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Blu-Ray Review: ‘CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR’

Synopsis: “Political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability when the actions of the Avengers lead to collateral damage. The new status quo deeply divides members of the team. Captain America (Chris Evans) believes superheroes should remain free to defend humanity without government interference. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) sharply disagrees and supports oversight. As the debate escalates into an all-out feud, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Winter Solider (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) all must pick a side.” Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR’

Ever since Samuel L. Jackson cropped up in an eye patch in Iron Man’s post-credits, Marvel films have had their eye firmly planted on the future. Setting up incoming installments has been a precarious process, resulting in such face-palmingly clunky sequences as the infamous “Thor in a Bath Tub” scene and the entirety of Iron Man 2. When not preoccupied with teasing the oncoming comic strata or hogtying in easter eggs for uber-nerds to dissect and debate, Marvel has admittedly done fine work developing their roster of heroes, taking careful stock in ensuring that its non-comic reading audience has at the bare minimum a working sense of what drives these supers to strap into spandex and save the world. With Captain America: Civil War, a direct sequel to the events of Captain America: Winter Solider that employs nearly the entirety of The Avengers, those characters turn to the rear view to take stock of what has been lost along the way. Read More

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Out in Theaters: GET ON UP

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Get On Up
doesn’t know how good Chadwick Boseman is. Bursting with energy, filled with soul and one-hundred-and-sixty-nine percent committed, Boseman is a firecracker. Hell, he’s straight dynamite. How appropriate that he plays the man they once called Mr. Dynamite. It’s a certifiable shame then that the movie that surrounds Boseman’s accomplished concerto of a performance is overstuffed, poorly edited and, like the king of soul himself, doesn’t know when to quit.

Tate Taylor‘s (The Help) second feature starts, as all musical biopics apparently must, with the long, lonely saunter up to a final show of sorts. Old and beleaguered with regret, the icon is but a silhouette dwarfed by the enormity of a vacant hallway. Cut to Old Man Brown quite apparently hopped up on something of the Schedule 1 variety ranting at a room full of bootstraps-business folks and waving a shotgun over his head. This made-up Boseman’s all gums and shades but the scene only manages to paint the man as a Looney Tune.

Cut to bedazzled, toe-tapping Brown all get-up and no humility barking at a press conference. Cut to 6-year old Brown and his backwoods family eking by in some pinewood shanty. His momma turns to prostitution and his daddy beats him raw. All he wants is a lullaby. Cut to a teenage Brown stealing a three-piece suit and getting five to 13 years for it. Cut some more.

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Cut, rinse, repeat. Cut, rinse, repeat. It allows for some mighty good scenes but makes for some mighty long-winded ones too. And while there’s lots rave-worthy stuck in there like gummies in a Cadbury Black Forest bar, the convoluted mess that is traveling from one scene to the next is an exercise in reckless abandon.  

If only the editors had the good sense to slash 30 minutes of the film, we could have been dealing with something great. Had he tightened it up like Brown did his facial skin around the 90s, Taylor might have been working towards a gold statue nomination. Trim the fat, Tate. Trim the fat.

As is, Get On Up is a mostly pleasing patchwork of scenes that each contribute to a time, a place, and a feeling that then gets all that jumbled up and mismatched. Elephant heads end up on rhino bodies. A scene where friends feud with no sign of respite fades into them being immeasurably close confidantes. It’s not that we’re not smart enough to connect the dots, it’s that we shouldn’t be forced to do that work for Taylor and co. It’s like watching someone try to piece a puzzle together with one bright, shining star at its center; a star so massive and so bright, it apparently blinds, distorts and sucks in everything around it.

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And boy oh boy is Boseman a star. As the one, the only James Brown, he’s surpassed impersonation, he’s transcended imitation. He lives and breathes James Brown. Every rubbery dance move, every superhuman split is Brown’s. That sagging eye and sneering falsetto; bonafide Brown. His salt-and-pepper speech crackles like a record player. I can’t tell if he’s actually singing or just doing the world’s best lip-synching. In all aspects, he’s Brown reborn.

Usually cloaked in beads of sweat, the character even gestures towards the camera every once in a while, occasionally monologuing in head-shaking fourth-wall breakage, but Boseman’s so catastrophically good that you actually welcome it. And props to the makeup team who for once hit the nail on the head when they age the 32-year old talent well past his prime. He doesn’t look the flour-face abomination that is Leonardo DiCaprio’s J. Edgar. But then again, Brown 55-year old visage looked like a drooping eggplant anyways. He’s a supernova but he’s paying the hefty price of admission for it. You can’t be a sun and not get burned.

But again and again, we must reckon with the fact that Boseman is merely the Shamu to Get On Up‘s Sea World. He’s a mighty presence but you’ll soon discover there’s not much else to the park. His role in Get On Up is the equivalent of using morels to make a cream of mushroom soup. You’ve got the finest ingredient in the world and you’re watering it down with a pool of a blasé, sometimes even flavorless, base.

It’s as if the editors found his each and every scene too indispensable to hack so they just shrugged and left it all in there. But you’ve got to trim even the prized rose if you want to win the trophy. Taylor seems too scared to bust out even the measliest of trimmers and ends up stabbing himself in the foot for it. His repetition of form is so ad nauseum that you’d think the prankster was trying to rickroll us. But goddammit if Boseman is not his savior; his knight is shining purple sequin. He’s so good, I can’t help but hyperbolize some more.

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As Brown, Boseman’s got the magnetism of Tom Cruise, the jitters of Jagger, the paranoia of Scarface, the drive of Jordan Belfort and the moves that only Brown can call his own. He’s plays the Godfather of Soul like a black Marlon Brando. Commitment is his cup of tea. You believe it when he tells you he feels good. He even manages to dance circles around Academy Award-nominated co-stars Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis. And how perfectly suiting for a story about a man who the world could never keep up with.

And as much as it’s the story of Brown’s triumph, it’s also the story of his defeat. About his pride getting in the way of friends and family. About his shark and minnow relationship with Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) and how that would become the defining relationship in a string of failed ones. After all, you can move a million miles a minute but what’s all that fancy footwork worth if you don’t have anyone to share it with at the end of the day?

C+

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Out in Theaters: DRAFT DAY

 

“Draft Day”
Directed by Ivan Reitman

Starring Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Chadwick Boseman, Frank Langella, Sean Combs
Sports, Drama
120 Mins
PG-13

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Every year, one sports movie comes out of nowhere to become a classic. Last year, that honor belonged to Ron Howard’s Rush. This year, that honor might belong to Draft Day.

 

Rarely do I find myself enjoying Chris Berman’s blowhard baritone. Yet, something about hearing his voice as shots of the NFL Draft at Radio City in New York fly by made my heart beat. Draft Day, a propaganda film of the most subtle kind, calls upon an inner craving for America’s greatest sport in a time of absence: football.

Kevin Costner is back to star in another sports movie, this time as Sonny Weaver Jr., the Cleveland Browns’ general manager and chief decision-maker. Cleveland hasn’t been good at football, well, seemingly ever. With a top-10 draft pick and a chance to change the franchise forever, pressure mounts for Costner and his girlfriend Jennifer Garner, the team’s Salary Cap Manager who’s pregnant with his baby and salary cap knowledge.

Shit’s hitting the fan for Costner, who must decide between three players: the ‘local legacy,’ the ‘star QB’ and the ‘hardworking heart kid.’ Things start off pretty rough: he trades away three 1st round draft picks to get the 1st overall pick. Players rage over the decision, coaches applaud, Twitter explodes and the team’s owner (Frank Langella) tells Costner his job’s on the line.

Of course, there are other problems going on here too. Costner’s not ready to be a dad as his father just passed away, his secretary’s on vacation, and he just can’t figure out what to do with that top button on his dress shirt. To non-football fans, there’s enough fluff (a ticking clock, beautiful people and a decent romance) to make it worthwhile. Don’t get me wrong though: this movie is 100% football.

Aerials of football stadiums across the nation (notably CenturyLink Field in Seattle) fly you right into the action—there’s no better way to set the stage than a team’s home stadium and screaming fans. Coaches and General Managers cuss each other out over salary cap numbers, draft picks, and young football players with two first names.

Whether it’s incredibly real football highlights of young players concussing each other at game-speed or real-life talking heads going at it (the aforementioned Chris Berman, Mel Kiper, Jon Gruden and Deion Sanders to name a few), everything looks, smells, feels, tastes and sounds real. Filmed at the actual 2013 NFL Draft and on location at the Browns’ headquarters, NFL’s got its ‘authentic’ stamp all over it. Even NFL star running back Arian Foster shows up to act. Draft Day gets adrenaline flowing like Opening Day.

Only, watching Draft Day is like working your ass off all preseason only to tear your ACL stretching before the first game of the year—well, except for the excruciating pain part. There’s so much football that you’re left with a massive pair of blue balls once you realize that there’s no actual football in it. It’s more offseason than regular season: it’s a two-hour foreplay session with Kate Upton. Hey, at the end of the day you’re still hooking up with Kate Upton.

Draft Day wants you to lust after it—the fame, the flair, the football. Stadiums and team buildings are gorgeous, the actors are all handsome, New York’s lights shine off of players’ bleach-white teeth. It’s The Blind Side from the hind side, Jerry Maguire if Tom Cruise could sext.

Seriously, everyone’s in this movie. Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in last year’s decent 42), Frank Langella, Denis Leary and P.Diddy/Sean Combs/Diddy Combs even pulls a Jay-Z to act as the potential number one draft pick’s slimy agent.

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Costner looks like Brett Favre and plays like Andrew Luck. He wields a football like a NYPD Chief brandishes a .45 caliber pistol. His grizzled look that didn’t work in 3 Days To Kill works well in the confines of a football compound, his cool demeanor amplifying as time begins to run out while rumors and numbers fly all around him. Costner’s calm in the huddle, a flawed but passionate quarterback leading his team through the tunnel. He makes random decisions on the fly, tosses draft picks around like hot cakes and lays his balls on the table at every moment. He’s so jittery and reckless you figure he might be high on painkillers: he’s Whim Irsay.

On the other side of the spectrum acting spectrum we find Garner, who seems completely out of place and out-matched by her peers. Garner’s repeated attempts at realistic football-speak end up sounding more like she’s reading factoids off the back of a Wheaties box. She brings the movie down.

Chadwick Boseman’s role is notable here. As Ohio State Linebacker Vontae Mack (the aforementioned ‘hardworking heart kid’), he’s thrilling. His manner is completely changed from 42, he’s much more light-hearted and clever. His relationship with Costner is almost father-son, calling on him for help when he needs it and throwing a tantrum when he doesn’t get what he wants. Boseman might be the best in this movie.

As the clock hits zero, Draft Day will likely go down as the year’s best sports movie. Though non-football fans might find it a hard pill to swallow, the elements of a great story are there in spades. For football fans, this film will be like watching the Food Channel on a diet. Draft Day always plays more like fantasy football than real football. It might be more addicting.

Another Sunday’s come and gone without pigskin. How many weeks till football?

B+