The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Episode 1 Review

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It’s a great week for superhero fans. I know that today DC fans are rejoicing for the #SnyderCut of Justice League. Well, even though I have enjoyed some DC superhero movies in the past, I’m not clamoring to see the 4-hour slog elongated version of what I think I saw back in 2017 that I could barely remember, ahah. I did rejoice when I saw an email from Disney saying I had a screener of episode 1 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TFATWS) earlier this week! Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my favorite film of the MCU, and also the best of my favorite MCU trilogy. The Captain America movies are all solid but I dare say The Winter Soldier, where Falcon (Sam Wilson) and Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes) first met, is more than a fantastic superhero movie, it’s a phenomenal movie period.

Ever since Disney+ launched in November 2019 in the US (boy that seemed like lightyears ago!), THIS is the series I couldn’t wait to see. Of course the pandemic delayed everything, including this one. Well, let’s just say it’s so worth the wait!! I rewatched Captain America: Civil War in anticipation for this miniseries, and even THIS scene alone made me wish there’s a movie dedicated to these two. So getting an equivalent of 3 movies but on TV is awesome!!

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This is only one of six episodes where, like WandaVision, will not have a follow-up season. I think it’s brilliant that Marvel Studio president Kevin Feige set up these miniseries so filmmakers can dive more deeper into intriguing MCU characters that don’t have their own dedicated movies. And when you’ve got terrific actors like Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, there’s plenty of opportunities to see them flex their dramatic muscles. It’s also cool to see a female director at the helm. Kari Skogland is no stranger to directing high-profile series, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Punisher, Walking Dead, The Americans, etc. though TFATWS’s $150 mil budget (for just 6 episodes!!) is no doubt the highest she’s been involved in.

TFATWS opens with a bang! A high-octane action in the vein of the opening sequence of Winter Soldier, but focusing on Falcon instead. The fight choreography is just as good as what you saw in the opening sequence, plus we see a familiar face of the antagonist Falcon is fighting against. If you love Falcon’s flying sequences (and who doesn’t?), well you’re gonna enjoy the spectacular high-flying action scene, the best Falcon flying-action I’ve seen so far! So glad to hear composer Henry Jackman back composing his kinetic score, which perfectly complements the dynamic action Even from the trailers, you can tell the production values is top notch. There’s a cinematic feel to it, which means Marvel isn’t treating these streaming-version content like a step-child amongst the MCU.

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But what I also appreciate is the slower, reflective moments for each character. Per Disney’s production brief, Skogland promises “…an epic, character-driven story. We get to go inside these characters and their world in a much more intimate way.” Timeline-wise, this one takes place six months since the events of Avengers: Endgame known as the Blip, where half of all life across the universe returned after the 5-year period where Thanos snapped them out of existence. So obviously things aren’t exactly back to normal yet for everyone, including these two Avengers. After five years in oblivion, they’re trying to find their place in a world that is no longer the same. The miniseries addresses some of those Blip ramifications in a personal way, displaying their personal baggage and inner struggles.

In terms of his home life, we get to meet Sam’s sister Sarah Wilson (Adepero Oduye) and his nephews who runs the Wilson Family Seafood business Louisiana. It’s a real and relatable moment seeing Sam trying to help Sarah save the struggling family business, even so far as helping her secure a loan from a bank. It humanizes the hero and show that they’re not perfect humans who are immune from ‘ordinary’ problems many of us face.

Meanwhile, Bucky’s struggles is more rooted in his identity. I mean, he’s the only Avenger who has done really heinous things such as murdering a fellow Avenger’s parents. Even though he wasn’t really himself when he did it, that is still an impossibly hard thing for anyone to reconcile with. We saw him being ravaged with guilt in Civil War even when Steve still stood by him, here we see his struggles haven’t gone away for the hero-turned-baddie-turned-hero-again. No wonder he’s in therapy, he’s been through SO much trauma! This episode explores Bucky trying to atone for his past sins, with flashback scenes of him on a mission when he was still brainwashed as the assassin Winter Soldier.

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Though Steve Rogers is no longer around in this MCU timeline, Captain America’s spirit permeates through the entire episode. There is a solemn moment where Sam paid homage to his personal friend and fellow Avenger, and we get to reflect on that memorable passing-of-the-shield moment scene in Endgame and what it means to Sam personally. Obviously it’s a huge responsibility to take on that mantle… and this interview with the miniseries’ creator Malcolm Spellman talks about how he “…saw the show as an opportunity to be frank about race in America” In regards to the shield with the American flag symbol, “…being as a Black man, is it even appropriate to have that symbol? That symbol means something very different in Sam’s hands than it does in Steve’s.” It’s certainly timely to have this conversation and I’m glad they didn’t shy away from it.

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Though the tone of trailers are more comedic filled with witty, even silly banters between the two, the start of the miniseries is more serious before Sam and Bucky meet up. I actually don’t mind it as the story is still engaging and it makes me anticipate the action-packed adventure in store for these two! I’m also curious to see how the journey of some familiar characters in this miniseries, particularly Daniel Brühl‘s Zemo, the Sokovian special forces whose vengeful tactic was to get the Avengers to fight each other. Unlike Red Skull, Zemo isn’t one of those sociopath villain hellbent on controlling the world, his evil scheme was motivated by grief when he lost his family in Sokovia. Last we saw him in Civil War, he’s confined in a German prison, so I wonder what the story is with him and why/how he’s out in the world again.

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There’s also Emily VanCamp as Agent Sharon Carter returning, and the one major new character is John Walker played by Wyatt Russell (yep, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son). In the comics, Walker a.k.a. U.S. Agent is actually a baddie called Super-Patriot. But in this miniseries, he supposedly will partner with Sam and Bucky to protect the world from a new threat. There are scenes of Falcon with a mysterious character who’s a US soldier, played by Danny Ramirez (who’s curiously missing from the IMDb page). He seems to play a prominent role but we’ll see what his story arc will be.

So yeah, so far so good! I think this episode is a strong start that ticks all the boxes for MCU fans and get us even more excited for Phase Four. I certainly appreciate that it’s not all action + explosions, it’s got a nice blend of drama, suspense and action that allow these two characters to shine. I’m also curious to see which Avenger cameo(s) we will see. The cinematography is fantastic, which I expect given the huge budget. I only wish they’d go easy on the extreme close-ups though, it’s fine if used sparingly but I really don’t need to see every strand of Bucky’s eyelash for an uncomfortably long period of time.

In any case, I won’t be reviewing every single episode, but might do a recap once the entire miniseries wraps.

4/5 stars

Here’s a sneak peek that just dropped today at the Virtual Launch:


Anyone else excited for this series? If you have seen ep. 1, well what did YOU think?

3 new Netflix movies I can’t wait to see this month

I guess it’s no longer a surprise that Netflix has become such a studio behemoth, but now I’ve found myself anticipating Netflix movies as much as those from other studios. I mean it’s free anyway since I have the subscription and with movie theaters closed, obviously more studios have decided to release their movies on streaming.

Well, thanks to Wiki, there’s quite a list of movies coming in 2021, but it’s only January so I’m just focusing on the ones coming out in the next two months. I have blogged about The Dig, starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, so I’m not going to mention it again here. Action, crime thrillers, emotional drama, comedy, romance… there are definitely something for everyone here.

Outside the Wire

Releases January 15

In the near future, a drone pilot sent into a war zone finds himself paired with a top-secret android officer on a mission to stop a nuclear attack.

My first thought when I first saw this was… ‘So Falcon now becomes even more powerful than Captain America!’ He won’t be needing the shield as as a cyborg. Not clear how becomes an android officer, but he obviously still looks and sound very human and the character tells the drone pilot that he still feels more than you think. Well, it looks intriguing enough, and I like Anthony Mackie so this should be worth a look. The movie also stars British actor Damson Idris and Danish actor Pilou Asbæk, and directed by Swedish director Mikael Håfström (Escape Plan, The Rite).

The White Tiger

Releases January 22, 2021

The epic journey of a poor Indian driver who must use his wit and cunning to break free from servitude to his rich masters and rise to the top of the heap.

This one is based on a debut novel of the same name by Aravind Adiga, an Indian-Australian writer and journalist, which won the 2008 Man Booker Prize. I’m intrigued partly by the director, Ramin Bahrani who made the excellent drama 99 Homes. This one also deals with a similar theme of a down-on-his-luck person rising up to power, escaping from the life he was born to. It looks more like a dark comedy than a heavy crime drama, starring Adarsh Gourav, Rajkumar Rao and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas. Queen’s I Want to Break Free is quite an interesting choice that’s somehow perfect for the trailer.

Penguin Bloom

Releases January 27, 2021

Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the film tells the story of Sam Bloom a young mother whose world is turned upside down after a shocking, near-fatal accident leaves her paralyzed. Sam’s husband, her three young boys and her mother are struggling to adjust to their new situation when an unlikely ally enters their world in the form of an injured baby magpie they name Penguin.

This one is also based on a novel AND a real life story. Honestly, I’m usually not too keen on sad movies and this one definitely looks like a tearjerker. After watching the trailer though, I’m curious enough to give it a shot. I haven’t seen Naomi Watts in anything lately, though it seems like I’ve seen her in similar role like this one. Looks like this one is an Australian production, with an Aussie filmmaker and mostly actors from Down Under: Watts, Jacki Weaver and Rachel House who’s from New Zealand. Andrew Lincoln is British though, nice to see him take a break from all the Walking Dead projects. I’ll be sure to have tissues handy when I watch this one.


What do you think of this lineup? Is there one you’re looking forward to seeing?

FlixChatter Review: SYNCHRONIC (2020)


Directed by: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Written by: Justin Benson
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Ally Ioannides

Coming off the critical success of The Endless (2017), Synchronic is the fifth collaboration between the directing duo of Benson and Moorhead. While not in the same universe as that of their previous 2 films (with 2012’s Resolution as a semi-prequel to The Endless), the film categorically shares the sci-fi/horror genre and with similar stylistic flair along with high tier lead actors in Anthony Mackie (The Avengers) and Jamie Dornan (50 Shades franchise).

Set in modern-day New Orleans, Mackie and Dornan play paramedics Steve Denube and Dennis Dannelly who come across a bizarre case of young people overdosing over a new designer drug called Synchronic. The cases grow and become more horrifying each time, all while their personal lives are taking a dark turn – Mackie a lonely playboy with a serious illness and Dornan with domestic family difficulties. Everything falls apart when Dennis’ teenage daughter Brianna (Ioannides) disappears while allegedly taking the drug. While Dennis tries to repair things at home, Steve decides to try and find his friend’s daughter at a high cost.

With its atmospheric pacing and neo-psychedelic sequences, Sychronic is a stylish sci-fi thriller that seems to be the love-child of Ken Russell’s 1980 cult-classic Altered States and Scorsese’s 1999 supernatural film Bringing Out the Dead. The filmmakers set it up promisingly with creepy strokes of imagery and for the most part maintain it through the 2nd act. As in their previous films, Benson and Moorhead add touches of H.P. Lovecraft and at times mirroring some of the themes we see from Lovecraft Country. There are portrayals of racial profiling and segregation as well as slavery. However, for good or bad, the filmmakers chose not to use this as a plot development point, even though it’s insinuated that present day New Orleans is (as most of the country) still rife with racism.

Mackie is fine as an involuntary bachelor with an existential crisis. While he tackles the character with serious gusto as usual, he’s able to dash on some likable humor which tellingly are the filmmakers’ attitude in not taking things too seriously. Dornan is merely there and the other actors as just props.

The 3rd act is when Synchronic becomes a predictable time travel yarn with the usual flaws in believability. There are those moments of “really?” with a big question mark but that is to be expected and the film glosses over those shortcomings with pacing and Mackie’s likable performance. It is also commendable that the film did not devolve into a full-on gore-fest. That was comforting given the compelling subject matter of a drug epidemic.

Ultimately, beyond the two-dimensionality of the characters and the believability of the plot, the film is a nice enough pit stop for science fiction/thriller fans. While it doesn’t succeed wholly in making us forget the trivialities of time travel science, Benson and Moorhead seem to say that Synchronic need not be synchronous with reality. After all, momentary escape should do.

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So did you see SYNCHRONIC? Let us know what you think!

SUPER BOWL trailers – First look into Falcon + Winter Soldier, Wanda Vision + LOKI series

Happy Monday! Did you watch the SuperBowl? Can’t say that I did, I actually just found out this morning that Kansas City Chief won the game, so congrats!!

I barely even watch any of the ads, but I made sure I checked out the trailers before I went to bed. Thanks to ONE Media for compiling ALL of the trailers into one video, SO convenient!

Here are my brief comments for each MOVIE trailer…

BLACK WIDOW – I’m mildly excited for it, but can’t wait to see Florence Pugh, Hollywood’s new IT girl as Natasha’s sister.

NO TIME TO DIE – Already super excited for this, now even more so… I hope Lashana Lynch has tons of screen time, she looks like the coolest character of the bunch (yep, including Bond himself!)

TOP GUN: Maverick – Looks fun, curious to see if it’ll be a hit.

A QUIET PLACE II – Note to self: better watch the first one pronto (though now I know what the monsters look like, oh well)

MULAN – Dayum it looks EPIC!!! I’m even more excited with this trailer, and Donnie Yen is absolutely perfect casting.

SONIC The Hedgehog – Doesn’t interest me apart from seeing Jim Carrey back, haven’t seen him in ages!

Fast & Furious 9 – Nothing fast about this overlong, outrageous, over the top trailer, and it made me furious why this franchise just keeps on going, ugh! (Boy how much did they pay Dame Helen Mirren & Charlize Theron to keep doing these movies??)

Btw, I thought I’d be seeing another new trailer for WONDER WOMAN. That’s definitely on my Top 5 most anticipated list!


Now… as for those Disney+ new series teasers…

If you just want to see the Marvel TV series trailers, here you go:

 

All I can say is… dayum Disney!!! Just take all my $$$ why don’t you! My hubby and I only signed up for the FREE trial so far just so we can binge on The Mandalorian, but with Falcon + Winter Soldier, WandaVision AND the LOKI series coming, we definitely have to subscribe to Disney+.

I’m lovin’ how WandaVision looks like a retro comedy. Totally not what I expected but I love it! That’s now my most-anticipated series of the three. I do love Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie, they’re such a fun cinematic duo, so it’ll be nice to see their gorgeous mugs more regularly on streaming. Looks like they haven’t shot LOKI at all as we barely see Tom Hiddleston doing anything.


What do you think of these trailers? Which one(s) are you most anticipating this year?

FlixChatter Review – Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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The buzz over the latest Marvel blockbuster has been through the roof. It’s already made over $200 mil internationally before it even opened here in the US, so no doubt it will wipe out any competition here this weekend.

I have to say that despite my increasing superhero fatigue, I was still looking forward to this one mostly because I love the first two Captain America films, and I have faith in the Russo brothers’ direction. Like Zack Snyder with Batman V Superman, Anthony & Joe Russo had the tricky task of not only continuing the thread of the Avenger story, pulling off a large ensemble cast AND help launch/introduce individual standalone films (Black Panther, Spider-man). Suffice to say the Russos did a much, much better job than Snyder in delivering an entertaining Summer blockbuster that’s actually has depth and thought-provoking ideas. Interesting that The Avengers and Superman share a similar predicament in their effort to safeguard humanity, and how the DC and Marvel tentpole movies are dealing with the issue of accountability.

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The ‘Civil War’ in the title stems from an ideological conflict about what should be done in that issue of accountability and collateral damage, and whether a governing body (in this case the UN) should oversee them. Now, the fact that the perceived common enemy happens to be Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) BFF Bucky a.k.a. The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), it’s easy to see which side the Cap is on. The events in The Winter Soldier has undoubtedly made Cap wary of big government and how a centralized power could be manipulative and corrupt. So it makes sense that he won’t be so easily persuaded to sign something like The Sokovia Accords that’d essentially put the Avengers under UN control.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow: Just because it’s the path of least resistance doesn’t mean it’s the wrong path. Staying together is more important than how we stay together.

Steve Rogers/Captain America: What are we giving up to do it?


Whilst the motive behind Captain firmly believing in self-regulation is more clear cut, I’m not as convinced why Tony Stark would support it with little resistance. A cameo by Alfre Woodard briefly reveals the burden of guilt on Tony’s part as the Stark companies supplies most of the weaponry (including Captain himself who was created in the lab of his dad Howard), but still I’d think he’d be more apprehensive about government interference in the Avengers.

I have to say that the film has a pretty slow start. I understand they’d have to establish the conflict and a reason for all the fighting, but it went on a bit too long for my liking and frankly, it all feels a bit tedious. Thankfully, things do pick up as soon as an incident happens at the UN meeting and before you know it, Captain becomes a hunted man wanted by the government along with Bucky. It’s there that we meet new Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)’s member Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and he certainly looks the part. This is perhaps one of the most diverse cast in a Marvel film aside from the X-Men franchise.

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I think the fact that the same writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, are involved in the Captain America trilogy so far makes the film flow nicely and has a cohesive storyline. They also did a decent job showing the events in previous films to viewers who might not be familiar with the Avengers story, i.e. the battle in the fictional Eastern European country Sokovia in Avenger: Age of Ultron that caused massive collateral damage. Marvel fans would especially enjoy the references and inside jokes, especially during the actual civil war battle involving a dozen MCU superheroes. This is also the first time we see the new Spider-man (Tom Holland) as part of MCU and he’s definitely a highlight. Spidey is supposed to be a wisecrackin’ teenager and Holland’s captured that. All his comments as he’s fighting the other heroes, like referencing Empire Strikes Back and saluting Cap before he fights him, are a hoot.

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Spider-Man (to Bucky): You have a metal arm? That is awesome, dude.

The intro to the appropriately-aged character is full of good humor as he’s fanboying over Iron Man, who somehow still has time to flirt with aunt May (Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr’s co-star in the rom-com Only You) despite a brief 36-hour deadline to arrest Cap. There’s a lot of fanboy-ing going on in this movie that’s so hilarious. My fave part is when Ant-Man (the immensely affable Paul Rudd) meets Cap which got one of the biggest laughs in the theater.

Scott Lang/Ant-Man: Look, man, I know you know a lot of super people so… thinks for thanking of me.

Captain America: Civil War is commendable for having the right balance of story, character, emotion, humor AND high-octane action. The fight scenes are well-choreographed that you can actually see the action despite the sheer number of people fighting. It wasn’t so bombastic that it’s headache-inducing. The story never feels cartoonish even with SO many characters involved and the battles feel sprightly and fun without being frivolous or silly. When one character is injured, we feel the emotion of fellow team members and the sense of solidarity is definitely there. The Captain America trilogy benefits from the strong base of Steve/Bucky relationship established in the first film. I totally believe why Cap would go to such length to protect his best friend and stand by his side regardless of what he’s done, and I think Bucky would’ve done the same if the situation were reversed. I love Evans and Stan even more as they become more at ease in their respective roles, and Anthony Mackie is always so charming and fun as Falcon. I also have to mention how I appreciate Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow more and more, and the fact that she’s undeniably torn between the two sides is a testament to her intriguing character arc.

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The key in making a huge ensemble cast work is they have to have a reason for us to care for the characters. It’s getting immensely tricky here but I think keeping the focus on just a small group helps. The final battle between Cap, Iron Man & Winter Soldier is not only cool to watch but it also carries a certain emotional weight because there’s something personal that affects the three of them. It’s perhaps one of the most compelling dramatic moments from RDJ that I’ve seen in all the Iron Man & Avengers movies so far.

That said, I don’t think this film is perfect and I don’t think it’s the greatest MCU film so far, as many critics have said. I’ve mentioned about the rather sluggish start, but there are also moments that don’t really work. Daniel Brühl is a perfectly capable actor but he barely makes a dent here amongst an ocean of characters, though I think the character’s motive is a pretty decent one. The romance between Cap and Sharon Carter also feels so obligatory and the lack of chemistry between Evans and Emily VanCamp doesn’t help. Oh how I miss Hayley Atwell‘s Agent Carter who’s such a strong female character who doesn’t need any superpowers to make a difference. I also find the music unmemorable as I barely remember any of it, which is odd given I LOVE what Henry Jackman did with The Winter Soldier.

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All in all, it’s a VERY good film that ties all three Captain American movies superbly well and would rank amongst the best film trilogies. After this, I’m even more confident in the Russo brothers’ directing talent and MCU is definitely in capable hands if they continue to make Marvel movies. I love the end credits of the first two Captain America movies and they did an excellent job here as well. In terms of replay-ability value, this one ranks third after The Winter Soldier and The First Avenger, both of which I actually just re-watched last night and I still enjoyed them immensely!

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So have you seen ‘Captain America: Civil War’? Let me know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: John Hillcoat’s TRIPLE 9 (2016)

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I’m a big fan of crime action thrillers of the 70s, 80s and 90s, so I was excited to see this new film by Aussie director John Hillcoat. As we all know, the last decade or so the superhero genre has been dominating the box office so crime action thrillers are rarity these days.

The movie opens with a bank robbery that didn’t go as smoothly as planned. The bank robbers weren’t there to steal money but a case in the safe box. In a pretty impressive opening action sequence, the robbers were able to escape unscathed. We then learned that two of the robbers named Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge Ridriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.) are cops and one is an ex-cop named Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul). The rest of the robbers are ex-military men named Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Russell Welch (Norman Reedus). They were tasked to steal something very important for a Russian mob boss named Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet, sporting a very 80s hairdo and weird Russian accent). Irina has a sister named Elena (Gal Gadot), who happens to be Atwood’s ex-girlfriend.

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After Atwood delivered the steal goods to Irina, she told him that she has another job for him and his team. Atwood of course wasn’t interested but Irina told him she won’t pay him for the job he’d just finished unless he gets the second one done. With no other choice, Atwood got his team together again and try to come up with a plan to make the biggest heist of their lives. We then were introduced to a detective named Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), he’s in charge of finding the bank robbers. Allen has a nephew named Chris (Casey Affleck) who’s also a cop and Belmont’s new partner. As the story progresses we learned more about each of these characters and how they’re all some-how connected and we found out meaning of the movie’s title.

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With so many well known actors in one movie, I wasn’t sure if they’re all going to get enough screen time, but to my surprise all of the big players got equal screen time and they played their respectively role quite well. This is the kind of movie that doesn’t really have a central character you want to “cheer” for, each of the characters has their own motivation and there’s no good or bad guy in the story. I had my doubts about Casey’s casting as the supposed “hero” of the story but his character played a central role in the plot and he’s pretty convincing.

John Hillcoat is one of my favorite newer directors and he didn’t disappoint with his direction for this movie. He staged some pretty good action sequences including his signature bloody violence. What really impressed me was how he avoided making the movie into a super dark and serious tone that has plagued most action movies the last few years. This movie feels like a thriller from the 80s and 90s.


Even though I was very impressed with the performances and direction of the movie, I had some problems with the script. Matt Cook is a newcomer in Hollywood and I was surprised his script didn’t get rewrites or more polished by other screenwriters. The story is filled with so many layers that I think a well-established screenwriter could’ve made it into a great script. I’m not saying that Cook’s script is bad just that it needed a lot of fixing. My biggest beef with the script was how the story wrapped so neatly by the movie’s end. I won’t spoil anything but if you saw The Departed then you’ll know what I mean when you see this movie.

Triple 9 is a well made action thriller that could’ve been a classic had the script been more polished. Fans of the buddy cop action and crime thrillers from the 80s and 90s will be pleased with it.

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Have you seen TRIPLE 9? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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It’s always nice when a movie lives up to one’s expectations, even better when it exceeds it. As a big fan of the first film, I’m already invested in the character of Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. I think director Joe Johnston did an outstanding job in introducing a superhero who’s not inherently cool like most of his peers, but his origins story has its undeniable charm and intrigue, not to mention that it perfectly sets up the larger universe of The Avengers. Naturally I was slightly dismayed that Johnston was replaced by a relatively *unknown* pair of directors, Joe & Anthony Russo have done mostly TV work, but as it turns out, I needn’t worry.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up where the first film left off and immediately hits the ground running. Literally. Cap and his future ally Sam ‘The Falcon’ Wilson (Anthony Mackie) *meets cute* during a morning jog near the Washington Monument. It’s a humorous scene filled with all kinds of patriotic symbolism and an efficient throwback to our formerly frozen hero adjusting to modern society, what with his notebook filled with pop culture references he’s missed out on and his ride Black Widow calling him a old fossil. It’s tough living as a man out of his time, the only place he’s most familiar with is the Smithsonian which puts the bygone era on display. The ideals Rogers fought for and believed in has been long gone. “S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the world as it is, not as we’d like to be!” Nick Fury tells him, and he’s given a tour to the monstrous helicarrier hangar that reminds me of the Shatterdome (Jaeger-making factory) in Pacific Rim.

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The conspiracy theory stuff harkens us to the 70s paranoia thrillers, which also borrows some themes from Minority Report when Cap quipped ‘I thought the punishment usually came AFTER the crime.’ Yet somehow the story feels so timely thanks to the Edward Snowden NSA scandal about how the Big Brother style government is still very much with us.

Fans of espionage movies like me would love the story arc here where Cap struggles with a moral dilemma and trust issues, but action fans should be pleased with the amount of exciting fight sequences, hand-to-hand combat, and one of the most relentless car chases in history! It’s an exhilarating, adrenaline-pumping scene of the geek-gasm variety. Nice to see Samuel L. Jackson given more screen time here, instead of merely showing up to berate the Avengers or give out orders. But he also gets to do his usual scenery-chewing best. The dynamic between Cap and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson sporting a sleek new haircut) is fun to watch as well. They couldn’t be more different from each other. Cap with his straight-as-an-arrow sensibilities where he sees things as black or while, whilst ex-KGB Romanoff practically lives in a gray area all her life. It’s an unlikely Avenger-pairing, as she also volunteers to be his matchmaker, that works quite well here as she unrelentingly tries to brings Cap out of his shell. Anthony Mackie is delightfully charming as The Falcon, I secretly cheer every time he came on screen. The interaction between him & Cap provides some of the biggest laughs, but there are also moments that highlights our hero’s humanity.

I overheard someone complain right after the screening that there were too much drama and not enough action. Now I couldn’t disagree more with whoever said that, as I definitely think there’s a nice balance of thrilling action and engaging dramatic tension throughout. Even the decidedly quieter moments has its purpose, and without giving anything away, it’s one I was particularly looking forward to. Even during the most action-packed fight scenes, there’s emotional moments that keeps the blam, whack, pow punches from ringing hollow, especially the moment Cap realizes who The Winter Soldier turns out to be. The action stuff looks quite spectacular all around, which I’ve come to expect from the $170 mil budget. I’m glad to say I didn’t get dizzy from slo-mo or shaky-cam techniques and there’s just the right amount of CGI as the fight sequences felt pretty realistic.

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Kudos to Chris Evans for truly bringing the character to life in such a compelling way. He seems far more confident in the role as well as an actor, which makes Steve Rogers’ journey all the more intriguing. He comes across as someone who’ve seen a lot and been through a lot, a broken-hearted man who somehow doesn’t become embittered by it all. He’s not just a hero because he’s a super soldier with perfect human specimen physique, but it’s his unapologetic goodness and abiding principles that makes him truly worth rooting for. That said, we still get to see plenty of cool scenes that shows what Cap is really capable of physically that’s amplified even more than the first film. He and his seemingly indestructible shield are truly pushed to their limit this time around. There are lots of action-packed scenes worth rewinding for once I get my hands on the Blu-ray!

The supporting cast is first rate all around. Robert Redford effortlessly adds gravitas as the S.H.I.E.L.D. big honcho Alexander Pierce. It’s shrewd casting given how a few of his early espionage films inspired the screenwriters of this film. He serves as a nice contrast to the more larger-than-life villain [but perhaps deemed too cartoonish] of the first Captain America film. Nary of a maniacal laugh or anything of the sort, Pierce is quite a sinister figure. There is one particular scene in his house that actually makes my blood run cold. Sebastian Stan gets most of the action scenes and perhaps not as much of the dramatic stuff, but I do think he has the chops. That’s a good thing as the actor signs multiple-picture deals with Marvel as the inevitable successor of the franchise. I also have to mention Frank Grillo who elevates his character way above the typical thug-ish bad guy. He’s one reliable character actor who I wish would get more prominent roles in Hollywood.

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I think it’s brilliant that this sequel is set in the political thriller genre and not focusing too much on the fish-out-of-water cliché of Cap’s existence. I applaud the studio for making bold choices in the plot, which has been aptly called ‘a game changer’ in terms of its effects to the future Marvel movies. The story gives a nod to his past but also boldly moves the story forward.  I feel that there’s truly something huge at stake here, not just for Cap but for everyone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Thoughts: Thanks to screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely and the spirited direction of the Russo brothers, this has become my favorite Marvel stand-alone feature and Cap my favorite Marvel superhero. It’s nice to see that the story and character still take center stage here and not get drowned out by ultra-bombastic and unnecessary action scenes. I’m thrilled that the Russos will be back for the third film. I think by the time that one wraps, the Captain America franchise could be the most cohesive one as its storyline flows as one unit from one to the next. Hail to the Cap!

4.5 out of 5 reels

P.S. Make sure you stay until the second post-credit scene. Trust me, it’s worth the wait!


What do you think of this movie? Did you like it more or less than I did?