Echoes of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach are unmistakable in Rebecca Miller’s romantic comedy about narcissistic, intellectual New York academics falling in and out of love with each other. Writer-director Rebecca Miller’s comic dialogue sparkles, but the dramatic underpinnings don’t work quite as well. My mixed RogerEbert.com review.
Drop Jim Cramer into “Network” and you have “Money Monster” — and yet the result never ends up being quite as thrilling or thought-provoking as that premise sounds. Jodie Foster’s direction is lean and efficient, though, and George Clooney and Julia Roberts have crackling chemistry as always. My mixed RogerEbert.com review.
Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.
Running time: 146 minutes.
Three and a half stars out of four.
With “Captain America: Civil War,” directors Anthony and Joe Russo have found the tricky balance that eluded the ordinarily reliable Joss Whedon with last year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
They’ve made a movie that’s both self-referential and self-reverential, thrilling and heady, packed with giant set pieces and sly pop-culture quips in equal measure. Yes, there’s probably too much going on here: too many characters, too many subplots, too many gears keeping the behemoth Marvel Cinematic Universe grinding ever forward toward world domination. And at nearly two and a half hours, it’s a long sit — although Nicolas, at age 6 1/2, was thoroughly engaged the whole time. (Then again, he’s inordinately Marvel-savvy. Your mileage may differ.).
But “Civil War” remains entertaining throughout, even as it turns introspective. The Russos, who also directed Chris Evans & Co. in the excellent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” from 2014, have reteamed with the writers of that movie, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Like “The Winter Soldier,” “Civil War” is relevant and resonant without becoming heavy-handed or self-serious the way, oh, say, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” did. It’s got some intelligent, important matters on its mind but also finds a way to deliver in terms of summer thrills.
Now, I don’t want to divulge too much in terms of plot. I’d like to avoid spoilers for both of the people on the planet who haven’t seen “Civil War” yet. (For a spoiler-tastic review of the film, please enjoy our What the Flick?! discussion.) But I do want to touch on the main things the movie gets so right, as well as the few it gets not quite right.
An inadvertent deadly attack on an office building in Lagos, Nigeria — the result of the Avengers trying to do the right thing, as usual — prompts the U.S. government to question whether these superheroes should be allowed to continue functioning autonomously. A quick montage of the massive urban destruction that has occurred in the past few Marvel movies makes an awfully persuasive case: Yes, they’re using their powers for the greater good in all these instances, but the collateral damage is undeniable. The fact that a Marvel movie dares to question the big, shiny spectacle that is its bread and butter — and acknowledge that untold thousands die in the name of entertainment — seems rather novel. At the same time, “Civil War” approaches this topic in brisk, smart fashion rather than languishing in perpetually rainy, philosophical doldrums the way Zack Snyder’s “BvS” did earlier this year.
As the Avengers and their newfound allies take sides on the issue of whether to sign a treaty agreeing to international oversight or continue with their current strategy of world-saving, no matter the cost, it’s fascinating to see who falls where. It doesn’t shake out the way you might expect; there’s a bit of role reversal here. The typically brash, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), better known as Iron Man, is surprisingly conservative when it comes to the group’s use of power. He’s seen some things and thinks General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) has a point in seeking oversight and accountability. Meanwhile, Evans’ Steve Rogers — the earnest do-gooder, Captain America — takes an if-not-now-when, if-not-us-who approach. He wants to maintain the status quo and refuses to sign.
As Steve’s old childhood friend-turned-enemy Bucky (Sebastian Stan) returns from obscurity to unleash his full potential as the reprogrammed killing machine The Winter Soldier, the Avengers must side with either Iron Man or Captain America as the latest and greatest threat to world peace looms ever larger. We’re talking about a lot of people here, folks — so many that you may lose track of who’s on which team in the midst of major battles. Maybe that’s the point, though — the futility of war and whatnot. All I know is, the next day, Nicolas and I had a hard time recalling who was Team Cap and who was Team Iron Man. (Luckily, the ubiquitous billboards throughout Los Angeles helped jog our memories.)
There’s also the revelation of a deep secret that provides a surprisingly emotional underpinning to the ideological feud between Iron Man and Captain America. It arrives during a moment of beautiful dramatic in snowy Siberia, and it’s the film’s most gorgeous, memorable image (the work of cinematographer Trent Opaloch, who also shot “The Winter Soldier”). And that’s about all I want to say about that.
As for the performances — because yes, they do matter, even in a blockbuster about comic-book heroes — an enormous cast gets even bigger with the addition of characters from Marvel movies past and future. Everyone gets a brief moment to shine but it’s often tantalizing and perhaps not enough. Besides Evans and Downey — who seem to feel these characters in the very fiber of their being by now — there’s also Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Anthony Mackie as Falcon, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany as Vision. The tremendously versatile Chadwick Boseman, who’s already played Jackie Robinson (“42”) and James Brown (“Get On Up”) in just the past few years, provides excitement both physically and emotionally as newcomer Black Panther — and he’ll get his own movie, directed by Ryan Coogler, in 2018.
But the best part of “Civil War” for me was the reintroduction of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. It is THE highlight of the movie. Tom Holland finds just the perfect tone as the webslinger, whom we’ve seen in countless other incarnations. Tobey Maguire was quippy and Andrew Garfield was angry and both played this iconic role with varying degrees of success. Holland gets the boyish giddiness of having superpowers; his joy is infectious, and his banter with Downey positively crackles.
And unlike the Black Panther movie, you only have to wait until next year for “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Because regardless of how good any of these movies are individually, they’re all just cogs in the massive Marvel machinery.
“A Bigger Splash” is simultaneously sumptuous and startling — a true feast for the senses, featuring four superb performances from Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and especially Ralph Fiennes. He absolutely tears up the screen as well as the film’s idyllic setting on an island off the coast of Sicily. Director Luca Guadagnino’s follow-up to 2009’s “I Am Love” isn’t quite as gorgeous or great, but then again, what could be? My RogerEbert.com review.
Open Road Films
Rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive material.
Running time: 118 minutes.
One half star out of four.
“Mother’s Day” is so terrible that it inspired me to start my list of the worst movies of 2016.
January and February are traditionally dumping-ground time, so a lot of truly awful movies usually have paraded past my eyes by this time each year. But “Mother’s Day” felt like a particular milestone, one that I wanted to commemorate with great alacrity — like, as soon as the credits started rolling and I could turn my phone back on again.
Garry Marshall just needs to stay away from holidays altogether. “Mother’s Day” is the veteran director’s third ensemble comedy based on a beloved event on the calendar following “Valentine’s Day” (2010) and “New Year’s Eve” (2011). I had vague hope that this one might actually be better, given that it didn’t come from the writer of those first two movies. But they just keep getting worse. The wacky antics and mawkish sentimentality of A-listers colliding into each other have given way to complete incoherence this time around.
There isn’t a single authentic moment in this entire movie which, mindbogglingly, runs all of two hours. As a mother myself in my early 40s, I am your target audience, and I did not witness anything that moved me in any emotional direction beyond extreme discomfort. There is exactly one scene that maybe kinda-sorta works briefly, and that’s just because Julia Roberts is really good at crying on cue.
Basically, Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson and Britt Robertson and Sarah Chalke and Margo Martindale are moms and Roberts might be a mom and Shay Mitchell is a stepmom and Jason Sudeikis is a dad. They all live in Atlanta, where their lives intertwine in ways that are both contrived and mundane and where it’s warm much of the time, giving Aniston and Hudson the opportunity to exercise outdoors quite a bit (in pieces from Hudson’s Fabletics line of workout gear, no doubt).
Aniston stars as Sandy, who’s amicably divorced from Timothy Olyphant’s Henry, with whom she has two young sons. (One of them has asthma, which will provide a crucial plot point later. It’s like Chekhov’s Inhaler.) But Henry recently has eloped with his much younger girlfriend, the bombshell Tina (Mitchell), which sends Sandy into a cliched, middle-aged panic of shrill, existential angst.
Sandy also happens to be friends with Hudson’s character, Jesse, who’s secretly married to a man of Indian descent (Aasif Mandvi) because her conservative, racist parents in Texas (Martindale and Robert Pine) wouldn’t approve. She also has a child with his man, which is also a secret. Across the street, Jesse’s sister (Sarah Chalke) is also secretly a wife and mother — with her longtime partner, a woman named Max (Cameron Esposito). When Mom and Dad pull up to Jesse’s house in their RV unannounced, madcap hilarity ensues. “Mother’s Day” might be trying to show how diverse and progressive it is in representing every kind of family, but it’s a laugh track away from “Three’s Company” levels of subterfuge. (The script, for the record, comes from Anya Kochoff Romano, Matt Walker and Tom Hines.)
Robertson, meanwhile, plays a cocktail waitress named Kristin. She’s the mother of an infant with her longtime boyfriend, Zack (Jack Whitehall), a Brit who also happens to be the least funny stand-up comedian in America. His lame sets are prime examples of the excruciatingly awkward editing strategy at work here, with repeated cutaways to audience members laughing hysterically at moments when Zack isn’t even telling an actual joke.
Finally, there’s Sudeikis as a recent widower named Bradley. His wife (Jennifer Garner, seen only in cheesy karaoke video footage during a moment of reminiscence) was a Marine lieutenant who died in battle in Afghanistan, leaving him to raise the couple’s two daughters alone. Ten bucks if you can figure out which single-mom character he’ll eventually end up with.
Roberts flits in and out of these storylines as Miranda Collins, a home-shopping style maven who peddles jewelry, including cheap-looking pendants that change color depending on your mood. She may be related to somebody else in “Mother’s Day”; her close-cropped orange bob, however, is related to no human being on the planet. (But Marshall, who directed Roberts to super-stardom a quarter century ago in “Pretty Woman,” does manage to wring the movie’s one fleeting, decent moment out of her here, too.)
Marshall veers wildly between hokey moments that are meant to be humorous and saccharine moments that are meant to be sentimental. Sudeikis’ painful rap routine to a sanitized version of “The Humpty Dance” is meant to be both simultaneously. The characters never feel like real people, even though they’re constantly explaining themselves to us. (“I have abandonment issues,” Kristin says while discussing why she won’t marry Zack.) And their antics are lighted in a flat, bright way that creates a distracting feeling of detachment.
If you love your mother — or even if you hate your mother — take her to see something else this Mother’s Day. A revival of “Mommie Dearest,” maybe.