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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
I know, that headline is trouble. You're always treading dangerous ground when you insist on defining what makes a good this or the right kind of that, as if there is no room for change or improvement when it comes to classic properties. Of course there is — Jason Segel's 2011 Muppet film approached the concept from an entirely different direction. It didn't hit all of its marks, but it prevailed overall in its conceit: make a movie not about Muppets, but about Muppet fandom. But Muppets Most Wanted, in absence of a clear mission statement and fueled largely by the monetary glimmers of the sequel game (the film's opening number admits this outright), has fewer marks readily available to hit. Landing in the ambiguity between the classic Muppet adventure formula and Segel's post-modern Henson appreciation party, Most Wanted feels like a failure on both counts. It doesn't know which kind of movie it wants to, or should, be. So it doesn't really be anything.
On the one hand, there's the half-cocked "get-the-band-back-together" through line, mimicking but not quite accomplishing the spirit of the 2011 picture. None of the Muppets are particularly likable or charming in this turn, and even fewer of them actually given anything to do. Kermit loses his s**t in the first act after a spat with Piggy and a barrage of insubordination from his troupe (provoked by the nefarious Dominic Badguy, Ricky Gervais), storms off in a huff, and gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity when his criminal doppelganger Constantine pulls the old switcheroo, landing Kermit in a Russian gulag. You'd think this would be a good opportunity for the second tier of Muppet favorites — Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, et al — to go on a search and rescue... but save for a very brief sequence at the tail end of this achingly long film, none of the other Muppets are giving anything to do. They just hem and haw and perform the occasional "Indoor Running of the Bulls" while Dominic and Constantine scheme, rob banks, and bicker.
Meanwhile, Kermit has some fun in prison — a far more endearing plot that sees him befriending the merry convicts, organizing a penitentiary revue, and even winning the heart of the vicious warden Nadia (Tina Fey). If only we could spend more time with real Kermit and less time with fake Kermit and his second banana Gervais, an effectively boring pair.
On the other hand, though, there's the Muppet shtick that fans of The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island — and yes, The Muppet Show itself — will deem the movie's best material: CIA Agent Sam Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) hot on the trail of Constantine and Dominic. Here, we get a different type of Muppet movie entirely from what Segel and the A-plot in Most Wanted are opting: the old fashioned vaudeville act, with Sam standing as an independent entity from his googly-eyed brethren, on a goofy, musical prowl with Burrell that fuels the film with its best and most consistent chuckles. Their "Interrogation Song" number is outstanding, exemplifying the many talents of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who wrote all the music for this and the previous film.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted isn't sure that it wants to be The Great Muppet Caper, beheld so stubbornly to its Segelian roots. There's a palpable compulsion to stick with this agonizingly self-aware, nostalgia-crazy, brimming-beacons-of-the-past-in-a-callous-today theme that doesn't work a fraction as well as it did in the 2011 film. Without a legitimate celebration of any of our favorite characters, how could it? With so much going on in this movie, and such a lengthy runtime at just under two hours, it's a sure sign of failure that we walk away feeling like we spent barely any time with the Muppets.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Prankster George Clooney's penchant for sending out cards and letters from his famous friends began at John Krasinski's wedding in 2010. Matt Damon recently discovered that his Ocean's Eleven co-star has been sending stationery with his name on it around Hollywood for several months as a practical joke, but Brad Pitt was the first star to suffer.
During an appearance on fellow prank lover Jimmy Kimmel's U.S. TV show, Clooney revealed the comedian had been involved in the elaborate joke that began when they met up at their mutual friend's wedding party, which was held at Clooney's villa in Italy.
He said, "You sent me a thank you gift card... it actually said Brad Pitt on it, which set the wheels in motion... I've been sending letters to people as Brad Pitt for four years.
"Don Cheadle was trying to do the Miles Davis story and I sent him a letter from Brad, because Brad produces films, and I said, 'You know, I'm producing this Miles Davis/Charlie Parker thing and Jamie Foxx is gonna play Miles Davis, but you'd you'd be great as Charlie Parker?'
"Don wrote me, like, six months later and said, 'Did you do something dirty to me?'"
Clooney revealed his most elaborate 'note' prank came when he sent Meryl Streep a package of dialect tapes from Pitt and urged her to use them to help her perfect the role of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
The Michael Clayton star chuckled, "I said, 'To Meryl, I hear you're gonna play The Iron Lady and this guy really helped me with my dialect in Troy'. I never told either of them I did that. Now they know."
Clooney's interview with Kimmel aired in the U.S. on Thursday night (06Feb14).
Paul Walker has topped the 2013 Google U.K. searches survey, just weeks after his death became headline news. The Fast & Furious star was killed when the sports car he was travelling in crashed into a tree and exploded on 30 November (13).
Fans rushed to the web to find out about the tragic story and pushed him to the top of Google's annual end-of-year Zeitgeist countdown.
The release of the latest Apple iPhone was the second most-searched topic ahead of the birth of British royal baby Prince George in July (13) in third place. The death of another celebrity - Glee star Cory Monteith, who died of an overdose in July (13) - was fourth in the countdown.
The passing of global figures made up the majority of the top 10 searches, with the deaths of Nelson Mandela earlier this month (Dec13) and former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in April (13) coming in at six and nine.
Claudine Beaumont from Google U.K. says, "Our annual Zeitgeist survey provides a fascinating snapshot of our interests and obsessions for the year.
"Celebrities always get a lot of interest and the passing of well-known figures makes people want to learn more about them."
Atlantic Releasing Corporation
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a movie about the future. It also happens to be a movie about a totalitarian state. So while we're counting down before the release, it might be fun to view some other films about a jackbooted future.
Although there was also a 1956 film based on George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four — the novel that defined our thinking about the meaning of totalitarianism — a second British production was released during the year in question.
It was not simply the meta-ness of the release date that added resonance to this particular screen adaptation of the book. By the late 1970s, the high unemployment rate in the U.K. had set the stage for the conservative "rebellion" of Margaret Thatcher. Nestled within this social context, director Michael Radford's rendering of Orwell's dystopia felt a little less like science fiction and more like a meditation on 20th Century realpolitik.
Which is, of course, the best thing about good science fiction: it invariably turns out to be fact.
It’s a good thing Seth MacFarlane brought his A-Game Sunday night because the winners’ speeches certainly didn’t serve up much in the way of “memorable moments.” Sure, we liked Christopher Plummer saying that he hoped the nominated actresses in the Dolby Theatre “will appear in some of my next 30 movies.” And Daniel Day-Lewis revealing the bombshell that he was in the running to play Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady before that interloper Meryl Streep beat him for the part. But it was the Family Guy creator’s night — for better or worse. Here are Top 10 picks for his jokes that tickled our funny bones the most.
RELATED: Oscars 2013: See the Winners Here!
10. "A lot of controversy about the use of the N-word in the film. I'm told the screenplay is based on Mel Gibson's voicemail."—Referring to Django Unchained.
9. “First time I saw him [Ben Affleck] with all that dark facial hair I thought, my god, the Kardashians have finally made the jump to film.”
8. "She [Jennifer Lawrence] told me whether she wins or loses, she told me it's just an honor that Meryl Streep wasn't nominated."
7. "This is a story about a man fighting to get back his woman who has been subjected to unspeakable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie." --Referring to Django Unchained
6. “It’s Sunday, everybody’s dressed up. This is like church, only with more people praying.”
5. “It'll be 16 years till she's too old for George Clooney.” –About 9-year-old Beasts of the Southern Wild Best Actress nominee Quvenzhané Wallis.
4. "The quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh starts now."
3. "Tonight's ceremony is being watched by over a billion people worldwide. Which is why Jodie Foster will be up here later to ask for her privacy." –Referring to Foster’s Golden Globes speech.
2. “Daniel Day-Lewis got so into character [as Lincoln] that when he saw Don Cheadle he tried to free him.”
1. “I would argue that the actor that really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.”
Which joke was your favorite?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images]Oscars 2013 Special Coverage
Oscars 2013 Red Carpet Arrivals: PICS!
• Anne Hathaway: Oscar’s Worst Dressed?• 15 Oscar-Winning Nude Scenes• Seth MacFarlane’s Opening: How’d He Do?• Oscar's Problem With Pretty Boys• What Happened to Renee Zellweger's Face?• Oscars 2013: The Full Winners List• The Winner, According to You
From Our Partners:40 Most Revealing See-Through Red Carpet Looks (Vh1)33 Child Stars: Where Are They Now? (Celebuzz)
If at any time in the past few months you have passed a bookstore window, watched a Saturday Night Live clip, or taken a second look at the slightly-too-on-edge woman clutching a veiled piece of reading material on the subway, then you're probably familiar with Fifty Shades of Grey.
E.L. James' erotic novel has become an international bestseller, which, in this day and age, almost guarantees a movie adaptation. And with a book this popular, a studio is bound to opt for the biggest names imaginable to sign on board — for instance, Deadline reports rumors that have surrounded Angelina Jolie's interest in directing the movie. But sometimes, movies are better served straying away from superstars like these. Jolie's feature debut as a director was 2011's In the Land of Blood and Honey, a hard-hitting account of a young romantic couple suffering through the Bosnian War. Whereas a story like this is more than capable of drawing attention from the public, the larger-than-life name of "Angelina Jolie" seemed to have overshadowed the film's actual content. Anybody could have told you, "Angelina Jolie is directing a movie." Of course, their following statement would likely have been, "It's, uh... about war, or something." As such, the film never really took off appropriately. People who specifically want an Angelina Jolie movie want aren't necessary looking for a gritty war drama. The same problem often arrives in regards to casting. It was difficult to believe that superstar George Clooney could endure the problems of an everyday family man in the otherwise terrific The Descendants. It was hard to get past the Meryl Streep-ness in The Iron Lady's Margaret Thatcher. Sometimes, a smaller presence does wonders in the depiction of a large character or story. And that's what Fifty Shades of Grey is. Whatever your opinion on the phenomenon, it is certainly just that: a phenomenon. In order to stress the inherent power of Fifty Shades of Gray, studios would be wise to downplay the names onboard. Think about how many people knew who Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson were before Twilight — the Shades trilogy would be wisest to build its own stars. Director included. 50 Shades of Grey [Photo Credit: Adriana M. Barraza / WENN.com] More: '50 Shades of Grey': The Book Everyone is Talking About Ian Somerhalder is Ready to Get Down in 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Pulitzer Prize Winners: 2011 Fiction That Could Have Won
The public voted Oldman the Best British Film Star for his Academy Award-nominated role as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The thrilled star said, "This is the first prize for acting in a specific performance that I've received in over 20 years and that makes it all the more special."
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was also named British Film of the Year and Best Screenplay at the awards. The latter prize was accepted by Peter Straughan, who created the script with his late wife and writing partner Bridget O'Connor.
Oldman's fellow Oscar nominee Streep was also a big winner, claiming the critics' Best Actress honour for her portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
The Artist dominated the RAFA critics' categories, claiming the Film of the Year and Best Filmmaker (Michel Hazanavicius) trophies, while Michael Fassbender was named the critics' Best Actor for his portrayal of a sex addict in Shame.
The full list of winners is:
Critics' Film of the year: The Artist
Critics' Best Filmmaker: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Critics' Best Screenwriter: Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Critics' Best Actor: Michael Fassbender (Shame)
Critics' Best Actress: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Critics' Rising Star: Tom Hiddleston
Public's British Film of the Year: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Public's Animated film: Arthur Christmas
Public's Family Film: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Public's Best British Film Star: Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Public's Favourite Film Star: Robert Pattinson
Public's Most Anticipated Film: The Dark Knight Rises.
The star was the clear favourite to win the drama prize for her portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, but in the excitement she left her spectacles at her table.
As she started to congratulate the other actresses in the category, she suddenly realised what she had left behind and yelped, "Oh s**t my glasses!"
She then looked desperately at her table and signalled for her glasses but realised she would have to press on, adding, "OK, I'm gonna have to remember my speech."
Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein attempted to save the night for Streep by recovering her glasses and passing them to George Clooney but Streep battled on sightless.
She completed her acceptance speech by thanking Weinstein, joking, "I'd like to thank my agent and God, Harvey Weinstein."