Captain America: Civil War Movie Review 0 23

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DUTIFULLY step aside Avengers Assemble, cool off The Winter Soldier, and crack a joke somewhere else Guardians of the Galaxy – it’s time to say hello to the best Marvel movie to date.

“While a great many people see you as a hero, there are some who prefer the word vigilante.” That’s the intriguing moral dilemma at the crux of Civil War’s bold plot. It picks up in the physical and political aftermath of the Sokovia showdown that left human casualties in the wake of our super-powered team defending the world against Ultron.

As a result of this the government – and, indeed, a scared worldwide population – have had enough of the relentless collateral damage. Spearheaded by General Ross (William Hurt), there is a proposal put forward which would involve The Avengers signing the so-called “Sokovia Accords” to essentially keep them in check.

Leading the pro campaign is Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), who sees them being no better than the bad guys if they continue to be held unaccountable for the destruction they cause. On the other hand we have Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), who staunchly views this politicised agreement as a limiting and insidiously dangerous step.

So starts the fracturing of the team that they’ve spent many movies assembling. And that’s a big part of what makes Civil War not only supremely entertaining but also tremendously satisfying in how it ties the bombast together with grounded drama and thought-provoking themes within the framework of a fantastical comic book world.

Unlike the other solo Marvel adventures, this has the added benefit of bringing the whole gang out to play, with the notable exception of Thor and The Hulk who – if you’ve been keeping up – are understandably conspicuous by their absence. However, it’s first and foremost a Captain America story and we’re invited into the plot largely from his noble, if disharmonious, perspective.

The discordant nature adds a fun and unpredictable edge to this particular Marvel instalment and to its credit sticks to its guns the whole way through, not buckling under the kind of pressure that would forced it into generic territory.

The action is as dynamic as it is plentiful, with a fantastic mix of acrobatic combat, superpower displays and even finding room for some thrilling chase sequences that would give the Bourne franchise a run for its money. All delivered with playful quips and a self-aware glint in its eye.

Many of those action sequences take the form of gloriously visualised in-fighting between a group ripped apart by fundamental disagreement or, at the very least, old allegiances forcing certain members to choose one side or the other.

As well as the usual Avengers, it also introduces us to a couple of new characters who are there to serve a purpose in this particular story and also to use it as a springboard for their own coming down the line. But, unlike Batman v Superman, it never instils that clunky feeling of always keeping its eye on what’s to come.

Firstly, there’s Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, whose feline escapades add an interesting flavour to the mix. But, perhaps more importantly, the film marks the first appearance by rising British star Tom Holland as the new Spider-Man, finally able to be a part of all the MCU fun after a new rights agreement behind the scenes.

The web-slinging teen is in it a lot more than you’d expect and Holland makes him everything the character should be: sparky, wisecracking and extremely likeable, with a nice mix of the knowing and the wide-eyed. He makes for a brilliantly enjoyable young counterpoint to the older team members. The film is supposed to be about Team Cap or Team Iron Man but you may very well leave the cinema as Team Spidey.

Whereas The First Avenger was an unashamedly old-school wartime yarn and The Winter Soldier was a throwback to 70s political thrillers, Civil War more than lives up to its name as an all-out battle movie.

Under the direction of returning Winter Soldier helmers Anthony and Joe Russo, this is the kind of big, expansive, dynamic and ambitious blockbuster you hope for from the Marvel name, one that works best because it never forgets that, for these fantastical characters, this fight is deeply personal.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 183

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 209

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10