crap i have watched recently #31

the winter soldierLogging in from a suddenly busy life to do a couple of quick movie reviews.  As always, fasten your seat belt, keep your hands and feet inside at all times, and beware of SPOILERS!!

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The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies (2014):  Along with about a billion other people I went to see the latest (and last) installment of the Hobbit trilogy during the holidays.   Normally, for something so conspicuously epic I’d devote an entire wordy entry to it.  But frankly, I’ve wasted enough time on hobbitses, at least of the movie variety.  Here is the briefest of recaps:   Smaug dies in the first 10 minutes but not before laying waste to Lake Town.  The refugees head to Dale and hunker down to starve.  Thorin goes loopy with gold-fever, refuses to honor his promises, and barricades himself and the rest of the dwarfs inside the mountain.   Golden elves show up en masse to pick a fight over some sparkly shit.  Then more dwarfs show up but before the throw down starts orcs show up via tunnels made by the worms from Dune.  They all fight for a long time and when it looks like all is lost Thorin and his twelve companions charge out of the mountain and turn the tide of battle.  Then goblins show up.  With bats.  After some more fighting and dying the magic eagles and Beorn the bear guy show up and the good guys win.   Sort of.  I’m not entirely sure who was supposed to be good in this mess, but the orcs and goblins are clearly evil (because they are ugly, duh) and they lose so that’s that.   Bilbo spends much of the fight unconscious.  There are some tender partings (Tauriel and Kili, Thranduil and Legolas, Thorin and the surviving dwarfs, Bilbo with everyone) and our intrepid hobbit soon finds himself back at Bag End, where all his possessions are being auctioned off by greedy relatives.  Jackson wraps up with some obvious references to and tie-ins with The Lord of the Rings.  The End.  There is some rather nice artwork under the endless credits.

I’ve griped before that this is not The Hobbit of my memories or even of my recent re-reading.  This is a Hobbit that exists to serve as a prequel to the much more dramatic LotR trilogy.  It draws its entire meaning from the earlier films and the meaning and the message behind the original work are lost, along with almost all of the emotional underpinnings.  There is so much drama in everything that there is no heart.  Most of the time it is just ridiculous.  Take the Tauriel/Kili/Legolas love triangle as an example.  Apparently I am supposed to believe that a dwarf and an elf who are barely acquainted beyond beyond making moon eyes at each other are so deeply in love that when one of them dies dramatically the other is emotionally destroyed to the point that they never want to love again, ever.  Had Jackson been able to convince me that these two had something profound going on between them I might have actually felt something.  Even Legolas didn’t seem all that broken up as he watched his beloved weeping over the body of another man.  So, no, I don’t fault Jackson for expanding roles that weren’t in the book (Legolas, Galadriel, etc.) or that were in the book for a page or two (Thranduil).  I don’t fault him making stuff up (Tauriel) or rewriting Tolkien (Fili and Kili died defending a wounded Thorin), or changing characters to suit his narrative (Bard was really kind of a jerk in the book).  I don’t fault him for stretching out a straightforward novel into three convoluted films.  I do fault him for taking one of the best fantasy books ever written, stripping every bit of soul out of it, and replacing it with loud noises and nonsensical narrative filler designed to distract us while he picks our pockets.  Bilbo, who is supposed to be the hero of this tale, is almost an afterthought.  He does almost nothing in the entire film except look concerned.  Big, big disappointment all around.

I will say this though.  As far as I can tell, the take-home message in all of Tolkien is “don’t fuck with the elves.”  Also, Lee Pace is  hot.

Score:  Meh.

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Captain America:  The Winter Soldier (2014):  Oh great, another overblown, testosterone driven, explosion filled superhero movie.  Except that, well, I rather liked this one.  Cap is joined by Black Widow and Nick Fury from the Avengers films and Falcon, a character new to the films, in an exploration of terrorism and its effects on even the very best of intentions.  At the start of the film Cap and Natasha are rescuing hostages from pirates and also stealing some data from the ship’s computers.  When Fury can’t access the data he suspects that S.H.I.E.L.D is compromised and tries to have the agency’s latest massive spy project (three helicarriers linked by satellites designed to “preemptively cancel threats”) delayed.  On the way to a meeting with an agent he is ambushed by the Winter Soldier, a legendary Russian assassin with a bionic arm.  Fury escapes to Rogers’ apartment, gives Rogers a flash drive, and then the two are attacked again.  Fury is gravely wounded and dies in surgery.   When Rogers won’t hand over the data S.H.I.E.L.D declares him a fugitive.  While on the run with Natasha they discover an old bunker and a supercomputer that contains the consciousness of a bad guy from the first film.  He conveniently tells them that super-secret evil-doer organization Hydra has infested S.H.I.E.L.D and is busily working on a scheme to kill millions of people with the space battleships.  From there it is a race against time and the Winter Soldier to expose Hydra and stop their evil plan.  And then Cap discovers something that changes everything.

Steve Rogers is arguably the most conflicted member of the Avengers.  He fell asleep at the end of the last good war America fought and woke up in a country that has embraced fully the idea that the end justifies the means.  The past that is so distant to us, where we knew right from wrong, that seems so naive, is yesterday to him and the world’s shifting moral compass troubles him deeply.  He is still faithful to his now very old “best girl” at least partially because she is a link to that past.  He has always had his doubts about S.H.I.E.L.D, which operates seemingly without any kind of oversight, and sees clearly the dangers inherent in its nearly limitless  power.   He is not comfortable with the idea of trading liberty and privacy for safety.  He is constantly shocked by the routine falsehood around him, from advertising, to his cute neighbor who turns out to be an agent, to the Hydra moles in S.H.I.E.L.D and the government.  His growing friendship with Natasha, a woman whose life is all about lying, is a challenge to both of them as they try to find common ground.   Rogers’ instant connection to Sam Wilson (aka Falcon) stems from their shared history as former soldiers.  While Rogers increasingly finds himself doing questionable things for Fury, Wilson spends his time counseling fellow veterans with PTSD and Rogers suspects that Wilson is doing the nobler thing.  When he discovers the identity of the Winter Soldier Rogers realizes that there is someone else out there like him, a man adrift in a time not his own, working for an agenda he does not understand, someone who knows him like no one else.  Suddenly, he is not quite so alone.

Are there stupid things in this movie?  Oh, undoubtedly.  My favorite was the nifty handheld device that can tunnel instantly through miles of earth.  Even the bad guys just shrugged and gave up when they saw it in action and made no attempt to follow their quarry through the perfectly round tunnels it leaves behind.  There are not one but four space battleships in this film and we get to see three of them spectacularly blow up over downtown DC, with no apparent damage on the ground to anything other than S.H.I.E.L.D HQ (which is actually sort of refreshing).  There are certainly enough explosions, and cars flying through the air, and chase scenes, and gunfights, and dramatic fights on giant flying boats to make anyone happy (and slightly deaf).  But where The Hobbit plays at having a heart this movie really has one in Steve Rogers.   When he decides once and for all that truth is the only right way to go, when even Natasha sees things his way, when he destroys both Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D.  because they are two sides of the same coin, that is when he truly becomes the kind of man Captain America should be.  Chris Evans, who struck me as sort of insipid in the first CA film, also comes into his own in this one.   He is perfect for the role, boyish and charming, with the sort of steely essence that doesn’t come from a super serum or a magic shield.  In a world where even the good people are sort of bad, he will have none of that.  I’m actually looking forward to Evans’ next outing as Captain America

(Usual disclaimer here:  I don’t read the comics.  I’m pretty sure that S.H.I.E.L.D, Hydra, and anything or anyone else that died in this film is only mostly dead.  And as we all know, there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.  Hell, in the comics even all dead is only mostly dead.)

Although the movie primarily serves as a meditation on the dicey ethical tradeoffs we have made in response to the world’s dangers, it is also an homage to Cold War spy thrillers and old-time action movies.  There’s lots of tricksy spy stuff and hand to hand fighting and not nearly as much CGI as one would think.  Almost everyone in it does a great job.  The lovely Scarlett Johansson is unglamorous and believable as the morally flexible Natasha, who seems to be taking on the role of Rogers’ big sister.  Samuel Jackson is pretty much Samuel Jackson.   Sebastian Stan, who spends much of the film with his face covered, does a creditable job as the Winter Soldier (you may also know him as the Mad Hatter in Once Upon a Time).  An elderly but still totally gorgeous Robert Redford takes a turn as S.H.I.E.L.D’s leader and the eternally lovely Jenny Agutter reprises her role as a member of the security council.  Aside from Evans, though, the real standout is Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon, a man who has seen some shit and come back from it to help others.  He steps to the plate immediately when his country and Captain America need him and he is awesome.

So, it’s a good film, as these thing go.  If you haven’t seen it already, go thee forth and rent it!

Score: Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on December 29, 2014.

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