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CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

Marvel has done something truly ingenious (and evil!) with Captain America: Civil War, which is present all of its current characters as barely likable—seemingly everyone seemed to live long enough to see themselves become the villain—so much so that the new characters seem increasingly likable by comparison, guaranteeing I will see whatever new origin story comes out.

This is a long-winded way of saying how much I love Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.

We live in an age where it seems like every movie knows it’s a movie; Marvel films, in particular, have gotten aggressively self-aware over time. They love to wink at their audience. They want us to know what they’re doing. While Captain America: Civil War is certainly one of the stronger films in the franchise, I wish it was self-aware enough to know that it meanders. It hems and haws. It thinks it’s more interesting than it actually is. That’s fine, because when it’s fun, it is legitimately fun. The rest of it, however, is just a movie and really ought to know it.

Rating (on a system of 4 stars): Two and a half stars. This movie is two and a half hours long.

HIGH-RISE

©BFI

Too many dogs die in this movie for me to say anything nice about it.

Rating: One star. Luke Evans is having a great time.

GOAT

© Killer Films

First thing’s first: Nick Jonas is a good actor. I don’t know when this was a thing we were supposed to realize, but it’s true now and it always will be.

Goat is already one of the finest movies I’ve seen this calendar year. It’s a deeply sympathetic and haunting look inside the American fraternity system and its ritualistic hazing under the guise of brothership. Its protagonist, Brad (the very good Ben Schnetzer), is the victim of a violent carjacking the summer before he is supposed to start his freshman year of college. He spends his summer recovering before joining his older brother Brett both at school and at his fraternity.

It will be easy for the marketing team to sell this as a movie about how horrifying fraternity hazing can be, which is fine, but the movie isn’t not about that. Goat was about post-traumatic stress disorder;  about violence. It understands that an attack is never just an attack. We say “accident” about things that are fully purposeful. Violence does not exist in a bubble; it’s everywhere. Brad carries his wounds with him, openly displaying them on occasion (much to the discomfort of his friends and family) and sometimes burying them so deep you wouldn’t know both his eyes had nearly swollen shut. He looks at his injured face multiple times on his phone. He can’t forget it. It can’t be unseen.

Goat is not perfect—can any movie with an extended James Franco cameo be considered perfect?—but it is true and thoughtful where it counts. I carried my own wounds with me out of the theater.

Rating: 3 stars. Nick Jonas didn’t go to college in real life but he could have fooled me!

MY BLIND BROTHER

To see My Blind Brother a day apart from Goat was an unexpected but fascinating pairing. This film, a comedy, with Adam Scott, Nick Kroll, and Jenny Slate, is a much more subversive and almost farcical take on trauma and pain. The movie explores the relationship between two brothers—Robbie (Adam Scott) who is handsome, athletic, and blind—and Bill (Nick Kroll), who is lazy and somewhat manipulative. Because this is a movie, they find themselves in love with the same woman, Rose (Jenny Slate), who is mourning the loss of an ex-boyfriend for whom she feels responsible for killing.

My Blind Brother is about being good and being bad and the things we do to make each other feel a certain way. Whereas Goat is a movie about pain and how it is inflicted, My Blind Brother is about guilt. These characters carry their shame and their disabilities with them, and do what they can to erase those things from themselves. Guilt is toxic. These characters try to make each other feel good, not out of a goodness, but out of a desire not to hurt. It’s just as dangerous and painful.

I don’t know if My Blind Brother is very good (which probably means it isn’t), but it is a nice little character study if nothing else. It was a glass of lemonade of a movie: sweet, tart, necessary on a warm day. It’s not permanent, but most things aren’t.

Rating: Two and a half stars. It’s just nice to see funny people all together. 🙂

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP

© Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions

In high school, we had a month to read one of seven books. There were some Brontës, there was a Hardy, there were some Austens. I vehemently refused to read Jane Austen and opted, instead, for the Dostoevsky. I thought I had something to prove. The truth was: I had nothing to prove, I did not enjoy Crime & Punishment, and when I finally read Pride & Prejudice in college, I was furious at myself for waiting so long.

Jane Austen is not funny if you are a woman. Jane Austen is funny, period. Her works are funny, and Whit Stillman successfully brings an unfinished novella to life in Love & Friendship. Led by the phenomenal Kate Beckinsale as the flirtatious, manipulative, narcissistic sociopath Lady Susan, Love & Friendship is about all the havoc one woman can cause just by talking. I laughed so hard during this movie. It is a treat. You owe it to yourself to enjoy Jane Austen. You have nothing to prove.

Rating: Three stars. A nice time!

STREAMING: IN THE LOOP (2009)

I rewatch this movie at least twice a year. It’s always perfect.

Rating: Infinite stars.