Captain America: The Winter Soldier is filled — and I mean jam-packed — with genre-bending, action-heavy, sportily tense and relentlessly sinuous, sky-high-concept and maniacally bonkers stuff. Polygonal mayhem that aims, and impressively so, to top the Marvel lot in ideas, deconstructing every thriller staple from government corruption to talking computers to odd couple agents gone rogue. But oddly enough, the moment in the Cap sequel that I find most arresting several weeks after seeing the film is our peaceful reunion with Steve Rogers, trotting merrily around the Washington Monument as the sun rises on our nation's capital.
The scene is shot from far overhead, a low pulse/high spirits Chris Evans reduced to a shapeless blur as he repeatedly (but politely!) laps fellow jogger and veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)... and yet it might be the closest we feel to Cap throughout the movie.
The Winter Soldier has a lot to worry about in the delivery of its content. Managing a plot as ambitious and multifaceted as its own, with themes as grand as the scope of the American mentality — as represented by Steve Rogers, raised in the good old days of gee-golly-jingoism — it doesn't always have the faculties to devote to humanizing its central troupe. Cap isn't left hollow, but his battles with the dark cloud of contemporary skepticism play more like an intriguing Socratic discussion than an emotional arc. Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, a character who ran circles around her Avengers co-players in flavor, feels a bit shortchanged in that department here (in her closest thing to a starring role yet, no less).
Mackie's Falcon, a regular joe who is roped into the calamity thanks largely to his willingness to chat with a fellow runner — a rare skill, honestly — is less of a problem. He doesn't have much to do, but he does it all well enough. Dynamic though he may be, Mackie keeps things bridled as Cap's ad-hoc sidekick, playing up the along-for-the-ride shtick rather than going full (or even half) superhero. We might want more from him, knowing just how fun he can be, but it's a sating dose. The real hunger is for more in the way of Black Widow, Cap, and — perhaps most of all — the titular villain.
Still, these palpable holes pierce through a film that gets plenty right. As elegantly as Joe Johnston did the Spielberg thing back in 2011, Joe and Anthony Russo take on the ballots of post-innocence. They aren't afraid to get wild and weird, taking The Winter Soldier through valleys that feel unprecedented in superhero cinema. We're grateful for the invention here — for Robert Redford's buttoned-up Tom Clancy villain, for the directors' aggressive tunneling through a wide underworld of subterranean corruption, and especially for one scene in an army bunker that amounts to the most charmingly bats**t crazy reveal in any Marvel movie yet. We might be most grateful, though, for a new take on Nick Fury; here, the franchise gives Samuel L. Jackson his best material by a mile.
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But in the absence of definitive work done in our heroing couple, a pair rich in fibers but relegated to broad strokes and easy quips in this turn, most of it amounts to a fairly good spy thriller, not an ace-in-the-whole neo-superhero masterpiece... which, justly or otherwise, is what we've come to expect and demand from these things.
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When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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The spy show Covert Affairs has begun the second part of its season with Piper Perabo's Annie Walker living undercover under the pretense of her death at the hands of Hill Harper's character Calder Michaels. The question is: has the show already reached a creative impasse by doing something like this?
Sure, Walker dyes her hair brown to do her operation, but she doesn't do anything else to radically alter her appearance. You know, like maybe cut her hair or wear it in a different style... maybe add some jewelry in different places like a nose ring. No, she just looks like Annie Walker...with brown hair. "Um. No. I am NOT Annie Walker. I'm her twin...um. Fannie Walker. That's right. Yes, my mother was under the influence of drugs when she named us. Why are you aiming that gun at me?"
It's going to be a difficult thing to pull off for the entirety of a half-season. It's better than her trying to do it for a full one, but it's going to require a LOT of suspension of disbelief. Yes, I know, even more so than is already being asked of us. In the first episode (spoiler if you have not watched it yet), Walker manages to stop and grab someone just as he is texting the big bad guy that she is after news that she is actually alive. I don't know if the show can keep up those 'close calls' before we finally just roll our eyes and change the channel.
It's the fourth season and the show has already done some annoying things like having Auggie and Annie break up so soon after they had spent several seasons teasing us about the two of them getting together. If they want to keep our interest, this storyline had better be VERY good. Otherwise, Annie Walker.. and the show, will be dead for good.
Burn Notice's Michael Westen would be shaking his head over this.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
Snow Angels opens with a high school band mangling Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” No sooner has the band director delivered an unintentionally hilarious pep talk to his red-faced musicians than practice is interrupted by the sound of gunshots. Is this is the handiwork of a disgruntled student? Green leaves hanging us in suspense--or at least that’s his intention--when he turns back the clock several weeks to chronicle the beginning of the winter of marital discontent in Butler Penn. Arthur (Sky High’s Michael Angarano) the band’s trombonist is hardly shocked to when his mother (Jeanetta Arnette) announces that his father (Griffin Dunne) is moving out. Across town Arthur’s ex-babysitter Annie (Kate Beckinsale) tries to maintain a civil relationship with her estranged husband Glenn (Sam Rockwell) for the sake of their young daughter. Glenn tired to kill himself when Annie left him but now he’s on the rocky road to recovery with the help of his newfound faith in God. He even hopes to reconcile with Annie. But everything turns sour when Glenn discovers Annie is sleeping with her best friend’s husband (Amy Sedaris and Nicky Katt). Arthur who still harbors a crush on Annie suddenly attracts the attention of the new girl in school Lila (Juno’s Olivia Thirlby). Just as things finally seem to be going right for Arthur an accident occurs that brings life in the close-knit community of Butler to a screeching halt. And it’s not hard to deduce at this point how and why things rapidly turn nasty. Put the offbeat Rockwell in a dark comedy à la Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and all is fine. But his quirky mannerisms and scenery chewing do not sit well in a serious and sober study of the human condition. So in Snow Angels he stands out like a streaker traipsing through a blizzard. Initially he’s loud and irritating when he should be attempting to earn Glenn a modicum of sympathy. Then as Glenn loses everything he holds dear Rockwell falls into the trap of turning the sad sack into your typical Bible-thumping looney tune. Beckinsale though maintains a hushed dignity about her as she agonizingly expresses the fears and frustrations that come with being a newly single mother. We know Beckinsale kicks werewolf butt just fine. But Snow Angels proves she’s able to convincingly play an ordinary woman--especially one prone to making many life-altering mistakes--grappling with everyday problems. This is her Monster's Ball. Angarano shuffles through Snow Angels looking dazed and confused which is what he’s required to do as the perpetually puzzled Arthur. But he does rise to the occasion when Arthur finally releases his pent-up emotions. If Arthur’s an open book Lila’s a mystery. But Thirlby makes her sweetly affable rather than completely impenetrable. Dunne and Arnette are so grating as one couple in crisis that you just want to shake them out of their middle-aged malaise. Sedaris and Katt provide Snow Angels with its few moments of levity but the latter also reveals a ferocity we’re not seen before from the Strangers with Candy funny lady. By remaining faithful to the novel’s opening David Gordon Green wants a sense of dread to permeate every moment leading up to Snow Angels’ disturbing climax. While this is indeed the case Green still should have ditched this flash-forward. The result: you quickly ID the shooter and the victim and you’re left waiting for the inevitable to occur. Even the catastrophic event that serves as the shooting’s catalyst is telegraphed too far in advance. But because Green turns the screws so tightly the instance the tragedy strikes Snow Angels manages to overcome all anticipation of its violent conclusion. What follows is a harrowing depiction of one preventable tragedy leading to another. To this end Green ensures that we become so emotionally invested in the characters in question that even knowing their intertwined fates doesn’t diminish the shock of what’s to come. Part of this stems from Green skillfully comparing and contrasting the three rocky marriages at the heart of Snow Angels which allows us to identify not just with the estranged couples but with the loved ones they inadvertently hurt as ttheir lives fall apart. On the flipside there’s much joy and optimism to be found in the romance between high school geeks Arthur and Lila. In that regards Snow Angels is as much a coming-of-age tale as it is an intimate portrait of the brokenhearted desperate to heal their wounds. If only we didn’t know so soon that it would end so bloodily.
The Constant Gardener is leading the pack ahead of next month's British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards after picking up 10 nominations.
Rachel Weisz, who won the Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Golden Globe on Monday, is nominated for Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in the adaptation of Graham Greene's novel, while Ralph Fiennes is up for Actor in a Leading Role and filmmaker Fernando Meirelles is put forward for the David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction.
Hot on the heels of The Constant Gardener are gay cowboy heartbreaker Brokeback Mountain and politically charged Crash, which have both received nine nominations for the Feb. 19 awards ceremony.
Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee is nominated for the David Lean Award, and his stars Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams have all received recognition for their performances.
Hit British movie Pride and Prejudice has been named in six BAFTA categories including British Film of the Year and Actress in a Supporting Role for Brenda Blethyn's scene-stealing performance.
George Clooney is up for two awards—Actor in a Supporting Role for Syriana and Achievement in Direction for his handling of Good Night, And Good Luck—which has scooped six nominations.
Oscars favorites and Walk the Line co-stars Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon have both been nominated for their acclaimed acting in the Johnny Cash biopic, while Chinese beauty Ziyi Zhang is up for the Actress in a Leading Role BAFTA for her star turn in the big screen version of Arthur Golden's best-selling novel Memoirs of a Geisha.
The partial list of nominees is as follows:
The Constant Gardener
Good Night, And Good Luck
The Alexander Korda Award for the Outstanding British Film of the Year:
A Cock and Bull Story
The Constant Gardener
Pride and Prejudice
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
The Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a British Director, Writer or Producer in Their First Feature Film:
David Belton (Producer)--Shooting Dogs
Peter Fudakowski (Producer)--Tsotsi
Annie Griffin (Director/Writer)—Festival
Richard Hawkins (Director)--Everything
Joe Wright (Director)--Pride and Prejudice
The David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction:
Brokeback Mountain--Ang Lee
The Constant Gardener--Fernando Meirelles
Good Night, And Good Luck--George Clooney
Best Original Screenplay:
Cinderella Man--Cliff Hollingsworth/Akiva Goldsman
Crash--Paul Haggis/Bobby Moresco
Good Night, And Good Luck--George Clooney/Grant Heslov
Hotel Rwanda--Keir Pearson/Terry George
Mrs. Henderson Presents--Martin Sherman
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Brokeback Mountain--Larry Mcmurtry/Diana Ossana
The Constant Gardener--Jeffrey Caine
A History of Violence--Josh Olson
Pride and Prejudice--Deborah Moggach
Best Film Not in the English Language:
De Battre Mon Coeur S'est Arrêté (The Beat That My Heart Skipped)
Le Grand Voyage
Kung Fu Hustle
Best Actor in a Leading Role:
David Strathairn--Good Night, And Good Luck
Heath Ledger--Brokeback Mountain
Joaquin Phoenix--Walk the Line
Philip Seymour Hoffman--Capote
Ralph Fiennes--The Constant Gardener
Best Actress in a Leading Role:
Charlize Theron--North Country
Judi Dench--Mrs. Henderson Presents
Rachel Weisz--The Constant Gardener
Reese Witherspoon--Walk the Line
Ziyi Zhang--Memoirs of a Geisha
Best Actor in a Supporting Role:
George Clooney--Good Night, And Good Luck
Jake Gyllenhaal--Brokeback Mountain
Best Actress in a Supporting Role:
Brenda Blethyn--Pride and Prejudice
Frances Mcdormand--North Country
Michelle Williams--Brokeback Mountain
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Thriller The Constant Gardener was the big winner at last night's British Independent Film Awards (BIFA), triumphing in three main categories, including Best Film.
The Fernando Meirelles-directed adaptation of John Le Carre's best-selling novel was named Best British Independent Film, while its stars Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes were named Best Actress and Best Actor respectively at the star-studded ceremony in London's Hammersmith Palais.
Following close behind was horror movie The Descent with two wins, with filmmaker Neil Marshall picking up Best Director and editor Jon Harris receiving Best Technical Achievement.
Young star Keira Knightley collected the Variety UK Personality of the Year for her performances in Pride and Prejudice, The Jacket and Domino, while Broken Flowers actress Tilda Swinton was the recipient of the Richard Harris Award for Outstanding Achievement.
The full list of winners is:
Best British Independent Film: The Constant Gardener
Best Actor: Ralph Fiennes, The Constant Gardener
Best Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener
Best Supporting Actor/Actress: Rosamund Pike, The Libertine
Most Promising Newcomer: Emily Barclay, In My Father's Den
Best Director: Neil Marshall, The Descent
Best Screenplay: Frank Cottrell Boyce, Millions
Douglas Hickox Award (Debut Director): Annie Griffin, Festival
Best Technical Achievement: Jon Harris (editing), The Descent
Best Achievement In Production: Gypo!
Best Foreign Film: Downfall
Best Documentary: Liberace of Baghdad
The Raindance Award: Evil Aliens
Richard Harris Award: Tilda Swinton
Variety UK Personality of the Year Award: Keira Knightley
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