant glasses… a week later, the rest of the guys are kinda a blur, so let’s watch it again.

Said to be spiritual sequels to Dazed and Confused and Boyhood, so let’s say it’s also a prequel to the Before series, creating a whole Linklater Cinematic Lifetime (much preferable to a Marvel Cinematic Universe).

It’s rare that an IMDB trivia article is truly interesting, but check this out:

The character Willoughby has a complete collection of the Twilight Zone television series on VHS. The Twilight Zone episode “A Stop at Willoughby” concerns a character who longs for a more idyllic past and takes drastic steps to recapture it. Similarly, in the film, it is revealed that Willoughby took drastic steps -falsifying his transcripts and lying about his age – so he could continue to play collegiate baseball and cling to an idyllic past.

M. Singer:

What initially appears like a mob of dumb jerks, reveals itself as a collection of lovably quirky and hilarious individuals of different backgrounds and beliefs … The team goes to a series of different clubs — disco one night, punk the next — which makes Everybody Wants Some both a lively survey of early ’80s pop culture and a microcosm of every college’s freshman’s search for identity.

D. Ehrlich: “Plotlessness is the new plot.”

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (2011, Johnnie To)

Love triangle movie, where Yuanyuan Gao (Beijing Bicycle, dunno who she played in Blind Detective) is torn between two rich suitors: the playful Paperman in the building across the street (Louis Koo of Drug War, Romancing in Thin Air, Zu Warriors) and a patient, washed-up architect who she runs into on the street (Daniel Wu of Overheard, The Banquet, Man with the Iron Fists). All three of the leads were new to me, though I recognized Gao’s heavyset coworker Suet Lam from Mad Detective and/or Exiled.

Each guy has personality and problems, and the choice between them could go either way until the two men finally meet and there’s a Frog Incident. After that, Koo claims his womanizing days are over and stages a Big Romantic Gesture while Gao and Wu are out together, but it’s too little, too late, since he’s standing upon Wu’s even bigger romantic gesture: a skyscraper modeled after her silhouette, lit in the shape of a proposal.

Cute movie, keeping us off-guard with its unusual plotting and our unfamiliarity with Hong Kong movie traditions (the joke that Koo gets a nosebleed whenever he’s turned-on didn’t work for me). Think it’s my most-successful-ever group movie pick, charming Katy and Maria, and keeping my cinephile-self occupied with all the wonderful staging To does using windows, reflections and shadows.

M. D’Angelo:

Hardly surprising that a Johnnie To romcom is light years more formally sophisticated than Hollywood’s efforts, making expert use of spatial relationships and insisting that every shot please the eye rather than be merely functional … I can’t even remember the last time I saw a version of this story in which the outcome was genuinely in doubt, much less one in which I was unsure what I wanted to happen.

Television watched early 2016

Master of None season 1 (2015)

We watched this in mourning for the end of Parks & Recreation, and it’s fantastic – a very successful comedy-drama mix with hot issues (most notably racism and immigrant-parent stories) mixed into its relationship drama. I love how there’s an ensemble cast but each episode gets to tell its own story without roping in superfluous characters just because their actors are listed in the opening titles. Aziz, returning from Parks & Rec and the great Human Giant is a struggling actor, having been cast in (and cut from) an awful-looking movie called The Sickening. His on-again girlfriend is SNL’s Noël Wells and his friends are the giant Eric Wareheim and Lena Waithe (a writer on Bones and producer of Dear White People) and Kelvin Yu (Bob’s Burgers writer, in Milk and Cloverfield), with appearances by usual suspects Todd Barry and Jon Benjamin.

Great editing and music, widescreen cinematography – TV comedy is reaching new levels. Eric and Aziz directed episodes, along with Lynn Shelton (Laggies, Humpday) and James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now).


Rick and Morty season 2 (2015)

Not as revelatory as the first season, but just as high quality.

Featuring Key & Peele as testicle monsters, Jemaine Clement as a psychic cloud-being named Fart, Christina Hendricks and Patton Oswalt as hive-minds, Matt Walsh as Beth’s new bisexual husband Sleepy Gary, Stephen Colbert as a Rick-like scientist inside the car-battery microverse, half the Mr. Show cast in minor roles, and Dan Harmon as Ice-T.


Veep season 3 (2014)

In which Selina is running for president, Amy and Dan compete to be her campaign manager, and Jonah bounces between campaigns while running a DC insider blog. Also in the presidential race are defense secretary Isiah Whitlock Jr., senator(?) Randall Park, MLB coach Glenn Wrage, and some normal-looking white guy who I forget who he is (Paul Fitzgerald). Unbelievable ending, as Veep’s losing on the campaign trail, but becomes President anyway after her boss steps down. I’m guessing it won’t last long.

Presidential debaters:

Veep Daughter Sarah Sutherland in front of the strategy board:

Trip to England:


And rewatched The Mighty Boosh season 3

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011, Takashi Miike)

Cannes Month continues. This played there in 2011 – in 3D! The 3D would’ve added some novelty to a remake which seems to have none at all, unless we’re counting that it’s filmed in color. Scene-for-scene redo of the original, well-acted and shot (but the original was well-acted and shot), kinda languid in the flashback-heavy middle, and with a less biting ending.

Motome (Eita of Memories of Matsuko) had a desperately sick wife (Hikari Mitsushima of Love Exposure) and baby and needed doctor money, so he did a dishonorable thing, telling the local samurai house that he wanted to commit seppuku at their house so they’d pay him to go away. But they’d decided to make an example out of the next sap who tried this, and since Motome had done another dishonorable thing – selling his sword for food and secretly substituting a wooden one – he’s forced to die an agonizing, splintery death while his family succumbs to illness at home.

So the dead wife’s dad Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa, later in Miike’s Over Your Dead Body) visits the house a couple months later with the same seppuku story in order to get an audience and shame them for what they’ve done. Per an IMDB comment (I know!) the film argues “that honour is ultimately irrelevant in the face of social suffering.” It’s a compelling story, but during hard times, the house (led by Doppelganger & 13 Assassins star Koji Yakusho) has built its fortune on the traditional ideas of honor and can’t afford to let Hanshiro’s humanist ideas take hold.

C. Huber in Cinema Scope:

Hara-Kiri [demonstrates] a classical craftsmanship few contemporary directors could ever hope to match, but at the cost of personal expression. Miike’s single-minded take on a straightforward samurai tragedy follows the original’s outlines, yet replaces its smart, suspenseful time-shifts with big blocks of flashback melodrama … the marvellous, mostly brownish palette of the interiors tended to sink in the murky fog of light reduction, making Cannes’ first 3-D competition entry a good argument against the process.

Midnight Special (2016, Jeff Nichols)

After Take Shelter, I’ll definitely sign up for another Jeff Nichols/Michael Shannon drama about impending doom. This one is maybe more ambitious, definitely more confusingly plotted, and has less well-defined characters and relationships. Shannon and childhood friend Joel Edgerton have kidnapped Shannon’s magic son Alton from a doomsday cult and with help from Shannon’s (ex-?)wife Kirsten Dunst and federal agent Adam Driver they take Alton to fulfill his destiny by ascending to Tomorrowland.

Pretty sure this was meant to evoke the string of psychic-child adventure stories in the late 1970’s: Firestarter (the novel, if not the film) and The Fury. In fact I was so busy trying to remember how Firestarter ends that I may have missed some details about the doomsday cult and why exactly they wanted Alton – or maybe they weren’t even sure of that themselves. If not an instant classic, at least a cool-looking, mysterious movie, full of great acting and shocking moments (I leapt when satellite parts rained down on the gas station). I always appreciate sci-fi stories that show glimpses of larger worlds and deeper mysteries than the film has the time or inclination to explain.

This counted as the kickoff to Cannes Month, since Nichols’ previous movie Mud played Cannes, and his second film of 2016 Loving is about to premiere there. Although I would’ve watched it anyway.

M. D’Angelo:

For some reason, the emotional core of this film seems to have gone missing — I can see where it’s supposed to reside, but the love Alton’s parents feel for him is oddly abstract, perhaps because E.T. seems more human than he does.

I. Vishvenetsky:

The bad guys trace [our heroes’ car] through an insurance bill left on a kitchen counter, because even Midnight Special’s sense of conspiracy is grounded in the commonplace. The only explicitly poetic line the movie allows itself is spoken by the cult’s neckless goon, played by character actor Bill Camp. Sitting in his truck, he says, “I was an electrician, certified in two states. What do I know of these things?” This is the most the viewer will ever learn about him. Midnight Special defines characters through what they can’t understand, contrasting fear of the unknown with faith in it, and flipping the supernatural into a metaphor for the everyday.

From J. Romney’s review intro:

Cinema has rarely felt so much like a son et lumière as it did in a brief period in the early ’80s, when suddenly shafts of light came shooting out of movie images, as if the screen had been slashed. It became a defining image of Steven Spielberg’s films — Close Encounters, E.T., and Poltergeist too, if you want to count that as one of his … In their purest and most glaring form, those shafts of light had something of the quality of angelic revelation about them. Certainly, you suspected that cinematographers such as Vilmos Zsigmond and Allen Daviau had taken a close look at certain academic religious paintings of the 19th century, or perhaps at Renaissance church sculpture, with their sheaves of marble emulating beams from the divine. At any rate, it came as a shock to get the impression from these films — and with such eye-searing intensity — that cinema was a matter of light streaming directly out of the screen, rather than just bounced off it. The motif was a powerful way of restoring, if not a holy, at least an authentically otherworldly dimension to cinema.

Moneyball (2011, Bennett Miller)

A baseball movie perversely set in quiet, underlit offices and locker rooms (Mom: “Can you make the TV brighter?”). 2002 Oakland A’s manager Brad Pitt becomes impressed with nerdy Jonah Hill’s stats theories, hires him to create a low-budget team of effective/undervalued players. Strange idea for an underdog sports movie, because their ideas don’t actually work. Pitt can’t get coach Philip Seymour Hoffman to play the roster that Hill intended to maximize wins, so Pitt trades away Hoffman’s favorite players to force the issue… and they set a league winning streak and make the postseason, but the year still ends disappointingly. Meanwhile we get backstory of Pitt’s unimpressive early career as a player and his current home life (ex-wife Robin Wright and a daughter he’ll be able to see less often if he takes a different job) and a side plot with no payoff feat. Chris Pratt as a washed-up catcher turned fledgeling first baseman. But it’s got appealing actors and an Aaron Sorkin script, so it’s mostly a good time (memorable scene: Jonah Hill having to inform a player twice his size that he’s been traded) – and it made me care enough about Pitt’s Billy Beane to look up the real guy (still with the A’s through 2019).

Pitt makes most key decisions while driving:

Film Quarterly wrote a joint article about this and Margin Call, which made me realize that these two Autumn 2011-opening financial films with rhyming titles are the reason I still get Bennett Miller and JC Chandor confused.

Embrace of the Serpent (2015, Ciro Guerra)

Karamakate in the Amazon is visited by two white men seeking the same herb at different times in his life. As a strong and suspicious young man in 1909 he meets Belgian Theo (Borgman star Jan Bijvoet) who claims he seeks the plant to cure an illness. As a forgetful old man during WWII he meets Evan (Brionne Davis of a recent Wizard of Oz miniseries – IMDB: “ambitious and terrible”), who claims to be a noble scientist but is ultimately seeking materials for military use.

Really beautiful black-and-white jungle/river photography, recreations of native life and its corruption and destruction by so-called Christians. The story about needing to teach the white guys to dream, and the parallel timelines (the latter-day one ending with Karamakate destroying the plant rather than hand it over) were a bit confounding and the heavy symbolism a bit tiresome, but overall I liked it better than Cinema Scope did, and not as much as Reverse Shot did.