Major Questions for a New Captain

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The success of the original “Iron Man” in 2008 heralded the coming of the new filmic “Marvel” universe and a resurgent slew of superhero movies, but one of the things that made it so compelling was the modern tonal realism of its opening: before any robots or monsters take the stage, we are introduced to our protagonist traveling with very-recognizable American soldiers in a very-recognizable Middle East before being captured and filmed as a hostage by masked and turbaned terrorists.

No longer were superheroes insulated from the current world of political conflict, or magically sublimated into a world similar to ours where the forces that would do us harm are always giant crocodiles or thickly-accented next-wave Nazis. The idea of a mythical hero-character who could engage with the complex actual threats of today transcended the inherent escapism and silliness of superheroes long enough for a wide audience to be intrigued.

By this month’s release of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” that connection to actual threats of today has been lost, supplanted along the way by Norse villain-gods, alien armies, and – yes – Nazis, once more. What has not been left behind, however, is a concern with the ideological and political paradigms that young, liberal, contemporary audiences grapple with. The first plot shakings in the new Captain America pit an indignant Captain arguing against Nick Fury’s deployment of all-seeing, pre-emptive security-military giant flying warships. What? Guns aren’t always good?

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Fall Movie Bonanza: All is Lost

Technically fall doesn’t start until December 21, so it’s still fall, and I can write a fourth edition of the Fall Movie Bonanza series of blog posts, right? Right.

all-is-lost-robert-redford-02-600-370Writer/director J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost stars the weathered and rugged, crinkled but well muscled 77-year-old Robert Redford as “Our Man,” a seasoned sailor who becomes lost at sea after a stray shipping container punctures his craft, and a storm has its way with the man and his ship. Having read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea recently (as mentioned in a previous post), it was an interesting coincidence to be able to compare and contrast two fictional nautical tragedies. Continue reading

Fall Movie Bonanza: 12 Years A Slave, Carrie & The Counselor

During my birthday trip to Illinois a couple weeks ago, I got a chance to watch two of the movies on my to-see list for a total of $11. It’s insane how much less it costs to see a movie in the Midwest. In New York, I’m accustomed now to paying $14.50 at AMC theaters, which was the case when I saw Captain Phillips (reviewed on this very blog). Gravity (review posted here) cost me $21.50 to see in IMAX 3D (and it was worth every penny).

But back to the movies themselves. I enjoyed both of them, though neither of them stacked up to 12 Years A Slave, which I saw after returning to New York (it was not playing anywhere in St. Louis at the time). Below are my thoughts on all three.

Carrie
The Brian De Palma movie from the 70s a tough one to beat in a remake, and I liked this new version even though the remake didn’t surpass the original (or the Stephen King book).

Chloe MoretzChloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Hugo) was engaging as the title character, an awkward high school girl with supernatural powers she learns to wield over the course of the movie. Even better was Julianne Moore as her mother, pretty much perfect for the role of Carrie’s abusive religious zealot of a mother. She brings a level of intensity and a torturedness (for lack of a better word) to her performance that stokes up the conflict between mother and daughter that much more.

I wasn’t as impressed with the supporting cast. Continue reading

A Matter of Some Gravity: Ender’s Game Book vs. Movie

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I picked up Ender’s Game when I was about 13 years old in a special only-$3.99 paperback edition on a weekend bookstore trip with my dad, who could only agree to buy me low-priced paperback editions. I devoured it probably overnight, and then quickly devoured the rest of the books in the series too. No one can really tell you why certain books are so special, especially in childhood, but I think a major component for me was that Ender was a young child, but a brilliant one who thought like a full-on real human being – instead of being dumbed down to irrelevance like 99% of children – and his ideas and actions really mattered. A lot.

Author Orson Scott Card has been floating around the idea of a movie version since at least back then. The project at that time would star Jake Lloyd, who was 9 and had just played Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I. In the early days of the internet Orson released a full screenplay he had written that began with Mazer Rackham’s battle in the asteroid belt in full space-opera fashion.

At the time I thought an Ender’s Game movie was a terrible idea. Continue reading

A Million Trillion Lifetimes That I Could Spend With You

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“About Time” wide release Nov 8

Every year around Christmastime I watch Love Actually, alongside whoever is willing to watch it with me. Every year for ten years now, and I’m looking forward to it again. Love Actually is one of those movies everyone agrees is pretty great, even normal people: as smart as a successful, big-production romantic comedy can probably get. I still remember leaning in with pleasure for the first time as Colin Firth leads a town to the Portuguese restaurant where he’ll propose, as that little boy playing Liam Neeson’s stepson outruns airport security (surely courting death in our post-9/11 world) to see his crush before she flies home, as Billy Mack beats out the little-pricked wankers in the boy band “Blue” to take the year’s #1 song hit.

The man behind Love Actually is British director Richard Curtis, whose new release is the gentle time-travel love story rom-com About Time. The movie comes out in wide release this Friday, but luckily for me it came out in limited release yesterday for major cities like Chicago, and its near staging areas like Evanston. My expectations for Curtis going in were high this close to Love Actually season, especially with time travel love tossed in to boot. Would he pull off another quiet triumph? Continue reading

Fall Movie Bonanza: Captain Phillips

Like Gravity, Captain Phillips is a potential Oscar nom entry in this fall’s prestige movie season that never lets up until the end.

Like a lot of people, I’ve admired Tom Hanks for a long time. When buying DVDs on a regular basis was a thing everyone was doing, my first project was to use my Columbia House subscription to get my hands on every DVD movie with Tom Hanks as the star. He has the unique ability to play an Everyman or the interesting outsider and do them both well. Rare is the exception to the rule that Hanks can dissolve himself and embody another person or the enjoyment of the audience.

Captain Philips is not one of the exceptions. He sells the New England native title character who is tasked with shipping cargo from Oman and past the Horn of Africa to Kenya. You buy his accent. You buy his leadership of the crew. And you buy his handling of the situation that arises when a skiff of Somali pirates approaches closer and closer until they hook a ladder to the side of the Maersk Alabama and board it.

I love about Hanks’ performance that it isn’t big or flashy. Director Paul Greengrass (the Bourne series) should be credited for not force-feeding us the kind of “Big Acting” speechifying moments that were the largest flaw of the otherwise fantastic Gravity.

The actor who played the lead pirate — whose name I’m too lazy to look up because I’m writing this blog post on a bus ride to Washington DC — had a very impressive debut performance. The raw intensity of his screen presence was refreshing. He’s the scariest possible skinny person I can think of. As the guys on the Filmspotting podcast pointed out, the trailers had me worrying we were going to get an overly sympathetic portrayal of him, but that fortunately didn’t turn out to be the case.

I recommend catching Captain Phillips on the big screen, but only if you’ve already seen Gravity in IMAX 3D. That should still be your top filmgoing priority.

Fall Movie Bonanza: Gravity is a Tour de Force

Goodbye and good riddance, summer. That’s what I say. People talk about how short it was and how they didn’t get to go to the beach as many times as they wanted, or get enough tan lines, or wear enough Crocs and flip flops, or rock out at concert festivals in their plastic sunglasses, or whatever it is that summer-lovers do. I say summer was too long, and not just because I’m tired of sweating every time I go outside. I’m excited for the fall movie season, when the big studios finally push out their top quality product for Oscar consideration.

maxresdefaultThe first big October movie you need to see is Gravity, and you need to see it in IMAX 3D. It won’t be cheap (a whopping $21.50 per ticket at an AMC theater in NYC), but it will be worth it.

Some people have actually told me they saw a trailer for it and thought it looked boring. How? What about astronauts getting exploded off of their space stations is boring? I guess it’s just a matter of taste, but I found all the trailers, teasers, and behind the scenes footage I watched in advance of the movie to be exciting. And I don’t even like Sandra Bullock.

Having seen the movie, I can assure you it’s anything but boring or slow-paced. Continue reading