Is he talking to us?
That’s the first of many questions that Mad Men provokes of us with its final season premiere. The episode opens with ol’ Freddy Rumsen delivering a doozy of an ad campaign pitch to the fourth wall — Acutron watches: not timepieces, but conversation pieces! — and laying down some metaphorical lingo in pretty thick globs: “Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention. This is the beginning of something.” An interesting, if not cheeky way to kick off the very last season of a show whose M.O. is the waiting game for the other shoe to drop.
The first reveal is that Freddy is pitching to Peggy, making ends meet as a freelance ad man since he can’t land a steady gig. The next reveal about the pitch comes much later on in the episode: it was Don’s, not Freddy’s.
Yes, Don can still write one heck of a sales pitch. He doesn’t have a job, can’t conflate his past and present selves, finds no solace in his decaying marriage, doesn’t seem to fit in well in the backwards world of Los Angeles (nor his own New York), isn’t keeping up with his contemporaries, and might be all but a phantom in the eyes of his daughter. But he can still pitch.
We pick up with Don midway through a flight out to L.A. to meet Megan, taking new steps professionally but still strained to find her own happiness or comfort in her relationship with her husband. The difference: Megan is otherwise flourishing, and seems resentfully anchored down by the marriage whereas Don is desperate to define himself by its success…albeit hardly able to work toward that.
No longer able to identify as an industry fixture, Don courses through L.A. in hopes of discovering new soils to plan himself. He is unnerved by Megan’s silent (save for the coyotes) mountaintop home — he purchases the biggest, most obnoxious TV imaginable to stave off the very idea of idle thought. He meets up with former Big Apple purist Pete Campbell, now a resident of La La Land and in a big way: Pete’s tan and crisp, knots a sweater around his chest, and talks about his new home like it’s some kind of new medical advancement that the Neanderthals back East can’t seem to give way to. But this isn’t where Don belongs. Though nor is New York, not any longer.
The most significant scene in the episode comes during Don’s flight back to the city, when a widowed Neve Campbell offers her own sad stories before suggesting a romantic union back at her Manhattan pad. But Don, perhaps sure (for now, anyway… Neve Campbell can’t possibly be a one-time guest, can she?) that he’ll find no self-worth in this affair and afraid to face that vacant reflection once more, instead heads back to his own place, where he shares a sandwich with Freddy Rumsen and admits (to the audience) to being the true author of Freddy’s pitch to Peggy.
From his throne atop the apex of the Madison Avenue world of the 1960s, Don has fallen to a depth where he might find himself sharing sausage heroes with Freddy Rumsen on a weekday afternoon, delighting in his likewise unemployable company and offering him pitch material because it’s the only way he knows how to keep his pulse running.
In Freddy, he who was once known by his kingdom as the epitome of failure, Don now grasps for equity. Or superiority. He aims to weigh Freddy down to his own level of duplicity by affording him campaigns too good to pass over. But even this poor sap, a nice fellow who has kicked the sauce and is simply doing what he can to bring home the bacon, isn’t anchored to Don’s valleys. Upon a visit to Don’s apartment, Freddy bemoans the cocked balcony door: it’s freezing in here. Even Freddy Rumsen can see that you’re living in a grave, empty, toxic state, Don. And one that, much like his jammed door, doesn’t seem like it can be mended.
Big Question No. 2: Why is Peggy crying?
This one isn’t so much a mystery — Peggy breaks down at the end of the hour following a long line of heavy, heartbreaking frustrations — as much as it is something to reflect on.
We see her at sticky odds with Don’s replacement, the folksy Lou Avery, who deems himself “immune to her charms” when Peggy tries to work him over on Freddy/Don’s magnificent pitch… to no avail. We see her, the super of her own building, dealing with agitated tenants and plumbing faux pas. We see her disgruntled over her at work relationships: with former lover Ted and affectionate buddy Stan. We see her practically begging her brother-in-law to spend the night on her couch so that she won’t have to 'fess up to her cloying loneliness. And then we see her break down in tears.
So, yeah, somewhat of an easy question, but still one to ponder on: what, really, does Peggy need?
Considering the fact that we thought she might be traveling skyward by now (the last shot of Season 6 was a positive hint), it’s a little flummoxing to see Peggy at such a low. This is Don’s low point, but we expected her to be finding new avenues by now. Will we have to wait until the tail end of the series to see Peggy ascend, or will the weeks to come rip her from this melancholy and pin her with something in the vein of hope?
Next: Is Roger’s daughter in a cult?
Hypothesis: Yes. Roger’s daughter — who shows up unexpectedly to tell him that she “forgives him,” explaining that she has found a spiritual enlightenment that he would never understand — is in a cult. And I hope whatever is going on there comes back into play, because it’s quite chilling.
Finally, we get to Joan, who battles with a Doogie Howser of a shoe company executive (Dan Byrd, from Cougar Town) to fend off his company’s decision to create an in-house ad team, proud to be on the (more or less) successful end of the sort of battle for which she’s been vying for quite a while, but certainly not yet free of the shackles that have plagued her for so long: in one episode, Joan accuses the exec of not taking her seriously and accuses a business professor of insinuating that he wants to sleep with her in exchange for information. Considering her history, both fair. Although both did wind up surprising her, pleasantly. It was only back home, at Sterling Cooper & Partners, that Joan did find herself unsurprisingly disrespected: by Ken Cosgrove, who gave her lip for the whole ordeal even after she had done her part in keeping Cougar Town from abandoning SC&P. The world outside of the company where she has spent (said with a sigh) the past 16 years might be ready for Joan, but that company surely is not.
One final question: which is better, a New York sausage hero or a Los Angeles “Brooklyn Avenue” sandwich?
Episode Grade: A-, with special bonus points for Ken Cosgrove’s diminished hand-eye coordination and Pete’s majestically douchey L.A. attire.
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Paramount via Everett Collection
It's hard to believe that it's been 25 years since Charlie Sheen's Ricky Vaughn emerged from the bullpen to the strains of "Wild Thing" to help the Cleveland Indians win a division title. Coming out during an era of more high minded baseball movies like Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, Major League was pure goofy fun… more interested in laughs than in the game's potential life lessons.
For many baseball fans, an annual viewing of Major League is as much a part of spring as Opening Day. As with Caddyshack, there are fans that can quote the movie's best lines from memory. Even if you have your own home shrine to voodoo god Jobu, here are some fun facts about the movie that you might not know:
1. Although the movie is set in Cleveland, the scenes inside the ballpark were shot at Milwaukee's old County Stadium. Bob Uecker, who played announcer Harry Doyle, has really worked in Milwaukee since 1971 as the play-by-play man for the hometown Brewers... a fact that writer-director David S. Ward didn't know when he cast him. He had based the casting strictly on Uecker's work on the sitcom Mr. Belvedere and in a series of Miller Lite commercials (if you look closely, that's the beer that Doyle is drinking in the movie).
2. Sheen really was a pitcher in high school for Santa Monica High. He now claims that he took steroids prior to doing the movie so that his fastball would be more realistic. Dennis Haysbert, who later became famous as President David Palmer on 24 and played Cuban slugger Pedro Cerrano, was a football and basketball player in high school before switching to fencing at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
3. Haysbert's hitting as Cerrano looked real because it was. Even though he didn't play baseball past Little League, Haysbert actually cleared the fences multiple times during filming.
4. Despite playing a speedy outfielder in the movie, Wesley Snipes was so slow that they ended up showing him running in slow motion in the film to provide the illusion of speed.
5. The original ending featured the scheming owner played by Margaret Whitton — the widow of the beloved former owner — as secretly being behind the team's winning, with her devious threats meant to bring the boys together. When test audiences hated it, they reshot it to keep her as the bad guy.
6. Entourage's Jeremy Piven shot multiple scenes for the movie, playing a bench player who likes to heckle the opposing team. When they started editing, they realized that the scenes didn't work, so they completely cut his character from the film.
7. Prior to making her film debut as Lynn Wells, the ex-girlfriend of Tom Berenger's character, Rene Russo was known primarily as one of the top models of the '70s. A Los Angeles native, one of Russo's classmates growing up was sitcom-star-turned-director Ron Howard.
6. Pete Vuckovich, who plays evil Yankees first baseman Clu Haywood, was actually a star Major League pitcher who won the American League Cy Young Award in 1982. Playing largely in games with a designated hitter, Vuckovich only rarely batted during his career.
7. According to Ward, during the celebration scene at the end where Corbin Bernsen's third baseman Roger Dorn punches Sheen for sleeping with his wife, Bernsen actually connected with the shot, leaving a welt on Sheen's face.
8. Neil Flynn, who went on to bigger roles on television as the Janitor in Scrubs and a suburban father in The Middle, plays one of the long-suffering Cleveland fans complaining about the state of the team.
9. Flynn and Stacy Carroll, who plays Dorn's wife who has revenge sex with Ricky, both also appeared in a short-lived TV show called Sable, which starred Russo as the girlfriend of a children's book writer who transforms into a superhero at night.
10. The song that plays at the beginning of the movie is "Burn On" by Randy Newman. Written in 1972, it is an ode to an incident in 1969 when the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught on fire due to an oil slick and other debris floating in the polluted water.
Summit Entertainment via Everett Collection
When a movie opts to play inside baseball with a particular industry, it runs two risks: alienating the people outside looking in ("What the hell is all this mumbo jumbo?"), or alienating the people tightly connected to the underworld on display ("They got it all wrong!"). On special occasions, you have a film like Draft Day, which strikes out in both areas, somehow feigning expertise with such vigor as to befuddle strangers to behind-the-scenes football and frustrate those with an inborn knowledge of the underworld. As a member of the former community, I was bored stiff by the nonstop industry jabber. I was surprised to find, after our viewing of the movie, that a sports-savvy friend was even more aggravated with the film for everything they got so very, very wrong.
But really, neither of these is the true crime of Draft Day. Even on the promise of delivering a bona fide curtain pull on the NFL, all the film really owes us is a good story. Instead, Draft Day banks on the appeal of its would-be authenticity — this is how football people talk, act, eat, do business, grimace, throw laptops on draft day! — as a stand-in for any material we might otherwise be able to care about. The film slaps Kevin Costner's Sonny Weaver Jr., beleaguered general manager of the Cleveland Browns, with just about every go-to leading man conflict in the book (problems at work, problems with his girlfriend, problems with his family) in hopes that something will land in the neighborhood of emotional legitimacy... or, more plausibly, in hopes that it'll play enough like an attempt at a screenplay to warrant all the stats talk he's really there to spout.
His supporting cast has even less to do — Jennifer Garner is his all smiles romantic partner whose vehement love for football is supposed to make her interesting to us (What?! But she's a girl!). Ellen Burstyn is Sonny's disapproving mother, who has a penchant for wistful staring. Denis Leary is a coach who yells a lot.
Summit Entertainment via Everett Collection
The one vein of character work that stands out as a near success comes attached to the line of potential drafts. Josh Pence plays draft frontrunner Bo Callahan who Sonny has a bad feeling about. Chadwick Boseman is the underdog linebacker who we know we're supposed to like because he takes his nephews to gymnastics. In a post-Moneyball world, Sonny is accessing the humanity in the boys he's considering for a career on his field. Hell, he's even willing to overlook the troubled past of Arian Foster because he trusts the boy's dad (I think Terry Crews is contractually obligated to appear in any movie about football). It's thin material that amounts to a disjointed explosion, but it rings as the movie's most interesting stuff. Unfortunately, it's couriered through Sonny, a character who we're barely allowed to meet.
The tragedy of this conclusion is that most of the cast members, Costner included, are giving moreover enjoyable performances — accolades in particular to 25-year-old Griffin Newman as fish-out-of-water intern Rick, suffering through the worst first day of work imaginable. The small comedy offered by Newman and a few others (bullpen fixtures like Wade Williams and Veep's Timothy Simons) is treated like an occasional garnish, but amounts to much-craved sustenance when it pervades the tasteless and stale football blather.
Blather that will detract anybody just hoping to catch a fun sports movie, and blather that will turn off the most high-minded of football fans craving some degree of industrial accuracy. In either case, the blather exists in absence of much otherwise. Without any real characters operating in this dense, hectic, ostensibly colorful world of the NFL, it feels as vacant as Sun Life Stadium on opening weekend. (Right?)
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We’ve been watching Stephen Colbert for years now — for eight years on The Daily Show and the past nine on The Report. We’ve seen him mold the jingoistic dork who bears his name into an icon of modern satire, skewering current events and lampooning punditry five nights a week for just shy of a decade. We’ve seen Colbert degrade the English language, vie for immortality in the form of a Hungarian bridge, forward the movement against wrist violence, run for president, wrestle Jon Stewart at the 2012 Emmys, and inspire a delightful grouchiness in childhood author Maurice Sendak. We’ve seen lots of Stephen Colbert. But we really have no idea what he’s like.
But this man that we’ve yet to meet, save for rare candid interviews or pre-shtick recordings we might be lucky enough to have found on the web, seems to be the one we'll be spending the rest of our days with. Naturally, Colbert’s new residence on The Late Show, announced on Thursday via The New York Times, won’t foster this degree of caricature. As such, it’s natural for fans of the Colbert Report, even (or perhaps especially) the most diehard of the bunch, to approach the news of the comedian’s ascension to network TV with apprehension. We don’t know what he can do without the good graces of his O’Reilly-inspired alter ego. We’re not sure what a genuine Stephen Colbert interview will carry — when he’s not belittling, accosting, or deliberately misunderstanding his guests, can he still be funny?
We'll have to wait until 2015 for a proper answer to this first question, although we're comfortable with a resounding "probably." But in mourning the impending loss of The Colbert Report's main character, we have to take a look at his fellow late night players, and the game itself. In earnest, Colbert is the only one of the lot who has been working from the soils of true fiction, but the industry entails some degree of trimming and hedging. The cameras add 10 pounds of performative composure and well-rehearsed shtick, and the good ones keep their elements as vivid as Colbert has his Bill O'Reilly sendup.
So the second question is: which of these greats will show Colbert how to handle the balance of his Comedy Central icon and the South Carolinian who pronounces his last name with an audible "T"?
Gone by the wayside since Johnny Carson's retirement is the viewing audience's adherence to the "familial" in its crowning of a replacement late night king. With a long line from which to choose, we want characters. Maybe Jay Leno held good ratings thanks to his ability to play accessible and nonthreatening, but in the days of Internet criticism, professional and public alike, that translates to amorphous. There's no Jay Leno identity beyond the high-voiced bobblehead you'll find in too many stand-up comedy routines. Leno and his ilk have fallen to the new. We want the opportunity to dig through a collection of oddballs each night, satisfying whatever cravings the preceding hours have inspired.
We have that opportunity in David Letterman's crotchety cynic (who has always been, as a cultural fixture, far ahead of his time). In Jimmy Fallon's wide-eyed cherub. In Jon Stewart's put-upon nebbish. These are the characters these men have built, accessing something between relatability — face it, angrier people like Letterman and happier people like Fallon — and the special, distanced elation you get from watching a skilled actor work his comedic magic.
With so many balancing acts of varying aptitude — Chelsea Handler plays on sauciness, Jimmy Kimmel on boyish impetulance, Craig Ferguson on the residual mania of his dark past — Colbert has no shortage of professors to guide him through his early semesters in the CBS gig. But the best teacher of the lot to help Colbert tailor his character to the network form might very well be Conan O'Brien, who has managed from Late Night on to manufacture a most meticulous exaggeration of his gawky, psuedo-psychotic personality to maintain through bits, interviews, man-on-the-street routines, and even appearances in other media. It's really a shame he didn't get tenure.
It's natural to bemoan the loss of a character as important as Colbert's, or to fear that his greatness might not carry over to a new style of performance. But we have to remember that even in taking the stage as himself, performance is the most essential part of his new job. He might not bluster about as the right-wing blowhard we've come to love, but he sure as hell won't let his penchant for character craft and self-parody go untapped. He'll need it now more than ever.
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A trip to the wig store, a masquerade ball, and an appearance by Donald Faison, all set to a song by The Shins? It can only be the teaser trailer for Zach Braff's latest stint in the director's chair, Wish I Was Here. In the film, Braff stars as Aidan Bloom, an actor, husband, and father in his mid 30s who finds himself unable to pay for his children's private school when his father gets sick. He decides to home school them instead, and the results are nothing like what he expected. Wish I Was Here, which was funded entirely via Kickstarter, also stars Kate Hudson, Joey King, Mandy Patinkin, and Josh Gad.
And, like a (d)evolution of his feature debut Garden State, this movie seems like it will pack in enough painfully hip, twee, aggressively artistic, and downright annoying elements to make you stand on an abandoned piece of heavy machinery and scream into a quarry. Here's a roundup of all of these "ughhh" moments that we noticed in the Wish I Was Here trailer.
Opening on a Wall of Wig Heads Okay, we get it, you're artsy. Does this have anything to do with the film?
Affirmations of People Being "Unique and Awesome" Everybody knows that the inspirational message is supposed to come at the end of the trailer, not the beginning. It's film 101!
Carrying Around Money in a Plastic Jug It's annoying and unweildy. The people in line behind you at the store need to get on with their lives.
Everyone's Dressed Like SuperheroesAnd not a single Batman, Spider-Man or Captain America is anywhere to be found.
Soundtrack by The Shins You're just making it easy for people to make fun of you now, Zach Braff. Think outside of the emotionally-driven indie rock box for a change.
Lens Flare If we don't like it when J.J. Abrams does it, we probably won't like it when you do it.
Everyone's on Their Phone Are those kids even old enough to own smart phones? And don't they know it's rude to play on your phone when you're supposed to be watching a movie?
Zach Braff, Space Explorer Wait, all of a sudden this is a sci-fi movie now? What happened to the quirky, indie thing you were doing three seconds ago?
Donald Faison Appears Briefly...And everyone wishes they could be re-watching Scrubs instead. Remember the musical episode? Good times.
Glass Breaking, Fire, Screaming in Rapid Succession We're assuming it's some kind of metaphor for inner turmoil.
So. Much. Genre-Bending.There's a period masquerade, a space adventure and a weepy tear-jerker, all in a midlife-crisis indie. How many movies are in this one movie? Is this Braff's attempt to make Inception?
Soft-Lit Suburban Streets Again, we get it, you're artsy. You don't need the fake fireflies to drive the message home. Less is more, Zach Braff.
As far as season finales go, this one is full of major drama, two major villains, and two character deaths. However, there is a bit of sloppy storytelling, and a few too many loose ends. In lieu of dangling cliffhangers, things seem to be conveniently dropped or forgotten altogether. But otherwise, we have an eventful hour to cap this season.
Bo must contend with her father arriving priority mail from a Hell dimension. Meanwhile, Lauren is in the clutches of Massimo, who is consumed by Fae abilities that are turning him into the basic cable version of Gollum. His mother Evony becomes human, thanks to some quick-thinking by Lauren.
The End of Massimo the Mother Lover
Massimo takes Lauren hostage. He stops by the Dal to gloat. He wants to kills Bo so he will win his mother’s love. Meanwhile, his mother is giving some major flirty love to Trick. It’s bizarre that, now that she’s human, they seem to be having some major chemistry. Is this foreshadowing that maybe they will knock boots and end the Light/Dark system forever?
Massimo kills Rainer and gets his ability of foresight. This happens so early, leaving Rainer without the ability to play into any of the events of the season finale. It’s kind of cheap to introduce a character and have such little pay off; Rainer was really just a red herring for Bo’s dad.
Speaking of which, Bo takes a break from her daddy drama to stop by and take on Massimo. She tries to steal his chi, but in doing so gives him her ability. He starts sucking Evony’s chi and can’t stop. Bo offers to bring her back which makes Massimo lets his guard down. Then she royally kicks his behind and kills him. She saves Lauren and confesses her love. With Rainer dead it looks like they’re back together. But why were they broken up in the first place? Bo sort of dropped Dyson and Lauren when Rainer entered the picture. Why are they so happy to take her back?
Daddy Issues of Cataclysmic Proportions
Speaking of Dyson, he declares fealty to Bo as his Queen. Trick finally reveals the secrets of Bo’s blood: Aife has the Light Fae blood like her father, but Bo’s dad is the reason she can take chi from multiple people and heal with it. But wasn’t Aife also able to heal people with chi? This whole quick exposition is a little sloppy and hopefully it gets resolved next season. Plus, where is Aife? Inga Cadranel is on Orphan Black so it’s unclear whether Trick killed her and she’s off the show or if she’s just lying in wait.
Bo’s dad’s hell portal is open and sending out an army of revenants. Kenzi stumbles on a prophesy and realizes how to stop this Hell Mouth. She sacrifices herself to save the world and save Bo. It’s an amazing heartfelt moment as Kenzi does a fierce runway walk into the portal. She reasons that Tamsin will take her to Valhalla.
So we don’t get to meet Bo’s dad or see Bo save the world. Instead, we lose the show’s best character. Bo spends the entire ending ugly-crying. Dyson finds Tamsin collapsed in front of a snowy gate. Are these the gates to Valhalla? She tells him Bo must not find the other Hell shoe. Bo talks to Kenzi’s grave and says, “It’s them who should be afraid…of me.” But who is they?
What happened to Trick’s evil makeover? Will he pay for his sins? Is he going to face the music for his crimes against the Fae?
Will Aife ever return? If Trick killed her, that’s pretty major and unforgivable.
What was the whole point of Rainer, and why was he significant to Bo’s father’s curse? It isn’t clear who or what trapped Bo’s father in Hell.
What happened to Vex?
What is the state of the Dark Fae now that Evony is human?
How are these people able to travel around? Did Dyson go to the entrance of Valhalla? If so, how did he get there?
What is the significance of the hell shoe? Doesn’t Trick have the other shoe?
Succu-Best Lines of the Night
"Now your only way of being immortal is someone writing a s**tty pop song about you. Hmmm?" – Lauren to Massimo
"What is with all the punching? Now I finally understand what 'Not in the face' means." – Evony
"Champers to the Doctor and her miracle snatch." – Evony on becoming human
Tamsin: "Well that was awkward." / Kenzi: "Armageddon can be. Just ask Ben and Liv."
"B**ch is just a word men use when they’re threatened by the chick in charge." – Evony on feminism
"If your grandslaughter’s dad is who you’re too scared to say he is, we’re all going to be Bo-bequed anyway." – Evony’s recap of the problem
Looming large over the Russo Brothers, Joe Johnston, and even Joss Whedon, is the Marvel Universe's kingpin Kevin Feige. The super producer keeps the comic book film franchise running like clockwork, churning out golden cinematic entries like this week's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We got a chance to chat with Feige about his mission for the Marvel movies, discussion genre, the evolution of his characters, and the future of Black Widow and Guardians of the Galaxy.
The thing I was most interested in seeing in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the way that you guys take on the espionage thriller genre. In the same way that that you’ve taken on so many different genres with all of your Marvel movies so far. I was wondering if that was a mission of yours from the start, taking on all these different types of genres, or if it sort of happened organically, befitting each of the characters?
I’d say it was a combination. We embraced the differences of the characters. Comic book fans know that there’s no such thing as a comic book genre any more than there is such a thing as a “novel genre.” No, they all are unique and they all are different. We always saw it as our job to embrace that when we bring them to the screen. In that way it was organic, but it really did become a bit of a mission statement, if an informal one. It’s what held our interest. We’re very interested in keeping our movies fresh and keeping our universe fresh, and never allowing the audience to get bored or think that they can predict exactly what’s going to happen next, or have every movie start to feel like the last movie. That, in our minds, is a recipe for it all to come crashing down. And when you’re putting out two movies a year, they’d better be unique, different experiences. One of the fun ways for us, because we’re all movie fans as much as we are comic fans, is to embrace other genres and to lean on that to make the films feel fresh, and to give us a new roadmap to come up with a unique story.
So is each of the genres that you tackle — of course, this is an espionage, spy thriller type — is that somehow inherent to the character that you are taking on? Did you think, “Captain America — it’s natural for him to take on a movie like this”?
Yes, absolutely. It never starts with, “Let’s do a Western. Let’s do a Captain America Western!” It starts with, “Where are we going to take the character?” And clearly, in his first full modern day solo adventure, we wanted to focus on the man out of time element. And we wanted to put him into situations like he found himself within the decade after he was thawed, in Avengers #3. He went right into the mid ‘60s and late ‘60s. And all of the civil unrest and the political strife happening in that era. Right into Watergate and the Nixon Administration of the early ‘70s and mid ‘70s. And he was at a crossroads. He really started to find it difficult to simply follow the orders of whoever was in charge at the time, and started listening to his own morals and his belief in the broader ideals independent of whoever is in charge at the time. And we wanted to play with that, and we wanted to do it in a way that utilized S.H.I.E.L.D. versus a specific [real institution], like the army or the American government, because A) we’re making a movie, and B) we have all of that at our disposal, as we’ve established Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. very heavily in our movies up to now.
Walt Disney Co. via Everett Collection
Among the Avengers, Captain America stands alone as having this defined sense of right and wrong. That is challenged in this movie, and that’s why this movie is so interesting. But the character is redefining himself in light of the events in The Winter Soldier and the world he finds himself in. Going forward, how do you think that is going to change the Captain America movies we’ll see in the future?
First it will have a direct impact of Cap’s next adventure, which obviously will be Avengers: Age of Ultron. And where we go from there, we’re just beginning to sort of outline what that could be and what that could look like. But to be ever evolving is one of the keys to longevity, we believe for our cinematic universe. There’s a line of dialogue in The Winter Soldier where he goes to visit a fellow he’s recently met, Sam Wilson, who runs a veterans center. And Sam asks, “Are you think you’re getting out?” And he goes “No, I don’t think so.” This is early in the movie where he’s finding himself increasingly uncomfortable with the missions that Nick Fury is sending him on, and what the mission statement for S.H.I.E.L.D. overall seems to be. And Sam then asks him, “What would you want to do?” And he goes, “I don’t know.”
This is a guy who, for his entire life, wanted one thing. He wanted to do right by his country. He wanted to do what every other able-bodied person was doing in his era, which was join the fight in World War II, and he dreamed of that. And finally, of course, through the events of the first movie, he got the super soldier serum and was able to do that. And then he helped save the world, and was frozen, and then woke up, and helped save the world again. And now he’s struggling with what his place is. And that struggle continues a bit though the Winter Soldier and also into Age of Ultron.
Looking at it in the other direction, what do you think The Winter Soldier says about the spy thriller genre?
I think it definitely embraces the best of that genre, and hopefully gives it a new spin because it’s got Marvel characters running around in the middle of it. That’s the fun. To try to make a good superhero movie, but really make a good paranoid action thriller. Make a great movie that appeals to fans who have watched all of our movies many times and know the comics inside and out, and also appeal to people who have never read a comic, and who may have not ever seen our movies. I was just talking to somebody else who afterwards came up to me and said, “It’s funny. I’m not into comics. They aren’t usually my thing. but I love this movie.” And we’re lucky enough to get that comment after many of our movies, and that’s when we feel that we’ve really really accomplished it.
Is there a certain set of guidelines you have about compromising invention with your loyalty to the comics?
We’ve really found that as we approach our tenth marvel studios feature — Guardians of the Galaxy will be our tenth movie in the cinematic universe — there are two responsibilities now: one is to absolutely stay true to the source material. Mainly because the source material is great, and why change something that’s great? But the other thing is staying true to the continuity we’ve established in the MCU. And people want us to do both now. Fans. Whether they’re comic fans or movie fans, they want us to do both. So I think people get excited: “Oh I can’t wait to see Falcon on screen, and I can’t wait to see how they’re going to do it.” Because I think people realized that we weren’t going to put him in the exact outfit that he wore in the ‘70s and have him telepathically linked to a bird.
Walt Disney Co. via Everett Collection
Talking about Falcon and Black Widow, I love the way you integrate the characters into the movie. Black Widow’s rapport with Cap is one of the most important through lines in this movie. Is there a reason, beyond just what might exist in the comic books, why the best way to really showcase Black Widow’s character front and center for the first time was in a Captain America film?
For any number of reasons, not the least of which is that Scarlett Johansson is unbelievable and brings the character to life in a full three-dimensional fashion more and more each time. But really it was all about the contrast for Cap. We knew Cap was going to be working with S.H.I.E.L.D., and we knew he was going to start to get antsy and be uncomfortable working in those shades of grey that Nick Fury was asking him to work in. And the idea was putting him in a scenario where he has to team up with his polar opposite. With Natasha Ramonov, who has been a spy, who has done god knows what. Who tells us in Avengers that she’s got red in her ledger and she wants to wipe it out. Loki tells us any number of things that don’t sound good about her past.
And there’s a line early on in The Winter Soldier where Captain America is confronting Nick Fury saying, “Why didn’t you tell me about this thing? I should have known about this.” And he says, “I didn’t want you to know about this because I knew you wouldn’t be comfortable with it. Natasha is comfortable with anything.” That, at the beginning, of the movie is the perceived difference between them. And a lot of this movie, and the fun we wanted to have, was seeing Widow goad Steve into the real world. She’s constantly asking him about his personal life and who he’s dating — which is sort of a way of saying, “Have you embraced the fact that you’re never going back in time? Have you embraced the fact that you’re stuck here and now have to make a life?” But at the same time, see what kind of an influence Steve Rogers would have on Natasha. I think by the end of the movie, she has changed, based on her interactions with and exposure to Steve. Earlier in the movie, she thinks he is maybe a little too honest, and says at a certain point, “This might not be the right business for you Steve.” By the end of the movie, she realizes that maybe it’s not the right business for her.
There has been mention that she will be getting her own standalone film. Do you think there is a specific opportunity with that character, due to the deficit of female superhero movies, to do something that the superhero movie world needs?
I do, in large part because her origin story is interesting. We haven’t explored that too much. The solo adventures in the comics, there are a lot to choose from and they’re very interesting. But people would ask me on the floor of the Thor: The Dark World junket, “Are you’re doing a Black Widow movie?” And part of me wanted to say, “Well, we did, and it’s called Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Wait until you see it!” The emphasis we put on our characters, and in particular our female leads in all our movies, is very important to us. And showcase extremely strong, intelligent woman that control the course of the entire movie and the entire plot, and that absolutely carries over into Scarlett’s role in Age of Ultron.
Fantastic. And just to wrap up, you did mention Guardians of the Galaxy before. That movie seems to be presenting itself as the “weirdest” of the Marvel movies we’ve seen so far. Was that your mission when you set out to make this one?
You can see in the teaser that we released, one of the reasons we wanted to make the movie is we wanted to make something wholly original. Of course it’s based on the comics, but the fact it’s a lesser known comic, and that they’re heroes unlike any that I think anyone has brought to the screen before. I hope people embrace the notion that this is a very fresh, very original movie, in a year in which there are lots of remakes and sequels. And clearly we’ve made the Winter Soldier to stand alone and to feel different and fresh on its own. But the notion of Guardians is all about the answer to, I believe, a cry for originality and for something totally unexpected. In the same way that people saw the trailers for Iron Man 3, or The Dark World, or even The Winter Soldier, and said, “Oh boy, I think you’re getting gritty now.” And then saw the movie and realized there was a lot of humor in it.
People are embracing the notion of a very funny and quirky space adventure in Guardians, but at the same time, I think they’ll be surprised by the level of depth and emotion and pathos that you’re going to have in certain sequences of the movie. What James Gunn is planning is not just simply a comedic romp but a very full, well rounded experience that can stand alongside the best of our films, but in a completely original and fresh way.
Catch Captain America: The Winter Soldier in theaters now. Buy your tickets at Movietickets.com.
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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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Drafthouse Films via Everett Collection
There are a lot of ideas floating around in Cheap Thrills. They're interesting, they're dense, and they're fruitful endeavors for the world of psychological horror. But they are relegated to floating, never quite anchoring into any real conclusions or statements about their desperate, depraved subjects.
We meet Craig (Pat Healy), a happily married father of one, on a particularly bad day: he loses his job, is slapped with an eviction notice, and — to top it all off — bumps into a pesky old chum (Ethan Embry) from his younger days. A fellow who Craig, a loser in his own right, judges for never having gone anywhere. As the high school buddies catch up, they are roped into the increasingly violent and grotesque high jinks of a pair of thrill-seeking strangers (David Koechner, giving an impressively haunting performance, and a nearly wordless Sara Paxton) with the promise of bright financial futures dangled in front of them. The men, each of thinning pride, gradually give way to monetary temptation as they play along in these treacherous mind games, the biggest mystery being if a limit to their desperation exists.
Drafthouse Films via Everett Collection
Although it's an intriguing venture, the sociological study stops at its thesis question. In truth, the movie's philosophical makeup can be summed up with the Klondike Bar slogan. Still, there is meat to be found: the bubbling lava underneath the crust of Craig and Vince's (Embry) long dormant friendship comes with a few humanistic ditties about breaking free from your past, and the pangs inherent in facing off with someone who knows the you that you've been trying to escape. But these ideas, too, aren't milked to their full potential. The only element of the film that does hit its promised summit: the grossness.
Cheap Thrills does deliver, and then some, on the ick factor. It's not an abundance of gore or violence that does it, but the visceral, intimate nature with which the gore is handled. Everything is up close and personal, all pains really felt. If this is your bag, then Cheap Thrills will come through here. But psychologically, it does little more than present would-be interesting ideas. Fun in the set-up, occasionally thrilling in the delivery, but never particularly fulfilling in the conclusion.
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British actor Tom Wilkinson is in talks to play U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson in a new civil rights drama, which will feature David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. Selma, which will be produced by Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, among others, chronicles the attempts of African-American activists walking from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, in 1965 in order to gain voting rights.
President Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination when voting on federal, state and local levels, as a result of the protests.
Wilkinson previously portrayed Benjamin Franklin in TV mini-series John Adams.
Bryan Cranston is currently portraying President Johnson on Broadway in the play All The Way.
Spotlights a topic or person that has had a great impact on the sports world, opening with a brief overview followed by a 40-minute cinéma vérité documentary and concluding with an in-depth, 20-minute roundtable discussion of the issue with the filmmakers, subjects and guest experts to be moderated by Peter Berg.