Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Most all superhero movies aim at leaving the audience with anticipation of a sequel or some sort of reappearance of that hero. This is especially true for those made by Marvel Studios. One of next summer’s biggest motion picture events will be Marvel’s The Avengers, and it is what films such as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America have been created to lead up to. The idea is that all the supers will join together to form one invincible team. Each of the above mentioned movies have concluded with plans for this one final major event. Yet Captain America is the first of all of these to seem to be just as concerned with carrying out the plot of this individual film as joining it with the other pictures.

Yes, it ends in obvious efforts to bring the Captain into the big picture, but with its closing line will come many interesting conversations among fellow viewers. It is a line that reveals the heart and inner desires of its hero beyond what Marvel has ever shown us before. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, Marvel has made the best superhero flicks around and this is one of their best. The problem that many may run into while viewing it however, is that it can be strikingly absurd at times. But you can solve that problem before you even enter the theater. Just simply go into the movie acknowledging that, while Chris Evan’s head doesn’t appear right on that scrawny, little body, it is fiction, and the point of the skinniness is to display the character’s humble beginnings. Just let The First Avenger do its thing, and you can have plenty of fun.

Like the best of Marvel’s efforts, Captain America is not all action. Though you will experience some great gunfights and exciting chases, there is humor to be found in the words of most every character in the film. Those of Tommy Lee Jones’ Colonel Chester Phillips prove to be very memorable. And then there are several qualities resembling Raiders of the Lost Ark, most obviously the Captain’s leather jacket and the evils of a Nazi villain. Strong performances are given by Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith in The Matrix) as Red Skull and Hayley Atwell (Bess Foster in The Duchess) as the avenger’s love interest.

And now to answer the question you’ve all been dying to ask: Was Chris Evans a good choice for the title role? The answer will vary from viewer to viewer. Those dedicated to the image of the original Captain from the comic books might not be totally satisfied. Yet if you are among the crowd who has never read or seen anything involving Captain America until now (me), the image of this iconic character displayed here shouldn’t bother you one bit.

Rating: 4/5

Film Review: Cars 2 (2011)

Six times out of the last eight years, Pixar has won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and each year, it was well-deserved.  One of those two films that failed to bring home the prize was 2006’s CarsCars was my pick to win that year, and I still believe that it should have been awarded a statuette.  So in this year filled with numerous sequels, Cars 2 was one of the few that I established to be of any importance.

After viewing Lasseter’s latest effort, I wonder why he has suddenly changed the way he makes movies.  Just last year, his colleague, Lee Unkrich, showed the world how to create a brilliant follow-up to a beloved film in Toy Story 3.  Unkrich’s strategy was not a hard one: add a few new characters, keep all the old ones, and stir up all the love we have for the franchise by putting our favorite toys in danger.  The result was very touching and his new characters turned out to be very entertaining.

But what Lasseter has done with Cars 2 is expand everything but the emotions of his characters.  He juggles two stories at once, one a routine grand prix adventure featuring Lightning McQueen and the other an action-packed spy mission focusing solely on Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater.  Never has a Pixar film felt so complicated.  On the bright side, Cars 2 is so fast-paced that most children will never be bored.  However, for those with longer attention spans, the whole thing seems a bit rushed.  The action is fun, the animation is good, yet I have come to expect more from the Pixar crew than what I was given here.

Note: Pixar will not win their usual award this year.  Instead, I expect Rango or Kung Fu Panda 2 to steal the show.

Rating: 3.5/5

What’s your prediction for the Best Animated Feature winner?

Film Review: The Conspirator (2011)

Robert Redford’s newest picture plays like the JFK of the Civil War.  The Conspirator focuses on the defense attorney of a woman accused of assisting in the assassination of President Lincoln.  This woman, perfectly portrayed by Robin Wright, is innocent, but the court is determined to judge against her.

As interesting as the story is, I was sad to find how slow the film began.  It begins with an assassination scene following the deeds of John Wilkes Booth, which already has been done the same way in numerous other films.  Then we meet Mary Suratt, an innocent woman prosecuted so that America may be able to accuse someone of the death of their leader.

What ensues is a gripping, delicious courtroom drama dedicated to documenting a hideous obstruction of justice.  Unlike JFK, The Conspirator does not reveal new information while we find the truth, but instead, we are shown the truth and how it was deliberately shunned.  Such injustice can be frustrating to watch, but Redford handles it with striking maturity.

At times, the film can be very draining; it appears to be a losing battle.  But amazingly, The Conspirator keeps us hooked.  It is difficult to predict, but easy to follow, just how a good, old-fashioned courtroom drama is supposed to be.

I originally had no intentions of seeing this movie.  Not to say that it did not appeal to me, but that I had never heard of it.  I admired Redford’s directorial effort, Quiz Show, and after first hearing of a local showing of his new film, I was, in fact, intrigued.  I am glad I went, because what I found was one of the most worthwhile films of the year so far.

Rating: 4.5/5

Film Review: Eraserhead (1978)

There is no movie like Eraserhead and no filmmaker like David Lynch.  Lynch’s feature debut is a film of images and sounds, but hardly one of dialogue.  He has created a world that is thoroughly encompassed in shadows and a character that is constantly haunted by nightmares.  But in reality, Henry already lives in a nightmare.

His newly wed wife has left him and he has been forced to recon with their hideously deformed baby.  The room Henry inhabits is inside a dimly lit hotel; this is where the majority of the film occurs.  But between obscure visions and a brooding performance from Jack Nance, viewers will stay occupied and continue to wonder what’s going on.

Lynch’s approach is very much that of a surrealist, and it constantly reminds me of a cross between Bunuel and Burton.  But Bunuel’s films are not this modern and Burton’s mind is too fanciful to make something this repulsive.  Eraserhead, over the years, has become a cult classic.  It demands very specific tastes, but those who find quirky, dark, and graphic horror films savory will be catered well.

So whenever you see a movie such as this one, you can love, despise or admire it.  Eraserhead is certainly not a bad film, but rather a bizarrely unattractive one.  Its message could exist under all of the horror elements as a study of the human conscience.  The baby represents a great sin, and its constant screams ensure that he will never forget his part in it.

Lynch’s film has acquired a large group of dedicated followers since its 1978 release, but it was not to my tastes.  I am of the crowd of admirers, but not the group of loyal lovers.  The vision is fantastic, but I was too repulsed to name it a masterpiece.

Rating: 4/5