Tag Archives: new in theaters

Stark and the Captain Make it Happen

Captain America: Civil War

by Hope Madden


Cap (Chris Evans) and his besties battle their own in a fight to save the Avengers. In-fighting is rarely this entertaining.

Who would have guessed that the best stand-alone Avengers series would be Captain America’s? He lacks the edge of Iron Man or the SciFi sex appeal of Thor. Still – whether it’s because the series remains true to the nature of the character, or because Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely know how to pen a compelling superhero flick – Steve Rogers shoulders the most reliable Avengers franchise.

Civil War even manages to succeed where most superhero sequels fail by squeezing in a fully ridiculous number of characters without over-burdening the narrative. Minimizing the number and presence of villains helps, because, while there is a baddie in Civil War, the majority of combat comes courtesy of Hero V Hero.

The film begs comparison to the much maligned DC superhero standoff Batman V Superman for obvious reasons. Our heroes are mad at each other; collateral damage and the need for oversight are to blame; mommy issues run deep. Certainly, Civil War handles the material better, but part of that is because of the film’s affection for established characters.

McFeely and Marcus’s humorous screenplay allows the natural chemistry among the players to shine brighter than their individual star power.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo – following up their success with the Winter Soldier – lens many of the action sequences with great movement and punch, but the climactic battle between the biggies should feel bigger. The camera captures individual pairings to make the most of character expression, one-liners, and fun, but the brothers behind the camera never step back far enough to give us a look at at the larger-than-life battle taking place.

Are there other flaws? Sure. I mean, you and I know that it’s pointless to disbelieve or distrust Captain America. Of course he’s right – he’s the conscience of the Marvel universe. So why doesn’t Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) know it? Also, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) never find a groove as characters, but the new Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and a wildly enjoyable Spider-Man (Tom Holland) more than make up for that. Plus, Ant Man (Paul Rudd) is a hoot, regardless of the fact that he clearly has no idea why he’s fighting against other good guys.

Civil War stands out as certainly the biggest of the stand alones, and among the best because of what it has in common with the better films in the Marvel universe: the conflict is deeply human, told humorously, and best enjoyed if you don’t overthink it.


It’s The Thought That Counts

Love Thy Nature

by Cat McAlpine

The best way to convince people that caring for the planet is badass is to have a badass tell them so. This is what I was hoping to get from Liam Neeson’s narration of Love Thy Nature. This is not what I got.

Neeson’s involvement is featured heavily in the documentary’s promotions, but his real role is much smaller than that of “narrator.” Neeson voices “sapiens, homo sapiens” – essentially speaking for the human race. The choice to involve the human race as a whole and to engage it, quite literally, in a dialogue is interesting but ultimately not effective. Neeson’s script is heavy handed, ending musing thoughts with sudden reversals like “Or is it?” or “Could I be wrong?”

The film itself proceeds like any shown in a high school science classroom. Picturesque landscape shots cover the basics; rocks, beach, underwater, trees, the savannah. These shots are accompanied by a litany of new age talking heads, cartoonish and often unnecessary animations, and an excessive amount of footage featuring people gazing into the distance.

What’s most perplexing is that the talking heads never seem to say much of merit. The film has good heart, urging that we reconnect with the planet, but when it comes to facts or statistics, an entire cast of scientific professionals has little to offer. One talking head claims that “slathering ourselves with sunblock or covering up actually increases the risk of skin cancer.” There’s no follow up.

Love Thy Nature is segmented by profound quotes about man and nature, displayed on the screen in white lettering on the same hazy forest backdrop each time. The quotes seem to have little purpose other than to be inspirational.

While the film eventually suggests that we can use technology to further our relationship with nature, a bizarre cut early on seems to suggest that children playing video games leads to forest fires.

Eventually, director Sylvie Rokab settles on the idea of biomimicry, an engineering field that focuses on using designs that are naturally occurring. It seems like this is what Love Thy Nature has been building toward, the ultimate reconnection of man and nature. The segment lasts about a minute or two, with few hard facts, and then is over.

Rokab is obviously dedicated to this cause, also co-writing the script and story and leading the Kickstarter that funded the project. It is a noble cause. Sapiens, Homo Sapiens, will find it hard to deny a cry to take better care of both our planet and ourselves. But this Earth Day is better served by skipping the film and going outside.



Dear Diary

The Adderall Diaries

by Hope Madden

James Franco is nothing if not prolific. The Adderall Diaries was his 8th completed feature slated for release in 2015. He is a frenzy of artistic ambition and he deserves credit for embracing independent filmmaking as well as bigger budget stuff, doling out comedies and dramas in between arty TV bits. But maybe if he slowed down a little, some of the material would be better.

In Adderall Diaries, Franco plays Stephen Elliott, the real-life writer who penned the nonfiction text on which the film is based. As Franco depicts him, Elliott is a self-destructive man-child wallowing in self-pity.

What caused his sour mood? An adolescence of abuse at the hands of a father he pretends is dead (in print and in public, no less). When Dad (Ed Harris) shows up in the flesh at a book reading, Elliott’s cushy world falls to pieces. Combine that with writer’s block and a misdirected interest in a high-profile murder trial, and what can Elliott do but snort, smoke, shoot, and pop every substance he comes into contact with?

There is something interesting buried here about how we use our own memories to justify our behavior, or about how writers are inherently liars, or a bit of both – hard to say because it’s never fleshed out or clearly articulated. But boy, the old ‘downward spiral of the artistic genius’ thing – that is hard to miss.

Though Harris turns in a characteristically strong performances, all other supporting turns are perfunctory at best, which leaves us with little but Franco’s whining protagonist to cling to.

Writer/director Pamela Romanowsky flails about with indie director clichés, creating an overly-filtered world of seediness and confused flashbacks, while her prose cannot deliver the introspection required to make an audience invest in what happens to Elliott.

Subplots go nowhere – the murder trial, in particular, feels as if it should mean something imperative but seems needless and tacked on. Relationships, the writer’s craft, self-examination and anything else the film attempts to tackle are too muddled to stand out. Even Franco’s damaged writer seeking redemption bit is so tired, and the character so unlikeable, that it’s just hard to care about the film’s outcome.


Are You OK, Annie?


by Rachel Willis

Director Ariel Vroman has crafted an interesting character study within the bones of an action movie with Criminal.

When CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is killed in the line of duty, his boss, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), desperate to obtain the information Pope was bringing to him, enlists the help of Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to perform a radical memory transfer from Pope to Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner). Dr. Franks is unsure if the procedure will work, as he’s only performed is successfully on small mammals, but Wells pushes him to perform the surgery.

Predictably, the operation is successful. However, Jericho Wells is unpredictable. He is a man without a conscience, and his predilection for destruction jeopardizes Wells’s objective.

Costner is marvelous as Jericho, first playing the character with cold indifference, but shaping him to the memories and feelings of Pope as they overwhelm him. Attempting to use Pope’s knowledge for his own gain, he finds himself drawn to Pope’s life, particularly Pope’s wife and daughter.

As the deceased’s wife, Jill Pope, Gal Gadot (the new Wonder Woman) gives a compelling performance as a woman who is suddenly confronted with a very dangerous man who happens to know things about her life that only her husband would know. The characters’ initial interaction is tense, and it’s unclear how Jericho will act toward Jill and her daughter.

Unfortunately, the situation plays out the way one would expect, as Jericho is influenced more and more by Pope’s thoughts and feelings. What could provide for an unexpected, and possibly deadly, confrontation is instead relegated to a predictable attack of conscience before anything truly sinister occurs.

Though Costner ably carries the weight of the film, many of the supporting characters feel flat, with little to do other than attempt to steer Jericho in the direction they want. Gary Oldman is especially mundane in his role as a CIA director who seems inept and impulsive.

Only Gadot, and Michael Pitt (The Dreamers, Funny Games) as Jan Stroop, imbue their characters with emotions and wants that have nothing to do with Jericho. Pitt is especially effective, radiating various emotions and providing a nice contrast to Jericho.

Despite the weakness of some of the characters, the film is an intriguing study of Jericho. There are a number of tense, and occasionally funny, moments as we watch him navigate his new memories and feelings.

On the whole, Criminal is an enjoyable, if predictable, film.