Thursday, April 28, 2016

Captain America Civil War review: Five stars and it earns its stripes

Captain America Civil War review: Five stars and it earns its stripes
by rick olivares

The anguished memories of a rubber suited Reb Brown have long faded. Reb who? I know, right? Reb was an actor during the late 1970s to 80s who is best known for his role in that post-Vietnam POW rescue film “Uncommon Valor” with Gene Hackman that I thoroughly enjoyed. But Brown is also known for his two Captain America television films that unfortunately weren’t very good. I remember them for how they mangled the origin story while using a terrible-looking rubber costume while riding a star-spangled bike that had me thinking of Evel Knievel. 

And more than three decades before Brown wore the stars and stripes, there was Dick Purcell as a revolver-toting Captain America with a hint of a pot belly in a 1944 film (that was made during the height of World War II). He didn’t even play Steve Rogers but some bloke named Grant Gardner who was District Attorney!

As bad as those films were, I had to endure them. Now they are a distant memory now that elicits a chuckle. After all, we have the Captain America trilogy done right. And the latest installment, Civil War, strongly makes a case for one of the best superhero films if not action films of all time.

What makes Civil War worthy of such praise?

The plot that pits the heroes against one another makes sense.
The synopsis and plot that divides the heroes is know to all: because of the destruction in the wake of the enhanced human activity — New York (The Avengers), Washington DC (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Sokovia (Avengers: Age of Ultron), and Lagos (at the start of Civil War; London which sustained some destruction during Thor: The Dark World wasn’t mentioned) — the United Nations drafts the Sokovia Accords that seeks to regulate superhuman activity. That splits the Avengers in half. Some, led by Iron Man favor government oversight, while the others, as led by Cap, prefer their freedom to operate away from men with agendas while trusting in their own natural goodness. 

Taking advantage of the ideological differences is Baron Zemo, who is changed from the comics’ Nazi villain to a Marvel Cinematic Universe Sokovian soldier bent on revenge for what befell his country’s fate. Zemo frames the Winter Soldier for bombing the UN Conference and plays both sides. Thus, Cap’s faction is hunted down. 

Much has been made about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s lack of a villain who is larger than life. One who isn’t a disposable. I am glad that Zemo wasn’t offed and was spared. There is nothing like revenge for a motivation instead of world domination. And really… the spectre of Hydra’s tentacles reaching out everywhere is frightening enough. Just like those extremists in sheep’s clothing. 

But having the heroes fight one another. There is a lot of grey matter in between that makes both sides right. And the end result can be heart-wrenching no matter which side you pull for. 

You might wonder why Cap, being a former soldier, does not step in line with the Sokovia Accords. Cap is consistent. In The Winter Soldier, when Nick Fury shows the new Hellicarriers, he vociferously disagrees, “This isn’t freedom. This is fear.” In Civil War, he reprises that to a certain degree, “I know we’re not perfect, but the safest hands are still our own."

Success in juggling a large cast.
Speaking of two sides, Civil War juggles an uncommonly large cast with A-list stars at that! However, Anthony and Joe Russo, the film’s directors, are able to superbly give the ensemble the characterization and the depth they need. Even late-in-the-film comers Hawkeye and Ant-Man have their moments. 

I love how Civil War continues the sexual tension between Black Widow and Cap. It’s a naughty and tantalizing tease. In the comics, Steve and Sharon Carter (Agent 13) have been an item for the longest time. So it was nice to see the latter character played so cooly by Emily VanCamp take the next step. But somehow, I like Cap and Natasha (more than she should be with Bruce Banner). 

Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon is more than a Wingman here. If Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon are the Butch and Sundance of cable television then Cap and the Falcon are like Starsky and Hutch or Riggs and Murtaugh.

As for Robert Downey Jr., he’s always a scene stealer. Except in this film, he isn’t the only one. Paul Rudd, in his few scenes as Ant-Man is amazing. But I’ll have to amend that perhaps because Tom Holland as Spider-Man is freaking amazing and spectacular (now, I’ve thrown in the two adjectives from comic lore).

Yet, even with an Avengers 2.1 vibe to it, Civil War is still about Cap and Chris Evans, in five MCU films, has perfectly nailed the character of Steve Rogers.

It has been said that Evans lacks charisma as Cap. 

Let me say this, when Evans portrayed Johnny Storm in the first two Fantastic Four films, I thought that he got the wise-cracking hot-headed character down pat. Steve Rogers? He's is a serious man. As serious as Clark Kent is. He is a man out of time from the tough streets of Brooklyn. He came from a post-Depression era with the storm clouds of war on the horizon. Evans is Cap in many many ways that Reb Brown and Dick Purcell are not. 

In the first MCU Cap film, The First Avenger, the Red Skull asked Rogers during their initial confrontation, “What makes you special?"

Cap responded, "Nothing. I’m just a kid from Brooklyn."

Exactly. If you don’t get that point that Cap isn’t the playboy Iron Man or the angsty Bruce Banner or the jovial and roughhousing Thor, then you don’t get the film or the comics. 

The script was excellent. As always.
Whatever Marvel and Disney are paying Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (the duo that worked on the Chronicles of Narnia, Thor: The Dark World, and these three Cap films), they should double or triple it.

It’s well paced and never drags. Famed Captain America comic book scribe Mark Waid put it best when writing the Man with a Plan — he torpedoes from one scene to another without regard for himself. Markus and McFeely gave us that incredible scene on the boat in Winter Soldier and now that chase scene in Vienna. 

If The First Avenger had this Golden Age feel and The Winter Soldier had spy thriller written all over it, Civil War is a superhero film with a Jason Bourne vibe (the multiple locations of the film help).

The wisecracks and one-liners are superb and not contrived. The use of humor, a staple of both Marvel Comics and the films, comes at points where you least expect it and it allows the film that deals with such a complex issue to breathe. 

I love how the film pays homage to a lot of great films or fan favorites. The First Avenger picked up from where The Rocketeer left off (in no small part to the director Joe Johnston). The Winter Soldier, with Robert Redford in tow, paid its respects to Three Days of the Condor. Civil War, aside from its comic book influences, has The Manchurian Candidate to lean on.

And that leads us to the action.

That was a spectacular battle.
Can’t have a superhero and action film without a fight. The teaser left a lot to the imagination as when the two opposing forces of Avengers collide in the airport. Boy, that is a fight. That is a fight and it’s absolutely creative and powerful. We’ve seen a lot of large scale destruction in all the MCU films. In such a small place, the devastation and action is even more spectacular. 

And with every superhero fight (there are three of them), it gets more gut and heart-wrenching. And the lines that separate both factions are greatly blurred.

The end result is a 147-minute film that entertains, leaves you thinking of the ambiguity of who was right and who was wrong, and in awe of the incredible fight scenes. 

Civil War is a great way to start the MCU’s Phase 3 of films. Yet we won’t be seeing any of this cast save for Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the Black Panther until the now-highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War that brings back the original cast. It also completes the Captain America film trilogy that incredibly and ironically makes it Marvel’s best (I thought they had their chance with the early Spider-Man films) and competes with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as the genre’s best.

Now that’s going to be a hot debate among fan boys and critics alike. One more worth anyone’s time more than the disaster that was BvS.

At the Captain America Civil War special screening that preceded the regular release.
Watched it again two nights later on IMAX. The airport fight scene looked great in IMAX.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Pics from the 2016 Summer Komikon

Didn't exhibit at the Summer Komikon as I am busy with a lot of other things. But I did drop by even if only for an hour and a half! Just got a few stuff. The pics are it!

With NiƱo Balita

With Ikos Ray and Ikos Ronzkie!

With Geonard Yleana.

With Roni and Keith.

With Dax and Steve Magay

With Cynthia and Arnold 

With William Anagaran

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Looking at Walking Dead’s Season 6 Finale

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is "Negan"

Looking at Walking Dead’s Season 6 Finale
by rick olivares

So that was big wind-up to the sixth season of “The Walking Dead” — an hour and 30 minutes of teasing and tension we ended with a “what happened” and “now I have to wait another six months before we find out who bit the dust? We aren’t being blood thirsty, this is after all, that gripping drama about life during the zombie apocalypse. 

The whole season has been one big tease and an unfair one to viewers. There was Glenn’s (played by Steven Yeun) faux death in the third episode of the season and the mid-season finale where the Alexandrians leave the house with undead entrails all over them to mask their escape. During that cliffhanger, you know that it is all going to turn bloody when Sam’s begins calling out to his mother, Jessie. And now, in the grand tradition of Dallas’ “Whodunit?” (look that up Millennials) there’s “whodead?”

I can understand the suspense of the cliffhanger. All season long, they have been building towards this dread ending with the name “Negan” spoken with equal parts reverence and equal parts fear. The Saviors, the latest and deadliest adversaries of Rick Grimes’ merry and not so merry band of survivors, are in for revenge. The Saviors have taken quite a beating at the hands of Grimes’ band. Now, at every turn, they block their passage to the Hilltop. They wouldn’t have been in that predicament in the first place had they not allowed their only doctor, Denise to go out only to be killed by the nefarious Dwight who turns out to be a key henchman for the Saviors. 

That in itself is maddening. There is no discipline in Alexandria. I thought that Deanna ran a tighter ship than Rick who has his moments as a leader but also seems too emotionally caught up in other moments. And that is his undoing in this season. He could have kept some of the Saviors alive for interrogation. So much for intelligence gathering. As a former lawman, he is making fundamental mistakes. Now his lack of enforcement of discipline and arrogance in underestimating the Saviors will now see someone dead. 

And speaking of dead, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan seemed like a casting home run. I remember him from Grey’s Anatomy playing a dead man walking in Denny Duquette and playing the role of “the Comedian” in “The Watchmen.” Contrasting roles but there’s the right amount of sadness, craziness, and angst in there and that’s required for this Walking Dead villain.

But I wasn’t sure about the impact in those last 10 minutes. Morgan’s Negan could have made a far more menacing impact than than David Morrissey did as the Governor in Season 3 considering he was holding a baseball bat wrapped with barbwire. The Governor merely dispatched a deceased American soldier who had been turned. The last few episodes of the season showed polaroids of heads bashed in and no doubt the handiwork of Negan. 

With Rick seemingly broken again at how truly helpless he is and that he has been outsmarted, I think they missed the opportunity for an explosive wind-up.

I am really not sure what direction they are taking with Morgan and Carol. It is nice to see them struggle with their humanity however given everything they have experienced and continue to do so, but this pacifist philosophy in the zombie apocalypse where the biggest danger is not the undead but the living is bound to cost even more problems. Morgan is being set up for a huge fall.

And that leaves us to the last question, so who bites the dust? The Walking Dead is like Game of Thrones, you become invested in characters whose death’s tear at us. From all indications, not even the cast knows who is out. The simple process of elimination finds Rick and his son Carl out. Glenn, I think is safe. 

While the television series tends to align with the comic book at certain parts, it has a life of its own. I hate to think after the faux death of Glenn in the third episode, they’d be so cruel to finally cast him off. Aaron (Ross Marquand) seems improbable. It would be such a cheap way to send him of to a celluloid death since he has hardly been used. If you look at the deaths of Hershel and Dale, they were the moral compasses of the cast. They played huge roles leading up to their deaths. I’d hate to think there is a pattern because if anyone provides that moral compass now, it’s… gasp… Morgan.

So I’d say that it will come down to any of the three characters that have recently been given a lot of screen time — Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Rosita (Christian Serratos), or Eugene (Josh McDermitt). 

But oh, boy. What a seventh season this is going to be.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Smuggler's bounty! With my Han Solo & Mal Reynolds shirt & Funko Pops.

Never realized it until I saw this shirt. Two of my favorite science fiction characters -- Star Wars' Han Solo and Firefly's Mal Reynolds -- are space smugglers! Furthermore, they are captains of two of the best space ships ever -- the Millennium Falcon and the Serenity respectively. I have the DVDs of all the films/television series!

Obviously, I had to get the shirt. As for the Funko Pops, it is a no-brainer to get them as well. 

So I posed with them!