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 Grey (2012)

Starring Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale, Ben Bray, Anne Openshaw

Directed by Joe Carnahan

Expectations: Fairly high.


The Grey is not a film that will rock your world, but it might make you thankful for that roof over your head and the problems you do have. No one wants to be in a plane crash, but to survive one and then be stuck in the Alaskan wilderness… man, that’s a hard argument whether the ones that died in the crash had the better way out. The Grey is this year’s early-year Liam Neeson film and it’s actually quite good. I get the feeling that Neeson will make most anything these days, but here is a film that he will most likely look back on as one of the good ones.

The Grey isn’t so much about story as it is moment-to-moment survival. There’s a slight back story with Neeson’s character that runs through the entire film, but all the other men are fairly shallow. They seem like they have lives behind their gruff exteriors, and a scene late in the film punctuates that, but for the most part they’re just dudes yelling at each other over the specifics of a given moment. This works well enough, but I think the film misses something of an opportunity in not exploring any character other than Neeson’s. Do we need that? Not really, but I think I would have liked it better if it had. The way it is, I was identifying characters by “the guy with the hat that looks like Marc Maron” and “the asshole guy”, so obviously that could have been improved upon.

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Mother’s Day (2012)

Editor’s Note: The film was completed in 2010 and shown at various events, but was never able to secure distribution. It received a theatrical release in the UK in 2011, before finally being released in the states on May 4, 2o12 (in limited theatrical markets) and May 8, 2012 (on DVD/Blu-Ray). IMDB lists it as a 2010 film, but I went with the official US release date of 2012.

Starring Rebecca De Mornay, Jaime King, Patrick John Flueger, Warren Kole, Deborah Ann Woll, Briana Evigan, Shawn Ashmore, Frank Grillo, Lisa Marcos, Matt O’Leary, Lyriq Bent, Tony Nappo, Kandyse McClure, Jessie Rusu, Jason Wishnowski

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Expectations: None. I hate remakes, but this one might be interesting.


I never expected this Mother’s Day to be as good as the original. I also never expected this Mother’s Day to completely dispose of the original’s plot. This film is the definition of a loose remake, using only a few characters and situations from the original and then going hog-wild with home invasion tension and torture from there. Really wasn’t expecting that. It actually works out for me, because watching two versions of the same movie back-to-back could get a bit draining. But expectations and comparisons to the original aside, I can’t say that this film is anything I’d classify as quality entertainment, or quality horror, in that it follows the modern path of the Saw films by making the horror come from what you might be forced to do to survive. It should then come as no surprise to find out that the director of this remake is Darren Lynn Bousman, previously responsible for directing Saw IIIV.

As I hinted at, the story here is a very simple, home invasion hostage situational with dashes of Saw sprinkled in here and there. Two girls interrupt the villains at the ATM? They’re given a knife and thirty seconds to decide who will kill the other to survive. Similar situations happen several times throughout the movie, and while they are never as premeditated and wild as the ones in Saw, they are awfully contrived, especially if you’re aware of the director’s earlier work going into the film (like I was). Apparently this is what passes for horror nowadays, although I refuse to accept it. These types of films and situations come directly out of the reality show obsessed culture, where each week millions watch as friend becomes enemy. In the 80s we were scared of the dark. Now we’re scared of what my friend will do to me if given the chance. Is it just me, or is American culture getting too goddamned paranoid?

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