Posts Tagged ‘Marisa Tomei’

Captain America Civil War (2016)

Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl

For the last eight years, since the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the clear favorite in terms of an individual character has been Tony Stark/Iron Man. But, in truth, his movies have only been as good as their lead actor. Remove Robert Downey, Jr. from the equation, and the “Iron Man” franchise is left with mostly average stories to tell. On the other hand the “Captain America” franchise, while it too needed the right guy in the pivotal role, has been less dependent on Chris Evans than its great storytelling. Steve Rogers’ journey from movie to movie has been unlike any that his fellow Avengers have experienced, and none have thus achieved the personal growth that Steve has. That streak continues in “Captain America: Civil War.”

Avengers team members Steve Rogers/Captain America, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) prevent the theft of biological weapons material in Lagos, Nigeria, but at too high a price. The terrorist Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), an enemy of Cap’s left over from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” chooses death by suicide bomb over being captured. Wanda does her best to contain the blast, but it still levels a nearby building, resulting in the deaths of many civilians. The team is later paid a visit by Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) who lets them know that the United Nations are drafting a resolution which, when passed, will give the UN control over exactly when and where the Avengers can do their world policing. The news fragments the team philosophically, especially when Tony Stark/Iron Man reveals his intention to sign the accords. Stark is more motivated than most given that it was his creation, the artificial intelligence known as Ultron, which destroyed the Eastern European nation of Sokovia (Wanda Maximoff’s home country) only one year prior. Steve, whose once unyielding faith in his government has become irreparably shattered by mounting betrayals, outright refuses to sign.

Natasha attends the meeting in Vienna where the accords are meant to be finalized, and in the process meets King T’Chaka of Wakanda… whose country suffered several casualties in the incident in Nigeria… and his son, Prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). Another terrorist bombing claims the life of the King, and evidence points to Rogers’ old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) a.k.a. the Winter Soldier, a former Hydra sleeper agent who still has yet to shake off his brainwashing. With the limited evidence at hand, T’Challa vows revenge while Steve wants to bring his friend in before the authorities make good on their threat to shoot on sight. The ensuing battle, which also includes Sam Wilson, leads to all four superpowered men being placed under arrest.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, a Sokovian named Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is in the process of setting his own sequence of plans in motion. He kills the man he used to pose as Barnes for the Vienna bombing as well as Barnes’ former Hydra handler. Next, Zemo maneuvers his way into the Berlin holding facility where Bucky is being held and poses as an interrogating officer. There’s something locked away inside Bucky’s mind… something having to do with a mission he’d performed as the Winter Soldier in 1991… that Zemo needs to know about. Once Zemo gets what he needs, he activates Bucky’s brainwashing to cover his own escape. Eventually, Steve is able to subdue and extract his friend, and discovers what information Zemo was after: the location of a base in Siberia where other Winter Soldiers are currently in cryostasis.

Unwilling to submit to the whims of government approval, Steve assembles the members of the Avengers whom are sympathetic to his cause and they head for the airport. In addition to Rogers, Barnes, Wilson, and Maximoff, this team also includes Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). A government-approved team of Avengers intercepts and engages them. Led by Tony Stark/Iron Man, this team includes Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, T’Challa/Black Panther, James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), the Vision (Paul Bettany), and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), the latter of whom Tony traveled to Queens, New York to recruit. Why Tony couldn’t have made a stop in nearby Hell’s Kitchen while he was at it is beyond me… The resulting spectacular battle results in most of Team Captain America being arrested, while Steve and Bucky escape to Siberia. Team Iron Man, meanwhile, suffers one casualty: An errant blast by the Vision results in Rhodey being partially paralyzed. Natasha, who fought for Tony’s team, regardless must flee after facilitating Steve and Bucky’s departure.

Tony follows Steve and Bucky to Siberia, with T’Challa stealthily trailing behind. There, the other super soldiers are discovered dead, each of them shot through the head by Zemo while still in cryostasis. Zemo doesn’t want an army of super soldiers. Hardly. All he is interested in is revenge against the Avengers for the death of his family, casualties of the team’s climactic battle with Ultron in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” He means for the team to fall apart from within. Aided by footage of a grim 1991 incident, meaningful to Tony and perpetrated by a brainwashed Bucky, Zemo’s plan succeeds. With Tony pitted against Steve and Bucky, the three are nearly killed in the ensuing fight, and wind up going their separate ways. Meanwhile, satisfied that his plan has worked, Zemo moves to attempt suicide, but is halted by T’Challa, who declares that he has decided to forego revenge for his father’s death. It is also strongly implied that T’Challa aids in the jailbreak of Steve’s team, thus turning them into what Marvel Comics fans will recognize as the “Secret Avengers.”

The same shades of grey that drove “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” exist here. Certainly we all have our favorite between Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America, but in the story presented in “Captain America: Civil War,” it’s not as easy to take sides as you might think. None of the heroes come off as being entirely righteous. Sure, everyone means well, but they are all of them misguided. Even Helmut Zemo, the film’s antagonist, is not your typical black hat villain. Has he done horrible things? Certainly. But he is not an entirely unsympathetic character either, which is more than you can say for most of Marvel’s one-and-done bad guys.

“Captain America” is a rarity among superhero franchises. Unlike most which find themselves starting to decline by the third chapter, this one has only gotten stronger. 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” by virtue of being a WWII-era adventure, remains Marvel’s most aesthetically pleasing film. However, in terms of scale, character-growth, and for what it symbolizes in regards to securing the future of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, none has more successfully dotted its I’s and crossed its T’s than “Captain America: Civil War.” In fact, it is the new faces which are the most enjoyable parts of this movie. Whatever degree of interest I had in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Black Panther” was magnified by the impressive appearances of Peter Parker and T’Challa in “Civil War.” In particular, Tom Holland’s wisecracking teenage Peter Parker is really spot-on. I look forward to more from him and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, who also has a short scene). More time is needed to be able to tell how well that “Captain America: Civil War” will hold up against repeat viewings, but I foresee no problems for this, one of Marvel’s greatest cinematic achievements.

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The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Directed by: Michael Herz & Lloyd Kaufman

Starring: Mitch Cohen, Mark Torgl, Andree Maranda, Pat Ryan Jr., Jennifer Babtist, Robert Prichard, Cindy Manion, Gary Schneider

In 1984, a low-budget horror movie laid the groundwork for the future of an entire film studio. No, not “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” This monster flick, which can officially be referred to as a horror comedy, even spawned a kid-friendly cartoon series. Nope, not “Ghostbusters.” We’re talking about “The Toxic Avenger.” Troma Entertainment’s pride and joy, “The Toxic Avenger” marked a change in direction for the company, which had until that time focused mainly on sex comedies. In the 30+ years since, Troma has primarily relied on the horror genre while still producing comic gold. Though it failed to catch on at first, this radioactive cult classic has since acquired a massive fanbase and continues to fascinate newcomers to this day.

Melvin Ferd (Mar Torgl) is a skinny, big-toothed nerd working as the janitor of a health club located in one of the shitholes of the world: the fictional town of Tromaville, New Jersey. This crime-ridden city is the kind where the same young punks who torment Melvin at the health club also routinely commit vehicular homicide. One day, the tricks they play on Melvin go one step too far… out of a second story window and into an open vat of toxic waste. What should kill Melvin instead transforms him like some kind of comic book superhero into the muscle-bound, violence prone Toxic Avenger (Mitch Cohen), or Toxie for short. Fortunately for Tromaville, Toxie is able to focus his need to smash things on those who truly deserve it. His first victims, a gang of drug dealers threatening to castrate a cop, are left with mops placed over their lifeless faces as a sort of calling card. His second set of victims are a group of robbers terrorizing customers at a fast food restaurant. Toxie escorts a beautiful blonde blind woman named Sarah (Andree Maranda) from the scene after dispatching of the villains, who killed Sarah’s seeing-eye dog. Eventually, Toxie and Sarah will form a romantic relationship.

As with any superhero who became what they are due to the actions of a villainous foe, so must eventually come the hero’s revenge. If Toxie actually kills the two girls from the group of hit and run artists, neither death is actually shown. He burns Wanda (Jennifer Babtist)’s rear end with a sauna heater and corners Julie (Cindy Manion) in the basement of the health club wielding a pair of scissors. In any case, neither is ever seen again, so they may as well be dead. There is no ambiguity in the fates of Bozo (Gary Schneider) and Slug (Robert Prichard, who resembles Corey Feldman from “The Lost Boys” with that red bandana). They are both killed after stealing a car from an old woman.

While many become fans of Toxie’s actions, not everyone is amused. Corruption moves all the way up to the top in this town, and the obese Mayor Belgoody wants to put a stop to it before he’s next on Toxie’s hit list. He makes his move while Toxie is experiencing a crisis of conscience, and finds him in a tent with Sarah at a secluded spot outside the city. Bringing the National Guard with him, the Mayor moves in for the kill, but he hadn’t counted on the citizens of Tromaville standing in the way as a human shield. The Mayor is ultimately killed when Toxie rips out his guts.

It wouldn’t truly be a classic early 80’s horror flick if there weren’t at least one future Hollywood star present. In the Director’s Cut, as Toxie first begins his pursuit of Julie inside the health club, a young dark-haired woman draped in a blue towel is briefly shown walking in, screaming at the top her lungs at the very sight of Toxie and then running away as fast as her legs will carry her. That young lady is none other than future Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei.

After hearing about it for years, I finally saw “The Toxic Avenger” for the first time in 2015 on Netflix. Knowing that there were sequels, I sought them out soon after. Let’s just say I was unimpressed by “Part II,” never finished “Part III,” and so have never gotten around to watching the fourth film in the series. I think I’ve seen enough to reason that there never should have been any sequels. The original “Toxic Avenger,” on the other hand, is better than I could have imagined. It establishes exactly the right over-the-top tone in order to get away with some of its more daring plot points, such as the gruesome hit-and-run murder of a kid on a bicycle. It is such campy fun that I was compelled to own it on DVD. I personally thank Lloyd Kaufman and all else involved for dreaming it up and bringing it to life. You want a more ringing endorsement than that? How about this, then: “The Toxic Avenger” is one of those precious few movies that you MUST see before you die.

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Director: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

Beginning with the early 1990’s, I have been a fan of professional wrestling. Even though the quality of this male soap opera has been in decline since about 2004 and I no longer regularly watch the TV shows, I still like to keep tabs on the goings-on. So when I heard about the production of the movie “The Wrestler,” I was ready for it, and went with a friend to see it theatrically. The only thing that had me worried was the director. I had seen only two Darren Aronofsky films up to that point. Unlike pretty much everyone else I’ve ever talked to about it, I was unimpressed by the bleak world of drug addiction presented in 2000’s “Requiem for a Dream” and, quite frankly, confused by what I interpreted as a rather pretentious centuries-spanning tale in 2006’s “The Fountain.” Sitting down to watch “The Wrestler” changed all of my concerns forever.

When we first meet Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), he is living in a rented trailer that he frequently is locked out of due to being late on his payments to his landlord. Randy has reached an age when most in his line of work, professional wrestling, either retire or take on a managerial role. But Randy is determined to hang on to his glory days when he was main-eventing at Madison Square Garden. If that means performing in a Hardcore match (i.e. a match in which tables, ladders, chairs, thumbtacks, staple guns, and other blunt and/or breakable instruments are all legal), then so be it. But, because the wrestling gigs are only part-time and he needs the money, Randy is forced to take a second job behind a supermarket deli counter.

While all this is going on, Randy is also trying to start a relationship with his stripper friend Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). Like Randy, she is also is considered old for her job (even if she doesn’t look it). Randy signs up for a rematch to take place some weeks down the road against his old rival from 20 years ago, The Ayatollah (played by real-life wrestler Ernest Miller). But he suffers a major setback when he has a heart attack after another match, and this is where the real heart of the story begins. His doctor informs him that he can’t wrestle anymore, and so Randy must now work full-time at the supermarket. Reflecting on his life, the one regret he always had when his career was at its peak was that he missed out on the formative years of his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). Cassidy suggests that he should try to repair his relationship with Stephanie, and he takes her advice. Mickey Rourke plays his scenes with Evan Rachel Wood with such feeling and intensity that my heart breaks for the guy, especially when Randy lets Stephanie down again, she says, for the last time.

Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei were nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress at the 81st Academy Awards. Though I believe both were quite deserving, neither took home the Oscar that night. The soundtrack for “The Wrestler,” like  Randy “The Ram”, is nostalgic of the 1980’s. “Metal Health” by Quiet Riot sets the mood during the opening credits, and I’ll leave you to guess the significance when Scorpions’ “Animal Magnetism” is playing. Even Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is a welcome addition, as it was Mickey Rourke’s entrance music during his boxing career.

The character of Randy “The Ram” Robinson is compiled from more than one real-life wrestler. Chief among them are Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Terry Funk, but the life of Scott Hall has since taken a disturbingly familiar turn, including but not limited to his on again/off again relationship with his son. For Randy’s in-ring rivalry with The Ayatollah, you need only look toward the early 80’s Hulk Hogan/Iron Sheik rivalry to draw your comparisons.

If ever there was an anti-Rocky Balboa, it can be found here in Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Whereas Rocky, in 2006’s “Rocky Balboa,” went looking for one last fight only to put to rest his inner demons, Randy is as addicted to his career as he is to the drugs he pollutes his body with to maintain his physique. Even the endings to “The Wrestler” and 1976’s “Rocky” are complete polar opposites. It doesn’t matter if the doctors are right and Randy will die in the ring. Wrestling has already claimed his life.