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Monday, 5 September 2016

Captain America: Civil War, Suburra and Room: Your Week In Film (September 5-11)

Super friends: Captain America and his team prepare for battle

What's worth a look on TV, DVD, Blu-ray and VOD in the next seven days?

It's little wonder Captain America: Civil War (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW cleaned up at the box office as fans of superhero movies seem to be on a permanent war footing. Whether they're chasing down critics and review aggregation sites, such as Rotten Tomatoes, for failing to hold the latest super-flick in high enough regard or squabbling with each other over which company - DC or Marvel - is best, aggro of one sort or another never seems far away. I find it all rather perplexing as I've grown increasingly ambivalent about this particular sub-genre with Civil War illustrating many of the reasons why. 

The Russo brothers' film - the year's most successful on either side of the Atlantic - sees a super-team led by Captain America (Chris Evans) battle another helmed by his Avengers comrade-in-arms Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr). The pair have fallen out following a bitter argument over whether the group should come under the jurisdiction of the US government or remain independent - Iron Man says yes, Cap says no. It boasts a couple of cracking set-pieces - one at the beginning, when various members of the team pursue a bad-guy and the biological weapon he has stolen through a crowded marketplace in Lagos, and another towards the end when both teams kick spectacular CGI lumps out of each other at an airport. The latter sequence is particularly impressive as the likes of Ant-Man/Giant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland) join the fray in the most inventive screen punch-up I've seen all year.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film simply can't measure up to these two stand-out moments. There are too many characters, many of them only of interest when they're hitting each other. Otherwise, they're either dull (Black Panther), not given much to do (Scarlet Witch), or both (The Vision). The villain of the piece - Daniel Brühl's Zemo - is similarly underwhelming (a persistent problem in recent MCU films) and the whole thing is too long and too packed with plot and incident to ultimately be anything other than a slickly-produced disappointment. 

Criminal minded: Italian mob thriller Suburra

War of a rather nastier variety is the subject of Suburra (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW½, an Italian mob thriller set on the mean streets of Rome. The city may be eternal but its criminal element are all too mortal as gang rivalries raise their ugly heads when an ambitious - and entirely crooked - plan to turn the waterfront area into the new Las Vegas causes friction for gangster and politician alike. The first half-hour is a hyper-stylised blast of torrential rain, flickering neon, brutal violence, hard drug use and explicit sex, all set to an intrusive synth score. At times it's like Nicolas Winding Refn having a seizure. Thankfully, it soon settles down into a densely-plotted, utterly gripping and splendidly operatic piece of work in which vengeance is the order of the day and a scrap of decency or morality seems impossible to find. 

Stefano Sollima (Gomorrah) turns the bombast up to 11 as he cleverly plays with themes of apocalypse and judgement, while extracting terrific performances from a very fine ensemble cast, most notably Pierfrancesco Favino as corrupt politician Filippo Malgradi and Claudio Amendola as the enigmatic godfather figure 'Samurai'. It's all about as subtle as a brick but, if you're a fan of classic mafia films such as The Godfather trilogy and Goodfellas, I have every confidence you'll love it.

Childhood's end: Jacob Tremblay is superb in Room

My main problem with Steve Jobs (Friday, 13:45 and 20:00, Sky Cinema, also available on NOW TV) WW½ has nothing to do with the directing, acting or script and everything to do with the titular character himself who, as Alex Gibney's Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine documentary makes clear, was deeply dysfunctional. Unpleasant to his employees and colleagues, horrible to his estranged partner (Katherine Waterston) and daughter, perhaps some of his appalling behaviour may have been forgivable if the late Apple co-founder (played here by Michael Fassbender) had been a great leader of men or wonderful philanthropist. But he wasn't - he was little more than a savvy salesman with a genuine flair for marketing computers. Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are happy to explore Jobs' myriad flaws but, this being Hollywood, can't quite resist giving him a largely unearned final-act redemption. All that said, there is still a lot to like here, particularly some terrific performances (Seth Rogen, of all people, is the stand-out as Steve Wozniak) and its unusual structure (three separate parts, each one set behind the scenes at the launch of a different Apple product). Sorkin's screenplay, meanwhile, is probably the best thing he's written since The West Wing. Unfortunately, I couldn't shake the feeling all that talent may have been better employed on a biopic of someone both more interesting and deserving.

Brie Larson deservedly won this year's Best Actress Oscar for Room (from Friday, Amazon Prime Video) WWW, but it was quite dispiriting that her child co-star, Jacob Tremblay, didn't get so much as a nomination nod from the Academy in the Best Actor category. Larson plays 'Ma', a young woman who, some years before, has been kidnapped and held prisoner by a Fritzl-esque middle-aged man who uses her for sex. The fruit of their forced union - Jack (Tremblay) - is now five years old and Ma, increasingly concerned for her son's future in their garden-shed prison, concocts an escape plan. It's very much a film of two halves - both very good. The first part explores Ma and Jack's lives in their cell and the ingenious but heartbreaking way in which his mother has tried to keep the horror of their situation away from her son. The second part is set post-escape as Ma suffers with PTSD and young Jack struggles to come to terms with his new life. Lenny Abrahamson's film is about hope and escape but its spine is the superhuman strength of the mother/son bond which Larson and Tremblay sell so beautifully. To give a performance as emotionally rich and believable as this at eight years old (the age Tremblay was when Room was filmed) is truly something special. Alas, Eddie Redmayne's cack-handed turn as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe and Leonardo DiCaprio wrestling a pretend bear were clearly far more impressive... 

Your best bet on terrestrial TV this week is United 93 (Saturday, 22:45, ITV) WWWWPaul Greengrass's 9/11 drama focusing on the hijacking of United Airlines flight 93 out of Newark by members of Al Qaeda. An astonishing film about bravery and sacrifice, the Bourne supremo delivers an incredibly tense cinematic experience even though we all know how the story ends. I remember seeing the film on its original release back in 2006 and, when it was over, realised I'd been gripping my seat's armrests for dear life. Hopefully, ITV won't screw it up too much with endless ad breaks.*

Ratings
WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

* They will, so maybe rent it or buy it instead, eh?

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