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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You don't arrive at the Grand Budapest Hotel without your share of Wes Anderson baggage. Odds are, if you've booked a visit to this film, you've enjoyed your past trips to the Wes Indies (I promise I'll stop this extended metaphor soon), delighting especially in Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and his most recent charmer Moonrise Kingdom. On the other hand, you could be the adventurous sort — a curious diplomat who never really got Anderson's uric-toned deadpan drudgings but can't resist browsing through the brochures of his latest European getaway. First off, neither community should worry about a bias in this review — I'm a Life Aquatic devotee, equally alienating to both sides. Second, neither community should be deterred by Andersonian expectations, be they sky high or subterranean, in planned Budapest excursions. No matter who you are, this movie will charm your dandy pants off and then some.
While GBH hangs tight to the filmmaker's recognizable style, the movie is a departure for Anderson in a number of ways. The first being plot: there is one. A doozy, too. We're accustomed to spending our Wes flicks peering into the stagnant souls of pensive man-children — or children-men (Moonrise) or fox-kits (guess) — whose journeys are confined primarily to the internal. But not long into Grand Budapest, we're on a bona fide adventure with one of the director's most attractive heroes to date: the didactic Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes mastering sympathetic comedy better than anyone could have imagined he might), who invests his heart and soul into the titular hotel, an oasis of nobility in a decaying 1930s Europe. Gustave is plucked from his sadomasochistic nirvana overseeing every cog and sprocket in the mountaintop institution and thrust into a madcap caper — reminiscent of, and not accidentally, the Hollywood comedies of the era — involving murder, framing, art theft, jailbreak, love, sex, envy, secret societies, high speed chases... believe me, I haven't given half of it away. Along the way, we rope in a courageous baker (Saoirse Ronan), a dutiful attorney (Jeff Goldblum), a hotheaded socialite (Adrien Brody) and his psychopathic henchman (Willem Dafoe), and no shortage of Anderson regulars. The director proves just as adept at the large scale as he is at the small, delivering would-be cartoon high jinks with the same tangible life that you'd find in a Billy Wilder romp or one of the better Hope/Crosby Road to movies.
Anchoring the monkey business down to a recognizable planet Earth (without sacrificing an ounce of comedy) is the throughline of Gustave's budding friendship with his lobby boy, Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori, whose performance is an unprecedented and thrilling mixture of Wes Anderson stoicism and tempered humility), the only living being who appreciates the significance of the Grand Budapest as much as Gustave does. In joining these two oddballs on their quest beyond the parameters of FDA-approved doses of zany, we appreciate it, too: the significance of holding fast to something you believe in, understand, trust, and love in a world that makes less and less sense everyday. Anderson's World War II might not be as ostensibly hard-hitting as that to which modern cinema is accustomed, but there's a chilling, somber horror story lurking beneath the surface of Grand Budapest. Behind every side-splitting laugh, cookie cutter backdrop, and otherworldly antic, there is a pulsating dread that makes it all mean something. As vivid as the worlds of Rushmore, Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise might well have been, none have had this much weight and soul.
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So it's astonishing that we're able to zip to and fro' every crevice of this haunting, misty Central Europe at top speeds, grins never waning as our hero Gustave delivers supernaturally articulate diatribes capped with physically startling profanity. So much of it is that delightfully odd, agonizingly devoted character, his unlikely camaraderie with the unflappably earnest young Zero, and his adherence to the magic that inhabits the Grand Budapest Hotel. There are few places like it on Earth, as we learn. There aren't many movies like it here either.
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Gone are the days of calling Kate Middleton and Prince William's firstborn the #royalbaby: our red, wrinkly prince now has a name. Huzzah!
In keeping with tradition, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge decided to mash a bunch of male royal names together to come up with George Alexander Louis, the BBC reports. Henceforth, the bundle of joy will be known as His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge (try telling that to Twitter). Little Baby George follows in the footsteps of six previous Georges who have worn the king's crown. Either that, or the Duke and Duchess are huge Seinfeld fans — think about it: George Costanza played by Jason Alexander...
While George is certainly a stately, powerful name is a long history in the United Kingdom, we can't help be a bit disappointed that Kate and Will didn't decide to go for the trendier Eddard.
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It is quite unnecessary to ever ask anyone who their favorite main character on Seinfeld is. First of all, there are only two possible answers. And second, you can tell straight away just by knowing someone, by affording a second of contemplation toward this person's general attitude and sensibility, which of the two possible answers he or she will pick. The cynics, the worriers, the "dark and disturbed" lot who qualify life by its day-to-day horrors will invariably pick George. And then there's the other sort: the dreamers, the impulsive head-in-the-clouds community, who will always pick Kramer. The world is divided by its Georges and its Kramers, both substantial components to any dysfunctional society worth its salt. And be you a George or a Kramer, a Costanza or a Cosmo, an Art Vandalay or a Dr. Van Nostrand, you will be intrigued by the news that hits the television world today: Jason Alexander and Michael Richards have earned new TV gigs. Alexander will be guesting on a Season 4 episode of Community, while Richards has been cast in the pilot of Kirstie Alley's TVLand series Giant Baby.
Alexander broke the news himself via Twitter on Tuesday: "Filming a crazy episode of COMMUNITY this week. Can't say much about it but it's a fun one." No details have been revealed about Alexander's character, but it is worth noting that this will be one of the few episodes of the season not to feature Chevy Chase (as the actor recently announced his immediate resignation from the program).
Richards' news, reported by Entertainment Weekly, reveals that he will be playing a limo driver to Broadway star Maddie Banks (Alley) in the pilot of the comedy series, which will focus on Maddie's attempts to reconnect with the now-grown son she once gave up for adoption. Alley's fellow Cheers alum Rhea Perlman will costar on the show.
Each of these bits of news is interesting, although uniquely. We have Alexander paying a visit to the low-rated cult phenomenon Community, a critically adored, often experimental take on the art of the modern sitcom, created by and for people who love, understand, and have seen way too much television. Among those people, Seinfeld fans are plentiful. It was this show that launched a new attitude toward television comedy, a new postmodernity that made possible the likes of Community and its contemporary peers. Naturally, the people who watch Community are people who also watched Seinfeld (though you can't necessarily claim the reverse). As such, nobody is going to hear about Alexander coming to Greendale and not be pretty excited over it.
Richards on Giant Baby is an entirely different story. We don't know much about Alley's developing program yet, but there is an undeniable negative stigma attached to TVLand original series. Hearing of Richards' involvement with the show might disappoint adoring Seinfeld fans; and hearing of the show's involvement with Richards might disgust many who are still upset about his offensive tirade circa 2006. But anyone who caught Richards' appearance on the final episode of Jerry Seinfeld's web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee knows that this is a very interesting man we have at our disposal. A bizarre, arguably troubled, invariably entertaining and somehow kind of sophisticated force of living outsider art. And good or bad, his involvement enough, a rare acting turn for the Richards of late, is at the very least interesting.
The Seinfeld Cast and Creators Since Seinfeld
Larry David hasn't exactly been grasping at straws for creative outlets since his leave from Seinfeld in 1996, and the program's eventual conclusion two years later (he returned to write the generally detested finale). David launched his HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2000 (can you believe it was that long ago?), and has sat pretty at the head of the series' eight revered seasons.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Seinfeld's Elaine, has herself experienced a good deal of television success. Her starring role on the network sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine, which aired from '06 to '10, earned her a couple of Emmys, and her more recent turn on the HBO comedy Veep is reminding us just how gifted a performer Louis-Dreyfus is, even (or especially) when she's playing a character who is wholly unlikable.
Seinfeld co-creator, star, and namesake Jerry Seinfeld hasn't exactly remained as large a constant on the small screen — ventures have included the short-lived Marriage Ref and guest appearances on Curb, 30 Rock, and Louie, not to mention his starring role in the animated Bee Movie (which he cowrote), his return to the stand-up game, and the often interesting web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
And then there were two. Alexander and Richards. George and Kramer. Koko the Monkey and H. E. Pennypacker. Both of whom have vied, unsuccessfully, to headline their own shows — for Alexander, Bob Patterson and Step It Up; for Richards, The Michael Richards Show. One of whom has effectively ruined his reputation with an offensive tirade during a stand-up routine six years back. The other of whom hasn't really done much of anything, other than narrate whatever Clipaholics is. And of course, each has appeared as himself on Curb.
Will you be tuning in to watch Alexander on Community and Richards on Giant Baby?
[Photo Credit: NBC]
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