Captain America: The First Avenger

I am going to do something with this review that I have not done before….

I am going to put the My Advice part first because there is a lot I want to mention about the movie, but it will contain a lot of spoilers.  So consider yourself warned if you read beyond the My Advice part…

My Advice:  See it on the big screen and pay full price; 3D was ok, but the gritty war feel is better in 2D…

At this point, you are entering spoiler territory – I bear no responsibility if you haven’t seen the movie and keep reading.

In 2008, I compiled a list of what I thought were my top 10 Superhero Movies of All time.  Number 7 on the list was The Rocketeer.  In reviewing my archives, it appears that I have not actually written a review of the movie – I shall have to fix that.  I bring it up because it was directed by the same person who directed Captain America, Joe Johnston.  I loved how he captured the feel of the time and kept the action moving, despite some lulls in the script.  While some of his other ventures were not well received (Jumanji comes to mind), I still had hope that he could do well with this project.

I was also not sure of the casting of Chris Evans as Steve Rogers.  Like most people, my exposure to his work was limited to his run as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies.  Then I saw him in The Losers and I realized that he did have potential to pull it off.

But this isn’t any ordinary hero.  Marvel only had one shot to get it right.  After all, Cap is viewed in similar light as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Spiderman.  High visibility and high risk – get it all right and earn fanboy love forever.  Get it wrong, and you will be forever known as the people who ruined a hero.  Want proof?  Ask Brandon Routh how he’s been doing since Superman Returns….

Then there’s the story…

Unlike most “origin” stories, there is not an easy way to update Cap’s.  He has to be a product of WWII, our greatest generation.  Otherwise, his motivations do not make sense in our modern world.  There is also the fact that unlike many heroes, he is truly a symbol, an inspiration to those moreso than Superman or Batman.  I give the writers a lot of credit for holding true to the story of Cap’s origin and making it plausible that he could be found in ice, alive, after 70 years.  For long time readers of the comic, this is his origin.  Some updates and tweaks were made, but overall the writers stayed faithful.

What did intrigue me was the influence of scenes from Star Wars on the overall movie.  And before anyone gets in an uproar – yes, I know, Star Wars was a retelling of The Lost Fortress.

Moving on…

In the opening scene, we have Red Skull looking for something in a Norwegian church.  The way it is framed and the dialog, I was instantly reminded of the scene where Tarkin is questioning Leia about the Rebel Base:

Tarkin: Tell me the location

Leia: Never

Tarkin: Target Alderaan

Leia: No, they are peaceful

Tarkin: You prefer another target? A Military target? then give me the rebel base

Leia: Dantooine

Tarkin: Continue the targeting of Alderaan…

Now the church scene in Captain America:

Skull: Give me the item

Old Man: No matter what you do to me, I will never tell

Skull: True, but there are other targets; your friends, family, children (tank spins to target town)

Old man gestures to hiding place

Skull retrieves object and gives the order to continue destruction of town.

So that is in the first fifteen minutes.  The next time it hit me was when Red Skull was talking to the three generals.  One of them mocks him and his “nickname,” while criticizing his lack of ability to produce items for Hitler.  Very reminiscent of the scene in the Death Star where one of the generals mocks Darth Vader and the Force.  The difference between the two: Tarkin prevents the completion of the choke hold, whereas no one can stop Red Skull from killing the men.

The third scene that brought comparisons was when Steve is talking to the doctor over a bottle of schnapps.  As the explanation was revealed as to why Steve was chosen, I couldn’t help but think of the scene in old Ben’s house as he begins to explain the Force and the origin of Darth Vader.  You could even see the same sadness as Tucci discusses his failures with Red Skull.

There were other scenes, but I am not remembering them as well as these.

The casting ended up being very good.  Dominic Cooper made it easy for us to believe that he could be the future father of Robert Downey, Jr.’s, Tony Stark.  He even copied a couple of mannerisms from Downey.  Tommy Lee Jones was much better suited for his role as a US General here, versus his turn as Two-Face in Batman Forever.  Hugo Weaving was masterful as Red Skull and really allowed you to forget about his iconic villain role in The Matrix.  Finally, Stanley Tucci brought a great touch to the doctor’s character.

The music is also similar to The Rocketeer.  Both had sweeping movements with great undertones.  Alan Silvestri did a masterful job.  This is a must on for any soundtrack lover.

My Advice: See it on the big screen and pay full price; 3D was ok, but the gritty war feel is better in 2D…

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Over the years of writing reviews, I have often lamented the fact that studios, in pursuit of the easy box office dollar, let franchises linger on far too long.  I mean, really, did we need 12 Police Academies?


I wouldn’t mind the practice so much, if the studios would actually put some of the dollars they swindle out of us towards hiring good, inventive writers.  Yet, that would cut the bottom line too much.  So we end up with movies like Matrix Reloaded, Superman IV, and Pirates 4.

Gore Verbienski wrapped up his run with Pirates 3, and seemed to have the good sense to run away from the stacks of money Disney was offering him.  So in steps Rob Thomas, of Chicago fame.  Johnny Depp, forgetting what it was like to have roles that neither involved Tim Burton or Jack Sparrow, returns for a by-the-numbers performance.  Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly had the good sense to stay away as well.

So I found myself in Gainesville evaluating hotels for a conference.  With time to kill, I went to see Pirates at the local Regal (shudder).  Of course the only option they had was in 3D, so I was stuck paying extra for a movie I wasn’t convinced about.  Interestingly, the theater has cell signals jammed inside – I guess that is one way to kill texting in movies.

The plot has something to do with Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth – but we never really understood why any of it was important.  Throw in Penelope Cruz as this movie’s wench, and we are off and sailing.  The first half of the movie felt like I was watching someone playing a video game – all action, rube-goldberg machinations, and no story.  The second half had a love story forced in that could have been completely removed and not hurt the movie.  As a matter of fact, it might have made it a tighter, leaner movie.

3D was awful for this movie.  You lose brightness due to wearing glasses similar in design to sunglasses.  So combine that with a movie that has the second half occur at night, and well, you’re stuck relying on your auditory senses.

Of course, with the inflated 3D box office, Disney has already announced not 1, but 2 more Pirates to come – all with Mr. Depp.  At some point, the movie audience is going to have to tell Disney that this franchise golden goose is dead, gone, and decomposed.  The only way they stop making more is when we stop paying to see them.

My advice: matinee, if you have to; definitely save the money on the 3D.  Totally unnecessary…

Midnight in Paris

midnight in parisIn my review of The Conspirator, I talked about highlighting hidden gems in theaters that get lost amongst the noise of the big tentpole pictures.  This is the second movie I referred to in that review.

Woody Allen has been making movies for as long as I can remember.  Sadly, though what sticks out in my mind is his personal life.  While I have seen clips and sections of some of his work, I have never sat through an entire movie of his.

Until now…

Midnight in Paris is a simple film that follows a Hollywood writer on vacation in Paris.  He falls in love with the city as he imagines what it was like in the roaring 20s, with Picasso and Hemingway.  His fiancé is not as enamored with Paris as he is and that provides our tension for the story.  As our protagonist explores Paris at night, we follow him as he seemingly steps into the 20s and interacts with those of that time.  Woody Allen does a great job of keeping things very simple, allowing the audience to accept what is shown without challenging the willing suspension of disbelief in each person.  Much like reading a book, we accept the idea of time-travel because it is kept in terms we understand.  After all, it does not matter how we go to the 20s, just that we are simply there.

What helps this movie shine is Allen’s ability to let the images of Paris speak for itself in such a way that it becomes as vital a character to the story as any human cast member.  Speaking of cast, there are some really good performances to be seen.  Owen Wilson, playing down the idiot/buffoon and playing up the pure innocence, turns in one of his best performances.  Rachel McAdams seems to channel part of her Mean Girls character as the fiancé who just doesn’t understand.  Supporting turns by Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody help flesh out a relaxing 90-minute story.

My advice: Pay full price if it is still playing in your area; it is a great date movie, and I think Spaldy would agree with me that this is more of a film than a movie…

The Conspirator

One of the joys I have in going to the movies is uncovering those hidden treasures that get obliterated by the major studios’ latest “tentpole” picture.  The Conspirator is one of two such movies I will be highlighting today.

So, one night I was watching Piers Morgan Tonight and he had Robert Redford on to discuss his latest directorial effort, The Conspirator.  The movie is about the trial of Mary Surat for her role in the Lincoln assassination.  Now, I have always had an interest in this subject, so I continued to watch.  As the interview went on, Redford discussed the cast, which included Tom Wilkinson and Kevin Kline.  Now I knew I had to go check this one out.

On Easter Sunday, I found myself driving home from a friend’s family afternoon and decided to see what was playing.  When I saw The Conspirator had snuck in to theaters that weekend, my choice was obvious.  I was not disappointed.

The movie never tries to convince you of Mary Surat’s innocence or guilt – rather it focuses on whether due process can be ignored in times of war.  Now, most people think this is one of Redford’s ways of sticking it to Republicans over Iraq and Afghanistan, but in reality, we, as a nation, faced these same dilemmas during the Civil War.  The main difference is that we did not have 24/7 news channels focused on them.

James McAvoy turns in a solid performance as the war-hero-turned-lawyer who is forced to defend Ms. Surat, despite his belief that she should hang from the nearest tree.  Kevin Kline does a masterful job of showing the conflicting emotions of a man trying to hold a country together as the War Secretary.  Almost unrecognizable, Robin Wright (The Princess Bride) plays the defendant, at times sympathetic and at other times, cold and calculating.

My advice: check it out on-demand or when it hits Blu-ray; sadly, it did not last long in theaters with the onslaught of summer tentpoles…



rango_ver2One of the surprise movies during the early spring of this year was the first animated feature from the guys at ILM.  I have to admit that when I first heard about this movie, I was not all that interested in seeing it.  However, as the release date grew closer, I started hearing good things from trusted reviewers.  So with time to kill one morning, I popped over to the Premiere Cinemas in Fashion Square Mall for the $4.50 first-show-of-the-day.

Settling in to a near-empty theater, I was soon amazed at what I saw unfold.  This was probably one of the best non-Pixar, computer-animated features that I have seen.  The guys at ILM really focused on a good, simple story, making sure to follow the principals of basic storytelling.

What are those principals, you ask?

Well, they include fully defining relationships; making the hero have to solve his own problem with what he has; and, most importantly, making a point of emphasizing why it was important to tell this character’s story at this juncture.  Everything introduced was utilized, leaving no unfulfilled promises to the audience.  There were even nods to adult pop-culture references that were not simply throw-aways.

But alas, it is no longer in theaters – well never fear, faithful readers, it is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.  Much more reasonably priced than a lot of videos, the Blu-Ray also includes a DVD and a digital copy, making it a complete bargain for multiple systems.  The Blu-ray includes an extended edition, which I am interested in seeing how it compares to the theatrical version; there are also the usual extras.

My advice: grab the Blu-ray or watch it on-demand; it is good for the whole family, even if it only consists of 2 adults and 3 cats…