Make Mine Marvel! CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (Disney 2016)

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I haven’t reviewed a new film here since last year’s BLACK MASS , but since all the characters in CAPTAIN AMERICA:CIVIL WAR are classics, I feel the movie fits right in with the blog’s theme. Plus, I simply love the Marvel Super Heroes! I grew up in the Marvel Age of Comics, devouring monthly issues of Spider-Man, Captain America, The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and the rest of the costumed cavorters. I had stacks and stacks of them, which I regrettably sold as a young man to finance a move to the bayous of Louisiana. But I remember them well, and how much fun the Marvel titles were.

Apparently, directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely remember too, because this movie is a whole lot of fun. Sure, there’s an underlying political theme here, the will of the collective vs the will of the individual. But it’s handled well through the characters of iconoclastic Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr). The film doesn’t bash you over the head with it, giving both points of view. (As for me, in case you were wondering, I’m on Team Cap!)

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CAPTAIN AMERICA:CIVIL WAR is the third of the Cap trilogy, but could easily be considered the third Avengers film. Everybody’s in this one. Well, almost. Conspicuous by their absences are Hulk and Thor. Some new characters are introduced, including T’Challa, aka The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). He’s central to the plot here, as the Wakandan prince whose father is killed in an attack on a UN summit where some (but not all) Avengers are signing an accord to give up their autonomy and work strictly for the world governing body. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) joins the fray on Captain America’s side, and he adds a welcome comic presence to the film. He also gives us a cameo as Giant-Man… shades of Bert I. Gordon !

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By far, the most anticipated new addition to the MCU is teenage Peter Parker, better known as Spider-Man! Tom Holland dons the long-johns as everybody’s favorite neighborhood web-slinger, and he certainly does Steve Ditko proud. The scene where Tony Stark recruits Spidey is hilarious, and Holland captures the spirit of the comic book Spider-Man better than anyone since Tobey Maguire. Maybe even better! His wisecracks while battling Cap and company are priceless, and I’m looking forward to his upcoming solo film. I just can’t wrap my head around Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, though…. she’s far too sexy for the role!

And as much as I rail against CGI on this blog, I didn’t mind it so much here. It’s a comic book movie, and as such isn’t supposed to reflect the real world. The fight scenes are handled well with the CGI, so I won’t piss and moan about it. Instead, I’ll compliment the fine ensemble cast. Sebastian Stan reprises his Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier role, and he’s solid as usual. His banter with Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) is great. Paul Bettany (The Vision) and Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda/The Scarlet Witch) work well together, and is it me, or is Viz showing some human emotion coming through? Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo is a villain with a believable motive, not your typical bad guy. William Hurt plays Hulk’s nemesis Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross, elevated here to Secretary of State. And of course, Smilin’ Stan Lee gets his usual cameo as a FedEx delivery man.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA:CIVIL WAR is a fast paced film, despite its 2 hour, 27 minute running time. It’s not only enjoyable as a stand-alone movie, but sets up what will happen next in the MCU. The audience I watched it with at the soon to be defunct Flagship Cinema stayed until the last credits rolled, waiting for those clues of things to come. Most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously (are you listening, BATMAN VS SUPERMAN?). Superhero fans will love this one, as box office receipts are already showing. Like I said, Make Mine Marvel! And Go, Team Cap:

Less Than Grand Guignol: TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (Warner Bros, 1965)

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TWO ON A GUILLOTINE was one of those movies that used to air frequently on Boston’s Channel 56. I’d seen it numerous times, and had largely forgotten about it when TCM aired it recently. I wondered how it held up after all those decades so, good little film blogger that I am, I DVR’d it to review. While it’s certainly no classic, TWO ON A GUILLOTINE isn’t as bad as the title would imply.

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The movie’s about a famous stage magician, The Great Duquense aka Duke (Cesar Romero), who passes away. The papers say he “vows to return from the grave”. His estranged daughter Cassie (Connie Stevens) shows up at the funeral. She’s a dead ringer for her mom, who mysteriously vanished twenty years ago. Duke’s will is read (at the Hollywood Bowl, no less), and Cassie is set to inherit his estate if she’ll stay at his home for seven days, specifically not to leave between midnight and dawn. Val Henderson (Dean Jones), a reporter looking for a story, cons his way into Cassie’s life by pretending to be a real estate agent interested in the house. She finds him “contemptible”. Of course, they quickly fall in love. 

The creepy old house is gimmicked up with Duke’s stage props. There’s a lot of strange goings-on involving scary noises, secret locked doors, skeletons popping out of nowhere, and general eerieness. Cassie finds out he’s a reporter, dumps him, then wants him back (your classic boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl scenario). There’s some genuinely spooky scenes here, but on the whole it’s more Less Than Grand Guignol. I’ve got to admit the twist ending is pretty neat, though.

The cast is full of familiar actors. Likeable Dean Jones has been a favorite of mine since his Disney days (THAT DARN CAT!, THE UGLY DACHSHUND, THE LOVE BUG), and his presence is always welcome. Connie Stevens wasn’t the best actress, but she wasn’t the worst, either. Cesar Romero gives the part of Duquense his customary pizzazz. Others in the picture include Parley Baer, Virginia Gregg, John Hoyt, Connie Gilchrist, and midget actor Billy Curtis in a small role (sorry, I had to do it!!)

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Some of the behind the cameras stuff is more interesting to me than the film itself. Producer/director William Conrad was best known for his two hit TV series, CANNON and JAKE & THE FATMAN. The veteran actor of radio (the original Marshal Dillon on GUNSMOKE), films (THE KILLERS, THE RACKET), and television has a Hitchcockian cameo in this one. Conrad did a lot of TV directing, most notably for 77 SUNSET STRIP. His booming bass voice was often heard narrating movies and shows. (Yes, that’s Conrad narrating the classic animated series ROCKY & BULLWINKLE!) Writer Henry Slesar was an award-winning short-story author who dabbled in TV (ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS), soap operas (SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, EDGE OF NIGHT), and movies (1971’s MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, with Jason Robards). Slesar even contributed the two-part BATMAN episode featuring Shelley Winters as Ma Parker. And TWO ON A GUILLOTINE was the next-to-last score for composer Max Steiner, who was a long way from GONE WITH THE WIND, KING KONG, CASABLANCA, and THE SEARCHERS.

TWO ON A GUILLOTINE was filmed in black and white. and would’ve benefitted from color. There’s a lot of obvious foreshadowing and it covers all too familiar ground, but it’s not a bad way to spend two hours, and I’m glad I got to see it one more time. Oh….that rock band appearing in the club sequence is The Condors, featuring George and Teddy. They aren’t bad, either. Wonder whatever happened to them?