Sunday, July 24, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

When reviewing Thor for this blog, I mentioned how enthralled I've been with Marvel Studio's efforts in bringing their super-heroes to the big screen, and thankfully Captain America: The First Avenger is another prime example of that excellence that I've become accustomed to.

The story follows a young man named Steve Rogers, deemed too unfit for military service, but wanting desperately to serve his country in the midst of WWII. Steve is given the chance of a lifetime, when a brilliant scientist recommends him to test a serum that can turn even a 90 pound weakling like him into a "super soldier". However, there is more to this war than just the Allies against the Nazis. Led by the villainous Johann Schmidt, or as comic book fans might know him, the Red Skull, a group calling itself "Hydra" plans a worldwide attack to establish his superiority and rule the planet.

Point blank, this movie is pretty great. It has a few somewhat corny moments, but it's so exhilarating the rest of the time that I hardly noticed. A lot of that has to do with the tremendous production design, as the WWII backdrop reminds me a lot of Indiana Jones at times. Given that director Joe Johnston worked on those films as well, it's not that surprising that the period details pop as much as they do.

When I first heard that Chris Evans was going to be playing the Captain, I must admit I was a little nervous. I was sure that his turn as the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four movies would completely taint my view of him. I am happy to report, however, that he completely overcame my initial bias within seconds. He did a great job of personifying not only the heroic Captain America, but also the loyal and noble Steve Rogers, which is not an easy task. The supporting cast nearly stole this film, with Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci putting in terrific performances. Hugo Weaving really does great work playing Red Skull, being careful not to overplay it, but not dialing back his menace either. He's a formidable foe for Cap, and may be the most effective villain of all the Marvel films to date.

This being the last movie before the grand Avengers team-up, there were clearly some bridges to be crossed in order to bring Cap into the Marvel universe, but again I thought this was done with great care; just a cherry on top of what I thought was a wholly entertaining summer blockbuster.

As with all the other Marvel films, STAY AFTER THE CREDITS! You will be rewarded immensely if you do! That's all I'm saying... What Marvel gives us is a wonderful treat, and you will leave the movie theater actually giddy with excitement (at least, that's how Lara and I were). I really liked Captain America: The First Avenger, and I give it a very solid three stars. Next stop for Marvel, The Avengers!

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER is rated PG-13 for violence, intense action sequences, and some scary images.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

It's been 10 years since Harry Potter first hit the big screen with Sorcerer's Stone. We have all watched them grow up right before our eyes, hitting highs and lows but never quite receiving a full pay-off. This movie, which has been split into two parts, was a thrilling and highly rewarding viewing experience. I decided to review the whole movie (parts one and two) instead of just the second half. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows begins with Harry, Ron, and Hermione setting off alone, after the devastating events that concluded the previous chapter in the series, and searching for the objects containing bits of Lord Voldemort's desecrated soul knowing that only by destroying them can the Dark Lord be defeated.

The first part of this film is wonderfully captured, being very different from all other entries of this story thus far in that Harry does not return to school. The change in setting can feel a little jarring, but it provides the three leads with the opportunity to really shine in the spotlight. They not only manage to hold our attention, but they all but carry the movie by themselves as the narrative sets the stage for the final showdown known as The Battle of Hogwarts. The first part of the film certainly has its flaws (the dance scene in the tent, for example...), but otherwise it's a thrilling set-up to the series climax. The last battle between the followers of Voldemort's and those who fight on the side of "The Chosen One" is filled with poignant moments of loss, love, and sacrifice.

Every actor in this film is top notch, especially Alan Rickman who gives the performance of his career as the dark and immensely complex character of Severus Snape. Daniel Radcliffe has a few moments that are absolutely spell-binding (pun-intended), particularly after seeing a memory that sheds light on what his real mission is. That quiet moment of realization as he comes to terms with what he must do in order to defeat the most evil wizard of all time is devastating and captivating at the same time. As a huge fan of the books, I was just as worried as anyone else that my favorite moments would be ruined or short-changed, but I am happy to report that the most important parts of the story are portrayed beautifully, leaving most of the people in the theater positively weeping.

This final chapter in the saga is not only fitting, but completely satisfying in the best possible way. Having already broken the all-time record for the highest grossing opening weekend at the box office, I would be surprised if many people I know haven't seen this already, but I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Go see it, particularly if you are a fan of the books. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a  wonderful parting gift to the boy wizard we have all come to know and love. I give this film four stars. "All is well."

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS are both rated PG-13 for intense action sequences, fantasy violence, and some frightening images.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

X-Men: First Class

When it comes to X-Men movies, I have been pretty lenient in my criticsims. I was a fan of "X3: The Last Stand" and was one of the few that actually enjoyed "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". I went into this movie with moderate expectations, hoping for a reasonably good X-Men movie. I definitely wasn't expecting a great film, regardless of genre, but that's what I got. Set in the 60's, "X-Men: First Class" focuses on the back-story of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr who went on to become Professor X and Magneto respectively.

The plot centers around the Cuban Missile Crisis and the hand the mutants may or may not have played in its secret history. While this in itself is entertaining, the emotional crux of the story lies in the friendship of the two leads. Erik, a victim of the Holocaust with a terribly troubled childhood, seeks a figure from his past on whom he has a personal vendetta. Charles, on the other hand, grew up in a wealthy household and went on to become a professor at Oxford University while still in his twenties. Charles meets Erik in an unusual way, but is able to use his rare gifts (telepathy) to tap into some of Erik's more troubling, and more heart-warming memories to help him progress in many ways.

I thought this movie was pretty brilliant. Director Matthew Vaughan does a great job balancing drama with action set pieces all while interweaving this film with the original trilogy (though there are a few minor discrepancies in continuity). The two leads played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were absolutely pitch-perfect in their respective roles. Both had large shoes to fill from their predecessors, and both made me more fond of their incarnations than I had been with the originals. Some moments are even tear-jerking between them; something you don't get in your average summer blockbuster, let alone in an X-Men movie. I definitely recommend this movie. This is easily the best of the X-Men franchise and one of my favorite films of the summer. I give "X-Men: First Class" four stars.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language.