Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
You simply won't find another film quite like The Lobster (opening today). It's one of the strangest, most eccentric films of this or any year, and its first-half is deliciously entrancing. But the more tale that is served, the less satiating it becomes.
Colin Farrell plays David, an odd, quiet-and-collected man whose wife just left him (it's Farrell's best-performance of his career). David exists in a high-function dystopia, a world that does not allow for single persons to exist. In this universe, when you are divorced, or made a widow, you are checked into a place called "The Hotel" and you are given 45 days to find true love. If after 45 days, you fail to do so, you are literally transformed into an animal of your choice and cast out into the wild. David chooses to become a lobster, because as he says, lobsters stay sexually active for their entire lifespan, show no changes in metabolism or decline in strength over time, and can live incredibly long lives. His brother, a dog that follows David everywhere, chose a more popular animal to morph into once he didn't "make it" through The Hotel.
There are strict guidelines and exceptions too. Everyone at The Hotel dresses the same and must abide by the house rules at all times. Those that find compatibility are upgraded into the "couples" section of The Hotel, and if they show the ability to successfully co-exist, they are moved onto "The Yacht" for a few weeks. The Hotel's purpose is to churn out suitable couples who then are sent back to live in The City and lead respectable lives together as functioning members of society. If they have problems along the way, they are assigned children, because they say, children usually are the answer to a failing partnership and often times can curb the arguing and the fighting (ha!).
Outside of The Hotel live a group of people described as "Loners," who have escaped or rebelled against the authorities. During the 45 day stay, the - inmates? - are released out into the wild to hunt Loners. For every Loner that is killed and captured, a day is added on to your stay. Some residents are nearing their transformation following their 45 days, but others, such as Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) have accumulated well over 100 days at The Hotel by racking up the Loner-kills.
Sounds wacky right? It's every bit crazy as it is mesmerizing. David befriends Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) and Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) and they all wonder how they can find true love. Is Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden) a good match? Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen)? As you can see from all of their names, none of these individuals have any identities outside of their superficial attributes.
In creating this fascinating world, The Lobster successfully satirizes modern culture, although its reflections on conformity may have been a bit more pointed a decade or to ago. When checking-in, David is forced to place himself in specific categories that are easily identifiable. There are accepted cultural norms and activities that are universally frowned upon with The Hotel. People's only basic freedom is to dictate where they go when they die (sound familiar?). If you do not assimilate to what is considered "normal" or "acceptable" then you are shunned. Nobody in the film talks about personality, beliefs, or what is on the "inside" of a person. All match- making, in fact, is based on surface, cosmetic attributes (the Limping Man needs to find a girl who also limps, the Nosebleed Woman must find someone else whose nose bleeds, etc). All of this offers us some direct insights into our own perceived norms, and brings up some deeply challenging thoughts on the roles that religion, community and culture play in all of our lives...and how shallow and disturbing much of it is. Within a relationship even, what are we willing to do for someone else, and what is the ultimate purpose of our actions? Some very intelligent, clever observations are made. And after all of the absurdity we find within this movie, is it really any more crazy than the rules and "norms" we find in our own world? This movie says no, and I tend to agree.
But as the film enters its second-half - once David does find his way outside of The Hotel and falls in love with a Loner (Rachel Weiss) - the film loses its way and becomes a drifty, hollow, even pretentious, experience. What once worked as an unconventional love story devolves into weird, detached melodrama. It's a real shame, because the first-half really implies that this movie has something important to say. Interestingly, this group of "rebels" seems to have more rules in place than those that they are mutinying against.
The Lobster will definitely stand-out among all movies released in 2016, but in very un-lobster-like fashion, it loses strength and desirability the longer it claws along.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden
Co-Written & Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (Alps, Dogtooth, Kinetta, My Best Friend)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Director Brian Singer is back at the helm of X-Men: Apocalypse (opening Friday, May 27), the sixth X-Men film overall and his fourth (he directed the first two X-Men films, and 2014's installment, X-Men: Days of Future Past). Despite what you might have read up to this point (the studio uncharacteristically lifted the "no-review" embargo on this latest film, allowing early reviews to post several weeks ago), X-Men: Apocalypse is a worthy entry into the saga, and is by far the best comic book film thus far in 2016. It's also far from perfect, and is maybe the least-balanced of all of Singer's X-Men films. And "Best Comic Book Film" of the year so far should be taken with a grain of salt, given the critically-hated but actually just below average Batman v. Superman and the critically-adored and horribly over- rated Captain America: Civil War. Still, Apocalypse is by far more enjoyable than either of these two films.
But first let's get caught-up. The previous film, Days of Future Past (DOFP) was a mind-bending game-changer to the X-Men story-line and to the entire Marvel mutant universe. In a nutshell, a time-travelling Wolverine - sent into the past by Kitty Pryde - was sent back into the 1970s, and in saving the world from the deadly Sentinel robots, he irreparably altered the future and changed the world. In fact, we can now assume that the original X-Men trilogy happened in an alternate universe, a timeline that will never happen. Yes, DOFP not only reset the franchise and passed the torch to the younger First Class set of heroes, it essentially erased the previous movies. It concluded with Wolverine, in the year 2023, as a certified teacher at the Mansion, with Jean Grey and Cyclops still alive and well. Yes, in this new universe, anything and everything is possible. And to avoid confusion moving forward, just embrace the idea that the Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Rebecca Romijn versions of Professor X, Magneto and Mystique, respectively, as we have come to know them at least, do not yet exist in the current X-Men universe. And while it is a total dick-move to tell fans that three X-Men and two Wolverine movies no longer exist in the official canon, we move forward in confidence that our favorite mutants are in good hands.
So X-Men: Apocalypse takes place in this new-timeline, circa the 1980s, where Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) still have philosophical disagreements but have yet to...mutate...into mortal enemies. A new threat awakens in the form of a mutant called Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), and it is not clear if this villain had been defeated in the original timeline and just never mentioned before, or if something in the new timeline causes him to arrive on the scene for the first time. He is thought to be the world's very first mutant, called En Sabah Nur, who in Ancient Egypt, takes place in a ritual meant to transfer his spirit into the body of another, younger host. Yes, Apocalypse is basically an immortal being and harbinger of evil, who surrounds himself with four "apostles" meant to protect him. Think of Death and the Four Horsemen, as they appear in the Bible...or as this film suggests, perhaps it is the Bible that stole the idea from the legend of Apocalypse.
During this ancient soul-shifting ceremony, an uprising occurs that traps Apocalypse deep below the Earth's surface, where he apparently spends the next several thousand years. But not even Apocalypse would miss the 80s if given the chance. He awakes and enters the world with the intent to rule it. As an all-powerful mutant, he has the ability to absorb powers of other mutants, grow larger or smaller, and by touching a TV screen, instantly learns everything there is to know about the modern world. He finds and recruits a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) to be his "Horsemen" and he sets out to dominate. And if you're saying to yourself, "I thought Storm was a good-guy/gal," well, welcome to the new X-Men universe where again, the future is yet to be written.
One thing that stayed the same though, is that Magneto is not meant to have a good life. This new timeline has him attempting normalcy with his wife and daughter in Poland, but a horrible tragedy takes them both from him. Magneto once again is given growing reason to distrust and hate humans. But Magneto fans may find that they probably liked other film versions of him much more, as he is pathetically under-used and over-simplified this time around. The interaction between Magneto and Professor X has been a staple of X-Men for several decades, but sadly Magneto just blends into the chaos, and if you didn't know any better you'd think that he was no more important than say, Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Hopefully this isn't the intention for his character on this re-imagined timeline.
Of course, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) plays a big role in this new universe too, and we find her still unsure of her "hero status" due to the events in DOFP and First Class. Game of Thrones' Sophie Turner - who plays Sansa Stark - is the young and incredibly powerful Jean Grey, and brothers Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Havok (Lucas Till) are reliable soldiers for Professor X's latest army of mutant heroes. Rounding out the group this time is Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who is recruited from some underground fight club, and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who had a scene-stealing super-slow-motion scene in his last appearance, and who is given another one here in order to completely milk this effect. How and why human Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) is allowed to tag along with this group of mutants is anyone's guess. I know Professor X is in love with her, but she is just an unnecessary character given little to do and providing even less for us to care about.
It's this sort of under-use - like with the character of Moira, or Magneto, or even Mystique - that really hurts X-Men: Apocalypse. It's an over-stuffed cast populating an over-stuffed universe. And even Singer is not able to herd them all up in any cohesive way. But despite the backlash, I found Oscar Isaac to be a fascinating Apocalypse. Here's a game-changing mutant brought along who is seemingly infallible. It takes the combined strengths of all of these misfit mutants in order to bring him down, with the world hanging in the balance. If the theme of teamwork and acceptance aren't the basis of the X-Men story, then I don't know what is. Characters die and things feel at stake, which is a far cry from, say, the bubble-gummy pop-action in movies like Captain America: Civil War, where there are never any real consequences to any of the characters' actions. The visuals in Apocalypse are stunning and there is a lot of entertainment to be had, minus the snarky-sarcastic tone found in pretty much every other Marvel movie these days. Further, this was a valiant effort to adapt one of the most popular villains in the X-Men canon, and to that end, justice was served.
We now know that the X-Men can kick-butt against insurmountable odds, but the growing "positive" relationship with humans is becoming annoying. X-Men has always been a reflection of humanity, of the discrimination against those viewed as "different," and I hope the future of this franchise doesn't devolve into fighting "next week's villain." If there is anything that they should keep from the original trilogy, it's the idea of Magneto and Professor X entrenched in a proverbial game of chess, where their contrasting life-views dictate their every move as they battle each other for the upper-hand. Here's hoping that they don't stray too far from their roots.
X-Men: Apocalypse is maybe the least-smart, least-cerebral of the X-Men films to date, but it is not nearly the worst (here's looking at you, X-Men 3). Oh and by the way, look for a un-credited cameo by a beloved mutant and of course, a post-credit scene that sets up not one, but two, upcoming mutant films.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Run Time: 2 hours, 24 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult,
Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Olivia Munn
Directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Valkyrie, Superman Returns, X-Men 2, X-Men, The Usual Suspects)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The whole gang is back in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (opening today), which means that you can expect more of the same. It's a follow-up to the hard-R-rated raunch-fest Neighbors, which grossed over 150-million back in 2014. The good news is that not only are stars Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Ike Barinholtz, Zac Efron and Dave Franco back for more shenanigans (as are several other bit actors from the first film), but the same creative team is behind this sequel: Writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, and director Nicholas Stoller. The bad news? This new film lacks the heart and purpose of the first film, and gets trapped by trying to stay within the same structural boundaries and premises of the original.
Call it "sequel-itis" if you want: A condition where a movie wants to bottle the same magic and success of its predecessor, only to come off as a pale imitation. Worst parents ever, Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Byrne) now have a little girl, and a new baby is on the way. They've just sold on their house - which in the last film sat right next to a thriving fraternity - and have bought a new dream home far away from college campuses. But their current house is in escrow, meaning that their new buyers have 30 days to change their minds on the purchase should, you know, anything happen that might make them change their minds about moving in. So what could possibly happen?
New college freshman and stereotypical millennial Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) is taken aback when attending her first Sorority meeting, finding out that sororities nation-wide are not allowed to throw house parties. And to go to typical sausage-stuffed frat parties? Puh-lease. Shelby moves in next to the Radners at the old frat house and looks to start her own sorority, one where they can drink and party in a classier, more civilized manner. She does this with the help of down-and-out former frat boy Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), who now meets on Mondays to play poker with his old college buddies and who feels inadequate since he is the only one that hasn't found post-college success or happiness (welcome to the real world, Teddy).
So of course, this sets off a battle royale between Mac and Kelly and their new neighbors, who would be a real reason to pull out of the house purchase. Let the hilarity ensue.
While there are still several laughs this time around, the whole thing feels pointless and unnecessary. Must every sequel repeat the plot of the first movie? Now that the first film established we like hanging out with these characters, couldn't we see them put in an entirely different situation altogether? With most comedies, if it is funny enough, you can forgive egregiously lame story-lines. The gross-out factor is raised this time around (I'm talking to you, scene where used tampons are thrown at a house) and much of it is hit- and-miss, no pun intended.
The worst offense of all is that Rose Byrne is horribly underused. She was a bright shining star of comedy in the first movie, and here
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Films like A Bigger Splash (opening today) remind us of just how stuffy American filmmaking can be. Although the characters in this movie speak English, this is really a European film, set in Italy, directed by an Italian director. But there is a sense of freedom here, a confidence that is not all that commonly found in state-side releases. Characters are allowed to breathe, there are no car chases, no explosions. Women and men are comfortable in their sexuality and sensuality and nudity never gets in the way of a good story. And other than needing a pool (it plays a big part in the movie), A Bigger Splash could have taken place on the stage. It is thoroughly a movie about people, and what juicy roles for those involved in the ensemble. Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) and his lover Marianne (Tilda Swinton) are on holiday in a luxurious Italian getaway. Barely a word is spoken between the two, and not just because Marianne - a very successful pop star - has lost her voice. They lay in the sun, go into town, take a leisurely walk and soak in the excess of extravagance. They have sex whenever and wherever they like. It seems a relaxing vacation.
That is, until they are visited by there extroverted, exhibitionist friend, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), who brings along a young nymphet, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who he claims is his estranged daughter. Harry has a past with both Paul and Marianne and his sudden appearance muddles things greatly.
What a rich environment for some great performances. Fiennes probably gives the most noticeable performance, but both Swinton and Schoenaerts turn in stellar performances. Dakota Johnson is the only weak link here, who has shown that she can be sexual and voluptuous with her role in Fifty Shades of Grey, and she does a serviceable job of tapping into that suggestive innocence, but her character is the only one that doesn't feel totally fleshed out or given any added depth by her performance. It's a real shame, because the other three carve out increasingly complicated and layered characters that make the story all the more interesting the further it goes along.
But despite this movie having interesting characters and a stylish look to it, there is almost a feeling as if they didn't know where to go with the story. Some weird sub-plots about illegal immigrants and a flimsy thread dealing with alcoholism don't land all that effectively. There is a great deal of talking, which isn't all that bad, but things sort of devolve into soap opera territory as it nears its conclusion. And that's a real shame, because this was a compelling world to get hung up in for a few hours previously.
A Bigger Splash is not quite a belly-flop, but a weak third act and an under-cooked portrayal by Dakota Johnson make it fall short of reaching more profound depths. But the performances given by Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Schoenaerts and Tilda Swinton are more than enough to recommend the film as a whole, as they come across just swimmingly.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson
Directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, Melissa P, The Protagonists)
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Angry Birds was (and still is?) everyone's favorite obsession, and don't even act like you haven't heard of it. This popular strategy game has the user flinging a variety of different birds - all with unique abilities - trying to destroy level after level to recover their nest eggs, stolen by an evil green-pig empire. It's one of the most popular mobile games ever created, so naturally, Hollywood wanted to cash in. The end result is The Angry Birds Movie (opening today), and it is as shallow and vapid as you might expect from a movie based on a simple video game.
There are talented people in place to voice the many characters we are introduced to, but don't let that fool you into thinking that this could be some sort of hip, clever comedy. The angry bird at the film's center is Red (Jason Sudeikis) who is a loner living on the edges of his elaborate bird village. He's got some issues and is sentenced by Judge Peckinpah (Keegan-Michael Key) to enroll in an anger management class. There he meets Bomb (Danny McBride), who literally explodes whenever he is excited or startled, Chuck (Josh Gad) a lightning-fast yellow bird with a questionable moral code, and then there is Matilda (Maya Rudolph), the sappy, spiritual instructor who tries her best to get her fellow flock-mates to soar.
When a strange race of green pigs show up on their shores, Red and his friends are a bit skeptical of their intentions, but the bird- brained leaders of Red's community accept them with open arms. They are led by a pig named Leonard (Bill Hader) who seems nice at first, but well, you see where this is going.
If you are used to imaginative worlds like in the Pixar or Disney films, brace yourselves. Those studios have a knack for creating fictional environments, wondrously pondering what life might be like for a toy, or a bug, or a den of lions. The world of Angry Birds is thin and flimsy, and the filmmakers pull out every bird pun in the book to try to match their creative counter-parts. They fail miserably.
Oddly, even the animation style seems choppy and sub-par to what many might be used to seeing on the big-screen. Every character seems jittery, as if on speed, and it's a dizzying experience to endure. Even the four-year-old I brought with me was asking to leave the theater about 30 minutes in. If that's not a sign of failure, I'm not sure what is.
Not even the Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) can save Angry Birds from itself. If you consider that the person responsible for this adaptation, screenwriter Jon Vitti, also penned such recent classics like Alvin & the Chipmunks and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, it might clue you in to the level of quality you should expect here.
There are no real lessons here, no reflections of humanity, and no real characters to even bother remembering. In fact, this film might have worked much better going straight to video or On Demand. Is the purpose here to channel one's anger for the greater good? To force parents to poke out their eyeballs? To make everyone angry that they just paid for this at a theater? The Angry Birds Movie is the worst version of itself: A lazy side-scrolling adventure that traps you in your seat and doesn't allow you to take control of anything, like you'd be able to if you were playing it on your phone. And it's quite pathetic that at 97 minutes, the filmmakers aren't even able to flesh out this story beyond the still images that appear in-between levels. If you like Angry Birds, then go play the game, and fly right over this pathetic cash-grab.
Genre: Animation, Action, Comedy
Run Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated PG
Starring (voices of): Peter Dinklage, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Keegan-Michael Key, Tituss Burgess, Sean Penn, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, Danny McBride, Josh Gad, Tony Hale
Directed by Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly (Feature-film directorial debut)
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
It doesn't get any more "A-List" than George Clooney and Julia Roberts, but their latest film, Money Monster (opening today) is a complete dog.
Nevermind that the film is directed by another A-Lister, Jodie Foster, who has had much more acclaim as an actor rather than a director (this is her fourth big-screen effort, following The Beaver - a movie I loved - and the sub-par Home for the Holidays and Little Man Tate). Here, she spins her wheels with a preachy, poorly-executed thrill-less thriller. What they must believe is biting sociopolitical content ends up having no teeth, no bite, whatsoever.
Lee Gates (Clooney) is a paper-thin financial TV personality, played as a caricature (he's Bill O-Reilly crossed with Apollo Creed). His on- air antics and showmanship are meant to satirize the current state of television, and it does to a certain degree, but Clooney just seems uncomfortable. His director Patty (Roberts) looks on from the control room, and there are under-cooked hints of a past off-camera relationship between them. All goes hay-wire when a disgruntled, bomb-toting sociopath ( Jack O'Connell) hi-jacks the show live on the air, mad about losing money based on a stock tip from Gates, creating what I'm assuming was meant to be a tense, tout, hostage drama.
Look, we get it: Corporations and rich people are bad, blue-collar workers have had enough, and something's got to give. But despite your political leanings or feelings toward capitalism, nobody likes being beat over the head with condescending, cliched themes. If you're on the right, you will probably see Money Monster as yet another example of liberal Hollywood fantasy. If you're on the left, you'll feel the excess weight of having poured this message on a bit too thick. And if you're in the middle, or just came because of the star-power or to hopefully catch an interesting flick, you will be most disappointed of all.
There's no denying the chemistry between Clooney and Roberts: Here are two actors in which charisma comes easy. But the story doesn't allow them to share the screen together except for brief book-end scenes at the beginning and end. In-between, Clooney is either too busy hamming it up with his character's slickness or we get the "worried onlooker" scenes with Roberts. When the story spills into the streets, it becomes a hopeless, heartless pandering to middle class frustrations. Everything that makes it to the screen is heavy-handed and forced, and it fails on all fronts - as a political movie, as an action-caper - and is just out-of-step from the very beginning.
Dominic West shows up as the personification of evil, or in other words, a corporate CEO. Lenny Venito as "Lenny the Cameraman" is there to make sure that a stereotypical New-Yorker gets involved in the melee. Neither contribute anything and like Clooney and Roberts, find themselves trapped within the poorly-drawn parameters of the one-dimensional story.
Money Monster is a huge let-down, considering its stars and the fact that it was dealing with what could have been very timely themes. People are frustrated, people are mad, and people are demanding change. But here's a financial tip that is sure to be a winner: Save your ticket money and avoid Money Monster like a crashing stock.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated R
Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Caitriona Balfe, Jack O'Connell, Giancarlo Esposito, Dominic West, Lenny Venito Directed by Jodie Foster (The Beaver, Home for the Holidays, Little Man Tate)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
And you thought your family was dysfunctional. In The Family Fang (opening today), Jason Bateman stars in and directs one of the strangest films you might ever see, centering on a family that is unlike anything ever put to screen. But the oddities of the Fang family never materialize into anything worth caring about, in this fascinating yet dull movie.
The Family Fang is a drama that takes place in the present day and also in flashbacks. Caleb Fang (played by Christopher Walken, and in his younger years, by Jason Butler Harner) and his wife Camille (Maryann Plunkett, and Kathryn Hahn) are self-proclaimed "artists" who have a very niche, very strange art-form. They go around and stage "scenes" out in public that are designed to shock and "wake- up" the anonymous bystanders and onlookers. In one scene, with the help of their children that they simply refer to as "Child A" and
"Child B," they stage an armed robbery at a bank, where the young boy, Baxter, holds up a teller, before dad Caleb - dressed as a security guard - runs into the bank. When Baxter pulls the trigger on the unloaded gun, an "innocent bystander" (Camille, the wife) is shot, and her daughter, Annie, cries over her fallen body. This is all an act, of course, and Caleb films this scene and others simply to capture the reactions of those witnessing it. This spontaneous "reaction" to a given moment is what Caleb calls life...and life is his art. In another scene, Caleb explains that "art" is when he unexpectedly throws his glass on the ground and shatters it, and the reaction that follows...art is not something that is stared at or pondered over, like the glass itself in his hand.
Weird enough for you yet?
Caleb and Camille Fang have become some kind of cult celebrities, and there is one scene where two yuppies discuss their merits as artists. One thinks they are important, the other thinks they are foolish. What is art, anyways?
The story deals with the grown-up versions of Baxter (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Nicole Kidman), who are trying to live their lives despite their less-than-orthodox upbringing. Baxter is an author and Annie a tabloid-friendly C-List actress. When their parents go missing under some gruesome circumstances, Baxter believes them to be dead, but Annie believes this is just another ruse, another "artistic expression" from her eccentric parents. With Baxter's help, Annie goes on a search for discovery, to find her parents but also to find herself.
Jason Bateman is a capable leading man, but he has unfortunately not yet shed his comedic persona. This film is a straight drama, yet Bateman's presence makes it feel more like a failed comedy. We expect laughs when we see him, but they never come. It's like imagining Will Ferrell as Oscar Schindler. As a director, this film marks Bateman's second attempt, following up the 2013 comedy Bad Words, in which he also starred. This is a much better effort from a directorial standpoint, as this Fang family is not an easy group of people to represent on screen. He gets their nuances and their general gist, but misses the mark in developing any real, three- dimensional characters.
The film itself is a slow drudge, but one that admittedly kept my interest just because of how unusual it all seemed. But when a few convenient plot contrivances are introduced late in the film, I was done caring about The Family Fang.
Many of the themes in the film feel half-baked, and the characters of Annie and Baxter are just too flat. I have a feeling that Caleb Fang himself would not find this film to be art...as it most definitely feels lifeless all the way through it's anti-climactic ending.
Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jason Bateman, Christopher Walken, Nicole Kidman, Maryann Plunkett, Kathryn Hahn, Jason Butler Harner Based on the novel by Kevin Wilson
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire (Oz the Great and Powerful, Rise of the Guardians, Rabbit Hole)
Directed by Jason Bateman (Bad Words)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
There is a big problem in the Marvel Universe, and I'm not talking about the latest clash that pits many of the Avengers against one another. In Captain America: Civil War (opening today) the building friction between two of the top Avengers - Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) - finally comes to a head, but this is more than a civil war...it's another over-stuffed comic book movie that is more interested in setting up future chapters than it is in telling an exciting, cohesive story. Because for all of the panache and energy that this film has - and it has it's fair share of both - Captain America: Civil War ends up just being a loud, hollow excuse to throw several of our favorite super-heroes - old and new - on the screen at the same time. It succeeds in being excessive, but wouldn't it be great if it felt important?
Since the filmmakers have asked us to "choose a side" in the pre-release press material, it would have been great to have given us a real choice as to who to root for. Boiled down, Captain America - Steve Rogers - and Iron Man - Tony Stark - have a major disagreement. Saving the world over the past few years apparently comes with a price, because the collateral damage has left us humans unexpectedly ungrateful. Several governments, including the U.S., want The Avengers to sign an agreement that would basically limit their future endeavors. Stark sees signing the agreement as a necessary limitation that needs to be placed on this super- hero team...Rogers on the other hand wants The Avengers to remain untethered. Several other Avengers - Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) - fall on one side of the argument or the other. And since this is technically a Captain America movie, the Bucky/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) storyline and relationship is explored a bit more as well.
Inserted clumsily into the plot, we also are introduced to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) whose power and abilities are thinly explained, as well as a new version of Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who is every bit the teenage version of the character we've come to know and love from the comics. Both heroes don't really belong in this story, but because they have upcoming solo movies to promote, they get a lot of screen-time.
Despite the care that was given to forming this heroic group, there seems to be nobody around who cares if it all comes crashing down. Since the crux of the film relies on the disintegrating relationship between Cap and Iron Man, the filmmakers chose not to give us a real villain this time around. To fill that void, we are given Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) who has zero screen-presence and is given a lame backstory. His purpose in the film is solely to pit our heroes against one another, but if this guy can cause this much internal damage within The Avengers, this group really isn't as strong as anybody thought in the first place, and I fear for our planet when an actual threat comes along.
Sure, the movie does have a great deal of action and directors Anthony & Joe Russo do a great job of continuing that "Marvel feel" to things, where the jokes and one-liners are fired off as frequently as the lasers and bullets. But their take on action is dizzying. The camera shakes so much, many fight sequences feel like we are watching them through a strobe-light. It feels lazy to me, to just go into "earthquake" mode every time there is a conflict. It's like the film doesn't trust itself to be exciting without the added visual stimuli.
And even though this is a light, fun adventure, Tony Stark goes from snarky to sad and brooding in this one...almost mopey. We still like him and those that fight along side him, but the film clearly sides with Captain America. It would have been great to give both equal purpose.
I must admit that despite the films many flaws and the feeling like we've seen and done all of this before, when the climactic "Civil War" airport hangar battle actually happens, it is quite cool to see all of these heroes sharing the screen at the same time. But even then, the camera doesn't seem to know who to focus on and when. Characters conveniently come in and out of frame, but I couldn't help but think that at any given moment, Vision or Scarlet Witch should have been able to avert the entire crisis with their heightened powers. Oh well, it's fun seeing them bash up one another.
But if you take a step back and don't let yourself get wrapped up in the chaos, you have also got to ask yourself: What is the purpose of all of this? Surely Cap and Iron Man don't mean to kill each other, right? Because we know this truth, the movie falls trap to an ongoing problem the Marvel Universe has had recently: Nothing that happens is of real consequence, and "more" actually ends up feeling like less. There was no real reason to go to blows, and the way it wraps up - with one of them just giving in and allowing the other side to escape - is just lazy.
To many, explosions and non-stop visual stimulation may be all you ask of your comic book movies, but as a comic book collector and fan myself, I know that these books - and many of these specific stories in particular - have much more weight to them than what we are being presented in the big-screen versions. So it's not that Captain America: Civil War is a bad movie, or like you won't enjoy the escape for a few hours, it's just that I am craving more, more, more. Not "more" in the sense of quantity, but more in terms of depth and quality. Is that too much to ask?
And remember when the Marvel stinger scenes (during the end credits) were exciting and built towards something? Stay around for the two different stinger-scenes in this one for a pair of lazy, uninteresting clips that only act to promote Marvel's upcoming slate of super-hero films. Back when Nick Fury would show up to recruit these guys at the end of every film, were we really simply excited for a new movie to come out, or were we really getting pumped for a major upcoming "event," the likes of which we had never seen? Well, we've now seen a great deal. Marvel is getting good at putting out new movies, but I already miss the days where we were passionately anticipating something...more.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 2 hours, 27 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Bruhl Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo (Captain America: Winter Soldier, You, Me & Dupree)
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