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Friday, July 22, 2011

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)

Well, color me stunned. After a plethora of movies based on Marvel Comics heroes over the past decade-plus, they finally made one that's a completely solid winner from start to finish. I enjoyed THOR a hell of a lot and IRON MAN was great until its utterly rote final act, but CAPTAIN AMERICA is a note-perfect confection that gives the faithful exactly what they want while introducing the classic character to modern movie audiences in an engaging and compelling way.

The narrative gives us Cap's origin yet again, but tells it in a way that really lets us get to know and care about scrawny, 4F wannabe soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) before he gets anywhere near his star-spangled battle togs. Cap's story takes us from the streets of Brooklyn to WWII's European theater of operations, paralleling his development as America's first super-soldier with the world-conquering machinations of Johan Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), aka the Red Skull, an insane and megalomaniacal Nazi super-soldier who was the first success of the super-soldier process' inventor, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). The Skull has gotten his hands on an ancient Norse — read "Asgardian" — artifact of unexplained but vast power (comics fans know it's the Cosmic Cube) and it's only a matter of time until he harnesses its powers for use in taking over the world — first stop, New York City — and usurping Hitler's Third Reich with the super-scientific ordnance wielded by Hydra, an organization spun out of Nazi Germany's special scientific forces, so after a false start as a pitchman for war bonds, Cap takes the fight to the Red Skull. Over the course of the film, Cap proves his mettle as a warrior and hero, aided by the capable likes of old neighborhood pal Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), British special agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and the Howling Commandos, and his wartime exploits come to a climax that results in him literally becoming a man out of time.

I've left out the details so you can witness it all for yourself, but here are the points of note:
  • Director Joe (THE ROCKETEER) Johnston crafts a retelling of Captain America's origin that will sit quite well with modern audiences while piling on the WWII period charm that lends the proceedings the feel of an old school adventure serial, only one of feature length as opposed to a thirteen-episode chapter play.
  • A good deal of time is spent establishing Steve Rogers as a patriot who wants nothing more than to serve his country, and there's not an ounce of corniness found in how his sentiments are portrayed. This character development unfolds in considerable detail and I'd say it's at least a half hour into things before Rogers undergoes the process that turns him into America's first (and only) super-soldier, so don't go into this film expecting wall-to-wall, non-stop action and ass-kicking. Which is not to say that there's a boring moment in it before said ass-kicking starts.
  • Chris Evans is simply perfect as Steve Rogers and his performance here is just as right for the character as he was wrong for the part when he was cast as the unbelievably douchey and assholish version of Johnny Storm as found in the two atrocious FANTASTIC FOUR movies. I look forward to seeing him reprise Cap in THE AVENGERS and the inevitable sequels to this film. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Evans as Cap is the most likable and decent hero to grace the screen since Christopher Reeve's debut as Superman, and that is not a compliment I hand out lightly.

  • Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull is just as perfect as Chris Evans as Cap, and the makeup appliances that turn him into the character are without visible flaw.

  • Hayley Atwell as British agent Peggy Carter is a memorable and welcome change from the female characters often found in WWII adventures in that she's just as professional and badassed as any of the military men surrounding her. When the inevitable sequel happens, I hope they set it in WWII so we can see more period derring do and more of Agent Carter. She's too good to leave as a one-shot.
Agent Carter takes the fight against Nazi scum to the streets.
  • The film feels like a 1940's adventure film made today, and that's only a good thing. It does not concern itself with trying to make its fantastic elements fit into a "what if this stuff existed in reality" context, thus rendering it, as my buddy Big Black Paul so aptly pointed out, a true comic book movie, replete with retro hyper-technology and all that jazz. All of the other Marvel films have hit that particular pitfall, presumably in an attempt to make this stuff more appealing to those who neither read nor like comic books and superheroes, and each has been somewhat the worse for it, even the genuinely good ones.
  • As previously stated, the film includes the Howling Commandos among its roster of heroes fighting the good fight, and I welcome their bigscreen debut wholeheartedly. I've loved those guys since I was a kid and I hope their appearance here proves popular enough to earn them their own movie. And for those in the know, we even get to witness Dum Dum Dugan letting fly with a signature "Wah-Hoo!"
The Howling Commandos, bigscreen style.
  • Another supporting character of interest is Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), genius inventor and father of Tony Stark (better known to the masses as Iron Man). He supplies the tech side of the super-soldier process, as well as giving Cap a disc of pure Vibranium (look it up) that will come to serve as his combat shield (as opposed to the prop version used during his war bond spokesperson days). It's also cool that while the shield itself is basically indestructible, its paint job most definitely is not.
Cap receives his shield.

Bottom line: CAPTAIN AMERICA is a rousing bit of entertainment that looks to deservedly be a hit. I enjoyed it immensely and it is in my opinion the acme of what a superhero movie should be. This, folks, is the Marvel Comics movie against which all others should be measured.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

50 THINGS I LEARNED FROM THE MOVIES

Lemme set you straight on something right now: I have seen a shitload of movies in my mere 46 years on this planet. No, really. I'm such a fiend for films that I will sit through virtually anything, including GIGLI, which by the way was bad, but not as bad as you've been lead to believe. Anyway, from the thousands of movies that I have enjoyed (and in many cases subjected myself to) I have managed to glean many gems of wisdom that the filmmakers most likely did not intend to include in the finished productions. Truth can be found in the unlikeliest of places, even in the smoking ruins of an Ed Wood movie. What follows are just some of the many things that the world of cinema has taught me over the years. Read on, geek-boy, and ya just might learn something.

1. Women in prison are the cleanest people on the planet because they seem to shower every fifteen minutes or so.


2. Musical numbers can and will break out at any time or place for no adequately explained reason.


3. Criminal masterminds bent on world domination always tell the hero about the intricacies of their plans in graphic detail, thereby fucking their own schemes in the ass.


NOTABLE EXCEPTION: Auric Goldfinger was smart enough not to do this;

instead he went straight for the option of killing James Bond outright, by cutting him in half, nuts-first, with an industrial laser beam, but let him live for possible interrogation. Bond then escapes and just happens to overhear the details of "Operation Grand Slam" while in hiding.

4. All Asians will totally kick your ass. Run for your life if the person in question suddenly removes his shirt, or if he/she's really old with long white hair. Trust me on this one.


5. The number one place not to live in, for any reason, is Tokyo. Homeowner's insurance rates must be astronomical! Transylvania comes in a distant second.


6. If Jennifer Jason Leigh is in a movie, she will, at some point, be naked.


7. Giant monsters never shit. NOTABLE EXCEPTION: Gaos (in GAMERA-GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE).


8. Most extraterrestrials speak fluent English or Japanese.


9. If you are a parent character in a Disney film, you probably won't survive until the end of the movie.


10. People in Foreign films are either very boring/pretentious, or exceedingly violent/nude.


11. Elvis mastered every profession known to man and used all of them as an excuse to sing, fight, and bang hot chicks.


12. James Bond must be sterile and is apparently immune to all forms of venereal disease.


13. If the house that you and your family just moved into was once the site of any event with the words "Massacre," "Terror," or "Horror" in it, move out immediately.


14. Satan is everywhere, and he will get you. Period.


15. Never have premarital sex anywhere, especially not at a summer camp.


16. Monolithic (and mono-syllabic) Teutonic guys played by Arnold Schwarzennegger always have names like "John Matrix," which seems perfectly normal to everyone who knows him.


17. All black people can dance, speak the hip lingo of the day, and are expert marksmen with the majority of extant firearms.


18. Pam Grier is the most perfect woman ever to walk this earth. She still looks terrific, and she survived dating Richard Pryor!!! Runner-up: Ursula Andress, c. 1962.

The awesome perfection that is Miss Pamela Grier.

19. Guys, if you're going to whip it out on camera, at least have something worth whipping out; formerly known as "Richard Gere's Law," this has re-designated in recent years as "Ewan MacGregor's Law, in honor of his mighty flesh-truncheon.


20. The Three Stooges were the greatest martial artists in screen history. They would have offed Bruce Lee in about a minute.


21. Women die of mysterious "women's diseases," and get more beautiful as they get closer to the final curtain (as in LOVE STORY and countless others).


22. In the world of action heroes, firearms have little or no recoil whatsoever.


23. Charlton Heston was simply incapable of playing "Joe Average."


24. Contrary to popular belief, Marlene Dietrich was not a man.


25. Cigarette smoking makes you manly (see Humphrey Bogart).


26. Alcoholism is not only zany, but hardcore alcoholics can function as though virtually unimpaired (see any of the THIN MAN flicks).


27. People can make friends with dangerous animals with little or no effort, and the animals in question will obey their every whim without hesitation.


28. Any guy, no matter how butch, can make a convincing female impersonator (see SOME LIKE IT HOT, TOOTSIE, TANGO AND CASH, I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE, etc.).

David Carradine as Pearl in SONNY BOY (1990).

29. In the 1950's most alien worlds were inhabited by stunningly nubile young women longed to be taught the Earth "art" of kissing.

Sign me up for the space program right now, goddammit!!!

30. If a meteorite crash lands near you, do not examine it or its contents.


31. In war, your comedic sidekick — usually named "Brooklyn" — will inevitably die tragically, spurring you on to a feat of near-suicidal heroism.


32. In the 1950's, women's breasts were shaped more like rocketry than mammalia.


33. White people in blackface are completely believable as Negroes.


34. Surfers' hair stays perfectly dry and styled, no matter what kind of waves they've been battling ("Avalon's Law").


35. Despite living in the jungle with apes for over twenty years, Tarzan does not smell bad or fling his feces at those he does not like.


36. There must have been a plague that at some point wiped out most black people, since we seldom show up in the future.


37. Cavemen/women existed at the same time as the dinosaurs, and had hairstylists and beauticians available at all times.


38. Cars that engage in high-speed chases are nearly indestructible and have the shock absorbers of the gods.


39. When he wasn't killing people, the Frankenstein Monster was a pretty cool guy.


40. In WWII, all elite Nazis wore monocles.



41. Despite his flamboyant outfits, Flash Gordon was not gay.


42. If the films of Woody Allen are to be believed, black people do not exist and New York City is an urban wonderland full of witty intellectuals. (I live in the Five Boroughs, and I can tell you without a doubt that that is bullshit.)


43. There is a very good chance that your family may be crazy/cannibals/space-aliens/intergalactic despots.


44. Anthropomorphic cartoon animals are the most dangerous creatures on the planet. Plus, they are indestructible.


45. Glass makers in Hong Kong must be the wealthiest guys on the planet, due to the inordinate amount of people shooting/being thrown through window panes and glass sculptures.



46. Nothing signifies cool like a slow-motion closeup (see James Woods in JOHN CARPENTER'S VAMPIRES).



47. Absolutely anyone can learn any form of elaborate/improbable style of martial arts in virtually no time at all, as evidenced in MY KUNG FU 12 KICKS, DRUNKEN MASTER, THE CHALLENGE OF THE LADY NINJA, THE CRIPPLED MASTERS, and countless others.



48. Death does not neccessarily mean that your social life is over.


49. It must be illegal to be anything less than stunningly beautiful in Italy, Spain, Brazil, Sweden, and France since there are apparently no ordinary looking people in any of these countries...except Gerard Depardieu and Roberto Benigni.


50. Even a whiny dork can defend the galaxy. Yeah, I'm talkin' about you, Luke Skywalker!