Archive for New York

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by Tom Austin-Morgan

‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is the final installment of introductions to the characters appearing in ‘The Avengers’ next Summer. Chris Evans, whose last superhero role was as The Human Torch in the ‘Fantastic 4’ movies (also a Marvel comic adaptation), takes to another famous spandex-clad role as the red-white-and-blue-est good guy this side of DC’s Superman.

Steve Rogers is a small, thin, asthmatic, weedy kid who wants to join the army to fight the Nazis as he dislikes bullying (’cause that’s what the Nazis were, right?!). After being turned down time and again at various recruiting stations he is spotted by a German doctor, Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who signs him up for an experimental project which might see him signed up and on the front line.

During training he stands out, much to the disapproval of Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), by displaying less-than-adequate physical ability. But his ability to think outside of the box, as well as selflessness, bravery, determination and his sense of right and wrong mark him out to be selected for a revolutionary scientific procedure to produce the perfect soldier to uphold America’s ideals.

The experiment succeeds, and a German spy steals some of the serum that has affected Rogers’ genetic make-up and kills Dr Erskine in the process. Rogers chases the spy down and takes back the serum. This is the first scene where he uses his new-found strength and provides a couple of slap-stick moments as he is finding his feet, being that he is a couple of feet taller and wider, and immeasurably stronger than before. It also sees him wielding a taxi door as a makeshift shield in the iconic pose of Captain America.

Despite all this, Colonel Phillips still denies him the chance to fight on the front line; instead he becomes the face of U.S. propaganda against the Nazis at home, performing in theatres in the garish Captain America suit from the comics and the awful 1990 film. While all this is happening an SS officer, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), has found a religious artefact called the Tesseract which Schmidt describes as “the jewel of Odin’s treasure room”, linking it in with the Thor storyline. He and his assistant, Dr Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), decide to distance themselves from the Nazi party. Their scientific division, HYDRA, starts focusing its research into producing the ultimate weapon using the power of the Tesseract.

While on a tour of the forces, Rogers gets a fleeting chance to show exactly what he’s made of when he realises his brother has been captured by HYDRA, so he commandeers a plane with the help of love interest and  stiff-upper-lipped Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Tony Stark’s dad, and parachutes behind enemy lines.

Rogers infiltrates the base, rescues the captured soldiers and brings them all back to the U.S. base after coming face-to-face with Schmidt, who reveals himself to be the Red Skull, the original experimental soldier created by Dr Erskine. Rogers is hailed a hero and is welcomed into the army by Colonel Phillips and straight into the role of Captain in his own elite division; talk about a backtrack!

Thus ensues a long montage of this group of soldiers fighting all across Europe against HYDRA’ s (not the Nazis) super-weaponary; his suit has now become a little more military-issue and less star-spangled, though the colours are still red, white and blue. This ends with what seems to be the final battle where our heroes infiltrate the mountain hideout of HYDRA in the biggest underground warehouse in cinematic history (it has a runway for the biggest bomber you’re ever imagined that has to be 5 miles long – it is ridiculous)! The sequence ends in a chase after the plane as it is taking off, a fight in a part of the plane with six HYDRA soldiers around massive bombs and then yet another fight – this time to the death with the Red Skull, who was planning to destroy America (not any of the other allied countries as we have been miraculously edited out of World War II by Hollywood).

Rogers cannot turn the plane from its course so ditches it somewhere in the freezing waters around the North Pole. He wakes up in a suspicious room somewhere in his native New York; when he realises he is being lied to he escapes and breaks out into modern-day New York where he is quickly apprehended by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and inducted into the Avenger programme whereupon the film ends. Talk about an anti-climax.

But then this is, as I said at the beginning of the article, an introduction to a character who will be expanded upon in ‘The Avengers’. But it would have been interesting to see how Steve Rogers adapts to his modern surroundings and what the impact of his situation has on his psyche. Somehow I get the feeling we will find out about this in ‘The Avengers’.

That movie aside, ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is an interesting film. Its visuals are pretty good and the casting is top-notch; it far outstrips the rubbish 1990 straight-to-release outing. The supporting cast was outstanding; Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones especially seem to relish the roles they are given by really hamming it up. Hayley Atwell however, was no good at all. A bit of a charisma vacuum really.  Hugo Weaving was brooding and sinister as the Red Skull, though quite why his head turned red, his hair fell out and his nose dropped off were never truly addressed other than his inner faults manifested themselves. This still doesn’t explain why Captain America didn’t have some sort of physical defect to do with being good, like an enormous chest to support his big heart or something. Chris Evans loves these kind of over-the-top roles and dials the cheesy lines up to 11.

I found the CG a little distressing at the start of the film where Chris Evans’ head is placed on top of a skinny man’s body. But probably because I know what he looks like in real proportions. The Red Skull effects, on the other hand, are flawless. But the big gripe I have with the film as a whole is the ending; it is far too abrupt and anti-climactic, though I do realise that it is merely an introduction to a character. I think the director, Joe Johnson, handled it well given that Captain America is a bit of a cartoon and previous outings have been panned. Now we just have to wait for ‘The Avengers’ next year, though if you stay ’til the end you get a teaser trailer for said film.


Review: Limitless

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2011 by Tom Austin-Morgan

First of all, a message to the man in the back row of screen 4 in the Rochester Cineworld, Sunday 3rd April: No-one wants to see your feet!

I was made to feel sick to my stomach when a man sat in the middle of the row, with the stairs in front of him, proceeded to undress his feet and put them up on the chair in front of him. My suspicion is that he wasn’t happy with having one of the two or three seats in the whole screen with the most leg room; he wanted the whole half of the back row for himself by putting people off moving past him by blocking the way with his massive, gnarly flippers. Further to this he wasn’t even wearing socks, which smacks of going out of his way to achieve his goal.

A brave couple did decide to sit past him on ‘his’ row, which almost incited an argument. It ended with the selfish man relenting and letting the couple past with the guy throwing a final, brilliant put-down: “Nice toes.” Which made the people sitting within earshot laugh.

One last thing before I move on to the main review: if you are someone who does this, or if you are actually this person, when you are in the cinema you are not in your front room. You are in a public place and no-one wants to see or smell your feet; it is anti-social and off-putting to people around you. If you can’t abide by these rules then wait for the DVD. Below is the official code of conduct for the cinematic experience voted for by cinema goers on BBC 5 Live.

Limitless is the story of Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper), an aspiring writer who is suffering from severe writer’s block. He is offered a mysterious drug by his ex-wife’s brother who claims it is above-board and legal. The pill allows him to access all of his brain power but its effects only last a day. In no time he’s written a whole novel, has changed his image, started learning a number of foreign languages and has managed to charm women to sleep with him by using his new-found knowledge to impress them.

What then unfolds is a dubious moral tale of how drugs can take you on a series of unfathomable highs and lows and also how they have an adverse affect on your mental health. In this case, Cooper’s character moves from writing and self-cleansing into stocks and shares quadrupling his money in a matter of days. But the drug turns out to be not so legal, and the blackouts and cravings make him physically sick when he starts to run out of pills after finding out he can’t get any more.

There are a few hard-to-grasp moments where you find yourself wondering why someone with limitless intelligence would make such stupid judgement calls. For example borrowing money from a loan shark and forgetting to pay him back even though he’s made a ridiculous amount  of money on top of that in the first day of trading. Also, if you had a ration of these smart pills (NZT), why would you knock them back with such abandon?

The pace of the film means that there isn’t really a lot of time for you to think about these moments for too long. So much happens in the hour and a half that you have to concentrate, and any ill-timed toilet breaks could leave you lagging behind trying to figure out what just happened.

What is evident is that if Shia LeBeouf had played the lead in this film, which he was supposed to do before breaking his arm, Mora would have been a completely unbelievable character. Cooper plays him in a very genuine and likeable way, even though he is quite a grubby, greedy womaniser with a drug addiction which at one point drives him to drink the blood of a dead man just to get a hit of NZT. This is one of the most uncomfortable scenes I have seen in a long time and a loud groan of impending horror rose from the audience as it unfolded slowly.

Limitless is a well made, if not a little too fast-paced, thriller with some innovative camera work that gives a relentless surging feel as the camera is shot forward down the New York streets, through car windscreens and down sidewalks after Mora takes NZT. Also, when Mora is on the drug, the picture sharpens and colour floods onto the screen to indicate that he is experiencing every detail of the world in his new state of mind as opposed to the dull, grey tinged world he inhabits while off the drug.

 There is some brilliant acting from the cast including a great supporting performance from Robert DeNiro as multi-billionaire Carl Van Loon (a role he must have agreed to for the name alone, as his screen time is only about 15 minutes), who takes Mora on as a financial advisor. But more than this: it shows that Cooper can carry a serious lead role.

This won’t be the best film you’ll see all year, but it is definitely worth a watch if just to ask what you’d do in Mora’s shoes.