Musings on Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind documentary

I’ve subscribed to HBO for a month so I could watch season 3 of Westworld. Well, I finished on Friday night and this documentary’s key art on the HBO’s interface and decided to watch it.

The film began with the narration of Natalie Wood‘s own daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, who was only 11 years old when her mother died, saying that so much has been written about her mother’s mysterious death that it practically overshadowed who she was as a person. I think that’s a real tragedy because as I was watching the film, I learned just how accomplished she was as an actress.

Now, I personally wasn’t at all familiar with the legendary performer. I’ve only seen one of her films, Rebel Without A Cause, but news about her death surely hasn’t let up for decades. Even though I haven’t read up much about it, I did remember reading about her case being reopened as late as 2018!

Wood’s husband at the time of her death, Robert Wagner (known as RJ to those close to him), was never charged but was still a ‘person of interest’ in the case. But before we got to that case, the first two acts pretty much focused on Natalie’s story since childhood, born to Russian immigrants, and how she got discovered. She was one of the most accomplished child actors who’ve made a successful transition as a formidable Hollywood star. She began acting at the age of 4, got her first starring role at the age of 9 in Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and received three Oscar nominations before she was 25.

It was really fascinating and moving to see all the archival footage and photos of Wood in various productions, from the not-so-well-known films to the iconic ones such as ‘Rebel’ and West Side Story. Interesting that one of the people interviewed said if she were alive today, she would’ve never gotten the role that made her famous as she played a Puerto Rican character in the famous musical. One thing for sure, Natalie Wood is much more than just a pretty face. Though she was definitely one of the most beautiful Hollywood stars, in her home life she’s shown as down to earth and a dotting mom. She was also intelligent and ambitious, and wanted to take charge of her career. One photo that strikes me the most is this one of her in a film board meeting sitting confidently at a table surrounded by all-male studio honchos. It’s definitely not the kind of photo I often associated with Natalie Wood, who’s often painted as a victim. So it’s good for her daughter to show the world a different side of her late mother.

Now, the third act did address her mysterious death. It’s the huge elephant in the room that everyone expects to be covered in the film. The one-on-one interview between Natasha and her stepfather RJ is no doubt the most emotional moments of the film, both of them looked quite emotional talking about her death. Robert himself was quite candid when talking about their careers. Though he was more famous when they first met, soon her career far outpaced Robert’s, which became a strain to her marriage. Even Robert himself admitted to being so jealous when, after their first marriage ended, she started dating her Splendor in the Grass‘ co-star Warren Beatty. But never did the film ever paint Robert as the guilty party in her death. If anything, it showed how much Natalie loved him and vice versa. I learned that she ended up marrying him twice after both had remarried after their divorce.

It’s clear that from Natasha’s and the doc’s director Laurent Bouzereau‘s perspective, Wood’s death was a tragic accident. Natasha and her younger sister Courtney even said that it’s hurtful to them that the media, and Natalie’s sister Lana Wood, constantly pointed their finger at their stepdad RJ. That fateful night started with RJ having an argument with Natalie’s co-star in her last film Brainstorm, Christopher Walken, but then RJ couldn’t find her, which led to him instigating a search involving the coast guards, etc. But even with the film covering some of the details about that fateful night, we’re still left in the dark about what happened to Natalie. We probably will never know the real truth, only Natalie would know… as Walken himself said at the end.

It’s definitely an intriguing documentary for film fans, especially if you’re a fan of her work. Given it’s produced by her own daughter, it feels personal and full of heart. I’m never bored in the entire 99-minute running time as the film seamlessly combines archival footage and talking heads featuring the who’s who of classic cinema: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, George Hamilton, Elliot Gould, etc. There are also a myriad of photos and clips from her family, as well as those of her famous parties featuring famous Hollywood guests. I mean, according to IMDb, the pallbearers at her funeral were Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Olivier, Elia Kazan, Gregory Peck, David Niven and Fred Astaire.

I’m glad I watched this beautiful tribute to a legend that’s equally fascinating and heart-wrenching. I can’t help feeling sad as I’m watching it… Natalie Wood was such a stunning bright star who left us far too soon. I’m glad I got to see just how much she meant to her family as well as her legacy in the film world.

4/5 stars


Have you seen this documentary? What are some of your favorite film(s) of Natalie Wood?

FlixChatter Review: Pete’s Dragon (2016)

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I always try to keep a neutral expectation going into a film, and it’s a lot easier when I didn’t know much about that particular movie. I had no idea that Pete’s Dragon was a remake of the 1977 movie until days before I saw it, and I didn’t see the original (which is apparently a live-action musical mixed with animated elements). Well, thankfully the constantly-advancing CGI technology enables this live-action version to have a pretty realistic looking dragon.

Now, great CGI alone does not make a movie, but Pete’s Dragon has an engaging story, lovable characters and so much heart. The movie opens with young Pete on a road trip with his parents. I knew somehow things would go wrong and it did. The car crash claimed his parents’ lives, leaving Pete (Oakes Fegley) all alone in the woods… until he found a new friend. I’m surprised how it didn’t take long before we see the creature in the title role, which Pete named Elliot. He’s not a scary, slithery dragon like The Hobbit‘s Smaug nor the ones in Game of Thrones. Elliot is a green fury dragon who can fly and breathe fire, but yet gentle and huggable. In other words, I fell in love with Elliot instantly, the same way I did with Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon.

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Now, the friendship that developed between Pete and Elliot wasn’t shown in the same manner as HTTYD. After that initial meet-up when little Pete climbs into Elliot’s huge paw, we meet them six years later and they’re already BFFs. The scenes of them hanging out in the woods reminds me a lot of Disney’s recent The Jungle Book with Pete as a Mowgli-like character. But of course the story is quite different and none of the animals can talk here, neither does Elliot. Like in Jungle Book, you also can’t overthink about how a child survives in the woods being raised by an animal.

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Elliot’s become kind of a local folklore (kind of like the Lochness monster). Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) is practically the only one who still talks about it, despite being teased by his skeptical daughter, forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). It’s when Grace ends up running into Pete, and taking him back to civilization that the real action begins. Grace bonds immediately with Pete, who shares her wide-eyed wonder of her beloved woods, and so is her step-daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence). For the first time Pete has someone his own age to hang out with. There’s little resistance on his part to live amongst humans, but it’s obvious he misses his fury friend. Elliot too, misses Pete, and the moment he watches Pete hanging out with Grace’s family from the window tugs my heartstrings.

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Pete’s Dragon is set in the 80s, so naturally it conjures up images of Spielberg’s family movies. Interestingly, Spielberg’s latest The BFG left me underwhelmed & quite bored. But what David Lowery did here captured my imagination as well as my heart in equal measure. I cry easily in movies but I’ve never cried so much like I did here. I literally sobbed watching some of the scenes. The story isn’t original and predictable at times, but I was transported into another world and was caught up in the journey of the characters. It’s quite a feat since he hasn’t made a family feature before and his last feature effort was the R-rated crime drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

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Oakes Fegley is wonderful as Pete, and there’s so much believable chemistry between him and the CGI character Elliot. Redford adds gravitas in the role, but also has a memorable scene towards the end that makes up for his rather small screentime. Howard fares so much better here than in the other big Summer movie featuring large creatures Jurassic World. The closest to a film’s antagonist is Karl Urban‘s lumberjack Gavin, who seems rather silly and even childish as he saw Elliot as a threat but then later became very possessive of him. But I like Urban as an actor and he looks really good in his lumberjack outfit (ehm), plus Gavin did redeem himself in the end. It’s Wes Bentley who isn’t given much to do here as Gavin’s brother/Grace’s fiancé.

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The New Zealand scenery is absolutely breathtaking. For a film that utilizes a lot of CGI for the dragon scenes, it looks pretty natural and organic throughout, with seamless mix between the dragon & humans. The music by Daniel Hart helps enhance the emotional factor of the movie, though not quite as memorable as John Powell‘s in HTTYD.

So yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed Pete’s Dragon. As Pete and Elliot take flight through the clouds, my heart literally soars along with it. Easily one of my favorite movies this Summer that I certainly won’t mind watching again and again.

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What do you think of ‘Pete’s Dragon?’

Thursday Movie Picks #62: Journalist/Reporters for Print/TV

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Movies featuring journalists/reporters for print/TV

I LOVE this month’s theme as I actually wanted to be a journalist growing up. I was thisclose to enrolling in Journalism major in college before I switched to Advertising. I like a lot of film that involve journalism, especially investigative journalism that continues to be an intriguing subject today. In fact one of the films I’m anticipating later this year that screened at TIFF is SPOTLIGHT, about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the child molestation scandal within the local Catholic Archdiocese. These three films also involve scandalous events that’s notable in their time.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

All The President’s Men (1976)

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Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon’s resignation.

This was one of my Blindspot picks of last year and I’m glad I finally saw it. It’s as much a detective tale as it is about journalism. I like how the story stays focused on the investigative aspect of the scandal and how the Post finally got to publish it, there’s no unnecessary subplots about the personal lives of the leads or anything of the sort. What an intriguing slice of American history, and as someone who’s not born in the US, it’s especially fascinating to see. To this day, every political scandal is tagged with the “-gate” suffix because of this, which adds to the timeless aspect of this film. Thanks to Robert Redford for acquiring the rights to Bernstein’s and Woodward’s memoir and for Mr. Pakula for bringing this engrossing political history to life. The two leads Redford and Dustin Hoffman are in top form here, but it also feature fantastic supporting performances from Hal Holbrook who played Woodward’s extremely secretive source, “Deep Throat.”

The Insider (1999)

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A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco

This film (as well as HEAT) is why I will always admire Michael Mann. I was disappointed by Blackhat but I think he’s still a phenomenal filmmaker that can infuse such a compelling drama to an otherwise ho-hum story. Russell Crowe gave one of his best performances in his illustrious career, which I think deserved a Best Actor Oscar more than his role in Gladiator. I dedicated this post to highlight some of the scenes I love from this film. The relationship between Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe), the whistle blower of the mammoth tobacco company Brown & Williamson’s and Lowell Bergman, a senior producer on 60 Minutes (Al Pacino) is compelling to watch. It’s amazing how even just two people talking on the phone can be so riveting, but that’s the genius of Mann’s style. Lots of great supporting cast here too, most notably Christopher Plummer as the legendary CBS News reporter Mike Wallace, Bruce McGill as trial lawyer Ron Motley, and Michael Gambon as the top tobacco company exec.

Veronica Guerin (2003)

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Based on a true story, this is about the Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, a reporter for The Sunday Independent, who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons and drug lords in 1996.

One of my all time favorite Cate Blanchett performances, where she totally disappeared into   her role. Cate not only portrays the feisty reporter, she embodies the journalist’s incredible valor in investigating Dublin’s drug trafficking. You immediately believe her as the character and the Aussie thespian even nailed Guerin’s Irish accent convincingly. I know some of you might be put off by Joel Shumacher as director, but it’s a good film, so give it a shot if you haven’t already. It’s one of the great examples of the danger of investigative journalism and how some of them are truly unsung heroes for their bravery to expose things that are harmful to society.

 

BONUS PICK

Philomena (2013)

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A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.

I already had the three above locked down but I still want to include this film as I haven’t reviewed it yet. I LOVE Dame Judi Dench and she’s simply phenomenal as Philomena (hey that rhymes :D) Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the script) played the disgraced former journalist Martin Sixsmith who ended up coming alongside Philomena Lee in her journey to find her long lost son. A lot of his acting consist of bewildered reaction to Philomena, especially the part where she basically divulges the entire plot of a trashy book she’s reading that he couldn’t possibly be more disinterested in. It’s a bittersweet story that made me laugh and cry. Dame Judi is mesmerizing here and she’s as effortlessly adept in comedy as she is in dramatic roles. I find the story to be poignant, thought-provoking, and profoundly moving.

……


What do you think of my picks? Which movies involving journalism/reporting are your favorites?

2014 Recap: Ranking the 10 Blindspot Movies I saw in 2014

BlindSpotSeriesSidebarSince Blindspot posts are typically published on a Tuesday, I figure I’ll do the same with this recap. I’m glad I joined this series last year, which was spearheaded by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob. It’s truly a wonderful way to catch up on classic (or even newer films) that I’ve missed and see if they live up to the hype, as well as my own expectations.

Here’s my Blindspot Picks of 2014

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Unfortunately I couldn’t complete all 12, so I didn’t get to see How the West Was Won and Time Bandits last year. But hey, that makes for a perfect Top 10, right? 😉 So below is my ranking of the 10 films I saw. Click on each title to see the full review.

10. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
9. Purple Noon/Plein Soleil (1960)
8. Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
7. Rebecca (1940)
6. Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

5. It Happened One Night (1934)
4. The Sting (1973)
3. All the President’s Men (1976)
2.
Double Indemnity (1944)
1. The Apartment (1960)

For the most part, all of the films range from good to excellent. I mean the *lowest* rating I gave was 3.5/5 to The Philadelphia Story, which equals to about B– so it’s far from being a bad film. I kind of knew The Apartment was going to be my favorite of the year even when I saw it back in May, it’s darn near perfect IMHO, and I really could’ve given it a 5/5 instead of 4.5. Oh and I just realized I have TWO Robert Redford films on here, and he’s part of duo in both films (with Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman, respectively).

I’m very curious how this year’s list will pan out, check out which 12 films I picked to watch for 2015 Blindspot Series.


What do you think about these films? Which one(s) is your favorite?

Last Blindspot film of the year: The Sting (1973)

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In 1930s Chicago, a young con man seeking revenge for his murdered partner teams up with a master of the big con to win a fortune from a criminal banker.

This turns out to be second George Roy Hill movie I saw, whom I didn’t know was born in Minnesota. The first film of his I saw was Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, in fact, it’s the pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman that was the main draw for me as they have a great rapport together. I could see why this movie was popular, a box office hit and a critical darling, even winning three out of ten nominations: Best Picture Oscar, Best Director and Best Screenplay for David S. Ward. It’s a fun and entertaining caper movie set in Chicago during the Great Depression.

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Despite the light and humorous tone, there’s some emotional and moving scenes, especially when the main lead lost his good friend who’s killed by the mob, Doyle Lonnegan. That incident leads to the two leads on a vengeful quest in conning the mob boss out of his money. Redford plays a small time grifter Johnny Hooker who teams up a once-great conman Henry Gondorff (Newman) to teach him the big con. Given the 11-year difference, it make sense that Newman is playing more of a mentor role to Redford.

The plot is a bit complicated, but not overly convoluted that you’re too confused to enjoy the movie. It’s quite fun to see how they plan each trick, whilst still keeping it unpredictable. Hill broke the film down in chapters with its own title, i.e. The Set Up, The Wire, etc. which I find to be quite unique in and of itself. It’s worth noting too that the movie’s two leads are NOT good guys, they’re con artists after all, but yet you’re rooting for them right from the start. The pairing of Redford/Newman are played down a bit here compared to Butch Cassidy. In fact, we don’t even see Newman until after about 25 minutes in and he has less screen time overall than Redford. His intro of him waking up with a huge hangover is pretty fun to watch though.

The film focuses more on the tricky scheme itself that involves a great ensemble of supporting actors. There are many familiar faces, i.e. Robert Shaw (most remembered for From Russia With Love) who plays another icy villain here. The guy who played Luther looked strangely familiar to me as he looked so much like James Earl Jones, sure enough that’s his father, Robert Earl Jones. Of course there’s also Dana Elcar (Pete Thornton on one of my fave 90s shows MacGyver) as the FBI agent.

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The Sting‘s got everything going for it in terms of entertainment value. First-rate production quality down to those sharp suits, fast-paced direction, good acting by the two great-looking leads, AND it’s got a fabulous featuring ragtime music by Scott Joplin. It’s a hugely popular song I’ve heard time and time again, but I had no idea it was featured in this film. Apparently composer Marvin Hamlisch adapted Joplin’s tune The Entertainer for the film and it made Joplin’s music popular again in the 70s and beyond.

I’m glad I finally saw this one. I appreciate the fact that Hill didn’t make this caper a dark, brooding and somber affair like most crime thrillers. No unnecessary romance to over-complicate matters either, thank goodness. There’s not too many action scenes here, but there are definitely some tense and surprising moments that got me on the edge of my seat. Overall it’s a fun, thrilling and suspenseful ride from start to finish. That said, I wouldn’t call The Sting a masterpiece of cinema or anything. It’s more of a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t quite make a lingering emotional impact afterwards, but a perfectly satisfying piece of entertainment I certainly don’t mind seeing again.

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Have you seen The Sting? Let me know what you think!

Weekend Roundup: Two Austen adaptations, an espionage comedy + a Hitchcock classic

Wow, where has June gone? Can’t believe July is just 10 days away, seems that we barely had Spring and now we have been having a very showery Summer 😦

I haven’t done a Weekend Roundup in a looong time. Well, I didn’t go to the cinema at all this weekend, but I did see some older movies and one re-watch. I must say it’s quite fun to watch not only one but TWO period dramas with my hubby.

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Inspired by my recent Austen Recasting post on Mansfield Park, I started watching the 2007 BBC version that I haven’t seen before. My hubby was looking at stuff on his iPad next to me whilst I was watching this and I kept making a comment at how much I prefer the 1999 film version that he’s curious to check it out. Well, since both are on Netflix, we decided to watch both!

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Well suffice to say, the 1999 version by Patricia Rozema is still my favorite adaptation, though it’s definitely a bolder and darker version than one might associate with Jane Austen. I think it’s interesting that it touches on the issue of slavery as the primary financial income of the Bertram family, though I could use without the nudity [albeit a brief one] as it really detracts from the story. What I do like about the film version is how beautifully-filmed it is and the music by Lesley Barber is equally gorgeous and evocative. Plus the casting is fantastic all around, especially Frances O’Connor as Fanny and Alessandro Nivola as Henry Crawford. I also love the ending, it’s romantic and sweet and Jonny Lee Miller has such an earnest quality about him that fits the role of Edmund. I actually like Fanny’s narration in this movie and I’m not always fond of the use of narration on film. It seems that Fanny is not people’s favorite’s Austen heroine but I actually like her and I really connect with Frances’ portrayal of her.

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On the other hand, I’m not fond of the 2007 version at all. I really try to like this but I just feel that Billie Piper is so miscast in the role. Sorry but I find her teeth VERY distracting. I know it’s not nice of me to say but I wasn’t bothered by her when she was in Dr. Who but she just doesn’t seem like she belongs in a period drama, and the way she’s swooning over Edmund just feels wrong and stalker-ish. At the same time, there’s no chemistry at all between her and Blake Ritson (Edmund), who looks like Adrien Brody but with slightly feminine features. All around the acting is just not convincing, most especially Joseph Beattie as the completely charm-less Henry Crawford! The abrupt ending is also very awkward that my hubby was like, ‘what the heck was THAT??’ I think this is my least favorite BBC adaptation of ANY literary works. I doubt I’d ever watch it again. I think the only fun part here is watching the lovely Haley Atwell as Mary Crawford.

On Saturday, we ended up watching an older spy movie that’s been sitting in our Netflix Instant queue for some time.

Sneakers (1992) 

Sneakers1992posterI saw on the description that it was a lighthearted espionage movie, but we didn’t realize that this was more of a comedy! The movie took a while to get going, but fortunately the cast kept me intrigued. The plot itself seemed complicated at first, as a lot of government conspiracy involving hacking, cryptography, etc. can be, but by the second act, it actually got to be pretty predictable. In fact, I had a hunch from the opening scene who the villain was. It’s interesting too just how relevant this topic is with the whole NSA expose by Edward Snowden, etc. In fact, Kingsley’s speech at the end about who controls the information is quite eerie because it’s really not far-fetched at all.

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It’s quite amusing to see the likes of Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Ben Kingsley, David Strathairn, who are usually in serious roles being quite goofy in this one. Strathairn especially as a blind man with killer hearing power and instinct, but the last scene had him driving a truck directed by Redford on the phone! None of these actors are at their best here though, in fact, they seem underutilized for the roles they’re playing, but still it’s fun to watch.

Btw, really sad seeing River Phoenix here. This was released a year before his untimely death in 1993 at the age of 23. Like the rest, his role is so minor, similar to a tech guy in those Mission Impossible movies, with Redford as the Ethan Hunt character, y’know. I remember seeing Phoenix in teen drama A Night in the Life of Jimmy Riordan years ago and thought how talented he was. It’s so tragic how these young talents were gone far too soon. In any case, I quite enjoyed Sneakers, especially the more action-packed third act and the humorous ending. James Earl Jones had a memorable cameo that’s pretty hilarious.

Lastly, I saw Rebecca (1940), a Hitchcock film that won Best Picture Oscar, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. I shall have a review of it this Tuesday for my June Blindspot entry, so stay tuned!

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Well that’s what I saw this weekend. What about you? Seen anything good?

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?