‘Captain America: Civil War’ is an allegory for American politics

You’d think that an ultimate showdown between superheroes would be funny and absurd as Lemon Demon’s “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny,” but Anthony and Joe Russo’s superhero showdown “Captain America: Civil War” isn’t funny.

The only part that’s remotely funny is the banter in an almost 12-minute battle sequence at an airport.

Other than that, the painstakingly long two-and-a-half hour film is mostly about what keeps bubbling up in conversations: politics.

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, “Captain America: Civil War” centers on a political debate America’s all too familiar with: the battle between whether governmental bodies should have more or less oversight. In it, the Avengers become an allegory for America and representatives within the organization aren’t willing to compromise on how the Avengers should be governed.

Armed in his red Iron Man costume, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) stands with democratic values, believing that the United Nations should oversee the Avenger team. Donning a red, white and blue shield, Captain America (Chris Evans) sides with traditional republicans beliefs, advocating for less governmental control and more freedom of choice.

The resulting arguments aren’t pretty. They’re nasty, vindictive and very, very physical (These are the Avengers after all). Plenty of people get hurt. And even after the battles are over, the fissure remains.

“Captain America: Civil War” was directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo. The screenplay was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. 

‘Iron Man 3’ resembles ‘Die Hard’

Iron Man 3 is Tony Stark’s epilogue to The Avengers, Josh Whedon’s film about the formation of Captain America (Steve Rogers), Iron Man (Tony Stark), Thor, the Hulk (Dr. Bruce Banner), Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) and Hawkeye (Clint Barton) into the superhero team. Since Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) fell out of the sky after battling aliens in The Avengers, Stark’s been plagued with nightmares. Even thinking about New York sends him on panic attacks.

The genius billionaire playboy philanthropist has a lot to panic about. The Avengers’ enemies span worlds and galaxies. But the action in Iron Man 3 doesn’t have to do with the Avengers’ shared past.

The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist who has been bombing sites from Kuwait to the Grauman Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, has a personal vendetta against Stark. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the criminal mastermind behind the Mandarin’s plans, offered his think tank services to Tony Stark years ago, but Stark refused. Now, the villains want what Stark has: his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). And Killian is willing to ruin Stark’s Christmas.

Written and directed by Shane Black, the third installment of Iron Man resembles the narrative arch of John McTiernan’s 1988 action flick Die Hard, which followed NYPD officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) as he tried to save his wife against German terrorists during a Christmas party in Los Angeles. In Iron Man 3, Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle) serves as Stark’s Sgt. Powell (Reginald Veljohnson), the friendly black cop who assisted McClane in his rescue operation.

Not only do both the movies occur during the same time of year in warm, sunny places, but they also feature spectacular explosions and fireworks. The films contain terrorist plots and show the bravado of its heroes. Officer John McClain walks on broken glass while Tony Stark throws himself at glass windows at one scene, not wearing his protective Iron Man armor.

To continue the analogy, both films have been well received. During its opening weekend on July 22, 1988, Die Hard brought in $7,105,514, ranking third in box offices. Iron Man 3, which was released on May 3, brought in an estimate of $175.3 million domestically, ranking no. 1 in theatres during its opening weekend. Despite containing a nearly identical story arch, this illustrates the successes of both films.

Although Iron Man 3 is an upgraded version of Die Hard, its popularity extends beyond the fiery-orange explosions. Rather than limit the action to 40 floors in one building,  Iron Man 3 capitalizes on its global plot. Shane Black and Drew Pearce’s screenplay takes Stark from his mansion in Malibu, Calif., to investigations in Rose Hill, Tenn. With unlimited Stark Industries technology, Iron Man 3 shows off Stark’s new armor and gadgets. He can now power multiple robotic suits without wearing them.

Compared to other films in the franchise, Iron Man 3 highlights Stark’s emotional distress. Although Stark is known for his biting wit, Drew Pearce and Shane Black’s screenplay shows that underneath his robotic armor, he’s human. He’s cagey when Colonel Rhodes questions him on his lack of sleep. Instead of replying with a flippant remark, we see Stark break down with post-traumatic stress.

This is a clear departure from the Tony Stark we’ve come to love and expect. In fact, in one scene when the audience expects a witty or misogynistic comeback, Stark’s response is, “I’ve got nothing.”

Without his sarcasm as a shield, Stark seems more vulnerable and serious. This is exemplified in one scene featuring Stark and Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins), a Tennessee boy who finds Iron Man in his garage. As Harley begins prying into Stark’s life and the events in New York, Stark starts hyperventilating about not being able to save Pepper Potts. With the straightforward reasoning of a child, Harley is able to calm Stark down: “You’re a mechanic, right?” Harley asks. “So build something.”

“Okay,” Stark answers.

The Great ‘Charlie Bartlett’

Who ever said you can’t buy friends? Well, as seventeen-year-old Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) finds out, popularity isn’t as “priceless” as the MasterCard commercials would have you believe.

The film, “Charlie Bartlett,” follows a wealthy, enterprising teenager and his quest to be well-liked. When no fancy prep school would take him anymore (the last one expelled him for creating and distributing fake I.D.’s), Charlie is sent to public school — where he gets beat up. That is, until he discovers that obtaining and dealing prescription medications (from Ritalin to Xanax) — and giving advice to other misunderstood, teenagers — can become quite a lucrative business.

For playing a posh, rich kid, Anton Yelchin is quite earnest and likeable as Charlie Bartlett. Perhaps it’s his friendly smile and the manner and number of times in which he would repeat, “Hi, I’m Charlie.” (If Yelchin wasn’t quite so charming and charismatic, he might be mistaken for remedial.) Or perhaps it’s how he could seamlessly rattle off Latin and French; sing and play the piano; and recite a monologue of how he got his period. Yelchin is like the “Great Gatsby” from Nick Carraway’s eyes (only Yelchin doesn’t call everyone, “old sport.”) He’s talented, excelling in the ability of making the audience feel empathy for a poor, rich kid. He has this boyish, All-American, Tom Sawyer quality about him — that if you talked to him long enough, he could probably get you to whitewash the white-picket fence for him. Yet at the same time, Yelchin can be very mature, offering proper insight and sage advice on the inner workings of the teenaged mind.

Yelchin, and the excellent actors in the cast, carry the film. Robert Downey Jr. is the antagonistic Principal Rooney character to Yechin’s Ferris Bueller. However, Downey Jr., as Principal Gardner, brings very real issues (like depression and alcoholism) to this Wiley E. Coyote/Roadrunner relationship. Hope Davis, who is most recently known for playing tabloid writer Nina Harper in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” is also excellent as Yelchin’s flighty mother who’s been depressed since her husband went to jail. The rest of the characters also hit their notes (i.e. Tyler Hilton of “One Tree Hill” fame resembles “Glee”‘s bully Noah Puckerman, played by Mark Sailing; while Kat Dennings has this Drew Barrymore, girl next door quality about her), but aren’t as memorable next to Yelchin, Downey Jr. and Davis’ nuanced performances.

The juxtaposition of the charm and sincerity of the film brings the playful and deeper nature of “Charlie Bartlett” to life. Director Jon Poll’s film captures some of the themes and nostalgia of John Hughes’ classics. “Charlie Bartlett” seems to be a cross between “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Breakfast Club,” portraying Yelchin as a trouble-making Ferris Bueller-type character, while showing that its OK for teenagers to break away from their stereotypical cliques. (For example, the football captain really wants to go to Paris and study art, while the school bully wants to take the most popular girl in school to a dinner and movie.) And although popularity isn’t priceless, perhaps being able to talk to someone about your problems is.

“Charlie Bartlett” was written by Gustin Nash and directed by Jon Poll.

Elementary, My Dear, Sherlock Holmes Is The Biggest Moocher

Who me? Robert Downey Jr. plays an inglorious bastard.

If there ever was an inglorious bastard, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) fits the description. Using Dr. John Watson’s (Jude Law) dog as a test subject for his experiments, dragging his best friend into battle as he runs from the large boulder-like henchmen he just pissed off and shamelessly ruining his friend’s courtship with a lady, Holmes is that friend you all know and love: the moocher.

“Holmes, does your depravity know no bounds?” his friend Dr. Watson even asks him.

It's nice to have famous friends, but too bad Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is a moocher.

Yet you can’t hate Sherlock Holmes, even as he is rummaging through your clothes because he had run out of clean closes to wear. You can’t hate Sherlock Holmes, even as he lands you in a night in jail, as your girlfriend bails you out the next morning. You can’t hate Sherlock Holmes as he purposefully leaves his gun in your hand, knowing that you will reluctantly follow him into danger.

Yes, you might get frustrated, angry and even despise the bastard who got you into trouble, but you can’t totally hate Holmes because you admire him. You respect the intellectual prowler and his impeccable power of observation. You value his logic and reasoning, despite his ability to uncannily rope you into his latest scheme, abusing your good intentions.

Hey, House and Wilson, no homo or anything...

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law become the Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) and Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) from the television drama House M.D. of the big screen in Director Guy Ritchie’s latest released film Sherlock Holmes.

In additional to Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law’s budding bromance (as Holmes succeeds in making Watson his bitch), the fast-paced, action-packed thriller is filled with a bunch of other goodies.

The first few minutes of the film might as well have been a scene from Blizzard Entertainment’s hellish role-playing game Diablo as two guys two guys run through a mausoleum-type building, men in long hooded cloaks following their wake as a woman strapped to the alter awaits sacrifice.

The first rule of fight club is, you don't talk about fight club.

Downey’s Jr. narration of how to properly dispose a guy is reminiscent to the narration of David Fincher’s film Fight Club—dark and biting. The sequence of the fight scenes are quickly spiced with half second clips, and the original music from Hans Zimmer is superb.

Meanwhile, the beautifully filmed filth of London will have you hum Sweeny Todd’s “No Place Like London”: “There’s a whole in the world like a great black pit, and the vermin of the world inhabit it, and its morals aren’t worth what a pin can spit, and it goes by the name of London.”

Like anyone else fond of the television shows such as House, Bones, CSI, Numb3rs, and Criminal Minds, I love a good mystery. In this case, I loved how all the pieces fell in place —much like how all the scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards came together— as Holmes began to question his firm belief in logic with the case of Lord Blackwood’s (Mark Strong) resurrection from the grave.

Meanwhile, Holmes’ peculiar relationship with the Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), a petty criminal who loved to steal expensive jewelry, will have you questioning Holmes already promiscuous morals.

“In another life, Mr. Holmes, you would have made a excellent criminal,” Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) tells him.

A threesome, anyone?

Yet despite how close Holmes is to picking the lock for the sole purpose of stealing, he does not pick the locks out of moral ambivalence but intellectual curiosity. Holmes is attracted to Irene Adler, not only because she’s a pretty face who would most likely screw him over like one of John Keat’s “La Belle Sans Merci”s, but because she is a complex character.

As the film ends with hints of a sequel, the ingenious detective of Scotland Yard will guarantee a fun ride.

I’ve Got Soul But I’m Not A Soldier…

“Life’s tough,” said Milo Peck (Tom Sizemore) after failing to return a full sheet of one-of-a-kind Led Zeppelin stamps to a kid. “Sometimes you get what you want. Most likely, you don’t get what you want.”

“You stink, Mister.” It doesn’t take a little kid in a bicycle to tell Milo Peck that.

For four unlikely strangers who failed to resolve their lives after dying in an untimely bus accident in San Francisco, they all learned that most of the time, you don’t get what they want.

First there was Milo Peck in his entire leather jacket, blue jeans, and dark greased hair glory—a thief who stole stamps from a kid—to be forever labeled as a “bad guy.” Then there was Harrison Winslow (Charles Grodin)—a man who dreamed of singing in front of a crowd—if only he ever tried. Next there was Penny Washington (Alfre Woodard)—a mother of three who is left forever wondering the fate of her children after her death. Lastly, there was Julia (Kyra Sedgwick)—a woman who never got a chance to return a declaration of love to the man who loved her because she was too afraid of commitment.

Robert Downey Jr. with his band of "imaginary friends." From left to right, Harrison Winslow (Charles Grodin), Thomas Reilly (Robert Downey Jr.), Julia (Kyra Sedgwick) and Milo Peck (Tom Sizemore).

Thomas Reilly with his band of "imaginary friends." From left to right, Harrison Winslow (Charles Grodin), Thomas Reilly (Robert Downey Jr.), Julia (Kyra Sedgwick) and Milo Peck (Tom Sizemore).

With death, the four “ghosts” are drawn to a baby by the name of Thomas Reilly—following him first as “imaginary friends” and eventually watching over him as he reaches adulthood. However, when the bus driver (David Paymer) who cut short these four lives returns to collect their wandering souls, they learn that all these years that they were watching over the boy Thomas Reilly (Robert Downey Jr.), they were supposed to use him as a “vehicle” to reconcile their business on earth.

Watching his more recent films like Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, it is amusing to watch a younger Robert Downey Jr. as he assumes the personalities of these four strangers in the 1993 classic Heart and Souls. From the slick way he swaggers as Milo Peck to the unmoving confidence he assumes as the bossy mother Penny Washington, Robert Downey Jr. is very deserving of his accredited Saturn Award for best actor.

However, the whole cast of characters, directed by Rob Underwood, is enjoyable to watch in this screenplay written by Gregory Hansen, Brent Maddock, Erik Hansen and S.S. Wilson. Furthermore, the music from Marc Shaiman contributes nicely to the film’s overall appeal.

No matter what your view of the afterlife is, Heart and Souls is a feel-good film–perfect comfort food and end to a long grueling week. Watching Robert Downey Jr. and company dance and sing to The Four Season’s “Walk Like A Man” in this light-hearted comedy is just the icing on the cake!

Robert Downey Jr. and company jam to The Four Season's "Walk Like A Man" in the streets of San Francisco.