Friday, July 29, 2011


I love a good pulp. I love those thrilling wonder stories of days gone by, of larger than-life-heroes fighting to vanquish diabolical foes against insurmountable odds. Perhaps it is because I grew up in a world where evil is painted with a subtler hue that I harken for this simpler time. Of course, I know that this ‘simpler time’ never truly existed, but sometimes it is fun to pretend.

It’s 1942, and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), an earnest but physically puny man, wants to enlist and help fight the Nazis. But he’s a 4F, and is turned away again and again. Then one day he is approached by a scientist (Stanley Tucci). The good doctor gives him the chance of a lifetime, to be injected with a super-serum that will give him the body to achieve his ambitions! He becomes, quite literally, Audie Murphy on steroids. Soon he’s waging an all out campaign to stop super-Nazi Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) from taking over the world.

I really like the villian, the Red Skull. What a great name, what a great look! It’s evil with a capital ‘E’ and a couple exclamation points thrown in. He has a fun scene at a monastery early in the film that feels straight out of Hellboy or Indiana Jones.

The steam-punk angle was fun. I always love seeing ray-guns in movies, though I was slightly disappointed that I didn't see the victims skeletons glow for a split-second before disintegration.

If I had one complaint about the film is that it’s a little too efficient for it’s own good. The second half seems to never leave montage mode. Meaning that potentially fun sub-plots, like the romance, or the camaraderie among the troops it heavily short changed. One never really gets a sense of what it felt like to be Captain America on this campaign.

“Captain America” is the latest film in the Marvel cinematic universe. An attempt to bring a singular continuity to the company's big-screen adaptations. These films are meant to be interdependent with each other, though they sometimes go out of the way to remind us that they all take place in the same universe. Director Joe Johnson handles the obligatory synergy by relegating it into this film's bookends. It's a smart approach as it allows for a tragic element we usually don't see in summer films.

It’s a good film, but it never gains the forward momentum of sci-fi pulp masterpieces such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow” or the more recent “Hellboy 2.” But it’s still fun nostalgia, and hey, it’s politically correct too.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Allow me to be frank. Tarence Malicks new film Tree of Life is wasted on the big screen. It is a film that, especially in it’s wilder moments, demands an IMAX presentation. However, since Tree is not a big-budget tent-poll like Super 8 we are going to have to make due.

The film is slightly off-putting in it’s boldness. Near the beginning there is a breathtaking 15 or so minute sequence that is just the creation of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth. But the film is not simply about making the human experience feel insignificant next to the colossal sweep of time. It is about youth, and innocence.

The film eventually settles down a little bit an becomes about a boy named Jack (Hunter McCracken) growing up in 50’s Texas, from the moment of his birth till about the age of 10. Through the eyes of a child, the grown-up world is as strange and secret as God is to an adult. The world of this film is full of fragments. A baby playing with bubbles. The aftermath of a fire. Playing after school. The father (Brad Pitt) playing the organ at Church.

Yet the film is not frustrating in any sense. Everything is clear and unclear at the same time. It is an ode to the mystery of life. A meditation. A prayer. It is achingly intimate and auto-biographical, yet it never selfishly so. I find it fascinating that the film leaves room for the audience to think about their own childhood. How it compares and contrasts to the boy in the film. It is a childhood transcribed moment for moment onto celluloid, with all the purity, fear and wonder achingly intact.

Grade: A