Captain America: Civil War Review: Braun vs. Iron


Directors: Joe & Anthony Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan

Civil_War_Final_Poster


Release date: April 28th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 147 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The airport showdown.

Worst part: Minor leaps of logic.

Let’s face it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has eclipsed everything DC Comics/Warner Bros. could possibly hope to achieve. In its 13-blockbuster run, this franchise has set the bar for every other studio now clamouring for their own extended universes. With Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice turning from promising idea into jumbled, obnoxious mess, Marvel is still going strong. Can you believe it’s been eight whole years since Iron Man came out? Neither can I, neither can they.

instaCaptain America: Civil War looks set to be the most fulfilling blockbuster of 2016. The movie succeeds on every level, delivering on its promises and refusing to show fear or cynicism. The plot itself is more intricate and meaningful than your average MCU installment. Following up from the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Civil War opens up with the new, unique Avengers squad on its latest mission in Lagos. Tracking down weapons trader Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo), their efforts end with multiple civilian casualties.

The world looks set to turn against our troupe of sexy, spandex warriors, convinced humanity is better off without them. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are scalded by US Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) for their shocking collateral damage, aiming to push United Nations sanctions into effect. Whereas the team feels justified in their actions, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) side with the government. After Steve’s frenemy Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is blamed for a catastrophe, Cap goes on a one-man mission to find answers.insta

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo along with long-standing screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, coming back after The Winter Soldier, have successfully taken the reigns from Joss Whedon. Their latest provides a sense of balance most blockbusters either avoid or can’t quite grasp. Its plot, unlike most cluttered superhero epics, follows one streamlined path from beginning to end. From the prologue and opening action sequence onwards, its character turns and narrative twists remain steady. Like the original Civil War storyline in the comics, the UN bill – titled the Sokovia Accords here – starts a ticking time bomb to the team’s obliteration. The conflict splits the story between both sides evenly – fusing its narrative, thematic, and emotional resonance throughout the exhaustive 147-minute run-time.

Team Cap and Team Iron Man have significant points of view. Cap and co. believe it’s their responsibility to protect the world and bring justice to anyone on the wrong side of the law. Cap – divided between the worlds of yesterday, today, and tomorrow – believes a bit of ‘ol’ fashioned’ goes a long way in this paranoid, surveillance state era. Stark’s troupe, however, points out the mass casualties already caused. The former weapons/tech. giant turned humanitarian warrior puts his foot down, outlining the escalation in worldinstawide violence and shady bureaucratic border-hopping. Both agendas are reasonable, literally and figuratively tearing the franchise’s two most beloved characters apart.

The Russos take on the monstrous task of following on from previous installments and setting up new ones. The pre-established characters and talented performers are given their due, with all sub-plots fitting together like intricate jigsaw pieces. Threads including Steve and Sharon Carter/Agent 13(Emily VanCamp)’s dynamic, Natasha’s diplomatic work, Sam and Bucky’s quarrels, Vision and Wanda’s impending relationship, Stark and Rhodes’ everlasting friendship and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man(Paul Rudd)’s involvement make for numerous light-hearted gags and soul-crushing moments simultaneously. It even throws in new characters including vengeful Wakandan prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), spunky youngster Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and scheming, sympathetic human villain Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) with textbook precision.

This globe-trotting, ambitious adventure delivers some of the MCU and modern Hollywood’s most inventive action sequences. The much-talked-about airport set-piece marks the franchise at its absolute peak. This impressive sequence brings our 12 major superhero characters together with aplomb, showcasing the astonishing array of fighting styles, abilities, and personalities. Pouring gravy onto instathis already hearty steak, the opening sequence, car chase, and heart-wrenching finale provide some ass-kicking delight in between the political discussions and character-driven interludes.

Captain America: Civil War successfully highlights Cap’s never-ending conflict with the 21st Century and The Avengers’ struggle to reassure the human race of its importance in the universe. Thanks to esteemed direction, a stacked cast, fun character-actor cameos, big laughs, and even bigger emotional rifts, this is the franchise’s most mature and momentous installment yet. Fingers crossed Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 can live up to our ridiculous expectations.

Verdict: Another rich superhero epic/fulfilling MCU installment.

Triple 9 Audio Review: Bad Cop/Worse Cop


Director: John Hillcoat

Writer: Matt Cook

Stars: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul

triple9postersmall


Release date: March 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 115 minutes


3½/5

Review:

The Night Before Review: Naughty & Nice


Director: Jonathan Levine

Writers: Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Jonathan Levine, Ariel Shaffir

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Michael Shannon

The-Night-Before


Release date: November 20th, 2015

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


 

3/5

Review: The Night Before

The Fifth Estate Review – Secrets & Lies


Director: Bill Condon

Writer: Josh Singer (screenplay), Daniel Domscheit-Berg (book), David Leigh, Luke Harding (book)

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, David Thewlis, Laura Linney


Release date: October 18th, 2013

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Entertainment One

Countries: USA, India

Running time: 128 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Cumberbatch and Bruhl.

Worst part: The distracting visual style.

Patriot? Egotist? Revolutionary? Terrorist? It’s difficult to describe the most outlandish Australian outcast since Michael ‘Crocodile’ Dundee. He’s an intriguing and bizarre individual hell-bent on exposing the world’s darkest and greatest secrets. Bathroom antics and John Farnham parody videos aside, Julian Assange is, arguably, one of the world’s foremost minds. This controversial individual and his game-changing actions were bound to hit celluloid. Unfortunately, The Fifth Estate doesn’t seize its stellar opportunities, becoming a by-the-numbers docudrama unwilling to research and fact check. Sadly, this lurid and discomforting docudrama, despite the talented cast, never pushes past its immense stigma and cloying discourse.

Benedict Cumberbatch.

Despite Assange’s relevance and notice within international media, The Fifth Estate delivers a confusing and befuddled analysis of his wheelings and dealings. Those uninterested in or clueless about his societal, economic, and political impact will become lost in this uninspired yet advantageous narrative. Despite the news’ importance, the best docudramas can spark viewer interest in any subject. The Fifth Estate, despite relaying vital titbits and accounts, fails to connect to the average moviegoer. The movie kicks off with the New York Times, The Guardian, and major European newspapers reporting on one of the United States military’s most crippling atrocities in 2010. The story then jumps back to 2007, and IT genius Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl) is looking for his big break into the international media and technology scene. At a tech-wiz and computer hacker’s convention in Berlin, Daniel meets his hero. Communicating with Daniel before the event, Assange(Benedict Cumberbatch)’s passion for activism and online warfare lures Daniel into a false sense of security. Working together to build information hub Wikileaks into a powerful force, Assange and Daniel become buddies. Fighting for freedom, power, and justice, the two geniuses clash over political and moral differences. When major secrets come to light, the cracks begin to appear in their already frail partnership. In addition, the US Government’s brightest, represented by Sarah Shaw (Laura Linney) and James Boswell (Stanley Tucci), seek to rescue the few informants left alive. When Daniel’s steamy relationship with co-worker Anke (Alicia Vikander) is shattered, he seeks out Guardian journalist Nick Davies (David Thewlis) to talk sense into his stress-inducing confidant.

Daniel Bruhl.

Despite the engaging premise, this exposition-heavy drama may push moviegoers away. It’s difficult to determine the movie’s core target audience. Turning against nations, governments, and factions at random, The Fifth Estate‘s convoluted narrative could be protested against. With Assange’s outrage over the project, other, smaller scale, productions have already revealed Assange’s methodologies and motivations. With Australian mini-series Underground: The Julian Assange Story and documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks delving into this hot-button issue, The Fifth Estate presents its material in a more expansive and poetic manner. Unfortunately, this drama-thriller proves that this dense material is suited to the documentary format. Presenting specific events in a cinematic dreamscape, West Wing screenwriter Josh Singer’s diluted and dour script doesn’t delve into this issue’s most salient aspects. Throughout this over-long and debilitating docudrama, Singer delivers the ‘what’ and ‘who’ aspects of each pressing situation. The obvious details, presented as symbols in an ever-changing narrative, don’t provide the necessary ‘why’ and ‘how’ factors. Striving for the same universal acclaim and historical relevance as All the President’s Men and The Insider, The Fifth Estate recycles familiar plot-strands and messages in an underwhelming and pointless way. Despite the compelling real-life conflict, there is a significant lack of depth, drama, and development within this shallow Social Network-esque techno-thriller.

Our truth-driven vigilantes.

Lacking the wit and charm needed for this type of plot-heavy narrative, the ‘action’ is comprised of angry typing on keyboards, extensive research, and stupefying arguments. Despite computer hacking, investigative journalism, and whistleblowing’s value, important facts and figures aren’t divulged. Despite highlighting jargon and confusing intricacies throughout, discourses and titles aren’t explained. With the Bradley Manning saga and Assange’s rape allegations under-utilised, this overblown drama lacks balance. Leaning on Domscheit-Berg’s perspective, this distorted account doesn’t discuss the pros and cons of false identities and societal shifts. With the freedom of speech vs. citizen safety debate raging on, The Fifth Estate provides excessive metaphors. Hinting at greater conflicts, the movie looks down upon democracy, governments, and big-name publications. Its small scope and patronising tone, summed up by insignificant sub-plots, define The Fifth Estate as a manipulative and overblown docudrama. Computer hackers, defined in cinema as either saviours or super-villains, emphasise the internet’s impact on privacy, freedom, and technology. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s fantastical gleam overshadows this powerful story. Director Bill Condon (Kinsey, Dreamgirls)’s flashy and incomprehensible visual style overcompensates for the movie’s bland dramatic beats. Bombarding us with one trick after another, Condon has changed from biopic master to cynical storyteller (his Twilight instalments may be to blame). Afraid of its own topic and words, The Fifth Estate‘s aesthetic turns reality into a TV movie fantasy packed with pretentious dream sequences and overt symbolism.

“You can’t go far in this world by relying on people. People are loyal until it seems opportune not to be.” (Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), The Fifth Estate).

Laura Linney & Stanley Tucci.

On multiple occasions, Condon addresses his characters as the rock-stars of their perplexing universe. Characters walk down shiny hallways and neon-lit establishments – mixing computer jargon with hipster-like intricacies. Nightclub-esque media conventions, futuristic company buildings, and exaggerated newsroom designs highlight The Fifth Estate‘s self-consciousness and obtuseness. However, Condon doesn’t stop there. Developing a Bourne-like 21st century world, shaking camerawork, globetrotting adventures, aggressive characters, and archival news footage distract from the story’s cultural significance. Assange and Daniel’s journey, summed up by kinetic, energy-drink-consumption-fuelled montages and sporadic intertitles, isn’t developed. Despite its dull personality, The Fifth Estate is saved by two ground-breaking performances. Despite not delving into personal lives or backstories, the movie establishes pressing conflicts between these immaculate minds and fragile egos. A flawed yet ambitious character, Cumberbatch’s Assange is a charismatic and misanthropic celebrity. Capturing Assange’s peculiar mannerisms, Cumberbatch develops a note-worthy and intriguing impersonation. Bruhl provides another commendable performance after his impressive turn in Rush. As an empathetic yet spotlight-obsessed genius, Daniel becomes an engaging and likeable character. Unfortunately, character actors like Anthony Mackie, Dan Stevens, and Peter Capaldi are stranded in over-the-top roles.

Despite its engaging premise and unique intentions, The Fifth Estate‘s heavy-handedness, small scope, and lurid visuals overshadow its all-important purpose. Hollywood’s involvement – linking moviegoers to this controversial issue – certainly doesn’t help. This messy and disjointed docudrama states the facts, but refuses to explore this story’s most meaningful depths.

Verdict: An informative yet inconsistent docudrama.

Runner Runner Review – A Costly Gamble


Director: Brad Furman

Writer: Brian Koppelman, David Levien 

Stars: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie


Release date: October 4th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 91 minutes


 

 

 

Best part: Ben Affleck. 

Worst part: The laboured pace.

Review: Runner Runner

Verdict: A gorgeous yet by-the-numbers corporate/techno-thriller.

Pain & Gain Review – Bay’s Bonkers Bash


Director: Michael Bay

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Pete Collins (articles)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub


Release date: August 8th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


3/5

Best part: Dwayne Johnson.

Worst part: The Michael Bay-isms. 

Remember the 1990s? It was a far more peaceful time – back when boy bands ruled the airwaves, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air skyrocketed to mega-popularity, and Internet Explorer was still relevant. As a 90s kid, I look fondly back on this time and continually find more glaring similarities and differences between then and now. In the 90s, Miami, Florida was home to one of the most shocking crimes in US history. Action-comedy Pain & Gain is the ‘Michael Bay-directed’ account of this tragic event.

Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson& Anthony Mackie.

I used quotation marks in the previous sentence to make a specific point about this movie. Bay (Armageddon, the Transformers trilogy) is one of the most controversial directors in tinsel-town history. Many blame him for the death of modern cinema (Pearl Harbour was undoubtedly a huge misstep!) and continually criticise his ear-and-eyeball-shatteringly-brash style. However, his bombastic popcorn flicks have supported many careers and studios (dammed with faint praise). Since his filmography is a mixed bag (to say the least), Pain & Gain may just be his magnum opus. This hauntingly vile yet exciting and visceral action-comedy repeatedly states that it’s ‘based on a true story’. In the first three minutes, we see body-builder Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) impressively performing sit ups shortly before running from a barrage of policemen. The movie then steps back a few months, and Lugo is working for the man. Lugo, an over-worked yet optimistic personal trainer at Miami’s Sun Gym, is forced to work with high-paying client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Inspired by self-help guru Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong), Lugo asks work-mate Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to help him kidnap Kershaw and steal all his worldly possessions. However, their incompetent plan is met with hostility from Kershaw, former detective Ed Du Bois III (Ed Harris) and Miami’s steamy criminal underbelly.

Tony Shalhoub.

What follows is a tale of violence, tyranny, anguish, emotional turmoil, and dream chasing. Yes, this movie is a stew filled with chases, enviable settings, disturbing violence, and A-list actors (you know, the ‘typical’ Hollywood movie ingredients). However, Pain & Gain startlingly deviates from what a standard run-of-the-mill action-comedy would do. Turning this horrific yet though-provoking true story into a relentless farce is a bizarre premise in itself. Here, Bay throws preconceptions of all kinds out the window. His idea of the ‘American Dream’ is clichéd and shallow, but it makes for a topical, discomforting, and enthralling movie-going experience. Pain & Gain clearly suggests that life is not worth living unless you have reasonable goals, a can-do attitude…and enviable possessions. In keeping with these pessimistic messages (such as they are), Bay’s superficial world (seen in all of his movies) is depicted here as a lugubrious, slimy, and morally weak black hole. Bay’s mean-spirited and chauvinistic creation knowingly points out the dangers that come of economic turmoil and unadulterated obsession. Thankfully, the familiar yet refreshing crime-thriller aspects keep this controversial movie in check. Throughout Pain & Gain, Bay alerts us to that split second when the lead characters go from laughably bumbling morons to villainous, delusional, and selfish delinquents. Despite the aforementioned abrupt tonal shifts, Bay makes sure the audience can ably laugh at, but never with, the three anti-heroes.

Ed Harris.

Ultimately, Bay proves with Pain & Gain that he has the potential to create gleefully satirical, dark, and multi-layered action flicks (and who on Earth saw that coming?!) Despite Pain & Gain’s glowing positives, Bay’s sexist, racist, homophobic, manic, and atmospheric directorial ticks are on display once again. His crass/frat-boy-like filmmaking style/sense of humour overshadows everything he touches. Bay’s repetitive and abrasive approach may test well with audiences, but he needs to branch out if he wants to be treated like an adult. If Hollywood were a high school, The Coen Brothers would be the popular, talented kids whilst Bay would be the nerdy youngster with a creepy yet obvious crush. In fact, Pain & Gain, conceptually and narratively, draws major comparisons to Burn After Reading and Fargo. However, whereas those crime-dramas are consistent, intelligent, and punchy, this movie fails to come up a clever, original or subtle stylistic choice. Bay delivers yet another blood, sweat, and expletive-filled universe. The 90s, by this movie’s standards, glistens with jaw-droppingly gorgeous bodies, bright lights, bold colours, and stereotypical comic reliefs. For some reason, many shots zoom through bullet holes and around characters. I’ve also never understood his obsession with low angles, explosions, and gratuitous slo-mo. Unequivocally, It’s the Bay-isms that distract from what the movie is trying to say about wealth, masculinity, power, and friendship.

“Jesus Christ Himself has blessed me with many gifts! One of them is knocking someone the f*uck out!” (Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), Pain & Gain).

The Sun Gym gang.

If you find True Romance/Out of Sight-esque crime-capers annoying and pretentious, you should probably check out Now You See Me instead. Like Now You See Me, the A-list cast elevates the mediocre material. Unlike that movie, however, Pain & Gain isn’t entirely brainless. Aided by the enjoyably silly yet unique narration, this movie highlights the aesthetic and magnetic qualities of its performers. Wahlberg’s enigmatic and captivating screen presence elevates his strange yet fascinating role. Used to playing hard-nosed cops and criminals, Wahlberg could’ve done this in his sleep. However, his wacky character is a steroid-filled shot to this movie’s heart. Emulating such masculine figures as Tony Montana, Rocky Balboa and Michael Corleone (“I watched a lot of movies Paul, I know what I’m doing!”), Lugo believes his muscle-fuelled lifestyle will bolster his ridiculous and disgusting get-rich-quick scheme. Despite his dim-wittedness, Lugo’s blissful ignorance and persistence are, at points, hilariously charming traits (similarly to his Boogie Nights character). The Stand out performer here is Johnson. Coming off G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Fast and Furious 6, Johnson has established himself in 2013 as the next Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Stallone-type action hero. Able to inject charisma, physicality, and grit into any role, Johnson in Pain & Gain balances wit, magnetism, and an inhumanly muscular frame to turn in a nuanced performance. His hysterically zany character, obsessed with Jesus and Cocaine (what a combination!), is a truly affecting and disturbing creation. I hope we see more of Mackie after his enjoyable performance here. Shalhoub, Jeong, and Harris deliver charismatic turns in small roles. On the other end of the spectrum, a little of Rebel Wilson’s ‘comedy’ goes a long way!

Turning this impactful true story into a pulsating action-comedy would’ve been an ambitious and incomprehensible task. However, Bay has done a remarkable job with allowing us to laugh at these absurdly dumb characters. Pain & Gain is an outlandish, insane, and lurid movie about the American Dream.

Verdict: A relentless, punchy yet bizarre action-comedy.