A Million Ways To Die In The West

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2014

Universal Pictures

Directed by Seth MacFarlane

Produced by Seth MacFarlane, Scott Stuber and Jason Clark

Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild

I’ll give Seth MacFarlane credit for his ambition in making a western comedy. Mel Brooks pretty much had the last word in that genre with his side-splitting “Blazing Saddles” a film that to this day I still consider the funniest movie ever made. And Mel Brooks is safe as A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST comes nowhere near the level of hilarity that “Blazing Saddles” does. Oh, it tries hard and there are some touches here and there that are homages to “Blazing Saddles”: the overblown theme music that sounds as if it were scored for a straight-up Western Saga. The townspeople who act as a Greek chorus commenting on the antics of the main characters. The gleeful politically incorrect jokes.

But where Seth MacFarlane goes off course that there are long stretches of the movie where I think he forgot he was supposed to be making a comedy. I appreciate his efforts to give us an honest love story in there but he had no idea how to smoothly integrate the two. So we get a comedy that stops dead in its tracks for the love story which in turn has to be put on hold when MacFarlane realizes he hasn’t given us a joke in the last five minutes.

It’s Arizona, 1882 and as failing sheep farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) puts it; “Out here everything that isn’t you is trying to kill you.” People in the town of Old Stump die in horrible, sudden ways and Albert is miserable. The only light in his life is his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) who dumps him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) a foppish dandy with a wicked mustache.

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During a bar brawl, Albert saves the life of Amanda (Charlize Theron) who has come to Old Stump with her brother. The two of them work on a friendship and Amanda encourages Albert to challenge Foy to a duel for Amanda’s hand in a week. Unfortunately, Albert is the worst shot in the West but luckily, Amanda just happens to be a markswoman of near supernatural skill who assures Albert she can teach him to shoot by then. Albert will need to be able to shoot but not for the reason he thinks. Amanda is the wife of Clinch Leatherwood, the most notorious gunfighter in the territory and when word gets back to him via Amanda’s brother (who really isn’t her brother but a member of Clinch’s gang assigned to keep an eye on her) that Amanda and Albert are getting way too close for comfort, Clinch comes to town intending to kill him.

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This actually is a pretty good Western story and if you took the comedy out of the movie entirely you still would have a solid Western, especially when the situation gets complicated with Albert and Amanda actually falling in love and Albert having to sort out exactly which woman and which life he wants. But where the problem comes in is that first of all the movie is simply too long to support such a slim story. Clocking in at 116 minutes there just aren’t enough jokes to justify that running time and as a result we have long stretches devoted to the love story which is actually kinda sweet and charming.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Seth MacFarlane’s performance but I myself didn’t have a problem with it. No, he’s no great actor but he has a sincerity and unpretentiousness about him that I like. He knows he’s no Marlon Brando and doesn’t try to be. He does the best with what he’s capable of doing and for me that was good enough. Liam Neeson is terrific as always but I think somebody must have slipped him an alternate version of the screenplay as he acts as if he’s in a serious Western. It’s Charlize Theron who walks away with the acting honors in this one. She looks like she’s having a ton of fun being in a Western and glides back and forth between the comedic and the dramatic without a hitch or a bump.

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Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman provided a lot of the laughs for me as a Christian couple who have a truly unique relationship. She’s the town’s favorite whore who insists that she and her fiancé (Ribisi) wait until they’re married to have sex. The highlight of the movie is the many cameos sprinkled here and there. Some of them you’ll get right away. Some you won’t. I had no idea Ryan Reynolds and Ewan McGregor were in the movie until I read the credits at the end and there’s one cameo that had the audience we saw the movie with cheering and applauding.

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I have to say that the cinematography is absolutely fantastic. MacFarlane shot most of this movie in Monument Valley where so many classic Westerns were filmed and MacFarlane takes full advantage of the location. There are many scenes that are simply beautiful and it goes a long way to making A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST look and feel like a grown-up motion picture instead of like a TV pilot on steroids like “Ted”

So should you see A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST? I say yes, but if you haven’t seen it yet, try and catch a matinee instead of paying full price or even wait to rent. It’s a funny movie but nowhere near as funny as it could have been. The too-long running time and thinness of the story means that there’s no way to justify the long lag time between the jokes. Still, the cast is fun to watch and what the hell, it’s the summertime. You won’t hear me say this very often but I will in this case; go see A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST and be sure that when you turn off your cell phone before the movie starts, turn off your brain as well.

 

Rated R

116 Minutes

Brick Mansions

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2014

EuropaCorp/Warner Bros./Relativity Media

Directed by Camille Delamarre

Produced by Luc Besson, Ryan Kavanaugh and Tucker Tooley

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

I’m gonna save you a lot of time if you want to go back to web surfing, Tweeting or Facebooking. If you’ve seen the 2004 French action film “District B13” then there is absolutely no reason for you to spend your time and money on BRICK MANSIONS. Not that it’s a bad movie, mind you. BRICK MANSIONS is the filmic equivalent of a Big Mac, large order of fries and a large Coke and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, then it’s all good. Turns out that I just happened to be in that mood and so, even though I’ve seen “District B13” (It’s currently available for streaming on Netflix, along with the sequel “District B13: Ultimatum”) I enjoyed BRICK MANSIONS for what it was.

In the near future, organized crime, uncontrollable violence due to gang warfare and drug dealing has turned the Detroit inner city housing project of Brick Mansions into a war zone. Unable to deal with the savagery, the authorities build a forty foot high containment wall around Brick Mansions, sealing it off from the rest of Detroit. The police set up roadblocks and checkpoints to prevent anybody from going in or out of Brick Mansions. It is controlled completely by the ganglords who rule like feudal lords over those citizens who were too poor to leave when they had the chance.

Undercover police officer Damien Collier (Paul Walker) dreams of the day when he can take down Tremaine Alexander (RZA) drug kingpin and arms dealer who is the unofficial mayor of Brick Mansions. Collier believes Alexander is responsible for his father’s death. Collier gets his chance to get close to Alexander when a genuine mission impossible is handed to him. Alexander has stolen a prototype neutron bomb that is going to detonate in 12 hours. Collier is assigned to get to the bomb and defuse it via a numeric code that will be given to him if he reaches the bomb in time.

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That’s a mighty big if but Collier is given help to do his job in the form of Lino Dupree (David Belle) a man of superhuman agility and athleticism who has taken it upon himself to stop Alexander’s drug dealing on his block. Collier isn’t sure he wants Dupree’s help once he finds out that Dupree killed a cop (don’t shed any tears, he was as dirty as a Kansas City whorehouse) and Dupree isn’t happy about teaming up with a cop as he distrusts any and all authority. All that goes out the window when they find out that Alexander has bolted the bomb to a Russian missile he just happens to have lying around and has tied Lino’s girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) to the missile. Alexander wants $30 million and if he doesn’t get it, he’s going to fire the missile right into downtown Detroit. From then on it’s a race against time as our heroes have to battle their way through Alexander’s limitless supply of thugs to get to that bomb before it goes off.

And that’s all there is to it. BRICK MANSIONS doesn’t waste a lot of time in setting up the situation and introducing our characters then putting them into play. This is a stripped down action movie with just enough characterization so that we understand why Collier and Dupree are doing what they’re doing and no more. Anything else we need to know, we pick up along the way.

BRICK MANSIONS is one of the movies completed by Paul Walker before his tragically untimely death and it’s by no means a demanding role but one he does effectively. He’s not trying to build a character here and actually, with a little tweaking of the script and changing the name, this movie could easily have been sold a prequel to the “Fast and Furious” franchise as an adventure Brian O’Conner had before he hooked up with Dominic Toretto and his crew. That’s how similar the Collier character is to O’Conner. Walker doesn’t even try to give this guy a different look from O’Conner.  In fact, Walker goes through much of the movie wearing the same T-shirt, jeans and sneakers I’m pretty damn sure he wore in “Fast Five” and there’s two highly contrived car chases that weren’t in the original movie that I’m positive were placed in this one solely to get Paul Walker behind the wheel.

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Even though it was ten years since he starred in the original, David Belle doesn’t look as if he’s aged a day or slowed down a bit since then. Mr. Belle is one of the founders of parkour and his film work has helped to spread the art of parkour around the world. And with good reason. Watching him in motion is nothing less than breathtaking and reminds us that the best special effect in the world is the human body. In BRICK MANSIONS, David Belle recreates the opening scene in “DistrictB13” where after destroying 20 kilos of cocaine with bleach he escapes a gang of vicious thugs using parkour. Having seen the original just a couple of days ago, that scene is still fresh in my mind and it looked to me like Mr. Belle hadn’t lost a step in the recreation. The man looks as if he’s defying gravity as he leaps from rooftop to rooftop, swings from fire escape to fire escape, runs, leaps and dives in and out of windows. It’s exhilarating. But it’s too bad there’s not more it. One reason to watch “District B13” is because of the amazing parkour performed not only by David Belle but by his co-star in that movie, Cyril Raffaelli.

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RZA walks away with the “Who The Hell Let HIM In This Movie?” award. I give him big ups for not playing your stereotypical drug kingpin. Tremaine Alexander has unexpected depth and solid motivation for why he does what he does that pays off in the movie’s third act which seemed to me took the movie in a sudden direction wanting to become a profound statement on class in American society. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt holder Ayisha Issa starts out promisingly as what could have been a James Bond type of supervillain enforcer but ultimately disappoints with how really little she’s given to do once you stop and think about it.
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So should you see BRICK MANSIONS? Let me put it to you this way: if you’ve got ninety minutes to kill and you can catch a matinee, I say why not?  I myself have a great affection for this type of action movie I’m glad to see has come back to theaters. Action movies with no wires, no CGI, not filmed on virtual sets and with practical effects and real stuntmen doing real stunts. But it’s by no means a movie you have to rush out to see. So if you’d rather wait to Netflix it, by all means, do so. In the meantime, watch “District B13” You’ll enjoy it, trust me.

 PG-13

90 Minutes

 

Danger Word

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2013

Dark Dream Productions/Little Light Productions

Directed by Luchina Fisher

Produced by Zainab Ali

Co-Produced by Allo Greer and Alma Greerr

Executive Producers: Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due and Luchina Fisher

Written by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due based on their short story “Danger Word”

It kind of tickles me to no end that back in the 1950’s, 1960’s and even well into the 1970’s we pretty much took it as a granted that the world was going to end in a nuclear catastrophe of one kind or another. Either by accident or a deliberate act of war. Now, in the year 2014 that doesn’t bother us any longer. Now we’re all fairly certain we’re going to have a Zombie Apocalypse and that’s going to be our end. And thanks to movies such as the George Romero “Dead” series, “28 Days Later” “28 Weeks Later” “Shaun of The Dead” “Zombieland” “Pontypool” “World War Z” and the hugely successful TV show “The Walking Dead” we’re all properly prepared for it. You’ve got a frightening number of folks who are even hoping it comes as they’ve turned their basements into survival bunkers. But as DANGER WORD teaches us, survival in the Zombie Apocalypse comes down to something as simple as being prepared to do what you have to do. And even that may not be enough.

Grandpa Joe (Frankie Faison) and his 13 year old granddaughter Kendra (Saoirse Scott) are living in a cabin in upstate New York. Grandpa Joe is teaching Kendra the skills and more importantly, the mindset she is going to need in this new world. Some of the lessons are heartbreaking. But necessary. And Kendra is forced to put those lessons to the test when a routine visit to the nearest trading post to get her a birthday present goes horrifyingly wrong.

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You wouldn’t think that a movie could build atmosphere, characterization and plot and a rising sense of horror in just 20 minutes but DANGER WORD pulls it off. And a large part of that is due to Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott. They effectively and wonderfully create a loving bond between their characters that we understand and take into our hearts almost immediately. And they do with without forcing it on us or overstating the obvious.

Funded by donations from friends, family and strangers, DANGER WORD is an encouraging example to black filmmakers to show them that they don’t have to look to Hollywood to bring their stories to life, especially ones that feature People of Color in major roles. Although “The Waking Dead” deserves a round of applause for its black characters who are pivotal players in the drama, the history of black characters in zombie movies (or most horror movies for that matter) has been a woeful one. Which has always puzzled me to no end because I don’t know too many black people who aren’t fans of horror movies. You’d think that Hollywood would have long tapped into that the same way they did back in The Blaxploitation Era. In most horror movies the black characters are usually the first to die and even if they manage to last past the first 30 minutes of the movie, that’s because they’re the comic relief. Two notable exceptions are: “The People Under The Stairs” and “Anaconda” which to me is doubly remarkable because not only is the token brother (Ice Cube) still alive at the end of the movie but so is the token Latina (Jennifer Lopez)

But the underrepresentation of blacks in any genre of film is nothing new. We all know that. But films like DANGER WORD is yet another step in the right direction and everybody involved in the production of the film has produced an emotionally strong and satisfying short horror film that they can be proud of.

DANGER WORD can be seen online HERE

Tananarive Due

Dar Kush: The Home of Steven Barnes

 

Revenge: A Love Story

REVENGE

2014

Global View Productions

Written and Directed by Thor Moreno

Produced by Annette Duffy, Chris McAninch and Shawn McAninch

One of the fun things about reviewing movies is that every so often I’ll get a knock on my Internet door from a filmmaker who invites me to look at their work and maybe, if I like it, give a review. Sometimes I don’t like it. I wouldn’t care to tell you how many short films I’ve been invited to see the past couple of years where I simply couldn’t finish them. But thankfully I am invited by filmmakers such as Chris Regan and Parker Stanfield whose work I’ve enjoyed and that makes it all worth it for me. I’m happy to add Thor Moreno on that list.

REVENGE: A LOVE STORY is a short film, a crime thriller. It’s a tough, vicious little film about tough, vicious people. Undercover narcotics cop Brad Miller (Adam Meirick) is tired of the game. He wants out and he wants out now. He wants the promotion he was promised and he wants to enjoy life with his long suffering wife (Katie Goebel) who wants to start a family with a husband who keeps regular hours. Unfortunately Brad has a 48K gold-plated prick for a supervisor who tell him flat out the only way Brad is going to get out and get his promotion is if Brad brings him a conviction. Brad’s target is Willie Caesar (Zack Williams) the local crime kingpin.

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Brad maneuvers himself into an invitation with Willie Caesar and moves up in his organization fast. A little too fast if you ask me but considering the short running time of the movie, I’m willing to go with it. Brad’s rapid rise in Caesar’s trust earns him the suspicion of Caesar’s right hand man Nicky (Shawn McAninch) who makes it his business to find out who Brad really is. He does. And that’s when the mayhem begins.

We’re talking about a short film with a 45 minute running time so there’s absolutely no fat on this meat. But despite the short running time, there’s a surprising amount of plot twists and characterization that made me feel as if I’d gotten a full-length movie. Thor Moreno is my kind of filmmaker. He puts the camera in place, puts his actors in front of the camera and lets them do their job. I appreciate any filmmaker who can show me he knows how to use his camera and his actors to tell me a story and that’s exactly what Thor Moreno does here.

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He manages to get a lot of mileage out of a story that may not be wildly inventive or original by virtue of letting the plot take a couple of lefts turns I really didn’t see coming and it’s backed up by an able cast, led by Adam Meirick who is really good. He’s got a Jake Gyllenhaal-ish type of vibe going on here that I really liked. But Shawn McAninch comes awfully close to stealing a couple of scenes right out from under him. Zack Williams brings an old school, 1970’s blaxplotation gusto to his Willie Caesar that’s really fun to watch, especially in a confrontation scene he has with Meirick’s character near the end. Dave Dalton plays one of Nick’s henchmen and he stood out for me because of a scene where he’s creeping through his house with a Samurai sword, looking for an intruder. We see that his house is full of books so maybe he’s not a dumb as he makes out to be. And he pauses to fistbump a picture of Ralph Macchio as The Karate Kid. Don’t ask me why but it’s little touches like that that bring a minor character to life for me. I enjoyed the setting greatly as well. It’s not in an urban ghetto but set in Des Moines, Iowa in an almost rural location and for me that added greatly to the realism of the movie. Crime doesn’t only flourish in big cities but in small towns as well and sometimes it’s worse there is part of the theme of this movie, I think and it’s a theme that gets it’s point across well.

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As I said earlier on, this is a vicious and violent film with a torture scene that had me cringing and was well able to convey the horror of the situation with very little blood and I believe that was because the director and his cast did such a good job of investing me in these characters so that I truly was interested and cared about what happened to them by the time we got to that point. REVENGE: A LOVE STORY is going to premier is at the historic Varsity Theater in Des Moines, Iowa next week. It goes to DVD right after that. It will be on sale at http://www.globalviewproductions.com next month when the site relaunches. Enjoy.

The Ten Commandments

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1956

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Cecil B. DeMille

Produced by Cecil B. DeMille and Henry Wilcoxon

Screenplay by Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse L. Lasky, Jr., Jack Gariss and Fredric M. Frank

Based on “Prince of Egypt” by Dorothy Clarke Wilson “Pillar of Fire: by J.H. Ingraham

“On Eagle’s Wings” by A.E. Southon and The Holy Scriptures

One of the stories my parents like to tell about me is the one where they took me as a baby to a showing of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. They say that there were a number of other babies who had to be taken out of the theater because of their crying but according to them, I uttered not so much as a burp throughout the entire three hours and thirty-nine minutes. In fact, my mother claims I simply and quietly stared at the screen with wide open eyes as if hypnotized. Maybe I was. Now, I dunno if this explains my lifelong movie addiction but I do know that if you ask me what my favorite movie is, my answer is THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. If there was only one movie that I could watch for the rest of my life, it would be that one.

I grew up watching THE TEN COMMANDMENTS on ABC here in New York as they would faithfully air the movie each and every Easter. They used to show it in two parts (On Sunday and Monday) and then switched to a single night showing (with commercials it ran from 7PM to 11:30PM) and for some inexplicable reason in recent years ABC has been airing it on the Saturday night before Easter. But it doesn’t matter to me. The first movie I bought on Blu-Ray was THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and I still watch it every Easter, starting it at 7PM on the dot. In fact, it’s playing in the background as I write up this review.

Why do I love THE TEN COMMANDMENTS so much? First of all, it’s quite simply a magnificent story. Moses (Charlton Heston) is born a Hebrew slave, spared from death by his mother Yochabel (Martha Scott) setting him adrift on the waters of The Nile River. The infant is raised by Bithiah (Nina Foch) the sister of The Pharaoh Sethi (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) She keeps his Hebrew heritage a secret, which is shared by her servant Memnet (Judith Anderson)

Moses is raised as a prince of Egypt and is looked upon as a son by the old Pharaoh. This earns Moses the jealousy of Prince Rameses II (Yul Brynner) who already sees himself as the next Pharaoh. It also doesn’t help that they both are in love with Nefretiri (Anne Baxter) the throne princess who must by law marry the man who will be Pharaoh.

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Eventually, Moses learns of his true heritage and the secret is also discovered by Rameses who has Moses banished. The life Moses once knew as a prince is over but he has a new destiny before him, one that is imparted to him by God Himself in the form of a burning bush. Moses is to return to Egypt and liberate the Hebrew people from their slavery.

That’s the barest outline of the story but it doesn’t begin to explore the complexities of the relationships between the characters and how their lives play out in such an epic, impressive movie. And make no mistake about it…THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is BIG. And that brings me to my second reason why I love the movie so much. They just simply just don’t make movies like this anymore. Everything from the costuming to the sets is larger than life. If Cecil B. DeMille needed a city in his movie then by God he went out and built a city. If he needed a crowd scene with hundreds of thousands of people he went out and hired and costumed hundreds of thousands of people and put them on the screen. In this day and age where all the special effects are done by CGI and filmed on virtual sets it gives a movie like this weight and life when you look at it and realize that these are actual people and actual sets. This is a movie that truly deserves to be called spectacular just on a technically physical level.

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The acting has been criticized as being “over the top” and “melodramatic” and my response is that of course it is. When you have a story and setting this enormous you’ve got to have actors and acting to match. If Charlton Heston had never made another movie after this his place in movie history would still be assured. Moses was the role he was born to play, plain and simple. He starred in another Biblical epic three years later “Ben-Hur” but this is the movie that everybody thinks of first when Charlton Heston’s movie career is talked about.

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Anne Baxter gleefully chews every piece of scenery in sight and has more fun with her dialog than anybody else in the cast. Her scenes with Sir Cedric Hardwicke have real humor and affection while her scenes with Yul Brynner are nothing less than white hot. In fact, I believe I enjoy her scenes with him more than her scenes with Charlton Heston, to be honest.  Yul Brynner comes close to stealing the movie more than a few times. One of the excellent aspects of the screenplay is that it takes time to examine and explore everybody’s point of view and motivations and the motivations of Rameses are clear and understandable, if misguided.

Yvonne DeCarlo is an actress whose popularity I’ve never been able to understand as she always acts as if she’s bored to death in every movie I’ve seen her in. Even here she comes off as if she’s barely interested in what she’s doing. Much better are dependable old friends such as Vincent Price and John Carradine who throw themselves gleefully into their roles. And then we’ve got Edward G. Robinson who effortlessly steps into the protagonist role in the second half of the movie and does so brilliantly (“Where’s yer Gawd now, Moses?”)

Blu-Ray has spoiled me watching THE TEN COMMANDMENTS as the detail, color and audio is absolutely extraordinary. There’s simply no other way to watch it as far as I’m concerned. The only problem is with some of the blue screen special effects not looking so special in such rich detail but if you love the movie as much as I do, no doubt you’ll overlook that. The sheer emotional power of such scenes as the parting of The Red Sea and the fiery finger of God writing The Ten Commandments overcome that for me.

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So should you see THE TEN COMMANDMENTS? No doubt you already have but just in case you haven’t, then by all means you should. If you’ve watched and enjoyed movies such as “Titanic” “Avatar” “Lord of The Rings” and “Star Wars” then this is their grandfather. It’s sheer visual grandeur that still has the power to blow audiences away. It’s the best example of captivating, enthralling movie making that succeeds in transporting us to another time and place. It’s a story of faith and destiny with romance, action, adventure, drama, humor and spectacle. You ask me what I think is the greatest motion picture ever made and I’ll say THE TEN COMMANDMENTS every time.

Rated G

220 minutes

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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2014

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

Produced by Kevin Feige

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Based on “Captain America” created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

I think that the thing I take away from seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER besides my admiration for the excellent acting performances and the complicated yet meticulously laid out plot is that the talent involved in the crafting of the Marvel Cinematic Universe respect their characters. You can’t mistake an Iron Man movie for a Thor movie or a Captain America movie. Each of these characters have their own worlds inside of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe and we should be rightly exploring each of those worlds in the solo movies featuring these characters. And so with CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER we get a story concerned the role of espionage organizations and what their ethics should be. Themes such as sacrificing personal freedoms so that we can be “safe.” National security and how far our government should go to pursue that security. The compromises made against the privacy of American citizens. Those are some heavy themes for what is supposed to be “just” a superhero movie. But then again, Captain America has never been “just” a superhero.

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Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is settling into 21st Century life quite well after the events of “The Avengers.” He’s working as a card-carrying S.H.I.E.L.D. agent now and his latest mission finds him partnered with Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)  They have to recover a S.H.I.E.L.D. freighter/spy ship that’s been hijacked by the bloodthirsty mercenary Batroc (Georges St. Pierre) a master of the French martial art of kickboxing known as Savate. The mission is success but Steve is naturally upset that The Black Widow’s mission on the ship was unrelated to his. A mission personally given her by the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Colonel Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)

The mission she was on concerned retrieving encrypted data about Project: Insight, a preemptive strike program involving spy satellites and three Helicarriers (where do they keep getting the money for those things?) And the data is responsible for the very infrastructure of S.H.I.E.L.D. being put into serious jeopardy and it isn’t long before Captain America and The Black Widow find themselves declared traitors and on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. with their only allies either dead or trying desperately to save their own asses. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s elite S.T.R.I.K.E. team leads the hunt for the fugitives along with the mysterious and deadly Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) whose combat skills, amplified with his cybernetic arm may make him the equal of and possibly superior to Captain America.

Now, even though The Winter Soldier is being held up for much of the movie’s running time as the movie’s villain, the real villain of the movie is the morals of politics and national security. As the characters battle each other physicals they’re also battling the lies that have been told to them and that they’ve told to the nation they’re protecting. But who are they really protecting? And why?

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Like I said earlier, the plot is pretty complicated. But because the movie takes the time to delve into these themes and a government conspiracy plot Tom Clancy would have loved, CAPTAIN AMERICA:THE WINTER SOLDIER is about much more than characters punching each other because since this is a superhero movie then somebody has to be getting punched every few minutes.

The acting in CAPTAIN AMERICA:THE WINTER SOLDIER is really good. Chris Evans gives a speech at one point that sells the soul of Captain America. He also gets some nice scenes where he gets to show that even though Steve Rogers has acclimated to the 21st Century, he’s still a man out of time. He and Scarlett Johansson have some really great chemistry together. And due to the contrast in the moral ideologies in the two characters it makes for some nice friction in how they go about working together to find out what’s broken in S.H.I.E.L.D. and how they’re going to fix it.

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It’s no surprise that Samuel L. Jackson is terrific because since when is Sam Jackson not terrific? Cobie Smulders provides more than able backup as Maria Hill and newcomer Anthony Mackie fits in with the established cast as if he had been a part of the MCU right from the start. Seeing Captain America and The Falcon in action together on the big screen made a ten year old kid outta me. Robert Redford knocks it out of the park as Alexander Pierce, an senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official. An actor of his stature and talent gives an added weight to every scene he’s in and since his name was one of those mentioned back in the 1970’s and ‘80’s as playing Captain America whenever a theatrical movie was rumored, I thought it was nice to find such a meaty role for him here.

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That’s not to say I loved every moment of it. I’ll never forgive this movie for what it does to Jasper Sitwell. There was one point I found myself scratching my head wondering why Steve and Natasha just didn’t call Tony Stark for help (I figured the events of “Iron Man 3” must have been happening at the same time as this movie and so Tony had his own problems to worry about) And for a covert espionage agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. sure seems to like operating out in the open a whole lot. Including waging war right in the streets of Washington, D.C. And the fight scenes at times got a little too fast and frenetic for me. I appreciate seeing who got hit and how they got hit. Still, the fight choreography did a fantastic job of displaying the speed, power and agility of Captain America in combat which is what I wanted to see.

So should you see CAPTAIN AMERICA:THE WINTER SOLDIER? Absolutely YES. This movie makes a daring move in changing the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a major way, one that I didn’t see coming and establishes that this is going to be a universe that will change and grow with each new movie. It’s also a whole lotta fun. It’s such a kick for me to be able and go to the movies to see my favorite Marvel superheroes up on the big screen and presented in a way I could only dream of as a kid. It’s a good time for Marvel superhero fans. Enjoy.

PG-13

136 Minutes

Sabotage

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2014

Albert S. Ruddy Productions

Directed by David Ayer

Produced by Bill Block, David Ayer, Ethan Smith, Paul Hanson and Palek Patel

Written by Skip Woods and David Ayer

I’m going to put my neck out there and say that I truly and honestly admire Arnold Schwarzenegger for what he does in SABOTAGE. This is a Schwarzenegger who realizes that he would look downright silly trying to do the same kind of action movie he did back in the 1980’s. He can’t be the One Man Army Killing Machine anymore. Sure, he’s still in better shape than 90% of us but he’s no kid anymore. And he doesn’t try to hide it unlike the other two members of The Holy Trinity of Action Movie Heroes. Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis are still trying to convince us they’re still able to pull off stunts they did 30 years ago. But not Schwarzenegger.  He’s got respect for our intelligence. Oh, he still does physical stuff but nothing like the stunts he did in say, “Commando” or “Eraser” These days he’s relying a lot more on story, characterization and supporting casts to give his movies weight.

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SABOTAGE isn’t a movie he could have made back in the 1980’s. He had to wait until now to make a movie like this where he could make his age work for him and for the character he plays. Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t Schwarzenegger doing Hamlet (and I still say he should have done it. Who in their right mind wouldn’t pay to see that?) but he certainly doesn’t embarrass himself.

John “Breacher” Warthon (Arnold Schwarzenegger) ramrods an elite team of wildass DEA agents. These agents are just one notch above being full blown renegades. A couple of them (Sam Worthington and Max Martini) appear to have severe psychological issues while Lizzie (Mireille Enos) is the team’s loose cannon, brazenly flaunting her drug habit and sexual promiscuity in the faces of her boss, her teammates and her husband (Worthington)

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During a raid on a cartel safehouse, Breacher and his team help themselves to $10 million of the cartel’s money and blow up the rest to cover their theft. They hide the $10 million but when they go to recover it, they’re pissed off beyond words to find it’s gone. In the meantime, the DEA has somehow found out about the stolen money. Breacher is put on a desk job and his team suspended pending an investigation. Six months later and with no concrete evidence tying them to the money, Breacher and his team are reinstated.

Turns out that isn’t a favor at all as a couple of team members are gruesomely killed and there’s only two possibilities: either the cartel is killing off Breacher’s team in revenge for stealing their money or it’s a team member who is killing his (or her) partners to keep all the money for themselves. Either way, Breacher’s stuck in the middle. Unable to trust his team or the DEA, he has to rely on the help of Investigator Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) the homicide cop assigned to the case. But can Inspector Brentwood trust Breacher? Because during the course of her investigation she discovers that Breacher just may have more motivation than anybody else on his team to steal and kill for the money.

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By now you should have tumbled to the fact that Schwarzenegger isn’t playing his usual good guy. In fact, this may be the closest we’ll get to see him playing a bad guy as Breacher nor his team are likeable characters. In fact, they’re all really not much better than the criminals they go after. But that’s okay by me. I don’t need my characters to be likeable. As long as I understand their motivations for doing what they do, I’m cool.

The supporting cast in SABOTAGE is an unusually strong one for an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and yet another sign that you’re not getting your usual Schwarzenegger Shoot-Em-Up. Terrence Howard and Josh Holloway are members of Breacher’s team while Harold Perrineau is a cop partnered with Brentwood and provides the movie with much needed comedy relief. Believe it or not, it’s Sam Worthington who walks off with the acting honors in this movie as well as Mireille Enos. Their characters are complicated enough to deserve a movie of their own. They’re married DEA agents who have long ago surrendered to corruption and spiritual degradation in the pursuit of justice. Mirelle Enos just about steals the movie from everybody in sight during the third act.

What else? Oh, the violence…seriously, this just may be the most violent movie Schwarzenegger has made and considering his track record, that’s really saying something. Director David Ayer is not interested in cartoon violence or the glorification of it. The violence in SABOTAGE is amazingly cruel, bloody and horrifically messy. And Schwarzenegger has got quite the potty mouth as well. I gave up counting after his twentieth F-bomb.

So should you see SABOTAGE? If you’re a longtime Arnold Schwarzenegger fan like me you probably already have. But if you haven’t, give it a chance. It’s not his usual action movie and has far more of a mystery thriller aspect than the trailers would lead you to think. I appreciate him always trying to expand the range of what he can do in films and I think that with movies like this and “Escape Plan” in which he also played a different kind of character than we’re used to seeing, he’s showing that Arnold Schwarzenegger still has a lot to offer us.

109 minutes

Rated R