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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Anne Hathaway may not be known as one of the most publicly political celebrities in Hollywood, but, when it comes to Saturday Night Live, the actress and politics go together about as well as Catwoman and black latex. Take Hathaway's first appearance on SNL — the actress oversaw an October 2008 episode that brought us the now-classic parody of Sarah Palin and Joe Biden's vice presidential debate. ("I believe marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers.") And now, just over four years later, Hathaway has come full circle, hosting the sketch comedy show for the third time just days after President Obama was re-elected for a second term, inviting a stellar, if a bit bittersweet, Romney sign-off. But Saturday's show managed to shine the more it strayed away from politics. And the more it featured its host. Because Hathaway continued to prove to SNL audiences that Catwoman bares some sharp comedic claws.
And, sure enough, the beginning of SNL started with a farewell — what was likely the final sketch to feature Jason Sudeikis as the conceding presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. The sketch — which featured a disappointed, milk-swigging Romney who still showed Mormon-approved optimism — was well-written, if a bit oddly staged. (The silence-filled gaps between Taran Killam's amusing Tagg/Matt/Josh Romney pop-ups felt longer than the wait to hear Obama's Tuesday night victory speech.) Still, the scene was a nice departure from the ripped-from-the-TV-screen political sketches of yore, and bonus points for the series' take down of election night's real loser, when Josh Romney tells his father to come to the living room: "Donald Trump is doing a very amusing thing where he's racist."
Sudeikis again seemed to acknowledge his final months with SNL — the actor is leaving the show in January — during Hathaway's monologue, during which he talked about his "wild ride" on the show and what he's learned "after you've been here for eight seasons." But the Les Misérables star's voice eventually took center stage during the fifth musical monologue of the season. (For the record, there have only been seven new episodes — WWJRS? That is, What Will Jeremy Renner Sing?) Of course, this one made more sense than the rest — Hathaway's voice alone would be enough to invite awe, but the Les Mis-inspired tune (about the thrills of Sunday for the SNL cast) was more than chuckle-worthy, reminiscent of Steve Martin's memorable "Not Gonna Phone It In" monologue in 1991. (And Hathaway's Stefon impression? It. Had. Everything.) With the new cast, are the SNL glory days of the '90s back?
The series is certainly allowing its newbies to flex their comedy muscles more than previous featured players. New cast members Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant headlined the first post-monologue sketch of the night as, respectively, a teen and her best friend-turned-third wheel. It was an amusing sketch that showcased Bryant's droll talents — and certainly hit home for any girl who ever attended high school — even if the spot seemed more appropriate for the back third of the show. (But, speaking of the '90s, did the sketch — and Hathaway's valley girl impression of the new bad girl in school — remind anyone of SNL's "Delta Delta Delta" days?)
But the next sketch, the pre-taped "Legend of Mokiki," was far from SNL convention. Featuring episode MVP Killam as a human experiment who becomes famous for doing a dance called "the sloppy swish" — and Hathaway as the poor soul who falls in love with him — the sketch was as random as it was obvious that it came out of a late-night, exhausted writing session. But even when shorts like these make little sense, it's impossible not to enjoy the glimpse we get into the deranged inter-workings of the writers' minds.
More audience-friendly was the following sketch, which proved Hathaway has another celebrity impression under her belt: Homeland's Emmy-winning Claire Danes. The actress' take on Carrie Matheson, complete with the character's patented ugly cry, was flawless — even simple phrases like "And do what?" were indistinguishable from her Showtime counterpart. But Hathaway wasn't the only one to score in the sketch — Bill Hader's Saul was as impeccable as the actor's Alan Alda, and Killam, once again, stole the scene with his Agent Brody, whose "mouth is so small, it's hard to hear the words."
Far less tasty was the lazy McDonald's sketch, featuring Strong and Bobby Moynihan as two delinquent employees dead-set on insulting all of their colleagues, and Hathaway's uptight boss. But Moynihan more than made up for the groan-worthy sketch with his Drunk Uncle, yet again the highlight of Weekend Update. ("If Nationwide is on my side, how come Obama is president? Jews-papers!") Unfortunately, the rest of Weekend Update wasn't nearly as funny — in fact, the writing proved to be just as progressive as Moynihan's uncle, who lamented in his day "You couldn't vote unless you had a cane, monocle, top hat, fancy!" Seth Meyers using the record number of women elected to office as an opportunity to make a joke about pantsuits? Really, Seth? Really?! And a joke about all women hating sports to boot? I say it again: Really?! Thank god for Moynihan and Hader, and Fred Armisen, who made up for the lackluster segment — which included a predictable Obama impression from Jay Pharaoh — with their gay couple from Maine, who are celebrating their newly established ability to wed by registering with L.L.Bean.
But SNL was quickly back in business with the brilliant Kate McKinnon as a cheerfully exhausted Ellen DeGeneres. The sketch was more or less an opportunity for the episode to showcase Hathaway's hysterical Katie Holmes impression, but McKinnon also inspired laughs as the controversy-adverse daytime host. ("It was a big week in politics, so I'm going to talk about eating some popcorn yesterday.") And Hathaway proved her physical comedy prowess with a unique sketch about the conception of Grant Wood's American Gothic painting, which, in SNL's world, really portrayed two goofy models who loved corn puppets.
SNL closed out the show with a "Happy Fun Ball"-esque sketch for "Flaritin," a medication for those who suffer "a made-up allergy" to gluten, cigarette smoke, yogurt, rice, meat deodorant, squirrel dander, Los Angeles, small penises, rap, and Italians for attention. But, strangely enough, any portion of the show that didn't include Hathaway — including musical guest Rihanna's bizarre performance of "Diamonds," which looked to be set in front of a karaoke music video — suffered without the host. She even managed to invite a laugh in her goodbye, telling the audience, "Thank you so much to Katie Holmes and Claire Danes." Would it be too much to call our Catwoman the cat's pajamas? (Yes. Yes it would.)
What did you think of Saturday's show? Did Hathaway's taste of Les Mis in the monologue enough to keep you wanting more?
[Image Credit: NBC]
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In the realm of big-time big screen heroes, the most well-known names tend to fall into one of three categories: superheroes, action heroes, and James Bond. There have been plenty of spies on the big screen, but few carry the cache of one 007. He’s the spy all other spies hope to be, and the man men universally idolize. He’s the man who can be a tad sexist and still put moviegoers under his charming spell. He can inspire legions to drink martinis even though they hate vodka. He’s the ultimate movie spy and his pop cultural reach is boundless. Except when it comes to the ladies. There are 50 years indicating that James Bond is a legend, but there’s not a single female hero who can claim the L word on a Bond level just yet.
Of course, we do have lady heroes – action, spy, and otherwise – but none has managed to nab a stronghold the way Bond has. The closest we’ve come to the female equivalent of Bond is Angelina Jolie, who’s starred as an action star and spy in films like Mr. And Mrs. Smith, the Tomb Raider movies, Taking Lives, Wanted, and recently, Salt. The release of Salt ignited this discussion, but the film failed to make a great enough impact to give the world a female answer to 007.
“The fact that there was so much conversation about [Salt] suggests to me that it’s an anomaly. It’s unusual, that’s why it matters so much,” says Chloe Angyal, an editor at Feministing.com. “If we have a female equivalent of James Bond, it’s a new phenomenon and it’s not going to be truly equivalent until we’ve had decades and decades of it the way we’ve had a James Bond,” she adds.
From a historical perspective, women simply haven’t had as much time to build up one character as a super spy. If we look back to the early sixties, around the first Bond film’s release in 1962, the big films centered around women rarely had a woman in a hero capacity. These were the years of Mary Poppins domestic goddess extraordinaire, Holly Golightly’s journey to being My Fair Lady, and Tippi Hedren fleeing The Birds. Women weren't strangers to leading roles, but while Bond was taking down the most sinister villains imaginable, the most well-known female protagonists were often upheld by ladylike qualities like delicacy, loveliness, and motherly tendencies. Even Batman’s Catwoman, while a villain in her own right, was characterized by little more than her weaponized sexuality – besides, she was the bad gal. We had yet to see a woman employing her cleverness and slight of hand in a lead character capacity – and for good – the way our favorite secret agent does. The film industry’s catalog of female protagonists simply doesn’t have the breadth to include a “female Bond”… yet.
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Of course, many of Bond’s women didn’t help to expand that catalog. “You also have to look at the place of women in most of the Bond films … it’s pretty grim,” says Angyal. From the femme fatales who use sex to trick Bond, to the women used as playthings in villains’ games, to the one-off sexual playthings who hop in and out of his bed, to the pining secretarial standby Moneypenny, the ladies of the Bond series, are for the most part, accessories to Bond himself. Not the stations that inspire the next female super spy.
But times have changed and with it Bond girls, who’ve gained more tactical importance and chutzpah in recent films. But more importantly female spies have become more common in film and television. We’ve seen ladies take the reins in the espionage game on shows like Alias, Chuck, and Nikita, and while Alias was appointment television during its early 2000s run, Sydney Bristow hasn’t exactly maintained a spot as the de facto lady spy. Though Jolie has made a mark for herself as a slithery spying heroine, she certainly can’t carry that torch for 50 years, plus. We find similar qualities in more nuanced superhero characters like Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle (The Dark Knight Rises) and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (The Avengers), but neither character has become the cultural hero on the level on the British government’s secret weapon.
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Part of the roadblock for spying ladies is the audience’s thirst for romance. Whereas Bond gets to “love” his Bond girls and leave them, female spies almost always have more sentimental love interests (in their past or present) when they’re running the show. These women rarely have one-off sexual encounters like Bond has had (though he does so less often in more recent films), lest they be painted as a femme fatale rather than a heroic figure. Oftentimes, a character’s proclivity for romance rather than pure sex is what separates her from the villainess. Even Homeland’s unostentatious spy Carrie Matheson finds herself in a deep romantic entanglement while on the trail. It’s practically unavoidable. But still, that may not be the real reasonwe don’t have a female character with the same commanding presence as Mr. Bond.
There’s an element of pop culture-lovers’ capacity for accepting new long-lived characters. Recurring roles in big budget movies are limited, mostly, to heroes born out of comic book legacy and 007, most of which started sewing seeds in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They’ve had time to cull their fan bases and establish themselves. Current films that claim devotion on that level are limited to series based on book series like Harry Potter and the Bourne films, but even then, the names aren’t built to continue endlessly like Batman and Bond can. With something like Potter, the source material is sacred and limited, meaning the capacity for endless adventures of Harry Potter and friends is practically nonexistent. Bourne tried to continue on with a new hero after the franchise lost Matt Damon, but while the box office numbers were good, the Bourne Legacyfelt less like a continuation of Jason Bourne’s adventures and more like a segue into the life of another, completely different super soldier. Perhaps the lack of a non-comic book, recurring female heroine on the level of James Bond has little to do with sexism and more to do with the fact that the role of go-to pop culture spy is already filled.
Perhaps the question isn’t when will we have a female James Bond, it’s will we ever have a character who captures generations of movie-goers the way 007 does? Maybe what we’re looking for isn’t a lady version of the world’s greatest spy, but a female character who captures the world in the same way. Maybe we’ve already met her, but then again, we probably won’t realize we've found her until we notice that she’s been stringing us along for a whopping 50 years.
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[Photo Credit: iStock Photo; ABC]
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There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.