Friday, September 5, 2014



★ out of 

I walked into this one blissfully unaware of anything other than that it was a movie about an identical twin of an Elvis knock-off.  What I got was one of those rare gems of a movie so awful but just ever so clumsily earnest that it deserves to be seen by those with an ironic sense of humor.  I could almost call it an instant ironic cult classic.  Now it’s primary target audience, which is clearly supposed to be the same Christian audience who church out en masse to any movie marketed as “faith-based”, but those who are going to appreciate the true entertainment value are going to be those of us who can humorously appreciate a serious effort by the clueless.

There’s so much about this, that I don’t even know where to start other than a quick synopsis.  THE IDENTICAL is essentially a “what if?” story that asks “What if Elvis Presley’s twin brother had not actually died as an infant but rather been given away and raised by another family?” However, in this movie, the pastiche of Elvis (The King) Presley is “Drexell (The Dream) Hemsley”  and his secret twin brother is “Ryan (The Identical) Wade.”  Both Drexell and Ryan are portrayed by Elvis impersonator Ryan Pelton now relaunching himself with this film as a Christian singer named Blake Rayne.   As a work of speculative fiction, this actually has the potential for a really good story.  This film is not it, but it does have its own charm, which I will get into in a bit.

The beginning of the film is set during the Great Depression when a young couple, the Hemsleys, give birth to twins.  They cannot afford to feed four mouths and at a Tent Revival, the father believes God to be telling him to give one of his sons to the childless traveling Evangelist and his barren wife.  This way he knows his son, Dexter Ryan, will be raised by Godly parents.  Reverend Wade promises not to tell Ryan he was adopted until both his birth parents have passed away and he dedicates the boy to God. Fast forward to Ryan’s childhood and you see the Reverend believing and pushing Ryan towards the ministry but Ryan clearly does not have the knack for it, but he certainly has a knack for singing and tapping his feet to the beat.  Fast forward to Ryan’s teens and the good-hearted, but slightly rebellious son keeps slipping out to the rhythm and blues “honky tonks” on the wrong side of the tracks where he is drawn to the music but doesn’t know why.  In all this though, he never drinks alcohol or smokes cigarettes.  See? He’s rebellious but not bad.  He’s rebellious because his call is to music but his dad keeps pushing him to follow in his steps as a minister.

Over the course of the rest of the film, it tracks along with Drexell’s career and Ryan’s purposeless and meandering adult life as he tries to just plug on through but cannot seem to nail down what he’s supposed to do.  And, of course, it doesn’t help that everyone is always carrying on about how much he looks like Drexell Hemsley.  It is Ryan’s wife who knows that the only fulfillment her husband will feel is going to be on stage and creating music and she encourages him to try out for a Drexell look-alike/sound-alike contest, which, of course, he wins.  And from there he builds his own career as a Drexell knock-off, which has its own ups and downs.  In the end, the resolution revolves around him accepting himself for who he is and just doing what he loves to do, not for the money or the fame but because it’s what he is supposed to do.  He finds his purpose and place and happiness finally in the end.

On the positive side, the movie has a good heart to it.  It has a nice message, although it gets convoluted.  The guy playing Ryan is about as good an actor as Elvis was, so there’s almost a point where you think it’s an intentionally meta thing.   But it’s not.  He’s just not an actor, but he has to carry the whole film.  Thankfully, he is kind of likeable – in a schlubby kind of way and there are times where he looks uncannily like Elvis.  He does a decent singing impression too.  The odd thing about that is that…IT’S NOT ELVIS.   Since it’s not Elvis, why make the character sound like him to such an extent?  I had almost bought into the idea that this is an alternate universe type of thing and that would explain it, but then they tossed in a throw-away line referencing Elvis and the Beatles and that brought the entire Drexell Hemsley concept crashing down.  That was a huge mistake.  Drexell and Elvis could not co-exist like that and be believable, and that’s when my strained commitment to the story started totally unraveling.

At that point I was there primarily for Ray Liotta who gives a fantastic and moving performance throughout the entire film.  His Reverend Wade grounds the film in his emotional reality and helps you forget the other nonsense because every time they cut back to him, he is authentically in the moment emotionally and you buy into the reality.  Ashley Judd is one-note, but nice, as Liotta’s wife and Ryan’s mom.  Joe Pantoliano slums it here as a car mechanic, mentor, and friend to Ryan.  And I don’t know what the hell Seth Green is in this movie for!  He plays a childhood friend of Ryan’s and really just…I just don’t know.  The rest of the film is populated with oddly out of place and amateurish actors – most notably the guy with the pompadour who plays Ryan’s manager.  He is laughably awful and needs more work.  He should star in SHARKNADO 3 but I suspect he doesn’t realize he’s bad.  He came off like he thinks he is a master thespian.  Yeah. One of those.

There are also some truly odd things just tossed into the film blender that had absolutely no bearing to the story.  There’s some bizarre Zionist bent that’s like pro-Israel bumper stickers on a car.  I’m not against bringing in the idea that Ryan’s birth parents were a Christian father and a Jewish mother.  It just seems like there should be an explanation of why that matters rather than just making the statement as if it has some great meaning.  As well, a character points out that both Drexell and Ryan wear a Jewish “Chai” symbol as a pendant necklace.  However, there’s no explanation for the fact that the “Chai” symbol means “life”.  I had to look that up afterwards.   And I’m still not exactly sure of the significance to the story but the characters acted like it meant something.  And most inexplicable was that during the 60s montage, they completely skipped over…oh…the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy’s assassination, Viet-Nam, MLK’s assassination, but stopped the movie completely to focus on news reports about the 6-Day War in Israel and even cut to Reverend Wade giving an impassioned sermon calling for another Hannukah miracle for Israel.

It was all quite bizarre.

Another amusing tidbit that finally drove home to me the reality that all I was watching was an extended promotional peace for “something” was the scene where Ryan finally has written, recorded, and pressed his own original album of songs under his own name.  He takes it to a record company called “City of Peace Productions” and has an exchange there where the white-haired producer tells him his song “City Lights” (imagine it in the style of the “In the Ghetto” era for Elvis) is a guaranteed hit and offers him lots of cash to buy the song so that Drexell Hemsley can record it.  Then I remembered that when the movie started and they flashed the logo for the production company that made the movie, it was called “City of Peace” replete with another Hebrew symbol (I don't think it's the "Chai" as it looks different from the pendant) prominently displayed.  Then afterwards when I went online I discovered that, yes, City of Peace is producing “Blake Rayne” as a recording artist and they are planning to release “City of Lights” as a single.

It’s an awful movie, to be sure, but there’s something actually charming in its awfulness and in its deliberately crass attempt at marketing and pushing some vague Messianic-Jewish agenda.  For at least the first half of the movie I thought it was self-aware in the way it was replicating the naïve low-brow charm of the early Elvis movies, but as it went on I realized it was clear that the director simply doesn’t seem to really understand the difference between those films and reality.  So, it’s a different type of naiveté and there’s an amateurish charm to that.

One last thing, by removing Elvis and his songs from the equation, they also remove all the sexual implications and naughtiness of those early rock-n-roll songs and give us these cleaned up knock-offs like “Boogie Woogie Rock-N-Roll” and “Bee-Boppin’ Baby,” neither of which would have likely gotten much air play back in the day.  At the same time that they are attempting to market the entire film and music off of completely ripping off Elvis and his music, they fail to achieve anything substantively successful by their utter lack of charismatic energy and understanding of what made Elvis, well, “The King.”

And that should really tell you just about all you need to know.

Thursday, May 29, 2014



★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

Very succinctly, this is the most charming and legitimately funny comedy so far this year.

I don't want to say too much about this one because I just want everyone to go see it and enjoy it like I did. This movie is so perfectly put together that watching it is like sitting down to a full course dinner topped with a nice after-dinner wine.

Chef Carl Caspar has spent the last 10 years of his career subjugating his own dreams and desires to the over-controlling owner of a posh Los Angeles restaurant. In this metaphor for everyone else's mid-life crises, we watch his career (and self-confidence) implode as he is pushed to rediscover his passion and his true self. His path to fullness is paralleled in a food truck trek across the country with his son, who he had previously been at best an absentee dad after his divorce.

Along the way we are inundated with real belly laughs that arise out of honest circumstances and true character moments. Damaged relationships are repaired and the path to happiness is restored as a hard truth takes hold: Happiness and satisfaction will always elude those who never pursue their dreams.

Also, there is absolutely no way to walk out of this movie without a craving for a Cubano sandwich. Thankfully, we have an excellent foot truck in Austin, Texas that serves Cubanos.

One other note, I went to see this film at a local theater in Austin and I wish that director and star Jon Favreau could've been in there because the audience was enthralled. They were interactive and reactive through out the entire film and especially when the road trip made its way into Austin and the truck pulled up to Austin's famous Franklin's Barbeque (voted best barbeque in the entire country by The Foodist at Bon Appetit). There were cheers and whoops of enthusiasm throughout the entire Austin segment.

This movie exemplifies so much of what is missing from so many Hollywood-based comedies. There is a renaissance of independent film happening right now and if you aren't seeking out gems like this you are missing out. You want more? How about Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, John Lequizamo, and Robert Downey Jr.? If that doesn't get you in the door then I dunno what else to say.


Monday, May 26, 2014




★★★★ out of ★★★★★
The first fully-realized X-Men movie that finally takes its cues from the successful Marvel Studios AVENGERS franchise and successfully adapts a clas...sic storyline from the comics. Surprisingly smart and deftly shifts in tone and pacing between the decades. Best of all, director Bryan Singer did something that the directing of Amazing Spider-Man 2 should take a cue from -- he lets the character moments breathe and allows the actors to do their thing. When you surround the story with actors of the caliber miraculously assembled for this film, you better damn well let them act.

The heart of the film is the younger version of Xavier, who has lost his sense of purpose at that point in his life. Most interesting of all was the emphasis on Mystique/Raven who becomes the singular most important mutant on Earth and whose actions lead to the dystopian deadly future (10 years from now) the X-Men are trying to prevent from coming into being by sending Wolverine's mind back in time to his younger body.

Much has been made about the "reset switch" ending, but even without spoilering the details on that, I have to admit that I am completely okay with it. I have always enjoyed the X-Men films but they have suffered from a lack of cohesion and long-term vision. The benefit this film has is that now Marvel Studios has demonstrated that you can approach these super-hero franchise films with an eye towards building a larger universe and with longterm planning. It does not completely remove the other films from continuity for without them occurring, then the events that happened to rewrite history would never have happened. So, they are important pieces of a future that will never happen now (or will be different).

FIRST CLASS plus this film set up a future successful franchise with a closer adherence to the spirit of the comics themselves and I am glad to see it. This was a movie that was a hell of a lot better than it had any right to be.


★★★★ out of ★★★★★
A chilling Argentinian film (with subtitles) about the infamous psychopathic Nazi "Angel of Death" Josef Mengele after he escaped to Argentina after World War 2. The story itself is fictional but it is wrapped up in actual history, specifically about a female Nazi hunter working for the Mossad who tracked Mengele down to Argentina around 1960 and was found dead after Mengele escaped capture.

The film is about a young family who open up a lodging home in the mountains so that the artisan father can focus on his baby doll design work. Their oldest daughter is a teenager who has a genetic disorder preventing her from progressing into puberty at a normal pace. A mysterious, but charming, German Doctor comes to stay at their lodge and becomes interested in her and her family. As he over-involves himself in their lives he becomes somewhat obsessed while crafting a co-dependency between all of them.

What makes this film so chilling is the charismatically charming performance of Àlex Brendemühl as Mengele. He captures the mind of a true psychopath replete with the magnetism and cold, but not dangerous demeanor. When things fall apart and his self-control begins to slip so we catch glimpses of the evil in him it is both fascinating and repulsive. We hate ourselves for liking him and getting drawn into his web.

An excellent film that just flows smoothly like a well-written novel.


★ out of ★★★★★
There is nothing redeeming in this film. It only earns 1 star because there are a couple of laugh-out-loud slapstick moments. The movie assumes that every person on the planet is just a huge pile of excrement with no value, no morals, and no character.

The two worst parents on the planet suffer the indignity of having the worst fraternity on the planet move next door. What follows is just a series of patently unfunny bullshit in which I wanted to call CPS on them after the third or fourth time that their baby was simply left at home alone in her crib all night.


★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Fascinating vampire movie by director Jim Jarmusch and starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, and John Hurt. Really, that pedigree is enough to justify going to see this one.

It's slow-moving and eccentric. It felt less like a vampire movie and more like one of those odd little short stories you get in the occasional vampire anthology book. It really is not about vampires but is using vampires as a plot device to comment on the human condition. It's no mistake that Hiddleston's character is holed up a decaying brick home in the abandoned urban Detroit area. The modern decay is reflective of his own spiritual decay.

The movie is not "beautiful", but there is dark beauty in it. It is mostly absurdly funny in the blackest of black comedic ways. I enjoyed the love between Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) and it was interesting to see how they were stronger together than apart.

This film is not going to set the world on fire, but it is definitely worth your investment of time if you get a chance.


★★★★★ out of ★★★★★
One of the best films of the year. It's a gut-wrenching film set during the Civil War with a young black boy who is used by a white Bounty Hunter gang to retrieve escaped slaves and bring them back for a fee.

He gets sent, with his unscrupulous uncle, to retrieve a freed slave for a huge retrieval fee but over the course of long trek back they bond together and the boy is put in an excruciatingly difficult position.

The directing and the acting in this movie are fantastic and emotionally real. It is painful to watch at times but only because you, as the viewer, are so caught up in the boy Will (Ashton Sanders) and his youthful guilt and shame. He is being forced to grow up faster than his heart and mind can keep up.

Highly recommended.


★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Very simply the best documentary about the launch of the Large Hadron Collider you'll probably ever see.

For a science nerd like me, I couldn't really ask for more. The film follows the lengthy years-long process of getting the Collider built, and the key scientists involved in it. Before long, and through some quite clever opportunities for explanations to us lay-people, we find ourselves emotionally caught up in the moment when they finally discovered the almost mythical Higgs boson (or God Particle).

If you just said to yourself "What's the Higgs boson?" then I suggest you should be required to watch this movie. You can thank me later.


★ out of ★★★★★
One of the worst films I've seen this year. It makes the fatal flaw of being relentlessly boring and just plain stupid.

This emotionally overwrought sci-fi flick just makes poor story choices after poor story choices after poor story choices in an attempt to engage us in its cautionary tale of the Singularity -- when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence. In this case, it starts with the death of a visionary scientist played by Johnny Depp whose brain patterns were captured and incorporated into a computer program.

As he evolves, all manner of stupid stuff happens. The movie also stars Paul Bettany, Amy Adams, and Morgan Freeman but they're all wasted on a ridiculous script saying obscenely stupid dialogue. Really, don't waste your time on this one unless you need something to help you battle insomnia.


Saturday, May 17, 2014




Giant monsters tearing up Japan, Hawaii, and San Francisco with crazy good special effects.  That's about all you need to know in this reboot of the GODZILLA franchise for the American stage.

Apparently there is a huge Godzilla fan community locally because when we went to see this movie Thursday night the theater was a sell-out crowd (98% male) full of vocal Godzilla fans.  They gave a lot of loud "in the know" vocal reactions to the basically familiar Godzilla tropes that appeared in film including the use of a silly acronym like M.U.T.O. (massive unidentified terrestrial organism) to give us a name for the new monsters that battle the massive behemoth.
They also erupted into a huge round of applause at the end.

That definitely made for an...interesting movie-going experience.  My background with Godzilla is really just that I used to watch the movies on TV when I was a kid and I've gone to see GODZILLA 1995, GODZILLA (1998), and GODZILLA 2000 in the theaters.  Essentially, the basic set up for most of them (in my memory) is that (a) in 1954 Godzilla tore up Japan then disappeared (b) new monster(s) appear and start tearing things up (c) the humans somehow pull Godzilla into the mix to kill the other monster(s) (d) in the end, the grateful humans look on as Godzilla disappears into the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean.

So, essentially this is every other Godzilla movie ever made but with substantially better structure and effects (and star power) than ever before.  However, they still did that one thing that drives me crazy about every giant monster movie these days (JURRASIC PARK to PACIFIC RIM and every monster flick in between) is that they couch much of the monster f/x in the middle of a rainstorm.  Time for that cliche' to be done.  But make no mistake, I thought the monster f/x was incredibly well-done.  Godzilla has never looked better and the Mutos were outstanding as well.  The idea of a radioactively mutated bug species that consumes radiation and defensively set loose a pwerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse) worked quite well in updating the idea of monsters for 2014.

The opening sequence, set 15 years ago, with Bryan Cranston and his wife, Juliette Binoche, effectively established an emotional connection to the monster dramatics that kicked of the movie quite well.  In fact, the film might be criticized for it's over-emphasis on the human drama to the point of downplaying the Godzilla stuff a bit.  However, the biggest fault for this film in doing that was refocusing the film's narrative off of Cranston when it shifts to the modern day and onto Aaron Taylor Johnson who plays Cranston's now grown son.  I wonder if the filmmakers' choice of "Brody" as their surname was an insider's nod to Sheriff Brody of JAWS fame. 

There was something emotionally lacking in Johnson's performance, which prevents the emotional resonance of Cranston's obsessively emotional overload.  A balance between the two of them would have been better for the film, which is interesting considering the approach to the monster they have chosen for this reboot.

In this version of Godzilla, he is a force of nature.  He exists merely to rise up when needed and in a predatory way chase, confront, and battle whatever new monster(s) that appears and upsets the natural balance of co-existence.  The King of the Monsters is apparently the only monster the earth can support. 

It's all quite absurd and full of entirely preposterous coincidences to make sure that Johnson's character is always right there with the action.  In a film like this, that's just part of my expectations going in.  Ken Watanabe's scientist character, Dr. Serizawa, is completely wasted in what could have, and should have been, an integral role in dealing with these monsters.  Maybe it was the filmmakers' way of making sure we understood quite clearly that this is going to be an American franchise. I don't know.  It's not a dealbreaker, but it was disappointing.

Overall though, I would say (as a friend well-described it) this is an A-version of a B-movie.  It really is, for me, the "greatest" GODZILLA movie ever. That doesn't make it a great movie but it certainly makes it the greatest of the GODZILLA movies.

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★


Thursday, May 1, 2014




I laughed; I cried; I cringed.  AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is a mixed bag that I mostly enjoyed a lot.  The biggest stumbling block to reaching it's goal lay in absolutely everything in it relating to the primary villain, Electro.  Before I talk about what they did right, I'm going to talk about Electro because Electro is so awful that had they not gotten Spider-Man so absolutely perfectly this film might have killed the entire franchise like Schwartzenegger's turn as Mr. Freeze in BATMAN AND ROBIN.

There was not one thing that worked with Electro, even the special effects stank on ice.  While the cgi Spidey was indistinguishable from the live-action Spidey, everytime Electro was cgi it was on par with a sub-standard video game.  But that's not the least of the problems with Electro.  As established early on in the film, electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is a clown.  He smacks of the caricaturish performance of Jim Carrey as The Riddler in BATMAN FOREVER.  In fact, it almost seemed like it was an ill-conceived homage.

Max's life is saved by Spider-Man and, reacting like some mentally defective man-child, he convinces himself he's Spidey's best friend and has imaginary conversations with him in his apartment.  All the while slapstickey musical cues play every time he's on screen.  Max claims to have invented the entire power grid system for New York City; the power grid being a product of his employer OsCorp, of course.  However, there is no way that we can believe that this cartoonish imbecile could have done that, and especially not within the context in which nobody at OsCorp even knows he exists.  There is such a thing as being a cog in the corporate machine, but there is no way the person we have met has ever been given that sort of position.  In fact, he is treated more like a janitor than an engineer.  It all really makes no sense.  And the circumstances that lead to his accident giving him electrical powers also makes no sense. 

This film, and this particular series, makes such efforts to lend some level of scientific believability to the fantastic.  In fact, the underlying subplot of Peter Parker's father's scientific experiments are deliberately laid out for us over this and the previous film so we believe it is entirely possible for a man to have gained the powers of a spider.  The same goes for the Lizard in the first film and the Goblin and the Rhino in this film.  But for Max becoming Electro, there is no logical basis for it.  An introverted nerd gets massively electrocuted and then falls into a vat of electric eels who shock and bite him.  And the powers he gains aren't the powers of eels. He gains the power to drain all electricity and power himself up like a battery.  He gains the ability to turn completely into electricity and then miraculously reform into a solid body -- and retain his clothes.  Even in the world of super-heroes, this becomes a stretch when, again, there is such an effort to attach a rational basis for buying into the fantastic.

The biggest problem beyond all the illogic and absurdity is the wholesale personality change in the character.  They hint that there's some sort of rage enhancing aspect to his powers, but that does not explain his total loss of inhibition, his sudden rise in the ability to communicate coherently, and most of all his intelligence.  Whereas before the accident he claimed to be smart but conducted himself like an idiot who hero-worshipped Spider-Man, now he is conducting himself like a super-smart villain who wants to kill Spider-Man for, y'know, taking him down after he destroyed Times Square. 
Oh yeah, they also added some goofy distortion to Electro's voice which made him sound ridiculous and hard to understand.  Put him in a room with Bane and you'd need subtitles to figure out what they were saying to each other.  Also, after Max turns into Electro they shift from his slapstick musical cues to some odd urban gangsta sound along with what sounded like Max muttering to himself inside his head.  However, once again, it was so muddled I couldn't really understand much of it.  Dr. Kafka, who tortures Max at the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane is also a ridiculous over-the-top cartoon better suited for a MAD Magazine parody than a serious film.
So, bottom line, Electro sucks and he sucks bad.  And that's unfortunate for the film because he's in it for a good portion.


There has never been a more perfect presentation of Spider-Man himself onscreen ever before.  You will absolutely believe a man can websling.  I loved his bantering and joking.  His attitude is perfectly in the spirit of the character.  Spidey's interactions with the police and especially the people on the streets is flawless.  Both the Batman and Superman franchises could learn a lot from this film's efforts at showing the lengths a true super-hero will go to save even one innocent life.
The movie picks up with Peter and Gwen's graduation from high school and the events of the film play out over the summer, and thankfully, it looks like a mild summer for NYC.  The soap opera aspect of Pete and Gwen's relationship felt real.  At times, it was overwrought, but we are talking about 18 year-olds.  They tend to have these dramatic bents to their relationships.  I believed it.  I also believed in them as two young adults deeply in love with one another but caught in an untenable set of circumstances.  "It's complicated" is an understatement.

There's mystery and intrigue with a flashback sequence with Pete's parents where we do find out what happened after they disappeared (as shown in the first film).  There's a reunion and trauma surrounding the return of Pete's childhood buddy, Harry Osborn.  The relationship with Harry might have benefited, emotionally for the viewer, if it had been allowed to have been developed over 2 films rather than crammed into one, but it mostly works.  Paul Giamatti's "Rhino" character serves mostly a purpose at giving us a glimpse of the future path of the films. Since Sony recently announced a "Sinister Six" spin-off film on the horizon, this is no surprise.  We get a tease of J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle and will surely see him in all his glory in the next film.  Suck it up guys and get J.K. Simmons back for that.

For me, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are the heart of the film and their struggles and pains are what I feel -- especially Pete's.  We are rooting for them to succeed and when they don't, it hurts.  We are privy to what the world around Pete does not see.  They see Spider-Man and assign all their confidence and hope in him.  Behind the mask we see a young man struggling to do what's right and figure out how to love and be vulnerable to the possibility of hurt.  "How can I love?" may be the second most common story theme after "Who am I?"  So, it makes sense to follow up the first film's theme with that.  The set-up is there for the next film and beyond and I am ready to see what happens next.

Unfortunately, Electro will forever be a pockmark on an otherwise excellent film.

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★


Sunday, April 6, 2014



Somebody just turned the volume up to 11.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (CA: TWS) just grabbed THE AVENGERS and leapfrogged right past them to catapult himself right to the top of the super-hero movie pyramid. This is a fully realized synthesis of everything that has come before in the Marvel Comics Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe perfectly distilled into a taut action epic that never once loses sight of the character or... the world he exists in.
The tagline that has been tossed around with this movie is a classic comics tag: “Everything changes,” only this time it is true.

The first Cap film, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER served as both an origin story for Cap but also a prologue for THE AVENGERS film. CA: TWS explores Cap’s loss of innocence in a world where the villains are not so easy to identify as it was when they wore swastikas on their sleeves. Where IRON MAN 3 served as an epilogue to THE AVENGERS, it falls to a Captain America film to be the prologue once again for an AVENGERS film (the currently filming AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON). However, CA: TWS is also a true sequel picking up on story threads from the first Cap film.

This film is securely Cap’s film, but it strongly builds up his supporting cast without ever feeling like it takes away from Cap’s story. This is an ensemble film that revolves around Steve Rogers, man out of time and the world’s greatest soldier. In the first film, set mostly in the middle of World War 2, we saw Steve, an intrinsically good man, given the strength and power to accomplish great things and not become corrupted. A natural leader, he demonstrated that rare quality of charismatic and confident command with an intuitive sense of when “just following orders” was not a proper option. As a result, he earned the trust of everyone he came into contact with. His arch nemesis, The Red Skull, functioned as the contrasting distorted mirror version of Captain America demonstrating how the same power could absolutely corrupt someone who is already bad.

There were other character stories in the first film including Red Skull’s top scientist in his Hydra organization, Arnim Zola. You will remember that he was eventually captured by the Americans. Steve’s best friend from childhood, Bucky Barnes, was the only soldier in Cap’s “Howling Commandos” team to lose his life in the war when he fell to his death off a speeding train in the mountains. Steve’s guilt and pain was magnified as he was there with Bucky and was unable to save him when he fell. And then there’s “Agent Peggy Carter” who was/is Steve’s first and only love but his duties in the war kept preventing them from pursuing anything more than the purest of platonic love.
Without spoiling the movie, let me just say that CA: TWS follows through directly on those characters and their current impact on Steve and his personal journey. It also delivers incredibly effective and important journeys for Col. Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff (The Black Widow). Somehow, the writers and directors of this film also found time to introduce 2 major characters into the mix, Sam Wilson (The Falcon) and the mysterious assassin, The Winter Soldier. By doing this they combined two different eras of the Captain America comic books, the 1970s and the 2000s, into something new and original that knocked my socks off.

As a child, my introduction to the character of Captain America was during the phase in which the title of the book was actually “Captain America and The Falcon.” So I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the character of Sam Wilson. I was both excited to learn they were introducing him into the film but I was also slightly hesitant because I was afraid his character would bear little resemblance to the character as I remembered him. I should not have worried. The casting of the roundly likeable and earnestly charismatic Anthony Mackie is what sells it. They changed up a little bit of Sam’s personal background, but for the most part, this is the guy I already knew. It was like my first experience watching Chris Evans as Cap. I felt that I already knew him. It wasn’t someone performing, this was actually the Captain America I “knew” from my childhood. Sam is also a good man. He and Steve bond instantly with mutual respect and it completely makes sense that they are drawn together through the events of the film brought about by the appearance of The Winter Soldier in an incredible action sequence in Washington D.C.
Actually there are a couple of incredible car-based action sequences that are in and of themselves worth the price of admission. The action in this movie is ramped up, violent, and impressive. It weaves in and out of mass destruction-type action and personal combat expertly – very “BOURNE-like” in that way.

Part of why it is fitting to include The Falcon in this story is that the ‘70s era of Captain America comics, following the Watergate controversy and the fall of President Nixon, dealt with a loss of innocence in Steve as he had to face the inroads of corrupt government. This film deals solidly with issues of over-reaching government and the politics of the day – especially how far should the people allow their governments to go under the guise of “protecting” them? The film also solidly addresses the importance of the free flow of information. The themes explored in CA: TWS are strongly relevant and I believe that it will only increase in relevance as time passes.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot something. For the hardcore Cap fans who maybe thought there was no way to ever incorporate “Batroc ze Leaper” (a mostly absurd French stereotype villain whose super-power is super-jumping) into the more grounded Cinematic Universe, well… worry no more.

 Bottom line is….GO SEE THIS MOVIE!

★★★★★ out of ★★★★★

#captainamericathewintersoldier #wintersoldier #captainamerica

Monday, March 31, 2014



One of the best movies of the year! This movie tells the years-long story of San Antonio-based inventor, Tim Jenison and his attempt to prove his theory to explain how Dutch master painter, Johannes Vermeer (and perhaps other Dutch masters) was able to paint photo-realistically 150 years before the invention of photography.

Self-deprecating and humble, Tim, is a genius for sussing out something that has perplexed art historians since the early days of the cam...era. There are subtle distortions in perception that are captured only with a frozen image as captured through a camera lens that we cannot see with the naked eye. And yet, the technology of the time made it impossible for artists to have photo references to work from.

So how did Vermeer do it?

Art historians were already pretty settled on Vermeer's  reliance on some sort of optics, in the form of a "camera
obscura" but the limitations with that piece of technology coupled with the utter lack of any underlying drawing (as proved through x-rays of Vermeer's paintings) has consistently stumped the experts. And it appears to have taken a practical-minded inventor of digital video processing techniques (among many other clever creations) to do what scholars and artists could not deduce.

 Tim is not an "artist". He does not know how to paint at all. In fact, we see his first painting ever captured in this film using his rudimentary invention based on his theory. And it is astoundingly accurate and good. So, he sets out on an obsessive mission to replicate, down to the minutiae, the room and the setting that Vermeer used for his famous painting "The Music Lesson." This means we follow him through his research and recreation and then his painstaking painting process as this untrained and inexperienced painter produces a most amazing....well....original Vermeer by way of Tim.

Penn Jillette (friends with Tim and producer) narrates and guides the proceedings. This film, directed by Teller, is a masterpiece itself at revealing a centuries-hidden technique that was passed down in secret from Master to Apprentice much like the secrets of Magic and I am sure this is what attracted Penn and Teller to this project in the first place. By the end, the viewers should have not only an increased appreciation for the artistry of Vermeer, they should also have their entire notion of the line between technician and artist wholly skewered. 
Perhaps what makes an artist an artist isn't quite as limiting as we tend to want to make it. Even Tim himself doesn't perceive himself as an artist...but I can tell you his entire process to get to that finished work is a beautiful work of art itself as well as the final painting.
Tim Jenison is a master of his own unique and inventive approach to creation. In a way, he reminds me of a modern-day Leonardo and this film is a beautiful snapshot of his creative process.

★★★★★ out of ★★★★★