Marvel's 'Civil War' introduces new Spider-Man
Owls Head — Captain America: Civil War (Marvel/Buena Vista, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 147 min.). Pick your side, because the Avengers are split over the Sokovia Accords, which place the superheroes under the oversight of a United Nations panel, including deciding what missions they will undertake. The ranks are increased with the addition of Spider-Man and Black Panther, and there are uniform upgrades for Ant-Man and War Machine.
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe becomes more complex, this film serves as a watershed moment. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) find themselves on opposite sides and, at the end, split even more by the revelation of a secret. Overall, the film looks at the impact the superheroes' conduct -- even though battling great evil for the common good -- has had on the people and places where those showdowns occur. As the film points out -- usually through the character of Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) -- the fight against alien invasion wreaked havoc in New York City and much of Sokovia was destroyed in the previous film. The film opens with a lesser scale lesson in collateral damage, as in the 14-minute prologue, the Avengers fight Crossbones (Frank Grillo of TV's "Kingdom") and his men in Lagos, Nigeria as they try to steal a biological weapon. When Captain America loses his Vibranium shield, he is helpless as Crossbones detonates a bomb to kill them both -- except that Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) encloses the bomb in a force field and raises it into the air. Unfortunately, the bomb destroys several floors in a nearby high-rise, killing more than a dozen innocents. Meanwhile, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is confronted by a mother whose son was killed in Sokovia.
All of this leads to the proposed Sokovia Accords, which 117 nations are going to sign during a meeting in Vienna, Austria. Iron Man, Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are willing to be subject to the accords, but Captain America does not want to give up control of his actions and is joined by Falcon (Anthony Mackie). By the time of the showdown between the superheroes -- which provides a spectacular third act in the film and includes an eye-opening new power for Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) -- Captain America is joined by Ant-Man, Scarlett Witch, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and his longtime friend Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), whom Captain has rescued after Winter Soldier was accused of a bombing. That bombing killed the King of Wakanda, and his son (Chadwick Boseman) is later revealed to be the Black Panther. Iron Man has recruited a young, naive Peter Parker (a funny, engaging Tom Holland), who is only six months into his career as Spider-Man.
Taking advantage of the ideological rift between the Avengers is another victim of collateral damage, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), who basically engineers the events that lead to the showdown between the Avengers. The film, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, is filled with wonderful action sequences. Usually I am not a fan of overly large combat scenes (for example, the most recent season of TV's "Arrow," see below), but the showdown is executed very well rather than being chaotic. There also is a lot of character development in the film, which ties up some loose ends from previous Marvel films and creates threads to go forward in future films. There is good humor in the Spider-Man and Ant-Man characters.
Blu-ray bonus features (the DVD version has none) include audio commentary by the directors and screenwriters; a two-part making-of feature (45:43), with insightful interviews with all the major actors about their characters; individual looks at how Captain America (4:11) and Iron Man (4:27) got to the point of "Civil War" through their previous films; five deleted and extended scenes (7:52); a gag reel (2:53); and an exclusive sneak preview of "Marvel's Doctor Strange," which will star Benedict Cumberbatch (4:02). By the way, Cumberbatch's co-star in "Sherlock," Martin Freeman, plays official Everett Ross in "Civil War." Holland will be featured in his own movie when "Spider-Man Homecoming" is released in July 2017. Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 3.25 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
The Conjuring 2 (Warner, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 134 min.). Writer/director James Wan is trying to bring horror back to the classic style, and I'd say he has succeeded with his second "Conjuring" film. I got genuine chills four times watching this second story about paranormal examiners Lorraine and Ed Warren, played by Vera Farmiga (TV's "Bates Motel") and Patrick Wilson (also the "Insidious" films). Wan relies on gradual buildup and creepy sequences rather than sudden noises.
The film's prologue takes place in 1976 at the well-known Amityville haunting of the Lutz house. While in a trance, Lorraine sees a little boy who leads her to the basement, where she sees an evil looking nun and a vision of her husband's death. Afterwards, she requests they take a break from investigations. However, overseas in the Enfield section of London the next year, a media storm erupts over a haunting in a council house inhabited by the Hodgson family: a divorced mother (Frances O'Connor as Peggy) and her four children, ranging in age from 14 to 9. They are, in ascending age, Billy (Benjamin Haigh), Johnny (Patrick McAuley), Janet (Madison Wolfe) and Margaret (Lauren Esposito). Janet is the child who is bothered most by the spirit, who claims to be a 72-year-old man (Bob Adrian as Bill Wilkins) who used to live in the house. Chairs start moving around on their own (even witnessed by the responding police), the TV changes channels and the remote relocates itself, and Janet starts talking in both a man's voice and possibly an evil spirit's. One truly creepy scene has a dog turned into a giant Crooked Man (Javier Botet), even though the Hoodgsons are staying at the neighbors' across the street. Another creepy scene has Lorraine fall in a trance and see the evil nun again, plus an even clearer vision of Ed's death.
During the closing credits, there is a recording of an interview with the real Janet from 1977, as well as photos of the real people next to their film counterparts and very creepy music. Extras include a making-of featurette (10:09) with Wan, the real Janet and how very documented the case was; interviews with real sisters Janet and Margaret about their experiences and their on-set reunion with the real Lorraine (Ed passed away in 2006), as well as with the Daily Mirror photographer who covered the original story (12:46); a look at creating the Crooked Man (6:44); a look at the film's music with composer Joseph Bishara (7 min.); and five deleted scenes (6:31), including other schoolchildren picking on Janet after her experience became news. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.5 stars
High-Rise (Magnet/Magnolia, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 120 min.). The married team of director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump have turned author J.G. Ballard's 1975 dystopian novel into more of a farce, which often recalls "A Clockwork Orange." The film is set in the 1970s and very definitely has the feel of that decade.
As in the book, the story is of recently-divorced doctor and medical school lecturer Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston of the "Thor" films and the miniseries "The Night Manager"). Laing moves into a new apartment on the 25th floor of a recently-completed high-rise building on the outskirts of London, although he never truly unpacks. The tower block is the first to be occupied of what will be five, designed like the fingers of a hand around a pond at its palm by architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), who lives in the penthouse on the 40th floor. For his wife, Royal has turned the rooftop into a garden, complete with several animals, including a horse. The tower has a hierarchy, with the more affluent tenants living higher up. The building provides all the conveniences and commodities that modern life has to offer, including a supermarket, hair salon, swimming pool, gymnasium and high-speed elevators. Royal intended the living arrangement to be a social experiment, bringing people together, but it actually has the opposite effect once there starts to be power outages and other problems. Laing meets fellow tenants Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), who lives one floor above him and first sees him sunbathing on his balcony, and Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), a documentary filmmaker who lives with his pregnant wife (Elisabeth Moss as Helen) and their children on the second floor.
Life begins to degenerate quickly, as the power failures help exacerbate petty grievances among neighbors and rival floors. An invasion of an upper class pool party by Wilder and a gaggle of children from a birthday party is the first domino in what becomes a chain of increasing violence, orgies and the abandonment of all social restraints. Life outside the building seems to no longer matter, even as provisions shrink to nothing within. (The classic opening line in the book and film has Laing narrating: "Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the three previous months."
During the course of the film, Laing beds a succession of women, leading one to remark: "You are definitely the best amenity in the building." Wilder, meanwhile, sets out to make a documentary about the building and is determined to storm his way to the top, so he can interview Royal. James Purefoy (of TV's "The Following") plays snob Pangbourne, who leads raids against the lower classes and is the character who most seems to belong in "A Clockwork Orange." Director Wheatley uses slow-motion interestingly at times and there are some strange montages that are unsettling. Things go very absurd at times. The filmmakers also made some unusual, striking music choices: Amon Düül II's "Fly United" plays during a party scene; Portishead does a minimalist version of Abba's "SOS" (earlier there is an instrumental version, arranged for strings); and The Fall's "Industrial State" is played during the closing credits.
Bonus features include audio commentary by Hiddleston, Wheatley and producer Jeremy Thomas; a making-of featurette (9:02) on the film's documentary approach, recreating the sense and style of the 1970s, including costumes and production design; a look at the tenants (14:15), with each actor discussing their character after Hiddleston talks about the original book (Evans says there is "a bit of Oliver Reed" in his Wilder); a brief look at bringing the book to screen (3:38); and a look at the special effects used for the "head" scene (3:36). Grade: film and extras 3 stars
The Darkness (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 92 min.). From the producers of "The Purge" and "Insidious," this supernatural thriller is somewhat of a snooze until the ending. It does have David Mazouz, looking younger than he ever has looked in TV's "Gotham," as Mikey, the autistic child of Bronny and Peter Taylor (Rodha Mitchell and a very bored-looking Kevin Bacon). He also has a sister (Lucy Fry as Stephanie), but frankly, all could be nicer to him, as they are too wrapped up in their own lives. Bronny does best by Mikey, even though the impression is Mikey is Peter's son by an earlier marriage. Peter's affairs have threatened the marriage in the past and now Peter's boorish boss (Paul Reiser as Simon) is pushing the new female employee at Peter as a "gift."
During a camping trip to the Grand Canyon, Mikey falls into a sinkhole and finds five painted stones, which he pockets, ignoring the warnings in the illustrated drawings on the cave walls. By taking the stones, Mikey has unleashed the five evil spirits -- the coyote, snake, crow, buffalo and wolf -- of the ancient Anasazi Native Americans. Soon weird things start happening around the house, such as water taps turning on by themselves and awful smells. Bronny catches on first to what might be happening and has a consultant in spirits come in for a very noisy "house cleaning" (aka exorcism). While it does not really work, it further defines the problem. The ending actually is a bit cool, with a portal opening up in Mikey's bedroom.
Extras include an alternate ending (9:01) that takes place after the consultant leaves, but makes much less sense as Bronny only throws the stones in water. It does, however, set up a sequel that would be ill-advised. There also are nine deleted scenes (9:49). Grade: film 2 stars; extras 1.5 stars
Supernatural: The Complete Eleventh Season (Warner, 4 Blu-ray or 6 standard DVDs, NR, 970 min.). Speaking of "The Darkness," that also is the name of the Big Bad in the 11th season of "Supernatural," one of my favorite shows. I am amazed and grateful it has lasted so long and continues forward.
Much of the season deals with the nature of God and how he relates to his creations. The show gives God a sister -- I do not think this has ever been done before -- and she, also known as Amara (Emily Swallow), is basically both jealous of God's (Rob Benedict) creations and angry at her brother for having her locked away for thousands of years, so she could not destroy everything. At the end of last season, the Winchesters released The Darkness when saving Dean's life. However, Amara, whom we see age through several bodies, is linked to Dean (Jensen Ackles), as she bears the original Mark of Cain. Among Amara's many tricks is sending out a fog that turns people into monsters. Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) is infected for a while. Meanwhile, in order to combat Amara, the Winchesters make a deal with the devil, aka Crowley (Mark A. Sheppard) and his witch mother, Rowena (Ruth Connell).
The series always delights with its special, fun-filled episodes. For example, episode four, "Baby," is seen entirely from the point of view of the Winchesters' Impala (by the way, a total of eight Impalas are used in the series) and in "Just My Imagination," Sam's former (apparently not-so) imaginary friend, Sully (Nate Torrence), seeks their help as other people's imaginary friends are being murdered. There also is a visit to Maine in "Thin Lizzie," and the welcome return of Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) via flashbacks in "Safe House," when he investigated a monster with Rufus Turner (Steve Williams).
There are more than four hours of bonus material, including three audio commentaries: on "Baby" by writer Robbie Thompson and director Thomas J. Wright; on "Just My Imagination" by writer Jenny Klein and director Richard Speight Jr.; and on "Don't Call Me Shurley" by writer Thompson and actors Benedict and Curtis Armstrong (he plays Metatron). Four episodes have a deleted scene, and two episodes have multiple deleted scenes. Actor Ackles discusses directing the episode, "The Bad Seed" (5:15); there is some fun in the gag reel (9:51); and the 2015 Comic-Con panel (28:45) is once more hit with a question about the death of Charlie. Three other extras are quite good, including an emotional (yes, really) look at the four winners of the fan contest and their day visiting the set (29:49; the Japanese winner makes her own show-based figurines and then stop-motion animated short films); a discussion of the battle between Amara and God (16:21); and a look at the digital special effects (8:09), including the show's version of hell and the submarine episode. Grade: season 3.75 stars; extras 3.5 stars
Arrow: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner, 4 Blu-ray or 5 standard DVDs, NR, 1018 min.). Season four of "Arrow" centered more on Team Arrow and it seemed every episode had one or two big fights with a dozen or so combatants. Frankly, those fights became a bit of a bore. Much better were Oliver Queen's (Stephen Amell) one-to-one battles with new Big Bad, Damien Darhk (Neal McDonaugh), a former League of Assassins member with magical powers and who formed The H.I.V.E. criminal organization.
At the end of last season, Queen and girlfriend Felicity Smoke (Emily Bett Rickards) left Star City with the hopes of beginning a new life, leaving John Diggle/Spartan (David Ramsey), Thea Queen/Speedy (Willa Holland) and lawyer-turned vigilante Laurel Lance/Black Canary (Katie Cassidy) to continue the fight without them. Thea's father, Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), has ascended to the top of the League of Assassins as the new Ra's al Ghul. Queen and Smoak do return, but by season's end their relationship is severely tested, although they do pose as an about-to-be-married couple to take down Cupid (Amy Gumenick), who has returned to Star City to destroy anyone in love. Also this season, another character is immersed in the resurrection pit at Nanda Parbat and the consequences are not good; John Constantine (Matt Ryan) makes a guest appearance to help out; Ray Parker (Brandon Routh) turns out to be still alive but needs rescuing from Darhk; and there is the two-episode crossover with "The Flash" that launches the spinoff series, "DC's Legends of Tomorrow." Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) also returns to Star City as Team Arrow faces off against The Calculator (Tom Amandes). There is a devastating injury to one team member and a major character dies, while Darhk, who has built an underground ark, threatens the world with nuclear annihilation.
Bonus features included deleted scenes for 10 of the episodes; a closer look at Darhk and his evil plans, aka Project Genesis (14:57); a gag reel (6:02); the 2015 Comic-Con panel (23:19), which includes Amell in character wearing his new green Arrow suit; and two featurettes (22:22 total) on the crossover event, detailing the history of Hawkman (Falk Hentschel) and Hawkgirl (Ciara Renee) in comics since the 1940s and their intertwined Egyptian beginnings with evil time traveler Vandal Savage (Casper Crump), as well as Savage's backstory. Grade: season 3 stars; extras 3.25 stars
The Flash: The Complete Second Season (Warner, 4 Blu-ray or 6 standard DVDs, NR, 1020 min.). "The Flash" quickly became one of my favorite shows due to the chemistry between its cast and a generally light-hearted tone. Season one ended with The Flash/Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) opening several singularities that led to Earth-2. One of those who crossover is Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears), who turns out to have been The Flash on Earth-2. A nice touch is his Mercury-like helmet nodding to that of the original Flash in the comics. However, Garrick brings a dire warning about an evil speedster named Zoom, whom we ultimately learns wants to take all of Allen's speed so he can become the fastest being in all the alternate realities.
An unusual twist has The Flash team working to free a kidnapped Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), then they have to look for another Firestorm match for Professor Martin Stein (Victor Garber), before all three are sent off in the crossover event with "Arrow" to become part of "DC's Legends of Tomorrow." Gorilla Grodd also gets his own episode, as does King Shark. Helping battle the latter are John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Lyla Michaels (Audrey Marie Anderson) from "Arrow." A delightful Christmas episodes pairs up villains James Jesse (Mark Hamill), Captain Cold and Weather Wizard (Liam McIntyre). Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and his daughter Iris (Candice Patton) finally get to meet his long-hidden son, Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale), who is perhaps destined to become another speedster due to his name and comics counterpart. Everyone on Earth-1 has a doppelganger on Earth-2 and some of the season's fun is meeting them in two episodes centered around a visit to Earth-2. Of course, that means there also is another Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh).
Again, there are about four hours of bonus content, including the two featurettes on Hawkman and Hawkgirl, plus Vandal Savage that also are on the "Arrow" season four collection. There are numerous brief how-did-they-do-thats for nearly every episode of "The Flash." They cover a lot of visual effects, including The Flash's digital double, creating Earth-2 with its Art Deco feel, the effects of the crossover episodes, so-called sticky situations and creating the time wraiths. Other featurettes look at Barry and his new beginnings (7:35); Garrick's helmet (4:23); the Lewis Snart story (4:13); Firestorm (4:49); King Shark (5:18); Dr. Light (5:43; the Earth-2 version, not the Earth-1 version Barry dated last season); the telepathic gorilla Grodd (6:51); the Christmas episode (4:36); and the many faces of Zoom (6:25), whose voice is provided by horror film veteran Tony Todd. Especially good is a March 14, 2015 Paleyfest panel, probably recorded between the eighth and ninth episodes of the first season (29:54), as well as Gustin's original screen tests with Emily Bett Rickards from "Arrow," as Barry Allen first appeared on that show before getting his own series (6:54). The auditions show immediate chemistry between the two actors. Finally, there is a gag reel (12:29), in which even King Shark dances; the 2015 Comic-Con panel (15:04); and a documentary on filmmaker Kevin Smith, who directed episode 21, "The Runaway Dinosaur" (51:40). Grade: season 3.75 stars; extras 3.5 stars
Scorpion: Season 2 (CBS/Paramount, 6 DVDs, NR, 17 hours 5 min.). The show about eccentric geniuses that help Homeland Security thwart threats got even better in its second season, posing some really challenging scenarios that it solved so cleverly. This is a show a brainiac can like and it has some intense action sequences as well, such as being trapped in a forest fire or having a nuclear-powered satellite on a collision course with Southern California. Sylvester Dodd (Ari Stidham) has to go undercover in a federal prison. A bit more fun is the whole team going undercover on a movie set. Of course, there is plenty of danger when Paige Dineen (Katharine McPhee) and her son Ralph (Riley B. Smith) are trapped on a runaway train. In another episode, a dam is about to collapse; then there is the time Walter O'Brien (Elyes Gabel), federal agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick) and Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong) are trapped on the bottom of the sea in a top-secret submarine. Later, Los Angeles is in danger as a massive earthquake damages a gas line. Near the season's end, the other team member, Toby Curtis (Eddie Kaye Thomas), is kidnapped. Oh yes, the team also has to break into Fort Knox to test its upgraded security.
Bonus features include an in-depth look at the story arcs and situations facing Team Scorpion during the season; a look at the most compelling visual effect sequences; a review of some of the team's geeky gadgets; a look at the creation of the comic book version of Scorpion; and actors Thomas and Wong discuss their characters' relationship in the series. There also are audio commentaries on episodes "Fish Filet" and "White Out," deleted scenes and a gag reel. Grade: season 3.75 stars
Hawaii Five-0: The Sixth Season (CBS/Paramount, 6 DVDs, NR, 18 hours 8 min.). The team, led by Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) and Danny Williams (Scott Caan), tackles a renegade stunt-bikers gang, pursues a rogue Russian spy and partners with an autistic man in a murder investigation. Chin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Kono (Grace Park) are held at gunpoint by two killers who do not know they are police, while Grover (Chi McBride) and his family suddenly disappear due to the aftermath of a 15-year-old Chicago Mob investigation. When Catherine (Michelle Borth) returns to the islands, McGarrett decides to take their relationship to the next level. One of the humorous episodes is when McGarrett and Danny attend a couples retreat to work on their partnership issues. Also, Carol Burnett returns as McGarrett's Aunt Deb.
It is a shame the series is no longer offered on Blu-ray, as the visuals of the islands remain stunningly beautiful. Bonus features include a set tour with O'Loughlin; a look at the season's stunts; a behind-the-scenes look at the season's highlights with cast and producers; a look at the show's casting; a closer look at the making of the pirate episode; audio commentaries on two episodes; deleted scenes; a music video; and a gag reel. Grade: season 3.25 stars; extras 2.75 stars