Captain America: Civil War

By: Kevin Jordan

Let’s get ready to R-R-R-UM-M-M-BL-L-L-E.

At the risk of repeating myself, how is it that Marvel keeps making outstanding movies?  I’m not really surprised by this anymore, but I am surprised that they continually top my expectations.  At this point in time, the law of averages says they are overdue for a real stinker, but I’m happy to report that the new Captain America smells very nice.  Wait…that sounds weird – let me start over.  Captain America: Civil War knocked my socks off.  No, that’s weird too and makes me sound like someone’s grandmother.  Alright, I’ll figure out a better way to say it by the end of the review, but you get the point – Civil War is arguably the best movie released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.

As I said in my review of Batman v Superman, I was really looking forward to Civil War if only to get rid of the taste in my brain from viewing BvSBvS was always destined to fail at a story level because Superman could just throw a building at Batman and movie over.  But the real reason it failed was because the reason Superman and Batman are fighting at all is murky at best and completely nonsensical and dumb at worst.  Civil War is exactly the opposite and is more than Captain America v Ironman: Dusk of Avengers – they are fighting for reasons that actually make sense.  Sorry DC fans, but the sooner you admit BvS and Man of Steel were just bad movies, the sooner you can start demanding that Warner Brothers hire some writers and directors that don’t suck, follow the Marvel formula, and start making movies worthy of DC’s source material.

Captain america civil war

The Avengers have always been a tenuous alliance of superheroes, not so much because they don’t get along, but because they have different ideas on how to achieve the mission – world peace and protecting the human race.  The film kicks off with the newly reformed Avengers (that we saw at the end of Age of Ultron) chasing down some bad guys in Nigeria who were trying to steal a bioweapon.  By the time the scene is over, some collateral damage has occurred including eleven civilians dead.  The Secretary of Defense (William Hurt) informs the group that more than one hundred nations have come together to decide that The Avengers should no longer be a private entity and must start operating under the purview of the United Nations.  Any crime fighting undertaken outside of that oversight is to be considered a crime.  As the team digests the information and debates amongst themselves, sides start form.  One side, led by Tony “Ironman” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), agrees that oversight is necessary because they are powerful and dangerous, but mostly out of guilt for the Sokovia incident (from Age of Ultron).  This is understandable since it’s literally his fault that Ultron came to be.  The other side, led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans), believes the opposite – that the various countries and diplomats have their own agendas and the team would end up becoming a weapon to be wielded by the U.N.  This is understandable because Cap didn’t trust what S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury were doing in The Winter Soldier (and rightly so, as it turned out).  The conflict arises because they are both right – oversight is a good idea, but the decision makers are completely untrustworthy.  Talk about art imitating life (*cough* Republicans v Democrats *cough*).

Side commentary – the logic of the SecDef mirrors the short-sighted-can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees thinking that we see in real life today.  While making his case to the Avengers, he places the collateral damage blame on them for the following events: (1) the Loki-led Chitauri invasion of Earth (The Avengers), (2) the Hydra-led invasion of D.C. (The Winter Soldier), (3) the destruction of Sokovia (Age of Ultron), and (4) the eleven dead in Nigeria.  Here’s how the team should have responded to those: (1) we stopped an alien invasion aimed at destroying/enslaving humanity, (2) we stopped Hydra from taking over America and the world, (3) yeah – that was our fault, and (4) hello – bioweapon.  I find it stunningly narrow-minded to get upset about the collateral damage when, had they not intervened, everyone dies or the world is taken over by bad guys or everyone dies.  My point is they could have come up with a better list of examples or just stuck solely with the Ultron incident.  Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The part I really want to put emphasis on is that the competing sides didn’t just jump to punch-kick-shoot, like Batman and Superman did, they literally talked about their ideologies.  Following their disagreement, another incident happens and they talk about it again.  I know that sounds a little boring (trust me, it’s not), but it makes the battle royale later in the movie much easier to accept because it’s the logical result of the escalation that occurs during the film.  And that, dear DC fans and Zack Snyder, is how you make a superhero v superhero movie.

On that note, the battle royale is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking.  I won’t spoil the who takes whose side, but here are your contestants – Ironman, Captain America, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Warhammer (Don Cheadle), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) – and all of them get their fair share of the camera.  The scene also has great special effects, a very smooth escalation of fighting, and plenty of fun banter (at one point, Spider-Man is praising Captain America while simultaneously fighting him).  Yes – Marvel and directors Anthony and Joe Russo handled a twelve-person superhero fight movie better than DC and Zack Snyder handled a two-person fight.

Aside from the main story, they even managed to give due diligence to the introductions of Spider-Man and Black Panther, which is amazing considering how many characters were in this film.  That includes the additions of Emily VanCamp as CIA Agent Carter (to be fair, she’s not new, but she’s given far more to do this time around), Daniel Bruhl as the one true villain of the film, Martin Freeman as another government higher-up (and doesn’t he have to appear in Doctor Strange opposite Benedict Cumberbatch?), and even Marisa Tomei as Aunt May.  As incredible as it sounds, not one of these characters felt like a throw-in just to get a silly cameo for an upcoming sequel or standalone movie (seriously D.C. and WB – get your shit together).

So, yeah – Civil War was freaking awesome from pretty much every aspect you can think of.  Great characters, great story, no obvious plot holes, tie-ins with previous movies to maintain continuity, great new characters (and a big thank you to Marvel for fixing Spider-Man), great action, great acting, great dialogue, and most importantly, great entertainment.  See?  I told you I’d figure out a better way to describe this film.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back for Batman v Superman again.  Then, see Civil War again.

Triple 9

By: Kevin Jordan

Distractions everywhere.

I don’t know that there’s ever a good time to release a movie about corrupt cops, but now seems like an especially bad time.  One day, assholes are killing cops and the next day, cops are killing kids wielding toy guns in a park.  Every one of these events has people on all sides of the issue vehemently arguing about police abuse, the ability of cops to fulfill their duties, targeting of minorities, targeting of cops, and possibly the lowest amount of trust exchanged between the general public and general police force.  With all that dominating the ten percent of news cycles that aren’t devoted to the current election circus, the higher-ups over at Worldview Entertainment said “fuck it; let’s do this.”  Not only did they decide to release a movie about good cops, bad cops, and a whole lot killing, but they decided to name the movie after the code given for an officer down.  Who’s ready for some fun, huh?

TRIPLE 9 Poster Art

Walking out of the theater, the most common reaction I heard was “that movie was really confusing.”  I wouldn’t characterize the movie as confusing, but I would say that the movie leaves a lot of unanswered questions in its wake.  For instance, my biggest question was how bad was Kate Winslet’s Russian accent?  Egads was that thing exaggerated.  Once I stopped thinking about that, my next question was why was Woody Harrelson wearing dentures?  I thought the accent was distracting until the dentures distracted me from the accent.  Then, I wondered what Casey Affleck had to do to hulk out like that.  Welcome to the gun show is right.  Yes, these are the things that I think about during movies that don’t bother to write a compelling plot or give us back stories to its characters.  Now you know why those people were confused.

(Some spoilers coming up, though I won’t tell you which cop needs the 999.)

Based on the trailers, I thought the movie was going to be a heist movie and it definitely starts out that way.  A crew of five guys consisting of two ex-special forces soldiers – Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Russel (Norman Reedus) – Russel’s brother and former cop, Gabe (Aaron Paul), and two active and corrupt cops – Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge (Clifton Collins, Jr.) – are hired a by a Russian mob wife, Irina (Winslet), to rob a bank.  Their target is a safe deposit box and these guys are really good at robbery.  Upon delivery of the box, Irina shirks on paying them, instead insisting that they perform another theft, this time stealing a box from a secret Department of Homeland Security warehouse.  Sounds pretty straight-forward, right?  Well, hold on to your butts.

Chris Allen (Affleck) is reassigned to Marcus’ precinct as Marcus’ new partner.  Chris is also a former soldier, but he just wants to make a difference.  They make a big deal out of him being transferred from a cushy precinct, but no explanation is given as to why.  But, don’t worry too much about it because they’ll distract you with his wife’s (Teresa Palmer’s) naked ass.  I’m not sure how that helps those who aren’t attracted by such things, but it works for me.

Further muddying the waters is Chris’ uncle, Jeffery (Woody Harrelson), who is a lead detective at another precinct.  He’s leading the bank robbery investigation, but spends his spare time drinking and smoking his ground-up medication.  I’m sure there are metaphors in these character traits, but after a whole lot of time watching these cops bicker with each other and no heists to speak of, I just didn’t care.  All I cared about was answering why Irina would kill Dwight from The Walking Dead (Reedus) as a scare tactic if she was holding Michael’s kid hostage?  Oh wait, there’s Gal Gadot’s (playing Irina’s sister and the mother of Michael’s kid) almost naked ass.  Nevermind.

Eventually, the now short-handed crew decides that the only way to give themselves enough time to pull off the DHS heist is to distract every cop in Atlanta by killing a cop and calling in a code 999.  No, seriously, they explain to us that every cop will definitely drop whatever assignment they have to respond to an officer down code, no matter how far away or pre-occupied they might be.  It’s totally believable, just like it’s totally believable that a secret DHS facility would be guarded by only a handful of incompetent rent-a-cops that were probably kicked out of the TSA for riding through the x-ray machines late at night.

Remember how I said the characters had no back stories?  What I meant was that they had no back stories to explain their motivations.  Why are the cops corrupt to the point of robbing banks?  Why are Michael and Marcus stuck doing jobs for the Russian-Jewish mob?  Are Irina’s hired muscle really wearing yamakas?  What exactly are they stealing and why is it important enough that the Israelis would release Irina’s murdering, mob-boss husband from Israeli prison?  Seriously, they’re wearing yamakas?

If the movie had any kind of redeeming quality (besides some very nice ass cheeks), it was nice watching Mackie, Ejiofor, and Winslet playing against type.  For all the lack of compelling writing, the performances were solid, accents notwithstanding.  But, again, in today’s current climate, I don’t know who this movie is for.  The folks expecting a good heist movie are going to be very disappointing and everybody else is just going to be wondering how they ended up here instead of at Deadpool.

Rating: Ask for all but two dollars back.  Triple 9 is probably worth a Redbox rental, but only if your first three choices are out of stock.

The Night Before

By: Kevin Jordan

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

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This week, I had to choose between two movies – The Night Before and Creed.  On one hand, The Night Before looked like it could be really funny and I’m always looking for a good laugh, but Seth Rogen and friends have been responsible for some really unfunny movies.  On the other hand, Creed looked like the latest desperate attempt by Sylvester Stallone to stay relevant, but almost assuredly promised to be a terrible film that would be fun to destroy in a review.  I mean, how could it not be terrible; have you seen the premise and previews?  Rocky trains Apollo Creed’s son and suffers some sort of near death/death ala Mickey from Rocky III?  Seriously?  I know Michael B. Jordan needs a win after the embarrassment of Fantastic Four, but I’m pretty sure Creed won’t be that win.  Anyway, despite the ease at which a review of Creed would write itself, I decided not to punish myself by sitting through it and chose to risk punishing myself by sitting through The Night Before.

Before I get to the rest of the review, I want to point out that The Night Before is the second Christmas movie I’ve seen in as many weeks (Love the Coopers).  For everyone out there who believes in the mythical war on Christmas; that Starbucks hates Christmas because they decided to serve coffee in cups not featuring a Christmas tree (yet the cup is red with a green Starbucks logo; you know – Christmas colors), you can shut up now.  Not only does every store have all of their Christmas merchandise out; not only is the shopping mall near my house already decorated to the hilt in Christmas gear, but we’ve now had two Christmas movies released well before Thanksgiving.  If there’s a war on Christmas, the anti-Christmas team is getting crushed.

(Very mild SPOILERS ahead.)

Anyway, The Night Before is about three friends, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie), trying to find the ultimate, but well-hidden, Christmas party known as the Nutcracker Ball.  They’ve been at it for ten years and the only thing they know is what the invitation looks like.  At this point in their lives, Chris is now a famous football player, Isaac is about to be a father, and both of them are ready to end the hunt because they are grown-ups now.  Conversely, Ethan is single and works as a waiter for a catering service, and doesn’t want to let go of their annual tradition (and all of the things they repeat during the tradition) because it’s all he has (his parents died just before the Christmas Eve that led to said tradition).  Predictably, all of these issues will be addressed (Chris is on steroids and Isaac is terrified of fatherhood) and all three guys will have to deal with these issues by the end of the film.  I know this doesn’t sound funny yet, but all of that stuff is really just the dressing.  The turkey is the series of events that occur during their final attempt to find the mythical party.

Actually, finding the party turns out to be the easy part of the night.  While Ethan is at work, he stumbles upon three invitations to the party while checking coats.  He steals the invitations and bolts to find Chris and Isaac so he can share the good news.  After calling the number on the invitation, they learn that they have several hours to kill before the location will be revealed, so the party turns out to be the big gift-wrapped MacGuffin of the film.  The hard part of the night is actually making it long enough to even go to the party, as a combination of drinking, drugs, and squabbles threaten to derail the quest.  Yes, this is a quest movie and Ethan must complete the quest.  But, what quest isn’t complete without trials and tribulations?

Knowing that this is their last time doing this tradition, Isaac’s wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) gives Isaac a box filled with “every kind of drug in the world.”  As you probably already know (based on the previews), this leads to Isaac being high off his ass (to put it mildly) for the entire film, which is the biggest hurdle for Ethan.  It also leads to nearly all of the best jokes in the film because no one does high off his ass better than Rogen.  Then, there’s Chris’s side quest to obtain some weed for his quarterback (Chris is desperate for his teammates to like him).  This quest includes an old teacher (and marijuana dealer) of theirs – Mr. Green (Michael Shannon) – and a slutty, anti-Christmas thief named Rebecca Grinch (Ilana Glazer).  Yes, her name is Grinch and no, it was not funny (or clever).  Finally, there’s Ethan’s ex-girlfriend, Diana (Lizzy Caplan).  For reasons not even remotely explained, she and her friend (Mindy Kaling) were legitimately invited to the party, so you can bet your ass that the party is going to be trumped by whatever happens between the two of them.

At this point, I need to give credit to the writers (Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Jonathan Levine, Ariel Shaffir) because I went into this film with zero expectations of any kind of plot more than “hijinks galore.”  Getting a film with a decently organized plot on top of a cornucopia of comedy was definitely worth the earlier start to Christmas (and that’s why I spent so many words talking about it).  Goldberg in particular has been responsible for some awful movies, so getting something that didn’t feel like it was written with paste and glitter deserves attention.

Most importantly though, the comedy was well worth the decision to see this film.  Every now and then, you hear or see something that makes you laugh so hard that you cry and can’t breathe.  This happened to me during the church scene in this movie, which is also shown in the previews (so I can say it here without feeling bad).  Watching Rogen hiss at a baby, then ask his wife who the guy on the cross is by emulating Christ’s position, then try not to puke at the thought of crucifixion, then hear his wife say “don’t you dare throw up.  You swallow it like a girl would,” nearly broke me and most of the audience as well.  If this is what Christmas coming extra early brings, I’m all for it.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and get over the Starbucks thing.  It’s a cup.

Love the Coopers

By: Kevin Jordan

Merry effing Christmas (or, a real sausage fest).

LOVE THE COOPERS_Final One Sheet

Do you love ensemble movies featuring fourteen different main characters and six stories?  Do you love Christmas movies?  Do you love the thought of attending the annual family Christmas gathering with people you don’t particularly like, but suck it up because you share a few chromosomes with them?  If you answered yes to all three of those questions, then have I got the movie for you – Love the Coopers.  Also, when are you due back at the ward?

The difference between Love the Coopers and other, similar movies (like Love Actually) is that pretty much every character in Love the Coopers is a dick.  Hey – don’t get mad at me, I’m just repeating what Madison, one of the characters in the movie, says.  She may only be six years old, but she’s just telling it like it is.  Let’s go meet these dicks, er, characters, and hear their stories.

First up is Bucky Cooper (Alan Arkin).  He frequents a local diner every day for one reason – Ruby (Amanda Seyfried).  Yes, I said Amanda Seyfried, and I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not like that.  Okay, it’s kind of like that, but it’s much more innocent than a dirty old man stalking a beautiful young woman.  Bucky just misses his dead wife and Ruby reminds her of him.  They joke about the quality of the food, he suggests movies for Ruby to watch, and they have a good time together.  They are two of the nice people in the film, though they do share a moment where they are dicks to each other.

Next up is Hank Cooper (Ed Helms).  He is divorced with three kids, Charlie, Bo, and Madison (Timothee Chalamet, Maxwell Simkins, and Blake Baumgartner, respectively).  He and his ex-wife, Angie (Alex Borstein), hate each other and he is trying to get a new job, but is lying to Angie about still having one.  They are serious dicks to each other, though most of the blame lies on Angie since she is a dick all of the time and Hank is only a dick when Angie brings it out of him.

This leads us to Hank’s kids.  Madison spends time with her grandparents, Hank’s parents, Sam and Charlotte.  You know her story already – she owns the catch phrase of the film.  On the other hand, Charlie and Bo are hanging out the mall.  Bo is looking for the perfect gift for Charlie while Charlie is trying to flirt with his crush, Lauren.  Surprisingly, none of these kids are dicks, which is a nice change for a movie involving teenagers.  In fact, they provide the best part of the movie – a French kissing scene between Charlie and Lauren in which they manage to not touch lips.  Imagine the way two golden retrievers would look if they were making out and you’ve got the idea.

Coincidentally, Emma Cooper (Marisa Tomei) is also at the mall, but not for very long.  She has serious issues with Charlotte (her sister), shoplifting, and lying and spends most of the movie in the back of Officer Percy Williams’ (Anthony Mackie) police car.  In an attempt to not go to jail, Emma decides to use her social worker skills to provide Percy some therapy to help him come to grips with his lack of emotions (due to an abusive mother).  On one hand, I feel bad for Percy because he has to sit and listen to Emma dole out unsolicited advice, but on the other hand – where the hell is the police station?  They drive around for hours, so either he’s lost or he really hates his mom.

Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton) are a whole different story.  Charlotte is a Cooper by birth (Bucky’s daughter) and is the mother-in-law (or mother) that every stereotype was born from.  Everything is always about her, which drives her two kids – Hank and Eleanor – crazy.  Be it Hank’s inability to keep a wife or job or Eleanor’s affair with a married man, Charlotte always wants to know “was it something I did?”  After forty years of marriage, a continuing, unhealthy obsession with her kids, and an untold number of broken promises (including a 35-year delayed trip to Africa), Sam is at the end of his rope.  He doesn’t want to give up, but Charlotte devoted everything to her kids and Sam waited decades for her to devote some time to him.  It’s tough to blame a guy for wanting to have a little happiness before he dies after forty years of being little more than a prop.  And, you would want to leave too if your wife (or husband) insisted on elaborate Christmas gatherings including forcing everyone to say what they are thankful for around the dinner table and sing Christmas carols in the living room as a group.  Dicks like Charlotte are a special breed.

Finally, we have Eleanor Cooper (Olivia Wilde).  She is hanging around the airport after having arrived in town, stalling as much as she can before heading to the big gathering, when she meets Joe (Jake Lacy).  The two of them are as opposite of each other as two people can be, but they are easily the most interesting people in the movie.  They are also the obvious love story of the film, but what makes them interesting is that they are caricatures of the two sides of our political system.  Eleanor is an insufferable, liberal democrat who feels the need to lecture Joe about everything he’s “wrong” about.  Joe is a religious, conservative republican who looks down his nose at Eleanor’s beliefs and judges her on everything.  Also, he’s an Army soldier, just to complete the stereotype.  Joe’s flight is cancelled (which is why they’re both still in the airport) and after several cutesy moments and misunderstandings, Emma convinces him to pretend to be her boyfriend and accompany her to the family gathering.  These two people are not good humans, but they are entertaining.  They also provide the best exchange I’ve heard in a long time:

Eleanor – “You probably don’t even believe in evolution.”

Joe – “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”

Eleanor – “That’s funny; my dog asked me the same thing about wolves.”

I sincerely hope I get to use that last retort in real life because it (and the French kiss scene) made this entire movie worth watching.

By the time the movie gets to the big Christmas dinner, you will be so thoroughly depressed (or disgusted) at either the characters or their lives that you won’t really care if they forgive each other by the end of the film.  This, in a nutshell, is why the vast majority of critics did not like this movie.  There’s no plot to speak of; just a bunch of related people winding their depressing stories toward the inevitable dinner explosion between some, if not all, of them.  And, despite all of that, I found myself not hating this movie.  As much as I didn’t care about any story save Joe and Eleanor, I never once thought I should get up and leave the theater.  Maybe that’s the real power of Christmas – it allows you to see the entertainment value in the numerous dicks in life, rather than just getting angry about them.  You’re looking forward to Christmas dinner now, aren’t you?

Rating: That sloppy kiss and evolution quote are worth the price of admission…if the price of admission was half of what it is today.