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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Every year, people all over the entertainment world pull together their lists of the best performances, actors, directors, film, and shows of the year, making special note of all of the newcomers who managed to breakthrough into the mainstream with exceptional projects in 2013. However, when we were running through out lists of the best breakout actors of the year, we happened to notice that many of our new favorite television characters bore some strong resemblances to some of our favorite characters from classic sitcoms.
With that in mind, we've picked 10 of our favorite breakout television stars of 2013 and cast them in roles from our favorite shows of yesteryear.
Joe Lo Truglio as Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith ShowAs the weird, bumbling, food-obsessed Det. Charles Boyle, Joe Lo Truglio has been stealing scenes week after week on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and we think he could continue to put all of that strange ineptness to use as Barney Fife, the nervous, incompetent deputy to Andy Griffith's Sheriff Andy Taylor. Lo Truglio's proven that he excels at making life more complicated for others, and he would be able to portray the perfect mix of heart and humor.
James Wolk as Wally Cleaver from Leave It to BeaverJames Wolk specializes in characters that are charming, popular and intelligent, which makes him the perfect pick to play the Beaver's charismatic older brother. Sure, he's a lot older than Wally was on the show, but it's hard to think of an actor who would be better at portraying a character described by all of the girls as "the most," because as Zach on The Crazy Ones, Wolk is the most charming, funny and attractive actor on TV right now.
Tatiana Maslany as One of Charlie's AngelsIt's not quite a sitcom, but Charlie's Angels had the right combination of action and comedy that would make it the perfect vehicle for Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany. On the show, she's proven that she can handle whatever twists and turns come her way, as well as being able to hold her own in a fight, but Maslany is also funny and charming enough to handle the show's more humorous moments with ease. Plus, with Maslany at the forefront, this would finally be a Charlie's Angels reboot worth watching.
Andre Braugher as Lou Grant from The Mary Tyler Moore ShowAndre Braugher's been a well-respected television actor for a long time now, but as Captain Ray Holt on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, he proved that he can handle comedy just as well — if not better — than he does drama. We think he'd be perfect to take on the role of Lou Grant, Mary Richards' tough but loving boss on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He's already got plenty of experience keeping a group of goofballs in line, and it would finally give him the chance to break out and play something other than a cop for a change.
Malin Ackerman as Samantha from BewitchedJust try and put the terrible Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell film out of your mind for a second, and instead picture Malin Akerman as the loveable witch struggling to balance her magical powers and her role as a normal housewife. Ackerman's honed her comedy chops on the new sitcom Trophy Wife, and her perky-yet-sarcatsic demeanor makes her the perfect choice to take on Samantha. Plus, she's proven that she's great with phsyical comedy, which will come in handy when it's time for her to wiggle her nose.
Nicole Beharie as Agent 99 on Get SmartA beautiful, intelligent, highly skilled agent tasked with balancing both her bumbling, confused sidekick and a top secret mission? It may sound like Nicole Beharie's Sleepy Hollow character Abbie Mills, but it's actually Agent 99 from the sitcom Get Smart, which proves that Beharie would be the ideal choice for the role. She's got the looks, smarts, and comedic chops to take on the slapstick spy comedy, but also has plenty of experience with the more action-intensive elements. On top of all that, she's a compelling actress, who would be able to give the character enough depth to keep her from being a complete caricature. Just add Tom Mison as Maxwell Smart, and you've got yourself a show.
Albert Tsai as Dennis from Dennis the MenaceAt only nine years old, Albert Tsai has become one of the biggest breakout stars of the year through his role as the quirky, hilarious Bert, one of Kate's stepsons on Trophy Wife. When it comes time for Tsai to properly break out, say into feature films or a reboot of a classic sitcom, we think there would be no better vehicle for him than as everyone's favorite troublemaker Dennis the Menace. He's got enough charm to keep Dennis loveable, despite his antics, but would also be able to give the character a much needed dose of weirdness.
Corey Stoll as Fred from I Love LucyAs Rep. Peter Russo on Netflix's House of Cards, Corey Stoll did most of the show's heavy emotional lifting. If he's looking for some lighter fare, we think he'd do a great job as Fred Mertz, the stingy husband of Lucy's best pal Ethel. Since Fred fought in World War I and lived through the Great Depression, it gives Stoll enough gravitas to ground the character, while also giving him plenty of screwball plots and slapstick comedy to keep things light and up-beat — plus, no Kevin Spacey around to manipulate all of his actions. It's a win-win.
Rebel Wilson in Her Own Version of The Carol Burnett ShowRebel Wilson's show Super Fun Night may not have done as well as many were expecting, but she's still had a pretty stellar year. We think that the best way for her to capitalize on that would be her own Carol Burnett-inspired variety show. She's already got plenty of experience writing sketches, and even created and starred in several sketch shows and comedies in Australia. And since she showcased her musical talents in last year's Pitch Perfect, she's become the ideal candidate to bring back the variety show format to a younger generation.
Michael Ealy as Lionel from The JeffersonsThough his new sci-fi drama Almost Human has only just begun airing, Michael Ealy has become one of the most popular new television stars, due to the perfect combination of good looks, charm and talent. We think all of those qualities would serve him well as Lionel Jefferson, the smart, kind, wise-cracking son of George and Louise. Ealy's already proven that he has enough charm to take on the part, but Lionel's complicated relationship with his father and his wife, Jenny, would give him plenty of opportunities to showcase his acting talent. With Ealy on board, there's no doubt that Lionel would become much more than just a funny supporting character.
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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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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.
White House scandal, suburban weirdness, murder. ...
Nope, this isn't a rundown of the hourly news. It's some of the more juicy, ratings-grabbing tidbits the networks have masterminded for the famed (or infamous) February sweeps.
For the next 28 days -- from today until March 1 -- our TV nation will be bombarded with special programs concocted to induce ratings, the better to spike ad rates for the upcoming season.
From cameo appearances to splashy adventures to tabloid melodrama, the networks have pulled out all their stops to keep viewers complacently glued to the tube. Needless to say, the revolution will not be televised during the sweeps period.
Here are some of the sweeps hopefuls that caught our eyes:
"Sally Hemings: An American Scandal" (Feb. 13 and 16, CBS) -- The four-hour "setting-the-record-straight" historical dramatization chronicles the "love story" between President Thomas Jefferson (Sam Neill) and his slave Sally Hemings (Carmen Ejogo).
"Perfect Murder, Perfect Town" (Feb. 27 and Mar. 1, CBS) -- The four-hour mini-serialization of the disturbing murder mystery of kiddie beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey in a moneyed Colorado town. Marg Helgenberger and Ronny Cox co-star.
"Mary and Rhoda" (Feb. 7, ABC) -- Comeback kids Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper reprise their 1970s sitcom selves as Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern in this TV movie about two older women starting over in the Big Apple.
"The 10th Kingdom" (Feb 27-28, Mar. 1 and Mar. 5-6, NBC) -- A mishmash of fairy tales, this 10-hour uber-fantasy finds a NYC waitress (Kimberly Williams) and her deadbeat father (John Laroquette) stumbling into an alternate dimension. There, they battle a wicked queen (Dianne Wiest), save a deposed prince (Daniel Lapaine) and tread through other similarly identifiable fairy tale scenarios.
"Flowers for Algernon" (Feb. 20, CBS) -- In the adaptation of Daniel Keyes classic tale, Matthew Modine plays the mentally challenged lead character who becomes super intelligent as the result of a scientific experiment.
"Friends" (Feb. 3, NBC) Golden Globe nominee Reese Witherspoon ("Election") becomes an honorary "Friend," beginning a guest stint on the hit sitcom as Jennifer Aniston's little sister.
"Law & Order" (Feb. 9, NBC) -- Michael C. Williams, aka the guy who played Mike in "The Blair Witch Project," is slated for a guest appearance on the popular legal drama as the father of a dead baby in the episode titled "Mother's Milk."
"The Simpsons" (Feb. 13, Fox) -- Marge Flanders, compulsively perky wife of the compulsively perky Ned Flanders, will reportedly be killed off for (what else?) higher ratings.
"Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2000" (Feb. 26, TNT) -- In the vein of "Baywatch" minus the attempt at a narrative, this one-hour special promises to provide behind-the-scenes coverage of the sports mag's annual swimsuit issue. Damon Wayans and a surprise guest will host.