Captain America: The First Avenger
all the Marvel superheroes, Captain America is probably the most proudly
straight-laced. Born of World War II patriotism, he lacks the darker edge of
some of his contemporaries. That can be a problem for filmmakers, as purely
upstanding heroes are a little dull. Even Iron Man has issues.
a pleasure, then, to report that Captain
America: The First Avenger is highly entertaining. Chris Evans plays the
title character that is turned from skinny kid Steve Rogers into a
super-soldier, thanks to the work of a scientist (Stanly Tucci), who sees
Rogers’ previous weakness as a benefit (He’ll value his power more, and be less
likely to abuse it). At first, Rogers is used purely as a propaganda tool, but
he eventually gets fed up and puts himself into the action in Europe. That’s
where he encounters Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), a Nazi who thinks Hitler is too
much of a wimp, and has the intelligence and (almost) the technology to
instigate his own worldwide genocide.
Joe Johnston also made the very retro The
Rocketeer several years back. He has an impressive ability to recreate
old-fashioned movie tropes without making them seem dated. Not only is Captain America set during WWII, it has
the no-nonsense, everyman charm found in that era’s best popular culture. Evans
gives his character shades of self-doubt, but he never strays from his heroic
persona, and he’s surrounded by the wonderful character actors Tucci, Weaving,
Toby Jones (as Red Skull’s sidekick) and Tommy Lee Jones (as a grumpy colonel).
Even the obligatory love interest (Hayley Atwell) has a personality.
the end, the story jumps into the present day, the better to set up next year’s Avengers movie. But for most of its
running time Captain America is
outdated in the best possible way.
Extras: Nearly an
hour of making-of material, on everything from comic book origins to casting to
special effects; commentary by Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson
and editor Jeffrey Ford; a short film starring Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson;
deleted and extended scenes; set footage from The Avengers. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 —LL
Morris’ documentaries have either solved mysteries (his The Thin Blue Line discovered the real murderer of a Texas cop) or
examined some of the weightiest issues of our time (The Oscar-winning The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life
of Robert S. McNamara). His latest, Tabloid,
does neither of those things, but it’s still one of Morris’s best movies.
less a documentary and more of a puzzle, with some key pieces missing.
Curiously, these gaps actually make for a more engrossing movie. Like a drug, Tabloid gets more addictive with each
film’s star is Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming who fell madly in love
with a young Mormon missionary named Kirk Anderson. When he abruptly left Utah
to do his missionary work in England, McKinney and a crew of hired hands
kidnapped Anderson and took him to a rural cottage where she had him bound in
the hope of “liberating” him from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
says that what happened next was a love story (there’s archival footage of
McKinney reciting her odyssey like it was a fairy tale), but Morris has crafted
it into an expertly constructed black comedy. Anderson won’t talk, her chief
accomplice is dead, and a participant who betrayed her simply can’t be found.
presents an idealized, seemingly unreliable account of what happened, but she’s
fascinating to listen to. We also get to hear from two of the British reporters
who covered her story for rival papers. These fellows gleefully describe
digging up the sordid details, and it’s hard not to wonder what would have
happened if they had applied their skills to something more substantial. In
addition, one of the accomplices and former Mormon missionary Troy Williams add
some intriguing wrinkles that McKinney would rather not include.
shoots his interviews using a converted teleprompter he and his wife have
dubbed the “Interrotron,” which enables his subjects to look directly into the
camera as if they were talking to a person (in this case Morris and the
audience) instead of a machine. As a result, there’s an informality to the conversations
that’s just right for a film about tawdry delights.
which is a shame for such a mind-bending film. (R) Rating: 4.5 —DL
Attack the Block
an eye on writer-director Joe Cornish. The British newcomer has somehow made an
alien-invasion movie that isn’t a rip-off of the dozen other alien-invasion
movies we’ve seen recently. Set in a London housing project, and starring
mostly young, novice actors, Attack the
Block may lack an original premise, but it has plenty to recommend it.
group of street thugs, led by Moses (John Boyega), are committing felonies one
night when they’re interrupted by an object crashing down from the sky. When
the mysterious creature inside it attacks, the kids kill it, then stash it with
their pot-dealing friend (Nick Frost). Naturally, the adventure doesn’t end
there, as more (and even nastier) things begin invading the complex, and the
criminals have to team up with one of their robbery victims (Jodie Whittaker)
uses the high-rise setting to great effect, as every dark hallway and creaky
elevator becomes a perfect place for an ambush. The violence is brutal, and the
characters react as sensibly as a bunch of scared teenagers can. The tension is
alleviated with plenty of humor, most of it attached to dense slang that’s
almost incomprehensible to American audiences.
don’t have to understand every word to get a kick out of Attack the Block. It falls
short of being a true classic, but it’s funny, scary and never slows down. That’s
quite an accomplishment for a bunch of rookies.
commentary tracks, featuring Cornish as well as several actors and crew
members; an hour-long making-of doc; features on the special effects, casting
and storyboards; a short gag reel. (R). Rating: 3.5. —LL
Fiddler on the Roof
years ago yesterday, Fiddler on the Roof hit theater screens for the first time and managed to be more than simply a
collection of catchy tunes accompanied by gorgeous images (courtesy of cinematographer
from the stories of Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, the film follows a
struggling Jewish milkman named Tevye (Oscar-nominee Topol) trying to eke out a
living in a rural Russia in the early 1900s. Tevye wants to marry off his five
daughters but doesn’t have much to give for a dowry, and each of the lasses has
her own idea of what makes a suitable husband. Because of the tenuous
relationship the Jews in the area have with their Russian neighbors (who think
nothing of storming the Jews’ property or violently taking their land), Tevye
is understandably wary of doing anything that could endanger the delicate
balance that he believes has kept his family from pogroms.
the film is loaded with period, regional and ethnic detail, Fiddler on the Roof is an oddly
universal because parents prepare their children for the world they themselves
faced as youngsters, not the one their offspring will actually inhabit. Much of
what makes both Sholem Aleichem’s stories and the film fascinating is that they
were set in a time when the old social order was collapsing for better and for
the movie and the play it’s based on take liberties with the Tevye stories,
Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics retain an astonishing about of Sholem Aleichem’s wit
and insight. While it’s a little jarring to watch Tevye talking directly to the
camera (he really is talking to God), it captures the witty, conversational
tone of the original tales, and Topol gives such a delightfully nuanced
performance that it’s easy to love Tevye even as he makes boneheaded decisions.
new Blu-Ray edition (which also includes a spare DVD) presents the music
beautifully, giving listeners a chance to hear Jerry Bock’s eclectic score at
its best. John Williams (yes, the guy who gave us the unforgettable scores for Jaws and Star Wars) has arranged the music skillfully and features Isaac
Stern on violin solos.
Canadian producer-director Norman Jewison (Moonstruck, In the Heat of the Night) worried he
might not get the assignment for the film because he was a gentile (a Methodist
to be exact). His suggestive British last name has confused many people
throughout his life.
take you longer to get through them than Tevye takes to get through his milk
run. A commentary track by Jewison and Topol, who jokes that Jewison should be
renamed “Christianson” and convert to Judaism, a first rate Canadian
documentary on Jewison, Jewison’s recollections, as well as those of the
performers, Williams and the authors of the stage play, a deleted song and
storyboard to film comparisons. (G) Rating: 4.5 —DL