“Captain America: the Winter Soldier” is on your left

Captain America is back post-Avengers in one of Marvel's best

Captain America is back post-Avengers in one of Marvel’s best

Marvel ushered in last summer with a stellar capstone to the “Iron Man” franchise. This year they do the same with the crux of the First Avenger’s franchise, “Captain America: the Winter Soldier.”

Being the third post-Avengers movie, and somewhat the last until 2015’s “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the sequel to 2011’s origin has much to connect and carry on from its precursors. And this is why the movie as a whole works so efficiently.

I won’t dive too much into the plot as the details are difficult to describe. But what the main premise is is that S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised by some inside force. It’s up to the Cap (Chris Evans), the Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and newcomer Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to join to stop whatever and whoever is in the driver’s seat. A ghost-like assassin “The Winter Soldier” (Sebastian Stan) is a true match-up for the Captain who also shares similar histories with each other.

As you can tell by my difficulty from describing the intricacies of the plot, it’s not that simple. And that so happens to be my one and only complaint. As with other Marvel movies, they writers and characters are not afraid of talking over your heads. They trust the audience to keep up. But someone like me, who unpurposefully neglects detail, can and will get lost in it. Not that I didn’t follow the connections, I just didn’t understand fully how they connected. That’s more my fault than anyone else’s.

Much of that has to do with the content of the film which is political sabotage. It’s not really my forte. Yet, the subject matter is one with many characters’ allegiances, places and plot points. It’s easy to get lost in. But once the filmmakers make this decision to go this direction, you can’t glide over it. And that’s what writers Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Ed Brubaker do. The writing is sophisticated and tight and whippy. It’s definitely the thickest of all Marvel installments.

The Winter Soldier is draped in mystery.

Steve and Natasha are back in full force.

What I loved about “Captain America: the First Avenger” was the cinematography. It had this old picture filter on each frame that made me feel like I was hopping into a memory of a WWII vet. With “The Winter Soldier” it does quite the opposite. Captain America is now in the Marvel future and the look reflects it. The color palette has this shine to it which helps us escape from the gritty future we are so used to.

Along with the political intrigue comes the action. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (who launched into this from directing some episodes of “Community” which is my favorite sitcom) show the action clear and deliberate. Every move of these super-human heroes is like watching an intense match of rock-paper-scissors. And each action scene means something. There are stakes and risk involved. They made me believe that anyone could have died at any time.

And on that same note: a lot of unknowns did die. If this hadn’t been a PG-13 Disney/Marvel family popcorn-munching event movie, there would have been a lot of blood and more violence. But since it’s only “implied” they can get away with it.

The Winter Soldier is draped in mystery.

The Winter Soldier is draped in mystery.

A second viewing is definitely required, especially for one like me. I think knowing the full picture will help me appreciate the writing even more. But overall “The Winter Soldier” doesn’t fall short of its hype.

Man, am I chomping at the bit for August’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Avengers 2” and even “Ant-Man.” Keeping bringing the quality Marvel and I’ll keeping showing up.

Rating: Very Good.

What did you think? Could you follow the plot details easily or did you really have to lean in to listen?

Next up: Transcendence. (or Grand Budapest Hotel if I can get to it.)



Netflix Fix: Between Blockbuster and B-Movie

Let’s be honest. When we go through Netflix’s front page we are often dissapointed to see the abundant amount of B-movie trash. Not that all B-movies are but most of them are. Sometimes you can find that diamond in the rough. Yet sometimes you want a surefire hit that you can just zone out on.  avengers_poster_4x3

Once in a while I’m amazed about what movies this streaming juggernaut can score. I took a look at Josh Jackson’s 10 Best Summer Family Blockbusters on Netflix Instant post.  All but one (Rango) are not currently streaming.

Although most of those on that list are feel-good popcorn munchers (Avengers, Captain America: the First Avenger, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), not all are arguably spectacular (Hunger Games, Super 8).

That is what makes Netflix a wonderful platform. They can get huge blockbusters and have such filler content as the B-movies. But I would contend that the content in between these two are what we are really looking for.

We’ve already seen all of the blockbusters in the theaters! And we don’t want to bore ourselves to death with films like “The Bouquet.” What we want are those hidden gems that we can share with others to be the “cool kid” or in these day’s terms: “the hipster” who saw it first.

Marvel’s demigod sequel soars

Previously printed in the UVU Review.

Thor-The-Dark-World-Poster-003“Iron Man 3” opened up a huge summer of blockbusters with its action, humor and superhero aesthetics that can only be found in a Disney Marvel movie. Although Robert Downey Jr. set a high bar for the Avengers Phase 2, somehow Chris Hemsworth and the “Thor” crew took it as a challenge.

2011’s “Thor” served as a launching pad for the title character. It was a simple story of a strong-headed demi-god who is humbled by mortality and love. Even though it wasn’t the strongest movie pre-Avengers, it was essential to know his origins and what Thor (Chris Hemsworth) values and why.

“Thor: the Dark World” begins a couple of years after the events of “The Avengers.” Thor is busy watching over the nine realms with his hammer, Mjolnir, and his might. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned in Asgard for his failed attempt to enslave and rule the people of Earth.

To gain revenge and the state before time, Dark Elves, lead by Malkith (Christopher Eccleston), attempt to find the “aether,” which was hidden by Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) father a millennia ago. Luckily, the aether finds its way into Thor’s love interest Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman) veins. Simultaneously, Foster acts as the boon and damsel in distress.

Yes, the plot sounds ridiculous, but the way it is told is never overbearing or confusing. It slowly guides you from plot point to plot point by the hand which any viewer can appreciate.

The visual effects are the most stunning in most of the Marvel films. In a fully realized Asgard, the action sequences reflect a blend of “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” prequels kinetic joy. Director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones) handles fight scenes and fast paced aerial shots with care and cohesiveness.

There are many bait and switch moments which act as major plot devices, but you can’t really be upset about them because the movie makers tell you time after time to watch out for them. You can tell that the screenwriters (Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely) love and respect the source material and are having a blast with it.

No good superhero movie is without its humor, and “Dark World” is brimming with it. Some of the humor it is out of place and some doesn’t land right, but when it does it hits hard. You will walk out with countless “remember this part” moments with your friends to laugh about later. The humor doesn’t diminish the hard hitting drama when it delivers.

Where the movie truly shines is when Loki finally teams up with Thor. Hiddleston’s Loki brings charisma and tension to the screen to balance Thor’s stiffness with great ease. The two create remarkable sibling chemistry that only a guy with a brother can fully appreciate.

Marvel is only one of Disney’s powerhouses that turn out hit after hit, but it’s safe to say that they have overtaken Pixar as their safe moneymaker. In the last few years Pixar has lost its place as Disney’s favorite poster boy with their less than impressive “Brave,” and “Cars 2” movies.

In the last two summers, Marvel has released two huge hits that joined the billion dollar club: “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3” and don’t seem to be letting up. As hard as it is to say: Marvel is the new Pixar.

Like most of the Avengers movies, “Dark World” furnishes the right mixture of CGI, compelling charaters, stakes, action, adventure, romance and geek fandom into a compressed package. If this is any indication of the Phase 2, then we have our expectations for April’s “Captain America: the Winter Soldier” sky high

Top 10 Movies of 2012

I know, I know. I’ve been slacking hard on this blog. This semester kicked my butt hard even though I pulled a 3.5 GPA. But this semester and continuing on I’ll be more consistent in posting about movies, music and games. Anyway, let’s do this!

I love top 10 lists. Any and all I’ll read, critique and compare with my own. With this year’s movies, especially, we have had so many stellar movies arrive in our cinemas that have brought in massive audiences and sent critics ravings. It was a good year for any fan of the moving picture.

All top 10 lists are purely subjective in taste and for the fact that there is an immense amount of release that haven’t been seen by the large percentage of the public. So, to disclaim this top 10 I’ll list the movies I have seen which didn’t make the top 10, but not discounting their quality: The Amazing Spider-Man, Men in Black 3, The Woman in Black, John Carter, Hunger Games, Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Dredd, The Grey, 21 Jump Street, Lawless, Goon, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Premium Rush, The Hobbit, Argo, Safety Not Guaranteed, Lincoln, Man on a Ledge, Lockout, and Rise of the Guardians.

10. Chronicle- I’ve only seen this re-imagined superhero tragedy once, but it’s sitting on my shelf ready to be watched again. With all these movies that made my top 10, Chronicle made a lasting impression on me. When walking into the theater to watch this found footage picture, I wasn’t expecting what I was about to get. A serious and fun walk through the eyes of troubled teenager cursed with telekinetic powers. The action was gripping, story is thrilling and all came from a first time director. Josh Trank, I’ll be looking for more from you.

9. The Avengers- With all the hype surrounding this movie I went hot and cold with my impressions. Humbling myself and watching it a second and third time I realized that what Whedon set out to accomplish was done masterfully. It’s not small feat to bring together such diverse characters to have chemistry and a workable story intertwined within them. Avengers is fan-service, yes, but it’s well-done fan service that demands re-watching with a large popcorn and drink.

8. Wreck-It Ralph- Video games and movies have scarcely found common ground. But not for Disney Animation who blew all animation to the side this year. The story follows  an arcade “villain,” Ralph to redeem himself to prove that “bad guys” can be the good guys too. Wreck-It Ralph creates a vivid and fun world for our characters to interact with. Wreck-It Ralph succeeds at all front. Sure, it’s a kids’ movie, but it’s the best done kids’ movie (that I’ve seen) this year. I can’t wait to own this gem.

7. The Dark Knight Rises- It’s quite an accomplishment for a movie to be a tad disappointing but still find a spot for a year in review list. Mine and everyone’s expectations were sky high for the conclusion of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Bane is no Joker, and Catwoman is no Two-Face, but we should put it up to it’s own merits. The story may be hard to follow, but seeing it for the second time makes the full circle of the mythos of Batman come full circle to create a stirring and satisfying conclusion to a modern epic.

6. Seven Psychopaths- I reviewed this trailer when it reached the Internet months ago purely because of its quirkiness and absurdity. When I saw this is in the theater I got that and more. Psychopaths is an insane thrill ride of meta-mess which leaves the viewer thinking about how everything fits together so nicely, or not so nicely. Sam Rockwell puts on a captivating performance and Christopher Walken has never been funnier. Gruesome, violent and hilarious are the brushstrokes which Martin McDonagh writes and directs with in this classic Kaufmann-like self-indulgent laugh fest.

5. Django Unchained- If you know me, you’ll know that I am in love with (most of) the works of Quentin Tarantino. I wasn’t going to solidify my top 10 without seeing his latest; as I was fully expecting this to take the top spot. And up until the climax and conclusion, it might have been. The first two-thirds was a sight to behold; blood, dark humor and quick draw action splattered the screen. But the last act of the screenplay could have been smarter and better executed. I’m on the fence with my feelings about Django Unchained which is why it found its way to the middle of my list.

4. Life of Pi- At first glance of the trailers Life of Pi may appear to be a dialogue less tale of a boy and his tiger stranded at sea. Oh, how wrong it was. Lee’s adaption of the popular “unfilmable” novel had me intrigued through out the full two hours. The cinematography was stunning as it seemed more like moving work of art than a movie. But the narrative was always moving in one way or the other. The end leaves and open question to the audience for all interpretation to be had. I didn’t expect to be blown away, but I was.

3. Cabin in the Woods- Had to watch this one twice in theaters and once so far at home. Whedon, again, has struck gold with this meta take on the entire horror genre by turning it completely on its head. This extremely overlooked picture answers the ever-important question as to why the people in horror movies are so stupid within their environment. If you haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and watch and have a great time doing so.

2. Perks of Being a Wallflower- I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t see this incredible film earlier. Perks is the perfect high school melodramatic movie about outsiders and what it’s like to be on the brink of adulthood. The subject matter spans from homosexuality to suicide, but writer/director Chbosky handles these matters with such great care and taste as he was the one it is based on. Every single young actor is perfectly cast and performed incredibly convincingly that tears are pulled from their ducts of the viewer. You really can’t ask more from a movie than this.

1. Looper- The best way to end a great year of movies is to watch the best one of the year. That’s what my wife and I did for New Year’s Eve. I’ve been anticipating Looper since the first leaks of story creeped online and it did not disappoint. There isn’t a set good guy/ bad guy to cheer for or root against. All intentions are noble to a certain point. Director Rian Johnson takes the notion of time-travel being a neat and tidy thing that can be explained simply is thrown to the wind so the story can work well. Levitt plays an impeccable Willis, and Willis plays his own self but with a strong core of nobleness in his actions. Johnson creates a narrative type of screenplay which shifts between future, present and even alternate realities to weave this clever narrative together in a tight, self-sustained way. Awfully overlooked and demands to be re-watched.

There it is! I hope you’re not too mad I left out other heavy hitters but these are the films I haven’t been able to see yet but want to: Les Miserables, Sleepwalk With Me, Haywire, Bernie, Moonrise Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook, Hitchcock, Zero Dark Thirty, Cloud Atlas, Robot and Frank, Secret World of Arrietty, Jeff Who Lives at Home, The Master, Skyfall, Killer Joe, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Sound of My Voice. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit these in the near future and have my thoughts up on this blog.

Here is to 2012 and a just as good 2013!