Tag Archives: review

Captain America: the Winter Soldier review

On Saturday, 12 April 2014, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H., Beruk A., and Ken N. at the Apple Cinemas in Cambridge, Mass., for Captain America [2]: the Winter Soldier. We all enjoyed Disney/Marvel's latest superhero sequel, as well as dinner with Matt J. at Summer Shack afterward.

The Winter Soldier wallpaper

Captain America 2

Plot: The Winter Soldier mostly takes place after the events of the 2011 Captain America film and The Avengers, both of which should be seen to understand this movie. Super soldier Steve Rogers is still a man out of time but has adapted enough to work for covert ops agency SHIELD thwarting terrorists. His patriotic idealism is tested, however, when he learns of a scheme to pre-empt crime that is hijacked by an old enemy….

Marvel Comics readers will recognize much of the story from Ed Brubaker's strong run, while more casual viewers will notice the change in tone from the World War II heroics of the first movie and the superhero team-up of The Avengers to an action/thriller in The Winter Soldier. I'm pleased to see Marvel showing its range, from straightforward costumed crime fighters to cosmic comedy (Thor 2, the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy).

There are some minor plot holes, such as why would Washington, D.C., rely on just one agency for security or why more of the other Avengers aren't mentioned during crisis situations, but the direction and pacing move quickly enough to ignore most of them. ABC's Agents of SHIELD, which has suffered in comparison with Arrow and other shows for much of the current television season, is affected by continuity changes from The Winter Soldier.

Acting: Comic book movie veteran Chris Evans continues to do solid work as Rogers/Capt. America, who is both weary of still fighting after decades (some of which were spent on ice) and resolute in his defense of truth, justice, and the American way (even if that's another hero's catchphrase).

He is joined by Scarlett Johansson, who gets a decent amount to do as fellow Avenger Natalia Romanova/Black Widow. As the Lucy preview showed, it's about time a superheroine leads a feature film — don't get me started on WB/DC's foot dragging with Wonder Woman.

Samuel L. Jackson shows some vulnerability as superspy Nick Fury, supported by Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. It was nice to glimpse Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Stan Lee as a Smithsonian guard, and Jenny Agutter as World Security Council member Hawley.

Robert Redford, who starred in some of the best political thrillers of the '70s, brings smarmy gravitas as council leader Alexander Pierce. Like the character Rhodey in the Iron Man movies, Anthony Mackie represents African-American heroes and is (we hope) more than a sidekick as Sam Wilson/Falcon.

I have many fond memories of Captain America fighting villains alongside the winged Falcon. The cameos by Batroc the Leaper and other villains are also amusing for those in the know. I won't "spoil" the identity of the so-called Winter Soldier, but note that this movie serves more to introduce the cybernetic assassin as an antagonist than to resolve that plot thread.

Direction: Shane Black, whose Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang helped revive Robert Downey Jr.'s career, does a good job juggling comic book, espionage, and action elements in The Winter Soldier. The dialogue is rarely stilted, and he successfully introduces or reintroduces an ever-increasing number of characters.

The stealthy infiltrations and fight choreography with Capt. America or Black Widow are nicely done, although I do wish that some of the scenes on the helicarriers (no "spoiler" there; they're in the trailers) were clearer. The visual effects were pretty good, and it was refreshing to see a major cinematic battle in which an entire city wasn't trashed for a change.

The opening and closing credits were decent, and the soundtrack was also good, if not as memorable as for other superhero movies. Overall, I'd give Captain America: the Winter Soldier, which is rated PG-13 for violence and occasional language, four out of five stars, an 8 out of 10, or a B+/A-. I still like Captain America: the First Avenger and The Avengers more, but this is another solid Disney/Marvel superhero flick.

Muppets Most Wanted review

On Saturday, 29 March 2014, Janice and I screened Muppets Most Wanted at the AMC Burlington Cinema 10. We enjoyed the latest film from Disney/Henson a bit more than its 2011 predecessor.

Muppets Most Wanted

More Muppet mania

As you might expect, Muppets Most Wanted combines self-aware puppets, celebrity cameos, and musical hijinks to good effect. The plot is simple enough for most children to follow: Immediately after the events of The Muppets, Kermit the Frog is sent to a Russian gulag in a case of mistaken identity, while his lookalike criminal Constantine takes his place as master of ceremonies as part of a devious plan.

I didn't miss Jason Segal or Amy Adams, thanks to strong casting. There were many fun appearances in Muppets Most Wanted's globe-hopping story, but the main supporting actors are worth singling out. Ricky Gervais, playing Constantine's henchman Dominic Badguy as smarmily as Charles Grodin was in The Great Muppet Caper, to which this movie owes several stylistic debts.

Tina Fey joins the song and dance show as Nadya, guard captain at the Russian Gulag (and a ringer for Rocky & Bullwinkle's Natasha). Ty Burrell matches wits with Sam the Eagle as Interpol Inspector Jean Paul Napoleon, who apparently went to the same academy as Inspector Clouseau.

As you might guess from the above, the movie does lean heavily on national stereotypes, but the jokes are clever enough for adults and broad enough for children without resorting to potty humor. The puppeteers can't quite match the frenetic energy and raw talent of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, but they get pretty close.

Unlike some critics, I liked that the overall tone of Muppets Most Wanted was a bit more upbeat than that of The Muppets, and I thought its script and soundtrack were better. As with Mr. Peabody & Sherman, it's hard to balance nostalgia with the expectations of today's audiences, not to mention keeping a beloved franchise going into the future.

Overall, I'd give Muppets Most Wanted, which is rated PG for slapsticky humor and mild innuendo, an 8 out of 10, four out of five stars, or a B+. The Lego Movie is still the best family movie I've seen so far this year, but not by much.

This coming weekend, I hope to see superhero sequel Captain America [2]: the Winter Soldier. In between game updates, I still hope to post thoughts on the current genre television season and more!

The Lego Movie review

On Saturday, 2 February 2014, Janice and I met Sara F. & Josh C. and Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. at the AMC Burlington 10 for an early matinee of The Lego Movie. We all enjoyed the computer-animated comedic adventure.

Lego Movie

Fun animated film

Plot: The Lego Movie follows Emmet Brickowski, a cheerful but unimaginative construction worker who learns that he is "the Special," prophesied by the wizard Vitruvius to save their world. After meeting a woman named Wyldstyle, Emmet is thrust into various adventures and must defeat Lord Business. He also learns the truth about creativity, individuality, and the nature of his world.

Script: The overall storyline will be familiar to viewers of other family films, such as Toy Story or Wreck-It Ralph, but I was impressed at the amount of adult humor and satire. The Lego Movie makes sly comments about mass media, consumerism, freedom vs. conformity, and adulthood vs. childhood but still entertains.

Cast: Like many animated features, The Lego Movie has an all-star cast. Chris Pratt is lighthearted as Emmet, and Will Ferrell is the domineering Lord Business. Elizabeth Banks is spunky but vulnerable as Wyldstyle, and Will Arnett is hilarious as her boyfriend Batman.

Other DC Comics superheroes make appearances, including Channing Tatum as Superman, Jonah Hill as a goofy Green Lantern, and Cobie Smulders as Wonder Woman. (Two out of the three would do well in live-action versions.)

Other comedians lending their voice talents include Alison Brie as the cutesy but temperamental Uni-Kitty, Nick Offerman as cyborg pirate Metal Beard, and Charlie Day as a 1980s space guy. Morgan Freeman riffs on earlier roles as wise Vitruvius, as does Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop, Lord Business' dour henchman.

There were several other Lego cameos, including Shaquille O'Neal as himself, Billy Dee Williams as smooth Lando Calrissian, and Anthony Daniels as C-3P0. The numerous crossovers should come as no surprise, since licensed properties have helped the toy maker's financial success.

Direction: Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who previously worked on Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, do a good job of keeping The Lego Movie's story progressing within the 100-minute runtime. They also manage to balance Lego's many licenses with original characters and imagination. While there have been many CG movies lately, relatively few have retained a sense of wonder and cleverness.

Cinematography: As a longtime Lego fan, I was pleased to see several classic themes represented, including medieval, city, the Old West, and space. The kinetic action and multicolored bricks were difficult to discern at first, but the Lego-style settings, characters, and vehicles were all cleverly rendered, as were the opening and closing titles.

Soundtrack: The main theme, "Everything Is Awesome!" is very catchy even as it teases us with its seeming banality, and there are allusions to the live-action Batman movies, as well as Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and more.

Rating: I'd give The Lego Movie, which is rated PG for cartoon violence, an 8 to 8.5 out of 10, four out of five stars, or an A-. I recommend it not only to adult fans or those with children who play with Lego, but also to anyone who is young at heart. A sequel is already in the works.

While I had already seen previews for Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Muppets Most Wanted, and Amazing Spider-Man 2, we were intrigued by the first trailer for The Boxtrolls. They all look like fun. We then went to Slowbones, a new barbecue joint, for lunch.

Other movies we caught up on around the holidays included Red 2, Elysium, and Turbo. If you like seeing spoofy reunions of aging action stars, like in The Expendables, you'll like Red 2. While Elysium wasn't as insightful social science fiction as District 9 was, it was decent, and Turbo was surprisingly sentimental, despite its similarity to Cars.

We've also recently screened 47 Ronin, which wasn't particularly faithful to Japanese history but still a good "fantasy gamer flick." It was the sort of film that would be fine for a video night, which my local groups have been discussing. Janice instead went to Disney's animated Frozen, which she liked.

Here's a list of recent and upcoming movies (with U.S. release dates):

2014 movies — to see in theaters:

  • Mr. Peabody & Emerson (animated comedy, March 7)
  • Veronica Mars (neo-noir, March 14)
  • Muppets Most Wanted (comedy, March 21)
  • Captain America: the Winter Soldier (superhero sequel, April 4)
  • Amazing Spider-Man 2 (superhero sequel, May 2)
  • Godzilla (kaiju reboot, May 16)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (superhero sequel, May 23)
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2 (animated fantasy, June 13)
  • The Boxtrolls (animated fantasy, Sept. 24)
  • The Hobbit [Pt. 3 of 3]: There and Back Again (fantasy, Dec. 17)

Maybe eventually on cable or DVD:

  • Hercules: the Legend Begins (sword and sandals, Jan. 10)
  • Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (espionage/action, Jan. 17)
  • The Monuments Men (war/caper, Feb. 7)
  • RoboCop (cyberpunk remake, Feb. 12)
  • Pompeii (sword and sandals, Feb. 21)
  • 300: Rise of an Empire (sword and sandals, March 7)
  • Only Lovers Left Alive (vampires, April 11)
  • Transcendence (cyberpunk, April 18)
  • Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return (animated fantasy, May 9)
  • Maleficent (fantasy, May 30)
  • Edge of Tomorrow (time travel/SF action, June 6)
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (apocalyptic, July 11)
  • Jupiter Ascending (space opera, July 18)
  • Hercules (sword and sandals; with the Rock, July 25)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (space opera superheroes, Aug. 1)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (comic book reboot, Aug. 8)
  • The Expendables 3 (action, Aug. 15)
  • Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (noir action, Aug. 22)
  • Dracula Untold (vampire, Oct. 17)
  • Big Hero 6 (animated superhero, Nov. 7)
  • Interstellar (science fiction, Nov. 7)
  • Paddington (animated fantasy, Dec. 12)
  • Into the Woods (fantasy musical, Dec. 25)

What are you looking forward to?

Supernatural TV successes

I know I've fallen behind with nongaming blog posts, but I do hope to catch up on genre entertainment reviews, food observations, and more in 2014.

I just caught up on the half-season finales of the supernatural trifecta of Sleepy Hollow, Grimm, and Dracula. I'm pleased that all three have been firing on all cylinders lately!

Supernatural TV

NBC's fantasy/horror

High melodrama, plot twists, actual character development, and sprinkles of violence have made all three must-watch shows in a crowded genre TV season.

 I've also been enjoying Almost Human, Person of Interest, and Arrow, and I was happy with the return of Sherlock as a counterpoint to Elementary.

I'll be catching the premiere of Black Sails this weekend. I also look forward to the eventual return of Orphan Black, Continuum, Vikings, and Doctor Who.

I'm still hanging in there — just barely — with Agents of SHIELD, Revolution, and Atlantis in the hopes they'll improve. Psych and Warehouse 13 should wrap up OK, but Castle and White Collar may have jumped the shark with forced conflicts.

In animation, Dragons: Defenders of Berk is entertaining while I wait for How to Train Your Dragon 2 and the return of Avatar: Legend of Korra, but superhero representation has dropped with the untimely cancellation of Beware the Batman and the weak representation of Avengers Assemble.

We'll see if there's room for Defiance, Da Vinci's Demons, or other newer shows in my busy schedule. So much to watch, so little time!

The Desolation of Smaug review

On Sunday, 15 December 2013, Janice and I dug out from a weekend snowstorm and drove down to the Showcase Cinema de Lux at Legacy Place in Dedham, Mass. We met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H., Sara F. & Josh C., Bruce K., and Rich C.G. for The Hobbit [Part 2 of 3]: The Desolation of Smaug. We mostly liked the fantasy prequel/sequel.

The Desolation of Smaug

Tolkien and Jackson's fantasy epic continues

Plot: If you haven't read J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novel or seen director Peter Jackson's previous adaptations of The Lord of the Rings (LotR) and The Hobbit [Part 1 of 3]: An Unexpected Journey, then The Desolation of Smaug probably won't make much sense. This movie assumes that you're familiar with Tolkien and Jackson's world of Middle Earth.

The film opens with a flashback to the town of Bree (as well as to The Fellowship of the Ring), where the Wizard Gandalf and exiled prince Thorin meet and decide on a quest to Erebor, the Lonely Mountain and lost stronghold of the Dwarves. We then see Bilbo Baggins, the titular Hobbit burglar, traveling with Thorin and company through Mirkwood. They encounter multiple obstacles, including giant spiders and Elves, on their way to confront the mighty dragon Smaug.

Meanwhile, Gandalf goes on a side mission for the White Council to Dol Goldur, a ruined tower in the south where evil is stirring anew. He and colleague Radagast learn that the Necromancer raising an Orc army is none other than…. Well, I'll try to avoid "spoilers," even if some of the linked reviews and many viewers already know how The Hobbit ties to LotR.

Cast: The acting is the strongest part of The Desolation of Smaug, with Martin Freeman returning as slightly less-reluctant adventurer Bilbo and the magisterial Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey. Richard Armitage gets the lion's share of the Dwarven lines as Thorin. Aidan Turner returns as Kili in an unlikely love triangle.

Other new and returning cast members include Lost's Evangeline Lilly as the winsome Elf warrior Tauriel, Orlando Bloom as unaging archer Legolas, and Pushing Daisies' Lee Pace as haughty Elf king (and Legolas' father) Thranduil. Mikael Persbrandt plays Beorn, a scary man who can shift into a bear.

During a stop at Lake Town, filled with descendants of refugees from the city of Dale, we meet scruffy humans, including the scheming mayor, played by Stephen Fry, and noble Bard, played by Luke Evans. Evans resembles Bloom, both in chiseled features and in his character's ability with a bow. It was nice to see Bard's children in a supporting role, hinting at a larger world with everyday people in it.

Direction: Jackson does a better job than in An Unexpected Journey, although The Desolation of Smaug still lurches a bit from set piece to set piece. The script has a good amount of humor, and we get glimpses at new parts of Middle Earth, from the depths of Mirkwood to Smaug's huge treasure hoard in the stone halls of Erebor.

Warner Brothers no doubt wants to milk this franchise as the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy and the Harry Potter series have wound down. However, most fans and critics agree that stretching The Hobbit over three movies and adding new characters or material from LotR's appendices wasn't the best idea. Still, as with Disney's recent acquisitions of Marvel and Lucasfilm, it would be disingenuous to claim to not to be happy to return to a beloved setting.

Visual effects: The giant spiders are properly horrific, even if the Orcs still look more computer-generated than their LotR counterparts. An action-packed chase scene featuring the Dwarves (and Bilbo) in barrels leaving the Elven kingdom is more impressive than their escape from the Goblin town in the previous movie.

The great wyrm Smaug, well-voiced by Sherlock's and Star Trek: Into Darkness' Benedict Cumberbatch, is a true wonder to behold. Serpentine and greedy, prone to flattery, and winged death incarnate, Smaug is one of the best dragons we've ever seen on film. There was some controversy about the configuration of legs, but rest assured, Jackson and company did this monster justice.

Janice, Sara, Bruce, and Rich saw The Desolation of Smaug in conventional 2-D, while Thomas, Kai-Yin, Josh, and I saw the high-frame rate (HFR) 3-D version. Thomas and Josh didn't care for the HFR, but it didn't bother me. I'd compare it to seeing high-definition television (HD TV) for the first time, although I'd be the first to admit that most 3-D movies aren't worth the extra ticket cost.

Soundtrack: No new themes stood out for me on first listen, but I was definitely aware of music that evoked the LotR trilogy. The score also supported the increasing levels of peril, from the Dwarves wandering in Mirkwood to their stirring up of Smaug under the Lonely Mountain.

Rating: Overall, I'd give The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug, which is rated PG-13 for violence, an 8 out of 10, three and a half out of five stars, or a B+. As a longtime fantasy fan and gamer, I look forward to next year's third installment! The road goes ever on….

Of the trailers we saw, I'm most interested in the latest iteration of Godzilla, if less so in the Miller/Snyder ahistorical 300: Rise of an Empire. The remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty reminded me more of A Night at the Museum and Forrest Gump than the James Thurber short story or Danny Kaye comedy.

Over dinner at P.F. Chang's, we discussed other recent and upcoming genre entertainment, and 47 Ronin (the Keanu Reeves fantasy, not to be confused with real Japanese history or folklore) is the next movie we hope to see together in theaters.

Here are the movies I've seen this past year: