Captain America

Captain America just became available on instant Netflix.

One-Line Review: An earnest family-friendly superhero adventure that is a little long and a little slow but quite enjoyable.

Captain America (2011) – Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

“It is 1942, America has entered World War II, and sickly but determined Steve Rogers is frustrated at being rejected yet again for military service. Everything changes when Dr. Erskine recruits him for the secret Project Rebirth. Proving his extraordinary courage, wits and conscience, Rogers undergoes the experiment and his weak body is suddenly enhanced into the maximum human potential. When Dr. Erskine is then immediately assassinated by an agent of Nazi Germany’s head of its secret HYDRA research department, Johann Schmidt aka the Red Skull, Rogers is left as a unique man who is initially misused as a propaganda mascot. However, when his comrades need him, Rogers goes on a successful adventure that truly makes him Captain America and his war against Schmidt begins. “

I find Joe Johnston to be a very problematic director. His Jurassic Park III was a quick fun romp but it had very little of the majesty that infused the two Spielberg outings. Johnston’s The Wolfman had some very good scenes and actors but was ultimately a mess. On the other hand, way back in 1991, he directed the adorable pre-WWII saga, The Rocketeer and did a very good job of bringing the Dave Stevens graphic novel to the screen.

The Rocketeer would seem to make Johnston the ideal choice for Captain America as the stories are not all that different. A naive but earnest young man discovers a rocket pack/secret formula that allows him to fight Nazis as a masked superhero.

Chris Evans is great as Steve Rogers/ Captain America. I love the visual wizardry used to portray him as the proverbial 98-lb. weakling prior to his transformation. In the after shots, you will be wondering if those abs are real. Evans does a fine job of being earnest and brave and a little naive.

One of the biggest problems I had with Captain America was actually one of the things I had most been looking forward to. Hugo Weaving is a fantastic orator and his creations of Elrond (from the LOTR trilogy) and Mr. Smith (from The Matrix trilogy) are indelibly etched in my mind as is his voice in V for Vendetta. Unfortunately Hugo Weaving appears to have studied his German accent so hard here that his dramatic cadences are lost. His version of The Red Skull is good but just doesn’t quite gel.

Hydra is the villain organization and they have an army of Nazis with laser rifles. This also doesn’t gel well and comes across as silly in some of the scenes. Thankfully, Toby Jones is great as The Red Skull’s underling, Arnim Zola.

Stanley Tucci is excellent as always as the erstwhile Dr. Erskine but has very little screen time. Tommy Lee Jones is his usual fun craggy self as Colonel Chester Phillips. Hayley Atwell and Sebastian Stan are okay as Rogers’ best gal and pal respectively.

Pacing is a little uneven. I appreciate the logic behind using Captain America to sell war bonds but it sidelines him for too much of the movie and the battle montages will either make you shrug your shoulders or wish that they had included the actual battle. Corporate pressure from Marvel may have had an effect here as Captain America had to be ready and in the present for The Avengers this year – thus limiting his time in World War II.

Joe Johnston does a great job of conveying the feel of the time and characters (without the terrible Hollywood shorthand of sepia-toning everything). There is very little cursing and everyone is so earnest and not snarky.

Marvel fans will have plenty to umm marvel at. We get a look at Tony Stark’s father Howard (Dominic Cooper) in action as well as Dum-Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough) and the requisite appearance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). There is a great visual joke with Arnim Zola and the plot revolves around the cosmic cube/ tesseract. Don’t forget to stay for the post-credits sequence.

Future Watch: Although Joe Johnston will not be back for it, look for Captain America: Winter Soldier in theaters April 4th, 2014 (Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan and Samuel L. Jackson will be reprising their roles). Joe Johnston is rumored to be working on Jurassic Park IV. Hugo Weaving will once again be seen as Elrond in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this Christmas.

88 Minutes – Al Pacino week

This week is Al Pacino week. 88 minutes is currently available on instant Netflix and it couldn’t be worse than yesterday’s Righteous Kill – or could it?

88 Minutes

AVOID: 88 Minutes (2007) – Rated R for disturbing violent content, brief nudity and language.

“Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) — a college professor and occasional forensic psychologist for the FBI — finds himself in a race against time when he receives a mysterious phone call telling him he has exactly 88 minutes left to live. Can he track down his would-be killer before the clock runs out? Amy Brenneman, Leelee Sobieski, Deborah Unger and William Forsythe co-star in this real-time thriller from director Jon Avnet.”

“Quack quack, Dr. Gramm” (Yes the scriptwriter actually wrote that)

Let’s get this travesty of a movie started right. They show us that Dr. Gramm’s (Al Pacino) ‘girlfriend’ is very flexible and much, much younger. She is played by Leah Cairns, age 33 and Al Pacino is 67. This is another example of pandering to male wish fulfillment (see yesterday’s post). I do have to note that he tells Kim (Alicia Witt) that he is too old for her and Alicia Witt is 32.

I hardly know where to begin. This movie doesn’t make any sense on any level. The killer is after Dr. Gramm because of his damaging testimony in Jon Forster’s capital murder case. The killer isn’t targeting the police who caught Forster, the victim who survived, the jury that found Forster guilty, Forster’s attorney who failed or the judge that sentenced him to death.

They make Jon Forster unbelievably erudite. He gets nationwide press conferences while on death row. The press also gives credence to the supposition that he is not guilty. He is practically a celebrity as is Dr. Gramm. When is the last time you heard about a forensic psychiatrist being the subject of headlines?

Director Jon Avnet lets Al Pacino chew the scenery here even more than he does in Righteous Kill. They also introduce about a billion suspects for us to wade through. The plot necessitates a very intimate understanding of Gramm’s life and secrets as well as other omniscient details. This film is just dreadful on all accounts.

People Watch: Look for Neal McDonough as convicted killer Jon Forster.