Song of the Day: Taking A Stand (Henry Jackman)


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I’m a bit biased in that I do believe that at this very moment whatever film Marvel Studios releases I will probably like it. I’m very close to having drunk the MCU Kool-Aid. Which is a good thing that trashfilguru is here to keep me from drinking that delicious, overly sweetened drink by the liters.

I know that the MCU is not what one would call high-brow art, but I will admit that it’s a very entertaining piece of world-building that we really haven’t seen done in film history. Well, at least not in the scale that Kevin Feige and the creative minds over at Marvel Studios have been attempting (and succeeding) these past 7-8 years.

One film that I highly enjoyed and consider one of my favorites of 2014 (if not one of the best) was the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. This sequel was a game-changer in regards to the very cinematic universe that Marvel had been building since the first Iron Man. Captain America: The Winter Soldier looked to up-end the very foundation of this universe by making one of it’s bricks become something to not be trusted.

Lisa Marie did a great job in conveying my thoughts about what made Captain America: The Winter Soldier such a good film (I would say great, but again I have that glass of Kool-Aid). One aspect of the film that has been given little to know attention to has been Henry Jackman’s work as film composer for the sequel. In fact, the film’s score has been much-maligned just because the filmmakers made the decision to veer away from the Alan Silvestri musical cues and motifs that had become recognizable as Captain America.

Alan Silvestri did the film score for the first film, but Jackman was tasked with recoding the very musical DNA for the sequel. What we get is a film score that’s very minimalist and supplements well the very paranoia and conspiracy tone the film’s narrative took. This was quite the opposite of Silvestri’s score for the first film mirrored that film’s nostalgic and heroic themes.

The track “Taking A Stand” which scores the David Mack illustrated and Jim Steranko-influenced end credits sequence is a perfect example of why Jackman’s score for Captain America: The Winter Soldier should be put on more “best of 2014” lists.

Song of the Day: Captain America March (by Alan Silvestri)


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I think it would be safe to assume that the last week or so has been all about Captain America.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has been tearing up the box-office both here in the US and overseas. I have seen it twice already and most likely would be thrice if the issue of bills wasn’t coming up so soon. I’m still working on writing up a quick review about my thoughts on this latest Marvel Studios offering. Until then just enjoy one of the best pieces of film score ever created for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Alan Silvestri’s “Captain America March” from Captain America: The First Avenger definitely makes one feel the decency and righteousness of the good man that is Steve Rogers. It’s so earnestly patriotic (not jingoistic at all as some were afraid this score would be) that it echoes past classic John Williams scores for the Indiana Jones film franchise. It’s also one of the few film tracks where it makes great use of the brass and percussion section of the orchestra. This song wouldn’t feel out of place in a big band orchestra playing to help celebrate the soldiers coming home after VE-Day.

 

Movie Review: The Avengers (dir. by Joss Whedon)


I’m almost certain that this won’t be the only review for Marvel’s The Avengers here on the Shattered Lens. Arleigh is watching it as we speak, and while I can give my thoughts on the film, they won’t be from a comic insider’s point of view. It’s not my strong point. You see, I grew up on Spider-Man comics, and totally shunned the Marvel Team Up / Group stories. Never read an X-Men comic until after that film came out and The Avengers overall are new to me. I know who they are, but I can’t tell you if the movie gives you everything the comics were. Keep your eyes open for the other reviews to help build a better picture of things.

What I can say is that the movie easily touches on everything that Disney / Marvel has built upon with the movies before it. Starting in 2008, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger were all pieces of a larger puzzle. After 4 years, The Avengers does its best to utilize all of it, to a great success. That’s the amazing element of this movie. You aren’t essentially required to watch the other movies to enjoy The Avengers. In 2 hours, you’re given a film that stands completely on it’s own if you’ve never seen the other films, yet is an added bonus if you have. Even better, the characters that didn’t have a chance to get their own films still have moments where we can learn about them and where they get to shine. One could maybe say the same about The X-Men in that you have a group of heroes that have to work together, but you’ve never really had a set up to display all of their abilities and background the way Disney/Marvel did this.

Warner Brothers and DC should be crying right now at the missed opportunity here. All of their comic creations were already under one roof, and they really should have been able to have had a Justice League film by now if they wanted to. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if they tried to mimic Marvel Studios right now.

When I first heard that Joss Whedon was doing the directing, I groaned. I have a love / hate relationship with Whedon’s work. I was never a big Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fan, but I really enjoyed Angel when it went into syndication, seeing all of it’s seasons more than once. Of course, everyone loves Firefly, but the film based on that, Serenity, tanked at the box office (I was there at the first Friday to support it, though). I wrote off the Avengers as something that was destined to fail, because Whedon loves to inject pop culture references at every given and small bits of humor into things that are usually serious. I felt the only saving grace would be that Whedon is something of a master when it comes to ensembles, which is why I figured Marvel Studios went with him. It may work for something like Cabin in the Woods (“When did you start reading science books?!” / “You! I learned it by watching you!”), but for a superhero movie, come on.

And yet, here I sit, feeling I owe Whedon the biggest of apologies. The Avengers has equal parts humor and action and it comes together so well that I’m not sure I know who else could pull this off. Let’s put it this way. The only true lull in the whole movie is at the beginning of the film, because it still needs to set up the big problem for the Avengers to handle. Other than that, the movie moves very well for a film with so many characters.

Previously on The Avengers…

Without giving much away, The Avengers is basically the story of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who has to bring a group of heroes together to face a foe that’s too powerful for one good guy to handle on their own (or so that’s how they sell it). However, before they can take on the battle they’re supposed to, they have to find a way to get along with each other and that’s the building point of this tale. The action, when it happens is fresh and fast and there isn’t a slow moment that passes without pushing the story forward. For as long as the movie is, it moves very well.

The Character Study…

Like I said, One of the marvels of The Avengers is that all of the characters are given their time to shine. Since this is the big story we’ve all been waiting for, the film does take it’s time to give the characters brief explanations of where they’re from and how they fit into the entire scheme of things. These summaries give the audience just enough to be satisfied without turning the movie into a set of background dossiers like Watchmen. Of particular note is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner / Hulk, who may have had the hardest duty here, playing a character that most people associated with Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk. He makes the role his own, and just like with Bana in Ang Lee’s version of the green guy’s story, Norton’s quickly forgotten (or was for me, anyway). Ruffalo’s version of Banner is very hesitant, almost scared of what he can unleash. Norton pulled this off as well, but I have to admit that I felt a little sad for Ruffalo’s Banner at the start. He keeps his distance because of how dangerous he can be, and I can’t imagine how rough that would be. Still, he and his alter ego get their spotlight moments, too.

None of the characters veer off from how they were established in their own films. Robert Downey, Jr’s Tony Stark is just as much of a wise cracking ass as he was in his movies, and Captain America is just as noble. Chris Hemsworth carries Thor without a problem. If there’s any one character that has a tough time fitting in, it would have to be Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. Though he had a blip of a cameo in Kenneth Branaugh’s Thor, and manages to have some presence here, but if he wasn’t in the story I don’t think he’d be terribly missed. The story manages to cushion this by having the Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) be something of a fighting partner with him. For a character without anything super about her, she holds her own amongst the team, even better in some occasions.

Most superhero movies have gone the route of adding villains as the number of films increase. Superman had Lex Luthor in the first film and then the three Kryptonians. Spider-Man 3 had both Venom and the New Green Goblin to deal with. Even the Dark Knight had Joker and Two-Face. One would think that given the number of superheroes on board, you’d have just about the same number of Arch villains to deal with. The Avengers spins this notion on it’s ear by just giving you one main enemy in Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and as a demigod, he’s as formidable as one could expect. I thought that was a great touch, considering what we usually get in superhero movies.

One thing about The Avengers that helps it move along is the humor that’s injected throughout the film. It’s not so heavy that you can’t take the film seriously, but there’s just enough to find yourself accidentally chuckling or downright applauding at scenes. Of course, this is classic Whedon. Even his Astonishing X-Men comic line had the same elements. Just when you think everything’s becoming a little too dramatic, the film throws a comedic curveball that breaks the tension. What felt like overuse in Buffy The Vampire Slayer turns out to be really fun here. This doesn’t mean that the film avoids being serious. There are moments where it’s incredibly so. It’s just that the story knows when to laugh at itself. I applauded and laughed out loud too many times during this movie. Were it not for the audience laughing with me, I’m pretty sure I’d be that guy getting shushed down in front. Wow, it was just fun!

…But What about the Kids? 

Can kids go see The Avengers? Of course. It may get a little scary for the littlest of viewers, but overall, it should be a fun ride for anyone who enjoyed the other films in Marvel’s arsenal. There’s no time for anything steamy (unless you want to count a little flirting between two characters anything), but maybe the violence may be something to be wary off. Then again, it may not really be that bad. It’s up to the Parental Guidance and all that. They will probably love the 3D version, which is actually used well in the aerial sequences but can tend to fade as one watches it. It definitely has a great look to it, but the 3D isn’t exactly required here. That’s up to the viewer to choose.

Overall, The Avengers is a wild ride and a great triumph when looking at what was built to reach that point. It’s easily the Inception for me this year, that film that I know I’m going to be running back to a few times before it’s had it’s run, and as of right now, I’m far less excited about Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises at this point. My movie year’s pretty complete at the moment and the Summer officially starts with this film, the way I see it. I wouldn’t mind seeing another Marvel team up like this.

Oh, one more thing. Stay when the credits roll. There are 2 tidbits that need to be viewed. One just after the credits start and one at the very end.

Arleigh’s 13 Favorite Films of 2011


2011 was a year that wasn’t spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. From January right up to December there were not many films which I would consider event films. This is surprising considering all the superhero blockbusters which arrived during the summer and the final film in the Harry Potter film franchise. Even the prestige films which came out during the holidays never truly captured everyone’s imagination (though one film was very close to achieving it due to one Michael Fassbender).

What 2011 did have was a solid slate of titles which ranged from the pulpy to the cerebral. We even got films which were able to combine the two to come up with something very special. Not every film resonated with everyone and some even split audiences down the extreme middle with half hating it and the other half loving it.

The list below catalogs the films which I consider my favorites of 2011. Some titles on this list I consider some of the best of 2011 while some didn’t make that particular list but were entertaining enough for me to make this favorite list. Once again, the list is not ranked from top to bottom, but only numbered to keep things organized….

  1. Shame (dir. by Steve McQueen) – This character-driven film starring Michael Fassbender and Cary Mulligan was one of those film which got close to becoming the one film everyone ended up talking about as the year wound down. It’s an exercise in minimalist filmmaking as Steve McQueen doesn’t allow too much dialogue to get in the way of telling the visual story of sex-addict Brandon and his downward spiral from addiction to self-hate. Much have been said of how much Fassbender’s penis in full display was a reason why people flocked to see this little existential film, but I rather thought that was probably just a bonus for some and instead it was Fassbender’s uncompromising performance in the role of Brandon which made Shame one of my favorites for 2011.
  2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (dir. by Rupert Wyatt) – this film was one which didn’t garner too much high-anticipation from genre fans leading up to it’s release. People had been burned by Tim Burton’s reboot of the franchise and saw this second attempt to reboot the series as a failure in the making. So, it was to o everyone’s surprise that Rupert Wyatt’s film managed to not just bring new life to a stagnating franchise but do so in such a way that it became one of the best films of 2011. Sure, there was some flaws in how the human character were written, but in the end it was the performance-capture work by Andy Serkis and the digital wizardry of WETA Digital which made Rise of the Planet of the Apes not just a wonderful and fun film this past summer, but also one which laid the groundwork for more stories in what is a franchise reborn with fresh blood and life.
  3. I Saw the Devil (dir. by Kim Ji-woon) – this little revenge thriller from South Korea was one which I happened to catch just before it left the theaters this part spring. It had played in one of the few arthouse theaters in the Bay Area that hadn’t closed down. I was glad to have seen this film on the big screen instead of on Netflix Instant the way most have seen it. It’s a brutal cat-and-mouse story of a South Korean secret agent who stalks and hunts the serial killer (played by Oldboy‘s Choi Min-sik) who kidnapped and brutally murdered his fiancee. The film is not for the timid and weak of stomach as we see through the eyes of not just Agent Soo-hyun (played by Lee Byung-hun) but that of serial killer Kyung-chul the dark corners of South Korea where hunter has become prey and vice versa.  South Korea has always been good for one great film that I feel personally attached to and for 2011 it was this film.
  4. Cave of the Forgotten Dreams (dir. by Werner Herzog) – I don’t think I could ever make a year’s favorite list of any year that had a Herzog release and not have it as a favorite of mine for the year. It happens that Herzog had two films come out in 2011 and both of them excellent documentaries. It would be his earlier documentary for 2011 that became a favorite of mine. It also happened to be his first (and according to him the only time) foray into 3D-filmmaking. Herzog makes great use of 3D filmmaking’s added epth of field to make the cave paintings in the Chauvet Cave come to life. If this was going to be Herzog’s only film shot in 3D then he made one for the ages and it’s a travesty that those who vote for documentaries to be nominated for the Academy Awards failed to even list this film.
  5. Attack the Block (dir. by Joe Cornish) – this scifi-action film from the UK became the darling for genre fans everywhere. It had everything which bigger-budgeted films of the same stripe failed to accomplish. It was fun, thrilling and, most important of all, had characters which the audience would get to know and care for. John Boyega as the gang leader and, ultimately, the reluctant savior of the block which has become under siege by an alien force is just one of the highlights of the film which boasts one of the best screenplays of 2011. Joe Cornish joins the likes of Neill Blomkamp as a filmmaker whose first feature-length film hits on all cylinders.
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. by Joe Johnston) – this film was to be the last leg of the Marvel Films before 2012’s highly-anticipated The Avengers film. It introduced the film’s title character and his origins for those not familiar with the name Captain America. This film could easily have been a throwaway one. A film to set-up this year’s The Avengers. Instead what we got was one of the most fun blockbusters in the summer of 2011. Joe Johnston goes back to his Rocketeer days and creates an action film that’s full of genuine nostalgia but not burdened by it. Any doubts fans might have had of Chris Evans in the role as Captain America had them wiped clean with his pitch-perfect performance as the title character. The film also had one of the most romantic relationships on-screen in quite awhile with Evan’s Steve Rogers and Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter.
  7. Drive (dir. by Nicolas Winding Refn) – In my opinion, Refn’s existential take on the pulp genre with Drive is also one of the best films of 2011, if not the best of them all. Refn, with Ryan Gosling in the role of  the Driver, has created a film that mashes up so many different genres and does it so well that it’s hard to be sympathetic to those who felt they were misled by the fim’s trailer that it would be a nonstop action film similar to Fast Five. The film is not an action film, but a film which just happens to have some action in it. Action that comes sudden and brutal and none of the whiz-bangs other action films rely heavily on. It’s another film where Refn explores duality of the male persona. It helps Refn’s film that Gosling is so great as the Driver that the film never slows down too much before things revs up once more. The rest of the ensemble cast also does stand-out work with Albert Brooks as an aging, cynical Hollywood gangster leading the pack.
  8. Fast Five (dir. by Justin Lin) – Speaking of Fast Five…this was a film that surprised me in so many ways. It’s the fifth installment in a series that seemed to have evolved from being an action series whose main goal was to highlight the street-racing community and the ridiculous lengths people in it would go to in order to trick out their cars. This latest installment in the franchise has put the street-racing aspect of the series on the back burner and instead has remade the franchise into an action-heist series that just happens to have fast cars in it. This film was loud, fast and fun and despite some major leaps in logic in the storyline it never stopped being entertaining. It also brought back Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in an action film role that he had stopped doing these past five or so years.
  9. Hanna (dir. by Tom Hooper) – If someone had come to me and said that little Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Atonement) would turn out to be kickass action-hero directed by a British filmmaker not known for action films then I would dismiss such a thing as crazy talk. But crazy talk it wasn’t and all that came to pass with Tom Hopper’s excellent modern fairy tale in Hanna. Ronan as the title character was asuch a find in a role that didn’t just need for her to act like the little lost babe in the woods, but to also turn on a dime and kick ass with the best of action heroes past. It helped that everyone else around her were up to the task of supporting her performance whether it was Eric Bana in the role father (huntsman in fable lore) to Cate Blanchett as the cold-hearted CIA chief (evil queen) whose connection to Hanna drives the film’s narrative from beginning to end.
  10. Kung Fu Panda 2 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh Nelson) – in a year where Pixar had one of it’s rare misses (Cars 2 really was awful and such a blatant cash grab for the studio) it was there for the taking for top animated film of the year for everyone else to fight over. There was Rango and there was The Adventures of TinTin, but my favorite animated film of 2011 has to be Kung Fu Panda 2. It continues to adventures of the Dragon Warrior and panda kung master Po and his compatriots, the Furious Five. With the first film having done with him becoming the Dragon Warrior, this sequel was free to explore more aspects of Po’s life and personality such as his true origins and the tragic circumstances which led him to be adopted by his noddle-making goose of a father. The film is much darker than the previous one with it’s storyline exploring such themes as genocide and the destructive march of technology over nature’s harmony. It also had one of the best villains to come out in 2011 with Gary Oldman as the evil peacock, Lord Shen. Plus, it had scenes of Po as a baby Panda…A BABY PANDA.
  11. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (dir. by Tomas Alfredson) – a feature-length film remake of the BBC miniseries of the same name (adapted from a John LeCarre novel), this spy thriller/procedural was Tomas Alfredson’s follow-up to his coming-of-age vampire film, Let the Right One In. Once again he has taken a well-worn genre and infused it with his own unique style of storytelling which valued characters and how they all interacted with each other over action and thrilling sequences. With a cast that’s a who’s who of British cinema the film was able to condense many hours of the miniseries into just a couple and still not lose the complex and layered plot involving political intrigue and betrayal. This film also had one of the best performances by any male actor for 2011 with Gary Oldman in the role of George Smiley. With Fassbender being passed over and not nominated for Best Actor for the upcoming Academy Awards I would be very perturbed if anyone else other than Oldman took home the statue.
  12. Kill List (dir. by Ben Wheatley) – I’m not well-versed on the work by Ben Wheatley so I saw this film on the recommendation of many whose opinions I trust when it comes to genre films. To say that I was thoroughly surprised by just how well this filmed turned out would be an understatement. Kill List is one of those films which turns so many horror and thriller conventions right on its head, but do so to serve the film’s narrative instead of a filmmaker trying to show his/her audience just how clever they can be. The film moves at a gradual pace that leads to a surprising ending that has split audiences down the middle. Some have loved the ending and other have hated it. I, for one, thought the ending was the only way the film could end. This was a film that was able to balance the different aspects of what makes a thriller and what makes a horror film. The moment when the film transitions from the former to the latter was so seamless that it takes several viewings to find just where it occurred. The best horror film of 2011, bar none.
  13. 13 Assassins (dir. by Miike Takashi) – many will be saying that I’m cheating with this final entry since the film was released in 2010. I would agree with them, but then again this film wasn’t released in the US until early 2011 so in my own honest opinion it qualifies as a 2011 film. This latest from Japan’s eclectic and prolific filmmaker, Miike Takashi, is his own take on the Japanese jidaigeki and a remake of the 1963 film of the same name. If there was ever a best action film of 2011 then this film would be it. Miike would pull back from his more over-the-top visuals (though he still manages to insert some very disturbing imagery early on in the film) for a much more linear and traditional action filmmaking. It’s a men-on-a-mission film that pits the 13 assassins of the title against 200 or more bodyguards of a sadistic lord who must be killed for the sake of the country. The first 45 minutes or so of the film shows the film gathering the assassins and planning their ambush. It’s that final hour or so of the film with it’s nonstop action which qualified this film not just one of my favorite for 2011, but that year’s best action film. No other film could even get to it’s level.

Honorable Mentions: Warrior, Super 8, Batman: Year One, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, Sucker Punch, A Dangerous Method, The Adventures of TinTin, The Skin I Live In, Bunraku, The Guard, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Hugo, Tyrannosaur, Thor, The Interrupters, X-Men: First Class, Contagion, Battle: Los Angeles, Project Nim

Leonard’s Favorite Films for 2011


As we are all sharing our favorites films of 2011, here are some of my own off of the top of my head that stayed with me:

1.) Hugo (Directed by Martin Scorsese)

Of all of the films I’ve seen this year, Hugo was the only one that felt more like an Event than just watching a story. The story of a young boy who inherits an automaton from his father and is looking for a way to fix it, it’s simply a beautiful story of discovered paths, creative endeavors, and lost dreams. What makes the movie great is that the story centers on the birth of cinema. Any movie lover, once they see where the story moves is bound to end up with a smile on their faces. Strong performances by Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz help to move Scorsese’s film along, and the vibrant backgrounds are just beautiful. Hugo happens to be one of few live action motion pictures that really demands to be viewed in 3D. I’ve never seen a film use it better, and that statement actually includes James Cameron’s Avatar. Scorsese makes you believe he has a grasp of what the audience needs to see and it’s conveyed so well that I can imagine studios not making Hugo a Thanksgiving re-release next year. It truly is that good, and is my Best Picture Pick, though if Shame won, I wouldn’t be upset.

2.) Shame (Directed by Steve McQueen)

We all have our addictions (be it something that hurts or helps you) and it’s because of this that Shame hit a personal note with me. Sometimes you go into a film just expecting to see a story, only to find what you’re seeing has more to do with you than you previously thought. Last year, Black Swan was that film for me. Right now, with the exception of Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I can’t think of a better Best Actor nomination than Michael Fassbender. His Brandon Sullivan is a tortured soul who on the surface appears to be “normal” in every way, but is driven by his desires. The life he’s built for himself is thrown into turmoil with the arrival of his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan, in an equally strong role), who suffers from issues of her own. Brandon’s sex addiction drives him to different avenues, and the hopes you have that he’ll somehow make it through are picked away by every instance where he falls. McQueen pulls no punches, as the NC-17 rating explicitly displays the life Brandon leads, doing so in such a way that the audience can’t feel any sort of amorous feelings over what’s on screen. Not since Requiem for a Dream have I felt so hurt by a film. Both films show just how far people can fall. Case in point: When the credits came up in the dark on my showing of the film, no one in the audience moved for nearly 3 minutes, and sit in silence. That was the impact it had. Long tracking shots carry the audience with the characters, and I find that McQueen didn’t care about lighting. There is one point where characters speak but the lighting is dim, but it comes across as just real. Other situations have locations that I’ve been to from time to time, so it was easy to relate to. You’re not even told how Brandon and Sissy got to where they are. It’s not necessary for this particular story. The movie basically says, “This is the important part, deal with it.” and damn if that’s not cool. Overall, it’s Fassbender who carries the film and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more films from this pair in the future (note that I haven’t seen Hunger, yet).

3.) Melancholia (Directed by Lars Von Trier)

I’m not sure how to describe Melancholia. I could say that it’s simply a beautiful story about a girl suffering from depression. I could also say that it’s an artful tale about the end of the world. When I really think about it, Melancholia is about reactions (to me, anyway). Kirsten Dunst’s Justine suffers from Melancholia and because of it, her wedding isn’t going as well as her family would like. On the surface, it appears that she is the one the biggest problems, but when a small planet (also named Melancholia) also threatens to collide with the planet, Justine becomes the grounding individual when everyone else around her appears to be losing it, and I found that to be mesmerizing. The one person who everyone seemed to have a problem with (save for her most patient sister and loving fiancée) becomes the person you’d want by your side at the end of all things. The opening of the film may seem a little off-putting with it’s slow motion overture, but these are the moments that as a viewer you should be paying the most attention to. Ironically, it isn’t until the end of the film that you may realize you want to remember what you saw in those opening moments. An easily recommended film that stays with you long after it’s ended. I saw it last week, and it’s still on my mind.

4.) Tinker Tailor Solder Spy (Directed by Tomas Alfredson)

Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy teaches us that the spy game really isn’t full of the fancy James Bond gadgetry. It lacks the Jason Bourne Jujitsu and freerunning. During the Cold War, we knew who our enemies were, they knew us and everyone moved like pieces on a Chessboard. Not willing to risk a third World War (which would undoubtedly be atomic), moves were quiet. Taking place in the early ‘70s, a botched mission that has the potential to reveal a mole within the upper echelon of a British Spy Network brings former spy George Smiley (a remarkable Gary Oldman) into the fray to find out who among the top four members could be the mole. While the film doesn’t move at a great pace (and given the time period, it really shouldn’t), it really deserves a viewing. Although Oldman’s Oscar worthy performance is bound to be noticed, I think that Benedict Cumberbatch also did really well here. Cumberbatch, who I never heard of before until the recent announcement that he’ll be in the next Abrahms Star Trek film, carries his own with the likes of Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and Oscar Winner Colin Firth with ease, and I’m sure he’ll be a picking up an award or two somewhere down the line for a future role. The film itself is a great thriller, but requires a lot of patience to be really appreciated.

5.) 50 / 50 (Directed by Jonathan Levine)

I already wrote a review for this film. The only thing I’ll add to what I said there is that for as simple as the movie is filmed, 50/50 gets its message out to the audience. The actors keep the film moving forward and Joseph Gordon-Levitt will have you alternately smiling and maybe tearful at some of the emotions he goes through. There’s very little I can say on that. This was just a great film to see.

6.) Sucker Punch (Directed by Zack Snyder) 

Sucker Punch is one of those unfortunate films where for some, the hype for it exceeded what the film gave the audience. I believe that this is partially due to the nature of the story. I think perhaps the audience may have been expecting to see girls kicking ass 24/7 throughout the movie but never run into any actual problems. The real world problems that the women in this movie endure are why the fantasies are made. The near rape sequence in the beginning of the film bothered me to the point that I couldn’t effectively write a review, but scenes like that and others helped to drive home the dangers the characters faced. This (their handling of things) was one of the elements I also loved about Sucker Punch. Viktor Frankl once stated that regardless of what happens to a person, they can choose how they react to a given situation. You can choose to let something hurt you, or choose to hold on your happiness. In Sucker Punch, Baby Doll chooses to hold on to her strength by using her imagination to her advantage. That’s all the fantasy sequences are really about. If it were shown without them, you’d basically have Escape from Alcatraz. Sucker Punch is stylish and in your face. No complaints here with that.

7.) Drive (Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn)

Drive is another movie I reviewed, and while I stand why what I said in that review, I have to note that based on Valhalla Rising, Drive is a stronger film than I previously mentioned. I’ll admit that I’m excited to be able see it again, knowing the tone of the film.

8.) Captain America: The First Avenger (Directed by Joe Johnston)

If you told me that Captain America was worth seeing, especially after I just walked out of seeing The Wolfman, I’d have laughed in your face. Truth be told, I saw Captain America twice in the theatre, I liked it so much. It was a great popcorn movie that didn’t take itself too seriously, yet cemented itself in the Avengers storyline stronger than all of the previous films before it (and that includes Thor). Green Lantern could have definitely learned something from this film.

Here Are The 15 Semi-Finalists For Best Visual Effects of 2011


Today, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the 15 semi-finalists for this year’s Oscar for Best Visual Effects.  Without further ado, here they are:

  • “Captain America: The First Avenger”
  • “Cowboys & Aliens”
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″
  • “Hugo”
  • “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”
  • “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”
  • “Real Steel”
  • “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
  • “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”
  • “Sucker Punch”
  • “Super 8″
  • “Thor”
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
  • “The Tree of Life”
  • “X-Men: First Class”

 

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. by Joe Johnston)


It is called the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” and it’s a world-building program that’s been in the making for almost half a decade. It first began when Kevin Feige and the powers-that-be at Marvel Entertainment decided to forgo licensing out the rest of their comic book characters to other studios to play with (Spider-Man, X-Men, Wolverine, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc.). Marvel Entertainment was getting rich off of these films without having to help finance any of the films, but the results of these films where hit-or-miss and recently they’ve been really misses (X-Men: Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider to name a few). So, the decision was made for Marvel to open up their own film studio, Marvel Studios, and use money from those licensed films to adapt the remaining characters in the Marvel Universe the Marvel way.

The first film to come out with Marvel Studios as the primary company was 2008’s Iron Man which was followed very closely with a reboot of the Hulk with The Incredible Hulk later that same summer. Iron Man 2 arrived in 2010 (though it was a mixed bagged depending on who one asks about this sequel) and in 2011 two more Marvel Studio films arrived to continue building this so-called “Marvel Cinematic Universe”. In early May 2011, the first one was Kenneth Branagh’s Thor hitting the big-screen which was widely-acclaimed to be a good and fun entry to this cinematic universe. The final piece and the second Marvel Studio film to arrive in 2011 is the Joe Johnston-helmed film adaptation of one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic characters. The “Marvel Cinematic Universe” finally finds it’s last piece before 2012’s arrival of Marvel Studios’ superhero team film, The Avengers.

Captain America: The First Avenger was being predicted as a film that could fail because of the character itself. Steve Rogers aka Captain America is the All-American G.I. who was straight-laced and never morally ambiguous. This was a character sure of himself and saw the world through a moral prism of black and white. The film that came out of the work by Joe Johnston and his capable film crew was one which surprised most everyone by it’s retro and nostalgic look at action serials of the past but without becoming to beholden to those tropes and losing all the fun in the story. This film played out like a throwback to those very serial action films of the 40’s and 50’s before cynicism and snark took over Hollywood and most of the entertainment industry.

Joe Johnston and his screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (and an uncredited Joss Whedon whose strength with dialogue could be seen in this film), were able to make an origin tale which didn’t seem too rushed in laying out just who Captain America was and his early adventures during World War II. It was a great decision to keep most of the film set in World War II since Captain America’s origins would be the hardest to pull off and even harder to convince audiences too used to conflicted and unsure superheroes in their superhero films.

The film begins in current Marvel times as an expedition finds Captain America’s shield in the frozen ice floes of Greenland in what looks to be the wreck of a giant flying wing-type aircraft. Once the shield’s discovery was made the film quickly transitions back in time to 1942 where we get to see first-hand the evil mastermind Johann Schmitt aka the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) whose obsession and search for ultimate power finally garners him the Tesseract from Odin’s weapon’s vault (the Cosmic Cube last scene in Thor). He would use this cosmic power to power the superweapons being developed by his Nazi-funded splinter group, HYDRA, and it’s lead scientist in Dr. Armin Zola (Toby Jones).

Both Markus and McFeely actually wrote the film to be two storylines running concurrently with Red Skull and HYDRA running in one storyline and the other with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as the 90-lbs Brooklyn-native weakling whose attempt to enlist in the Army gets shotdown each and every time he tries. Rogers is just not the type of man the US Army requires no matter how much courage and heart his asthmatic and weak body may hold within. But this very non-physical quality of Rogers is what gets the attention of the US Army’s own research division headed by German scientist and expatriate, Dr. Abraham Erskine, who believes Rogers is the perfect candidate for his super-soldier serum program.

Much of the Roger’s storyline in the early-going brings much comedic dialogue and scenes which made Captain America such a fun film. While Roger’s appearance and situation was never played off for laughs, it was how those around him outside of a few people whose reaction never get past the weakling standing in front of them. Once Rogers does become Captain America the film continued to have fun with the character as he’s drafted by politicians who sees him as the perfect pitchman for the government’s program to sell war bonds. This entire part of the character’s arc even got the full Busby Berkeley musical dance number reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s musical number to start off Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (this won’t be the first time Johnston would pay homage to the Indiana Jones series).

Once Captain America moves past his war bond selling phase the film’s two concurrent running storylines of the Captain and the Red Skull converge to begin the second-half of Captain America. While the comedic dialogue and sequences take a back seat the film still remains very fun as Johnston ramps up the action. He begins with the Rogers disobeying orders and attacking a HYDRA base to rescue not just his boyhood friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) from the clutches of HYDRA, but all the prisoners held in the same weapons manufacturing base. The action sequences were filmed in an almost old-school fashion. There’s no tricks of fast editing and quick cuts to make the battles and action chaotic and real, but brought to mind more the action scenes from the Indiana Jones films of the 80’s which Johnston was a part of. All the action sequences in this film were choreographed to be seen and understood, but at the same time with a sense of fun energy that most action films seem to have lost in the last decade.

Captain America was also the first film in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” which added to the fun by creating a genuine romantic subplot for it’s main lead. The relationship between Steve Rogers and British agent Peggy Carter was written quite beautifully as one between two people who saw each other as equals. This relationship unfolded very organically and not forced onto the two characters and to the audience. There was no manipulation to create a false couple. Steve Rogers gradually grew to not just admire Peggy Carter as a strong-willed, capable, but still feminine woman who saw beyond his initial weakling appearance, but by film’s end as a person who he truly had feelings for. It wouldn’t have worked if the Peggy Carter was just written to be a damsel in distress which she wasn’t and this character’s own journey to admiring Roger’s courage and tenacity in the face of impossible odds to mutual admiration once he became Captain to full-blown love by the end really added the emotional punch to the film. It’s no wonder that the bittersweet ending to the film between these two characters had such an emotional impact. The audience followed these two characters’ in their growing relationship from sweet beginnings to the tragic and bittersweet climactic finish.

It’s that very writing which made Captain America: The First Avenger more than just another superhero film. This was a film that went beyond just superhero action sequences, but a film which brought to mind not just the retro film of such films as Johnston’s own 1991 retro-futurist superhero film, The Rocketeer, but also the fun inherent in the serialized action films of the 40’s and 50’s which Spielberg did paid homage to with Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark. The action, explosions and witty (though without the snark and cynicism) dialogue didn’t dominate the film but became supports for the well-written characters. Characters that were well-played by it’s cast of exceptional actors.

This film, like any other superhero film of the past quarter century, lives and dies by how it’s hero and villain were played. It’s a great thing to have not just Hugo Weaving playing the Red Skull with such relish (with a voice that sounded like a mash-up of Werner herzog and Klaus Kinski), but the surprise was Chris Evans as Captain America himself. Evans had the tougher role since he was the titular character. He was an actor who was more well-known as playing wiseass and jokester roles, but in this film he plays Steve Rogers straight with a sense of unabashed goodness and confidence that he became Captain America without having to be unsure of his abilities, conflicted about his new role as a hero. Evans showed depth and range that was only hinted at in films such as Sunshine.

Another delight in the film would be Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. She could’ve been the weak-link in this film and no one would’ve noticed, but she became the moral anchor and strength for the film as she became not just Steve Rogers’ eventual love interest but also his sounding board whenever doubts creeped in. She kept not just him, but the film on course and it helped that she was just as much as kickass as Captain America. Also, to say that Atwell as Peggy Carter was gorgeous to the point of blinding would be an understatement. It’s no wonder Captain America fell for her.

The rest of the supporting cast were up to the challenge no matter the size of the role. Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones were great as the compassionate mentor and grizzled commanding officer respectively. Jones’ Col. Phillips actually got some of the best one-liners in the film. When Tommy Lee Jones plays such a character as well as he does it’s no wonder he’s the go-to-guy for such roles. He just lives the part and pulls off the lines with such great comedic timing. Dominic Cooper as the young Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark/Iron Man) brought images of the suave and debonair Howard Hughes while Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes did a great job in making the character not just a sidekick, but also show hints of why he would become the Winter Soldier later on in the Captain America stories. It’s Stan’s role as Bucky which gives me hope that future Captain America sequels would tap and mine this character’s own journey from sidekick to potential rival as the Winter Soldier.

Captain America: The First Avenger is Marvel Studios’ last puzzle piece in what would transition into 2012’s The Avengers by Joss Whedon and it more than delivers the goods which was a testament to the creative forces led by Joe Johnston, Chris Evans and everyone involved. This was a fun, rollicking good time which brought back the concept that films were ultimately started as a form of mass entertainment. Not every film had to explore the meaning of life and existence. Not every film had to be a journey into the light and dark of existential themes. Films could be a couple hours spent entertaining and allowing it’s audiences to have a fun and good time. Captain America: The First Avenger was able to deliver this type of experience and do so with not a cynical gene in its code. It’s definitely Marvel Studios’ best film to date and one of the best films of the summer.

(Leonard Wilson’s review of Captain America)

As an added bonus below are some of the character and propaganda-type posters released for the film.