There is plenty of turnover in the Upper Valley movie scene this week, so the selection of films to review is pretty limited. But I figured that the most recent Marvel Studios (now a part of the Disney empire) juggernaut, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ was sure to be around for awhile, so I sucked it up and headed out to the movies without much expectation. I should have paid more attention to the implications one of my oft-stated criticisms of others – “don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind’s made up”!
I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of this movie, built on the back of the Marvel ‘Avengers’ franchise that includes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk and the corporate operation that is the Avengers as a group. Not to reconstruct all of the convoluted background in this review, but Captain America (a winsome Chris Evans) and his wisecracking sidekick Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, kicking butt wherever she goes) are helping SHIELD -- the ‘world police’ under the grumpy guidance of Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) -- keep the world safe from evil. Little do they know that evil is lurking inside their own seemingly sacred organization, led by slimy bureaucrat Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford in a brilliant casting move as a villain). Are you still with me?
All of the twists and turns of the plot are not particularly significant. The fan boys and girls will already know them from the comic books and trailers. And anyone else attending will be better off enjoying the rollercoaster ride without foreknowledge – you’ll stay fully engaged just trying to keep track of the good guys and the bad guys. And that is the key to the film – who is good and who is bad? Who is friend and who is enemy? What defines good and what defines evil? And what about freedom v. security? Are we prepared to give up a bit of one for more of the other? And just where does ‘a bit’ start, and ‘too much’ begin?
All of these questions – and many more – are what make ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ such an engaging film, particularly for our times. As a society we are struggling with the issues of freedom and security: how much is too much, whether it be TSA, CIA, internet protocols and so much more. To have the issues presented in the form of an action/adventure fantasy is just one more way of engaging with the ideas. Sure, in the film the requisite post-war, cold war, ‘the Nazi’s are still with us’ conspiracies provide the basis for the plot that raises the questions. But the questions are surely there – if you can get past car chases, futuristic machinery, shoot outs and battles among competing bands of brothers and sisters. Of course, in the end, ‘good’ triumphs over ‘evil’ – we think.
But the question still hangs out there – what is good and what is evil? The movie allows for a re-boot of the franchise and the opportunity for us to see many more spins on the theme as SHIELD, now lying in dust, is rebuilt on the ashes of the old in future films. We’ll be watching this process for a LONG time. But I’m not sure that is such a bad thing. Movies are about fantasy, and enjoying a couple of hours of pure entertainment – especially when it is mixed with thought-provoking ideas and concepts – is not a bad thing.
Full disclosure: ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is presented in 3D and regular formats. I watched it in 3D and did not think it worth the additional cost. This isn’t ‘Avatar’ or ‘Gravity’.
My discovery of the week is at the Nugget, but will be leaving soon, so run out today and see it – or put it on your Netflix watch list! It is 'The Lunchbox' -- a film that I saw first at the Telluride Film Festival last year. This is a lovely little film about a unique characteristic of the Indian working culture: the daily lunchbox delivered by a service from the home of the office worker (or from a restaurant if there is no one at home to cook). In this case, a young woman with an increasingly distant husband begins to send the lunchbox to a widowed man due to an error by the service. Her excellent cooking immediately sparks the interest of the widower; her husband doesn't notice the fact that his lunch is below par; and an exchange of letters begins to connect the widower with the young, neglected wife. You can imagine much of the plot from this introduction; and the ending is upbeat but ambiguous.
However, this is not really the point. The beauty of this film is in the performances of the actors, particularly the widower, the young wife, and the widower's young assistant. And the dramatic device of the increasingly poignant letters between the two propels the narrative. Add to this the interesting experience of seeing this amazing cultural artifact -- the entire process of collecting, compiling, delivering, reassembling and returning the lunchboxes -- and 'Lunchbox' is exceptionally worthy of your time. Perhaps not as compelling as 'Slumdog Millionaire' or 'Midnight's Children' -- the two films about Indian culture that we have seen in the past few years. But still an outstanding 'small' film.
The ‘new season’ in movies is about to kick off any day now, so be prepared for a string of so-called blockbusters. I’ll do my best to help you sort the wheat from the chaff. Until then, I’ll see you at the movies!