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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For the bulk of every Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, moose and squirrel would engage in high concept escapades that satirized geopolitics, contemporary cinema, and the very fabrics of the human condition. With all of that to work with, there's no excuse for why the pair and their Soviet nemeses haven't gotten a decent movie adaptation. But the ingenious Mr. Peabody and his faithful boy Sherman are another story, intercut between Rocky and Bullwinkle segments to teach kids brief history lessons and toss in a nearly lethal dose of puns. Their stories and relationship were much simpler, which means that bringing their shtick to the big screen would entail a lot more invention — always risky when you're dealing with precious material.
For the most part, Mr. Peabody & Sherman handles the regeneration of its heroes aptly, allowing for emotionally substance in their unique father-son relationship and all the difficulties inherent therein. The story is no subtle metaphor for the difficulties surrounding gay adoption, with society decreeing that a dog, no matter how hyper-intelligent, cannot be a suitable father. The central plot has Peabody hosting a party for a disapproving child services agent and the parents of a young girl with whom 7-year-old Sherman had a schoolyard spat, all in order to prove himself a suitable dad. Of course, the WABAC comes into play when the tots take it for a spin, forcing Peabody to rush to their rescue.
Getting down to personals, we also see the left brain-heavy Peabody struggle with being father Sherman deserves. The bulk of the emotional marks are hit as we learn just how much Peabody cares for Sherman, and just how hard it has been to accept that his only family is growing up and changing.
But more successful than the new is the film's handling of the old — the material that Peabody and Sherman purists will adore. They travel back in time via the WABAC Machine to Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, and the Trojan War, and 18th Century France, explaining the cultural backdrop and historical significance of the settings and characters they happen upon, all with that irreverent (but no longer racist) flare that the old cartoons enjoyed. And oh... the puns.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a f**king treasure trove of some of the most amazingly bad puns in recent cinema. This effort alone will leave you in awe.
The film does unravel in its final act, bringing the science-fiction of time travel a little too close to the forefront and dropping the ball on a good deal of its emotional groundwork. What seemed to be substantial building blocks do not pay off in the way we might, as scholars of animated family cinema, have anticipated, leaving the movie with an unfinished feeling.
But all in all, it's a bright, compassionate, reasonably educational, and occasionally funny if not altogether worthy tribute to an old favorite. And since we don't have our own WABAC machine to return to a time of regularly scheduled Peabody and Sherman cartoons, this will do okay for now.
If nothing else, it's worth your time for the puns.
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There is no shortage of shocking moments this season. It looks like Downton Abbey is channeling Melrose Place. Here’s hoping that Heather Locklear stops by as a 1920s advertising executive hell-bent on getting her hands on the Abbey. The original Shady Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) is replete with side-eyes, social slights, and aristocratic sass. Lady Edith is also making poor romantic choices as usual. Oh poor Edith, why are you so unlovable? Meanwhile, has anyone noticed that Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) sounds a lot like a slightly inebriated Liza Minnelli?
The party guests are slowly leaving. Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) proved himself a hero. Miss Braithwaite (MyAnna Buring) has gone full-on Fatal Attraction on Tom Branson (Allen Leech). She is trying to turn their one-night-stand into a ticket to the wealth of Downton.
Lady Mary, Edith, Tom and Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) head to London to stay with Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond). They head to The Lotus Club to listen to some jazz. Steve Urkel Jack Ross (Gary Carr) serenedes with the most nasal rendition of 1920s jazz. When, Lady Rose’s escort gets sloppy, Jack saves the day by cutting in. However, Tom rushes to stop her from dancing with a black man. Racism is alive in London, people.
Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) is courting the hell out of Lady Mary. He even snuck on the same train to surprise her at home. He proposes but Mary has to decline but she does give him an epic kiss on the grounds.
The Drama: Not only is Mr. Gregson heading to a pre-World War 2 Germany to get a divorce, but they totally spent the night together. He seems somewhat above board since he gave Edith power of attorney over his finances. But ... does he plan to sleep with her and run? Also, has he left her with legal control for an ulterior motive?
Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) is still recovering from her attack and not doing so well since she has to see Mr. Green (Nigel Harman) before he leaves. She has become very icy to Bates (Brendan Coyle) and absolutely refuses to tell him why. She has even asked Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) to move back with the servants. Ivy (Cara Theobold) and Jimmy (Ed Speleers) have upgraded their lame courtship into full-on canoodling. Alfred (Matt Milne), jilted, has decided to apply for a cooking fellowship with The Ritz hotel. He may be leaving Downton like his aunt O’Brien. Carson (Jim Carter) is also beginning a very slow flirtation with Mrs. Hughes. Could the Mom and Pop of the staff get together for real?
The Drama: Mrs. Hughes plays Tom’s hero by destroying Braithwaite and her pregnancy claims. She finds a book about conception and bluffs Braithwaite into leaving Downton. She also tells her that if she makes a fuss she will never get a job in her lifetime. Now, if only Mrs. Hughes can tackle Anna’s attacker.
Best Lines of the Night
Don’t be transparent mamà, it doesn’t suit you. -Lady Mary to Cora
Don’t say I’m not good enough. If you were good enough for Lady Cybil Crawley then I’m good enough for you. -Braithwaite to Tom
Ivy moves a little fast for a beginner, don’t she -Daisy (Sophie McShera)
If we only had moral thoughts ... what would the poor church men find to do? -Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith)
Things have come to a pretty pass when you have to be rescued by a black band leader. -Lady Rosemound being a tad wee bit racist
Do you ever wonder why people dislike you so much? It’s because you’re sly, oily, and smug and I’m really pleased I got to tell you before I go. -Braithwaite to Barrow
If we’re playing the truth game. You’re a lying manipulative little witch and if your schemes have come to nothing I’m delighted. -Tom Barrow (Rob James-Collier) to Braithwaite
Edith is about as mysterious as a bucket. -Lady Mary
Downton is abuzz with an impending party .. but when are they not having one?
Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) is surprised by the appearance of the newly named Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen). They begin to bond and Mary begins to resemble her former self. Is it too much to hope for the slight-delivering, passive aggressive Lady Mary from Series 1? Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) invites Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) in the hopes that he will win the respect of her parents. Good luck, Lady Edith ... you’re the 1920’s answer to the Cathy comics. Ack! Terence Sampson (Patrick Kennedy) arrives on the scene and convinces everyone to play cards including Earl Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). Luckily, Mr. Gregson wins back all the money and exposes the dirty dealings of Sampson.
Meanwhile, everyone seems to be really inconsiderate of poor Tom (Allen Leech). A guest asks him about Lady Sybil. Isobel (Penelope Wilton) arrives to the party despite mourning. Then in true shady fashion she complains about her sadness to Tom despite the fact that he’s a widower. Sure, she lost a child but is it anyone’s place to give someone survivor’s guilt? Tom confesses that he doesn’t feel like he belongs with the family. Scheming Miss Braithwaite (MyAnna Buring) brings him a huge glass of whiskey and then shows up at his room late in the night.
The drama: Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) surprises everyone, including Lady Mary, by bringing down Matthew’s old phonograph. Lord Grantham has Australian opera singer Nellie Melba (Kiri Te Kanawa) dine in her room until Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern) corrects his error. Also, what the hell is going to happen if anyone founds out that Tom slummed it with Braithwaite?
Carson (Jim Carter) is his usually stern self as everyone is working double duty in entertaining mode. Lord Gillingham’s valet (Nigel Harman), known only as Mr. Gillingham, arrives on the scene and befriends Anna (Joanne Froggatt) much to Mr. Bates’ dismay (Brendan Coyle). Trying to impress Ivy (Cara Theobold) Jimmy (Ed Speleers) falls and hurts his hand. A broke Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), has been complaining all over town how broke he is and taking odd jobs. And yet, when asked to be a footman in place of Jimmy, he complains a lot.
Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) has a panic attack. Alfred (Matt Milne) makes the sauce and discovers a love for cooking. Anna has a headache so she excuses herself during the opera performance. In a disturbing turn of events, Anna gets violently raped by Mr. Gillingham. Too scared to tell her husband, she enlists Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) for help in covering it up. This is a huge departure from Downton's normal drama. Is having lovable and sweet Anna attacked too far or is it the right level of drama for the show? After all, times are changing as we approach the 1920s.
The drama: Anna can’t tell Mr. Bates because she’s worried he will go nuts and kill her attacker. Clearly, he’s a little unhinged. If memory serves he didn’t even kill his wife despite being arrested for her murder.
What does one say to a singer? - Lord Grantham
Screaming in the servant’s hall, singers chatting to his lordship and a footman cooking the dinner what a topsy-turvy world we’ve come to. - Carson
I’m afraid Tom’s small talk is very small. - Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith)
Let the Twilight promotions begin for the last time! With the end of an era nearing as the the final movie of the franchise — The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 — drops in theaters on Nov. 16, stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart made the late night rounds Monday night to promote the final piece. But instead of showing up on one late night show together, the on-and-off again couple appeared on two different programs: Stewart visiting Jay Leno to talk about vampire contacts and Bella relics, while Pattinson chatted with Jimmy Kimmel about his kissing style.
Here's what you missed last night on late night TV:
Late Night With Jimmy Fallon
Fallon played Egg Russian Roulette with Jason Sudeikis.
Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!
Even though the final Twilight movie premieres this month, Robert Pattinson admitted to Kimmel that he will be talking about playing Edward Cullen for a very long time. "I'll probably be talking about it for the rest of my life," he said. And Pattinson even hopes that they will add another movie onto the franchise. On a non-Twilight note, Pattinson explained that he doesn't care that he doesn't get to vote for the next American President. "I don't like any kind of responsibility," he said. "I would vote for people like me to not be able to vote." And for all the girls out there who dream of locking lips with this sexy vampire, Pattinson decided to share his thoughts on his kissing technique. "I have such extraordinarily loud little pecks," he said. "It sounds like I'm walking around in Wellies [rain boots]. My lip is like a vacuum." Does that turn you on?
Late Show With David Letterman
Ricky Gervais told Letterman about the Mormon religion. "Mormonism was started by this guy, Joseph Smith, who was basically a married man, and he came home one day and he said to his wife, 'I just found a bit of the Bible that no one's seen before,'" Gervais said. "She went, 'What does it say?' 'It says I should have other women.'"
The Tonight Show With Jay Leno
While Kristen Stewart jokingly first told Leno that she won't miss Twilight — she quickly switched her stand. "There's a certain tone that Twilight sets for all of us," she explained. "Doesn't matter where we are, whether we are promoting it or on set, it doesn't matter how much time goes on in between. That's now gone forever." Stewart also gushed about the the items she takes from the sets of her movies to remember the time she spent working on them. From Twilight, she took some of Bella's rings, but that's not the most odd item she has removed from a movie set. "I have a strange variation of things in my house on display," she said. I have a suit of armor. I have a pink g-string from 'Welcome to the Rileys.'" Stewart also shared a story about some strange items she picked up on a recent trip to Tokyo. "There were masks next to really weird sex toys next to fish flavored tootsie rolls," she said. "I bought it all."
In addition, Stewart talked about the red contacts she has to wear in Breaking Dawn - Part 2. "It is definitely a dim, tunnel vision, sticky, cloudy, really awfully annoying," she said. "People generally say that they think that our vampires look like they are in pain. They are." Stewart also admitted that she thinks that they made her repeat her some of her physical stunts even though they probably used the first take. That's annoying.
Sarah Silverman played with her Wreck-It Ralph Vanellope doll on Conan Monday night. And when she made the doll talk, it spouted out this sentence, "I have oral herpes." Hopefully that doll doesn't say such things in real life. That wouldn't really be a toy appropriate for children.
Follow Lindsey on Twitter @LDiMat.
[Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC]
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The story of the most dominant racehorse of all time does not easily fit into the standard inspirational sports flick mold. Such films typically require its protagonists to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles be they competitive (Hoosiers) personal (The Natural) societal (Ali) or some combination of all three (Remember the Titans). But by all accounts the greatest challenges to Secretariat capturing of the 1973 Triple Crown were not rival horses — indeed Secretariat had no true rival — but a pair of slow starts and an abscess. And abscesses — apologies to dermatologists — simply aren’t all that effective as dramatic devices.
Lacking most of the vital ingredients of the traditional underdog movie formula Disney’s Secretariat is forced to synthesize them. Its screenplay written by Mike Rich and based rather loosely on the book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack adopts a conventional save-the-farm framework: When her parents pass away within months of each other Denver housewife Penny Tweedy (Diane Lane) is advised to sell off her family’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables a beautiful but unprofitable horse-breeding enterprise in order to pay the onerous inheritance taxes levied by the state. But Penny her deceased father’s hackneyed horse-inspired counsel fresh in her mind (“You’ve got to run your own race ” etc. etc.) is loath to depart with such a cherished heirloom. So she concocts a scheme just idiotic enough to work betting the farm — literally — that her new horse Big Red in whom she has an almost Messianic faith will win the Kentucky Derby Preakness and Belmont races in succession.
Of course Big Red under the stage name Secretariat goes on to do just that but only after the film subjects us to nearly two hours of manufactured melodrama. Lane grasping all-too conspicuously for awards consideration treats every line as if it were the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Her character Penny exhibits a hair-trigger sensitivity to the sounds of skeptics and naysayers bursting forth with a polite rebuke and a stern sermon for anyone who dares doubt her crusade from the trash-talking owner of a rival horse to her annoyingly pragmatic husband (Dylan Walsh).
Lane isn’t alone in her grandiosity. The entire production reeks of it as director Randall Wallace lines the story with fetid chunks of overwrought Oscar bait like so many droppings in an untended stable even using Old Testament quotations and gospel music to endow Penny’s quest with biblical significance. John Malkovich is kind enough to inject some mirth into the heavy-handed proceedings hamming it up as Secretariat’s trainer Lucien Laurin a French-Canadian curmudgeon with an odd sartorial palette. It’s not enough however to alleviate the discomfort of witnessing the film's quasi-Sambo depiction of Secretariat’s famed groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) which reaches its cringeworthy zenith when Sweat runs out to the track on the eve of the Belmont Stakes and exclaims to no one in particular that “Big Red done eat his breakfast this mornin’!!!” Bagger Vance would be proud. Whether or not Ellis’ portrayal of Sweat’s cadence and mannerisms is accurate (and for all I know it may well be) the character is too thinly drawn to register as anything more than an amiable simple-minded servant.
Animal lovers will be happy to know that the horses in Secretariat come off looking far better than their human counterparts and not just because they’re alloted the best dialogue. In the training and racing sequences Wallace effectively conveys the strength and majesty of the fearsome animals drawing us into the action and creating a strong element of suspense even though the final result is a fait accompli. It's too bad the rest of the film never makes it out of the gate.