Out on 5 September and 12 September
The Russo brothers reframe Marvel’s future. Tina Fey reports on a war.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of Captain America: Civil War, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Risen, Police Story: Lockdown, The Brand New Testament, and The In-Laws.
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Captain America: Civil War
From an overreaching X-Men: Apocalypse to a Batman V Superman that exceeded acceptable gloom levels, the message seems clear: come in, superheroes, we’re bored. But Captain America: Civil War says otherwise. Currently sitting pretty at 2016’s box-office peak and spectacularly well-received by reviewers, the MCU’s 13th feature tells us that whatever other superhero movies are getting wrong, Marvel is getting right.
Smoothly pitched by directors Anthony and Joe Russo between Avengers: Age of Ultron’s outsized punch and Ant-Man’s downsized smarts, Marvel’s epic but intimate Phase 3 opener cleverly weaves into its story a need to shake up superheroes and refresh Marvel’s own formula. Tired of all that climactic CGI city-trashing?
That’s where the plot starts, with a proposal to get the Avengers under UN check. Tired of one-note villains booming lines like, “You dare to oppose me?” Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely don’t burden the villain with glorious monologues: their take on the comics’ Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is an anguished, vengeful orchestrator, there to tinker around in the Avengers’ emotional engine room.
And that engine room is properly utilised. Where the Batman V Superman fallout wobbled on Bruce Wayne’s “one per cent chance” argument, the clarity of Civil War’s character motivations testifies to the value of a 12-film slow-burn. Tony Stark is on a guilt and grief trip over Pepper Potts, Ultron and his parents when he meets a mother whose son died while the Avengers were doing cool shit. If that’s careful plotting, it’s also finely played by a newly soulful Robert Downey Jr. and, as the mother, Alfre Woodard – proof Marvel knows better than to waste fringe-player potential even when the main stage is full.
Steve Rogers’ determination to protect Bucky might be overstretched, but we feel for him because Chris Evans’ Cap films have lovingly stoked our faith in the Brooklyn boy. Between Stark and Rogers, Civil War’s opposing viewpoints hold firm: certainly firmer than the buildings routinely (perhaps excessively) turned to rubble here.
The cast is so large it ought to buckle the plot but clean characterisation keeps the Russos’ “eyes on target”. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is, typically, a floating voter; Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and Don Cheadle’s War Machine stick by their buddies; Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther is driven by well-drawn grief and revenge issues; and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch is convincingly guilt-lashed. Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, meanwhile, just wants to feel Cap’s biceps.
After their TV previous (Arrested Development, Community), the Russos know the winning value of distributing dashes of levity among ensembles. On these terms, their boldest gamble is perhaps their best. Pausing a superhero epic mid-film to introduce a new player is risky; action junkies could get antsy. But when that character is Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland, rolling with the downtime is a pure joy.
Making light work of ushering Spidey into the MCU, Holland pitches Pete beautifully as a loveable teenage twitch-ball. And he’s aided perfectly by Downey, who does three things seamlessly: reminds us how funny he can be, gives Holland space and opens up a fresh mentor persona for his MCU veteran.
If the scraps are a little indulgent, with characters kicked through walls every 10 minutes, all that’s forgiven for the film’s fabulous centrepiece. Does Team Cap vs Team Shellhead sound like every 10-year-old’s fantasy? Perhaps, but maybe the 10-year-olds are on to something because the airport punch-up is a blast, shot to dynamic perfection by DOP Trent Opaloch. Although Ant-Man ranks relatively low in the MCU box-office stakes, you’ll still want more of him after this.
In most films, that fight would be the climax. Yet while the Russos aren’t afraid of fan-yanking treats, they know better than to offer one up as the climactic take-home. The real ending brings well-seeded surprises: high stakes, parental issues and well-integrated villains. Even Zemo’s credibility-stretching multiple narrative pieces can’t dent its impact. If we can forgive The Dark Knight for the Joker’s miraculous manipulations, we’ll take Zemo’s emo-revelations for the payoffs they engineer.
Instead of drumming up cheap shocks by killing characters we know will return, Civil War’s climax nails the tougher challenges of high-pulp tragic/redemptive storytelling. Even though some old characters are left wounded, weaponless, guilt-stricken and deep-frozen, the ending is no downer, while new characters line up, thrillingly, to take the stage.
What Civil War does, superbly, is tell just the right story to address past MCU issues, remix the Avengers and “reframe the future” of comic-book movies, all simultaneously. Peak superhero? Going by the Russos’ mob-handed blast, the MCU is in no danger of that
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes, Deleted scenes, Gag reel
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo; Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson; DVD, BD, 3D BD, Digital HD release: September 5, 2016
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Tina Fey flaunts her comic chops and burgeoning dramatic skills in this true-life dramedy about a reporter dropped into 2002’s Afghan war. Bad Santa directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa aim for a M*A*S*H vibe.
But the amusing result is scrappy and skewed towards self-discovery: basically Eat Pray Love with drunken antics and heavy shelling. Martin Freeman’s foul-mouthed love interest goes all in, but feels less authentic than the dusty Kabul setting the production crew magicked up in New Mexico
EXTRAS: Making Of, Deleted/extended scenes
Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa; Starring: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina; Digital HD release: September 5, 2016; DVD release: September 19, 2016
Picking up where The Passion of the Christ left off, Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection through the eyes of a Roman Tribune. A stoic Joseph Fiennes plays Clavius as a cynical bent cop – a man under pressure from city hall to find a missing body before news of an empty tomb sparks a rebellion.
Slightly more authentic and mildly less preachy than most Hollywood Bible-bashers, Reynolds’ thriller does a decent job of telling it like it could have happened.
EXTRAS: Commentary (BD), Deleted scenes (BD), Featurettes
Director: Kevin Reynolds; Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: July 25, 2016
Police Story: Lockdown
Jackie Chan’s age and a predilection for all things ‘gritty’ mean this latest instalment of Police Story swaps frenetic action and reckless stunts for laboured moralising and burdensome brawls. After meeting his estranged daughter, Chan’s police captain gets ensnared in a hostage situation linked to one of his old cases.
With infrequent fights, this is a battle of wits rather than fists, but writer/director Ding Sheng’s overuse of flashbacks and scenario fake-outs makes it more Try Hard than Die Hard
Director: Ding Shen; Starring: Jackie Chan, Ye Liu, Tian Jing, Tao Yin; DVD, BD, VOD release: July 25, 2016
The Brand New Testament
God, it turns out, is a misanthropic Belgian (Man Bites Dog’s Benoît Poelvoorde) making life hell via his “laws of universal annoyance”. At least, until his daughter Ea (Pili Groyne) escapes with a Biblical reboot in mind. Jaco Van Dormael’s crazed fantasy winds a theo-illogical path through its bold rewriting of religion.
With traces of Charlie Kaufman and Jean-Pierre Jeunet in its conceptual quirks and visual invention, the mood of metaphysical slapstick is fresh and funny. And, despite the profane premise, it’s a surprisingly upbeat – dare we say spiritual? – vision of second chances, free will and amorous gorillas.
Director: Jaco Van Dormael; Starring: Pili Groyne, Benoît Poelvoorde, Catherine Deneuve; DVD release: August 8, 2016
Classic chalk-and-cheese comedy, with Alan Arkin’s mild-mannered dentist getting dragged into the world of espionage by his daughter’s new stepdad – the possibly criminal, probably crazy “businessman” played by Peter Falk.
Listen to both stars chatting to director Arthur Hiller on the Criterion extras and The In-Laws sounds like it was a blast to make – which is obvious when you watch what still stands as one of the most effortlessly likeable films of the ’70s. Forget Little Miss Sunshine and Columbo: this is Arkin and Falk at their best
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes, Booklet
Director: Arthur Hiller; Starring: Peter Falk, Alan Arkin, Richard Libertini; BD release: August 15, 2016