Tag Archives: Anthony Mackie

Captain Crunch

The Marvel gang’s all here in superhero-packed mega-movie

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Captain America: Civil War

Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan & Scarlett Johansson

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

PG-13

What do superheroes do when they’re not saving the planet? A lot of the same things everyone else does—they prattle around the house, do their best to get along and sometimes get on each other’s nerves.

“Who’s putting coffee grounds in the disposal?” Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) asks his houseguests, which include Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision (Paul Bettany). “Am I running a bed and breakfast for a biker gang?”

Crammed into a back of a tiny VW Beetle, the hulking Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) has a request of Falcon (Anthony Mackie). “Could you move your seat up?” Like a grumpy sibling on a family road trip that’s already over-stretched his patience, Falcon isn’t exactly in an agreeable mood. “No!” he snaps.

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Spider-Man (Tom Holland) gets in on the action.

Captain America: Civil War is a big, sprawling superhero mega-movie, with more spandex to the gallon than any flick that’s come down the pike in a long time. The latest in the multi-billion-dollar Marvel cinematic canon, it’s officially the third of the Captain America franchise, but it’s also a continuation of the Avengers movie arc, and it ropes in characters from other Marvel movie properties as well, including Iron Man, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and even the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland), whose movie won’t be in theaters until next summer.

The “Civil War” in the title refers to the major rift that occurs within the Avengers when a United Nations panel wants to rein them in. The global community is concerned about the civilian deaths and wakes of destruction that accompany the superheroes’ bad-guy smackdowns—a theme that also cropped up a few weeks ago in another comics-character slugfest, Batman v Superman.

The Avengers divide into two camps about the issue—those who feel that some international oversight and cooperation is the way to go (led by Iron Man), and the rebels who refuse to sign the accord (team Captain America). That sets the stage for several spats, a couple of subplots, more than two hours of squabbles and one stupendous battle royale in an abandoned airport.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Sharon Carter/Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..? Marvel 2016

Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Captain America (Chris Evans) have a serious huddle.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo keep things moving along with style, substance and significant flair, and they give all their characters time to shine—no easy task when they are so many, including newcomers Chadwick Boseman as an African prince who becomes the Black Panther; Marissa Tomei as Peter Parker’s Aunt May; and Daniel Brühl as the Eastern European über-villain Zemo. There’s also Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Martin Freeman as a CIA official, Emily Van Camp (from TV’s Revenge) as Sharon Carter, and William Hurt as the U.S. Secretary of State. Oscar-nominated Alfre Woodard pops in as an aggrieved mom.

But through it all are the Avengers, the world’s coolest, most powerful cadre of superfriends—family, actually—being ripped apart, fractured from within, pulverizing each other as the divide between them, widened by treachery, becomes filled with distrust, dark secrets and deep wounds from the past.

There’s a whole army of frozen Winter Soldiers, a funeral and a sweet kiss between two characters that may point to future romance.

How does this wham-bam, jam-packed road trip on the superhero highway end? I won’t spoil it. But you shouldn’t be surprised to know that even when it does, it doesn’t, and that the Marvel movie map is still being drawn for Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man and other characters for years to come!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Down & Dirty

Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton make politics personal in ‘Crisis

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Our Brand is Crisis

Starring Sandra Bullock & Billy Bob Thornton

Directed by David Gordon Green

R

“I can convince myself of many things, if the price is right,” says Sandra Bullock’s character, “Calamity Jane” Bodine, in Our Brand is Crisis.

Jane is pretty good at convincing other people, too. That’s why the formerly formidable campaign strategist is lured out of early retirement to help an unpopular Bolivian president in an upcoming election—by convincing the reluctant public, through whatever means necessary, that they should vote for him.

But this battle’s not just political, it’s also personal: Bodine has to match wits with an old nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who’s been hired to strategize for the other side.

It’s based on things that went down at a real 2002 Bolivian election, which was chronicled in an award-winning 2005 documentary of the same name. Thornton’s character is a movie remold of former hardball strategist James Carville, who appeared as himself in the original film. Bullock’s character—a part originally written for a male—is an amalgam of several other actual people.

OUR BRAND IS CRISISBullock and Thornton provide the movie’s real spark; it’s too bad there’s not more of it, and more of them, to help the whole thing catch fire. There’s a murky, turbulent history between Bodine and Candy that we never fully understand, just one of several things the movie doesn’t make clear. But the deft, unfussy way the two characters spar and parry, in guarded conversations and piercing silences, are artful reminders of just how these two pros can make the most of their screen time.

Scoot McNairy, Ann Dowd and Anthony Mackie are also aboard as Calamity Jane’s team members. Zoe Kazan plays a young dirty-tricks research wonk brought in to turn up the heat when things shift into true “crisis” overdrive.

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Zoe Kazan

George Clooney is one of the producers. The director, David Gordon Green, has a wide-ranging resume that includes the stoner comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness. Peter Straughan, who provided the screenplay, is also the writer of the espionage thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The movie has some solid DNA, but it never seems to know whether it wants to make us think, make us chuckle or make us sad. Is it political parody with heart, a satire that jabs with its funny bone, or a south-of-the-border rom-com based on real headlines? (The biggest  audience response, for what it’s worth, comes from Bullock’s bare buttocks hanging out an open bus window.)

If you’re a political junkie, this is your time of year. The presidential candidate debates make for riveting, sometimes-outrageous TV, and shows like The Good WifeScandalVeep and the new Agent X take viewers inside the heated (fictionalized) heavings of Washington, D.C. Our Brand is Crisis brings up some timely points about what it takes to mount—and win—a campaign.

But is anyone surprised that politics plays dirty? That strategists can be snake-oil salesmen who convince people to buy things they don’t need, to elect leaders who may not have their best interests in mind? That America exports its will and influence to other parts of the world?

After her first meeting with the Bolivian president, Bodine realizes what a daunting job she signed on for, and she wearily notes that he “doesn’t smell like a winner.” Unfortunately, despite Sandra and Billy Bob, neither does this.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Super-Stuffed

New ‘Avengers’ is full of most everything—including itself

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson & Jeremy Renner

Directed by Josh Whedon

PG-13

Summer is when Hollywood rolls out its big guns, and this star-packed, superhero-stuffed eruption certainly starts things off with a bang.

The second movie in Marvel’s Avengers franchise, it’s full of just about everything, including itself. It’s got all six of the do-gooders from the first movie, plus a couple of newbies. It’s dense with character backstories, relationship dramas and plot points that zip and zing in every direction, including forward—to more movies to come—and backward, riffing on things that happened in previous ones. It begins with one extended mega-wallop of a fight, a castle siege in a snowy forest, and ends with an even larger one, on a crumbling island city in the sky. And it crams even more in between, including a dyna-whopper that rips up most of Manhattan.

I imagine insurance premiums for the Avengers are through the roof.

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James Spader provides the voice of Ultron.

Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) band together again, this time to fight an evil, smack-talking robot, Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who quotes the Bible and sings a ditty from Pinocchio as he goes about his mission of global annihilation.

Two new characters, the genetically altered twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), also come aboard—but only after playing freaky and fast for the other team first. Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Stellan Skarsgård, Anthony Mackie and Cobie Smulders return for cameos. Look—there’s Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings! Paul Bettany, previously unseen as the voice of Tony Stark’s computer system, Jarvis, materializes anew as a floating, red-faced uber-android named Vision.

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Paul Bettany

If you’re a Marvelite, you’ll probably be in fan-gasm heaven. Otherwise, you might find the constant, crashing swirl and whirl of imagery and the barrage of inside references overwhelming and exhausting.

The cast is top-notch, and returning writer-director Josh Whedon packs the script and the screen with cleverness as well as ka-pow. But even at a lengthy 141 minutes, things still feel jammed and crammed. All the busy CGI huffing and puffing make the quieter moments stand out even more, like a scene in which the other Avengers, a bit tipsy after a party, humorously try (unsuccessfully) to lift Thor’s hammer from a coffee table, or the romantic subplot between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner, in which she reveals a deep secret about her past and he painfully admits why his raging alter ego makes him less than ideal as a boyfriend.

It’s all part of the Marvel long game, a studiously crafted, mega-million-dollar maneuver in which comic-book characters are morphed from page to screen, connected, separated, then re-combined in various combos for a seemingly endless chain of box-office catnip. Coming up: Ant Man on July 15, a new Captain America next summer, the third Thor plus Dr. Strange in 2017 and another Avengers in 2018.

“Someone’s been playing an intricate game and made pawns of all of us,” muses Thor as Ultron draws to a close. True that, in more ways than one.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Time Jumper

Marvel’s red, white & blue WWII hero confronts contemporary enemies

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

PG-13, 135 min.

 

Thawed out from his Rip Van Winkle-like cryogenic hibernation, experimentally enhanced WWII U.S. Army super-soldier Capt. Steve Rogers—a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans)—now adjusts to the modern world. His Nazi-hunting days are behind him, but he’s still serving his country on missions for S.H.I.E.L.D, the global protection conglomerate, with his sexy crime-fighting partner the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a former Soviet agent.

But maybe Cap’s not so free of his past, after all. A legendary, near-indestructible assassin rumored to be almost 100 years old, with a Hannibal Lector-like muzzle on his mouth and a gleaming robotic arm, is out to get him. And he smells a rat inside his own organization; could the high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), now running the World Security Council, have anything to do with it? Paranoia is everywhere. “Don’t trust anybody,” his wounded leader, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), warns him.

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Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

A brawny blockbuster-formula movie with the brains of an espionage thriller, Captain America: The Winter Soldier recalls vintage ’70s spy romps but resonates with contemporary issues about military might, black-ops government conspiracies, historical cover-ups, war, peace and privacy in this digital era.

Sibling directors Anthony and Joe Russo stage the action with gusto and a real sense of the changing scale and proportion needed for fight sequences that take place in a variety of settings, ranging from the claustrophobic confines of a crowded elevator to the expanses of a colossal cargo ship, and eventually taking flight into the sky itself.

Savvy fans who keep up with the Marvel Comics universe will enjoy watching for the obligatory cameo from founder Stan Lee, and staying for the after-credits surprises—both of them—about where the ever-expanding franchise will go next.

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“How do we know the good guys from the bad guys?” the Cap’s new ally, Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), asks in the middle of one particularly rousing, action-y moment. It’s a good question, then and now. Who can you trust?

At least in this movie, you can always trust the guy with the shield and the star—the guy who says, “The price of freedom is high, it always has been.” He’s been one of the good guys for a long time.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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