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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In just about every one of Kevin Hart's scenes in Ride Along, there's a joke that is just aching to find its way out of the diminutive, rascally comic actor. Hart is a small-scale physical comedian — of the same ilk as Jack Black — who puts nuclear-degree energy into his facial contortions, anatomical outbursts, and the delivery of every gag in general. If only he had material that was crafted with the same energy.
Unfortunately, nothing else about Ride Along seems at all "hard at work." Not the script, which pads a lifeless story with lazy comedy, and certainly not his screen partner Ice Cube, whose only stage direction seems to be "frown, and be taller than Kevin Hart." So lifeless is Ice Cube that even his machismo-obsessed straight man bit doesn't really work. Instead of the virile and intimidating "bad cop," he comes off as a disapproving middle aged dad without much to show for his own life.
But the script pairs the wily, overzealous high school security guard and video game junkie Ben (Hart) with no-nonsense lawman James (Ice Cube) on the titular ride along, with the scrappy cop-wannabe hoping to prove to the force veteran that he's good enough to marry the latter's younger sister. In earnest, he's not. Ben never puts any respectable effort into learning the tools of the trade, insisting on employing his amateur style and controlling the radio despite his proclamations that he wants, and deserves, James' trust. And James is no saint either — he's irresponsible on crime scenes, violent with perps, and disgruntled to the point of being unable to work with anybody else on the force. These are not good police officers... of course, you'll say, this is a comedy. But where are the laughs, then?
They're not absent entirely, you just have to look for them. In a movie so focused with big, broad humor, it's the smaller comedy that actually lands best. Hart's background mutterings and fumblings, his emoticon-laden texts to girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, whose only stage direction seems to be "smile, and never wear a full outfit of clothing"), and a bizarre repetition of the word "weird" from supporting player John Leguizamo. All good for unexpected chuckles, while jokes like Hart facing off with a pre-teen or being blown backwards into a brick wall after firing a large gun are all lazy, familiar, and flat.
Structurally, the script is a mess. Ride Along spends far too much time on set up — we get it, Hart and his soon-to-be-brother-in-law Ice Cube don't get along — and far too much time on wrap-up — there's a gigantic, dramatic warehouse shootout that, in any other movie, would be the climax, but there's plenty more to go after that — without any cohesive middle to make the movie feel like... a movie.
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Hart, who leaps at every comic opportunity like a kangaroo (wallaby would be more appropriate), is suited just right for a buddy cop comedy, but he needs something fresh with which to work — a real character, an interesting story, actually funny jokes. Even just one of these would be fine!
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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.
Top Story: Latifah and Zeta-Jones To Perform at Oscars
Queen Latifah and a very pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones have agreed to perform a duet from their musical Chicago at Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, The Associated Press reports. The melody, titled "I Move On," is nominated for best original song. Zeta-Jones performed the number in the film with co-star Renee Zellweger, who declined to reprise her performance for the Oscar telecast. Latifah and Zeta-Jones, whose second child with husband Michael Douglas is due in April, are both nominated in the supporting actress category for their roles in Chicago. The musical has 13 nominations, including a nod for Best Picture.
Odds Makers Pick "Chicago" for Best Picture
An informal survey of three Las Vegas Strip odds makers determined that Chicago is the favorite to win the Oscar for Best Picture at Sunday night's 75th annual Academy Awards. Although no money is being wagered on the ceremony, odds makers said their picks add to the entertainment tradition of the Oscars. "There is such a buzz of excitement and worldwide interest surrounding the Academy Awards that we wanted to create another outlet for spectators and movie buffs to enjoy the event," Doug Casteneda, race and sports book shift manager at Stardust, told the AP.
Angelina Jolie's Oscar Dress: Stolen!
The dress Angelina Jolie was to wear at Sunday's Oscar ceremony has been stolen from British designer Scott Henshall's car in London Wednesday evening, Reuters reports. "There is no way I can remake Angelina's or any other dresses in time," Henshall told the London Evening Standard Thursday. "There were 20 outfits in the collection and now the nine most glamorous have gone." Jolie's outfit was described as a body-hugging corset dress decorated with cherubs.
Monica Lewinsky To Host Fox Reality Show
Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky will host the hidden-identity dating show Mr. Personality, set to debut on Fox April 21. According to Variety, the show will follow a group of average-looking guys whose faces have been masked as they try to win one woman's affections. Their looks will be concealed throughout the dating process, as the woman eliminates a contestant each week until she narrows her choice to one man.
Kelly Ripa Heads to Primetime
Morning talk show host Kelly Ripa is finalizing a deal to play a former soap star in the ABC sitcom pilot Hope & Faith, Variety reports. If the pilot gets picked up, Ripa will stay on as co-host of Live! With Regis & Kelly, splitting her time between the talk show and the sitcom. In the pilot, Ripa's newly unemployed character Faith will move in with her non-pro fraternal twin sister Hope, who is married with kids.
Lawmakers Want Chicks To Give Free Concert
South Carolina House members think the Dixie Chicks should apologize for lead singer Natalie Maines' criticism of President Bush by performing a free concert for troops. According to the AP, Republican state Rep. Catherine Ceips introduced a resolution Wednesday, which passed the House on a 50-35 vote. "I think it's an olive branch to the Dixie Chicks," Ceips said. The group's publicist, Cindi Berger, had no comment on the resolution.
Ozzy Osbourne Gets New Bassist
Former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted has joined Ozzy Osbourne's band and will hit the stage this summer on the Ozzfest tour, the AP reports. In a weird twist, Ozzy and Metallica have basically traded bass players: bassist Robert Trujillo left Ozzy's band to fill Newsted's spot in Metallica. Trujillo played his last show with Ozzy on Friday.
Role Call: Ratner Set for "Rush Hour 3," Freeman Joins Hip-Hop Musical
Director Brett Ratner will no longer direct Superman for Warner Bros. Pictures. Ratner will instead helm Rush Hour 3 starring Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, which he had previously agreed to make for New Line Cinema. The studio hopes to have a first draft from Bad Company scribe Jason Richman in eight weeks ... MGM is planning a contemporary hip-hop-themed musical titled Colors Straight Up, which is based on the Oscar-nominated documentary by Michele Ohayon. Morgan Freeman is expected to take one of the strong supporting roles in the film ... Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps are in talks to start in Paramount Pictures' The Honeymooners, based on the 1950s CBS television series.
A cold-blooded computer hacker (Doug Hutchison) breaches the government's top security system and smuggles $40 million in gold bullion out of a federal depository. His accomplice stashes the gold in a secret location and then dies courtesy of a brutally incompetent federal agent (David Morse) but not before passing a cryptic message to his cellmate petty crook Alvin Sanders (Foxx). This makes the unsuspecting Sanders the perfect lure for a complex sting designed to snare both the thief and the loot. But with his bumbling brother (Mike Epps) in the picture can the feds keep him out of trouble long enough to get their man? And will his girlfriend (Kimberly Elise) and young son get caught in the crossfire?
TV and stand-up comedian Foxx (Any Given Sunday The Truth About Cats & Dogs) shows his versatility with a credible action performance; as his rumored role in the upcoming A Star is Born remake shows he's in little danger of being typecast. Surprisingly Foxx fails as a funny man though much of the blame should go to the stale hackneyed material he had to work with.
Director Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers) knows how to stage motorized madness on a modest budget. The absence of gratuitous gunplay (and would you believe only two explosions?) is equally noteworthy. But the screenplay bounces between action drama and half-hearted comedy all too often never building enough momentum for a proper climax. We see far too little of Hutchison a very effective bad guy and too much of the not-very-funny car thieves in pursuit of Foxx and Epps. Not helping matters are the urban-cyberpunkish blue and gray tones that dominate the cinematography; the color scheme soon gets visually monotonous dragging down a plot that needs to change gears smoothly in order to get up to speed.