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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The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
Tom Cruise thriller to open Urbanworld Film Fest
Tom Cruise's new thriller, Collateral, will open the eighth annual Urbanworld Film Festival Aug. 4 in Manhattan, The Associated Press reports. In the film, Cruise plays a contract killer who hijacks Jamie Foxx's taxicab. It also stars Jada Pinkett Smith and Mark Ruffalo. "Collateral is the perfect film to open this year's Urbanworld," festival founder and Urbanworld Films president Stacy Spikes said in a statement Monday. "This picture illustrates what the term 'urban' truly represents in 2004. Urban is about sensibility, not just ethnicity." lass="storylinks">Collateral opens nationwide Aug 6. The festival, which runs August 4 - 9, will include panel discussions and feature, documentary and short film screenings. It will also feature the Actor's Spotlight, with former honorees Samuel L. Jackson, Billy Dee Williams, Vondie Curtis Hall and Rosie Perez.
Zach Braff's film wins Maui Film Fest
In other festival news, Zach Braff's feature directorial debut Garden State was awarded best feature film at the fifth annual Maui Film Festival. According to the AP, a record 20,000 people who attended the festival. Braff, who plays Dr. John 'J.D.' Dorian on the NBC sitcom Scrubs, accepted the award as the five-day festival concluded over the weekend. The film, which opens in limited release July 30, revolves around a man (Braff) who returns home for his mother's funeral and breaks free of a lifetime of medication-induced passivity, striking up a relationship with a quirky young woman, played by Natalie Portman. Braff, 29, also wrote the screenplay.
AFI releases 100 best movie songs
The American Film Institute released a list of 100 best movie songs Tuesday, with the song "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz taking the No. 1 spot. The song made famous by Judy Garland as Kansas farm girl Dorothy was followed by "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca at No. 2, and the title tune from Singin' in the Rain at No. 3. The rest of the AFI top 10: 4. "Moon River" from Breakfast At Tiffany's; 5. "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn; 6. "Mrs. Robinson" from The Graduate; 7. "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio; 8. "The Way We Were" from The Way We Were; 9. "Stayin' Alive" from Saturday Night Fever; 10. "The Sound of Music" from The Sound of Music.
Jessica Simpson cancels concert due to illness
Jessica Simpson had to cancel her Tuesday show in Providence, R.I., because of a kidney infection, Columbia Records spokeswoman Renee Pfefer told the AP. According to Pfefer, the 23-year-old singer is under a doctor's care and planned to resume her summer tour promoting her album In This Skin in New Hampshire on Wednesday. Simpson, who stars with her husband Nick Lachey on the MTV's reality series Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica, was scheduled to go on stage before a nearly sold-out audience. Organizers hoped to reschedule the performance.
David Bowie gets sucker punched
A wayward lollipop hit singer David Bowie in the eye during a concert at Friday's Norwegian Wood Festival in Oslo, and although he wasn't seriously injured by the candy, the incident was enough to piss off the 57-year-old singer. "Lucky you hit the bad one," Bowie quipped to the crowd of 7,500, reminding them he only had one good eye since the other eye was damaged in a childhood fight. According to the AP, Bowie continued to joke about the occurrence throughout his performance. At one point, he threw one of his guitar picks into the crowd, and then asked if he'd hit someone in the eye. Norwegian newspapers tracked down the alleged culprit, who claimed it was an accident, but didn't publish her name.
Doris Day gets Presidential Medal of Freedom
Doris Day, who is being honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom Wednesday in Washington, said her fear of flying will keep her from traveling to the capitol to accept it from President Bush. Day, who won an Oscar nomination for the 1959 romantic comedy Pillow Talk and made several gold records, blames her fear of flying on too many overseas trips with Bob Hope entertaining U.S. troops. "I saw him on his knees many a time, " she said. "In fact, we were all on our knees. We flew in snowstorms, whatever, to get to the next show. When I hit the ground, I said, 'Never again.'" The entertainer has also been recognized for founding the Doris Day Animal Foundation, which has sponsored annual Spay Days to reduce animal overpopulation. The Medal of Freedom distinguishes service in a range of fields, including the arts, sports, business and science.
Lollapalooza canceled due to poor ticket sales
The 2004 edition of the Lollapalooza tour was canceled due to weak ticket sales, organizers said Tuesday. This year's Lollapalooza lineup included Morrissey, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey the Flaming Lips, Pixies and Wilco. But Pollstar magazine editor Gary Bongiovanni told Reuters Lollapalooza was also was a victim of a talent roster that appealed to an older audience. "I look at that lineup and I see a lot of acts that have been around a long time. They're probably not bands that are going to be in the top five acts that your average 15-, 16- or 17-year-old is going to be listening to," he said. "The older you get, the less inclined you're going to be to spend eight hours out in the sun with 15,000 other people." He cited the Vans Warped Tour as an example of a tour that has done consistently well because its heavy emphasis on the "skate punk" bands that are popular with young listeners.
B-ball beats Clinton in TV ratings
Despite all the hoopla over his new book and hour-long TV interview, basketball finals beat out former President Bill Clinton's appearance on CBS' 60 Minutes in the week's TV rankings. Here are the Top 10 prime-time viewership numbers compiled by Nielsen Media Research for June 14-20: NBA Finals Game 5: L.A. Lakers at Detroit Pistons, ABC, 21.8 million viewers; 60 Minutes, CBS, 15.8 million viewers; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 14.1 million viewers; CSI: Miami, CBS, 14 million viewers; Without a Trace, CBS, 12.8 million viewers; Law & Order, NBC, 11.8 million viewers; Cold Case, CBS, 11.4 million viewers; Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.4 million viewers; Two And a Half Men, CBS, 11 million viewers; and Last Comic Standing 2, NBC, 10.4 million viewers.
Joan Rivers returns to Sin City
Joan Rivers will return to Las Vegas for the first time in nine years, appearing for four nights at the Stardust hotel-casino starting next Wednesday, the AP reports. "The last time I appeared in Las Vegas, they were wearing hoop skirts and Davy Crockett hats," the comedian joked. "But they say, 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.' And as far as fashion is concerned, that's a good thing." Rivers will be performing her "Can We Talk?" routine, a candid discussion about everyday life. Rivers also will be hosting the awards ceremony for the Stardust's Red Carpet Celebrity Slot Tournament, which is scheduled for Thursday.