Captain America: The Winter Soldier

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier on my Friday off, a late afternoon show, and there was only one other person in the theater. But I had a great time. Consumer note: I sprang for the 3-D experience, and my advice would be not to bother.

In this episode, Cap is trying to get integrated into the modern-day world (like our own, but with superheroes and cataclysmic battles in and around famous American cities.) But he does errands for Nick Fury and SHIELD, partnering with the fetching Black Widow and a menacing strike force. Cap is no fool, however, so it gradually dawns on him that Nick and the Widow aren't entirely sharing their agendas. Worse, Nick is getting the feeling he's being played for a fool by Robert Redford. (It must be the big illuminated "bad guy" sign Redford has hanging above his head. Or was that my imagination?)

Also in the mix is the "Winter Soldier", a super-assassin whose origins are a mystery to anyone who doesn't pay attention to the actor playing the role. Didn't we see him in something else a few years back? Oh yeah…

Fortunately, there's also a new good guy: the Falcon! played by Anthony Mackie. Aided by a Stark Industries flying rig, he's resourceful and fearless.

Overall: Lots of action, good acting, clever dialog. Minor spoiler in white ink: one of the minor characters (Jasper Sitwell) from my ancient comic book-reading days appears here, treated in a way that causes me to downgrade the movie by a half-star from my usual 5. Don't mess with my comic memories, Marvel!


Last Modified 2014-04-14 5:23 AM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Disconnect

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This was on Mrs. Salad's list of wanna-sees. But (as it turned out) she really wanted to see this movie instead. Don't blame me: she just gave me a list. For some reason Disconnect is a really popular movie title.

Here's the story: Haley is distraught by the recent death of her mother. Fortunately, she comes across an old toy phone that magically enables her to make calls to people in the past. So she can call Past Mom and shoot the breeze.

Good, right? But no. Mom makes some ominous comments that lead Haley to believe that foul play might have been involved in her demise. So she starts (a) using her (mediocre) detective skills in the present and (b) calling people in the past in order to change events. But it's a Back to the Future-style time story: changing the past ripples forward to change the present. Since Haley is kinda stupid, her efforts make things worse. Can she unwind things?

I liked this movie better when it was called Frequency.

The acting is lousy, but that could be due to the absurdly wooden dialogue the actors are uttering. It is a prime example of the Idiot Plot, defined at TV Tropes as "a Plot that hangs together only because the main characters behave like idiots." (To drive this home, the main character and her friend use the Time Phone to make crank calls to the past.)

So, no, I can't recommend it. But that other Disconnect movie looks like it might be OK…


Bookmark and Share

Deceptive Practice

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Ricky Jay is an actor (you've almost certainly seen him if you've seen any David Mamet movies), a magician, a writer, and somewhat of a historian of magicians and other denizens of the less-respected performing arts. This documentary looks at his life, at least as much of it he's willing to reveal.

Ricky grew up in New York, and became obsessed with magic and the attendant show biz at a very young age. That can't have been an easy road to follow; the movie mentions in passing that Ricky left home and cut his parental ties as a teenager in order to follow his muse. (Given the sixties timeframe and Ricky's appearance and demeanor back then, I can't help but wonder if illicit pharmaceuticals were also involved, but the movie doesn't go into detail, or get his parents' side of the story.)

Ricky's talent and hilarious stage patter brought him modest fame. He was on a lot of TV talk shows. (I remember him being on Saturday Night Live; IMDB tells me that was in 1977.) Eventually, his semi-sleazy appearance and acting skills made him a natural choice for movies, often as a hustler or criminal. He played a bad guy's henchman in the James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies.

But Ricky also has a fascination with the history and lore of his craft. He has a number of books to his credit, exploring the history of magic and (other) con games. The movie gives plenty of time to his heroes and mentors, old-timey magicians I had never heard of.

All in all, an interesting documentary. Didn't show as much magic as I expected, but made up for it in illuminating the culture of magicians.


Bookmark and Share

Captain Phillips

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It was nominated for six Oscars, but didn't win any. That's probably why I kept falling asleep.

It's about—no surprise—Captain Rich Phillips, who helmed the Maersk Alabama, a container ship steaming off the Somali coast, which had the misfortune to be the first American ship in 200 years to be hijacked by pirates. In case you weren't paying attention to the news back then, this actually happened.

The Somalis are a sorry lot; they don't seem to have much of anything except for guns and khat. And a boat fast enough so they can catch up to the Maersk and climb aboard. (It seems to be way too easy for them.)

Tom Hanks plays Captain P, just as an ordinary joe from Vermont, albeit with a hot wife (Catherine Keener). Part of the movie's power turns on the fact that Phillips is no action hero: no feats of derring-do, no smart remarks, not even a lot of cleverness. But he muddles through, doing his best, and who are we to imagine we would do any better?

That's one lame title, though.

Just another note: at the very end of the flick, Captain Phillips is being examined by a female Navy Corpsman, and according to IMDB, it's an actual Corpsman who was told to "simply follow her usual procedure." I'm here to tell you: if I'm ever abducted by pirates, she's the one I want to do the post-captive exam. She's amazing.


Bookmark and Share

Austenland

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This comedy was pummelled by critics (only 30% on the Tomatometer) and was a box office dud. Yet both Mrs. Salad and I found it funny and clever all the way through; especially refreshing after a bunch of alleged comedies where the laughs were sparse.

Keri Russell plays Jane, a 30something single American woman obsessed with all things Austen. She has a lifesize cardboard cutout of Colin Firth playing Mr. Darcy, and that's just one example of the Austen flotsam that clogs her apartment. Her obsession is doing damage to her own romantic prospects, but that doesn't seem to concern her overmuch. She espies an ad for "Austenland", an immersive role-playing environment in England, and quickly decides to blow her savings on a weeklong excursion.

Quickly things turn out to be not quite as imagined. Jane can only afford the Copper package, while the other attendees have splurged on the Platinum experience. Although part of the package is a make-believe romance with one of Austenland's fine character actors, her apparent assignee is moody and off-putting. (Hint: just like Mr. Darcy in the book.) She gets on much better with the stable keeper, who is (she's told) supposed to have only limited interaction with guests.

Performances are fine. Especially funny is Jennifer Coolidge as another attendee who's only got a hazy idea of what the whole Austen deal is about, but has a good time nevertheless, participating with what she imagines to be cheerful English idioms in what she imagines to be an English accent. Also: Bret McKenzie (from Flight of the Conchords) as the stable lad, James Callis (Dr Baltar in Battlestar Galactica) and Jane Seymour as Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the conniving proprietress of Austenland.

But it's really weird to see Keri Russell in a frothy, funny comedy, just when I'd gotten used to her as a ruthlessly murderous KGB spy in The Americans. She's a very good actress.


Bookmark and Share

The Spectacular Now

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Warning for fellow geezers: this movie shows high school students drinking, using bad language, and having ze sex. I guess that's what's happening these days. IMDB bills this as Comedy/Drama/Romance, but (just like Blue Jasmine) there aren't a lot of laughs.

Plot: high school senior Sutter Keely (really) is the self-admitted "life of the party", but his hot girlfriend Cassidy dumps him (for some reason I didn't quite get). Now, Sutter is a nice guy, but he is way too fond of ethanol. And getting dumped is a fine reason to overdo even more. So one morning he wakes up on the lawn of Aimee Finicky (again, really), a fellow student.

Aimee is an introverted nerd, a reader of science fiction and fantasy. And not as hot as Cassidy. Aimee knows Sutter—everyone knows Sutter—but he's been unaware of her. They are drawn to each other, becoming friends at first, then graduating to a more serious relationship. Sutter's friends are dubious about the whole thing. Can this relationship work?

Both Sutter and Aimee are sympathetic and likeable characters. But we discover the serious cracks in their personal foundations, especially Sutter's. He's the product of a broken home, and his mom has kept him in the dark about the details. I already mentioned the boozing. He's also neglectful about his future plans, living in the "spectacular now". This is a pretty unusual theme for a teen movie to hit on, I think.

It's cleverly written, not predictable, and the acting is first-rate. Although this was a low-budget indie movie, the main actors are moving into bigger roles: the guy playing Sutter is going to be Mr. Fantastic in the new Fantastic Four movie, and the girl playing Aimee is the heroine in the Hunger Games ripoff, Divergent. So good for them.


Bookmark and Share

Blue Jasmine

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I have no clue whether Woody Allen is as dreadful a perv as his ex-family claims he is. But if I boycotted all entertainers associated with actual or alleged perviness, I'd run out of entertainment pretty quickly. So Mrs Salad and I got Blue Jasmine from Netflix and let 'er spin last night. It's nominated for three Oscars, so it's probably not awful.

IMDB classifies it as a Comedy/Drama, but (like most Woody Allen movies since about 1977) it's not one of those comedies that actually make you laugh.

Jasmine (played by Cate Blanchett, one of the Oscar nominees) is kinda nuts. As revealed in flashbacks, her ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) was sent to jail for financial shenanigans, where he committed suicide. But on his way there, he managed to "invest" (i.e., piss away) the lottery-winning nest egg of Jasmine's sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins, another nominee) and her husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay!).

Jasmine finds herself without funds, but that doesn't stop her from jetting first-class to San Francisco to prevail upon her sister for assistance. (Someone's gotta pay for her Xanax and Stoli, two substances she's inordinately fond of.) You might think that Ginger would be too pissed to put up with this, but no. Spoiler: Jasmine does not prevail over her character flaws.

The movie held my interest, despite Woody's wooden dialog. The third Oscar nomination for the movie is his screenplay, but that must be because the nominators had the sound turned off while watching the movie. Nobody talks like this. But the actors and actresses are strong performers, so they carry the day.


Bookmark and Share

In a World...

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

We took our Curtailed Operations Day to squeeze in this Netflix DVD, and the general consensus was: "Cute". It's technically a comedy, but one where there aren't a lot of laugh-out-loud moments.

But I think it has a claim to fame, because I'm pretty sure it was completely inspired by this hilarious trailer for Jerry Seinfeld's 2002 documentary Comedian, which featured the late, great, Don LaFontaine, master voice-over star:

I can't think of any other movie hatched by a different movie's trailer. (This one comes close, but not quite the same thing.)

In a World... was written, directed, and stars Lake Bell. She plays Carol Solomon, daughter of (fictional) master voice-over star Sammy Sotto (Fred Melamed). She's also trying to make a go of her vocal/aural gifts, mainly picking up work as a voice coach (for example, teaching Eva Longoria how to sound believable as a Scottish pirate). She finds herself in a financial bind when Sammy tosses her out to make room for his new girlfriend, so she moves in with sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her husband Moe (Rob Corddry). Who have their own problems.

There are a few merry mishaps. For example, Carol finds herself in the sack with Gustav (Ken Marino), a cad who happens to be Sammy's voice-over protégé; while concurrently being incompetently wooed by Louis (Demetri Martin), who manages the voice studio she frequents. Carol eventually finds herself in contention for voicing a movie trailer for "The Amazon Games", the first of a blockbuster "quadrilogy". And, yes, it starts out with the words "In a world...".

So the amusement here is pretty much rooted in absurd situations, rather than sight gags or jokey dialog. To its credit, it's not formulaic. Just watchable and (as I said) "cute".


Bookmark and Share

Prisoners

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

For those of us who have been seeing Hugh Jackman mostly as Wolverine, and need a reminder that he's a pretty good actor, this movie should do the trick. Better: it's a finely wrought whodunit mystery, something that seemed moviemakers had all but forgotten how to do.

Some opening scenes paint Mr. Jackman's character, "Keller Dover", as a manly man, self-reliant, but teetering on the financial edge. Things rapidly go downhill when he and his family attend Thanksgiving dinner with friends; after the meal, the families' young daughters go outside unattended, and go missing. The only clue is an RV that was seen hanging around the area shortly before. That's traced back to a very odd duck, young Alex Jones (played by Paul Dano). Alex says things that convince Dover that he knows where the girls are. But the cops (led by Jake Gyllenhaal as "Detective Loki") are not convinced, and Alex goes free.

So what's a manly man to do? Obviously: abduct and torture Alex in order to find out the whereabouts of his daughter. Duh! Dover continues down this soul-destroying path while Loki continues his frustrating search for clues.

This may be an uncomfortable movie for parents to watch; it was for me, anyhow. Child abduction is right up there in the top five terrors that moms and dads contemplate every time a kid doesn't appear when and where they expect. Mr. Jackman's character doesn't handle it well, but any father can imagine himself going right down that same road.


Bookmark and Share

The Silence

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A German movie that wowed the critics. 88% on the Tomatometer, and it won "Best Picture" from the German Film Critics Association. So you might like it; I didn't care for it.

It's a dark movie, starting out in 1986 with Peer and Timo, two perverts, watching some 8mm child pornography; they then set out to (successfully) hunt down a victim, an 11-year-old girl named Pia, who Peer rapes and murders.

Jump to 2009, and it's apparent that Peer and Timo were not caught. Pia's mom is still wracked with despair. The cop assigned to the case is retiring, but he's filled with rage and resentment.

And then another young girl disappears, 23 years to the day after Pia's murder. What happened? Whodunnit? Another angst-ridden, half-crazy cop is assigned the case. The outcome will probably neither shock nor surprise you. (I thought they might have been setting up a clever plot twist, but no.)

The movie is arty, with cinematography that is occasionally stunning, but much more often showy and boring. There's way too many scenes with actors staring off into the void, or wandering around. I fell asleep a lot on first viewing, never a good sign, but I felt a duty to watch it. (Since I paid for it.) VLC Media Player on my laptop allowed me to go through it at 2x, and that helped a bit.


Bookmark and Share