By Marc S. Sanders

I think the Civil War chapter must be one of the best installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The action ranging from fight scenes to car chases to shootouts and explosions are so well executed and edited.

This film lives up to what makes each Marvel character special in their own way, and while most of the attention is naturally focused on Chris Evans’ Captain America and Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier (aka Bucky), the large cast is respectively given numerous moments to shine individually with well-conceived backgrounds and traits beyond just their superpowers.

Interestingly, until the late scene where all the characters collide against one another, the film was very shy of any intentional humor and focused more on what is morally correct in this fantasy world. There was a debate to grapple with, and a threat to both sides of the moral compass. All good layered dimensions, my favorite vice of effective storytelling.

Anyone who says popcorn movies like Avengers are nothing more and simply brainless would fail at recognizing good analysis and dimension. More often than not the MCU succeeds at setting up a dilemma to keep a viewer hooked. Once they are taken…then the storytellers will do something bold like destroy the headquarters, or an airport, or a whole city or Iron Man’s armor, and on and on. Too many other franchises (Transformers, Fast/Furious or DC) bring the buildings down before the cement is dry and the windows are Windexed. That’s when story is neglected for showmanship. There’s no weight to the loss. What do I care who died? You just destroyed the village in order to save it. Disney and Marvel know this and steer clear of those habits.

The cast is so perfectly assembled in Civil War. They interact very well with line exchanges, debates and fisticuffs.

Much of this film was a blur during my first viewing. These are Marvel movies. There are so many now, the scenes all seem to blend together. Yet now I see this particular film is special. Good set pieces, costumes, makeup, visual effects and great performances lead to a great, fun presentation. I’m sold.


By Marc S. Sanders

Anthony and Joe Russo direct one of the best action pictures of the last 20 years as they pit the heroic patriot against weaponized SHIELD planes, trap him in an elevator with 15 strong arm men to take on singlehandedly, and most especially the dude dressed like the American flag goes up against a mysterious figure that possesses a highly weaponized steel arm. Best yet, none of these sequences pertain to the story so much as they frame it.

Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers aka the first title character, and he’s even better this time around. Captain America: The Winter Soldier hearkens back to the thematic 1970s conspiracy theory features like The Parallax View with Warren Beatty and Three Days Of The Condor with Robert Redford as Cap first finds himself on one side of an important debate for our modern times. When is too much warfare enough? How far must we go to serve as a means of protection? Evans appears as if he’s researched the strong position held by his character, and he’s believable in his mindset. Is the motive out of fear, or power, or could it actually just all be for protection? He’s convincing in his character’s argument. Naturally, if he can’t agree with the powers that be, he’ll find himself on the run with allies like Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Anthony Mackie as the supercool Falcon.

Johansson is given much more to work with as she trades “Buddy Cop Movie” wits with Evans as well as helping him with his dating scene. She also offers up some sharp intelligence to a promising complex former KGB/spy. It’s about time she get her own film in the series. She’s overdue. (Well…now we all know how that turned out.)

It’s especially appropriate that Redford himself is recruited as Secretary Alexander Pierce. Redford plays puppet master for a film that offers the biggest altering twists the MCU has offered up to this point. To handle the role requires an actor with a history to his career and since Redford has dabbled in films of this nature, he fits right in. He must have been especially pleased to accept this role recognizing the layered angles to a script provided by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeeley.

Sebastian Stan returns with an astonishing turn as his character Bucky. When all the surprises are revealed by him, your pulse will likely not have come down following a thrilling highway shootout.

Lastly, credit must be given to Samuel L Jackson. This film offers the most for his Nick Fury character to play with. Fury finds himself on the wrong end of an argument that leads to a shocking betrayal and sabotage. Jackson’s roles often fall into the same routine of timing and delivery, screaming “mother effing” frustrations. It’s often lovingly joked about but it gets tiring too. Here however, he’s given a chance to be the victim of a brutal attack and deal with an aftermath. It’s the best material written so far for the Nick Fury character.

The Russo brothers, not normally known for big budget extravaganzas, surprised audiences with a well-executed film that offers suspense, extensively choreographed action sequences and great characterizations all around. They have identified Captain America as the soldier of morals, but moreover they recognize where he stems from. The Brothers certainly haven’t forgotten that he’s really a 95-year-old man at the time of this story. That sets up some good laughs. The adventure of the picture is top notch and thankfully it primarily all takes place in daylight where nothing is strategically hidden and appearing as shortsighted work in dark photography. The Russos know how to pinpoint exactly where Cap needs to throw his shield, what it should bounce off of, and how the hero should get it back. Everything here is top notch.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier only gets better with repeat viewings, and you really don’t even need the other MCU films to follow its trajectory. It’s worth watching at any given moment.


By Marc S. Sanders

Admittedly, as a kid I read about the star-spangled hero, Captain America, on a frequent basis. In the ‘80s, to me he was nothing special; a guy with a shield, dressed like the flag who was very agile. Not many surprises were left for him to discover on the page. However, in his first MCU installment, Chris Evans, as Steve Rogers the weakling yearning to join the US Army during World War II and kill Nazis, is inspiring.

Director Joe Johnston ably introduces a character before revealing all the goodies. A fantastic special effect of downsizing Evans to a gaunt 95 pounds allows the motivation to become a hero all the more convincing. Following a series of being bullied and being rejected for service, Rogers is given the opportunity to become a lab rat for a “Super Soldier” experiment that will award him with instant fighting skills and strength. Stanley Tucci plays the doctor looking for the right candidate. Why Rogers? Because he sees he has the heart of a man only wishing to do well unto others. The experiment is a success before it becomes sabotaged, but Tommy Lee Jones, representative of the Army, is not entirely convinced. So, Cap only elevates himself to the role of a character logo, forced to sell the idea of buying war bonds across the country and entertaining the troops overseas. A rescue mission finally comes calling, and the boy in blue dons the shield and shows the world who he is and what he stands for.

Chris Evans is great in this part as a guy always on a path of “do good.” Never emoting cockiness, never in service for himself and never one to surrender to illogical and immoral mindsets. This is how Captain America should always be portrayed, a man who stands for the good of country and as the MCU films continue on, the good of the world and, well heck, lets just say the good of the galaxy. With his perfect haircut and clean shaven face, Evans never shies away from that platform.

Tucci is so good in a role that will never define his career. His brief appearance shows no hint of him being in a comic book movie. That’s a huge compliment. He takes the role of a German doctor seriously. He’s the scientist, but the film allows a nice scene for him with Evans showing that he is more so a friend. When his part exits the film, you miss him.

Finally, the MCU gets the female role right following the dismissive nature of characters like Pepper Potts (Iron Man), Betty Ross (The Incredible Hulk) and Jane Foster (Thor). Special Agent Peggy Carter played by the awesome discovery of Hayley Atwell makes the role her own. She plays the part like it is written, never relying on the title character for her cues. Atwell shows determination to stand out as a woman among a sea of men and never regarding herself as any different from those said men. She has some great scenes with Tommy Lee Jones debating the purpose and importance of Rogers. By the end of the film, you are not just paying attention to the fate of Evans’ character, but Atwell’s as well. Peggy Carter is written so well, you could write a TV series about her. Wait….hold on…. anyway I digress. Hayley Atwell remains the best female character of the MCU above those we’ve seen already at this point, as well as ahead of those to come in future installments.

The villain is really just a villain with Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull. The character looks great; looks just like the source material. He’s one bad dude, but not much to him. He stands to be more powerful than Hitler, yada yada yada.

Joe Johnston directs a film with a salute towards director Steven Spielberg. Try to convince me that the opening scene is not reminiscent of the opening to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Indiana Jones seems to sprinkled about as well. Johnston doesn’t try to get cute with experimental camera shots and blurry CGI action. I think because he follows a paint by numbers approach to this film, it is all the better. He offers lots of good back story to Steve Rogers role, he gives a large cast of characters their own moments to stand out (like Bucky Barnes and the Howling Commandos) and he keeps Captain America likable and a guy to cheer for; a guy to be thankful for.

So, let’s give it up for Captain America!!!!


By Marc S. Sanders

The will to commit wrongdoing must stem from somewhere; an outside influence or perhaps a genetic makeup, or both.  I think I, Tonya suggests it’s central character suffered under the former possibility. Outsiders put former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding where she is today with a reputation forever scrutinized and forever tarnished.

Margot Robbie was unjustly denied of the 2017 Academy Award that went to a been there, done that Frances McDormand for the horrible Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Margot Robbie is one of the most beautiful and talented actresses working today. This film puts her into the stratosphere.  Robbie is unrecognizable beneath the punishing white trash persona of the infamous Tonya Harding.  She is unrecognizable in caked on makeup,  awful periodic perm haircuts, chain smoking, excess drinking and terrible dietary habits that include a shameless plug for Dove chocolate bars.  

Harding is forever notoriously linked to the knee bash heard round the world victimizing her Olympic competition, Nancy Kerrigan.  Margot Robbie does not hold back in displaying Harding’s lack of class and elegance expected in the sport of women’s figure skating.  It’s what Tonya Harding lacks that blocks her from the fame and success expected to come with being a champion athlete. Robbie is fantastic about surrendering her character’s talents for short tempered flare ups, crass behavior and a filthy mouth.  Her facial expressions are shocking.  Stretched fake, Cheshire Cat grins with bulging eyes pull at the pressure Tonya suffered under a hateful mother’s thumb, and an equally abhorrent, stupid husband.  She is forever naïve to how the judges never put her above the competition in points.  I mean this is the only woman to ever successfully accomplish the triple axle!!! 

Equally astonishing is Allison Janey as Tonya’s mother LaVona Harding, an incredibly cruel woman hell bent on making sure Tonya skates for the sole opportunity to endlessly torment her only daughter physically and, even worse, mentally.  Janey joins the exclusive club of cinematic great villains.  This is an unsympathetic woman with no drive to be better at anything except increasing her abuse upon Tonya.  It’s a shocking performance.  Janey appears so comfortable in the cruel insults, offensive language, and non stop smoking all the while her pet parrot sits atop her shoulder.  LaVona is uncompromising in how she punches, throws plates or even tosses a steak knife at her hated daughter.  What a horrible person, and what an amazing performance. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better antagonist in a film these days.

Sebastian Stan chose wisely to accept the role of Jeff Galooley.  It’s a great departure from the Marvel superhero films.  Jeff is a dumb, needy, abusive husband to Tonya; the man who admitted to being the orchestrator of the knee bash (though the movie will tell you it’s not that simply explained).  Stan should have been nominated at least.  It’s not easy to play such a dumb, real life moron, and he excels in the role. What an asshole Jeff Galooley was; what a dumb asshole actually.   He, along with his conspirators, have great chemistry in idiotic planning.  Stan really shows his best moments when he’s being reckless with his rag doll wife, Tonya.   The physical domestic fights are so well edited amid rock ballads from Fleetwood Mac, Laura Brannigan, ZZ Top, and Supertramp. 

Director Craig Gillespie follows the breakneck formula of Martin Scorsese with character interviews, racing steady cams that convinced me that Robbie is as talented a skater herself as Harding was.  She has so many levels of erratic fear, insecurity and tempers.  The method of filmmaking here seems like a slight nod to Raging Bull.  Gillespie takes advantage of all that Robbie brings to the camera.  It’s a perfect marriage of director and actor; as perfect as DeNiro & Scorsese or DiCaprio & Scorsese.  I hope Robbie & Gillespie will be teaming up again soon.

Once again, I have to ask.  How in the hell does that piece of celluloid waste called Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri get a Best Picture nomination when as far as I’m concerned, I, Tonya clearly stands much higher above it in terms of craft, writing, performance and filmmaking?????  It astounds me.

I, Tonya is without a doubt one of the ten best films of 2017.  I can’t wait to see it again.  It’s unbelievably good.  

Footnote: Do I think any differently or sympathize with Tonya Harding now that I’ve seen this depiction? I don’t think so.  She is clearly a woman who was never given a fair chance at a happy life. She was destructive to herself as much as those that surrounded her.  Yet, she had to also accept responsibility for her actions and behavior.  Any of this could have gone differently.  If only these people were not so stupid or irresponsible.  These people, Tonya Harding included, all had choices to make.  They could have chosen a different option time and again.  Despite some of the positions Craig Gillispie’s film takes, I truly believe Tonya Harding could have opted for a different path while combating her inner and outer demons.