Tag Archives: Scarlett Johansson

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” Review (✫✫✫)


Patriotism replaced with fast-paced spy action and conspiracy.

In his review for the Toronto Sun, writer Jim Slotek says that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier is actually a Jason Bourne film masquerading as a superhero movie.” Right there is your first problem. Captain America is not Jason Bourne. He does not need to be Jason Bourne. Captain America is Captain America. He has his own arc, history, complexions, motivations, and conflicts that make him a fascinating character in his own right. He is as noble as he is heroic, and in just the two appearances he’s had in the MCU so far, he’s already cemented himself as an icon and staple in this expanding universe.

Tonally, there’s a severe shift in between The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier. Captain America: The First Avenger was exciting, old-fashioned, comic-book fun, and had the look, feel, and nostalgia of those 1940’s pulp magazines. The Winter Soldier, in comparison, feels like a dark, gritty espionage thriller, and our hero wears a red, white, and blue costume instead of the atypical black motorcycle jacket and jeans. This time around, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) isn’t fighting Nazi-clad super soldiers or aliens from outer space. This time, Cap is after the Winter Soldier, a expert assassin who has a metal arm and has been operating for decades under the world’s nose. When one of Cap’s closest friends gets caught in the crossfire, Cap goes on the hunt for the Winter Soldier, along with an underlying conspiracy that he’s quickly unraveling.

The script is easily the best thing about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Screenwriters Marcus Freely and Warren McAllen, who also penned the first Captain America movie as well as Thor: The Dark World, have made an incredibly thoughtful and politically-driven film, a story that, if put into book format, would arguably be more compelling than the movie is. Without giving too much away, Cap gets stuck into a position that pits him both against his own country and against his enemies, making him question himself and the ideals that he’s been fighting for all along. Is America the same country he knew during World War II? Is there any more life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the American dream? Is the American dream even alive any more? All of these questions are what drives the story and its characters forward, and sets up a very hard-hitting, close-to-home conflict with our favorite Captain. This is a movie that has severe repercussions towards the future of the MCU, and the twists are so hard-hitting that they surprised me, even with the ones that I was expecting.

The plot is sound and strong for the purposes of the film. But the problem doesn’t exist in the screenplay, it exists in how it’s handled. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, whose last film credit before this was 2006’s You, Me and Dupree, didn’t see a superhero story in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They saw a political thriller, and they decided to live up to that in every way that they could.

Take, for instance, the choreography and the motion of the action in the film. It is straight up Jason Bourne. In Captain America: The First Avenger, the action was unique, creative, and dynamic, with Cap flipping around with his shield and beating up HYDRA soldiers in classic, swashbuckling fashion, making it fun and refreshing escapism from all of the action fanfares we’ve gotten throughout the years. Here, the action feels like a retread. We’ve seen this sort of lightning-quick, fast-paced fighting in virtually every action thriller, from James Bond all the way to Mission Impossible. Why should The Winter Soldier feel any more special?

The thing that makes Captain America unique, especially in The First Avenger, is his patriotic loyalty and his unwavering sense of justice. He looks out for the little guy. He cares about such things as self-respect and manners. He won’t throw a punch unless he has to. At heart, he is this small, skimpy, honest, good-hearted kid from Brooklyn, and this is the kid that Dr. Erskine saw in the first Captain America. Here, he’s in full hero mode as he kicks, punches, tackles, slams, and throws shields at all of the bad guys, and brings everything down all around him, including buildings, bridges, and S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers.

Tell me, where is the patriotism? Where is the nobility? Where is the sense of joy and adventure in this movie? In its two hour runtime, we don’t get a strong sense of these things that make Captain America who he is. What we get instead is quickly-edited action, punctuated in between moments of heavy exposition and backstory, which always feels like its building up to something big, but never really pays off.

I say this again: Captain America is not an action hero! He is not Jason Bourne, or Ethan Hunt, or James Bond, or John McClane. He is Steve Rogers, and he builds this identity of Captain America to protect those who can’t protect themselves. But The Winter Soldier does not focus on the theme of protection, unlike The First Avenger. Instead, it chooses to focus on distrust and political paranoia. In doing that, it takes away something very important from Captain America: his sense of character.

As it stands, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a good movie and not a great one. It’s serviceable in what it needs to do, and not much else. Instead of likening to Cap’s sense of bravery and heroism, we instead look to his aggression and fighting. In doing that, we lose a part of him that we wish we had back. In this day and age, dry, drab, joyless action movies are Hollywood’s currency, and all of the world is buying. The deeper we sink into this culture of entertainment and violence, the more we need our favorite Captain to stand above it. 

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“THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

The Avengers face judgement day. 

We are now nearing the end of Marvel’s phase two of its cinematic universe. Before Age of Ultron, we’ve seen ten of these movies now. Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk. Iron Man 2. Thor. Captain America: The First Avenger. The Avengers. Iron Man 3. Thor: The Dark World. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Guardians of the Galaxy. You would think that by now, we would be sick of watching these movies. I know I normally would. It only took three Transformers movies for me to get sick of that franchise.

Yet, the people over at Marvel continue to find new ways to surprise me and make me once again believe in its cinematic universe. Avengers: Age of Ultron is its most recent example. The film had a near impossible task: outdoing its 2012 predecessor, which was a brilliantly woven and executed superhero masterpiece in its own right. After succeeding on a grand project that big and combining five multiverses into one fluid narrative, how are you expected to measure up to that in the sequel? Luckily, writer-director Joss Whedon is no fool. He knew what expectations were going to be had for his highly-anticipated sequel. He could have sold out and let the anticipation from the first movie roll in the bank for this one, but Whedon instead did the one thing that most filmmakers are too afraid to do nowadays: he set out to make it better.

Take the movie’s villain as Whedon’s prime example for improvement. Ultron, voice and motion performance by James Spader, is a trash-talking super-intelligent humanoid A.I. created by Tony Stark, a.k.a. “Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr.) to protect the Earth from supernatural threats. Shortly after his creation, however, Ultron goes rogue and concludes that in order for true peace to be obtained, humanity needs to be wiped out and reborn like the animals from the dinosaur age.

On the surface, this seems like the same story for every robot-rebellion premise: a machine was created to do good, it becomes self aware, and in turn does the opposite of good. And in a sense, this is the same story for every robot-rebellion premise.

The key, however, lies in execution, and Spader as Ultron is the best super villain performance I’ve seen in a Marvel movie to date. Ultron doesn’t behave or talk like other androids. He isn’t stiff, rigid, or robotic like other mechanical characters in film are. Like any of the other live-action actors on screen, Ultron is a fluid, life-like being with his own personality and morals. He’s chaotic and radical in his thinking and behavior, acting more like a psychotic child rather than a logic-driven artificial intelligence.

Considering his creator is the egotistical Tony Stark, I can’t say I’m surprised that his personality is the same. Every Avenger in this film is just as great with each other as they were in the first Avengers movie. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is just as machismo and uncompromising as he is in any of his movies. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is equally as earnest and straightforward, with a few secrets that surprised even me in the theater. Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) continues his rivalrous dynamic with Stark from the first movie, their contrasting personalities rubbing off of each other so viciously that we can see how it builds up to Captain America: Civil War.

The two Avengers that have the greatest dynamic, however, are Bruce Banner, or the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Here, their relationship expands from the first movie into a conflicted romance between the two. Romanoff is a master assassin with a past she’s neither proud to have nor able to escape from. Banner is the feeble scientist with a monster inside of him that he’s not proud of either. The two don’t feel like they can have a relationship with each other because of their different personalities, but Whedon puts them together with tragically heartfelt honesty here. He finds a connecting theme between the two, themes of loss and regret that makes them turn to each other and rely on each other. I didn’t think it was going to work when I saw these characters at first, but Whedon makes it so compelling that now I can’t see it any other way. Romanoff asks Banner a question in one scene that I think is reflective of their relationship: “Do you still think you’re the only monster on the team?”

Everything else in the movie lives up to the expectations you had in the first movie. The action is unique, visually complex, and eye-popping. The story is layered, intelligent, and dynamic, with characters bouncing witty and thought-provoking dialogue off of each other perfectly. The villain is one of the best and most unique of the Marvel universe, and there’s a few new characters introduced in the film that are done just as well as the superhero team’s main heroes.

Here’s the worst thing I can say about the movie, and really the greatest danger to the Marvel cinematic universe: I’m getting used to it. This is the 11th movie I’ve seen in the Marvel universe now, and I almost know what to expect. I know that I’m going to be surprised and shocked at some of the twists and turns. I know I’m going to enjoy the heroes and villains alike. I know that there’s going to be a lot of action with a noteworthy plot behind it. And, more than anything else, I know the movie is going to expand upon itself and its multiple follow ups.

Marvel has 11 more movies to produce after this for their phase 3, and there’s no telling how many more movies they plan to do after that. With Whedon going on record saying this is his last Marvel movie, I question how well they will be able to continue expanding this universe and doing it well. How much longer can Marvel keep pushing the envelope? I hope I don’t find out soon.

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“DON JON” Review (✫✫✫)

Oh, Donnie boy…

 “There’s only a few things I really care about in life,” a rich, deep boston voice says as we look at him staring  at his bright laptop screen shirtless in a dark room. “My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, and my porn.”

That last one doesn’t really belong there, but whatever, its in there.  The man we are looking at is Joe Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a thick, cut, and strongly appealing young man who has a slick, black haircut and a grin on his face that looks like he just finished up business in the bedroom.  His friends call him “The Don” because he’s able to score “dimes” on the weekends, which is another way of saying “That woman is a ten!”

One night in the bar, Donnie meets the best dime he’s ever seen: Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful blonde bombshell that turns heads and raises attention everywhere she goes.  To Donnie, this is simply another case of trying to score a hot night, but Barbara isn’t that easy.  She wants something more meaningful than just a one-night stand: she wants an affectionate, fairytale relationship, the cheesy kind you see in those unbearable romantic comedies starring Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum.

So Donnie takes a deep breath and waits it out, hoping for her to come around eventually and give him the chance to slip under the covers with her.  The more time he spends with her, however, the more his addiction to pornography gets in the way and stops him from having a more meaningful relationship.  Now conflicted between his feelings between Barbara and his dependency on pornography, Donnie needs to figure out which is more important to him before she leaves him and all he has left is his laptop and his internet wifi.

Before I continue, let me issue a short disclaimer.  If you do not like R rated movies, do not watch this movie.  If you don’t like looking at nudity, do not watch this movie.  If you don’t like swearing, do not watch this movie.  And if you don’t like movies about sex, DEFINITELY do not watch this movie.  This is a picture stuffed to the mouthful with sex, nudity, T&A, F-words, censored and uncensored pornography to the point where I believe it deserved, and should have been rated, NC-17.

The only reason I issue this warning is because I know my readers, and the majority of my readers do not appreciate sexually explicit films that make jokes about the male/female anatomy and what goes on inside the bedroom.  Their views are warranted, and in many ways I share many of those same views with my readers.  I, however, am not as close-minded to this idea if it means not enjoying Don Jon, and believe me, that is a very hard thing to do.

That’s probably the worst word I could have used to describe this picture just now, but nevermind.  Don Jon is good.  Very good.  How good?  So good that it made me, a conservative reviewer who hates excessive nudity, enjoy it very, very much.  Trust me, I am not easy to please.  If you don’t believe me, you will when I tell you I rated The Hangover as the worst picture of 2009.

I find it interesting how effective Gordon-Levitt is here as a filmmaker.  His writing is fresh, fun, and original, exercising dialogue that is both clever and witty while at the same time being deeply meaningful and expressive.  The cast is equally brilliant, as their charismatic portrayals breathe life into these characters in ways that not even an animated rendition could do.

What I find more interesting, however, is how Gordon-Levitt handles this film as a director, using space and situations in his film to define Jon’s character and to show what sort of emotional state he’s in.

For instance, look at how he shows Jon’s everyday routine.  When Jon wakes up in the morning, he cleans his room the best way a bachelor knows how, he drives to Church, he goes to confession, he eats lunch with his family, he works out at the gym, he goes to a club to meet some beautiful lady, and then he ends his nights watching a skimpy porn video.

Got it?  Okay, now look at the variations of this same routine shown throughout the film.  At first its just the same thing over and over again, but later as Jon’s character changes, so does how he behaves during his routines.  When he’s depressed, his room get messy.  When he’s excited, he sings to Marky Mark in the car.  When he’s optimistic, he exercises with other people when he goes to the gym.  But what remains consistent in all of these sequences is him going to confessional and confessing his sins to the Catholic Priest he’s never met, hoping one day to have a clean slate in the eyes of the father.

I don’t think this movie is about a man struggling with his addiction to pornography.  I think this movie is about a man struggling between his lusts and sexual desires and the guilt he silently feels he needs to be redeemed from.  Think about it for a second.  Why else would he go to Church so frequently despite his promiscuous lifestyle?  He’s a grown man, he knows he doesn’t have to go to church if he doesn’t want to.  So why does he go so frequently even though his lifestyle isn’t congruent to that of a catholic?  There’s a deepness developing silently to Don Jon that can only be barely noticed, and if you don’t look out for it, it will slip you past you.

There’s obviously the negative element of watch a movie about pornography, and I would be the first to agree with you.  Even though the pornography is at times censored, its still there, and we can’t help but visualize everything because we’re seeing a rendition of it on the screen.

Still, since we’re talking about pornography, let me retaliate with another film that is also about addiction: a 2011 film titled Shame, starring Michael Fassbender and directed by Steve McQueen.  Like Don Jon, Shame is about a man who holds an unsatiated lust for porn and sex, and his life sinks into a swamp of sadness and depression because of his unsatiated hunger.  Unlike Don Jon, however, Shame is downtrodden, depressing, sickening, despicable, ugly, demeaning, and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, outside of the acting and the composition.

Don Jon is different.  Unlike Shame, it is upbeat, energetic and joyous, and even though there are dramatic moments in the movie, there is never a moment that feels ugly, sickening, or unclean.  Don Jon is a stylish, articulate, and simply brilliant dramedy.  It is not only a film filled with clever dialogue and solid character development: it actually has a good, wholesome message to take away from the story, something to make you appreciate the small things in life that you never really notice.  I know some people are going to look at this movie from a first glance and ask “Why would I want to watch a feature-length pornography?”  Believe me, fellow reader, if this film can even be categorized as a pornography, its probably the best of its kind.

On a closing note, please don’t tell my mother.

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