Friday, May 13, 2016

Captain America: Civil War, and The Meddler

                                             Family Feuds

                                      Reviews by Ken Burke
 While I don’t have jury duty (which resulted in me being among the last 18 of the original 80 in the pool not even called up as potential jurors after the final 12 and their 3 alternates were chosen, even though it took the better part of 3 days to listen to the attorneys keep asking the same questions to the other prospects until they were done with their various challenges) as an excuse for occupying my time like I did before my last posting I’ve spent some of my usual prep hours this week being quite caught up not with the usual-everlasting-loyalty to my Oakland A’s baseballers (making a valiant effort to rise above their dismal American League-last-place-finish of 2015 but lately not being very successful at it [as I’m writing this they’ve just set a sad franchise record of being beaten by at least 11 runs in their last 4 consecutive games])—although I continue to give them some of my attention on a daily basis—but instead turning my attention to an Oakland team that’s actually advancing toward winning (as they did in 2015) another championship, the Golden State Warriors basketballers, led by the astounding-2-consecutive-years-winner-of-the-league’s-Most Valuable Player-award, Stephen Curry (fresh off a 2-week-recovery from an injury but then he alone scored enough in an overtime period to put the other team away), who's now the only National Basketball Association MVP ever to get that honor with a unanimous vote.  Even as I’m typing the Warriors are trying to close out their semifinal series over the Portland Trail Blazers so I might be a little late in getting to final posting on Wednesday night/Thursday morning/Thursday afternoon, but it’s so marvelous watching such astonishing grace on the hardwood before dealing with varying degrees of grace in the movies to be explored below (to verify how loyal our household is to the Warriors’ progress, my marvelous wife, Nina, is skipping her usual viewing of FOX TV’s Empire, normally a “can’t-miss” experience [but it’s being recorded so she’ll ultimately get the best of both worlds], in order to give every minute to the hoops game).

 Now (a couple of hours later than when I started this posting) that the greatly-talented-but-still-defeated-Trail Blazers are headed back to Portland with the Warriors advancing to the Western Conference Finals, here we go with the usual focus of this blog on a couple of cinematic offerings (lately it’s been playing as well overseas as the Captain America ... movie, with the latest Google count showing a bit over 12,000 unique hits last month as the most recent tally gives me a substantial readership in the U.S. but 50% more in France, over 200% more in Russia plus some activity in Poland, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, the U.K., and Germany, so to all of you readers everywhere I don’t know why you’re finding interest in my ramblings but I do always appreciate it very much, even if only a couple of you ever choose to give me any direct feedback).

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
    Captain America: Civil War (Anthony and Joe Russo)
Most of the Avengers from previous Marvel movies return here (Ant-Man and Spider-Man included) but Captain America’s one-time-enemy/now-friend-again, the Winter Soldier, is accused of massive crimes even as the world’s clamoring for these superheroes to be put under strict U.N. authority, a demand supported by some of them but opposed by others.
What Happens: (To fully understand this plot it helps to have some knowledge of previous episodes about these Marvel Comics-based-heroes, so you might want to check my summaries of Captain America: The Winter Soldier [Anthony and Joe Russo, 2014] and Avengers: Age of Ultron [Joss Whedon, 2015].)  We begin back in 1991 where the Hydra-brainwashed-Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), equal in enhanced-human-abilities to Captain America, is sent on a deadly mission, then we shift to present-day Lagos where some of the Avengers—Steve Rogers/Cap (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson/ Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)—are preventing the theft of a dangerous biological weapon, which they do but the thief tries to set off a bomb which Maximoff (I’ll use character and hero names interchangeably because, unlike most of the DC comics heroes, these folks either don’t even use a specific secret identity or they publicly reveal who’s under the mask, seemingly without regard for how to protect those close to them—unless there aren’t any; one of the few ongoing-non-Avenger characters in this series is Tony Stark/Iron Man’s [Robert Downey Jr.] paramour, Pepper Potts [Gwyneth Paltrow], yet they’re “taking a break” during this movie’s events) teleports up, up, and away but it explodes into a nearby-building, killing several Wakandan (fictional African country) humanitarian workers.  Back at Avenger headquarters, U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) confronts several members of the group with worldwide concerns, not just about the current incident in Africa but also the destruction caused in their previous planet-saving-actions (see above, plus the 1st The Avengers [Joss Whedon, 2012]) leading to the United Nations’ Sokovia Accords which these superheroes are expected to sign, putting them under international control.  Despite his anticipated independence from outside authority, Stark agrees (in repentance for his role in the Ultron tragedies) but patriotic Cap doesn’t, fearing misguided governmental intrusion into actions that need to be taken or avoided by this unique group of global protectors (sounds like he should be running for U.S. President this year).

 Next, we’re in Vienna where the Accord’s to be ratified but instead a bigger bomb goes off, killing many of the delegates including Wakanda’s King T’Chaka (John Kani) so his son, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), takes on both the throne and the role of national protector Black Panther, wearing a uniform strengthened with vibranium, the same almost-indestructible-metal used for Cap’s shield (rare but in abundance in Wakanda).  Surveillance footage indicates the bomber is the Winter Soldier, so Panther’s after him, finds him in Bucharest, but Cap and Falcon arrive to prevent a swift intended assassination, even as all of them are arrested after a massive chase scene.

 Meanwhile, Sokovian (another fictional country, severely damaged in … Ultron) terrorist Helmut Zemo, seeking revenge for the awful destruction caused in his country, particularly the deaths of his family, back when the Avengers battled Ultron locates the evil-group-Hydra’s process for programming Barnes which he does, posing as a psychiatrist in the ultra-secure-facility where the Winter Soldier is being kept, but Cap manages to get Bucky away in a frantic scene (What else?), then later Barnes recovers his senses to tell Cap that Zemo is the actual Vienna bomber who now also knows the secret Siberian location where there are 5 other super-soldiers kept in cryogenic-suspended-animation.  Cap, Barnes, and Falcon then take it upon themselves to go after Zemo, also recruiting Scarlet Witch, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), which leads to Stark rounding up close friend James Rhodes/ War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow, and powerful-android Vision (Paul Bettany) to oppose them, with Black Panther joining Stark’s team because he’s still after Barnes even as Iron Man brings in the further secret weapon of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland)—the only one who actually hides himself behind a mask, as he’s still a tenuous-teenager growing into heroics—to hopefully tip the balance in his favor.  They all clash in a complicated battle at Germany’s Leipzig/ Halle Airport, with various combative face-offs, which gets a bit silly when Ant-Man uses some sort of reverse-technology to turn himself into a giant but is taken down by Spider-Man’s use of trip-up-webbing in a strategy he acknowledges comes right from the similar crash of an Empire AT-AT Walker in The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980) as these new Disney acquisitions begin to directly reference each other; ultimately, Cap and Barnes escape to go after Zemo, helped by Black Widow’s conflicted loyalties, but the rest of Cap’s team is captured, sent to a high-security-prison even as War Machine is wrongly shot down by a blast from Vision, leaving him partially-paralyzed.

 Stark then finds evidence clearing Bucky so he also heads off to Zemo’s destination, secretly followed by Panther.  The climax comes at a rapid pace as our 4 heroes declare a truce in order to unite against Zemo who’s already killed the other supersoldiers as his whole plot was simply to get the Avengers to destroy each other, which he almost brings about again by showing them video footage of Hydra-activated-Barnes killing Stark’s parents in 1991.  Stark attempts to kill Barnes but Rogers has to intervene to save his old friend.  Ultimately, their fierce fight results in a stalemate with Cap and Winter Soldier departing (as well as leaving the famous shield behind, as it was made by Tony’s father); Zemo attempting suicide but stopped by Panther; then Rogers, Barnes, and Rhodes taking asylum in Wakanda after Cap breaks his other teammates out of prison so they go into hiding elsewhere.  Rogers works with Rhodes to master new exoskeleton legs, Barnes goes back into suspended animation until his brain can be cleared of the Hydra programming, and, in a quick scene during the closing credits, Spider-Man’s back in NYC playing with a new gadget given to him by Stark.  (Yes, I know, I didn’t even mention the death of Peggy Carter [Rogers’ 1940s love-interest before he was frozen for decades] nor her niece, Sharon [Emily VanCamp], formerly with S.H.I.E.L.D. now the CIA, and the mutual attraction between her and Cap, but I’m sure there’ll be more about them to see in future plots.)

So What? It’s obvious that this concept of superheroes in combat with each other is very similar to what’s just been on worldwide screens as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder; review in our April 1, 2016 posting) where the 2 heavyweights from the parallel DC Cinematic Universe (not an official moniker that I’m aware of; maybe I can trademark it) battled against each other until Lois Lane and Wonder Woman helped them see their efforts would be better put to use against a common enemy, Lex Luthor (and his monstrous creation, Doomsday, whose power results in Superman’s death at the end of that movie—Oh you didn’t know that yet because all of those negative reviews [except mine] steered you away from seeing it?  Sorry about that, but my Spoiler policy remains in effect for everything I write about, past and present so you might as well check out that posting if you need to because the main cat’s already out of the bag).  As I noted in that review, my upbringing led me more to the DC universe (actually, the multiverse, the tactic they use to help keep their enormous number of characters in some form of separate zones so they don’t trip all over each other like a collection of Marvel’s X-Men [we’ll see those guys again in a couple of weeks too, May 27, 2016 to be specific, in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse {Bryan Singer}]) than to Marvel’s; thus, I admit I have more sympathetic leanings toward the exploits of the upstanding Kryptonian, the brooding Dark Knight, the Amazon warrior, and their fellow superbeings than I do toward the crowd of Avengers who show up to support/ oppose Captain America’s stance on being regulated as well as his defense of old pal Bucky Barnes, so maybe I’m not being as objective as I could be regarding how successful this latest look at the Avengers-collective is (minus 2 of the biggest guns, Thor and the Hulk).  If you want a counter-opinion from a man who admits that his favorite superhero may well be Superman but, nevertheless, he finds (in a competent, rapidly-presented 6:00 analysis) that when comparing … Dawn of Justice to … Civil War that the latter comes off as better constructed, more engaging, thereby helping it be more well-received (which is certainly the case regarding critical consensus, although the former’s still made a significant amount of cash worldwide—and I still prefer it).

 One thing that a lot of critics seem to like better about the (official) Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU as it’s come to be known, trademark securely in place for them) is the insertion of humor into the ongoing tension of superheroes trying to save the world (or destroy each other, as true [but puny for a fantasy-movie-villain] antagonist Helmut Zemo plots to have happen here), which is played for all the laughs that fit this time with the insertion of Ant-Man and Spider-Man, especially with the former having to quickly prove himself as being an effective combatant when popping in and out of insect-size while the latter’s constantly the butt of Stark’s snarky comments about this so-far-mostly-unknown-teenager with extraordinary powers (at least in this rendition of his backstory, surely to be fleshed out further in the upcoming 2nd full-reboot of the Web-Slinger franchise, but done by Sony rather than Marvel/Disney in a rare cross-studio-agreement which may or may not result in more Spidey-presence in upcoming Avengers stories—unless Disney simplifies things further and just buys Sony [or the rest of Japan while they’re at it]).  However, I’m quite satisfied with the more somber direction that DC/Warners has taken with the Christopher Nolan-Batman, Snyder-Superman stories with each studio finding some value as the Marvel heroes help us acknowledge that what we’re watching is well-orchestrated-whimsy that exists purely for our entertainment while the DC attitude is more about the serious situations that would occur if people with previously-unimagined-abilities emerged in our world, bringing about vast, unanticipated confrontations, collisions, and consequences when contests over the security of a community ironically create havoc in the very place the protagonist is trying to protect—although Marvel’s now into that mode as well as … Civil War ends in an ambiguous fashion with several of the Avengers now in hiding as escaped criminals and lack of clarity as to the actual status of that U.N.-plan to bring all of them under multinational control, a situation to be resolved in upcoming movies.

 That could have made for a more interesting movie plot if just that core theme had been worked on more (yes, I know, this all comes from a comic-book-background that likely needed to be somewhat followed for fanboy/girl favor, but for those of us not wed to the previous incarnation of this story I think we could find better elaboration of the basic Stark-Rogers-ideological-clash than to just have 12 folks who supposedly support each other tear up an airport (unoccupied at least, to prevent further civilian casualties, although the facility itself took quite a beating) in support/defiance of the U.N. mandate supported by 117 of the world’s countries (for that matter, if Vision and Scarlett Witch had really let loose on each other—although they have mutual respect that hinders such action—that mid-movie-battle would have been over with in 5 minutes or less).  At least we get to see the incorporation of Black Panther into this pantheon of protectors, not only another African-based-presence to give further diversity to what’s already been established with War Machine and Falcon (any Hispanic or Asian heroes waiting in the wings—or with their own wings?) but also this guy’s an independent force on his own rather than working in tandem with Iron Man or Captain America just as he’s also the new king of his country, plus functioning as a progressive role-model by determining that he’d rather have Zemo face judicial action rather than killing him to avenge his father's demise, a more restrained decision than Stark’s furious attempt to atone for his parents’ deaths at the hands of the mind-controlled-Winter Soldier.  We’ll be seeing Black Panther back in action with the rest of the Avengers in the future, I’m sure, but he also gets his own stand-alone-movie (as much as any of these folks ever work independently), scheduled for 2018 release to be directed by Ryan Coogler.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: My original intention was to lead this week with a review of The Meddler because, obviously, it’s not getting nearly the attention that Captain America: Civil War is ($179.1 million at the domestic-box-office on opening weekend, with an additional $261.6 million overseas in a 1-week-run even before last weekend’s debuts in Russia, Argentina, and China, after which its global total has already soared to $678.4 million—giving Disney a huge 2016 in China already after previous successes there with Zootopia [Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush] and The Jungle Book [Jon Favreau; review in our April 28, 2016 posting], which, along with ongoing returns for Star Wars: The Force Awakens [J.J. Abrams, 2015; review in our December 31, 2015 posting] has pushed 2016 Disney movie grosses past the $3 billion mark worldwide even though we haven’t even hit mid-year yet), a movie that’s taken on a life of its own with no concern about what I might think about it—and, as you see here, I thought quite a bit, so I wanted to get some of my statements out on The Meddler before I leave you, like me, brain-dead after my never-ending-ruminations on Captain America (although other critics have been much more supportive, with the Tomato Tossers offering 90% positive reviews while the Metacritics’ average is 75).  However, that aforementioned time allocation to the basketball game on May 11 (worth every minute) along with my (easily-predicted) long-winded-ramblings on Captain America … have consumed enough of my life this week so I’ll just put my focus on this latest superhero ensemble, giving brief comments to Susan Sarandon’s latest work below (but do try to find it if you can, at its mere 53 theaters after 3 weeks in release).  With its huge opening takes … Civil War has already become #75 on the All-Time Worldwide list which means it’s still got a ways to go to overtake #45 Batman v Superman … with its $868.2 global gross, but at this rate of box-office-steamrolling that’s likely to happen.*

* Even if Batman v Superman manages to maintain its lead over … Civil War, though, the MCU movies now under control of Disney (13, 10 of which have grosses over $500 million in the U.S. domestic market) have racked up $9.77 billion globally (scroll down to this site's May 11, 2016 info) without even considering the existing X-Men, Spider-Man, etc. Marvel movies controlled by other studios so it’s doubtful that the DC/Warner Bros. Justice League superhero stories will ever catch up to these totals, simply because those distributors who’ve worked with Marvel over the past couple of decades have successfully moved so much product, setting up (or rebooting) their franchises for future successes while Superman and his brand of battlers are still in the process of launching all of their hoped-for-success-characters while Marvel just keeps steamrolling away.

 More troubling for the producers who’d like to get proven-opening-weekend-stars into less-extravagant-projects is the fact that films such as these huge superhero-blockbusters—along with controversial and/or compelling TV/cable series and mini-series–are draining off their big-name-casting-options, making it even harder for those who’d like to bring more serious adult fare to the big screen because the combination of enhanced-home-viewing-environments and well-scripted, well-acted, engaging video options (along with the recently-evolving-“sacrilegious” practice of simultaneously-releasing films to theaters and home-consumption) is making it difficult for challenging product to survive in the public marketplace, giving even more impetus for the studios to keep pumping out superhero-spectacles, no matter how purposeful they may be beyond their dazzling special effects.  That’s a main reason (beyond my personal interests, as explored in the review segment just above) why I’ve tended to be more supportive of the current DC approach than I have been with the various components of the Avengers squad.  (You’re welcome to scroll through my Reviews Summary since very late 2011 to compare my responses to these various movies for yourself if you like, where I’ve been most impressed by the most recent retellings of The Amazing Spider-Man [Marc Webb; 2012, 2014] along with The Dark Knight Rises [Nolan, 2012] which would easily have been joined by The Dark Knight [Nolan, 2008]—a solid contender for one of my rare 4½-star-ratings—had I been reviewing when it was released; you’ll also see that as I go lower down the stars’ ratings that my contemporaries at Rotten Tomatoes [especially] and Metacritic often go higher [and vice-versa], again showing my preference for a different kind of superhero story than one that necessarily mixes in humor or remains truer to its comic-book-narrative-origins, although I have some awareness of such background stories myself [still stored away in the back of my closet], as with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns cycle [1986], which featured a Superman-Batman battle, along with the Doomsday series [1992] culminating in the death and resurrection of Superman [I wonder where they got that religio-mythological-idea?].)

 With all of the above (including the previous section of this review) as background information, I’ll just have to say that I’m feeling a general-superhero-movie-fatigue setting in because, even though I was open to seeing the beginning of this now-ongoing-Avengers movie series (especially the origin stories of Iron Man, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, and Captain America), as we continue to move through their constant individual adventures (where at least a few of the “minor” [no offense intended to you Hawkeye fans out there, although he’s admitted he goes into battle with nothing but arrows] heroes join in with the majors [while I know that all of these guys—and a couple of gals—come from the comics so they have legitimate reason to appear in the movies, I can’t help but think that part of the plotting/marketing appeal on screen of War Machine and Falcon is to increase casting diversity as well as to acknowledge that their main players {Iron Man and Captain America, respectively} become more interesting with a strong-accompanying-warrior, especially with War Machine being essentially a Black Iron Man {with a less sarcastic attitude} while Falcon is, likewise, just another guy being a powerful player because of technological enhancement whereas Black Widow provides another form of diversity as well but also handles her antagonists with nothing more than fierce hand-to-hand-combat-skills, lacking even the protective-armor-costume of Black Panther]), along with the full-cast (which this story almost is)-struggles against massive opponents, you can only watch so many of these before they get not only repetitious but also tedious in form and content.

 As a kid I bought new comic books every month to see yet another adventure of actual superbeings (and those ordinary humans, like Batman and Green Arrow [the original modern archer, playing off the ancient Robin Hood concept, 1st appearing from DC in 1941 while Hawkeye doesn’t debut until 1964]) but today’s movies cost a lot more than comic books (although they’re no longer a bargain either) so when you have to keep shelling out big bucks to even try to keep up with these stories (as they all interconnect so that it really helps to have more background from the previous episodes) each one needs to be uniaquely-spectacular, not just in visual effects but also in concept, which is difficult to achieve with the kinds of protagonists, conflicts, and limited-realities that these screen-stories inherit from their pulp-fiction-origins, along with PG or PG-13 ratings-concerns (driven by the economic reality of grabbing the largest audiences possible to make up for the huge budgetary outlays) that force serious narrative ideas such as horrible- “collateral damage”-deaths to be illustrated with bodies simply flying around rather than actually bleeding or dying before our very eyes (except for General Zod being killed outright by Superman in Man of Steel [Snyder, 2013; review in our June 19, 2013 posting], a bold move for that movie’s creators, challenging decades of limited brutality by the “ultimate Boy Scout” except where non-human-monsters were concerned).  The substantial question of “Who controls the vigilantes?” raised in Captain America: Civil War is an important one that challenges the entire premise of superheroes racing/flying into action by self-determination, with no oversight except from each other, yet what we get here—where the important larger-society-question is further emphasized by the interpersonal clash between Iron Man and the Winter Soldier over the very private rage that Tony Stark has toward Bucky Barnes—is diluted by the story as a whole and skewed to Captain America’s position when Stark realizes that Barnes isn’t even the bomber that he’s supposed to be chasing, further reinforcing the vigilante paradigm of non-supervision.  

 No amount of reason, just a (mostly) 2-on-1 battle between the enhanced militarymen and the armored-industrialist, can bring about an enforced conclusion between Stark and Barnes—backed by Rogersan option that further gets lost with the earlier pumped-up-battle between supporters of these fundamental combatants just for the fun of seeing all of the previously-presented-Avengers clobbering each other, along with adding Ant-Man and Spider-Man to the fray.  (Again, based on the comics original but still approaching "X-Men-overkill" when they all have to be given some decent screen time [which, I admit, is done reasonably-well here, better than with those overcrowded Marvel mutants stories]; further, this whole concept gets redundant of that 2012 Avengers story 
where we merely had 6 protagonists [plus Nick Fury {Samuel L. Jackson}] but the bulkier guys back then also needed to bash each other around before joining forces against Loki’s invasion.)

 In the comic books you can afford to keep piling on additional characters to the Avengers cast to sell monthly adventures where they didn’t all have to show up every time (DC did the same thing by enlarging their original Justice League roster so that they didn’t always have to work in the presence of Superman and/or Batman), but with these movies seemingly expected to find active roles for the entire cast—not this time, technically, because … Civil War is presented as primarily a Captain America story with just a hell of a lot of supporting players, rather than an actual Avengers movie where Thor and Hulk must be part of the plot—it just gets overblown and somewhat silly, although that won’t prevent continuing episodes of most of these characters (hopefully without so many guest stars in future operations), their combinations in full-blown-group-battles (Avengers: Infinity War—Part 1 [Joe and Anthony Russo, scheduled for 2018]), and the inevitable encounters with their less-serious-counterparts from Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014; review in our August 7, 2014 posting) and Deadpool (Tim Miller; review in our February 23, 2016 posting).  So, as this Marvel clan grows beyond my comprehension I’ll just leave you with an appropriate Musical Metaphor of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Family Affair” (from the 1971 There’s a Riot Goin’ On album) at com/watch?v=NdiRhzTsSnk because with all of these variously-enhanced-“children,” whether it’s those that “just love to learn” or those “you’d just love to burn,” “Mom” [Disney] loves the [batch] of them with money being “thicker than the [blood]” whether I want to keep coming to these family reunions or not.  I probably will, just out of curiosity, but my real interest is in a different universe, seeing how DC’s Justice League Part One (Zack Snyder, intended for 2017) will have Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman joined by at least the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, but maybe others from that comics tradition (including Green Lantern but surely not with Ryan Reynolds back in the role from his 2011 attempt [directed by Martin Campbell], now that he’s solidly set as Deadpool for Marvel), just hopefully not too damn many of them.

(My apologies for the repetitious nature [and some of the visual quality] of the images in this review but my usual sources, Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb [as well as most of the official web sites for any given movie], have suddenly stopped allowing photo copying and I don’t have access to press materials for the bigger mainstream fare [just some of the more independent films like The Meddler] so I’m limited to what I can get from other postings on the Internet.  Any suggestions for alternative legal sources would be greatly appreciated, but until such a rescue might come about these sorts of available-illustrations will likely be the new “standard” for my reviews, sorry as I am to say that.)

5/13/2016 (1:00pm PDT) Well, this is weird but I guess appropriate for Friday the 13th; just for curiosity today before making some further inquiries about photo options I tried IMDb again and it worked fine, even for Captain America: Civil War (must be the ghosts that Nina and I are convinced periodically hide things around our condo just to play with us having some further fun with me). However, even though I could replace some of what I used in the review I'm just going to let them be because the new options really aren't any better than the artwork used above, mostly just a bunch of shots of various Avengers standing around.  So, regarding photos for this blog (I hope), as Emily Litella (Gilda Radner) used to say in the early days of Saturday Night Live"Never mind!"
Short Takes
                                        The Meddler (Lorene Scafaria)
This is primarily a comedy about a lonely New Jersey widow who moves to LA to be close to her only daughter but intrudes so much on the younger woman’s life as to be maddening so when the “child” has to go to NY for a few weeks Mom’s left to find some meaning in her life which ultimately leads to the possibility of a new relationship if she can allow it to happen.
 As I’ve explained above I needed to cut my prep and presentational time shorter than ideal for my usual assault of extensive explorations this week so I’ll get right to the point on The Meddler, which the writer-director admits is inspired very much by the reality of her own complicated relationship with her mother, the kind of connection that shows that the term “helicopter parent”—used to imply a hovering, intrusive presence of the older generation—can evolve into a troublesome, full-blown Blackhawk chopper stage where Mom (in this case but it could just as well be a father) is virtually a passive-aggressive-attack-force that constantly shreds her only daughter’s attempted defenses as the parent wants to make the adult “child” into her personal “project,” mostly because the mother has little else to do with her life in a new environment completely across the country from her extended-past where she now has no friends of her own nor hardly even knows anyone except her daughter’s buddies.  In this story, played mostly as a comedy but with some plausible touches of melancholy, Mom is Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon), whose beloved husband, Joe, is gone but certainly not forgotten so she’s left everything she ever knew before (originally in Brooklyn, then New Jersey), moving to L.A. to be close to her only child, Lori (Rose Byrne), an aspiring TV writer who’s struggling to get a pilot made so that she can finally begin her hoped-for-career, as well as try to forget the breakup with her lost love, actor Jacob (Jason Ritter) who’s now moved on to someone else, a decision that Lori just can’t bring herself to because even thinking about the guy gives her misery which isn’t helped by the longing that her lesbian friend Jillian (Cecily Strong) has for a lavish wedding to more-formally-celebrate her marriage, made official only by a brief City Hall ceremony.  Still, Mom continues to push, even to the point of meeting with Lori’s therapist to discuss her daughter’s sessions as she inadvertently starts having some of her own.

 When Lori’s chances for her pilot improve she’s off to NYC for a few weeks (rejecting Mom’s hopeful suggestion that she come along as a personal assistant), so, left to her own devices on the West Coast, Marnie offers to bankroll Jillian’s often-dreamed-of-wedding (on a yacht) because Joey left her more money than she knows what to do with.  She also accidently wanders into a film shoot in a city neighborhood, soon is hired as an extra where she briefly meets former-cop-now-on-set-security-guard, Zipper (J.K. Simmons).  In yet another plot twist she buys an iPhone (Apple gets active product placement in this movie) which she learns to use through constant tutorials from helpful salesman Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael) whom Marnie convinces to take night classes as preparation for a more impactful career (she wants him to be a lawyer), helped by her willingness to drive him to and from his campus.  One night she also gives a lift to his friend who happens to have a stash of pot; a mistaken assumption that they’re about to be stopped by the cops leads to Marnie gobbling down the whole bag allowing her to have a blissful evening, then run into Zipper around dawn who takes her to his little ranch in a nearby canyon to meet his chickens who produce their best eggs while listening to Dolly Parton music.  Although she’s intrigued by Zipper’s interest she pulls away, races off to NYC where she bursts in on Lori while her pilot’s in process, finally gets back to LA to finalize Jillian’s wedding (where she’s thanked profusely by the bride, embraced by Lori’s friends) but when she tosses Joey’s ashes into the Pacific in a triumphant liberation move she finds herself in jail so she calls Zipper for assistance, accepts his interest after all, builds a new, active life for herself (including babysitting for Jillian’s kids and following through with a patient at the hospital where she’s volunteering to finally reconnect the woman with a son who doesn’t even know she’s there) which still involves Lori (and their mutual need to grieve Dad’s death) but not in such an intrusive manner.

 The Meddler is pleasantly-charming, shows some well-observed, well-written interactions between a needy mother and her frantic, frustrated daughter, acknowledges that what feels like a delightful attitude to those who don’t see you all that often (as with Lori’s friends) can be maddening for someone like Lori who’s usually overwhelming by your constant presence filled with assumptions of what can make life better for someone else (always enhanced with a bag of bagels), and showcases the immense talents of Susan Sarandon who’s in every scene of the movie but never gets tiresome or annoyingly repetitious.  Some might find this presentation corny or too-easily-resolved, but it constantly offers pleasant surprises along with a positive outlook on how an annoying parent who doesn’t want any boundaries with her daughter—let along understand why they might be necessary for their mutual sanity—can come to better understand herself and find a more expansive purpose in life than constantly giving advice to everyone she meets.  The Meddler might also provide a nice option for a missed-Mother’s Day-opportunity with your own Mom if you didn’t get a chance to take her to a movie a week ago because you were too busy to get her card mailed on time or remember to give her a call.  Finally, the script presents some nice humor as with Marnie’s potential suitor, Mark (Michael McKean), suggesting they have a 1st date to the local Holocaust Museum, presented in a manner that’s sincerely funny despite the unsettling possibilities of such an offer to someone he’s just barely met.

 For a Musical Metaphor I’ll borrow an idea from The Meddler where Marnie shares her interest in Beyoncé’s “I Was Here” (from her 2011 album, 4) with Zipper because it speaks to her need for validation, that she made a proper use of her life not so much to be remembered by others but more to feel that the time she was given was well-spent, valuable to herself even if not known by that many in the world at large, so here’s a live performance augmented with extensive footage from this famous singer’s life (future generations that continue to appreciate pop music from their distant-past will certainly know that she was here, even if Marnie’s intentions are more limited) at  However, I can’t resist also offering another Metaphor for the themes explored in The Meddler, Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” (from the 1972 Paul Simon album) at, a video which claims to be “official,” although I’m not sure that it was originally connected to the release of the song but does relevantly provide footage of various mothers reuniting with their children in varying circumstances which seem to resonate with the lyrics.  I just wish that, back in 1984, after some
research into the matter I’d been able to resonate with my own birth mother but due to circumstances I still try objectively to understand she declined to meet with me so as to avoid a crisis with her long-time-family who never knew that many years ago she had a child out of wedlock (possibly a subconscious aspect of appeal of this film’s dynamics for me as this child and parent are ultimately able to better connect); nothing of that level of seriousness ever emerges in The Meddler, but there are implications of it in the grief that both Marnie and Lori try to forget, which just leads to more grief with each other, even if it's all played well for laughs, so you might appreciate the implied-nuances of this movie as well as its surface humor plus the constantly-welcome-presence of Sarandon, one of Hollywood’s great treasures.  (At which point I’ll stop with my comments, but that’s a bit of a shame because in this case I do have access to a trove of photos, but I’ll just use the ones I need, with considerations of slipping some of the others into the Captain America … review in hopes you think these L.A. characters are just further additions to the Avengers crew.  5/13/2016: As you now know, my photo problems have been solved somehow but it would still have been more visually interesting to use some of these ...Meddler images in the other review because they're a lot more interesting than what's officially available for the ... Civil War movie.)
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepageIf you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

Here’s more information about Captain America: Civil War: (20:07 analysis of Easter Eggs in the trailer [the link just above], with a lot of speculation about what’s in the actual movie without the narrator having yet seen it, although he does give useful background info on how this plot reflects the original comic book stories that inspired it and earlier Marvel movies that lead up to what we’re watching here; if all of that intrigues you then here’s another—but much shorter [6:50]—Easter Egg analysis of the movie itself at, again with lots of references to the original comics series that’s this movie’s foundation as well as the previous Marvel screen stories that lead up to this one)

Here’s more information about The Meddler: (32:03 interview with director Lorene Scafaria and actors Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne; begins with the same trailer from the above link)

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

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