Tagged: Chris Evans

Box Office Democracy: Gifted

I feel like I never see movies like Gifted anymore.  Gifted is a smaller movie, almost completely devoid of the spectacle that snobs complain about in modern cinema.  It’s as anonymous a movie as one can get from the director of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, the star of Captain America and Octavia Spencer.  It’s funny when it wants to be, touching when it tries it’s absolute hardest, and if you’re willing to suspend an ample amount of disbelief there’s a heartwarming message to be found here.

There’s a reasonably famous book on screenwriting called Save the Cat.  It’s a guide to crafting marketable scripts, there’s good advice in there, and it sold a ton of copies.  The title refers to the need to have your main character do something early in the film to get the audience on their side; something like saving a cat.  I’m telling you this because in the first scene of Gifted we are introduced to Fred, the one-eyed cat who was adopted by Frank the protagonist of this film (Chris Evans).  He assures his niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) that while he doesn’t generally like cats, he likes this one.  It’s such a transparent use of this trope that was the title for this wildly successful screenwriting book that this is either an insane coincidence or a stunning lack of self-awareness on the part of the writer. (I know this probably won’t occur to 95% of the viewing audience who have never read any books on how to write a screenplay but it was distracting for me.)

Other than the whole cat bit (which also comes back in the third act for extra emotional stakes but I said I was moving on) the story is suitably interesting.  Mary goes to her first day of school and is clearly a prodigy, and through her being a precocious scamp who is good at math and beating the hell out of children twice her age she gets the attention of her grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) who does not like Frank.  A custody battle ensues, and the crux of the film is if Mary should be allowed to have a “normal” life or if she should be pushed to be the mathematical whiz her mother was and that she seems to have the potential to be.  It’s kind of interesting that this film just assumes that mathematical aptitude is some kind of hereditary trait that was passed through three generations.  I could see that an overbearing mother like Evelyn could make her daughter in to a mathematician through constant effort but I’m not sure how Mary, orphaned as a young child and raised by smart but not genius Frank, is on the same level.  I suppose it isn’t exactly the point but it’s a weird universe to assume.

A lot of the movie is tied up in this custody battle and I like a good courtroom scene as much as the next person, but the real joy in the movie is away from all of that.  The scenes with Octavia Spencer as Roberta, the next-door neighbor, and Jenny Slate as Bonnie, Mary’s first grade teacher, are universally the best ones.  Chris Evans is great at trading barbs with his inexplicably British mother but I’d much rather see him having quasi-meaningful conversations with Jenny Slate.  This is the first dramatic role I can remember for Slate, and while she might not be the second coming of Meryl Streep she’s fun and interesting— and most importantly, a breath of fresh air for a part that sometimes feels like it cycles between the same six actresses over and over again.  Octavia Spencer is a delight in everything she does; I don’t feel compelled to sell anyone on her.  Spencer has a small part here, but she talks the most like a real person and that’s worth a lot.

Gifted is a fun movie.  It’s nice to see Evans and Slate playing against type.  It’s a heartwarming story that never twists itself in to being a downer.  I sort of wish that the end result of all of Frank’s handwringing about whether he’s going to screw up Mary’s life was answered by someone telling him that he will definitely screw up and it will definitely be okay because that’s what parenting is.  That isn’t what this movie is though, and it’s okay.  I liked watching Gifted and I would be absolutely thrilled to stumble upon it again on cable on a slow afternoon or on an airplane, it’s the perfect movie for those contexts.

Molly Jackson: Omaze Me

Scrolling through your Facebook feed, I’m sure you see them. They catch the eye with promises of grand adventures with exciting people. Sometimes you even see a fun video, with celebrities doing crazy things to unsuspecting people. That’s exactly what caught my eye when I saw this video of Chris Evans leading comic fans through an surprise escape room. It isn’t just a jest though. This prank is part of the pitch for his latest fundraising effort through Omaze.

In case you don’t know, Omaze is what celebs use to raffle off experiences to raise money for various charities. People can enter to win for as little as $10, which gets you 100 entries. If you want to spend more, you can get more entries as well as perk items like t-shirts, DVDs, key chains, and so on.

Like I said, you have probably seen links or videos for this website. And you’ve been intrigued by the chance to try your luck. It started with two guys who had a dream to meet Magic Johnson and an opportunity to win it in an auction. They realized there was no way they could afford to bid to win a chance to hang out with them. Rather than just let their hopes be dashed forever, they turned their frown in something positive and Omaze was born.

I’m still super curious about how they got that name though. Omaze sounds more like a stage magician obsessed with alliteration. The Amazing Omaze!

Buying a chance to win like the old school raffle makes it more affordable while raising more funds for those in need. Granted, with the popularity of this site and its wares no one has the best chance to win. I’m guessing that is why they also have some products for sale, both through individual campaigns as well as in the store.

If you haven’t guessed already, this is also a great promotional tool for films as well. It’s become quite the popular site with many of the geek-related films. Ben Affleck raffled off a chance to join him on set at Batman V Superman to support three global charities. Chris Pratt used Guardians of the Galaxy 2 to help build a teen center in his hometown. Both did fun videos that entertain. Honestly, you could fall into a Omaze youtube video hole for a bit. Watch Bon Jovi surprise karaoke singers and Robert Downey Jr. hop around in a bunny suit.

Seriously. A bunny suit.

So, yes, this may just be a PR stunt. But geeks are well known for their charitable giving and activism. I’ve even spent time writing about how great our geek community is about fundraising. This site makes that even easier for more people around the world to take part. And for those who need the incentive, celebrities are willing to give their time to see it happen. And it has worked. Over 170 countries have given to over 150 charities around the world.
The video I shared earlier where Chris Evans kinda tortures comic fans? He is doing it to raise money for Christopher’s Haven, a group that helps support families who have children being treated for cancer in the Boston area. In today’s society, we need all the support that we can provide to charities and people in need. The world is a scary place. If we all come together and support each other, the world can be made better. Every person can make a difference.

And if I can make a difference while hanging out with Captain America, that’d be cool too.

Tweets Discuss Captain America Civil War

This week we talk all about Captain America: Civil War. And Anya gets mad about what she calls the 45 minute fight she says is in all Marvel movies…except this one.  We also determine that a Sharon – Steve match up is wrong  because Captain Carter is the OTP of all OTPs, so move over Lizzie & Darcy.  Anya also learns that she can’t talk if she’s sitting on her hands.  We also talk about the Black Widow movie (finally) and critique the pictures in the latest Rolling Stone article about Chris Evans. Yeah, there’s a lot of episode in here!

Emily S. Whitten: Civil War in the MCU

Captain America Civil War

(Warning: Some spoilers ahead)

Captain America: Civil War is complicated, and sprawling, and intense, and funny, and dark, and in the end, nobody wins. It has one of the best multi-superhero fight scenes out there, and yet the first half of the movie is held together by a series of quiet and deeply personal moments that develop numerous character arcs without feeling random or forced. Neither side of the fight along which lines are drawn – over the issue of whether to sign the Sokovia Accords, which will hold the Avengers accountable to the United Nations after their actions in saving the world have caused multiple instances of massive civilian casualties – seems entirely right.

Captain America’s stance of not wanting to abdicate personal responsibility for the Avengers’ actions to people “with agendas” is shown to be dangerous when he violently defends his childhood friend and WWII army buddy Bucky (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier) against all comers, after Bucky is accused of having bombed the conference in Vienna where the Accords are to be ratified. On the other hand, Iron Man’s position of signing over accountability to the UN and his inability to ever consider that he’s “in over his head,” as the Spider-Man of the comics crossover observed, result in pretty much all of his friends ending up in prison for trying to stop the movie’s actual villain, Helmut Zemo, from activating an elite death squad that can be mind-controlled like the Winter Soldier. And with the intricacies of so many main characters with their own views on the issue, there’s a lot to unpack and consider.

So are you confused yet? If you haven’t seen the movie, a) go see it; what are you waiting for? It’s worth it! and b) I’m not surprised at the confusion. The cool thing about the modern MCU is also one of its drawbacks – these movies (thirteen and counting, with a lot more to come) have managed to stay believably within one universe and interweave references to each other in a fairly natural manner while still maintaining their individual styles.  That keeps each film fresh and interesting, while also ensuring we want to see more of the whole universe.

The downside of this is that eventually, with the ensemble movies in particular, there is a lot to pack in to make the films work, and they are in danger of collapsing under their own weight. It’s a testament to writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo that they got all the moving parts built into this movie to work together like a well-oiled machine instead of dissolving into a messy disaster (did someone say Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice?)

We’ve gotten to a point in the overall MCU story where to fully comprehend the depth of events in Captain America: Civil War, it helps to be familiar with at the very least The Avengers; Captain America: Winter Soldier; and Avengers: Age of Ultron. (It’s best if you’ve seen all the others, too.) What begins in The Avengers – S.H.I.E.L.D. recruiting a bunch of heroes who start out with pretty different viewpoints and struggle to form a cohesive whole – continues in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where we see Steve Rogers/Cap’s resistance to following the government when it strays from his personal values and morality, and his belief in caring for individual people. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, we see the results of Tony Stark/Iron Man’s serious accountability issues in pursuit of what he sees as a better future, when he uses something he doesn’t fully understand to complete an A.I. that is supposed to protect the entire world but then tries to kill everyone instead.

By the end of that movie, there’s a fissure within The Avengers – who were not all that stable to begin with – and Captain America’s belief in personal accountability versus Iron Man’s futurist viewpoint stand in stark (no pun intended) contrast to each other.

Captain America: Civil War builds on this and on events of the previous movies by using the immense destruction in New York City during The Avengers and the destruction of the capital city of Sokovia in Age of Ultron as the backdrop for the opening act, in which yet another Avengers’ attempt to stop criminals ends up causing civilian casualties, when Scarlet Witch, the youngest Avenger, accidentally redirects a bomb blast meant for Steve Rogers into a building and kills several Wakandans on a peace mission (a nod to the accidental hero-caused explosion that killed civilians at the beginning of the comics’ Civil War crossover event). This leads to the Sokovia Accords, which 117 countries intend to sign, and which will make the Avengers accountable to the United Nations. The decision of whether each hero will sign the document or “retire” brings out the core issue around which the plot is built.

Although the movie starts with a bang, the series of quieter moments in the first half establishes the stakes and interpersonal relationships that each hero stands to lose when choosing a side as the plot builds the foundation of the civil war itself; creating a world that is less black and white than the comics crossover. And it almost goes without saying in the MCU, but once again the acting in the Marvel movies is top-notch across the board, and the casting choices for new characters are clear winners. Each of the headliners (Chris Evans/Captain America, Robert Downey Jr./Iron Man, Sebastian Stan/Winter Soldier, Chadwick Boseman/Black Panther, Scarlet Johansson/Black Widow, Anthony Mackie/Falcon, Jeremy Renner/Hawkeye, Elizabeth Olsen/Scarlet Witch, Paul Bettany/Vision, Paul Rudd/Ant-Man, Tom Holland/Spider-Man, and Don Cheadle/War Machine) truly embodies the characters we know from the comics and the previous movies; and brings the emotional heart of the movie to the forefront.

The first of the quiet emotional moments occurs soon after Wanda/Scarlet Witch’s mistake costs civilian lives. As she watches the newscasters vilify her, Steve turns the TV off, and together they accept shared blame for the tragedy, as he tells her that they have to learn to live with the collateral damage of trying to save the world because otherwise, next time they might not be able to save anybody. Their mentor/mentee relationship, and Steve’s recognition of her youth and inexperience in the face of the great power she is trying to wield, are clear. Another scene has Tony giving grant money to MIT students in an effort to assuage his guilt over his mistakes (including the creation of Ultron), when he is confronted in an empty backstage hallway by the mother of a boy who died in the Sovokian tragedy while doing aid work; she blames Tony for his death.

And then we have Steve attending the funeral of Peggy Carter, where he receives an almost beyond-the-grave message from Peggy to stand strong for what he believes in via a eulogy from her niece Sharon Carter (surprise, Steve! The pretty neighbor who was spying on you for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Winter Soldier is actually your first love’s age-appropriate relative!). And the introduction of Black Panther, occurring on either side of the bombing in Vienna, is composed of two deeply personal moments – the first of which shows T’Challa’s desire to be a politic leader who will make his peace-loving father proud, and the second of which flips to his intensity and willingness to take matters into his own hands after his father is killed by the explosion. (T’Challa also acts as an “undecided voter” in the war, in that his agenda is his own, not Cap’s or Iron Man’s; and Black Widow lends some other interesting shades of grey to the ideological debate down the line.)

The bombing sets off a chain reaction of events which results in insanely violent but elegant fights down stairways, on rooftops, and through highway tunnels as first the Bucharest police and then Black Panther try to take down Bucky, as Cap and his more recent sidekick Falcon try to protect him.

On a purely cinematic level, I absolutely adore the way that each superhero’s unique fighting style echoes the comics and looks completely natural on screen, the way Bucky and Cap fight almost as one person when they’re fighting on the same side, and the fun the movie-makers must have had choreographing these and the other hero team-up and civil war scenes. The end result of this fight, though, is everyone being captured and brought in to where Thaddeus Ross (who is now Secretary of State, what whaaaat) is haranguing Tony Stark on the phone about the whole mess. This leads to one of my favorite interactions between actors Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans as Stark tries to get Rogers to sign the Accords so he won’t be prosecuted.

Downey Jr. shows a vulnerable side of Stark that we haven’t seen very often since the first Iron Man, and Evans ability to emote with facial expressions shines as Steve comes close to signing before discovering that Tony has confined Wanda to the Avengers compound. Disappointment and disgust for Tony’s stance are written all over Cap’s face as he makes the final decision not to sign.

But tell me, have we forgotten about Helmut Zemo?

Who? One thing that’s so great about this film is that underneath all of the straightforward politics of Avenger-accountability, and the character moments, there’s also this little mystery growing. In the background of the superhero clashes, Zemo is seen tracking down old Hydra secrets and plotting to get a face-to-face meeting with the Winter Soldier. Once he does, the movie flips into high gear, with action scenes rolling into character introductions resulting in funny asides, and moving back into action.

Despite the intensity and dark elements in this film, it doesn’t lose the trademark heart and humor that runs through the MCU. Vision trying to cook for Wanda to comfort her even though he’s never tasted food; the introduction of Spider-man and his running fight-scene commentary; Ant-Man meeting Captain America (I love other heroes’ reactions to meeting Cap for the first time. I mean, he’s Captain America. I get it.); everything about Hawkeye (can I even encompass how much I love what these movies and Jeremy Renner have done with Hawkeye? Probably not); Cap’s two best friends/sidekicks grumping on each other (tell me there isn’t a little bromance jealousy up in there) – these are the bits that make the heroes seem like real people.

Even in the epic fight scene that has twelve superheroes squaring off against each other, the humor is not lost, and each hero gets to showcase his or her moves and have at least one lighter moment as the battle rages. Every. Single. Thing. About this battle is cool – but hands-down, the stars of the show are Spider-Man, doing his thing for the first time in the MCU proper; and Ant-Man, who literally takes over the scene and has a blast doing it. This is one fight scene I will inevitably rewind and watch twice during any home viewing of the movie (the Guardians of the Galaxy Xandar ship-crash scene is another one).

The aftermath of this fight leads to the final showdown, and for once, I’m not going to spoil things here. Suffice it to say that although hinted at previously, the movie took a turn you might not expect, and that the fallout from the final reveal resulted in an even more personal, we-ain’t-friends-no-more fight than the all-hands-on-deck brawl that came before. (It also brought an epic comic book cover from the crossover to the screen.) And in the end, out of the chaos of the civil war came almost no resolution (with one notable exception), actually less darkness than I expected despite the villain sort-of actually winning this round, and a question as to what the Avengers will look like when next they fill our screens.

I guess we’ll have to wait until May 2018 and 2019 to find out; but in the meantime, this movie is definitely worth the price of admission.

Tweeks: More D23 2015 Adventures

As promised, here is Part 2 of our adventures at D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center.  In this video we take a look at some of our favorite things (Harrison Ford, Chris Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Teen Beach Movie, etc) and ask some expo-goers what their favorite things have been over the weekend. There’s also plenty of cosplay, some Broadway stars, new Disney things to acquire, and a special “hi” from Markiplier!

Molly Jackson: 1984 in 2015

I’ve been spending time reading a lot of blogs lately. Reading the comments section on any website is always a dubious and risky venture. People are so willing to put anything out into the Internet without any regard for who might see it. It seems that most people believe there is anonymity in a username.

We are in a very different age of computers. Now, anything said by anyone can be heard around the world instantly. And yes, I know you’ve heard that a million times over. So, why does it seem like people keep forgetting that everything is accessible to everyone?

The police aren’t the only ones who need to be aware of everyone with a smartphone watching them. Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner “joking” about Black Widow in an interview last week; did they really forget once more that this was worldwide? Yes. Yes they did. Just like Marvel forgot that those Iceman pages could be outed before the issue went on sale, or that Disney’s industry-only Avengers toy list wasn’t going to be rehashed on the web.

We are watching the world figure out how to exist in a place where we are all constantly under watch, even if we don’t realize it. These celebrities and companies need to remember that they are being “Big Brothered” all of the time. It’s not fair either. People always want a chance to relax and be themselves.

Us regular people would do well to remember that too. Every time we put a piece of ourselves on the web, there is a chance that it will be seen around the world. I’ve written things quoted in Malaysia (which is a trippy experience) and I’m small fry. Others have been quoted from Twitter on late night TV. And those crappy, derogatory comments on the Internet might just come back to bite you back.

Gone are the days of complaining to your friends about something a celebrity said or what a comic did. Now, we can all complain together worldwide. Complaining comes with a cost now. You can be a target too now. And always remember, the Big Brother Internet is always watching.

 

John Ostrander: Odder Ends 2014

This week I’ve got a bunch of different topics and themes but none of them seem to be developing into a coherent column. So I think I’ll take parts of all of them and just stitch together into a hodgepodge column. It’s the end of the year so maybe I can get away with it.

If you’re doing a SF tent pole movie, you want to hire Zoe Saldana and use her prominently. She played Neytiri in Avatar, Uhura in the two latest Star Trek films, and Gamora in Guardians Of The Galaxy and she’s going to be in the next installments of all these films. They all made what is technically called a shitload of money. Coincidence? I think not. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if she shouldn’t be cast as Amanda Waller. (Sorry, Oprah.) I really want the upcoming Suicide Squad movie to sell like hotcakes and spawn sequels and Amanda Waller related merchandise. Okay, I’m crass. Still, think about it. . .

Peter Capaldi has finished his first season as the new Doctor and I like his Doctor McCrankypants. It’s a nice variation of the past few Doctors. Not as crazy about all the writing, tho, and I really am beginning to feel it’s time for showrunner Steven Moffat to move on. When Moffat is good, he’s really good and he’s rarely outright bad but he’s often becoming mediocre. He seems, to me, to not always think things through. Or he gets clever for the sake of being clever.

Best Animated Film I Saw This Year – How To Train Your Dragon 2. The animation was better than the original and the story wasn’t a re-hash of the first but actually advanced the characters. It was fun but also had real emotional depth and impact. In fact, it was a better film than many live action serious movies I saw. It took chances.

Best Marvel Film I Saw This Year – a lot of people would say Guardians Of The Galaxy and I loved it too. It was just wonderfully entertaining. However, I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier even more. Chris Evans is to Steve Rogers/Captain America what Christopher Reeve was to Superman. Why doesn’t Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow have her own movie? How the hell did they get Robert Redford go play the main villain? (Oh, right – money.) And Samuel L. Jackson just has deep reserves of cool to call on. The movie also had a major impact on Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. which was an added bonus.

Just finished reading Alexander Mcall Smith’s latest installment (number 15!) in his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, titled The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café. The series is set in Botswana, Africa, and features Precious Ramotswe, her partner Grace Makutsi, and their friends, co-workers, and clients in and around the city of Gabrone. The characters are all African and the author is white, born in Rhodesia, now living in Scotland. He writes the characters with great love and understanding, along with a great love for Africa in general and Botswana in particular. Reading each new book is like visiting old friends. The mysteries are mostly small matters and not really the focus of the series. It is the people. I recommend the series and, while I suggest starting at he beginning, each book is admirably written to be accessible even if you haven’t read the others. I will warn you that they are quiet books, slow paced, but wonderful reads.

Final note: just an update since so many of you expressed concern following my recent triple bypass. I’m healing nicely and recovering well. My general practitioner, on my last visit, pronounced me “medically boring.” I’ve never been so glad to be called boring.

Well, that’s 2014. Drive carefully, drink responsibly, party carefully, and we’ll all reconvene in 2015.

Happy New Year, y’all!

 

John Ostrander: The Super Glass Ceiling

 

Well, I finally saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier this past week. Yeah, I’m a Johnny-O come lately. Got to see it in my preferred format these days, IMAX 3-D, and I and My Mary had a really good time. To me, Chris Evans’ portrayal of the Star-Spangled Avenger ranks with Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman, and that’s top of the heap.

The movie also asked some interesting and morally murky questions. How far should we go to make things “safer”? CA:TWS was a political thriller as much as it was a big time action feature (and it was a big time action feature). It paid homage to its comic book roots, taking elements from comic book continuity, treating them with respect, and frequently bettering them.

There were also great performances all around. How the heck did they get Robert Redford to agree to be in it? One explanation I hear was he has grandchildren but I have to think that the other was he had a well written character and some great lines. It was a good part. Anthony Mackie made Sam Wilson/The Falcon a high flying character and more than a sidekick, as Sebastian Stan did for Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier. And, of course, there was Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, with some choice action sequences, some twists and turns, and a persona that places him morally between Cap and the villains. He was like a male Amanda Waller and I mean that in the bad-assest way.

And then there was Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow. The one question I had as I left the theater (in addition to “When am I going to see it again?”) was “When are they making a Black Widow solo film?” I already knew the answer to that. She’s scheduled to be in the next Avengers outing and she might be in the next Captain America or Iron Man film but there is no solo film yet scheduled for her.

That brings us to this week’s real topic: Why the hell not?

The Black Widow is as badass as they come. She is a consummate fighter and an accomplished spy. She is beautiful, sexy, funny, and with the suggestion of an interesting backstory, she can be ruthless and can hold her own with not only S.H.I.E.L.D. but the The Avengers as well. She’s played by Scarlett Johansson, who is gorgeous and sexy and an incredibly talented and accomplished actress. What more do they want?

They’re making a movie about Ant-Man, for crying out loud. Ant-Man. And a little later this summer they’re bringing out Guardians Of The Galaxy. The previews look like fun and I’ll probably see it, but The Black Widow has got to have better name recognition and so does Ms. Johansson.

Over on the Warner Bros lot, they’re making a film featuring Superman and Batman and shoehorning in several other characters, including Wonder Woman. There is no talk of a Wonder Woman solo film. I read the studio head make a wistful, “We’d like to do it” sort of noise but, again, nothing is on the horizon.

Why the hell not?

I’ve heard the past rationales: they don’t think the audience will support it. They point to Catwoman and Supergirl as proof. Here’s an answer: don’t make a sucky superhero film. Batman And Robin or Superman Returns didn’t kill off those franchises. They gave them pause but both franchises got re-boots and started again. This time, they made good films that found an audience.

Would a movie starring a female protagonist sell? Look at Katniss in The Hunger Games movies. Tough warrior, good with a bow and arrow, complex character and the movies sell. Role model for young girls everywhere. Do they seriously expect us to believe that the Black Widow or Wonder Woman can’t do the same?

We’re left with one conclusion: Wonder Woman, for all her powers, can’t punch her way through the glass ceiling. And that’s a damn shame.