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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Can you believe we’re only two episodes into Breaking Bad’s final run? This show packs more into two episodes than other series do during half a season. I mean, by the end of “Buried” the suspense practically reached the breaking point. And not because of any “didn’t see it coming!” twists or mindf**k reveals. Because of the building turmoil of the characters conveyed through some pretty incredible acting — especially Anna Gunn, who turned in possibly her all-time best performance as Skyler.
The opening scene was like a suicidal depressive’s drug-fueled take on one of Grimm’s fairy tales: Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman driving through Albuquerque, throwing wads of cash out his car window as if he were leaving breadcrumbs behind him. But whereas Hansel & Gretel threw breadcrumbs to find their way back from whence they'd come, Jesse didn’t seek to be tethered to the past. Each wad of money he chucked out into the New Mexico night was like a stepping stone toward atonement, and maybe his chance at a future. It’s hard not to see Zen symbolism in the playground carousel where he ended his journey: Jesse stuck in an endless loop, a cycle of depression and misery that he just can’t get out of. But maybe getting rid of that money was his first step toward enlightenment. The next step could be spilling all about Walter White to Hank, when he comes in to interrogate him. Certainly Jesse is the witness, the evidence, that Hank needs to put Walt away. What will happen next?
“Buried” then picked up right where “Blood Money” left off: with Walt leaving Hank’s garage after their confrontation last week. As he was walking down Hank’s driveway, he stopped and turned to look back at his brother-in-law one last time. Director Michelle MacLaren framed their wordless standoff like the low-angle buildup to one of Sergio Leone’s shootouts, shot at the ankle and hip. Walt immediately called Skyler, but the car wash attendant told him that she was on the phone talking to someone else and would not hang up. She wouldn’t hang up? Walt turned around and saw Hank on the phone. Skyler must have been talking to him. And she was.
Skyler went to meet Hank at a diner, possibly the same one where Mike met with Lydia when she was playing cloak-and-dagger at the start of Season 5. Hank immediately hugged her. It was a long, slow hug, the kind that are always uncomfortable. See, he had no idea just how far she had collaborated with Walt. He seemed so overly conciliatory and concerned, he must have wanted something from her. And he did. He wanted her to record a statement into his recorder implicating her husband for his crimes. But we saw something more from Hank then and throughout the whole episode: he really has changed. Hank’s been humbled. This isn’t the guy who once was making Schraderbombs. He’s closer to the guy who collected rocks. Sorry, minerals. And he may feel even more vulnerable now than when he was shot by the Twins. Those were two cartel hitmen, an external threat. Walt is family. “The monster” or “the animal” as he kept calling him when to talking to Skyler was right under his nose the whole time. His own family bred chaos. Nothing for Hank will ever be safe again.
Hank told her Walt said his cancer is back. That seemed to change something in Skyler. She may have been waiting for it to come back. She may have been hoping for it to come back. But to actually have it come back is a whole other thing entirely. As Hank kept pressing her, she eventually said she felt she needed a lawyer, and he snapped that she didn’t. That raised a red flag. If he really had her best interests at heart, why wouldn’t he let her call a lawyer? She started to pull away and scream “Am I under arrest?” over and over and left the diner. Sadly, AMC already threw up the hashtag #amIunderarrest to promote their Talking Bad show following the episode, a transparent and phony attempt by them to create a viral moment rather than let it happen naturally.
Actually, #ScroogeMcDuck would have been the better hashtag, and is probably already trending. Huell proved himself one of the best supporting characters Breaking Bad has ever had once again. He and an accomplice had been sent by Saul to pack up Walt’s money at the storage facility and bring it to him in a truck. But Huell just had to lay on it, to wallow in a greenback mattress. “We are here to do a job, not channel Scrooge McDuck,” his partner said. But eventually he succumbed too.
Back at Saul’s, Walt’s attorney assessed the situation with him. Well, once they hide the money Hank won’t have any real evidence, right? As long as they keep Jesse under lock and key, of course. Beyond that, “Have you given any thought to sending [Hank] on a trip to Belize?” Saul asked. “You know? Where Mike went to?” Walt protested. This is different. Hank is family. Meaning that there’s still one boundary Walt will not cross. “I’ll send you to Belize.”
All great moments. But this was Anna Gunn’s night. She topped her own performance in the diner with Hank when Marie came to visit her. Hank had told her sister everything. And now Marie wanted to know when Skyler had found out. It must have been right around the time she took that creepy, fully-clothed dip into the pool, right? No, wait. It must have been when she took the kids and stayed at their place around the time of the Gus Fring explosion? No, wait. It must have been when they bought the car wash? Retracing the events of the past year, Marie came to realize how long Skyler must really have known. All the while, Skyler whimpered and cried, and basically confirmed everything…but without words. Without an on-the-record confession. She said everything by saying nothing. Finally, Marie realized Skyler must have known even before the Twins shot Hank. She slapped her, stormed out, took the baby and tried to leave the house. Now Skyler recovered her speech. She tried to take the baby back and even Hank had to come in to tell Marie to do so. What a classic Marie move to act like such a crazy person that she made this revelatory moment in her family’s history all about her. As she always does. If anything, Hank and Marie finding out about Walt makes them realize how truly small they are — in their vision, in terms of their powers of perception, and even their trespasses. Marie needs little ego trips like pretending she’s a hand model and stealing from model homes to feel transgressive. Walt and Skyler committed far greater crimes but at least made millions off it. Discovering Walt and Skyler’s crimes shouldn’t reinforce Hank and Marie’s worldview, it should shatter it. Their cultivated banality has been exposed.
Walt went out into the desert, buried the money, memorized the GPS coordinates, then returned home. He assumed Skyler had immediately caved to Hank’s pressure. He was wrong. But he collapsed in a heap in their bathroom. When he woke up hours later, he confirmed the cancer is back and said that he’d give himself up so long as she and the children keep the money. “The way Hank talks,” Skyler said, “He’s got his suspicions but not much else.” Maybe their best move here is just to stay quiet. Meaning that Skyler would not take up Walt on his sacrificial offer.
Of course, Walt and Skyler can stay quiet, but who can make their accomplices do the same? First off, there’s Lydia. Off in a desert junkyard, she met with her new supplier, the guy who took possession of Walt’s meth. She was none too happy that he was serving up a product of only 68% purity. It was selling, yes. But her buyer in the Czech Republic really does care about maintaining standards. She wanted him to at least use Todd. So the guy brought her down into the lab, a dark, dank, dirty place where no really high-quality meth could possibly be made. And suddenly, trouble seemed to take place on the surface. He went up to check, but automatic gunfire rang out, shouts were uttered, and suddenly…all was silent. Todd then peered down the Hatch and told her it was safe. He and his family would be taking control of the meth-making operation. He escorted her up, but before she emerged on the surface she said the immortal words, “I don’t want to see.” She can commit these crimes, but she doesn’t have to see them, to have a visual record of them lodged in her memory. As if somehow the horror of what she does would become more real that way. With her eyes closed the whole way, Todd escorted her over the killing field.
Hank then explained to Marie his strategy for bringing in Walt. He had to track down the crucial bit of evidence that would put him away himself. “Who do you think you are, Lone Wolf McQuaid?” Marie asked. But it really was the only way for him to have a shred of dignity in how his career ends. Because his career would end, one way or another. Without the evidence, his colleagues at the DEA wouldn’t believe him and would think that he had truly lost it. With the evidence, they would put Walt away…but never forgive Hank for being so myopic as to not realize Heisenberg was under his nose the whole time. Hank knew it too. He knew that ten seconds after he tells them, his career his over. Which of course means there’s some incentive for Hank to not tell anybody. That way he could preserve his career, unless of course somebody else at the DEA catches Walt instead. If he doesn’t tell the DEA, Hank will betray everything he believes in. If he does tell them, his life as he’s known it is over.
Maybe it’s a decision he won’t even have to make. Jesse Pinkman was picked up for questioning after throwing his millions across town, and somehow Hank knew he was the evidence he needed. The final image was of Hank walking into Jesse’s holding cell and closing the door behind him.
Is that a cliffhanger or what?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
More: ‘Breaking Bad’ Recap: Walter White Vs. Hank Schrader The ‘Breaking Bad’ Conspiracy Theory You Won’t Believe How Will Walter White Die?
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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.
The Bond fans' Web site, www.bond20.com, dedicated to provide information about the latest James Bond movie, has failed in its mission, the producers told Reuters on Wednesday.
Eon Productions, responsible for the upcoming Bond film, said the script featured on the Web site does not belong to them. The production company added that the plot was the product of a fan's overactive imagination.
"The film hasn't got a name yet. It's only in the very beginning of pre-production," a spokeswoman for Eon Productions said.
Controversial Nazi-era film maker Leni Riefenstahl, recently told German magazine Bunte that she was taking morphine to relieve the pain for her severe back pain. She survived a helicopter crash in 2000 while vacationing in Sudan, Africa where she was taking photographs. Riefenstahl turns 99 on Wednesday.
The Early Show host Bryant Gumbel and his wife June Gumbel, ended their 27-year marriage on Tuesday. Accusations that the talk-show host cheated on his wife with a series of mistresses surround the proceedings, the Associated Press reports. Details on the agreement were sealed.
Academy Award winning actress Angelina Jolie will be named United Nations Goodwill Ambassador in Geneva next Monday, the U.N. refugee agency told Reuters on Wednesday. Jolie has already visited refugee camps in Sierra Leone and Cambodia, and is currently in Pakistan.
Former Survivor contestant Richard Hatch was arrested in Middletown, R.I. on Tuesday for a domestic dispute with his boyfriend, reports television entertainment show Access Hollywood. After turning himself in, Hatch was released on his own recognizance and was ordered to be in court on Sept. 7 to face misdemeanor charges of assault.
Kate Hudson's former personal assistant, Margaret Miller, is planning to counter-sue the film star for wrongful termination and defamation, her lawyer Arthur Barens told Reuters on Tuesday. Hudson has sued her assistant for spending $63,000 on limousines, hotel rooms, plane tickets, and other personal expenses.
ABC anchorman Jack Ford says he is going elsewhere if the network doesn't make him a host of Good Morning America or give him another high-profile anchor slot, the Associated Press reports. During his initial negotiations with ABC, Ford was told co-host Charlie Gibson was going to be on the show with Diane Sawyer temporarily to increase ratings, but the coupling turned out to be a match made in ratings heaven, removing the temporary tag from Gibson's assignment.
Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell and his wife, Leighanne, have formed BriLeigh Prods., a music label and entertainment production company in association with Insight Entertainment Group, reports Reuters. The main focus is to launch a recording label, but the company has plans to produce both films and television shows by the end of 2002.
Pop group Destiny's Child recently purchased a recording studio in Houston from Texas Justice star Larry Joe Doherty. "This town is thirsty for something natinal and what Matthew Knowles [DC's manager] has going is international," Doherty told the Los Angeles Times last month.
Tony Danza will host the 81st annual Miss America Pageant, airing Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. on ABC. Bob Bain, the producer of the telecast, told The Associated Press that Danza's charm, enthusiasm and energy would complement the format changes of the show. This year the contest will feature quiz shows, reality TV, and an opportunity for contestants to vote for the winner.
Brendan Fraser will next be seen playing the role of Brick in the Tennessee Williams classic A Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, when the play opens in London next month, reports Reuters. Ned Beatty will join Fraser on the British stage.
Having closed in 1996 after Burt Reynolds lost the property due to bankruptcy, The Burt Reynolds Museum might come to life again. Florida town council members gave the museum a new, temporary home in an old bank building, says The Associated Press. Reynolds' 160-acre estate, which served as the old museum, was bought by a Palm Beach County school district for $3.85 million in 1999. All the memorabilia has been in storage ever since.
Did you know that Eminem has Scottish roots? Neither did we. But Betty Kresin, the controversial entertainer's grandmother, told the Daily Record (Kansas) newspaper that she was thrilled the rapper was giving a concert in the land of his forebears.
Steven Spielberg is set to direct and produce Catch Me, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. According to Reuters, the film is based on Frank Abagnale's 1980 memoir about the youngest man ever placed on the FBI's Most Wanted List. The project is eyeing a January production start.
Howard Stern is being considered for immortalization at the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum in New York City, the shock jock told his listeners on Tuesday's show. "Why would someone do this unless their ego is massive?" Stern said.