Captain America: The First Avenger Review (2011)

As a kid growing up, I watched pro wrestling. Two massive hulking rippling muscled goons would bark at each other and shout about how they’d mop the floor with one another. The villain / bad guy wrestler would usually clobber the hero wrestler when he’d turn his back.

Villains are dirty fighters. They will do anything they can and/or need to do to win. They have only one rule: win at any cost. They’re menacing because if they make the rules, everyone is doomed. They get joy out of the suffering of others, and pure delight out of the thought of having complete control of human beings.

Backstabbing and treachery are par for the course. I’m sure it’s one of the first lessons learned in Beginner Supervillainy 101 courses at supervillain colleges around the world.

Growing up, I loved to read comics. I loved to read Captain America’s adventures when he would square off against his most deadly and cunning foe; the Red Skull.

Going into this movie, I felt I would be somehow disappointed. Exiting the movie, I liked it but something was missing.

The key ingredient was suspense.

Suspense, in dramatic terms, is to leaving your protagonist hanging in a dangerous situation. The last Star Trek movie left Captain Kirk literally in suspense hanging off deadly ledges several times.

Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense. Here’s how it works: you show the audience a bomb hidden in a desk. It’s set to go off at noon. Two characters walk into the office around ten til noon. They sit and talk about something. All the while, you keep showing the audience the clock on the bomb ticking down. Show the seconds rapidly ticking down and you increase the suspense.

If the audience is aware of a danger the hero is unaware of, you have a formula for suspense. The danger could be anything. If we know there’s a wild mountain lion, psycho-killer, or hostile alien behind a door and our hero doesn’t, we’ll fear for the hero if he/she opens that door. As the hero’s hand reaches for the door knob, our heart rates will quicken. That’s suspense.

In the movie, we first meet the Red Skull. He’s cruel, ruthless, clever and played by Hugo Weaving, the man who played Agent Smith in The Matrix. What could go wrong?

Well, nothing on his end. He was good in the movie, as was most of the acting. The costumes and clothing were great. The special effects were great. There was even good character development with Steve Rogers before he becomes Captain America.

Steve/Cap really is a likeable guy and we want to see him succeed. The story had a weak spot, too much character development with Steve Rogers and not enough time spent building tension between Captain America and the Red Skull.

To me, the conflict between Cap and the Red Skull was pretty weak and seemed like paint-by-the-numbers screenplay writing. Thinking about the lack of suspense is what got me thinking about pro wrestling. In a very simple way, the two wrestlers mouthing off at each other before a fight is suspenseful, perhaps in a schoolyard kind of way.

Here’s how I would have reworked the movie. World War II is going badly for the Allies. Hitler creates his supersoldier, the Red Skull. In response, the Allies create Captain America. This aspect could have been played up for dramatic effect in the movie, but was very toned down for some reason. (I suspect the producers are thinking about their international audience and didn’t want to offend German movie goers by reminding them of the war.)

As such, the drama of the war was sort of hinted at. Pssst… there’s a war going on.

So, back to my scenario… Cap and the Red Skull battle back and forth in skirmishes that end in draws. The Red Skull is Cap’s equal, however, the Red Skull is developing his secret weapon.

After watching Cap and Skull square off a few times, they get down to the final confrontation. Everything must be at stake. The audience has to feel it. Cap and the Red Skull get knuckle to knuckle in each others faces as the flying death fortress flies toward America. The Red Skull ends up being chucked out a window, the controls of the plane are heading toward certain death, and the Red Skull, in a last act of villainy, pulled a switch that triggered the launch of one missile. The missile is headed toward Cap’s hometown of New York City. The higher we escalate suspense, the greater the drama.

Cap has to race toward the missile. He runs and clings on to it as it launches. (He’s now literally suspended.) He has to break into the missile, deactivate it, and keep it from crashing into New York. He manages to deactivate the bomb as we see the oncoming skyline of New York. Something goes boom and the missile races off toward the North Atlantic. We’re not sure what happens to Cap, but it’s implied he didn’t survive the crash into the ocean. Thousands of feet in the air, clinging to a missile, is literally very escalated suspense.

Anyway, the movie needed something suspenseful for it’s climax. The movie felt like it was all sort of leading up to the Avengers movie coming out next year. (I suspect the god cube that the Red Skull finds will have something to do with the plot of the Avengers movie.)

Going back to my Harry Potter review, the final showdown between Voldemort and Harry also lacked suspense. We knew Voldemort was toast. It was just a simple formality and had all the drama of watching Harry go shopping for milk.

When a villain loses the upper hand, he ceases to be a threat. If a villain never has the upper hand, he’s not a threat, and as a result he’s not going to be very threatening. A villain with no edge commits the worst sin in storywriting, he’s boring. The Red Skull never seemed to ever have the upper hand on Captain America. If he did, it was very brief. As such, the movie lacked suspense.

Although the movie lacked suspense in the potential clash between the Red Skull and Captain America, it was good overall. There are fun moments, some good stuff for fans (it was cool to see Dum Dum Dugan), it had Samuel L. Jackson as Sgt. Fury, we got to see Tony Stark’s father, and it even had a cameo with Stan Lee.

Overall, I’d say it’s fun enough for a comic book fan, but the story left me lacking. I am looking forward to seeing the Avengers movie, but would be dubious about another Captain America movie.

At least I have the comics to fall back on. Excelsior!

I’d give the movie three out of five vibranium shields.

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Harry Potter 7 part 2 Review (2011)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 and Captain America: The First Avenger each had something in common.

For the most part they were good movies, but each lacked a satisfying ending.

First Harry…

For about a decade now, we’ve watched Harry go from being a fresh faced ten year old to a young adult. As he grew, we learned more about his main antagonist: Voldemort. Voldemort was a shadowy villain slowly gaining power so that he could return to life and eventually take over the world crushing the spirits of wizards and muggles for eternity.

I love the books and love the first four movies. By the fifth movie, the Harry Potter Series was starting to show some wear and tear. I felt myself by that movie saying and feeling, “can we finally get rid of Voldemort already?”

A good villain can wear out his welcome.

So… in good marketing fashion, the Rowling and Hollywood dragged out the inevitable clash between Voldemort and Harry. Books 6 and 7 introduced us to how Voldemort could be killed by destroying horcruxes, magically charged items that contain a piece of Voldemort’s soul.Book 7 leaves us with a mystery about how to find the horcruxes and figuring out how to destroy them.

In the movies, this gave us Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

Where I’m willing to let a book leave me hanging for a bit, it’s not as acceptable to watch a movie and be left hanging. There are logical, technical, and marketing reasons why HP7.1 and HP7.2 were split into two films. Maybe people wouldn’t want to sit through a two and a half hour to three hour movie. It’s more profitable to make two films than one. Yes, yes… I understand that, but what left me hanging was that it took a year before they released the part 2. Yes, I could re-read the book. I could have watched the DVD before watching the movie. But… I’m old school. I waited, and there were bits and pieces of part 1 I had forgotten.

OK, I’m nitpicking.

I thought the HP7.2 was good overall. The effects were great, the acting was good, but the problem was Voldemort. Oh, he’s a cruel and evil villain but he worked best as a menace behind the scenes. I feel that he wasn’t as menacing in HP7.1 and HP7.2.

It still seemed like he was in the background during those two movies. He had his own story, and we were left in the dark not knowing what was going on in that rotten scheming brain of his. He was just evil, but kind of two dimensionally evil.

The final battle between Harry and Voldemort in HP7.2 was, to me, anticlimactic.

A final showdown between a main protagonist and antagonist should be memorable and very personal. I felt there needed to be some serious words between Harry and Voldemort at their final confrontation. Voldemort killed of Harry’s parents for Pete’s sake! Nope. They just sort of pulled out their wands and Harry dusts off Voldemort. – Poof!

We dragged you through 7 books and 8 movies for a simple quick and easy villain kill off. Poof! Dust, dust! “Well… let’s get some pumpkin juice.”

When you create a menacing and cunning villain, who commits lots of acts of evil, he shouldn’t be so easily beaten. OK, sure… it took Harry three movies to figure out how to make Voldemort vulnerable, but the final confrontation seemed lacking.

Despite that, I think the movie was good.

I left the movie with a sad feeling. I liked the Harry Potter movies. I enjoyed reading and watching the adventures of Harry as he grew from a misfit boy into a capable and heroic young man. What made me sad was that this movie and book series came to its final end.

I felt the same way at the end of Return of the Jedi. When I was a kid walking out of the theater of Jedi, I was happy because the movie was good, but sad because I believed at the time that there was not going to be another Star Wars movie.

In this case, I was most saddened because I don’t believe Hollywood has it in itself to make another good series of movies. CGI has come to dominate movie making so much, that its taking the place of storytelling. Stories are about characters not special effects. I learned that while studying how George Lucas made the original trilogy, and its true. However, his prequel movies didn’t resonate as strongly as the first because they’re special effects movies more than character movies.

I’m digressing… Characters are the key to good movies.

J.K. Rowling gave us good characters in Harry, Ron, and Hermione. She deserves to be rich in the creation of them, and kids of future generations can enjoy the exploits of Harry Potter.

I give HP7.2 five out of seven horcruxes. Overall good, just lacks a fulfilling climactic battle between Harry and Voldemort.

In my Captain America review, we’ll discuss suspense.

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Socrates Endorses a Product

Socrates Endorses a Product (Spoof Ad)

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Genghis Khan Product Endorser

Genghis Khan Product Endorsement

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Dairy Tales the Rejected Theme Park Ride

Dairy Tales the Rejected Theme Park Ride

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the Lost Tales of Deagol

Lost Tales of Deagol - LOTR Spoof Ad

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Spy Burger – Fry Another Day Gadgets

If fast food had James Bond gadgets…
fast food gadgets

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The Future of the American Healthcare System

The Future of the American Healthcare System

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Note On Cartoons…

I love animation. I love cartoons. Toons done well are quotable.

Cases in point:

Bugs Bunny: Eh… What’s up, Doc?
Daffy Duck: You’re despicable! – I may be a coward, but I’m a greedy little coward.
Homer Simpson: D’oh! – Well boy, you can sit there eating can after can of dog food or go out and look for your lost dog. Bart: Thanks, Dad! Homer: Rats! I almost had him eating dog food! (Homer is very quotable.)
Eric Cartman: God !
Bender: Bite my shiny metal ass!

I bring this up because I noticed myself walking around my apartment quoting The Monarch from Venture Brothers. Venture Brothers gets a nod for being a new classic cartoon series. It’s a total spoof on the old Johnny Quest cartoon series. Fun for Gen Yers, but more fun for Gen Xers and perhaps a few Baby Boomers. As one who illustrates and loves the look of classic animation, I think the cartoons look great too.

Fun stuff! Cartoon characters are supposed to be goofy and looney. The medium of animation practically begs for the surreal. Pixar does an excellent job of creating animated films. The people who create those films love animation and love storytelling.

Tex Avery loved animated shorts. In my opinion, he was the master.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Review (2011)

Sequels, as a rule, tend to degrade in freshness with each film that follows the original. The original Pirates of the Caribbean movie (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl) had action, character interplay and it was original. We didn’t know what to expect from a character like Captain Jack Sparrow. The two sequels that followed had Captain Jack, but also included stories and plots that made no sense. They included some strange pirate politics that also made no sense. Oh… and they had Captain Jack.

When I first heard of a fourth pirate movie, I said, “meh.” Then I saw the trailer and thought, “Hey, it looks like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Apology for the Previous Sequels.” In a sense, I was correct, but also incorrect.

I like the character of Captain Jack played by Johnny Depp. Depp really got to ham up and have fun with the role, or at least he did. The one thing actors love to do is act. However, this fourth time around, it seemed like he was going through the motions and not having as much fun. Whatever energy, joy, and mischief surrounded the character in the first film had become worn and tired in this current film. I suspect the key ingredient missing was for a character that was the anti-Jack, a straight arrow who plays off Jack as each character must work together to fulfill a goal. Jack needed a William Turner. (Turner was the character played by Orlando Bloom.)

Pirates as characters can be a lot of fun to write, act, and direct. They’re scoundrels, cons, thieves, and not necessarily evil or good. They’re pirates. The PotC (Pirates of the Caribbean) pirates are still Disney pirates, and must be family friendly. This means there needs to be a straight character who is the moral compass. Turner was the compass in the first film, then became ambiguous in the second two films.

In the latest installment, we have some preacher guy. (I had to look up the character’s name in IMDB. That’s not good. That’s a sign that the character was a bit player and not a key character.) Preacher guy (Phillip, played by Sam Claflin) was the moral compass. I did think that the interaction between him and the mermaid character, Syrena was the most interesting part of the film, and could have been used more for dramatic effect.

The story and plot were easy enough to follow in this film. Almost too easy. The Spanish are in the film more as a convenient plot device than anything integral to the story.

I think what was really missing from the film to make it go from okay to great was that we lack a main character who has a strong motivation to accomplish an objective. I think that’s the key ingredient it was missing.

Ultimately, I’d say Disney was looking for a formulaic way to make money off of the PotC franchise with a new marketing strategy. Put international actors in the film, use CGI, and make it in 3D. They made money off of it, enough I’d wager to make another sequel. This film was made more for plundering movie goers out of their booty for than storytelling.

Here’s how I’d summarize the film, it would be a good movie to watch late in the summer when you’re bored and looking for something to do. It’s an okay way to pass a couple of hours. If you had other things to spend your hard earned gold doubloons on, go do that. It wouldn’t be a bad lazy Sunday afternoon movie rental to watch with the family.

I’d give it 2.5 out of 5 Jolly Rogers.

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