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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Every Hand’s A Winner

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I’ve been a male cheerleader for Matthew Quick’s writing since the quirkily insightful and laugh-out-loud-worthy Silver Linings Playbook, which he followed up a few months back with the Young Adult novel Forgive Me Leonard Peacock (which I reviewed). Now he’s back with another novel for grown-ups, The Good Luck of Right Now. It follows his trend of an emotionally damaged main character most people would call “different” on a journey of self-discovery with a colorful cast of friends. Does it find another strange formula for meaning, or just re-hash the same old ground? Continue reading

All the Small Things

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Shrine Auditorium

Some people like to start conversations with “What would happen if.” What would happen if there was a black-ops team that hired out to help you get actual closure after a relationship by erasing all traces of the ex’s existence? What would happen if the guy who invented that “A train leaves Chicago at” math problem was upset that he never received adequate compensation? What would happen if you secretly won a big cash prize in a box of Frosted Flakes when you were 10 but your parents were staunchly opposed to sugar cereal– you get the idea. 

For most people, these become a running gag of conversation with the kind of friends who tolerate that sort of thing. For author B.J. Novak, famous from his work as actor and producer on The Office, they became a book of stories: One More Thing. The question is, is it any good?
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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