Episode 2: The Star-Spangled Man
Episode 1: New World Order
Episode 2: The Star-Spangled Man
Episode 1: New World Order
Robot soldiers fight alongside human ones in the near future – and against them, robots on either side of this conflict, a storm of bullets raining down. Two men are hit, and their commanding officer makes plans to pull them to safety, but an ocean away, in the middle of the Nevada desert, a young drone pilot named Harp (Damson Idris) eats gummy bears and disobeys orders, launching a strike that kills the two in order to save the other 38. Harp is court-martialed and sent to the demilitarized zone for a reminder of the human cost of his lethal button pushing.
There he meets Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), an A.I. enhanced cyborg soldier who’s selected him for a mission outside the wire. Leo’s biotech is extremely convincing (he can even feel pain) but make no mistake – he’s a military machine. A military weapon, in fact, a supersoldier who’s excellent in close combat and whose A.I. is so advanced it can follow the threads of these conflicts in ways that no human leaders ever have. Which is what he needs Harp for, a man he turns out to have hand-chosen because of his ability to think outside the box. They’re going to dodge robot soldiers and angry insurgents to chase a warlord hellbent on securing himself some neglected nukes. Leo can’t pursue this one his own; he’s got built-in fail-safes to prevent that, but where his investigation would constitute a flaw in his programming, Harp is free to do so based solely on a human hunch.
I enjoyed this movie for a couple of reasons. First among them is the Asimov angle, the king of sci-fi who wrote all those clever rules of robotics, and whose every thesis went something like: beware artificial intelligence, because it will inevitably figure out that humans need to be protected from themselves, and we won’t like the measures they take to do so. Except in Outside The Wire’s case, what Leo establishes fairly quickly is that the real enemy is the U.S. military, even though he’s technically meant to be fighting on its side.
Robots, it turns out, aren’t as blindly patriotic as we might like. Lee sees things from both points of view, and he comes to some conclusions that the American government might not appreciate. It’s a little sad that it takes a robot to consider the the socio-political aspect, to put himself in someone else’s shoes and examine other perspectives, but there you have it. It’s what we’ve come to. Asimov is always right. A.I. will always find us lacking. Is this the movie that’s going to help heal America after this most divisive period in its history? Highly doubtful. Most people will just be watching or the action sequences, and that’s fine too.
The truth, however, is that Outside The Wire isn’t a terrific movie. It’s not the blockbuster stuff you’ve been craving. Leo can’t reveal his master plan to Harp all at once, so it’s hidden from us as well, making for an occasionally confusing and scattershot plot. It feels like it takes us through a series of switchbacks that aren’t entirely earned. What it’s really counting on is that you’ll be so pleased by the Transformer-like Gumps (the scary robot soldiers) that you’ll only be paying half attention to the story.
Still, the action is decent, and so is the relationship between Leo and Harp, like Training Day if Denzel was also the Terminator. That kind of thing. It’s kind of fun to watch Mackie play a cyborg soldier since we’ve seen him be a flesh and blood soldier in Hurt Locker, and an enhanced super hero in the Marvel universe. This character kind of melds those roles together, a robot pretending to be human with his own thoughts and feelings about this war and what its outcome should be. Of course, a global conflict is tough for a single robot to take on alone – though now that I think about it, I suppose we’ve seen A.I. do much more, and much worse, so I think it’s fair to say: fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.
Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) grew up overhearing white people’s business schemes as he shined their shoes, so he knows he’s just as smart and just as capable. In Texas in the 1960s, however, the world is designed to limit his ambition and rob him of power. But still, he dreams, and he follows those dreams to Los Angeles, where he meets Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), a potential partner with as much audacity as he.
Joe is already a successful businessman; he owns several properties. Bernard, however, wants to get in on the real profit. He wants to own buildings in white neighbourhoods. Even in L.A. there are many barriers to this happening, so they convince their handyman Matt (Nicholas Hoult) to become the white face of the company. They teach him algebra and golf, the white man’s business necessities, and he basically becomes their puppet, the representative who shakes all the hands and signs all the contracts while his mysterious business partners remain names on a ledger, though both remain hidden in plain sight – as a chauffeur, and a janitor. This strategy is incredibly fruitful for them, but Bernard won’t really feel successful until he can do the same in Texas, so eventually they go back, and they buy a bank. A bank! A bank that will be the first in its area to give loans to Black clients, business owners and first time home owners. They have to do this work incredibly surreptitiously of course, because it’s still Texas, but this endeavour really has the power to transform the entire community, which of course has never had this kind of opportunity for upward mobility, which is to say, the same kind that white folks take for granted. Which is why some 1960s Karen feels the need to intervene. In 1960s Texas, Black audacity is just about the biggest crime there is, so they don’t just get a police response, but the FBI as well. Of the three men involved, can you guess which two are arrested and charged? Yes, go ahead and assume this will be based solely on the colour of their skin.
The Banker is a safe movie that leaves all the risks to its bold lead characters. Director George Nolfi is content with a pretty standard biopic, which in this case is fine, as the revolutionary entrepreneurs depicted are so vivaciously brought to life by both Mackie and Jackson. Proper credit goes to Nia Long also, who portrays Garrett’s wife, Eunice. Happily Long is given actual work to do, the wife not just content to stay in the home, but very much involved in the family business. Eunice was always the first to recognize her husband’s genius and her support must have meant the world, but that would have been a very big deal, to risk her family’s stability in order to indulge his ambition. Eunice was a trailblazer herself, and Nia Long makes the most of it.
Based on a true story, the pursuit not just of the American dream, but of equal access to said American dream, is a story worth telling every time. The magnetic banter between Mackie and Jackson is just surplus on the ledger.
Brothers Abe and Mateo are criminals accused of some very serious cop-killery stuff. Abe (Frank Grillo) is in the hospital, unconscious with gunshot wounds and under police surveillance. Mateo (Christian Cooke) is determined to bust him out, so he’s hiding in the shadows of the hospital room when unsuspecting nurse Paul (Anthony Mackie) arrives to care for the patient. Mateo steals Paul’s security pass and flees, but Paul’s subsequent police report, to Lieutenant Lewis (Marcia Gay Harden) sets off a series of unfortunate events.
Mateo kidnaps Paul’s pregnant wife Taryn (Teyonah Parris) and holds her hostage to secure Paul’s help. Paul is going to a) revive Abe, b) bust him out of the hospital, c) help him escape/ evade police/ find a flash drive the brothers believe is filled with enough evidence to take down the dirty cops they claim have set them up.
Paul is just a regular good guy who of course wants less than nothing to do with this but his wife and their unborn child are on the line, which turns out to be sufficiently motivating to turn him into a mini Rambo. It’s an incredibly difficult situation to be in though, since it’s hard to distinguish between good guys and bad guys when they’re all holding guns.
This brand new action flick recently released on Netflix is directed by Joe Lynch, who some of you will remember from Mayhem, though Point Blank is obviously a very different animal. It’s also not the shitty remake of Point BREAK, just in case any of you are as lazy readers as Sean is, although apparently it IS a shitty remake of a 2010 french film, À bout portant. I mean, there are shittier movies, and Netflix is home to most of them, if that’s your thing. This one is definitely watchable, so if all you crave is a mindless action sequence and don’t mind some questionable momentum and a flimsy stab at buddy comedy in the middle of cops and robbers, she’s all yours – unless you might be offended by Falcon’s blatant betrayal of Captain America, what with all the hooking up with his nemesis, Brock Rumlow.
I’ve been on a bit of a kick lately to see what Chris Evans does when he’s not Captain America – particularly since he’s super not Captain America anymore. I think I only really know him from Snowpiercer, which is one of the best movies ever made, so it’s a solid credit, I’ll give him that. But it seems our most civic-minded super hero is super selective when it comes to the roles he takes, which doesn’t necessarily shake out to him choosing only the best. Since Snowpiercer (2013), he’s only been in three non-Marvel films. So yeah, it makes sense that you might want to retreat from that universe, for your own sanity and such (although caveat: his buddy Falcon is along for the ride). 2014 saw the release of both this film, and Before We Go and then there was 2017’s Gifted, which I never saw because Matt called Evans’ performance ‘bland’ and the film “sentimental.’ So when he’s not chasing down bad guys, he’s either drawn to the syrupy stuff, or he’s stuck with it. I know in recent months, as he did the Endgame press tour, he mentioned wanting/needing time off. As the only bachelor Avenger, he was feeling lonely, and wanting to devote time to finding love and starting a family. Which doesn’t mean he’ll be absent from the big screen. At least not for a while. He’s slated to appear in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out later this year, The Red Sea Diving Resort, also intended for release later this year, a limited TV series opposite Michelle Dockery called Defending Jacob, a starring role in Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite next year, and eventually appearing in a film as the only living descendant of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And then: love and babies!
For now: Playing It Cool.
We only know him as “Me,” a screenwriter recently commissioned to write a rom-com. Only problem: he’s never been in love, doesn’t really believe in it. So he and his best friend, also a writer, Scott (Topher Grace) hit the town for “research” which is when it hits him: love. Or, you know, infatuation. With a woman who seems entirely to good to be true, and she is, because she’s already engaged. To someone else, obviously.
But the memory of having met The Perfect Woman haunts him, and blocks him creatively, so instead of writing, he investigates, telling himself he only wants to know her name. ‘Her’ as we know her (Michelle Monaghan), remains elusive, but along the way his inner writer lets loose and he tells a lot of stories, testing himself out as the leading man to see if any of them feel plausible. When he finally finds Her, they try being “just friends,” which means he spends an uncomfortable amount of time begging for sex, despite her still being attached. But he cares about Her, y’all! Does that make it better or worse?
This rom-com swears off all the rom-com tropes. But can it really resist? Actually, some of the language is already quite dated, and those things tend to niggle at me. Like, overt and dirty sexism for no reason. Not that there IS a reason. You know what I mean. But aside from that, what we need from rom-coms is a small dose of sweetness, a big dose of laughs, and just enough wink-wink, we’re-in-on-the-joke to make it all go down smoothly, like a milkshake. You know it’s bad for you, it’s entirely too sweet, but sometimes, you just can’t resist. Playing It Cool wants to be a milkshake but it’s not even a rootbeer float. It’s more like that flat gingerale your mother used to make you for a sore tummy. Evans and Monaghan are effortless together, but the script is totally devoid of character. It’s cool to reject the usual cliches, it’s even welcome, but you have to replace them with something. That’s where the writing part of writing a script comes in. Playing It Cool plays it a little too cool.
Sam is a young scientist, writing to her boyfriend Elon who is worlds away, on a space station called IO, along with nearly all remaining humans. People fled Earth as it became uninhabitable. Now the IO colony has turned its sights toward another planet near Alpha Centauri, and they’re cutting ties with Earth in order to dedicate all resources to this new plan. Any humans still surviving on Earth have 4 days to catch the last of the shuttles, or forever be left behind.
Sam (Margaret Qualley) has no way of making those shuttles until Micah (Anthony Mackie) shows up in a helium balloon. He’s heard the broadcasts from Sam’s father, a famous scientist who steadfastly remained behind in order to study Earth’s atmosphere and gauge whether life may once again be tenable on Earth. Micah is their only chance at escape, but he’s finding the last Earthlings to be pretty ambivalent about leaving rather than grateful for rescue.
IO is not breaking any new ground in terms of the apocalypse, or science fiction. Qualley and Mackie are totally lovely as the last people on Earth, but a story that keeps reminding us that human connection is the most important thing should remember that showing our heroes affectionately bonking gas masks is a little short on intimacy.
Truthfully, it’s a little short on story too. It’s retreading a very familiar path without engendering a single original idea. It was uninspiring enough that I felt myself embracing the apocalypse and actually wondering what the others were doing up on IO. It can’t possibly be as dull or as dusty as life on Earth.
The good news is, it’s on Netflix, streaming for “free” since you already have a subscription. So even a mild or passing interest can be indulged with no harm done. Temper those hot-air-balloon-sized expectations and instead anticipate something more akin to a birthday balloon, three days after the party.
Starr Carter (a sensational Amandla Stenberg) lives in a poor black neighbourhood but goes to school in an affluent white part of town. Starr Version Two- the censored version of herself that her friends see- can’t quote hip hop lyrics like her white friends do all the time because “when they do it, they sound cool. When I do it, I sound ghetto”. Moments after reconnecting with a black childhood friend at a party in her neighbourhood, the two are pulled over by a white police officer which quickly and tragically ends with her friend getting shot and killed.
Not only does Starr now have a lot of grief and trauma to work through. Her once compartmentalized life has suddenly gotten a lot more complicated as she- the only witness to the shotting- starts getting pulled in every direction. Everyone, from the kids at school to the local gang leader (Anthony Mackie) to Starr’s cop uncle (Common), has an opinion that they’re not shy to share and some are all too happy to resort to threats and even violence.
Whereas Reinaldo Marcus Green’s excellent Monsters and Men was a thoughtful and nuanced indie, The Hate U Give works a lot harder at being accessible to a more mainstream audience. Our introduction to Starr’s life and the world around here is often funny and Starr and her family are immediately easy to like and root for. The soundtrack doesn’t hurt one bit either. Things are obviously a lot less fun once shots are fired and Starr’s friend is killed but The Hate U Give is still the kind of movie that seeks to entertain while it makes us think and feel.
The Hate U Give hooked me much quicker than Monsters and Men did. Monsters and Men needs time to sink in. It doesn’t aim for big dramatic scenes and speeches like The Hate U Give does. The Hate U Give pays a bit of a price for its more mainstream approach. Because it always feels like a movie albeit an extremely effective one. Some parts seem a little too contrived while others are a little over-simplified.
There’s a place for both movies. Monsters and Men was a great conversation starter is a mostly satisfying and cathartic emotional experience. It’s just that I fell in love with this movie over the first half or so and somewhere along the way I lost some enthusiasm for it.
Detroit, 1967: a veritable race riot is boiling over the streets of the inner city. Buildings are on fire, stores are looted. Cops are on edge and are arresting any black person they see. The force is 93% white; 45% of those working in black neighbourhoods were considered to be “extremely anti-Negro” and an additional 34% were “prejudiced.” Charges of police brutality are abundant. Precincts overflow with black bodies.
On the night of July 25, police converge on the Algiers motel, allegedly because a sniper might be in or around the building. The motel’s 12 occupants are rounded up, interrogated, badly beaten, and humiliated by Detroit PD, Michigan State police, and the National Guard. At the end of the night, three black teenagers are left dead, killed by police.
Director Kathryn Bigelow presents a harrowing, claustrophobic rendition of these events, so tense and brutal that people walked out of the screening we attended. Other than Detroit being extremely difficult to watch, there are some problems with the film: Bigelow’s treatment of the subject is at a pretty cold remove, for example. And I for one felt it was just too long. The film could have ended when the last person leaves the motel, but instead it follows the white police officers who were charged with felonious assault, conspiracy, murder, and conspiracy to commit civil rights abuse. The courtroom scenes are a long, drawn-out denouement that don’t quite jibe with the first two thirds of the film. That said, I still feel like Detroit is an extremely effective film.
First, because it’s so timely. Watching those cops get off scot-free despite confessions, and then be congratulated for beating murder charges that were well-deserved, is infuriating, and familiar. This is not “history,” not when there are unarmed black children being gunned down by the people paid to protect them to this very day. It’s an uncomfortable reminder that in the past 50 years, we’ve done nothing to address the problem. Second, and maybe more importantly, is the way the movie made me feel. I’ve already said it was maybe a little void of emotion and that’s true; what I mean is how it made me evaluate my own filters. As sympathetic to the cause as I am, I’m still a white lady, and I experienced the film and the events depicted within it as a white person with all the privilege inherent in those words. The motel scenes are grueling and I had visceral reactions to them. Occasionally I caught myself frustrated with how the characters were responding to the cops, and I’d have to check myself. This is the fundamental takeaway of the film: my experience with police officers is essentially just very, very different. I wasn’t born with a historical fear of cops. My parents and grandparents didn’t raise me to be afraid of them. The colour of my skin protects me from the worst. My entitlement trusts in my human rights. My privilege demands that people in positions of authority will respect my unalienable civil liberties. The last interaction with a police officer I had was the guy directing pedestrians leaving a Cirque du Soleil show. The last time we were pulled over for speeding, there wasn’t so much as an apology uttered for being caught red-handed. These things don’t feel like privilege because they’re things we believe we’re owed, but it is privilege because not everyone gets to feel the same way.
Maybe it’s not perfect, but Detroit asks some difficult questions, which makes it an important film. It’s excruciating because it needs to be, and you need to watch it.
Spider-Man. Ant-Man. Falcon. Black Panther. These are the top four characters, in order, in Captain America: Civil War. You might think it’s a bad sign that neither Captain America nor Iron Man is on that list, but you’d be wrong! Although you would be right in thinking I wish this had been a Spider-Man movie with a Captain America/Iron Man cameo, rather than the other way around.
The downside to all of this is we’ve seen it all before. Not only in the sense that it’s roughly the six hundredth comic book movie that came out this year, but also because DC’s eulogy to the millions of fictional civilians killed every year by superheroes came out just six weeks ago.
One big difference between the two movies: Marvel’s is
far better. Though like Batman v. Superman, Civil War is too long. With that said, I’m willing to forgive Marvel since that extra run time was used to shoehorn in Spider-Man. Who, as mentioned at the start, was AWESOME.
Another big difference: Marvel’s movie is
way funnier. Civil War would have won by default anyway since there were no laughs at all in BvS, but Civil War is legitimately funny in between the dead family member melodrama.
But as with BvS, don’t expect anything new, don’t expect a good villain, and don’t expect the story to make any goddamned sense. Really, the only differences between the two movies are that (a) we’re glad to see/meet Marvel’s supporting heroes while DC’s just felt like filler; and (b) most of Marvel’s heroes are eager to make us laugh even while fighting, which is a welcome change from DC’s rainy night fights between surly mumbling demigods. Spider-Man is the perfect example of Marvel’s success in both categories, and that’s enough to make this movie worth watching.
Mostly, that’s because Spidey is the best superhero ever and I’m pumped he’s back in the MCU, where he belongs. Though I am suffering from chronic end-credit-scene-fatigue, as a Spider-Man fan I’m glad I stuck around ’til the very end. Hint, hint.
Captain America: Civil War gets a score of eight webslinging vigilantes out of ten.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is great! Not Oscar-great but blockbuster-great. No need to think or feel creeped out about A.I. like in Ex Machina, just enjoy the ride with moody Ultron as he carries out his plan to kill all humans. But fear not! Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are on the case.
One of the things Age of Ultron does best is give us lots of new characters. That fits well with the revolving door that is the Avengers comic book roster. So we are introduced/reintroduced to many characters we know are, or will become, Avengers, like War Machine, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Vision, and in unfortunate licencing loophole, Quicksilver. Jay found that super confusing having already seen a different Quicksilver, without an accent, in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and I agree. It shouldn’t have happened and it takes away from the movie. Still better to have him here, I think, because Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are great together (this movie captured their relationship well) but it’s time for a deal with Fox. At least Marvel got Spider-Man back from Sony, but let’s get the rest of these movies working together too.
Seeing Vision pop up was an unexpected surprise for me. I liked that he made an appearance and thought he was used well, both as a source of conflict between the Avengers and then as a contrast to Ultron, though they share the same view on humanity’s likely future (i.e., not promising). Really, all the new characters were handled well and I feel like we are well on our way to the Infinity Gauntlet saga.
The disappointing thing is there are now four or five other Marvel movies on the way between now and Avengers 3. I’m excited for Captain America 3, especially with Spidey on board, but beyond that, it’s way too much. Especially when I use Vision’s introduction as a comparison; Ant-Man, Black Panther, and Dr. Strange could all be brought in as part of an Avengers movie, and I wish that’s what was being done. But since there’s money on the table we get separate movies for each. Let’s be honest, I will probably see all those, so you can expect to hear this same complaint every few months between now and the next Avengers movie.
I can’t hold that against this movie though. Avengers: Age of Ultron itself does things exactly right. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wouldn’t have changed a thing so it gets ten Infinity Gems out of ten.