For Hollywood, summer begins in May (and we have had the weather to prove it) so blockbuster season kicks off this week with another big superhero/explosion flick. Good news though, Marvel's Captain America: Civil War is better than DC's recent Batman vs Superman even if the two flicks do share a similar theme: with all the collateral damage from their city-levelling super battles, is humanity better off without superheroes?
Although he's one of the oldest Marvel heroes, Steve "Captain America" Rogers has never really been considered one of the coolest. He's a by-the-book goody-goody fighting to preserve the American Dream and most of his best moments in the comics are either nostalgic or involve "Cap" fighting another Marvel icon over the semantics of heroism.
For Civil War it's the latter, with the Avengers divided into two camps and it's safe to say the cinematic Captain America is much more engaging than the four-colour comic one. Marvel has always had a hard time getting decent villains for its movies, so having the heroes fight amongst themselves is actually a good strategy.
And for the most part it works. Don't expect a dissertation on the ethics of violence and war, but Captain America: Civil War does deliver. After another wrecking ball of a battle the U.S. secretary of state demands UN sanctions on the Avengers' unbridled power. Iron Man can dig it, Captain America cannot. He fears that politics can get in the way of justice — and in a U.S. election year there is plenty of thematic potential to be found in a film about the greatest American heroes beating the tar out of each other just so they can decide how to fight the bad guys.
Marvel never takes things quite that deep, but TV sitcom-experienced directors Joe and Anthony Russo adeptly weave the multiple characters and plotlines in with plenty of balls-to-the-walls action and camerawork that complements each character's personality.
At 146 minutes, Captain America: Civil War is a touch long and sticks to the "action/humour/destroy-a-city" Marvel formula a little too completely, but overall it's a fun way to kick off the summer as well as provide a nice tease for (finally) a Black Panther film and the next Spider-Man reboot.
Also opening this week at the Village 8, Eye in the Sky also tackles the collateral damage issue with Dame Helen Mirren and Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul on opposite ends of a drone-warfare counterterrorism thriller dilemma. Mirren plays the for-the-greater-good military officer, with Paul as the guy who will ultimately have to pull the trigger.
As a "war room" movie there is not a lot of traditional action in Eye in the Sky but director Gavin Wood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) tackles the ethics head on and in the process crafts a masterful 100-minute example of how to create suspense. This is a perfect flick for those less drawn to the spectacle of Civil War.
On the small screen, the 99-cent download of the week comes from iTunes and a genre we don't see enough of — the horror documentary. Directed by Rodney Ascher (Room 237) The Nightmare is an exploration of "sleep paralysis" — an actual condition where people are trapped between sleep and being awake and experience terrifying nightmares/hallucinations that feel 100 per cent real (think Nightmare on Elm Street, but real).
Ascher interviews eight people who suffer from the disorder and re-enacts their stories of terror with surprising horror efficiency. Is there anything freakier than lying in bed, unable to move and watching one or more "shadow men" creep their way across your bedroom? You can't move, you can't scream, you can't even breathe.
The film's interviews get a bit repetitive after a while and it would have been nice to have more (any) scientific discussion about what is actually happening inside the brain while these attacks occur but The Nightmare is definitely worth 99 cents and a late night popcorn.
And if you want to get really bummed out Requiem for the American Dream features really-smart-dude-that-no-one-in-power-listens-to Noam Chomsky outlining why the distribution of wealth, or rather the concentration of it among the global elite, is killing the middle class and may ultimately be the undoing of Western civilization as we know it. Heavy, but important. You gotta know what's wrong if you are gonna try to fix it. Kids, this one is the download of the week.