Quick Takes: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Under the Skin, High Road to China

cap2_1Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
threestar

Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Maximiliano Hernández, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones
Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier much better than I liked the first Cap movie, but it definitely wasn’t the game-changing superhero movie that I had heard it was. Good thing I don’t expect much other than heroes fighting villains in my superhero movies! Simply put: if you like the Marvel movies, definitely watch this. It features a lot of fun action and a few great things are introduced that will probably deliver more in later movies down the road. I do have to say that I’m surprised by how little any of the post-Avengers movies connect to each other. I don’t think it’s especially necessary, but with the idea that these movies are part of a “phase” now, it does make one think they ought to be more related than they are. But whatever, this one’s got Cap, Black Widow and Falcon all kickin’ ass and takin’ names, so I was more than happy with what I got.

UndertheSkinUnder the Skin (2014)

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden
Directed by Jonathan Glazer

This is why I avoid trailers. Unfortunately, I happened to see the trailer for Under the Skin multiple times over the past few months while I saw repertory screenings at the local arthouse. The trailer is packed full of surreal, engaging imagery, and the marketers even went so far as to use quotes that suppose that director Jonathan Glaser might be an “heir to Kubrick.” So by the time I actually saw Under the Skin, it was thoroughly overhyped and unable to deliver on my expectations. But I definitely liked it. It’s a strange little science fiction movie that creates a significant, believable portrayal of an alien on Earth with effectively no budget and mostly non-professional actors. There’s lots of nudity throughout, and much of it feels gratuitous and only there to add to the film’s hype (given Johansson’s fame). This, in turn, made me imagine the film with the character genders reversed but the nudity the same, and what the reception may have been like then. I’m guessing it wouldn’t be quite the critical darling it seems to be and it probably would’ve been NC-17, too. Apparently, like the men in the film, even critics can succumb to the beauty of Scarlett Johansson.

highroad_1High Road to China (1983)
twohalfstar

Starring Tom Selleck, Bess Armstrong, Jack Weston, Wilford Brimley, Robert Morley, Brian Blessed, Cassandra Gava, Michael Sheard
Directed by Brian G. Hutton

High Road to China is an enjoyable, entertaining film… when it’s not being annoying and too slowly paced. I had hoped to see more of China in a film with this title (and considering that it was co-produced by Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest), but it really is about the road TO China. The aerial footage of the bi-planes, whether it’s grand scenes of scenic beauty or old-fashioned dogfights, is gorgeous and adds considerably to the film’s draw. Evidently, at the time of release this was seen as a Raiders of the Lost Ark clone, but the two films couldn’t be more different. High Road to China is a much more low-key adventure, with a much less likeable hero, but in this day and age of green screen, CG landscapes, it was wonderful to see actual planes flying in the actual air over the actual mountains. If you’re a Tom Selleck fan, definitely give this one a shot.

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Daniel Mays, Gad Elmaleh, Toby Jones, Joe Starr, Enn Reitel, Mackenzie Crook

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Expectations: Somewhat high, but I should know better.


Sometimes I get excited about a film despite my better judgement nagging me incessantly to watch something else. This would be one of those times. I read some of the Tintin books as a child, but I am by no means a scholar or in any way knowledgeable about them. I remember the basics, but not much else. When Spielberg announced that he would finally film a couple of the books, I got excited. I thought, “This will be like a new Indiana Jones film, and preferably one without all the negative trappings of the fourth entry into that series (although, I still find that one remarkably enjoyable for some reason).” Then my excitement waned a bit as it was also announced Tintin would be all motion capture animation. I’m not a fan of Robert Zemeckis’s popular forays into the technology, so I found myself torn, wondering if I should be excited or indifferent. Well, I’ve seen Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin and honestly it’s a bit of both.

The film jumps right into the storyline without a shred of character development or stage-setting or anything. Just right into the intrigue. OK, I can hang. If it means more time for fun, high-stakes shenanigans, I’m in. Tintin buys a model ship from a street vendor and is immediately accosted by one man willing to pay double, and then another asking him to, “Name his price.” Tintin, of course, states that the ship is not for sale and returns home with it only to have a short scuffle between Tintin’s dog Snowy and an alleycat result in the ship’s masts breaking, and the secret within to fall out.

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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Starring Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Richard Armitage, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi, JJ Feild, Bruno Ricci

Directed by Joe Johnston

Expectations: High. Thor was great, and I hope this can lead me into The Avengers in a spectacular way.


Ever since I heard Marvel was producing an Avengers film with a Captain America film leading into it, I knew exactly how it should end. The Captain America origin storyline has a built-in cliffhanger that could naturally segue the character into the team structure of what the Avengers film must be. So imagine my surprise when the first scene in Captain America: The First Avenger uses this cliffhanger, effectively letting the air out of the balloon before it even gets the chance to fill up, or even introduce the balloon at all. Oh man, this can’t be a good sign.

Captain America wasn’t always the super soldier he’s now known as. He started as Steve Rogers, a 4F frail weakling who possesses such a desire to fight for his country that he tries anything he can to get another shot at the recruitment process. One of these times he catches the eye of a defected German scientist (played somewhat poorly by Stanley Tucci) who has developed a super serum that can turn Rogers into a beefed-up, Nazi-smashing version of himself. Thus is born Captain America.

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