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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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It seems as if we’ve been getting a new entry into the Marvel film canon at least once or twice a year for the last little while now. And with rumours swirling that the filmmaking titan has its universe mapped out until the year 2028, you either get on board now or be forever lost in the immense, intertwining reaches of this comic book behemoth. Hell, Marvel Studios even has Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox undertaking some of the responsibility! Yes, with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” breaking the box office opening weekend record for April, the television show “Agents of Shield” going steady, “Guardians of the Galaxy” picking up steam on all social platforms, and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” production well under way, it looks as if there’s no stopping this superhero juggernaut.

Conversely, all positives aside, lately the films have been hit and miss. Take for example the underwhelming sequel “Thor: The Dark World” and the polarizing finale to the Iron Man trilogy. While both found financial success, there are those beginning to question the stability of Marvel’s universe. With Marvel’s success came demand, and as this thirst grew, Marvel set in motion a strategy that fulfills the demand which simultaneously secures funding for future need. And this will continue in an infinite loop enabling Marvel to produce with the mindset of quantity over quality. This will eventually result in a consistently declining level of interest that will ultimately lead to less funds for future projects, thereby effectively extinguishing Marvel’s ambitious blueprint for a big screen legacy…but this is just a theory.

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What do you think of Marvel’s course of action for the big screen? Is Marvel sacrificing quality for quantity and reward? Are they looking too far ahead or simply giving the viewers what they want? Will their courageous endeavour into the future sacrifice the integrity of their characters or help to better define them? Be sure to let me know what you think in the comment section below. Nevertheless, regardless of what you feel towards Marvel’s aggressive inflation, there’s no denying that if their future projects are anything like their latest, “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” Marvel will be going strong and steady for a long time to come. Directed by the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, and written by Marvel veterans Stephen McFeely Christopher Markus, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is without question the best solo Avenger film to date.

I’ve always felt that Captain America was cut from a different cloth than his Avenger teammates. Despite being a super soldier and carrying around an impenetrable shield, there’s nothing that really distinguishes Captain Rogers from the rest of us. He’s the most humble, vulnerable, human of all the Avengers, and that really shows in every film he’s a part of. Whether it be struggling with his misplacement in time, trying to overcome being deprived of an existence with his beloved, or fending off evil with nothing exactly superhuman to defend him, Captain America truly is the best of humankind amplified.

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PLOT:

We catch up with the Captain not long after the events that took place in New York. He’s living in Washington, D.C., running espionage missions for S.H.I.E.L.D and still struggling to fit into modern society. However, when Nick Furry is on his way to a previously arranged rendezvous, he’s ambushed by unknown assailants lead by an assassin known as the Winter Solider. This abruptly puts an end to Captain Roger’s steady routine and thrusts him back into action. Upon learning that the Winter Soldier is working for Hydra, Captain America sets out to defeat the Winter Soldier and put an end to Hydra once and for all.

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Look, no disrespect to “The Avengers,” it’s a great flick, action-packed, oozing with quotable dialogue, and frequently amusing. That being said, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is Marvel’s best outing to date. Where chaos controlled and ultimately lead to “The Avengers” reach exceeding its grasp.

Marvel’s latest is controlled, paced, and executed with pure brilliance. The story is engaging, the action is breathtaking, and the performances tower over any other portrayal given in the Marvel universe. And although it might not take place on the grandest scale, it certainly tackles socio-political issues that are extremely relevant in today’s world, hitting closer to home than any of its predecessors. And yet, perhaps what is most impressive and admirable about the film is the serious mentality taken by the Russo brothers whilst executing and capturing the action sequences, whether it be hand-to-hand combat between Rogers and the Winter Solider or larger scale battles and explosions. Not to mention the drama surrounding our hero Captain America and his enemy, the Winter Soldier. It’s as compelling and entertaining a battle between good and evil since Marvel’s nemesis’ D.C Comics unleashed Batman and The Joker…okay…maybe not that illustrious, but they’re working on it.

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Returning to the Marvel screen is Chris Evans who reprises his role as Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as the always deadly and sexy Natasha Romanoff, Samuel L. Jackson as head honcho Nick Furry, and Sebastian Stan who portrays his alter ego this go around, the Winter Soldier. Joining these vets are newcomers Anthony Mackie, and Robert Redford, who tackle Falcon and Alexander Pierce respectively. Additionally, there’s a terrific supporting ensemble comprised of Frank Grillo, Hayley Atwell, Cobie Smulders, and Toby Jones. If this all-star cast isn’t enough to entice you, I don’t what is!

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The insanely talented Chris Evans never ceases to amaze me, I sincerely hope the rumours floating about regarding his early retirement from acting are false. I mean, the man is a machine! Whether he’s knocking the baddies on their rear end or bursting with an unfathomable spectrum of emotions, Evans makes it look all too easy. Now, for those who have been clamouring for an independent Black Widow film, I apologize, I could not see the potential…but all that’s changed now. Scarlett Johansson quite possibly provides the best performance this flick has to offer. She’s sweet, stunning, funny, smart, and sexy. A lethal combination and something you wouldn’t expect from an Avenger afterthought. Sebastian Stan, who’s work I’m not exactly familiar with apart from the original “Captain America” film, gives the best villain performance I’ve seen since Tom Hardy’s Bane or Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Every time this badass stud hit the screen sporting his menacing black mask and mechanical arm, I got chills.

Easily the most surprising aspect of the film is Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy his character and alter ego so much! I originally thought he would provide nothing more than a few comical quips and mid-air somersaults, but he does so much more. So much so that I’m actually looking forward to Falcon’s next Marvel appearance. Additionally, Robert Redford…wow. Although he’s only on the screen here and there, he controls the moments he is with an abundance of charisma and villainy.

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Shedding the cartoonish hue and predictable comedic relief that has plagued previous Marvel outings, it looks as if the illustrious comic book organization has finally gotten it right. With an incredibly strong script, potent humour, and massively memorable performances, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is as strong as they come.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: 9 out of 10.

Snowpiercer (2014)

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Much like the train we inhabit for Bong Joon-Ho’s English language directorial debut, the direction in which “Snowpiercer” travels is determined, but at its core, the journey is one that has no control. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the trip isn’t one hell of a ride. Brilliantly choreographed and unrelenting action highlights this resplendent visual feast that has the brains to match, for the most part. With brutal violence and an array of contrasting, stimulating colours, one can’t help but push the chaos and in-your-face obviousness of “Snowpiercer” to the back burner and just enjoy the trek.

Bong Joon-Ho has been and continues to be a filmmaker whom I admire and look to for inspiration. The director of numerous triumphs such as true-crime thriller “Memories of Murder,” modern monster masterpiece “The Host,” and psychological drama “Mother.” Bong Joon-Ho finally makes his much anticipated debut in English language cinema with “Snowpiercer,” much like his South Korean counterpart Chan Wook-Park did in 2013 with “Stoker.” This latest offering from Bong Joon-Ho features an all-star cast comprised of newcomers and veterans to Ho’s brand of film. Chris Evans, Kang-Ho Song, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, and John Hurt lead the way.

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In the not too distant future, humankind unleashes what is believed to be a chemical remedy to global warming into the atmosphere. When this experiment backfires and sends our planet into an unliveable state, the few who remain seek refuge on the ‘Snowpiercer.’ A train powered by a perpetual motion engine that circles the globe once every year. Designed by the prophetic Wilford, this train is the last livable place on Earth, running on the same, worldwide track for eternity.

On board the train, what remains of our population has descended in to madness and chaos. The rich, privileged first class passengers live in luxury and comfort at the front of the train, while the rest find home at the tail where food and space is sparse. In order to obtain better living conditions and equality, the tail section revolts in an attempt to take over the engine and overthrow the current status in which the train functions.

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Taking into account that “Snowpiercer” was an adaptation, the original format being a graphic novel. A lot of the film’s blatant depiction of its themes and cartoonish violence and characters is understandable. That being said, at its worst, “Snowpiercer” is a bewildering, over-stuffed allegory that really suffers from pacing problems. Which is kind of intriguing seeing as originally, Bong Joon-Ho was not given control over the final cut of the film. This changed rather quickly though with the outcry of infuriated fans, much like myself and Bong Joon-Ho once again took full control of his film. However, whether or not this is the truth or simply a gambit I find to be in question, seeing as the film itself feels as if there was a lot more character and story development left on the cutting room floor.

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On the flip side, for all of its faults, “Snowpiercer” is a visually entertaining and mentally challenging flick. And apart from a rather lacklustre climax, there isn’t a single moment in its just over two-hour run-time in which boredom will overtake you. While extremely violent, “Snowpiercer” is not excessively gory. It tries and at times succeeds in portraying compassion and brotherhood over war and never sells the evilness of humanity as our undoing.

In his transition, Bong Joon-Ho hasn’t lost any part of his infallible repertoire. If anything, “Snowpiercer” is his most ambitious, technically masterful film to date. As we progress through each car, we are treated to a completely different spectrum of colour ranging from achromatic to vibrant and picturesque. The battle sequences are captured with the utmost intensity and emotion and the characters never take a backseat to this visual spectacle. While undoubtedly not Bong Joon-Ho’s strongest outing, “Snowpiercer” will forever remain an achievement on his impressive resume.

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While I was, without question, rather anxiously excited awaiting Bong Joon-Ho’s next project, I didn’t become totally smitten until I heard that Kang-Ho Song would be co-starring. Having lead a few of my personal favourites: “Thirst,” “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” “Memories of Murder,” and “The Host,” you can see why I was so ripe with anticipation. In “Snowpiercer,” Kang-Ho Song is as charismatic, intimidating, and darkly hilarious as ever. While the script didn’t really allow for his character to outstretch his wings, so to speak, there’s no denying that Song did everything he could to bring this mad, drug-addicted genius to life.

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Leading alongside Kang-Ho Song is Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Having previously been featured in such personal favourites as “The Iceman” and “Sunshine,” I was sure that alongside Song, Evans wouldn’t disappoint. Evans continues his ascent to stardom with another heartfelt, invested turn, this time as the leader of the tail section revolution with a dreary, ruthless past. One thing that has become very apparent as of late, and that “Snowpiercer” exemplifies, is that Evans has the ability to deal out heroic, blockbuster performances as well as dramatic stunners.

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In supporting roles, Swinton is nothing short of impeccable. Decisively devilish and so easy to hate, Swinton does a phenomenal job as an antagonist who’s death the viewer can easily enjoy. Jamie Bell continues to earn my respect and trust. After surprising performances in “Filth” and the recent “Nymphomaniac,” Bell’s performance in “Snowpiercer” is another I can sink my teeth into. Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, and Ed Harris are also worth noting here. While easily lost in the background, their brief moments on screen are strong enough to dazzle and provoke.

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While not the game-changer I was anticipating. “Snowpiercer” is still an impressive feat that all involved can be proud of. It’s as entertaining as any big-budgeted Hollywood action flick and much more rewarding. It’ll turn its fair share of casual filmgoers away with its bleak, disturbing, and violent content, but for those who can stand “Snowpiercer” at its most repugnant, this is one train ride they won’t soon forget.

Snowpiercer: 8 out of 10.

The Iceman (2012)

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Lined with a star-studded ensemble who illuminate this dark, grim, and violent crime-thriller. Ariel Vromen’s Scorsese-esque “The Iceman” is a taut, riveting biopic showcasing the two lives of hitman Richard Kuklinski as they begin to converge on one another. Although Vromen may not be able to create as well-written and intricate of a mafioso world to accompany the superlatively constructed and performed characters. “The Iceman” offers enough cold-bloodedness, criminality, and heart to stay a notch above in a crowded genre which earns it staying power that should burn for the foreseeable future. While things might get a little clustered at times and eventually descend into utter chaos. “The Iceman” remains quite the emotional, gritty wallop and is rooted by Vromen’s uncompromising vision and sublime performances. Which makes it one of the more memorable crime-sagas in recent memory.

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During the 1960s, Richard Kuklinski (Shannon) is working as a porn technician. When his boss informs him that they will be closing the lab, Kuklinski is persuaded to change careers and become a contract killer. For a number of years, Richard gains a reputation as a cold-blooded professional, even though he raises and provides for his family, who remain kept in the dark as to what his actual profession is. When a hit goes wrong, Kuklinski is forced to lay-low, much to his distaste. Soon, he partners up with a fellow assassin as his two worlds begin to merge.

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There’s no question that “The Iceman” is lifted to greater heights by the casts ability to invest and perform astoundingly. That being said, the extremely intriguing true story at its core and fascinating premise of a family man turned  killer-for-hire are just too compelling to completely dismiss, even though neither is fully realized.

Based upon the novel entitled “The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer” by Anthony Bruno. This adaptation might pick and chose what events and characteristics to utilize. It even goes as far as to dilute some of the violence and more disturbing actions carried out by Kuklinski himself, not to mention the complete absence of his earlier life and experiences. Which, one could argue, works against the overall effectiveness of the film. Nonetheless, Vromen definitely makes the story his own and provides his viewers with the gist of Kuklinski’s devilish endeavours and family life. Well, at least enough to satisfy those seeking out the truth and those wanting to experience the family man turned mafia assassin premise. Regardless, Vromen’s interpretation works decently alongside the immaculate performances, despite being more of a summary. I’d recommend reading the novel and watching some documentaries about the man himself  if the subject truly interests you. If not, this adaption will surely suffice.

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As for Vromen behind the camera, aside from a few shaky instances, he handles the illustriousness of his high-profile cast and the immensity of the story fairly well. He even occasionally shows signs of brilliance and innovation. Undeniably, he does a phenomenal job not only capturing his performers, but assisting and magnifying their blaze and radiance. Starring the likes of Michael Shannon, Ray Liotta, Wynona Ryder, Chris Evans, James Franco, and David Schwimmer. Keeping this much talent in check and reserving enough screen time for each to be effective is truly a skill-set most directors wish they held and one Vromen should continue to deploy assertively. It’s what sends this film over the top in my honest opinion.

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Between “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Killing Them Softly,” and “The Iceman,” it’s nice to know Ray Liotta’s still got it. And like his performances in these other two films, he is incredibly intimidating and ruthless throughout the film. David Schwimmer is terrific in a limited role and James Franco, also briefly used, holds the distinction of being in the most memorable scene of the film, in my opinion anyway. Chris Evans takes a break from playing America’s hero to tackle a much smaller role. Nonetheless, gives an even more integral, respectable performance and continues to be tragically under-appreciated. Yet, all in all, Michael Shannon and Wynona Ryder steal the show. Forming a bond that is believable and authentic, their chemistry is what drives the film. Ryder hasn’t been this good in a long while. Shannon is as malicious, stoic, and visceral as ever and once again proves why he is one of the best in the business.

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Remarkably performed, enthralling, and decidedly violent. “The Iceman” is a delicious crime-thriller that’s sure to win the acclaim of any cinephile, although it should’ve been handled with a bit more care.

The Iceman: 8.5 out of 10.

Sunshine (2007)

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Following in the tradition like other science-fiction defining films such as: Solaris (1972), 2001:A Space Odyssey (1968), and Moon (2009). Sunshine uses the complexity of physics and the elegance of the cosmos to create one of the most complete genre films to date. With a star studded cast featuring Cillian Murphy (Inception), Rose Byrne (Insidious), Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger), and Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Sunshine is not only visually stimulating but is also incredibly acted. Directed by Danny Boyle, a current all star behind the camera, Sunshine is both hypnotic and eye opening. Don’t spend too much time on the science of it all, regardless of its authenticity, it is after all, science fiction and a film.

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In the not too distant future, a group of astronauts and physicists are assembled to pilot a mission to the Sun. The reason for the voyage is to restart our dying star. Previously, a similar mission was sent to reignite the Sun, however communication was lost and the ship and its inhabitants were never heard from again. The package the crew is sent to deliver is a stellar bomb which should theoretically restart the Sun. On their journey to our dying star, the crew receives strange signals and encounters severe setbacks and tribulations.

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Whether it’s the slow transit of Mercury or the approaching, immense Sun, the music used to accompany these visuals makes the film. With John Murphy lending his contribution in completing the score with the bands Underworld and I Am Kloot, Sunshine would not be complete without its hauntingly epic compositions. All the while Boyle is using simplicity and awe inspiring moments such as never before seen celestial imagery and our closest encounters with the solar system to stir the audiences imagination. Sunshine literally and figuratively goes places we only dream about and accomplishes its journey with flare and style. Leading the way for the cast is Murphy who’s portrayal of a torn physicist admiring the universe, essentially living his dream while it’s marred by the circumstance is astonishing. Byrne is marvellous as she is constantly contradicting her characters moral and emotional sides. Evans and the rest of the crew follow Murphy’s dynamic suit into the abyss, while Strong is outstanding as an insane rogue astronaut. Sunshine is somewhat of a looking glass into the Earth’s inevitable demise and how humanity must come together to delay the apocalypse.

Sunshine: 9 out of 10.