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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For the bulk of every Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, moose and squirrel would engage in high concept escapades that satirized geopolitics, contemporary cinema, and the very fabrics of the human condition. With all of that to work with, there's no excuse for why the pair and their Soviet nemeses haven't gotten a decent movie adaptation. But the ingenious Mr. Peabody and his faithful boy Sherman are another story, intercut between Rocky and Bullwinkle segments to teach kids brief history lessons and toss in a nearly lethal dose of puns. Their stories and relationship were much simpler, which means that bringing their shtick to the big screen would entail a lot more invention — always risky when you're dealing with precious material.
For the most part, Mr. Peabody & Sherman handles the regeneration of its heroes aptly, allowing for emotionally substance in their unique father-son relationship and all the difficulties inherent therein. The story is no subtle metaphor for the difficulties surrounding gay adoption, with society decreeing that a dog, no matter how hyper-intelligent, cannot be a suitable father. The central plot has Peabody hosting a party for a disapproving child services agent and the parents of a young girl with whom 7-year-old Sherman had a schoolyard spat, all in order to prove himself a suitable dad. Of course, the WABAC comes into play when the tots take it for a spin, forcing Peabody to rush to their rescue.
Getting down to personals, we also see the left brain-heavy Peabody struggle with being father Sherman deserves. The bulk of the emotional marks are hit as we learn just how much Peabody cares for Sherman, and just how hard it has been to accept that his only family is growing up and changing.
But more successful than the new is the film's handling of the old — the material that Peabody and Sherman purists will adore. They travel back in time via the WABAC Machine to Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, and the Trojan War, and 18th Century France, explaining the cultural backdrop and historical significance of the settings and characters they happen upon, all with that irreverent (but no longer racist) flare that the old cartoons enjoyed. And oh... the puns.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a f**king treasure trove of some of the most amazingly bad puns in recent cinema. This effort alone will leave you in awe.
The film does unravel in its final act, bringing the science-fiction of time travel a little too close to the forefront and dropping the ball on a good deal of its emotional groundwork. What seemed to be substantial building blocks do not pay off in the way we might, as scholars of animated family cinema, have anticipated, leaving the movie with an unfinished feeling.
But all in all, it's a bright, compassionate, reasonably educational, and occasionally funny if not altogether worthy tribute to an old favorite. And since we don't have our own WABAC machine to return to a time of regularly scheduled Peabody and Sherman cartoons, this will do okay for now.
If nothing else, it's worth your time for the puns.
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Election Season is far enough behind us to forget who Barack Obama even ran against (I wanna say it was Matt something?), the World Series has come and gone, and the vociferous campaign for People Magazine's Sexiest Man has landed a much less contested candidate than last year. You might think we have nothing left to debate — no polarizing argument in which to invest ourselves so vehemently to the point of popping veins and losing friendships. But you're overlooking one all-important dichotomy that has plagued our culture for the past several years: Edward Vs. Jacob.
The Twilight Saga heroine Bella Swan might have made her choice in the vampirious Mr. Cullen, but there are doubtlessly many who reserve affection for Edward's werewolf rival. The Team Edward/Team Jacob battle broke out between the installments of the book-turned-film series, plaguing the American populace with an intense animosity for the opposing sides. Some thought Edward to be Bella's meant-to-be, her first love, her soul mate. Others considered Jacob the more suitable partner, purer of heart and more capable of a giving, healthy relationship.
This is a phenomenon that has tread beyond the parameters of Twilight fandom into popular culture, affecting not only Twihards but the human species on the whole. And in its widespread outbreak, this pandemic has affected two particular communities the most: actual people named Edward and Jacob. No longer are these innocent men able to go about their days, enjoying the moniker supplied by loving parents. Now, there are connotations. They are unwittingly thrust into this bloodletting warfare, forced to defend their nomenclature against the opposing side.
But what's in a name? How does one state a case for the superior quality of his given handle? Simple: by citing some of the best examples of figures who have borne that same praenomen. So without further ado, we present to you just that. The ultimate showdown, broken down into nine disparate battles in the form of our very own additions to the Twilight Saga — other Edwards Vs. Jacobs... in pop culture, of course.
The Scorsese Saga: Fast Eddie Felson Vs. Jake LaMotta
Team Edward: Fast Eddie Felson, played by Paul Newman in The Color of Money
Powers at His Disposal: The almost unteachable skill of pool hustling, and the rare ability to teach it.
Team Jacob: Jake LaMotta, played by Robert De Niro in Raging Bull
Powers: A bull-like rage (also his undoing)
Winner: Jake LaMotta — Raging Bull is a classic (0/1)
The Seven Seas Saga: Blackbeard Vs. Jake of the Never Land Pirates
Team Edward: Real life 18th Century pirate Blackbeard, born Edward Teach
Powers: An iconoclastic reverence among enthusiasts of pirate culture and facial hair alike
Team Jacob: The starring player in the Disney cartoon Jake and the Never Land Pirates
Powers: The greatest power of all: the ability to teach children
Winner: Jake of the Never Land Pirates. It's good to be educational (0/2)
The Journalistic Saga: Edward R. Murrow Vs. Jacob Riis
Team Edward: Cold War-era CBS news reporter Edward R. Murrow
Powers: The ability to take down Joseph McCarthy with a single bound!
Team Jacob: Jacob Riis, turn-of-the-20th Century Danish-American reporter/social reformer
Powers: Laser-powered muckraking!
Winner: Edward R. Murrow... you can thank him for the lack of xenophobic oppression you might be facing today (1/2)
The Lost Saga: Edward Mars Vs. Jacob
Team Edward: Edward Mars (Frederic Lehne), the ill-fated U.S. Marshal assigned to the arrest of Kate Austen
Powers: A superhuman devotion to justice
Team Jacob: Jacob (Mark Pellegrino)... you know, the dude who's pretty much God
Powers: The dude is pretty much God
Winner: You might be surprised by this one, but Edward — at the end of the day, Jacob was kind of a bulls*** artist (2/2)
The Ramis Saga: Cousin Eddie Vs. Joliet Jake Blues
Team Edward: Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) of the National Lampoon's Vacation franchise fame
Powers: The ability to show up, unannounced, anywhere in the country that might provide peril to his cousin Chevy Chase
Team Jacob: Joliet Jake Blues (John Belushi), one half of the titular pair in The Blues Brothers
Powers: Just listen to the music, people
Winner: Belushi all the way, of course (2/3)
The Talking Dog Saga: Eddie McDowd Vs. Jake the Dog
Team Edward: Seth Green's forgettable Nickelodeon antihero from 100 Deeds of Eddie McDowd
Powers: Does shapeshifting count when you can't control it?
Team Jacob: Jake the Dog from the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time
Powers: That arm-stretching thing, and loyalty
Winner: Eddie McDowd, if only for that nostalgia factor with which so many of us are plagued (3/3)
The Sitcom Children Saga: Eddie Munster Vs. Jake Harper
Team Edward: In a strange inversion of fate, this Edward is a werewolf: young Eddie Munster (Butch Patrick) from the classic '60s sitcom The Munsters
Powers: Near immortality, transformation into full-on wolf come full moon, a snazzy fashion sense
Team Jacob: Jake Harper (Angus T. Jones), Jon Cryer's son on Two and a Half Men
Powers: Bodily functions.
Winner: Eddie Munster, because... well, you know (4/3)
The Mutant Pariah Saga: Edward Scissorhands Vs. Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Team Edward: Tim Burton's greatest creation, Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands
Powers: A love unparalleled
Team Jacob: Retired professional wrestler and python wrangler Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Powers: The snake, mostly
Winner: Another obvious victory for the Edwards... man, we all love that movie (5/3)
The Definitely Talented But Kind of Generic White Male Actor Over the Age of 30 Who Has Been in a Bunch of Good Things, Sure, But Hasn't Ever Really Taken Off as a Star — At Least Not Yet, Anyway Saga: Edward Norton Vs. Jake Gyllenhaal
Team Edward: Edward Norton of Fight Club, American History X, and Death to Smoochy
Powers: He used to be able to turn green and smash stuff, but Mark Ruffalo took that from him
Team Jacob: Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, and Zodiac starJake Gyllenhaal
Powers: Those eyes.
Winner: Edward Norton. Go see Moonrise Kingdom, by the way (6/3).
And so, just like in the movies, Team Edward takes the victories. Catch The Twilight Saga's final chapter, Breaking Dawn - Part 2 in theaters on Friday, Nov. 16.
[Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment]
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Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.