Gifted (2017)

Released: April 14, 2017. Directed by: Marc Webb. Starring: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan. Runtime: 1h 41 min. 

Marc Webb’s first return to indie after directing the two Amazing Spider-Man films is remarkable, and it’s also refreshing that Chris Evans does intimate indies like this in between his Captain America outings.

In Gifted, a sweet family dynamic is explored as a single man Frank Adler (Evans) is raising his niece in a small Florida town. His niece, seven-year-old Mary (Mckenna Grace) isn’t like other children at all; she’s a child prodigy in mathematics. She’s been homeschooled the first part of her life after her mother died, and now Frank is realizing she doesn’t have great social skills and puts her in first grade in public school.

Frank’s drawn into a custody battle with his estranged mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), because once Evelyn learns that Mary’s a prodigy – she wants to bring her into a life dedicated to mathematics.

The custody battle drives the plot and it’s interesting because there’s merit to both arguments. Evelyn doesn’t want Mary’s potential to be wasted, and Frank’s fighting to give Mary a normal childhood even though she’s an extraordinary little girl. Lindsay Duncan is great as Frank’s mom, the character’s hard but she has good moments in the role, and even though she’s the opposition of the custody battle, it’s so well-written that there’s still some sympathy for the character. It’s intriguing seeing the backstory of her relationships with her children.

Gifted - Mckenna, Chris

Mckenna Grace and Chris Evans in Gifted. (Source)

As for the main cast, the chemistry between Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace is magical. You wholly believe they’re uncle and niece and the development of their relationship and characters is great. Their fights tug at the right heartstrings and the film’s a true tear-jerker. The chemistry also helps a predictable story become one of 2017’s most charming films.

Mckenna Grace is also a great young actress, and since she lost her two front teeth before filming, she’s that much cuter. She’s funny and captures the sass and attitude in the role. It’s funny when she’s sassy not because she’s adorable, but that the lines are so good and she has so much energy that it’s so much fun watching her. She’s just like a real kid having fun, and like her character, just trying to be a kid. She also has a convincing emotional range.

The character makes math fun because she’s so passionate about it and when Frank tries to close her homework so she plays outside, she just opens another book. Her hunger to learn is almost contagious.

Chris Evans is also fantastic. The character’s strong because he’s vulnerable and realistic, since he doesn’t know what he’s doing but he’s trying his best. He wants what’s best for Mary, and he’s trying to raise Mary how he thinks his sister would have wanted. He’s fighting for normalcy for her. I also loved how he doesn’t try to influence her when forming opinions and wants her to choose things for herself and grow her independence. He’s becoming a bit of a new superhero, fighting for his niece.

There’s a scene where Frank and Mary are silhouettes in front of a sunset on a Florida beach (well, it’s filmed in Georgia) and Frank is holding her hand and Mary’s walking up his legs. They’re having a conversation that shows that Frank doesn’t want to influence her beliefs in anything. Their chemistry and Marc Webb’s direction make this little charming scene because it’s so intimately done and so human. It’s engaging and unique, and it works so well because their relationship feels so convincing.

Gifted - Mckenna, Octavia

Octavia Spencer and Mckenna Grace in Gifted. (Source)

It’s also little scenes like this and scenes like Mary singing with neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer) that make this so damn charming and memorable. The movie’s a drama and while it’s sappy, the sentiments ring true and you get lost in everything the characters go through.

Some of the film’s heartbreaking and there’s a lot of funny material and some big laughs. It’s one of those films that I can say made me laugh and cry, and it has a surprising ability to do both at the same time. This is just such an engaging custody battle and a story about trying to be a good parent and doing what’s best for your kid.

The supporting cast’s also memorable. Jenny Slate (Zootopia) is Mary’s teacher Bonnie and she’s part of some funny moments. Octavia Spencer is good friends with Frank and Mary and their landlady. She has a lot of big laughs, too, and she’s a delight to watch. There’s also a one-eyed cat named Fred that’s a scene-stealer.

The story’s sometimes predictable but it has a few surprises, and the performances and engaging story it tells make it a film not to be missed – even if math bores the hell out of you.

Score: 90/100

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America - The Winter SoldierReleased: April 4, 2014. Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo. Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson. Runtime: 136 min.

The superhero niche genre isn’t my favourite. My expectations for them aren’t usually major, unless they’re X-Men or Batman movies. Sometimes there is an exception, and that comes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the third entry in Marvel’s Phase Two set of films. It’s a smart film that deals with threats to S.H.I.E.L.D. I like how the universe fits its films into the more epic narrative, and even though there are different stories to expand each character, they all make sense. In this film, Captain America (Chris Evans) struggles to find his place in the modern world, as he deals with a major threat from old history: a Soviet agent called the Winter Soldier.

It’s interesting that the film has its title named after the villain of the film, who is great, by the way. (I think it’s better if I keep the villain as a bit mysterious by not talking about him much.) It seems to me that it indicates things are going to be different. Indeed, the stakes in this film are higher and it feels like there’s a sense of urgency throughout. The themes of the film make this feel like a cool Special Ops movie, so it’s practically The Bourne Identity of the Marvel universe, just with less martial arts. But there is a brief scene with martial artist Georges St. Pierre, which is fun to watch. I love the action of the film, and the light humour throughout. It makes the film extremely entertaining. The score complements the great action scenes. My expectations were filled because this is a fun and entertaining popcorn picture, but also something I’d like to watch again.

This is engaging because of the great action,  as well as a story that flows well. The film’s surrounding story is strong, and much more memorable than the Cap’s first outing. Thank goodness that there’s less of that short version of Chris Evans… The CGI effects make his head look way too big for his body, and because of it he looks so disproportionate. It creeps me out. Chris Evans is charismatic as the Captain. I really like him as an actor. The character of Steve Rogers is great, I think, because he has to adjust to a vastly different time period, and he has some conflicting self battle layers which makes him more engaging. A heart-warming scene shared with him and Peggy Carter shows his kind side.

Evans has a great chemistry with all of his cast members, especially with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow who share a lot of jokes together. This film makes me more interested to learn of Widow’s past. Johansson rocks the role because she’s mysterious, sexy and just overall awesome. The two characters work really well together, and they seem to be alike in a lot of ways. One way being that they’re both badasses. Samuel L. Jackson fills is great as usual as the kick-ass Nick Fury. Anthony Mackie has a charismatic turn as his character. Robert Redford fills a supporting role. He does a serviceable job, but he’s never great.

The film as a whole is a lot more memorable than Redford. What I think makes this more memorable than Marvel’s usual film is that the story is more attractive to a global audience, and not just fans of super hero films. It’s focused and tonally sync, and the character of Steve Rogers is relate-able enough to almost be average in some ways. It’s an attractive thing about the film.

Score85/100

The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers

Release Date: May 4, 2012

Director: Joss Whedon

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans

Runtime: 143 min

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) make The Avengers. This film is pretty sweet.

The Avengers assemble to face off against the god of mischief himself, Loki (portrayed by Tom Hiddleston).

What does The Avengers have? Awesome visual effects; great characters; great direction; not the best plot. I can’t think of any other villains that they could have fought against, well villains of these superheroes. Magneto or a Batman villain could have worked, but of course that goes out of their section of villains. I just wasn’t feeling the alien invasion thing. Though, the action was incredible – and it prevented the viewer from becoming bored. The gags were really funny, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk added charisma to the film. The film casts a big box office shadow for upcoming super hero films like The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises, so hopefully those don’t disappoint (I know those have came out, but I wrote this review a while back).

The only flaw of the film for me was the villain of the film, but the ensemble that is the Avengers is really great and the action sequences are really well done.

I really like the ensemble here, I’ve seen a minority of the films that led up to this (I’ve seen Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, but still have to see Iron Man 2 – I couldn’t get into the first – and The Incredible Hulk).

My expectations were high, from hearing all of the awesome things about it, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.  And I also viewed the film in 2D and not 3D, in which it was made for, so that may have taken away from my enjoyment. Granted, the film is still better than one’s average super hero film and was still really enjoyable and not overly flawed.

90/100