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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Oblivion may be the most thoroughly derivative science-fiction film in recent memory. The Tom Cruise post-apocalyptic action film directed by Joseph Kosinski ransacks 50 years of classics in the genre. But for what purpose? Not apparently for winking irony. Or to make some kind of tongue-in-cheek pastiche that's a statement about the recurrence of certain sci-fi tropes. The movie would have to be funny for that to be the case, and it's deadly serious. In fact, you could probably even tell in the trailers for Oblivion just how many movies it's referencing intentionally, subconsciously, or kleptomaniac-ally. These are 12 films whose makers should be crying "Stop, thief!"
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — If you need to telegraph mechanical villainy stat, you know what to do. Give the evil machine in question a pulsing red eye, just like neurotic supercomputer HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick's film. That's also what Andrew Stanton and the makers of WALL-E decided to do for their villain in the Pixar film. But Oblivion goes further, also giving 2001's slow-moving spherical pods a turbo-charged upgrade so they can scour the irradiated Earth for targets to blast.
2. WALL-E (2008) — Speaking of the little 'bot, WALL-E actually casts a giant shadow over Oblivion. For one basic reason. It's because Tom Cruise's Jack is WALL-E. He's been left behind on Earth to oversee clean-up while the rest of humanity abandoned the planet to take refuge on Titan, one of Saturn's moons, following the war with the Scavengers, an alien race who invaded our planet, destroyed our moon, and caused us to seek a safe haven off-world. Jack even shares WALL-E's affinity for little green plants, an affinity that Olga Kurylenko's Julia also shares with him, making her the film's EVE. Andrea Riseborough's Victoria is Auto, the rogue automatic pilot artificial intelligence program on-board the Axiom that wants to destroy plants so as to prove that earth is uninhabitable. And Melissa Leo's Southern belle dispatcher is Fred Willard's Buy 'n Large CEO.
3. La Jetée (1962) — In Chris Marker's seminal time-travel film about a nuclear war survivor who's sent back in time to get aid for post-apocalytic Earth, or stop the war outright, the one thing keeping the unnamed protagonist sane is his powerful memory of a beautiful woman from before the war. That mental image sustains him, much like the way Jack's mysterious memory of touring New York with Olga Kurylenko's Julia sustains and fascinates him.
4. Planet of the Apes (1968) — Franklin Schaffner's parable about bigotry and ignorance, starring Charlton Heston as an astronaut who gets lost in space and crashes on a planet populated by intelligent but xenophobic simians, pioneered the idea of showing ruined versions of iconic landmarks to indicate an apocalyptic setting. Most notably? The Statue of Liberty jutting out of a beach. Likewise, Oblivion shows the Statue of Liberty's torch dislodged and caught in a rocky ravine. Actually, Tom Cruise's Jack only seems to visit the ruins of iconic landmarks: the Empire State Building, the Pentagon, the Washington Monument, and a Super Bowl stadium are all on his sightseeing list.
5. Prometheus (2012) — Oh yeah, and if it wasn't already obvious that Oblivion shares its washed-out, icy gray hues with Prometheus, consider that they were both shot in Iceland, the new go-to sci-fi location.
6. Dune (1984) — Like Frank Herbert's novel, and David Lynch's quixotic 1984 adaptation of it, Tom Cruise's Jack has a revelation that makes him switch sides in the war he's been fighting. (It's not a spoiler to say that, since it's right in the trailer.) By the end, I almost expected co-star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to pay messianic tribute to Jack by shouting, "And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!"
7. The Matrix (1999) — In order for Jack to have everything he knows about his world upended, he needs to have an inspirational mentor figure just like Morpheus. Only instead of Laurence Fishburne, it's Morgan Freeman. He doesn't wear leather trench coats, but he does don goggle-glasses and a cape. And smoke cigars! Because it may be the end of the world, but that's no excuse for you not to look cool. Also, there is an image near the end of the film in which we see thousands of humans in pods very much like those the machines in The Matrix use to feed off human beings' body heat.
8. Blade Runner (1982) — Much of the mystery in Ridley Scott's dystopian thriller centers on one question: Is Harrison Ford's Decker a human being, or is he a Replicant, a machine made to look human? Jack begins to question his identity in Oblivion as well.
9. Minority Report (2002) — It's a Tom Cruise movie stealing from a Tom Cruise movie! My mind is twisted like an ouroboros just thinking about it. Andrea Riseborough's Victoria uses giant console touchscreens just like Cruise's pre-crime agent in Steven Spielberg's film.
10. Aliens (1986) — Olga Kurylenko's Julia was in hyper-sleep, a state of suspended animation, for a long, long time. Much like Aliens' Ripley, who slept more than half a century after the events of Alien.
11. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) — How do you convey an event of global magnitude that's also really, really weird? Show a ship tanker beached on dry land. Only an alien force, an apocalyptic event, or both could make that happen, right? Steven Spielberg had a tanker re-materialize in the Gobi Desert in his symphonic alien-abduction epic, and Joseph Kosinski does the same to indicate the world-ending mess humanity's finding itself in the middle of.
12. Independence Day (1996) — Like Roland Emmerich's alien invasion film, Kosinski's alien invasion film involves a trip into the belly of the beast. Look at this little ship being swallowed Jonah-like by this much bigger ship! We make no promises about there being a fat lady singing, however.
Did you catch Oblivion this weekend?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
More: M83’s ‘Oblivion’ Score and a History of Pop Artists Turned Composers Tom Cruise’s ‘Oblivion’ Hints at ‘Matrix’ and ‘Vanilla Sky’ Inspirations The Beginning of ‘Oblivion’ Looks Like the End of ‘Planet of the Apes’
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The Host, Stephenie Meyer’s latest attempt at harnessing the budding hormones of teen moviegoers, is upon us. You could predict much about the film: legions of swoony fangirls rallying behind the respective banners of Team Jared (Max Irons, son of Jeremy) and Team Ian (Jake Abel); lots of arid, deep-focus shots courtesy of antiseptic futurist director Andrew Niccol; Diane Kruger looking hot in a white pantsuit; William Hurt looking old; a sexy rain scene; puzzlement over the idea that anyone born after 1964 could be named Wanda; the talented Saoirse Ronan being far over-qualified for this tepid, listless young adult material.
What people who haven’t read Meyer's book might not have expected is how the movie ends with such craven set-up for a sequel. It’s a bit odd, because the 2008 novel doesn’t yet have a sequel itself. Not to mention that Meyer has been rather vague about whether she even is planning on producing a follow-up. So are her fans going to experience right now what fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones have long feared: that they may have to wait for a movie sequel until the author of its source material actually decides to put pen to page? Possibly.
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Here’s what happens. Aliens named Souls travel across the galaxy, inhabiting the bodies of other species they encounter. They view their possession of host bodies as a kind of synthesis, a harmonious joining—while the races they’ve inhabited probably view it as a brutal conquest. Now they’ve targeted Earth…and have taken over pretty quickly, with only a modest human resistance left to oppose them. So, yeah, this is basically just Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the CW set.
MAJOR SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
All the Souls give their human host bodies new periwinkle-blue eyes, for extra creepy effect. Most of the movie concerns the Soul named Wanderer and her acclimation to the new host body she’s taken. The personality of her host body, a girl from the resistance named Melanie Stryder, won’t be repressed. So Wanderer and Melanie end up sharing one body. Also, there’s no plumbing where they end up, so call it “Two Girls, One Body, No Cup.”
They make it to Melanie’s ramshackle family of resistance fighters out in what appears to be John Ford’s Monument Valley. And the next hour and a half becomes an inquiry into Melanie’s ontological status: Is she still in that body? We already know the answer is yes because we’ve had to endure her inane voiceover. The resistance fighters come to accept that Melanie is alive…but they also accept the individuality of Wanderer, who they’ve renamed Wanda. The Soul eventually decides she must give Melanie back her body, and to do that she must die.
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OK, not really, because without her consent the resistance fighters just end up putting Wanda inside another human body that was going to die anyway. Wanda wakes up…and now she’s played by Emily Browning! This is with 10 minutes left in the movie. You don’t just put Emily Browning, a budding starlet in her own right, in your movie for the last 10 minutes and hope to leave it at that. They’ve gotta be planning on using her for a sequel, right? And then there’s the film’s official epilogue, set “A Few Months Later.” Wanda and Melanie are driving along with their indistinguishable hunks when they’re stopped by what we think is an alien patrol. But actually it’s a group of humans with one Soul among them…just like Wanda and Melanie’s group! Proving that there are others out there who believe Souls and humans can live in harmony, yet oppose the Soul invasion agenda. If they band together, they’ll be unstoppable. Stay tuned for the sequel, The Host Part 2: Penumbra (if it follows the Twilight saga’s fixation on using astronomical phenomena in its naming convention).
Except that there’s no sequel in the works as of right now at all! So what to make of this ending? We can’t call it a cliffhanger, because there is no suspense in Stephenie Meyer’s world. But it does seem like set-up. Here are some other burning questions we have too:
1. Does the fact that Souls only want to wear white suits explain why they never appear to possess the bodies of plus-size humans? 2. Do the Souls refuse to drive any car valued at less than $200,000? 3. Does voiceover work effectively in anything but a Terrence Malick movie these days? 4. Where did Jared and Ian obtain their seemingly endless supply of styling product? Are they raiding abandoned salons in their down time to stock up on all the hair gel they can get? 5. Is there no film that William Hurt and Frances Fisher can’t elevate?6. Does the presence of periwinkle eyes indicate that a Soul took over the body of Geordi LaForge?
We'll answer Question #5: When that film is The Host.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Open Roads Films]
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The late British writer's life will be commemorated with the memorial, which will be placed on the wall of a building at the University of Manchester, where he studied English literature from 1937 to 1940.
Burgess went on to write 33 novels, including his most famous work, 1962's A Clockwork Orange, which was made into a hugely controversial film starring Malcolm McDowell in 1971.
Dr Andrew Biswell, director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, says, "I'm delighted that the university has decided to install the first British public monument to Burgess, 50 years after A Clockwork Orange was first published."
Burgess died in 1993. The plaque will be unveiled on Thursday (11Oct12).