So far the second wave of this whole Marvel Studios thing is more miss than hit for me. Thor: The Dark World was by far the most middle-of-the-road, unremarkable film the young studio has produced to date, and Iron Man 3 tripped on a rock, hit its head and critically injured its tone. So understandably I had high hopes for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and while I admit placing the burden of redeeming this second round of movies was a lot to put on one film, I’m happy to report it was well up to the task.

Picking up a year or so after The Avengers, Winter Soldier finds Cap, now a full S.H.I.E.L.D agent, running covert ops alongside Black Widow, or as covert as you can get when everyone on the damn planet knows who you are and you wear half of your initials on your forehead like you totally misunderstood how monogramming works. But when Nick Fury is attacked by a mysterious assassin called The Winter Soldier, and Cap learns of a sinister conspiracy lurking within S.H.I.E.L.D, he and the Widow go on the run to uncover the truth, joined along the way by The Falcon, a random dude Cap happened to meet jogging, who by happy chance happens to know how to work a set of high-tech mechanical wings.

WinterSoldierposterBy admission of the film makers, Winter Soldier is going for a very Robert Ludlum political conspiracy thriller vibe, less brightly colored superhero action and more shadowy backroom deals and secret government shenanigans. But what I think works about it is how it never totally forgets that it is still ultimately a comic book movie, and once in a while something completely and utterly ridiculous will happen to offset all the serious talky talky drama and Bourne-esque triller fair. One minute Robert Redford is giving some spiel about government oversight and the cost of freedom, the next someone’s pulling off a perfectly realistic face-changing mask like it’s an episode of Scooby Doo, and it turns out it was Old Man Backhoff all along. It strikes a really nice balance between the kind of “nothing we’re doing is even remotely realistic so let’s just run with it” Marvel Studios ethos and the political thriller vibe the Russo brothers were clearly going for.

The big problem though is that the script is a bit of a mess. It’s got that Christopher Nolan problem of being too full of story and characters, to the point that at any minute it seems ready to burst like one of those fat Left 4 Dead zombies. The real casualty of this is that the film’s title character, the mysterious Winter Soldier, is barely a presence in his own movie. For the first two acts he just appears out of nowhere to shoot someone and look enough like James Franco in Spiderman 3 to give everyone in the audience uncomfortable flashbacks. And after his true identity is finally revealed, the film dashes through his origin story at breakneck speed. In the course of one act we’re supposed to learn who he is and what he means to Cap, and even start sympathizing with him, and if that seems like a tall order, you ain’t wrong.

What they should have done, really, is just rename the damn film and save the reveal of Winter Soldier’s true identity, both to the audience and Cap, until the very end, and leave the fallout from the reveal for the already announce third movie so that it can be given the pacing and weight it deserves. As it is, it feels uncomfortably akin to Aaron Ekhart’s Two-Face transformation in The Dark Knight: truncated and unsatisfying, though without spoiling anything there will be room to flesh out his origin and character more later.

The exposition also comes fast and hard, often woven into the narrative with all the care and skill of someone playing Surgeon Simulator 2013 with their feet. Other supporting characters, like Emily Van Camp’s Agent 13, might as well not be in the movie at all for how marginalized they are.


Aside from that, the only real problem I can bring up is that the fight scene photography wavers between barely “acceptable” and “complete and utter arse”. Look, you’re trying to go for a Bourne thing, I get that, but that doesn’t mean you have to film it with a GoPro strapped to the head of a convulsing ostrich. Granted, this was probably made worse by the fact that I was exiled to the front two rows, but more often than not the hand to hand fight scenes were completely incomprehensible. The best fight in the whole movie is a brawl in the first few minutes between Cap and walk-on villain Batroc ze Lepair, played by local boy George St. Pierres. But Cap’s first proper fight with Winter Soldier was a bloody mess. The larger, effects laden stunt sequences and CGI set pieces fared much better, though, with Falcon’s scenes being a highlight.

But these problems aside, enough about the film worked for me to keep me thoroughly entertained through the entire run time. The chemistry between Chris Evans and his co-stars, particularly Anthony Mackie as Falcon and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, is great, and the film is full of fantastic character moments and sharp back-and-forth dialogue. The fanboy-pleasing namedrops are plentiful and there’s tons of world-building crammed in, ranging from small references to major revelations and status-quo shifts. It’s also undoubtedly the best filmed wave two film by far, largely avoiding the occasional “TV-ish” look that hurt Iron Man 3 and Thor 2.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn’t without a few major problems, but for my money is still the most satisfying wave two Marvel movie so far, and may even end up as one of my favorites of the lot. For all its lofty aspirations of political intrigue, it never take itself too seriously, and isn’t afraid to throw something completely nuts in just for the fun of it once in a while.

Well, shit. Just a few days ago we were frolicking like cherubs in the Elysian fields of late autumn with wild, pumpkin-spice fueled abandon. But now the cold spectre of winter has sidled up and stuck its clammy, cold hand down our collective pants like an overzealous prom date. Winter, it seems, is here, and summer seems like a distant hope. All we have to nurture ourselves for the next few months in between hunting down our fellow man for nourishment and burning down the public library for warmth is the slew of movie trailers for next year that studios are already pumping onto the internet like a morphine drip. So in this, the first week of another cruel Montreal winter, let’s take a look and get bloody well goofy.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2013 was actually something of a disappointing year for me for superhero movies. Oh sure, there were ones I kinda liked, and only a couple I plan to ritualistically burn in effigy on the anniversary of their release. But the trailer for the next Captain America movie gives me some hope, promising lots of things blowing up in slow-motion and Robert Redford TOTALLY not turning out to be a badguy in the end.

The trailer indicates the movie will mostly focus on SHIELD (fuck if I’m gonna type all those periods) extending its power and unleashing a fleet of Helicarriers, presumably to hover over major cities terrifying people into good behavior like giant impractical nannies. Cap objects to this, because Cap is contractually obligated to remind us every few years that he’s actually pretty center-left for someone who wears the American flag.

Not that he really does anymore, his costume’s changed to a mostly blue affair reminiscent of something he was wearing for that time he was actually in charge of SHIELD in the comics. Wonder if that’s a coincidence…..

Excitement Level: 6 Crashing Helicarriers out of 10


grand-budapest-hotel-posterThe Grand Budapest Hotel

If there’s one thing guaranteed to give film nerds a raging film nerd stiffy (which is like a normal stiffy but talks your ear off for hours on end about the hidden meaning behind the can of baking soda in the background of that one scene in The Shining) it’s the release of a new Wes Anderson trailer, and ye GODS this is the most Wes Anderson-y thing ever.

It doesn’t even matter what The Grand Budapest Hotel is about, just look at the cast for God’s sake. Literally every name on the front page of the film’s IMDB entry is a recognizable name. Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, it goes on. And of course Bill Murray’s in it, because OF COURSE Bill Murray’s in it. Between Anderson and Jim Jarmusch the guy’ll never be–


Wes Anderson, you son of a bitch, did you shoot this thing in the Academy Ratio? Oh wait no, you shot this thing in multiple aspect ratios to indicate the time period it takes place in. It took me like four viewings to even notice that most of the trailer isn’t even widescreen. Good God, man, if you’re not careful you’re gonna have a whole lot of film nerds punching holes in their ceilings if you catch my drift.

Excitement Level: No I’m not going to explain Aspect Ratios, I haven’t got all day!


the-boxtrolls-posterThe Boxtrolls

And speaking of things that give nerds raging hardons, how about a trailer for The Boxtrolls, the latest installment in Laika studios’ plan to become the Jesus of stop-motion animation. And the teaser really does put the animation, and the love and work that goes into it, in the forefront, being partially made up of shots of the hands of animators assembling and posing figures and sets.

The cynic in me, the tenacious bastard that he is, wants to see this as a lazy way to crank out a teaser when you’ve finished only a couple of shots of animation. But the well-rounded, optimistic person in me, who spends most of his time shut in a small room in my mind like Harry Potter, sees this as something else: an indicator that what’s coming out is made with the love and attention that we’ve come to expect from Laika.

There’s also this trailer, which both endorses same-sex parents and features the voice of Catbug from Bravest Warriors, so we might as well crown this film “King of All Things Good and Wonderful” right now.

Excitement Level: Sugar peas!!!

The Lego Movie


Nobody was expecting this to look surprisingly good less than me, I mean for crap’s sake it’s The Lego Movie, but damn if I don’t actually want to see this. Part of it’s because it comes courtesy of the masters of “Surprisingly good”, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo that brought us Clone High, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street.

But what took me aback more is the animation, which is apparently a blend of stop-motion and CGI, meant to make everything look as realistically like actual Lego figures as possible. All the textures and light effects look dead-on, if you’re the kind of absolute hopeless nerd who’s impressed by that kind of thing, right down to those stiff cloth capes that never, ever look right. There’s so much wonderful attention to detail on display just in the short trailer, like how when one character is supposed to be dramatically flipping her hair, it just swivels in place because it’s still a solid plastic piece, or how explosions and other effects are still made out of Lego bricks if you look closely.

Plus it has Nick Offerman in it, and it doesn’t matter what something is, the promise of Nick Offerman will have me running like Nick Offerman himself to a film role circa 2004

Excitement Level: It has Batman too, so pretty high