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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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.
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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.
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The idea of bringing a singing show contestant's life to screen may conjure up horrible memories of From Justin to Kelly, but based the talent lined up for One Chance, the story of Britain's Got Talent breakout Paul Potts, reality TV may be a deeper well of drama than one might think. Speaking to Hollywood.com in an interview for his new movie Hope Springs (which hits theaters August 8), director David Frankel revealed his approach to turning the story of a mobile-phone-store-manager-turned-opera-singer to life, along with new casting that solidify the project as one to watch.
"I don't know if all the deals are set, but I can tell you that it's Julie Walters, Colm Meany, Mackenzie Crook and a lovely young actress who actually worked [with Meryl Streep]," says Frankel. "Well, they didn't work together because she actually played the young Maggie Thatcher in the Iron Lady. Alexandra Roach. I have a text [from Meryl]: 'Hire her!'"
The quartet join James Corden, set to take on the role of Potts. The actor most recently won the Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Play for his role in One Man, Two Guvnors.
"He can sing. I don't know if he can sing opera," says Frankel. "I don't know exactly how we're going to do the singing yet, we're still working on it. It's just a great Billy Elliot/Fully Monty-ish little British movie that will really surprise people by in its universal appeal."
Potts wowed Britain's Got Talent audiences in 2007 with a performance Puccini's famed aria "Nessun dorma." News of the tear-jerker rendition quickly went viral — to date, a video of his stirring number has been viewed 97.7 million times. Spinning that bite-sized drama into something longer and interesting may be Frankel's biggest task for Once Chance. "That challenge is the Apollo 13 challenge. It's the 'how' of it. Enjoying the journey with him. Really, what we're familiar in the YouTube clip is the last three minutes of the movie. It's everything up to that point."
Frankel is heading to Europe this week to begin pre-production on the film, with a potential for a 2013 release.
Watch the original clip from Britain's Got Talent below and check back this week for our full interview with director David Frankel.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: WENN.com]
James Corden Is Paul Potts: A Visual Comparison
'Hope Springs': Meryl Streep & Tommy Lee Jones Get Sex Tips from Steve Carell — TRAILER
Meryl Streep, 62, to Play Teen in 'Romeo & Juliet'
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
Hugh Grant, Sienna Miller and J.K. Rowling were pretty delighted when Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, admitted to and apologized for encouraging News of the World journalists to hack into people's phones and bribe police officers as a means of getting information to print in their successful tabloid magazine. And it's pretty safe to say they were particularly happy when on July 7th, 2011, the paper was shut down after being in print for the last 168 years. But even though the paper has been discontinued and several powerful individuals have been forced to resign from their jobs (such as the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, Sir Paul Stephenson), the investigation into News of the World's conduct continues: on July 15th, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder promised to launch an investigation to determine whether or not Murdoch's company, News Corporation (which has headquarters in the U.S.), had breached the Foreign Corruption Practices Act. Additionally, Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, ordered that Parliament continue to evaluate the ethics of current media practices. And in order to make sure no other publication tries to illegally obtain information the way Murdoch and his employees did, Grant, Miller, Rowling and 43 other public figures "who have, or may have, suffered as a consequence of press activity" will all hare their stories about how News of the World directly targeted them with P.M. Cameron.
Grant is expected to talk about how he recorded a conversation with Paul McMullan (a reporter and photographer for News of the World), who stated that British politicians were aware that reporters had been ordered to tap people's phone lines, and that every Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher had a very close relationship with Murdoch. Miller was one of the celebrities who had her phone hacked into and the content of her voice mail messages published. The tabloid apologized for their actions in June and when she took them to court, News Corporation awarded her 100,000 pounds (or $150,000). And finally, Harry Potter author Rowling will make remarks about how photos of her two-year-old son were published in News of the World, and how people should be able to protect their children from being publicly exposed, even if their parents are in the spotlight.
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Sources: Huffpo, TheMarySue, Wikipedia, Moviefone, TPM
The veteran star, known for her impersonations of former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, passed away in her sleep at a nursing home in Hove, south east England. Her death comes following a short illness, according to her agent Susan Angel.
Brown began her career in the 1930s, but it wasn't until the 1970s that she really found fame, showing off her impersonation skills during appearances on The Mike Yarwood Show.
Her Thatcher spoof was so good, she was cast as the leading politician in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only in 1981.
She later starred in British TV dramas such as Midsomer Murders, Casualty and Hotel Babylon.
Brown, who was married to late Carry On star Peter Butterworth, is survived by their actor son Tyler Butterworth.
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.
Brace yourself Dr. Laura. This clueless teen queen (Natasha Lyonne) has it all: good looks a football captain boyfriend and a popular pair of pom-poms. But her candy-colored world crumbles when her panicked parents stage an intervention after finding a Melissa Etheridge poster that leads them to conclude she's a friend of Ellen. After being carted off to an anti-gay rehab camp for teens the perky princess must choose between the straight and narrow-minded or the love that dare not speak its name.
The quirky ensemble casting is half this film's fun. Lyonne is charming as the pepster tempted by T&A and she sparks onscreen with swanky and sexy co-star Clea DuVall who plays the butch femme fatale suitor (alarmingly reminiscent of Nancy McKeon's Jo from "The Facts of Life.") Drag queen supreme RuPaul is unrecognizable out of his high heels and even higher blond wig wearing a "Straight is Great" T-shirt as a macho militant ex-gay counselor. Cathy Moriaty is sweetly sinister as the homophobic headmistress and Mink Stole steals scenes as the uptight upright meddling mom.
Kudos to Jamie Babbit for tackling this hot-potato topic but this well-intentioned film too often misses its mark turning potentially comical scenes into unbearably awkward moments. Babbit fouls when tugging at the heartstrings but hits home runs when the humor is at its broadest.