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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.

All is Lost (2013)

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What can a movie be, exactly? A ridiculous question to most, no doubt. But let’s put ridiculousness aside for a moment and ponder it. When you think about it, a film can be anything you want it to be…obviously. Any film is subsequent to the viewer, his/her experiences, upbringing, and environment. It can be as simple or as complex as you, the viewer, see fit. Which, when you think about it, is quite possibly the most beautiful thing about cinema. Plainly put, each and every individual can draw an infinite amount of conclusions, reactions, and emotions from every film in existence. Why I bring this up has a lot to do with what I experienced watching “All is Lost” starring Robert Redford.

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Imagine a movie without dialogue, without supporting characters, set within a sinking boat floating helplessly with the current, tussling with the waves on the Indian ocean and the wrath of Mother Nature. This vessel carries a man, who’s endlessly searching, hoping for rescue, food, and clean water. No history or preconceived notions to speak of, the conclusions made are left entirely to the viewer, derived from nothing but a series of visuals. One being fighting against nature with only the elements to survive.

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It’s as simple as that. This is J. C. Chandor’s “All is Lost.” A film that doesn’t imply upon the viewer, but rather let’s the audience infer and compile their own deductions. Director Chandor merely acts as a transitioning agent, a depicter that forces those witnessing his work to morph and shift what he’s given you into a story that has become derivative of who and what you are. Essentially, Chandor and lead actor, well, the only performer Robert Redford, make you sort of an alchemist. Which results in one of the most immersive, unique, personal cinematic experiences you will ever have. Conversely, this makes the critics job all the more difficult, seeing as each viewer of “All is Lost” likely concludes and experiences something totally unknown to every other viewer.

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Granted, these differences are minuscule and the central story remains essentially intact and universal for all, but the tiny differences are what truly allow “All is Lost” to become transcendent. It’s this social, nurturing, political characteristics. It’s like the difference between an explosion and an implosion. You wouldn’t be able to spot the subtle inconsistencies from a distance, but when you search past superficiality, there’s an entire world of underlying meanings, familiar traits, and contrast.

Cinematically, “All is Lost” is without question something to marvel. Had “Gravity” not come along and completely put each and every other cinematographers work to shame, “All is Lost” would easily have left audiences equally as breathless. The scenery, atmosphere, and overall tone of the film is sombrely beautiful. One can’t help but gaze in amazement at the wonders of our planet, sky, ocean, technology, and humanity. This is all thanks to director and writer J. C. Chandor. Additionally, Alex Ebert’s melancholic, epic score really completes Chandor’s visuals and masterful tale. It has already picked up the Golden Globe for best score.

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More important than these facets is that Robert Redford hasn’t been this masterful in a good, long while. “All is Lost” sees a return to form for the illustrious actor and I wouldn’t deny that his performance here might be one of, if not the best of his career. Speaking no more than a few words throughout the film’s entirety, Redford still manages to control the screen with an unwavering intensity, heart-shattering vulnerability, and compassionate brilliance. The amount of sympathy one feels toward this wayward sailor knows no bounds. You feel as if you’re right there in the sinking ship with him as all hope and fight begins to drown.

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“All is Lost” features one of the best musical accompaniments, performances, and overall experiences of the year. Making it easily one of the best films 2013 has to offer.

All is Lost: 9 out of 10.

My Top 10 Films of 2013:

I wasn’t really planning on posting a personal favourites list for 2013, but upon seeing the results of “Vote: Best of 2013” and how greatly they differed from my own, I felt it necessary to share with you all my favourite films from the past year. As for the results themselves, in which you all kindly contributed, they will be posted this Thursday, so keep an eye out for that. I’ll do my very best to keep this list short and sweet. You can find my full review for each film by clicking on the corresponding title, enjoy!

Honourable Mention:

The Place Beyond the Pines:

Earlier on, when this film was released, it was very much at the top of my list. However, as the year progressed and more highly-sought pictures caught my attention, Derek Cianfrance’s lovely epic just couldn’t hold on to a spot. That being said, I truly believe it has a significant amount of staying power and if any of the films listed ahead of it falter with time, “The Place Beyond the Pines” will surely make a jump into the top 10.

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10: 12 Years a Slave:

Directed by skyrocketing genius Steve McQueen, creator of “Hunger” and “Shame.” “12 Years a Slave” depicts the unbelievable story of Solomon Northup, a free black man abducted and sold into slavery, where he stayed for twelve long years. Featuring a plethora of staggering performances, a tremendous musical score, and stunning, yet disturbing visuals. This flick is sure to be apart of cinema’s canon for a good, long while

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9: The Hunt:

The only foreign film to make my top 10 is Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt.” About a man struggling against the simplistic destruction of a rumour, this film is, without question, one of the most disturbing on the list. Starring the magnificent Mads Mikkelsen, “The Hunt” is a lock for best foreign feature this award season, for me at least.

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8: All is Lost (review coming soon):

Having only become aware of this film in the recent months, its power and sheer brilliance knocked me off my feet. Following a man at sea who becomes shipwrecked and discombobulated, “All is Lost” is a magnificent triumph. Starring Robert Redford, and only him. What this film is able to achieve with limited cast, settings, and dialogue is miraculous.

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7: American Hustle:

My placing of this film may surprise a few as “American Hustle” will undoubtedly be in many cinephiles top 5 films of the year. There isn’t much fault in this flick, the performances are superlative, the direction unparalleled, and its soundtrack timeless. That being said, the film’s shaky story led to its positioning here at number seven.

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6: Gravity:

Up until about November, “Gravity” was very much in play to be in my top 5 films of the year. Unfortunately for Cuaron’s masterpiece however, a slew of infallible films came along and knocked it out of the top tier. Don’t be fooled though, this film is an unrivalled achievement and will be so for many years to come. The imagery, performances, and story are entrancing, not to mention the soothing musical score.

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5: Drinking Buddies:

Okay, here is my shocker, went off the board with this one. All kidding aside however, the truth is “Drinking Buddies” is a masterful character study and one of the most honest, authentic, heartbreaking films you will ever witness. Featuring fantastic performances from the entire cast, Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” managed to surprise everyone, me included, and force its way into my top 5.

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4: Inside Llewyn Davis:

Being a former musician, I can really sympathize with the lead in the Coen brothers masterpiece, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Tossing that aside, this film is still a towering experience and undoubtedly finds itself amongst the Coen brothers best. Featuring outstanding performances and the best soundtrack of the year, “Inside Llewyn Davis” makes the list without question.

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3: Her

For a little while there, I thought “Her” was going to be number 1 on my list. Carrying the most original story, a breathtaking script, and spectacular performances, Spike Jonze really outdid himself with this one. People will be talking about “Her” long after the film has ended, perhaps even after humankind has ended…

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2: Mud:

Jeff Nichols “Mud” is a modern-day fable. Conveying a harsh lesson about growing up and love, this impeccable tale starring Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan is my runner-up.

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1: The Wolf of Wall Street:

Scorsese and DiCaprio, enough said…no, not enough? How about Jonah Hill and stunner Margot Robbie? This flick is absolutely crazy in every sense. I didn’t hesitate for one-second putting “The Wolf of Wall Street” at the top of this list.

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The Company You Keep (2012)

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Usually, a script is the foundation, the jumping off point for any picture. Now, when this screenplay, charged with the task of holding your film steady, is flimsy to begin with. Everything that follows, camerawork and acting and so on, can be nothing but disappointingly weak due to the faulty skeletal structure baring a majority of the weight. This neatly sums up what is essentially wrong with The Company You Keep. Apart from some good, albeit typical performances from a few of its cast members, The Company You Keep really has nothing new or captivating to offer, which can be said for a lot of Robert Redford directed pictures since the year 2000. I have nothing against Mr. Redford. I thoroughly appreciate his acting prowess and directing skills. However, it appears that since the new millennium, his artistic choices have severely dropped off.

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Jim Grant (Redford) is a recently widowed single father. Formerly part of the Weather Underground militant wanted for a 1970’s bank robbery and the murder of one of the security guards. Ben Shepard (LaBeouf) decides to make a name for himself by creating a national story from the recently arrested Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), also a member of Weather Underground. Ben visits his ex-girlfriend Diana (Kendrick), an FBI agent, and urges her to hand him information on the case. While Jim continues to evade the law, Ben keeps pushing for his story, intervening in issues beyond his control. When Ben meets up with a retired cop named Henry Osbourne (Brendan Gleeson) after harassing Jim’s brother Daniel (Cooper) for information, he is taken with Henry’s daughter Rebecca (Marling). As the situation progresses, Jim and Ben find themselves in life altering predicaments.

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This was by far the most disappointing film I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival this past year. Upon reading up before hand on the plot, director, and cast, it was fair to say I was readily looking forward to its premiere. Starring the likes of Brit Marling, Shia LaBeouf, Anna Kendrick, Chris Cooper, and of course Robert Redford, amongst countless others with proven track records, it seemed implausible that The Company You Keep would let me down. However, by the time we reached the summit of its two hour runtime, the story and its characters were worn out. Even though it was plenty underwhelming from the get go. The Company You Keep arguably suffered from simplicity, irrelevance, and unsympathetic characters at a time when self preservation is on a decline.

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Based on Neil Gordon’s novel of the same title, Redford had his hands full adapting The Company You Keep to the big screen. In a year that saw history come alive with films like Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, and to an extent Django Unchained. The Company You Keep didn’t harness any of the retro nostalgia or tension that made all of those films effective. The performing aspect of the film was something I thought I’d never question going into the premiere. What I mean by typical performance is, for example, Marling, Cooper, LaBeouf, and Kendrick, to name a few, made it look effortless as usual. The root of the issue stems from the limitations brought on by the tedious nature of the script. There is no room for these fine actors to evolve their roles. They aren’t allowed to make these characters their own due to the suffocating similarities in their roles.

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Suffering from a bloated run time, stretched out story, and unlikable characters. The Company You Keep is a meek offering forcing its all star cast to under-perform and appear timid.

The Company You Keep: 5 out of 10.