Thursday, 28 April 2016

"O Captain! My Captain!" - Civil War

Political interference in the Avengers' activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man. 

As the third Captain America entry jump-starts the summer movie season, and so called Phase 3 of the MCU, its box-office muscle is beyond question. When the Avengers first assembled four years ago, it felt like a grand culmination, THE Ultimate Marvel superhero event. Since then, the studio's ever expanding Cinematic Universe has delivered sequels or varying quality and introduced new heroes in stand-alone movies, but it has never quite matched the ensemble-balancing finesse and Earth-quaking action scale of Joss Whedon's initial assembling. Not until now. This is not some hastily assembled battle to sell more movie tickets; these two have been quarreling over the course of two Avengers movies - one of their first conversation includes Captain America telling Stark "Put on the suit, let's go a few rounds". It's all been building to this; with hashtag-powered marketing campaign, prompting True Believers to pick a side. 

This film is build around a bigger conflict that, despite the title, does place it as a direct sequel to Age of Ultron. While Bucky and Cap friendship being the core of the film, makes it Captain America Three rather than Avengers Two and a Half. Captain America: Civil War might be the best Marvel Studios move yet. There, I said it. It does what the best Marvel films do: juggling between characters so each is allowed to shine in a story that pushes forward the series continuity and while also forming and concluding its own plot. 

Forget Batman v Superman. Here you get Ant-Man v Spider-Man, Hawkeye v Black Widow, Scarlet Witch v Vision, The Winter Soldier v Black Panther and Captain America v Iron Man, all rolled into one film. And that is what you call THE Ultimate Marvel superhero event. What could serve as the detriment to some hero-stuffed movies, actually works to the advantage of Civil War. Part of what is so delightful is how easily the characters, the majority of which we've come to know over the course of thirteen Marvel Studios movies, interact and play off each other. However, it all comes to these two characters, ultimately Captain America v Iron Man and their own beliefs, personalities, neuroses and paranoia coming out to play. For both of them, the bonds of friendship are shown to run deeper than any commitment to the greater good. 

Steve defense of Bucky is questionable: he may be his childhood friend, but now he's a lethal, robot-armed killing machine forever in danger of being reactivated. Sebastian Stan remains, for the most part, as blank and frosty as he was in Winter Soldier. Chris Evans meanwhile, further hones a role he has effortlessly owned for five movies now; pushing Rogers to impressive new depths and reminding us that his straight arrow still has a dangerous edge. He's perfect. The stoic heart and soul of the MCU. There's little doubt why anyone would risk being branded as fugitive to follow him into battle (I VOLUNTEER!). And as perfect is Robert Downey Jr., who shows a completely different side of Tony Stark. He's more the elder statesman here than the witty merchant; reflecting on the consequences of his actions and looking to make amends. The brilliance of Downey Jr. sympathetic performance is that even if (like me) you are resolutely #TeamCap you can still (obviously) feel for him. 

As you might expect, it's one of the MCU's more serious entries, tonally a world away from Age of Ultron. But that doesn't mean it's humorless; far from it. Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson can be relied upon for laugh-out-loud one-liners wherever he's on screen, Vision stylish new wardrobe is comedy gold and Paul Rudd's Scott Lang is "HUGE" fun in relatively brief appearance. Moreover, Black Panther gets a lot of shine too. Going in I didn't know much about the character, so this bing my strong introduction to the character, I really liked him. He works for this story and situations in many ways ( I can't reveal in a spoiler free review). Now let's get into what everyone seem to be waiting for - except me, because I've never really been a huge fan - 19-year-old Tom Holland's Spider-Man. he might be the best Spidey so far. His Peter Parker is great: nervy, goofy and instantly endearing. In the airport fight, in which he's truly spectacular, using his webs in entertaining and creative ways; while his wit couldn't be better. I have to admit that I'm in love and I can't wait to see more of Holland's Spider-Man. And no Loki or Ultron equivalent this time. Who needs a villain when you have Steve and Tony? Both protagonists. Both antagonists.

Civil War is rises above the series' greatest weaknesses. In a movie that has an almost literal army of superheroes, it's remarkable that a film this big can still feel intimate. Reflecting the material's comic book roots, the Russos keep the film's action heavy. "It always ends in a fight", says Bucky. Of course it does. And Civil War builds to an unforgettable main event. The airport scene is magnificent and exhilarating, a scene that never feels overstuffed or confused, despite the enormity of the action. This airport set Battle Royale ranks among the most inventive and fun superhero action sequences. Everyone gets a moment to shine. It comes with no surprise that John Wick directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski served as Sceond Unit Directors on this one. Ultimately a later three-way fight massively raises the emotional stakes, because after eight years and twelve films you cant help but care about the people on each side of the teams. 

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo don't just blow your mind with their action sequences, they want to keep your brain firmly engaged too. That is why matters of friendship, family and loyalty course through the action. More impressively the film feels genuinely invested in the questions it raises about freedom v responsibility, heroism v vigilantism and what those distinctions say about the individuals making them. The Civil War is not one that anyone expects to be "won" in any permanent sense. While their resolve is every bit as firm as their abs and biceps, to say nothing of their titanium suits and vibranium shield, one senses the growing schism between Captain America and Iron Man will be healed in the long run. Finally, this film feels like the movie this series has been building towards for the past eight years. After all, Marvel earned this fight. This is the best Marvel so far. I had my doubts they could make anything greater than Whedon's first Avengers. but this one is as close as things come to "superhero movie perfection". this movie made me, humble Marvel fangirl, very happy indeed. 

Overall, Civil War isn't just a perfect popcorn crowd-pleaser, it is bright, creative, insightful, affecting and above all: FUN! If you're #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan, it doesn't matter... Here the real winner is #TeamMarvel!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Jungle Book Everyone Needed

The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don't have his best interests at heart.

In addition to the creative resurrection of Star Wars, the seemingly unstoppable commercial might of the Marvel films, and the by-now taken-for-granted genius of Pixar, the Mouse House has less noisily been updating some of its animated classics to live-action makeovers. Last year director Kenneth Branagh tried with Cinderella (with a huge assist from Cate Blanchett's venomous wicked stepmother). Aside from investing in top-drawer digital craftsmanship, perhaps the canniest move Disney made on this film was hiring Jon Favreau to helm it. After all, he already has one four-star family pic to his credit (Elf). Jon Favreau brings a welcome lightness of touch to this visually immersive adventure story. This film is a faithful and more mature reboot, it definitely rivals the looseness of Disney's 1967 animated classic, while succeeding on its own so well that such comparison are barely necessary. The movie is tender and manages to touch on some grown-up themes about man's destructive power and loss of youthful innocence without loosing sight of its first and foremost kids adventure. In fact Favreau never loses the sight that it is an adventure story for children. 

Tackling his first-feature role not only as the lead, but also as the only flesh and blood character, little Neel Sethi gets away with it pretty well; especially under what must have been challenging circumstances. This kid is killing it, keeping in mind that this little man is looking at nothing and acting. Green-screens have defeated actors with far more experience. From all the familiar plot beats from Disney's first Jungle Book, Favreau clearly understood that the Mowgli-Baloo relationship is the real key to the story. He slowed the film pace enough long to build up an effective core to their relationship. Now, Baloo voiced by Bill Murray... Could they have made a better choice? Murray as the world's most charmingly lazy bear is a brilliant idea. Plus, when the film gets it right: it sings. Can you picture Christopher Walken singing a song as a giant monkey? I was in heaven. Can you really get better than that?! Voice work is excellent all around, from Nyong'o, to Elba, Johansson and Kingsley. They're all perfect - not just in their voices, but also in the way that what is coming out of their mouths syncs up perfectly with the way their mouths move. It's the first talking-animal movie I've seen where CGI seamlessly bridges the uncanny gap between fantasy and reality and also one of the few 3-D movies that actually benefits from being in 3-D. 

This film is a masterpiece of CGI work. Those animals were real to me. Moreover, the animal effects are overwhelmingly successful. As I said before, it isn't just that the animal movement scan as real but they figured out just how much to anthropomorphize the animal mouth movements to make the speaking seem natural. Creators build this jungle into the type pf dangerous, sometimes pitiless setting that an average 10-year-old would nonetheless never want to leave. Favreau imposes a little bit more of a strict hero's-journey framework onto the source materials but never hint to that seriousness that tends to sour so many aggressively modernised fairy stories. Finally, if I were my 6/7-year-old self. I would grow up telling everyone around that this film is a classic, it would have been my definitive Jungle Book movie for the rest of my life. But I'm a grown up woman now, and I also think this film would be my definitive version of the Jungle Book for now on. I can't see another adaptation of this story being THIS good. 

Overall, The Jungle Book is one of the most visually sumptuous blockbusters this side of Avatar. Favreau's movie is more straight adventure than musical, but when Murray starts letting rip with a familiar tune, the film finally finds its groove.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Outlander (Season 2) Premiere

The story adapted from Diana Gabaldon's Dragonfly in Amber, sends a pregnant Claire and Jamie to Paris in order to sabotage a burgeoning Jacobite rebellion against Britain's King, an effort that Claire know will fail. Indeed Scotland's Battle of Culloden, which Claire and Jamie are trying to preempt, actually happened in April 1746 and led to the destruction of the Highland Clan and Highlander culture. 

The production's vision of pre-revolutionary France is impressive, turned toward decadence and retrograde attitude. Interesting? Still, YES! But for now the intrigues are small and slow-moving. Jamie and especially Claire are more passive this season, perhaps intentionally. I'm not convinced the show is well served by faithfully following Gabaldon's books as some of the best choices in S1 were deviations. S1 featured countless moments that left us speechless and we can barely speak of the infamous "Wedding" episode - in which Jamie lost his virginity and we lost track of our minds - without blushing furiously and wondering why on earth this had to be the show we discuss in depth with our mums. 

The whole cast made S1 a successful show, going from love story to war story and back to time-travel story, corrupt Claire's devotions, clanging her ahead-of-its-time feminism against old world Scottish traditions and then topping the whole thing off with a what-the-hell-just-happened, male-on-male revenge rape. Here, S2 show-runner and his writer seem interested in de-romanticizing and complicating the genre's nostalgia, escapism and sentimentality of S1. 

Moreover, Claire's 18th-century husband is also something of a unicorn on the TV landscape. Sure, Jamie fill out a kilt nicely, but his most deceiving qualities do not reside in his musculature but in his curious and open heart. As we discovered in S1, Jamie Fraser might be the bravest romantic hero of all. Diana Gabaldon may have invented a new kind of romantic hero; and a much braver one at that. Of course, it helps that Sam Heughan is stunning to look at and has a physique which, if the series were being shown on a mainstream channel, could easily have worked up a national furore similar to that created by watching Aidan Turner seething in Cornwall in Poldark. Even better, Jamie is enchanting, engaging and endearing. After all, in S1, this is a man who broke into Fort William to rescue Claire with just his  bare hands and an empty pistol (don't ask). But just as importantly for a romantic hero, he's also highly sensitive with a strong moral code. This season, Jamie has to recover from major sexual trauma. Though his sanity seems to have been saved, physically he's still recovering and still definitely damaged by it. He doesn't quite know how to deal with it. 

Claire and Jamie work and play as equals, but she's often a little more equal than him, which doesn't bother him a bit. They are now put in roles they are uncomfortable with: Jamie is anxious about trying to stop a rebellion that, at his core, he's really all for and will end up fighting - and dying - in if they can't change history; whereas Claire feels useless in high society. Claire is pregnant and she almost has to put that aside and have that as her private journey while she tries to help him heal. It's wonderfully complex and they are struggling with their own demons or their own issues separately but still trying to come together and still trying to retain that bond they have. Claire and Jamie struggle for more meaning and a more meaningful connection.

There are more memorable female characters on TV than ever these days, of course, but few of them can be found on ambitious dramas that look like a million (or several million) bucks. Tobias Menzies, meanwhile, remains a vastly underrated actor. He really does a fine job on reminding the core audience (all of us hopeless romantics) - who love the Claire-Jamie storyline - that "Hey, she's actually my wife in the present world, I love her and I miss her dearly." 

The mood feels drastically different. Of course being in France as opposed to the forests and muddy glens of Scotland, you'd expect that. Indeed this move to France is huge. And they add time jumps and plot movements here and there that really prove how much that voice over narration from Claire is needed. The motives of this season aren't subtle at all: characters want revenge, they seek love, they want to protect others and they want to escape via lust and wine - or both. This season's darkness gives depth and dimension to the drama's core optimism. Outlander strikes an unusual balance between bold colours and human complexities. It also convey the way well-intentioned people drift away from their moral foundations. 

Wile the show's agenda duels on political revolutions, it quickly initiates a pop-culture on its own: in the way it approaches storytelling and sensuality, Outlander has proved itself to be one of the most subversive series on TV. It is actually one of TV's most hard-to-define dramas. The romance is central to the series; but it is just as much a historical story - as it is a psychological drama. More than anything else this season, it plays a more mental game. As the show becomes more political, so does the sex. Sex almost always has a purpose in the Outlander world. It's founded on the idea that sensuality isn't just an outlet, or a relief, but the key to communication of joy, pain, heartache, connection and beauty as well. Finally, and maybe the most important feature this season is the fact that Claire and Jamie display some of the most gorgeous 18th century ensembles I have ever seen on any screen. It's a moving feast of fashion and if costume designer Terry Dresbach isn't talked about extensively for Emmy consideration, something went horribly wrong.

Overall, even though Outlander could be slow, it managed to weave a better-than-expected tale out of what were often dismissed as "historical romance books for women"; a sexy little epic that defies expectations as always.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

High-Rise Falling Down

Life for the residents of a tower begins to run out of control.

High-Rise is the adaptation of J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel, directed by Ben Wheatley and starring Tom Hiddleston as Dr. Robert Laing. I didn't really know what to expect from this movie, as I did not read the book, so I came at it from a fresh perspective. This film is a quasi-period piece, which is not completely irrelevant to a Britain in which buy-to-let apartment block exist. It is a blank, affectless world with a certain type of sci-fi and satirical Englishness. This tale is quite a bizarre, sleek, seedy and mad spectacle. 

If Jeremy Iron's roles in Dead Ringer and M.Butterfly provide a roundabout link to Cronenberg, so does a med-school scene where the skin of a cadaver's head is peeled away in a kind of metaphor for society's thin surface. That and his wife parading around like some postmodern Marie Antoinette, on a horse. In fact, the core cast is brilliant. Tom Hiddleston is terrifically nonchalant, giving a great performance as the lead character: dry and self-possessed. A charming and charismatic performance with a hint of internal sadness. Plus, Miller makes bright work of Charlotte. 

Mark Tildesley's lavish production design ranges from mouldering fruit bowls to posh parties decadent enough to cause a French Revolution. Decadence, despair and violence are all around, in a kind of ongoing erotic catastrophe. The screenwriters played out this scenario as a retro-futuristic sci-fi allegory - Ballard was writing the near-future in the mid-70s: Wheatley and Jump smartly stick with a period they know well. I loved the film's refusal of "normal" storytelling, bold visual style with these gorgeous shots and vibrant colours. Combined with the editing, shots have a dream-like surreal quality, a colourful beginning contrasted by the end with a dark shadow feeling. 

The soundtrack was great, there is two scenes especially where there's this string quartet playing an ABBA song and later on it gets remix, it was probably one of my favourite scenes - as well as this very interesting naked scene on the balcony that might also be of some interest to some of you. Finally, for some High-Rise could be frustrating and the specific references to Margaret Thatcher era doesn't quite work as a whole.

Overall, High-Rise has a vibe of "you want to look away but you really can't". This film is an excellent allegory for society, it lingers in the mind with some strong visuals, good soundtrack and more than decent acting.

Friday, 8 April 2016

It Doesn't Feel Like 13 Hours

As an American ambassador is killed during an attack at a U.S. compound in Libya, a security team struggles to make sense out of chaos.

13 Hours is directed by Michael Bay and inspired by the true story of some soldiers who took a stand in Benghazi when they had no idea of what was going on and unclear orders. I really wasn't sure what to expect, especially from Michael Bay. It's his third time trying to reenact a true story, after Pearl Harbor and Pain & GainBut now having seen the film, I can say that Michael bay has made his most mature movie since... ever. 

The first hour is pretty rough as it is the same thing we always saw, setting up characters. It sets them in the most standard ways, so you never really grow to be attached, you respect them but there's no connection whatsoever. John Krasinski is no longer that skinny nerd from The Office, he's in the military now. He does an incredible job in this movie. We should be seeing more of him than we currently are. Him and his team aren't simply badasses, they are badasses from Michael Bay's Alpha Male Signature Series Collection. Their gut instinct is always right and they don't need an Ivy League education to know what's what. It's in this regard that 13 Hours crosses the threshold between just being a Michael bay movie and being a Michael Bay movie that has something to say.     

Unlike American Sniper, the film doesn't bring up and doesn't explore, the tension within many men between the lure of danger and excitement, and the longing for intimacy and home. For the very first time though, I think Bay actually found the right balance between fun entertainment for everyone and honoring a true story. Plus, the screenplay limits the audience infos and politic because the infos that the men involved in this situation got back then were also extremely limited. Still, sequences go from firefight to firefight and gradually gains a video game-like structure with a little too much shaky-cam again but nor throughout the whole movie. Directors can do that, but we're coming out of Abrams and InĂ rritu so please... Finally, Bay's action is still confused, but he works best in chaos. At one point he even couldn't resist repeating a shot he introduced in Pearl Harbor, that shows a large mortar shell falling slowly and then exploding. 

Overall, this film is the living proof that Michael Bay is able to listen to his fans and adapts. He deserves credits for mixing politics and pop filmmaking.