Captain America: The First Avenger

July 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

I remember back in the summer of 1990, I was going to see “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” for the second time in the theatre, when I spotted a really cool looking poster for an upcoming movie. All it was was a shield, red white and blue. I recognized it immediately. It was Captain America.

In my youth, there was nary a superhero film (besides the “Superman” sequels) until 1989’s “Batman”, so I was really excited. I thought, well if there’s going to be a movie for Captain America, then maybe they’ll make a Spider-Man movie, too!

Well, that poster was the last I heard of “Captain America”, the movie. It was only about a decade later when I read that the movie was such a bomb, it wasn’t even really released at all. Back in those days, Hollywood wasn’t about to spend money to churn out superhero movies the way they do now, like a fast food combo meal.

And so, my childhood was left with no “Captain America” movie. And now, into my thirties, I realize by seeing this 2011 film, that I wish I could go back to my childhood and take this film with me. If I were 11 years old again, I probably would have enjoyed the film thoroughly.

Instead, I was absolutely thoroughly bored with this film. Every simple-minded gag and plot device is utilized here. It’s just your average Rah-Rah Go America style action flick, and the lack of depth to the characters and plot would’ve been ignored had I been a kid, simply amazed and swept off my feet by the dazzling special effects. Instead, nothing worked for me.

The film is, like every other comic book movie, an origin story. And like most Marvel comic book heroes, this one is an underdeveloped kid who suddenly gets massive powers. He goes from being the Little Engine That Could to the Coors Light Train, blasting through enemies (who look like a cross between S&M enthusiasts and the Cobra Command) at a breakneck pace. He has a love interest, played dutifully by the amazingly beautiful Hayley Atwell, and he has a boss, played amusingly by Tommy Lee Jones. The only real waste of a good character actor is Hugo Weaving, who plays the main villain known as the Red Skull. He’s so paper thin and uninteresting, it’s really a shame. Captain America himself is played actually pretty well by Chris Evans, who has already had a comic book character attached to his name in his career. That’s another thing that’s strange to me: time was, a comic book hero that became a movie also became the identity of the actor. Christopher Reeve was Superman. That was it. But now, you’ve got actors who are appearing in several comic book movies as separate heroes. I wonder if kids know the difference, or care.

What does it matter anyway? We’re so inundated with comic book movies, they all start to look the same. I enjoyed “Thor” for what it was, and it was at least a bit different. But this movie is just your average, garden variety, run of the mill superhero movie; but it lacks heart and eagerness to please. It’s almost as if just because it’s Red, White, and Blue, we should cheer. It’s the Flag Waving Comic Book Hero Movie.

Well, I’m sure that will appeal to certain audiences. Count me out.

My rating: :(

Shutter Island

March 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Mystery films with a twist. This concept has been done so many times in the last 10 years, badly, that I think as an audience we spend more time just trying to figure out the twist at the end than pay attention to the narrative of the story. M. Night Shyamalan has almost single-handedly ruined the sub-genre in itself by making hokey, cheap “twists” to his already weak and thin narratives in movies such as “The Village” and “Signs” that when you see a film advertising  “The ending will BLOW YOU AWAY!” the eyerolling is almost a reflex.

Now comes “Shutter Island”, based upon a novel by Dennis Lehane. The film revolves around an escaped prisoner (or “patient”) at a maximum security mental institution called Ashecliff Hospital on Shutter Island, off the Boston Harbor. US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Di Caprio) and his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), are assigned to the case and after a shaky boat trip–Daniels tries to “get a grip” of himself while having sea sickness–the two embark on the case, involving dealings with mad people, and an enigmatic doctor named Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley).

Like any mystery film, there are red herrings and booby traps, and while you’re trying to figure out just what is going on at this asylum, you’re also unravelling the backstory of Daniels’ life. He was a WWII hero, who took down a death camp in Dachau; he also experienced trauma when his wife burned in a fire that was caused by an arsonist that Daniels’ reveals to his partner–may be on this island as a prisoner. As the two investigate the place further, there are more inconsistencies in Dr. Cawley’s approach and philosophy versus how the asylum is actually run, that the two of them believe they’re in danger of being kept there.

The paranoia, along with Daniels’ past sufferings coming back to haunt him, make the film more and more brooding as it goes along. And while you are trying to figure out the “twist”, it becomes more clear as the film progresses–and you can take the journey with Daniels as he starts to battle his own madness, that it makes for a perfect payoff in the end.

The film’s theme of being your own prisoner and how we torture ourselves works well, and the answer in the end to all the questions is not only well done–it’s the only way the film could work. The directing is masterful, once again, by Scorsese. The atmosphere is dark, and at times claustrophobic. It has a touch of film noir that makes the film sexy and lethal. It wants to terrify you, entice you, and tease you. And all three are pulled off perfectly.

This also features some brilliant performances by its lead actors: Ben Kingsley is wonderful as the off-putting and seemingly villainous doctor; Max von Sydow plays another mysterious character, another psychiatrist that Daniels doesn’t trust; Di Caprio is aggressive and powerful as the tormented Daniels in probably his best role since “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”; and even Michelle Williams is impressive as Daniels’ wife who appears to him in his dreams and visions throughout the film, haunting him and plaguing him with self-doubt.

This film is extremely well executed and worth more than one viewing. While it’s a bit long (clocks in at about 138 minutes), it never feels though it’s too long and I never felt uncomfortable watching it. It’s a great movie experience. One that should have been recognized by the Academy. But how often does the Academy get it right?

My rating: :D

Brüno

July 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Sascha Baron Cohen just loves to mess with people. I think my whole review could actually be that one line, and that would suffice as an accurate, detailed depiction of what to expect with this film; or most of what he does, in fact. Cohen did this in 2006 with “Borat”, which was a “great success”; and now he hopes he can redeliver the goods using another persona from his acclaimed (and very funny) show “Da Ali G Show”–this time, the Austrian homosexual fashion zealot, Brüno. Are you prepared for male nudity? Guys, buckle up. It’s a long ride if you aren’t.

The plot of the film, much like in “Borat”, is very thin. The whole basis of the film rides on Brüno getting famous in any way he can. And he tries just about everything you can do–but first and foremost, he must get to America. He takes along his lapdog assistant and goes through some great lengths in order to realize his dream to become famous. He even adopts a black baby and takes him on “Today with Richard Bey”. I didn’t know Bey was still on the air, to be honest. In any event, Brüno has some wild misadventures trying to get into the spotlight: he gets an agent to help him launch a reality-talk interview show and actually gets a test audience to screen the show, and they subsequently watch his “package” dangle for a little bit (even talk to them), and watch him “dance” while they get one second of an “interview” with Harrison Ford. In one of the funniest moments of the film, he tries to “seduce” Ron Paul into his room in order to make a “sex tape” that can be circulated around the internet.

When his dreams of fame fail, he tries to do anything he can to get back on the horse. He even tries to turn straight. He goes to a gay converter, and he tries to go hunting with some real men (another funny sequence, if a bit played out); he also goes to a swinger’s party–and this was where the film impressed me most. Not because of how far he went, but because I could not believe the MPAA allowed what pretty much was porno right on the big screen, in a summer movie. Genius!

This is kind of the greatness and weakness of the film, and I was even a bit distracted by the somewhat slow pacing. Because there wasn’t a real plot, you were just watching Brüno do crazy things. And, to me, there seemed to be a bit more culture and depth in “Borat”. How many jokes can you make about rednecks and fundamentalists? The joke seemed to be wearing thin quicker in this film than in previous Cohen offerings. Another thing was that while Borat has an assuming charm about him; Brüno is not very likable. He is brash, and he’s very stupid in an unengaging way. He’s just vapid and superficial. With Borat it seems to be more of the language barrier and culturual barrier that separates him from any normal person. But Brüno just seems out of it. I know that’s part of the joke, but if you’re going to give us 90 minutes of the guy, I think he should at least be somewhat sympathetic. And because he’s flamboyant, and obnoxious, the homosexuality seems to become more of the joke than anything else, and again, that wears thin as well. We get it. He’s gay. We get it. Homophobes are uncomfortable around it. Yes, can you make something else out of this now? Or can we move on?

Perhaps I’m nitpicking–this film has some uproarious moments, too. It’s also very shocking at times, sometimes outdoing “Borat”. And I did look into the goings on to see what was staged and what was natural. A lot of it does check out. But I really wonder how much deeper Cohen wants to take this. I’m hoping this is his last venture into this kind of film. He is a very clever satirist and a very good actor and writer–I think he can do much better things now. I know this will make him more money, and it’s what the people want; but I’d like to see him really extend himself for his next film, should he continue making them.

My rating: :-)