Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a powerhouse that needn’t even be tested right now. After DC/Warner Bros. release their own cinematic universe lineup to follow last year’s Man of Steel, Marvel Studios unleashed their Phase 3 plans involving more films from Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers, along with a bunch of new properties that will likely destroy most other contenders. With all this news, it is tough to focus on specific individual films, which is a shame, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the perfect Marvel movie, as it not only tells a compelling story that works as both a genre film and a superhero movie, and it also stands alone while fueling plot threads for multiple avenues for Marvel to take on in future productions.

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The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer, What’s Your Number?) as he continues to adjust to life in the present, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy) under the tutelage of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, RoboCop). Meanwhile, a plot to attack S.H.I.E.L.D. from within is unveiled and the addition of new foe The Winter Soldier adds multiple new threats to Cap. Rogers is going to have to use new help from Sam Wilson aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Runner Runner) and fellow agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, TV’s How I Met Your Mother, The Lego Movie) to take down the Winter Soldier and save S.H.I.E.L.D.

This movie was awesome. It felt like a separate film much more attuned to 70s espionage and political thrillers than a superhero comic book adaptation. New to the Marvel Directors Club, Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree) saw the film through a unique lens and decided to forgo CG in favor of practical effects whenever possible (and it shows). The cinematography is engaging and the visual literally POP off the screen (even in 2D). The pacing is perfect. I never once found myself reaching for my phone.

We also get some incredible performances from new Marvel family members Frank Grillo (Warrior, The Purge: Anarchy), Anthony Mackie, and Emily VanCamp (TV’s Revenge, Carriers) as Brock Rumlow, Sam Wilson, and Kate, respectively.

I needed to take a moment to talk about Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All is Lost). He just knocks his role out of the park. He plays a very important character, Alexander Pierce, the man in the big office of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he just nails it. For a man without a ton of screentime, Redford makes this film official, and I loved every minute of it.

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In short, Captain America: The Winter Soldier would be a great movie even without all the superheroics. It would be a great mystery on that alone. Add in all the Marvel greats that make this franchise what it is and you have a recipe for not only a great installment (easily among the high points in this franchise) but a damn great time at the movies. Better get two tubs of popcorn, because this popcorn flick is something not to miss!

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Did you suit up or defect? Let me know!

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

Transcendence (2014)

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Director: Wally Pfister

Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman

Screenplay: Jack Paglan

119 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality.

 

When longtime visual perfectionist Wally Pfister decided to make his directorial debut on a project produced by colleague and master filmmaker Christopher Nolan, I think I wet my pants in excitement. And why not? The film, Transcendence, seemed all too perfect to fail. The screenplay was part of a shortlist of amazing unproduced screenplays floating around Hollywood. The director had proven himself visually. It had an all-star cast at the front lines of major players in the business. It couldn’t fail, right? Then, reviews started coming in. The film immediately dropped down to “rotten” on the famous tomatometer, and I started to get concerned. Finally, my chance to see the film came, and I knew I had to form an opinion all my own.

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I saw it. Oh, I saw it.

Transcendence is the story of the Casters, Will (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, Tusk) and Evelyn (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige, Iron Man 3). Will is dying, and Evelyn will do anything to save him. So when Will comes up with a controversial theory concerning crossing his living mind with a technological super-computer in order to leave his withering body of flesh to exist amongst cyberspace. Longtime friend Max (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind, The Avengers) helps the Casters achieve their goal only to second-guess his decision when Will’s mind wants more input. As Will’s consciousness continues to expand into new avenues of human psyche, a more horrifying truth comes to light for Evelyn: is this thing still her husband anymore, and if not, what has it become?

I want to like this movie so much. I really do. It has fine performances and the dialogue isn’t bad. The real issue of the movie is the pacing. After the first third of Transcendence, it slows the hell down. Seriously. There is a whole middle of this movie that has stuff going on but doesn’t feel important, which leads to an underwhelming ending trying to be deeper than it is. There are issues.

After Will’s consciousness begins learning and becoming something greater than itself, we see him experimenting with humans to progress both humans and itself, but I didn’t feel the stakes. I knew they were there, but I just didn’t find myself caring about them, which disappointed me. Maybe if the film pulled me in more, I would have found myself rooting for a solution, but Evelyn Caster doesn’t take up the lead as far as cathartic characters go. I wanted her to figure out what we had all figured out, but it took too long. On the other hand, Max has entrenched himself with known terrorists to try exposing this experiment to the public, so he wasn’t as likable either. Then you get Cillian Murphy (TV’s Peaky Blinders, Inception) and Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, Dolphin Tale 2), who play Agent Buchanan and Joseph Tagger. Seriously, who the hell are these guys and why do I care about them. They bare no weight whatsoever on the plot or anything going on. They merely observe. They just exist. Why? Exactly. These roles seemed more like a favor to Pfister than anything else. Yeah, I liked The Dark Knight trilogy too, but I wouldn’t take an easily worthless character to show my affection.

Then, there is the ending. It tries to be the ending to Inception or perhaps The Dark Knight Rises. It tries to compel its viewership into discussing exactly what happened. The problem here is that it feels so forced. It feels shoehorned when it could’ve been a simple explanation of what Max thinks happened without trying to imply anything. Just let us have the info that we have attained and let us use that for watercooler talk. Instead, the film leaves a dry taste on the tongue that leads to simply nothingness.

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I want to love this movie. There are so many parts of it that I do love. Many of the actors turn in fine work, and I didn’t have any issues with the visual presentation of the film, but I think good ol’ Wally needs to learn about pacing.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Wally Pfister’s Transcendence? Did you login or shut down? Let me know!

 

November 2014 Preview

We’ve been to this part before. I have not seen any of the films we are going to discuss today. I merely feel as though you should be aware of what will be coming to theaters this month. I am pretty good at assessing possible wins and likely failures in the film business. So here we go. Hold onto something.

 

 

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Interstellar

I love Christopher Nolan. Apart from Insomnia, I have found each of his works to be utterly powerful pieces of film. His genres usually stick to the darkness and the fantastic, and perhaps just as much in his new film Interstellar. It is about a team of explorers who go through a wormhole looking for a suitable planet to replace Earth. Now, the basic idea here sees simplistic, but it offers up a lot of avenues to move the plot along. The sci-fi community has been freaking out about this movie and I have to agree with them. I’m already hearing some early Oscar buzz for this one.

 

 

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Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 might not sound like a big property (to be honest, I hadn’t heard of it until I saw it on Disney’s upcoming slate and decided to look into it. It is actually based on a Marvel property recently acquired by Disney’s banner in their major merger. It will not be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but instead will be an animated adventure from the creators of Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen. I know the plot involves a future city known as San Fransokyo and a young robotic wiz named Hiro and his robot friend Baymax (this year’s Olaf) fighting crime with a group of inexperienced heroes. It sounds like a lot of fun, a more family friendly version of The Avengers with undertones of Disney animation tropes that made Frozen so much fun last year.

 

 

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Jessabelle

Jessie is a woman who just lost her husband in a car accident and now she has gone home to Lousiana, where a spirit waits who wants her dead. I like Kevin Greutert, the film’s director. I liked what he did with Saw VI and as an editor on previous horror films. That being said, he hasn’t had a whole lot of wing-spreading and I fear that he hasn’t proven himself. This film looks good in trailers and poster work, but I’m feeling a vibe akin to The Grudge a little too much here and that doesn’t bode well.

 

 

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Beyond the Lights

Movies like Beyond the Lights, about a woman who has become a singing sensation falling for a cop who wants a spot in political office and can help her get her voice back, all sound the same, and oftentimes, they are. I will say little more on this except that your girlfriend may drag you to this, and if she does, go. Don’t expect this movie to be good, though. Dream of better films in the next theater and maybe sneak away to one of them when you “go for more popcorn.”

 

 

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Dumb and Dumber To

Man, I really want to like this movie. I loved the original Dumb and Dumber as I’m sure you do. I happen to think that 1994 was the greatest year in motion picture history, and I think Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels have tremendous chemistry together. The first trailer didn’t give me much hope except that I’m hoping the best parts are not in it. That would be refreshing. Here’s my advice: See the movie because it is going to be a big release. Do not expect it to be better than Dumb and Dumber. Do not expect it to be as good as Dumb and Dumber even. Just be happy it won’t be the shit-storm Dumb and Dumberer was. See, there is a silver lining.

 

 

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

So, we are at the third Hunger Games movie. I really liked the first installment and I absolutely adored the second film. Returning director Francis Lawrence doesn’t always pick the right properties (Jonah Hex) but when he does, he can do some magical work. He did it with Catching Fire and I think that trend will continue in Mockingjay, where Katniss Everdeen brings her war with President Snow to the forefront after destroying his Games forever. I liked the third book (a lot of fans did not) so I expect that is where the dividing line will be drawn here.

 

 

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Horrible Bosses 2

Comedy sequels are not easy. Far too often we get a Hangover Part II when we deserve an Anchorman II. What I like about Horrible Bosses 2 is that, from the information I have gleaned, it appears that this film will respect the storyline of the first but depart in a whole different way with new interesting characters played by great new actors. I won’t be seeing this film in theaters because I don’t trust comedies there, but I think it will be some solid fun.

 

 

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Penguins of Madagascar

Nope. Nope. No. Not gonna happen. The Madagascar movies were getting stale right around the time the first one came out. Now we get a spin-off already ruined by truly disappointing cartoon series that has tread this territory before and not lightly. Skip it. Worth a rent, sometimes these spin-off can work magic, but not often.

 

 

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Paddington

It is interesting when a film like Paddington gets behind-the-scenes  troubles, like original voice Colin Firth dropping out unexpectedly just months before the film’s release. A bear from Peru gets taken in by the Brown family from London and discovers that life isn’t what he thought it would be. Simple enough, it looks cute and I suspect a winner, but I’m not guaranteeing anything.

 

So there it is. Here’s a tally:

 

Best Bets: Interstellar, Big Hero 6, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Likely Misses: Beyond the Lights, Penguins of Madagascar

On the Bubble: Jessabelle, Dumb and Dumber To, Horrible Bosses 2, Paddington

 

As before, these are but tools. Use them at your own will. Let me know your thoughts as well, and what November 2014 film are you most looking forward to?

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro

Screenplay: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

121 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps on getting bigger. Each film just seems to open up the world a bit more, and with Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Gunn just blew the lid off the whole thing. This movie is huge, epic in scale, absolutely opening doors to further adventures both for these heroes and a whole lot more.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Her, Jurassic World) aka Star Lord, an Earthling kidnapped from his home many years previously by aliens. Peter steals a mysterious orb from Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2). Ronan wants it back, badly. Peter joins up with several other degenerate thugs to protect it. Among them is daughter of Thanos, Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Out of the Furnace), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista, Riddick, The Man With the Iron Fists), a walking and talking tree named Groot (Vin Diesel, Fast & Furious 6, Babylon A.D.), and a talking genetic raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper). Together, they form the loosely fitting title of the “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

First of all, I just want to point out that Chris Pratt takes a commanding lead of this colorful cast of characters. He controls the film and doesn’t falter under any pressure carrying us along. I’ve been saying for a while that Pratt is going somewhere. This film proves it.

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Zoe Saldana is such a beauty; I will never understand why every damn movie has her suiting up in CG of makeup, but the performance here doesn’t suffer, mostly because Saldana requested to wear light makeup so as not to mess with her ability to act. Gamora is a tough character to knock down. Through her relationship with father Thanos (last seen in 2012’s The Avengers in a cameo appearance) and sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus), she probably has the most connections to tie us into the MCU.

I was actually fairly shocked by Dave Bautista as Drax. I see a former wrestler-turned-actor in a lineup and assume the worst, but that is because more often than not, I am right, but Bautista doesn’t hold us down. He serves the tough guy purpose nicely, and he has a heart in there; the glimpses are just enough to connect to the audience.

Vin Diesel’s Groot is the breakout performance of this film. With three words and seemingly endless permutations, Groot is the source for a lot of the heart and soul of the picture, and his relationship with Rocket is a beautiful thing.

The Collector (Benicio del Toro, Snatch, Inherent Vice) was introduced to us in the post-credits sequence for last year’s Thor: The Dark World, and he serves the purpose of really expanding the Marvel universe. Apart from having the subtle nuances to complete with the other major players, The Collector delivers a lot of big game info in his small role, like the Infinity Stones, certainly something to learn about for future features all over the verse (wait, was that the cube?), as well as giving us some nice cameos of perhaps some future Marvel players (not all, but dammit, enjoy the post-credits scene for what it is).

Now, I did have criticisms for the film. For example, Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser is a somewhat generic villain, very much alike to previous Marvel fare. We as the audience wanted more of Thanos that we didn’t really get. At least the film served a purpose of reminding us that he isn’t really an endgame. Not to mention the fact that the ending builds to a less-than-stellar face-off that could have been used earlier for better effect.

The nicest thing we could be given for this film is that we didn’t have a lot of it ruined by the trailer. More films should take a page from Guardians of the Galaxy and understand that a trailer can be made up of non-feature material.

Before I end this off, I want to point out how impressed I was by Gunn’s choice of soundtrack and how much it actually, surprisingly works. Give it a listen and let it pump you up.

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Guardians of the Galaxy was a Marvel Studios test, and it works. Producer Kevin Feige wanted to see it fans would turn out for some of the more cosmic, out-there characters that Marvel has to offer. And we did. And we loved it. I think you will too.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Guardians of the Galaxy? Did this ship take you places or crash land on a strange and disappointing planet? Tell me!

 

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