movie reviews May 2016

Captain America: Civil Wara bigger splash the meddler

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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The Meddler
Reviewed by Bruce Rodgers

Many of us have lain in bed, eyes open, looking up at a ceiling fan slowing spinning above our head. The easy, slow turning of the blades bring on trance-like remembrances of what life was before that day as an easy breeze from the fan descends, easing any pain that came with the morning.

Susan Sarandon, as Marnie Minevini, begins her day, and the film The Meddler, looking up from her bed at a ceiling fan. The film also ends with Marnie, again, watching those blades turn. In between is a very real, human story where grief brings change in a way that allows sorrow to be endured while the digital medium before us disappears into a display of universality.

New Jerseyite Marnie has followed her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne) to California after the death of Joe, her husband and Lori’s father. With Joe gone, and Marnie is set for life money-wise because of Joe, Marnie doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t need to work and has explored her new surroundings to the extent of becoming a local. What’s left is to be a mom, such a mom that Lori can’t hardly stand it.

Marnie, who opens most every visit with a bag of bagels, mistakes Lori’s emotional outbursts and shifting passive aggressiveness as mourning the lost of Jacob (Jason Ritter) who has now shifted his sights on another woman. So do we for a while. But as Marnie acquaints herself with Lori’s friends and begins to throw money around buying things for people where she can hardly recall their names, it slowly becomes evident that something else is troubling Lori, and that something has yet to be known by Marnie.

When Lori decides to escape to New York to shoot a TV pilot, The Meddler then evolves into a story of a woman discovering her grief and warming up to the possibility of love again. Yet it takes a village for Marnie to come to that realization.

That village involves a lesbian couple’s wedding with Marnie a bridesmaid, encouraging a young Apple store employee to find an ambition beyond teaching her to use an iPhone, stumbling into a outdoor movie set and being mistaken as a extra and part of the LA movie scene, volunteering in a hospital and helping a mother unable to talk to find her son, and meeting a Harley-riding ex-cop named Zipper (J.K. Simmons) who is immediately amused and attracted to Marnie, and who ends up bailing her out of jail.

Every scene, every interaction in this film is believable, nothing seems contrived and all every well within the realm of “it could happen.” It’s possibly Sarandon’s best film. Byrne is very good also, as she plays the frazzled, career-minded young woman wanting to push away and hug her mom close at the same time, all because she misses her dad and realizes she has a life ahead of her without him.

The Meddler, written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World), reminds us that as humans we meddle in other people’s lives and sometimes the meddling is good.

At the end of the film both mom and daughter find their grief and begin to accept it . . . as Marnie watches the ceiling fan slowly turn above while Lori sleeps. (PG-13) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on 5/21/16)

A Bigger Splash
Reviewed by Bruce Rodgers

No matter what character she plays, in whatever film she’s in, Tilda Swinton occupies the viewer’s eye. Be it Madame D in The Grand Budapest Hotel or Mason in Snowpiercer or The White Witch in two The Chronicles of Narnia films, the sharp angles to her face, her lanky frame and the ever present awareness evident in her eyes gives each character Swinton plays an androgynous, mysterious flair.

It’s no different in A Bigger Splash where Swinton is famous rock star Marianne Lane, feeling herself at some sort of juncture in her life. Her voice shot — maybe for good — Marianne is enjoying a quiet respite from the glare of celebrity on the Italian island of Pantelleria with her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), himself seeking solace away from the bottle and an attempted suicide.

Crashing the idyllic scene is Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne’s former lover and a studio producer. Harry inhabits a rock star persona that Marianne has seemingly left behind. He’s loud, egoistical, perpetually horny, contemptuous of Paul and most everyone, and very much wanting Marianne back. In Harry’s mind, he gave Marianne to Paul; in Paul’s mind, he took Marianne away from Harry.

Marianne senses the duel, and as if to derail it takes what residue of love she has for Harry and tries to plow it back into a friendship. But Harry, like many men, finds no solace in friendship with a woman he wants and he stokes Marianne’s emotional frailty so she can give in to him. Paul offers little help instead clinging to a sort of faithfulness as if to give Marianne strength.

Harry brings with him Penelope (Dakota Johnson), a Lolita-type nymph who seeks fun by disrupting and challenging the adults around her. Penelope is perhaps the saddest character in this story of lust, jealously, and privilege, ending in a final quirky resolution of death. Not content to see Marianne the only prize two men will jostle over, Penelope wants in the game, too, presenting herself as an alluring laurel to both her father and Paul.

Like the 1969 French film La Piscine, in which A Bigger Splash, by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, is a supposed remake, a swimming pool plays a part in reflecting constant tension between the characters. It is water that seems to break the slow pace of the film, one in keeping to European sensibilities in how the speed of life unfolds each day. At poolside, by the lake or near the seashore, anger and seduction mix with the gamesmanship of these characters trying to control someone other than self.

A Bigger Splash is an interesting film but not necessarily a good film, at least by American audience standards. It is overly long — again keeping to a European penchant — yet the actors never seem to tire in their roles or change for that matter. It is their acting talent that keeps the story intriguing along with the soundtrack, which includes songs by Harry Nilsson and two versions of “Emotional Rescue,” one by the Rolling Stones and the other by St. Vincent. A Bigger Splash writers David Kajganich and Alain Page must consider the song’s title a telltale phrase of what the film is about.

What change that comes about only comes by accident, accidental in circumstance not as a surprise to the plot. Its effect brings only relief to Marianne and Paul, not change. Only Penelope at the end breaks from what she was for the entire story, her tears the only ones to hold meaning. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted on 05/21/16)

Captain America: Civil War
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

Undeniably, as the 13th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the first release in its so-called "Phase Three," Captain America: Civil War is less a solo story for the Cap'n than a cog in the formidable Marvel blockbuster machinery, a vehicle for introducing new characters and story-arcs intended to set-up MCU films through 2019, including another Spider-Man reboot, Black Panther, and the two-installment Avengers: Infinity War.

Earlier this year, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, attempting to establish the entire DC Comics Extended Universe in one fell swoop, sunk beneath its own weighty themes and ambitions.

Marvel Studios, however, has a bit more experience with such universe-building, having been at it for the past eight years and twelve films, and in premise and execution, Civil War feels a lot like Marvel's Giant-Size Annual comics — in this case, an Avengers, not a Captain America, Annual — full of fan-fueled match-ups and apocalyptic face-offs. It also manages to be topical, funny, and — gasp! — emotional in ways previous Marvel features only hinted at.

As they did in the Russo Brothers' previous effort Captain America: Winter Soldier, Marvel's superheroes face real world consequences for their actions. Echoing contemporary superhero fiction from 1986's Watchmen comics to, well, Batman v Superman, US Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt, reprising his role from 2008's The Incredible Hulk) asks Earth's Mightiest Heroes, "Are you heroes or vigilantes?"

Widespread "collateral damage" in the wake of the Avengers' last three epic battles has resulted in a worldwide call for oversight by an international governing body. The typically obstreperous Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), recently coming to terms with personal losses and acutely aware of his primary responsibility for some of the most recent damage (Alfre Woodard’s cameo as the mother of one of those lost amid a world-saving battle brings this kind of fantasy action down to earth in a way rarely seen), sees logic in the suggestion while choirboy Captain America (Chris Evans) bristles at the notion. Before long, the other members have taken sides, leading to an inevitable family feud at an abandoned German airport.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, responsible for both previous Cap'n America entries, offer subplots (sidekick Bucky Barnes, played by Sebastian Stan, may still be operating as a sleeper agent) and a villain (a thoroughly unimposing Daniel Bruhl as wanna-be Bond-style nemesis Colonel Helmut Zemo), yet these only serve to make clear one thing: with this many Avengers on the screen, you don't need much else, maybe not even a bad guy.

When the heroes' rival factions go head to head in Germany, the film approaches some form of the sublime, capturing the serious and silly, the awesome powers and bickering banter of those beloved Giant-Size Annuals as enhanced humans of all stripes charge into battle on foot, on the wing, and, in the case of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), soaring atop one of Hawkeye's (Jeremy Renner) arrows.

And just as important, this feature battle occurs about two-thirds of the way into the film, allowing Civil War to offer what no other Marvel film has risked thus far, a quiet ending with an almost mournful tone as debts are paid and consequences meted out. PG-13 Rating: 4 (Posted 05/12/16)


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