Monthly Archives: July 2011
If every single employee at Marvel Studios isn’t celebrating the massively successful summer that they have had at the movies, they should be. Captain America: The First Avenger is the third quality picture from the comic book factory that sparkles with vision, zippy action, gung-ho characters, and an innocent simplicity that all come together to provide an exhilarating summer escapist romp that will leave you hounding for more from this star spangled hero. Still, the WWII superhero is just a notch below the more socially relevant X-Men: First Class but out eye-candies the cosmic Thor. Bustling with an art deco aesthetic, you will find yourself falling head over heels with this nostalgic ode Indian Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It truly is a relief that Marvel, who appeared at first to be forcing themselves too strongly onto audiences this year, pull off a triple threat of terrific with their three towering releases. I was worried that too many do-gooders trying to save planet earth in 3D would weigh down this summer. Yet Thor exceeded my extremely low expectations and the X-Men series received a much-needed shot of inspiration into a franchise of films that were becoming increasingly cheap and extremely frivolous, especially for one that began on a thought-provoking note. But X-Men: First Class was also not looking to tie in three other heroes and be the final step before the much anticipated Marvel mash-up The Avengers that is to come next summer. And with DC Comics barely making a ripple with The Green Lantern, they also found absolutely no competition (Well, maybe from a certain boy wizard) from their rivals. WithCaptain America being the one of the last major blockbusters of this sweltering summer, they end on a seriously cool note.
Captain America follows the attempts of the steadfast Steve Rogers (Played by a hulking Chris Evans), a weakling with asthma from the Bronx who relentlessly attempts to join the US Army and jet over to Europe so he can “kill Nazis.” Finally, with a little help from a German scientist, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Played by a enthusiastic Stanley Tucci) and the gruff Col. Chester Phillips (Played by sleepy-eyed Tommy Lee Jones), he gets enlisted in a program that turns the not-so-manly-mans into manly-men super soldiers. They pick Rodgers “because a weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power.” Under the watchful eye of the machine-gun packing femme Peggy Carter (Played by a smoking hot Haley Atwell), Cap dons a blue get-up and brandishing a stars-and-stripes printed shield, he goes toe-to-toe with HYDRA, a Nazi weapons division lead by the sadistic Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull (Played with purring evil by Hugo Weaving) and the mousy scientist Dr. Arnim Zola (Played by the always-welcome Toby Jones).
Under the masterfully paced direction of Joe Johnston (The Wolfman), Captain America takes its time get to know its characters and dreamily gaze on their personalities. We can’t help but root for the morally responsible Cap as he always does the right thing. Chris Evans plays him as the all-American good old boy when he’s bulked up and a runt with a heart of gold when he’s shrunken down. In one scene, the runty Rogers throws himself onto a live grenade to protect his fellow hulking soldier, who all ran and hid themselves. It’s scenes like this the Rogers steals our hearts and allow us to root for him even when he’s in the stickiest of situations. His best friend, Bucky Barnes, who acts as the unwavering voice of support for his comrade, stands behind Cap every step of the way. Haley Atwell transcends the damsel in distress role and is instead is a pistol-packing hellion who can hold her own against Nazis and keep the Cap drooling in a little red dress. Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull is perhaps one of the more terrifying villains as he grapples for independence from the Third Reich and salivates over world domination. He and Cap have many show-stopping smack downs that will leave the audience cheering for the Cap to give Red Skull a good, old-fashioned ass whooping. Pitting the extreme good against an extreme evil is a bit obvious, but it works with Captain America lore, as Cap appeared in March of 1941 on a comic book delivering a lick to Uncle Adolph (America had not yet joined the war, which slathered on controversy at the time). The rest of the performances are fine, especially from Toby Jones, who appears to be channeling Ronald Lacye’s Arnold Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It should be noted that the retro Captain America is one of the more conservative superhero films to come down the tube. They are churned out at an alarming rate these days and they are coming in all shapes and sizes! But the Cap becomes the symbol for all that is morally and ethically right. It seems old fashioned and has a wide-eyed innocence that makes the film impossible to dislike. It’s good clean fun and takes very few risks. Even at the end when the US Army is plotting their final move on HYDRA, the Cap makes the simple suggestion of knocking on HYDRA’s front door. Why complicate the matter? The film is desperately avoiding any sort of complexity, whether it underlying or outright. There are no profound opinions or winking satire to the film. It just keeps everything simple and that is honestly it’s most alluring quality. It helps that the characters are so wonderfully illustrated and realized, which ultimately allows them to be more intriguing than when the Cap is wrecking havoc behind enemy lines. The film is also a rallying cry for the underdogs, which balances out the self-confidence that radiates from titans like Iron Man and Thor. Captain America isn’t looking to change the world, despite his worldwide battle, and I commend it for that. It’s just looking to thrill us the old-fashioned way, much like Super 8 so beautifully did. It’s just trying to cater to the child-like wonder in all of us, and the Cap beyond succeeds with that mission. Plain and simple, I loved everything about this movie. I loved the look, feel, the epic scope, the characters, their earnest interaction, and all the arresting action. Go see it.
Grade: A (Make it a double feature with Super 8)
An American couple, Gil and Inez (Owen Wilson, Wedding Crashers and Rachael McAdams, Sherlock Holmes) tag along with Inez’s parents on a business trip to Paris. While touring the sites, Gil considers moving to the city to reinvigorate his writing career and unexpectedly finds himself in 1920’s Paris, hobnobbing with artistic greats like Picasso and Fitzgerald. During Gil’s adventures through time, the film takes you on a comical and philosophical ride of catchy music, scenic shots of Paris, and truly colorful acting.
A lovely cross between Back to the Future and The Sun Also Rises (yes, I just paired those two titles), the movie mocks obnoxious pedantry and yet only delivers humor to those who understand its literary/historical jokes. As you laugh at the obvious portrayals of Hemingway and Dali (that you only get because you took that Modernism course sophomore year), you realize that Midnight in Paris is simultaneously a slap in the face to pseudo-intellectualism and a brilliant opportunity to stroke your own intellectual ego.
As with Woody Allen’s other recent films, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, this movie allows the viewer to identify with different characters at different times, leaving you to wonder how you really feel about art and ex-patriotism. While the characters may seem almost stock (the aspiring writer, the Tea Party ass, the blonde American prep), you realize this is the beauty of Allen’s work: he proves that there is a reason some stereotypes exist. The film practically serves as a mirror for its audience, as I observed during the ending credits. “This was stupid,” the Abercrombie-wearing bro snapped as he stomped out of the theater, his sad-eyed girlfriend in tow (meanwhile, my own academic boyfriend proudly guffawed at the Bunuel jokes).
Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, Tron) stands out as the wine-swilling art history buffoon and Corey Stoll’s breakout Hemingway had me choking on my popcorn with laughter. Sincere performances by Wilson and Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose, Inception) make us question the beauty and terror of nostalgia, while the film’s magical realism unapologetically entertains. All in all, Midnight in Paris is a delightful evening stroll away from the summer’s exploding CGI cash cows, truly a walk in the park. Grade: A-
I want you to take a moment and name a film that you saw when you were a kid that left an indelible impression on you. Go ahead, I’ll wait. What was that? I’m sorry, I honestly don’t believe that Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, while an incredible film, left an emotional mark on you at the age of six.
Okay, now I’ll tell you mine. I saw E.T. for the first time when I was about four years old. How do I remember that? It is because I was petrified of this alien that made grunting noises like my father getting out of the chair. I couldn’t see the alien, so I assumed he was scary-looking. I could never get through the first half of it until I was about six when my mother told me that everything would be okay and just to watch it. Elliott brought E.T. up to his room, and in the grand reveal, he wasn’t that scary. For the next hour and a half, I went through a range of emotions: laughter at E.T. getting drunk, exhilaration as he and Elliott flew over the moon, concern when E.T. went missing, terror when the government descended on the house, sadness when E.T. “dies,” excitement when Elliott and his friends escape the government, and finally happy-sadness when E.T. flies away. Now, try and get that out of a movie when you’re six.
The fact of the matter is that Steven Spielberg is an incredible filmmaker. Yes, I hear your scoff and I do not care because it is because of his films that I was able to open my imagination and discover other works out there from many different filmmakers. We all have to start somewhere, and if it wasn’t for the films of Steven Spielberg, I do not believe my imagination would have been ignited.
J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 is, unapologetically, a love letter to the Spielberg films of the late 70s and early 80s…and there is nothing wrong with that. Today, the movies at multiplexes are sequels and special effects extravaganzas that (for the most part) lack in the most important visual effect of all: the story.
Now, unless you’re Christopher Nolan (Inception, please), it is very rare that there is truly an “original” story out there because it has all been said and done before. However, there is nothing wrong with taking a concept and spinning it off into its own unique story, and that is precisely what Super 8 is.
A group of friends in western Ohio decide to make a zombie super 8 film over their summer vacation. They witness a train crash and “something” escapes and it is up to our young heroes to save the day!
That is the plot of the film, essentially. But it is the atmosphere and the characters that both Abrams and the amazing child actors create that is the heart and soul of this film. I can’t think of the last time I saw a mainstream Hollywood movie where there was such an engaging community of characters- to be honest, this movie could’ve done away with the entire monster plot and just watched these kids make a movie. It is because of these characters that you become emotionally involved in their plight and you root for them all the way through the end credits. Harkening back to E.T., Super 8 expands on the themes of friendship, family, letting go, and growing up. How rare it is to see a mainstream Hollywood film deal with these issues in both an intelligent and entertaining way.
Now, this film is not without its disappointing parts. Like an adrenaline-riddled thirteen year old, Abrams goes over the top with many of the effects that actually detract from the wonderful story he is telling. Also, the ending, while satisfying, is very abrupt and nearly brings the movie to a screeching halt. There could have been another half hour to wrap things up in a tidier manner.
With that said, it is obvious that I am biased towards Super 8. It was a trip down memory lane for me, back to a time when I saw movies from the late 70s and early 80s and wished there were more for me to see. It is also an ode to my hero, Steven Spielberg, and the effect he has had on film lovers for nearly 40 years. My hope is that kids that are twelve or thirteen see this movie and become enamored with the most wonderful special effect of all: imagination. Grade: A-