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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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.
Pop acts plan to perform at three benefits concerts this weekend to raise money for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, The Associated Press reports. The shows will kick off in New York at Madison Square Garden with the Backstreet Boys, Destiny's Child, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Billy Joel. The "United We Stand" concert Sunday in Washington will feature the Backstreet Boys and Destiny's Child, as well as 'N Sync, Michael Jackson, P. Diddy, KISS and Mick Jagger. Country stars Tim McGraw and Trisha Yearwood will also take to the stage Sunday at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville.
Someone claiming to represent Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeta network has asked both CNN and Al-Jazeera TV to submit six written questions for him, that he will then answer on video tape, Variety reports. The proposal came from Al-Jazeera, which then notified CNN. The news network submitted six questions on Tuesday.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show will reopen Oct. 30 at Broadway's Circle in the Square for a 10-week run ending January 6, The Associated Press reports. Bat Boy will also resume this week, with the hit London musical Mamma Mia! premiering Thursday.
Rowan Atkinson, who starred in the hit TV shows Blackadder and Mr. Bean, is worried that proposed anti-terror laws outlawing "incitement to religious hatred" could curb freedom of expression, Reuters reports. Atkinson said there should be no subject about which jokes should be banned, including religion.
Comedian Denis Leary is putting on a New York benefit Monday night to honor the firefighters who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, People.com reports. According to Leary, Harrison Ford has offered to help, as well as Matthew Broderick, and Nathan Lane. Leary hopes to raise $250,000.
Whoopi Goldberg has become the first woman to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, The Associated Press reports. Chris Rock, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal took part in the event, which will be televised on PBS Nov. 21 at 9 p.m.
A United Nations panel ruled Tuesday that actor Rip Torn has the rights to the Internet domain name riptorn.com, The Associated Press reports. Torn complained to the World Intellectual Property Organization after someone from Oakville, Ontario registered the domain name in March 2000.
Novelist and politician Jeffrey Archer, who is serving a four-year sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice, has been moved to a prison where security is less strict, The Associated Press reports. The North Sea in Lincolnshire allows inmates more freedom of movement.
Russell Crowe has been offered a role in The Cinderella Man, playing real-life heavyweight boxing champ Jim Braddock, Variety reports. Lasse Hallstorm will direct the movie, which has been in development for several years now.
Ted Turner will have a cameo role in the Civil War film Gods and Generals, The Associated Press reports. Turner will reprise his role as Col. Waller T. Patton from the 1993 film Gettysburg. Gods and Generals, which is being financed by Turner, is a prequel to Gettysburg.
"Stuart Little" made its grand debut at the Village Theatre in Westwood on Dec. 5.
Academy Award winner Geena Davis, Jonathan Lipnicki ("Jerry Maguire"), Nathan Lane ("The Birdcage") and others strolled down the red carpet in honor of "Stuart Little" while benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
"It's a terrific event for us," said John Calley, the event chairman for the diabetes foundation. "It helps us in two important ways: One, of course, is the awareness of diabetes and the other is that it's a substantial amount of money being raised for diabetes today."
Director Rob Minkoff ("The Lion King") brings the comedic adventure of a little mouse searching for a real home to the big screen. The film is based on the classic book by E.B. White.
"It's about someone (Stuart Little) who is different and searching for a family," said Lane. "I play Snowbell, like the Swedish prize. Snowbell the cat, who is very threatened by Stuart being adopted, so he plots to get rid of him."
Stuart Little (voiced by "Spin City's" Michael J. Fox) embarks on a grand adventure after being adopted by the Littles, a human family played by Davis, Lipnicki and Hugh Laurie.
"I got involved five years ago," said producer Doug Wick. "Columbia Pictures owned the book. It took a few years to get the script right.
"And then we had to start doing research and development because the technology didn't exist until 10 minutes before we started shooting."
The technical aspects of filming didn't really concern Dustin Hoffman, Meg Tilly, Mimi Rogers, Leah Thompson and other celebrities who just wanted to check out a family classic with their families.
Even former first lady Nancy Reagan, who is also a benefit committee chairwoman for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, joined in the "Stuart Little" fun.
"It's great. I went from my last film playing an assassin -- now I'm mother of a mouse," said Davis.
With Leeza Gibbons, Debra Farantino and singer Trisha Yearwood at the premiere, the only question was: "Where's the 'big cheese'"?
At the premiere, the biggest mouse since Mickey and Mighty was nowhere to be spotted.
"Some of the challenge during filming was that he (Stuart Little) wasn't there. It's funny, he never showed up to the set," joked Davis.
"Stuart Little" opens in theaters Dec. 17.