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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Veteran musician Van Dyke Parks has risked causing outrage by insisting controversial world leaders Richard Nixon and Margaret Thatcher should have died sooner. The songwriter/producer, who is best known for his groundbreaking work with Beach Boys star Brian Wilson in the 1960s, has previously told how he was devastated by the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
He is adamant Kennedy was a force for good in the world and insists shamed President Nixon - who was run out of office in the wake of the Watergate scandal - and former British Prime Minister Thatcher encouraged materialist thinking.
However, Parks has risked upsetting friends, family, and supporters of the political heavyweights by revealing he wishes they had not lived so long.
He tells NME magazine, "I mark this event (the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death) with the knowledge that we would live in a better world if the Kennedys had not been assassinated. It would be a more kindly world. It would be a less materialistic world. It would be a world not so riddled with material girls and greed. There would not be this celebration, this eroticism of wealth, had the Kennedys lived.
"So... I regret that John Kennedy was assassinated... I believe that a lot of people can die late in life and still die prematurely. A lot of people don't die soon enough - I would put in those ranks Dick Nixon (sic) and Margaret Thatcher."
Jonathan Winters, a comedian known for his stand-up, impressions, and guest starring roles on tons of movies and TV shows (including the final season of Mork & Mindy) died of natural causes on Thursday at his home, the New York Times reports.
Winters got his start in the '50s performing comedy routines and his many voices on radio stations in the midwest. He soon moved on to live performances, best-selling comedy albums, and The Tonight Show , which made his character Maude Frickert, a mean old lady, quite famous. He played small roles in scores of movies and was a regular panelist on the original Hollywood Squares. He also did a stint on the long-running Hee-Haw in the '80s.
Later in life, Winters had a second career using his incredibly versatile voice in cartoons. He did a guest spot on Scooby-Doo as himself and later did voices for The Smurfs, Pound Puppies, and Animaniacs. Winters was famously institutionalized in the '50s and urban legend had it that he couldn't distinguish himself from his many characters. In reality he was diagnosed as bipolar.
Today we try not to think of that and remember, instead, his hilarious and versatile skills as a comedian.
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Bridesmaids has a lot going against it, awards-wise (namely Oscars-wise). Comedies are looked down upon, with Heavy Dramas – especially those in which a big-name thesp eschews glamor and/or adopts any dialect that isn’t his own – being the clear-cut favorite children of Academy voters. Quick: Name the last comedy, not dramedy, to have even been nominated for Best Picture. You can’t. Of course you can’t (unless, that is, you were part of the production of 1997’s The Full Monty).
Bridesmaids also has its “femaleness” as a disadvantage. Although the film isn't a chick flick per se, almost all of its main characters are women, and the most recent Best Picture winner with merely a somewhat estrogenic cast is 1983’s Terms of Endearment. Finally, Academy Awards don’t usually go to summer movies; they’re not even usually in the mix, as though containing an asterisk if released during the hot months (The Hurt Locker was an anomaly in 2008, inexplicably released among the sequels and comic-book adaptations of June), hence the unofficial cinematic segregation known as Blockbuster Season (summer) and Oscars Season (winter).
But it’s time for the so-called rules to change …
For starters, great comedy – not to be confused with the very, very mediocre comedy (and below that, the Adam Sandler comedy) that saturates today’s multiplex and the box office – is extremely difficult to produce, possibly even (ear muffs, Academy members) more difficult than great drama. Who’s to say there isn’t just as much skill in conceiving of a movie that makes an audience laugh, really laugh, as there is in conceiving of a movie that makes an audience cry or reflect or ponder? Likewise, is there not as much formidable artifice in crafting a comedic performance as there is in crafting a dramatic, or even dramedic, one? This is where Kristen Wiig comes in, because as the star, co-writer and altogether center of Bridesmaids, she is largely responsible for the year’s best comedy – and one of its best non-comedies.
Wiig turns in a top-notch, ridiculously under-recognized performance that’s worthy of, at the very least, a Best Actress nomination. We don’t expect her to overthrow Queen Meryl in the category, but she needs to be IN the category – and pardon the blasphemy, but did Streep, as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, play up, down, happy, sad, hilarious, wry, showy, quiet and more, the way Wiig did as Annie? (Apples and oranges, yes, since Streep’s role didn’t call for it, but the comparison bears mentioning.) We’re not suggesting Wiig’s performance was superior to Streep’s, but she cannot be excluded from the conversation simply because she comes devoid of expectations and a track record, unlike Streep, who was a Best Actress shoo-in even before production started on her movie, based on the subject she was to be portraying and the quality of performance to which we’ve grown accustomed from her. And that sums up Bridesmaids as a whole: It’s damn near perfect – plus, let’s not forgot its all-important blockbuster status – and it can’t be excluded from the big Oscar categories simply because it is of Comedic descent. The Hollywood Foreign Press got it right (mostly). Your move, Academy…
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.
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher? The actress is in talks to reteam with her Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd for Thatcher, a biopic of the former British prime minister.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Jim Broadbent is in talks to play Thatcher's husband, Denis.
The film is being developed by Pathe and BBC Films.
Damien Jones is producing and came up with the story with Brian Fillis, who wrote the screenplay.
Set in 1982, the project tracks Thatcher as she tries to save her career in the 17 days preceding the 1982 Falklands War.
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.