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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
It will be the end of an era when Dallas pays tribute to late actor Larry Hagman — and with him his iconic role, J.R. Ewing — in tonight’s funeral episode, "J.R.’s Masterpiece." According to the cast, Hagman's passing has led to some serious emotional ramifications both onscreen and off — and these ramifications may lead to some very poor decision-making.
"Honoring Larry, honoring J.R. — we have to do that," Patrick Duffy tells Hollywood.com at the show's PaleyFest panel in Los Angeles the day before the episode's premiere. "The audience wants that. We can’t just ignore it. You have to take a moment and let everything just stop, and do this moment where we do the right thing."
Though the funeral was for a fictional character, there were times when it felt all too real. Which makes sense, considering it kind of was. Brenda Strong, who plays Anne Ewing, is proud to have been a part of it. "It is one of the most exquisite pieces of television I have ever had the honor of being a part of," Strong says. "It absolutely is a tribute to the icon of Larry Hagman, and the icon of J.R. We all had an opportunity through the catharsis of art to grieve and to celebrate the life of Larry Hagman."
Obviously the cast feels Hagman's loss very deeply, and his character's death will have major emotional ramifications for the show, too. Duffy says the loss of his brother has a major effect on Bobby in more ways than one. "Bobby has totally lost his raison d'etre, his purpose as a character," Duffy says. "He was always there to counteract the machinations of J.R., to maintain the integrity of the Ewing name, to honor what his momma and daddy stood for. He always felt that J.R. was endangering that, and his job was to protect it. Now that there’s no J.R., the writers have to find a reason for Bobby to be Bobby."
RELATED: 'Dallas' Star Larry Hagman Dies at 81
The writers did just that, according to Jesse Metcalfe, who plays Bobby’s son, Christopher Ewing. "J.R.’s death really sets in motion a very mysterious, compelling storyline that brings a lot of interesting characters together," Metcalfe says.
That's right: It's "who shot J.R." for the second time around. But this time, there's no summer cliffhanger to ponder: Executive producer Michael Robin says the answer will be revealed by end of episode 15. In the meantime, expect to see J.R.’s son, John Ross (Josh Henderson) struggling to solve his father’s murder. "John Ross is deeply impacted by the loss of his father," Metcalfe says. "He’s becoming very angry and volatile, and wants revenge. So Christopher keeps a watchful eye over him to make sure he doesn’t do anything he might regret."
The loss of the love of her life will also cause Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) to make a choice that will change her life going forward: it will drive her to have a drink for the first time in 30 years. But executive producer Cynthia Cidre assures us that the issue will be handled in a classy way. "It won't be Aqua Velva & homelessness," Cidre says.
"J.R.’s Masterpiece" airs at 9 PM ET/PT on TNT.
Follow Sydney on Twitter: @SydneyBucksbaum
[Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal/TNT]
You Might Also Like:8 Male Stars With Tramp Stamps15 Stars Share Secrets of their Sex Lives (Celebuzz)
The CW Has Changed Its Mind: It's baaack! The Selection — a Hunger Games-esque pilot based on a novel by Kiera Cass that was initially made for this year, has been given new life. The show is set 300 years in the future, and it stars a young woman named America Singer who goes on a Bachelor-like competition show to be the nation's next queen. Friday Night Lights' Aimee Teegarden starred in the original pilot, but she is not attached to the rewritten version. [EW]
Showtime Goes There: Showtime has lately become known for its controversial programming, and they won't be stopping anytime soon: The cable network has put in development a neo-Nazi drama called The 4th Reich, executive produced by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal. Showtime describes the show as American History X meets The Town, and it will focus on a South Boston ex-con who has to balance his old 'Brotherhood' with his status as an FBI informant. [Deadline]
Violet Returns?: American Horror Story: Asylum ends its run tonight, but, as always, creator Ryan Murphy is making plans for next year. He's already confirmed that Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, and Sarah Paulson will return for Season 3, and now he's in talks with a Season 1 star — Taissa Farmiga — on a possible return. If it ends up working out, Farmiga — who played very troubled teen Violet — would be one of the leads. [EW]
New Girl Gets Shameless: A little bit of Chicago is coming to LA! Steve Howey — who plays Kev on Showtime's hit family dramedy — will guest star as an intense pro football player that Winston interviews. He later attends a party at the loft, and sets his eye on Jess... but wait, isn't she taken? [TVLine]
Army Wives Return: The wives of the army are back! Season 7 is set to debut on Lifetime on Sunday, March 10, the network said in a release. This year, there will be some star-powered new blood on the show: Ashanti, Torrey DeVitto (Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries), Elle McLemore (Bring It On) and Jesse McCartney have joined the cast.
My Name is Earl Reunion: Greg Garcia is blending his two TV worlds once again and the cast of My Name is Earl is coming to Raising Hope. Jason Lee will return as faded rock star Smokey Floyd, and Jaime Pressly and Ethan Suplee will play Burt and Virginia’s neighbors Donna and Andrew. But what is causing this amazing reunion you ask? Hope's 3rd birthday party of course! [TV Line] Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna [PHOTO CREDIT: FX] MORE: TV Tidbits: Seth MacFarlane's New Series; 'Arrow' Nabs Another 'Doctor Who' Alum TV Tidbits: 'The Vampire Diaries' Takes a Bite Out of Ratings TV Tidbits: Meredith Vieira In Talks To Host Her Own Daytime Talk Show From Our Partners: Child Stars: Where Are They Now? (Celebuzz) Craziest Celebrity Swimsuits Ever (Celebuzz)
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.