Movie Review: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

Starring
Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford
Director
Anthony & Joe Russo

There’s been a lot of talk about comic book movie fatigue these days, but the people at Marvel Studios clearly aren’t letting that affect their productivity, because just like fellow Disney-owned company Pixar, they’ve continued to deliver the same high-quality films as when they started. Granted, it’s only a matter of time before Marvel’s unblemished track record is ruined by a “Cars 2,” but “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is not that movie. In fact, it’s a major improvement upon the character’s first solo adventure, trading in the period war setting for an old-school conspiracy thriller that addresses real-world issues like national security. It also has some really cool action beats, occasional bits of humor, and perhaps most importantly, a better storyline for its titular hero.

Since being thawed from his icy slumber and aiding in the defense of New York in “The Avengers,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has become a full-fledged member of S.H.I.E.L.D, but he’s still learning to adapt to the modern world and the questionable methods that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) employs to ensure that it remains safe. When S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes compromised by people within the organization, however, Steve is forced to go on the run alongside fellow operative Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), in order to smoke out the traitors and stop them from assuming control of a secret fleet of aircraft carriers designed to eliminate threats before they happen. Standing in their way is a super-powered, metal-armed assassin called the Winter Soldier who looks suspiciously like someone from Steve’s past.

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Movie Review: “Turbo”

Starring
Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Snoop Dogg
Director
David Soren

If you sit and think about “Turbo” for even half a second, it’s difficult not to notice what’s wrong with it, from the formulaic story to its blatant disregard for the rules of auto racing (spoken by a man who doesn’t follow auto racing; that’s how egregious the oversights were). Luckily for the film, it has several other things working in its favor, namely some inspired voice casting, gorgeous design, and smarter than average dialogue. “Turbo” rises above its familiarity and makes for a charming, if predictable, experience.

Theo (Ryan Reynolds) is a snail who, along with his brother Chet (Paul Giamatti), works in the garden outside a suburban southern California house. At night, Theo watches video tapes of race car driver Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), and dreams of being fast like him, a racer named Turbo. One night, while watching the cars on the 101 from an overpass, Theo inadvertently winds up taking part in a street race and ingesting nitrous oxide, which rewrites his DNA and gives him incredible speed. (Warning to children: drinking nitrous oxide will not give you superhuman speed. If anything, it will put you to sleep.) Soon after, Theo and Chet are captured by Tito (Michael Pena), who co-owns a taco truck in a run-down strip mall, and races snails for fun with his fellow mall employees. Once they realize that Theo is actually fast, Tito begins raising money to enter him into the Indianapolis 500, and his new crew of racing snail buddies, led by Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), provides support.

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“Pulp Fiction” Blu-ray is better than a $5 milkshake

Is “Pulp Fiction” the greatest movie of the 1990s? That seems to be a popular talking point on the eve of the film’s Blu-ray release, with everyone from Entertainment Weekly to star John Travolta (on one of the disc’s new special features) making their case for the argument. Whether or not you agree doesn’t really matter, because Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore effort is definitely up there among the best, which only makes the film’s numerous snubs at the 1995 Academy Awards (particularly for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor) seem even more egregious nearly two decades later.

Though I thought about putting together a list of my five favorite scenes from the film in celebration of the Blu-ray release, I quickly realized that there were far too many great moments to choose from to settle on just five. The movie was already pretty close to perfect when I first saw it on DVD as a teenager, and it’s even closer to perfection now after receiving the Blu-ray treatment. It’s sometimes easy to forget how much a good high definition video transfer can do for a film’s presentation, but the director-approved HD transfer on “Pulp Fiction” is absolutely stunning. And yet, while the movie looks better than ever, the disc’s brand new special features are the real standout additions.

The first featurette, “Not the Usual Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat,” is a 43-minute retrospective that includes interviews from several key cast members about everything from getting involved in the project, to production, to the Cannes premiere and the film’s subsequent success. While there are a few notable absences from the list of participants (like Tarantino, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames), it’s still loaded with tons of interesting facts about making the film. Travolta and Jackson are particularly enlightening, with the former revealing that he was initially pitched the lead role in “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn” before landing the part of Vincent (a role originally given to Michael Madsen) and the latter telling a funny anecdote about the history behind Jules’ Jheri-curled wig.

The other featurette is a film critic roundtable moderated by Elvis Mitchell entitled “Here Are Some Facts on the Fiction” that, while not as revealing as the retrospective, offers up an engaging conversation about each critic’s first experience seeing “Pulp Fiction” and their thoughts about the movie. It’s especially fascinating to listen to Stephanie Zacharek discuss her love/hate relationship with the film, as it appears to take the other critics (all of whom regard it as a modern masterpiece) by surprise. That doesn’t exactly make the debate over whether “Pulp Fiction” is the best movie of the ‘90s any easier to settle, but then again, the question itself is ultimately more important than the answer.

  

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