Captain America: The First Avenger – surprisingly your LiC pick of the week

Here’s what new in theaters this weekend. If none of the below melt your butter, be sure to check out the Now Playing page with a full survey of the current cinema with synopses plus trailer, showtime and review links.

  • Captain America: The First Avenger (****). Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny zero turned Nazi-fighting hero by way of a World War II-era super soldier experiment that transforms him from a 90 pound weakling into a muscular action figure. Nothing less than the fate of the world is at stake as Nazi scientists, led by the villainous Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), uncover mythic Teutonic relics that will power an army of deadly and unstoppable weapons. Armed with his new physique and wielding an indestructible metal shield, can Captain America save the world from Nazi tyranny? In a summer lousy with superhero movies, it looks like they saved the best for last. Earnest without being self-important, funny without winking at its audience and full of the kind of two-fisted action you might find in a 1940s serial (jazzed up for a modern age, of course), Captain America finds the superhero sweet spot. Bucking the recent trend of mopey, brooding superheroes in favor of a character who actually enjoys his super powers, here’s a comic book movie that doesn’t forget to have fun. Haley Atwell lends support as a beautiful British agent involved in the experimental soldier program, Tommy Lee Jones grounds things nicely as the skeptical Army colonel in charge while Dominic Cooper adds a little panache as industrialist Howard Stark, the future father of Iron Man. (Wide)
  • Another Earth (***). A popular performer on the festival circuit, Another Earth is a super low budget psychological sci-fi drama that emphasizes claustrophobic emotions over sci-fi thrills. While admiring a new object in the heavens, an aspiring young astrophysicist crashes her car into a family, killing the mother and the child. It turns out the new star is an alternate Earth and it’s getting closer. Upon her recovery, the young astrophysicist worms her way into a job keeping house for the distraught husband and father whose life she’s ruined forever. Is there some way she can make amends? Can she ever even tell him who she really is? And by the way, what’s up with that alternate Earth anyway? Another Earth is fraught with ominous portent, features a moving performance from William Mapother (TV’s Lost and a million other things besides being Tom Cruise’s half-brother), but it’s more slowly paced than Tarkovsky and not half as psychologically compelling. (NY/LA)

  • The Myth of the American Sleepover (** 1/2). This low-budget, Dazed and Confused-esque look at the small town high school experiences of a group of teens on the last day of summer received affectionate notices at Cannes, SXSW and other festivals, but for me it traffics in a brand of teen nostalgia I don’t happen to share. There’s an affection for the good, the bad and the ugly of it that befits a 20-something who is sorry to realize he’ll never be able to go back to being a teenager. I say “thank god I never have to do that again and while you’re at it pour me another legal drink.” On the other hand, if you have a shred of wistful good feeling for your own teen years, this modest little nugget is very well done and you’ll probably want to have a look. (NY)
  • Friends With Benefits. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake explore the terrain of non-committal sex between two friends. The two leads have undeniable appeal and the marketing would have you believe this movie shatters the rom-com as we know it, but let’s not kid ourselves: non-committal sex between two friends either ends in committal sex between two friends or it ends in tears and recrimination. You can guess how this one is going to wind up because this is Hollywood where everyone looks like Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake and everything has to have a soft landing that sends couples out into the night content that they’re doing the right thing. I guess if it wasn’t bullshit it wouldn’t be so goddamn appealing. Still, bullshit is bullshit. (Wide)
  • Sarah’s Key. Kristin Scott Thomas investigates the plight of Jewish families in Paris who are rounded up by French police during the Nazi occupation 70 years before. Her story merges with that of her subject when she learns the home she wants to buy was once owned by a Jewish family who themselves disappeared. (Limited)
  • A Little Help. Jenna Fischer (TV’s The Office) stars in this indie comedy drama about a 30-something mom coping with her increasingly difficult 12-year-old son and her cratering marriage. When her husband surprisingly dies, her world is at first turned upside down, but maybe it’s just the kick she needs to get her life back on track. (Limited)
  • The Woman with the 5 Elephants. I could tell just from the title I was gonna have to cut right to the official blurb. I was right. “The 5 elephants are Dostoyevsky’s great literary works, all of which have been translated by the 87-year-old Svetlana Geier, considered the world’s most masterful translator of Russian literature into German. The filmmaker visits with a woman whose fascinating, dramatic life story has been colored by some of the most violent events in 20th century European history: Stalin’s purges of the kulaks (responsible for her father’s death) and the Nazi occupation of the Ukraine (ultimately responsible for saving her life and leading to a university education in Germany). A rigorous intellectual whom we’re privileged to watch parse the language, word by word, with her colleague, she warms the screen with the depths of her dignity and humanity. Language as a civilizing force is the thread that runs through Geier’s life, and it illuminates every minute of the film.” (NY Wed 7/20)

7 Responses to “Weekend Forecast: Captain America saves summer”

  1. You liked Captain America, huh? How does it fare when compared to the better superhero films like TDK, Spider-Man-2 and others?

  2. No one is as surprised as me I had fun with Captain America. Part of the appeal of it is that it doesn’t really compare to TDK or Spidey at all. There’s none of that angsty “oh woe is me I’m a superhero” conflict. It was goofy, but good natured and I really liked the WWII period element. It was instantly less interesting when he transitioned to modern times at the end in anticipation of the Avengers flick though.I wish they’d given him another movie all his own set in the 40s before the big jump. They could theoretically go back and have flashback solo adventures, but they pretty much wrapped up his whole origin to victory over Red Skull arc in this film.

    Anyway, to go back to your original question, I have a feeling people who were really high on TDK might find this one a little silly. Personally, I liked the light spirit, the clear cut good and evil and Joe Johnston did a much better job with the action than Nolan.

  3. Well, this is rather interesting. I’ll have to check out Captain America now, it’s always a nice surprise to find encountered opinions. Especially from you, Craig ;D

  4. I thought “Captain America” was okay, but only just. Good period design, good sense of composition and short-term action coverage/choreography, but not terribly ambitious in terms of its set-pieces. The script was a little too self-satisfied with its hamfisted dialogue and WWII gung-ho spirit, wavering somewhere between propaganda parody and all American sincerity. Hugo Weaving was fun as the Red Skull, but I couldn’t help thinking that Hydra was there partly to help make the movie easier for marketing (swastikas are a hard sell on toys) and because the idea of a superhero actually fighting real Nazis is silly for any number of reasons (1– because it’s obviously made-up, 2– because it belongs to another era of propaganda sock’em in the jaw spirit and 3– because regular real-world forces wouldn’t put up much challenge to the likes of ol’ Cap). The way that they’re rendered in the film, though, they’re a little too Cobra Command, for my tastes, and really everything in this movie I felt was better done already in the “G.I. Joe” movie a couple years back.

    Also, forgive me if I’m getting something from my history lessons wrong, but wasn’t the Army segregated during WWII? Don’t get me wrong, they come up with a convincing origin for the diverse assembly of the “Howling Commandos”, or whatever they are. But there was a mixture during the USO sequences that stuck me as a little clueless. It reminded me of an incident Terry Gilliam recounted about directing a Nike commercial with ball-players in 1940’s baseball uniforms, with him complaining that it was a little insensitive to have black players as Major League professionals in the pre-Jackie Robinson era. But who knows, for all I know there might’ve been a lot of unofficial mixing before Truman’s orders.

  5. Bob, considering you and I are reading from completely different books when it comes to this genre, I’m not surprised you didn’t think much of it.

    It turns out I liked the mix of ham-fisted and sincere. The set pieces were just right.

    And you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t turn to a superhero flick for my racial history lessons.

  6. CA was fun, Evans a nice, sincere hero for a change. Tuccis terrific. And Weaving looked like the best Red Skull. Just thought it generic in the action and the video-game cgi by the end — how about a nice scene introducing CA with his howlin’ commandos instead of a montage? And a really limp final scene.

  7. Like I said above, the segue to modern day and the Avengers was massively deflating to me. I want to see more movies with Cap and the commandos in WWII. That and Evans’ sincerity without him acting like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders all the time were breaths of fresh air.

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