Flick of the Week: Captain America First Avenger

Captain America The First Avenger

An undemanding, entertaining superhero film, Captain America has modest fun with familiar espionage elements—a great whatsits (a tesseract—that’s a cube) with special powers, secret codes, hidden lairs, and stylish set pieces. It’s a pretty straightforward story, unfolding in high comic book style, mostly in the 1940s. Scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) just wants to kill Nazis. Alas, he is a 90 lb. asthmatic who can’t get enlisted. When Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) admits Steve into a basic training program, the patriot proves himself to be a worthy test subject. He is chosen for a top-secret serum that will turn him into a “Super Soldier who will escort Hitler to the Gates of Hell.” And after being injected with the serum, the skeletal Steve builds muscle mass that turns him into—ta da!—Captain America. For some viewers, the money shot of Steve’s buff and sweaty torso after his physical transformation is the film’s best 3-D special effect. (Most of the 3-D bits are gimmicky explosions or Captain America’s shield flying through the air—nice, but not significantly effective). Although he’s now empowered, Steve’s desire to serve is sidetracked by his having to go off to wear tights and perform in a kitschy War Bond raising musical revue where he punches Hitler and wows pre-teens. He eventually proves his real worth on the battlefield, defying orders and completing some derring-do. While Captain America builds to a showdown between Steve and arch villain Johann Schmidt/aka Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), the action sequences have a sense of diminishing returns about them. A nifty early chase sequence with Steve running barefoot through Brooklyn to catch a bad guy is more exciting than a poorly edited sequence set on a train. But the lack of edge-of-your-seat excitement is the only real flaw in this marvelous looking film. Captain America boasts some terrific period design and details—especially in the World Expo scene, where Howard Stark (Tony’s dad, played here by Dominic Cooper) offers a car that doesn’t need wheels. Captain America of course, is setting up the Avengers franchise—and the film’s ending makes this clear, even though there (sorry, fanboys) is no post-credit cookie. Evans does a fine job in the title role, but his co-stars, from the amusing Tucci to the sinister Weaving and his colleagues Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) all make stronger impressions. This film may not satisfy hardcore comic book fans, but it is an enjoyable enough entry in the Marvel series.

Tabloid

Joyce McKinney, the subject of Errol Morris’ rollicking documentary Tabloid is either an egregiously misunderstood woman or simply batshit crazy. Perhaps both. This former Ms. Wyoming fell in love with a Mormon named Kirk Anderson and followed him to England where she hoped to marry him. Instead she was arrested for kidnapping Anderson, tying him up, and raping him. But did he consent and have second thoughts? Tabloid allows McKinney and various observers recount what (might have) happened.

When McKinney speaks, she adamantly believes she is telling the truth, even though she claims, “You tell a lie for long enough, you believe it.” From her bizarre flight from justice to her later attention-grabbing antics involving her pet dog Booger, McKinney’s experiences are so fantastic, they are hilarious.

But just how much of Tabloid is true? Morris lets audiences decide what they want to believe as a variety of talking heads and amusing clips, “headlines,” and animated bits echo the subjects’ testimony. Morris’ wink-wink commentary here is what makes Tabloid such a cinematic page-turner. Whatever one believes–and there is almost too much to digest here–McKinney’s story is both unbelievable and remarkably entertaining.

ALSO OPENING

Beats, Rhymes & Life:  The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest: Actor Michael Rapaport directs this documentary on the hip hop band.

Friends with Benefits: Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis star as the title characters in this romantic comedy about friends who try not to complicate their relationship with sex. (Did they miss No Strings Attached earlier this year?)

Love Etc.

This modest, moderately absorbing documentary chronicles a handful of New Yorkers hooking up, breaking up, or staying together. The film hopes to define what love means, and how people maintain it. Filmmaker Jill Andresevic is not entirely unsuccessful in this regard, but the plays out like an extended episode of the old TV show Love, American Style. The secret to a particular couple’s happiness is something perhaps only they can understand–which may be why the subjects of this film have been selected to reveal their relationships. Love, it seems, is all about communication, and as much about having sense of self-worth as it is caring for others. The couples profiled include two teenagers experiencing first love, an Indian couple that is engaged, and an elderly pair, celebrating almost 50 years together. The “single” stories include Ethan, a divorced 40 year-old with two kids and Scott, a gay theatre director who is having kids via a surrogate. Love Etc. investigates how these individuals each cope with the joys and sorrows of their relationships, as well as the demands of their partners, children, and potential lovers. But there is only so much revelation when Ethan is asked to curb his drinking and smoking by a woman he starts dating, or when Chitra nags her fiancé Mahendra about how to do things. Love Etc. is ultimately as charming as it is inconsequential.

The Man Who Fell to Earth: A re-release of the David Bowie sci-fi classic on its 35th anniversary, in a special Director’s Cut.

Project Nim: A stunning documentary about a group of scientists who raised Nim, a baby chimp, as if it were a human. The film, directed by James Marsh, interviews the folks involved, and the mistakes that were made in this daring, experiment.

Sunflower and the Secret Fan: Wayne Wang, who brought The Joy Luck Club to the screen returns with this adaptation of Lisa See’s novel, about two women 19th Century China and their contemporary descendents.

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Gary Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based film critic who thinks Sandra Bullock mambos. He likes eating ethnic food and watching ethnic movies—though not necessarily both at the same time or from the same country.

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