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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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
Top Story: DiCaprio Questioned in Street Brawl Suit
Leonardo DiCaprio has been questioned in a $45 million lawsuit stemming from a five-year-old case that alleges he ordered "his posse" to beat up actress Elizabeth Berkley's ex-boyfriend, Reuters reports. The suit accuses DiCaprio of inciting his entourage to attack screenwriter Roger Wilson on March 14, 1998 outside the Asia de Cuba restaurant on Madison Avenue in midtown Manhattan. Wilson claims he suffered a broken larynx when he was punched in the throat, which he said ruined his singing career. But DiCaprio's lawyer, Paul Callan, expects the charges to be dismissed before the case reaches Manhattan Supreme Court on Sept. 2. "Leonardo DiCaprio has repeatedly and forcefully denied any wrongdoing in this case and looks forward to these false charges being dismissed by the court," Callan told Reuters.
J.Lo's Flashdance Snafu
Paramount Pictures has sent a legal letter to Sony Music's Epic Label over Jennifer Lopez's latest video for the single "I'm Glad," which the singer describes as a tribute the 1983 dance drama Flashdance. But what Lopez calls a tribute, Paramount calls copyright infringement.
The studio said Lopez's dance sequences in the video are so similar to the moves Jennifer Beals' double performs in the movie that it should be compensated. Like Beals, Lopez plays a female steel welder who moonlights as an exotic dancer but dreams of attending a real dance school. The two companies are settling out of court, MTV.com reports.
CSI, American Idol Score Biggest Ratings
CBS has edged past NBC in overall viewers in the first half of May rating sweeps month. CBS led the way with 11.8 million overall viewers, barely passing NBC, which averaged 11.4 million. Fox followed with 9.7 million, ABC with 8.7 million, the WB had 4.1 million, UPN had 3.4 million and Pax TV had 1.1 million. According to Nielsen Media Research, the top shows for the week of April 28-May 4 were CBS' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Fox's American Idol (Tuesday and Wednesday), NBC's ER, NBC's Friends, NBC's Law & Order, CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS'Survivor: Amazon, CBS CSI: Miami and NBC's Friends special.
Timberlake Gets TNT Gig
Singer Justin Timberlake is branching out into sports. According to The Associated Press, Timberlake will serve as a special correspondent for Turner Sports and will report for TNT sports events including the NBA playoffs, NASCAR races and the PGA championship. The 22-year-old pop star will also appear at major league baseball games and Big 12 and Pac-10 college football games for TBS.
Nell Carter Died of Natural Causes
The coroner's office determined Tuesday that actress Nell Carter, who collapsed in her Beverly Hills home Jan. 23 at the age of 54, died of probable heart disease and diabetes complications. The actress had also undergone two brain operations in 1992 to fix aneurysms, Reuters reports. Carter received two Emmy nominations for Gimme a Break!, playing a housekeeper to a family headed by a widower who was the town police chief. The show ran from 1981 to 1987.
Welcome Back, Kotter Actor Arrested
Actor Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, better known as Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington on the '70s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, was arrested over the weekend for allegedly pushing a woman to the ground during an argument. According to the AP, Hilton-Jacobs was roller-skating with the 42-year-old woman in Venice Beach, Calif., Sunday afternoon when two officers heard a commotion. The 49-year-old actor was arrested and booked but was released from custody late Monday with bond set at $20,000.
NY Doctor Sues Rapper 50 Cent
Rapper 50 Cent is being sued by a New York surgeon who claims the artist owes him more than $32,000 in fees for the treatment of gunshot wounds nearly three years ago. According to the suit, filed Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, 50 Cent and a friend showed up at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens May 24, 2000 and received treatment for the gunshot wounds, including the use of X-rays and post-surgical treatment both in the emergency room and hospital. The surgeon claims 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, owes him $32,511.87.
Def Jam Loses $132 Million Lawsuit
New York-based TVT Records won a $132 million verdict against Island Def Jam Music Group and its top executive Tuesday in a dispute over an unreleased record by rapper Ja Rule, the AP reports. Ja Rule, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, started his career with TVT in 1993 and moved to Island Def Jam with president Steve Gottlieb's blessing five years later. But when Ja Rule and two friends tried to make an album for TVT in 2001 that included early Ja Rule recordings, Def Jam's parent record company Universal Music Group blocked its completion. Gottlieb said he was "in ruins" when he could not release the album, the AP reports.
Dr. Dre Loses Plagiarism Lawsuit
On the West Coast, a federal jury awarded $1.5 million to the England-based Minder Music Ltd., which sued rapper-producer Dr. Dre for song plagiarism, the AP reports. Minder claimed Dre used a riff from Fatback's 1980 funk tune "Backstrokin" in his 1999 song "Let's Get High." The song, one of the lesser known tracks from Dre's 2001 album, has sold more than 9 million copies worldwide and has generated more than $150 million in retail sales.
The Muppets Are Homeward Bound
German media company EM.TV & Merchandising AG said Wednesday it will sell Jim Henson Co. back to the late Jim Henson's five children for $89 million, Reuters reports. EM.TV bought the 45-year-old company from the Henson family for $680 million at the peak of the stock market bubble in 2000. It has since sold off pieces of the company, including the Sesame Street characters and its stake in children's network Noggin. The Jim Henson Co. produced the Muppets, including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and many more.
Role Call: Luhrmann's Epic Second to Stone's