Review: Captain America – The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I was never a big Captain America fan.  It was a comic series that debuted in 1941, in a time far removed from anything I could relate to.  He was Marvel’s All-American Hero, able to both compete with DC’s Superman and serve as a rallying cry for America’s involvement in World War II.  Spider-man was a lot easier for me to identify with: a teenage superhero that was just as concerned with saving the city as he was with finishing his homework.

As such, I skipped this character’s first outing on the big screen, 2011′s Captain America: The First Avenger.  By most accounts, it was actually a pretty good movie.  Not great, but solid.  Having watched it twice since its release, it’s still kinda low on my totem pole of comic book films.  However, after a series of pretty impressive trailers, and The Avengers, I gave the new movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a shot.

In short?  It was good.  Really good.  Arguably The Dark Knight good.  When I make that particular comparison, I mean that the film transcends “comic book movie” tropes and instead offers a good film for a larger audience that doesn’t have to rely heavily on its comic book roots.  Winter Soldier is far closer to a movie like The Bourne Identity than anything else, with choreographed hand-to-hand action sequences, elaborate car chases, and a character evading capture from his own organization after it’s taken over from within.

The plot vacillates between a focus on the titular Winter Soldier character and the bulking up of S.H.E.I.L.D. to use predictive surveillance to eliminate threats before they emerge.  The latter has relevance to our current political climate and its handling of the NSA and other spy programs, and it’s interesting that they looked at this theme at all.  However, the movie ultimately descends into typical comic book fare, leaving the spy program focus somewhat hollow.  They never quite commit to either story line.  That isn’t to say the plot is bad, but that some additional focus, or a choice between the two themes, may have served it better.

The generally strong story is also held up in large part by the action set pieces.  If you were to watch Iron Man or Thor, you’d be looking at a green screen for the majority of the movie.  In The Winter Soldier, you’re mostly looking at Washington, D.C. and Cleveland (…made up to look like D.C…).  You don’t see Captain America flying through the sky, firing beams from his hands: he just punches and flips and throws dudes through the air.  Granted, with super strength and agility…but really, it’s closer to a martial arts film at parts than it is to a traditional comic book movie.  It makes for a nice change of pace from other recent endeavors.  That said, the end of the movie ends up going full-on comic book freak show, with lots of spectacle and a series of engineering decisions that could only possibly serve as a set-piece, rather than anything practical.  Also, I saw it in 3D and, while it didn’t detract from the experience, I didn’t feel it was really necessary.

Another thing worth mentioning is its integration with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. television series, currently airing on ABC.  The series itself was slow to start, but its most recent episode took place during Winter Soldier, so we see what else was happening at the same time, and also how it ties in with the events of the film somewhat directly.  It’s synergistic planning on Marvel’s part, but ratings for S.H.E.I.L.D. have been lacking and may not be renewed, yielding the potential for this unique feature of the Marvel Universe to be short-lived.

Ultimately, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was pretty great.  I think I’d still keep The Dark Knight up their above it as the best “mainstream” comic film (as it never quite embraced its comic book-ness like Winter Soldier eventually does), and The Avengers as my favorite comic movie of all time, but this one was quite strong.  Definitely worth a look.

11 Days

I only share this because it’s cute…not because it represents the content of this post…

So, Meg was born in early March, meaning she turned 6 months old in September.  Her first six months involved the experience of Spring and Summer.  Calvin, born in September, just turned 6 months old this past weekend.  His first six months involved the experience of Fall and Winter.

Guess which one got sick more often?

We’ve added it up and came to 11 days.  That’s just 11 weekdays of illness from Calvin since January, not even accounting for all the snow days we had to take off for Meg (where Calvin frequently stayed home, too, whether daycare was open or not).  Here’s the run down:

  • 4 mo vaccinations- 2 days
  • Random Virus – into – Bacterial Pneumonia (4 mo) – 5 days
  • “Unnamed” Stomach Virus (5 mo) – 1 day
  • RSV – into – ear infection (6 mo) – 3 days

A few of those only seem short because they started over a weekend.  For example, this most recent bout of RSV started last Friday and Cal held a fever all weekend (thank God it started over a weekend, though…).  On Sunday at Urgent Care, he didn’t have an ear infection.  He started feeling better Monday, then got worse Tuesday.  I took him to the doctor and found he had fewer signs of breathing difficulties and instead had an ear infection.  The “Unnamed Stomach Virus” started on a Sunday and kept him out on Monday.  By Tuesday he was fine, but Meg and I had contracted it, so even if he got to go to school, two of us became afflicted.

Just can’t win.

More generally, this Winter has been pretty disruptive, largely because of the onslaught of snow, ice, and blistering cold (that mostly affected Meg), and also because Calvin just got every sickness imaginable for an infant.  Brooke and I have weathered all this by splitting days at work, or taking turns taking days off here and there.  It’s great that we both have flexible jobs, but I can’t imagine what this would be like if we didn’t.

Needless to say, we’re ready for some consistency in the weather.  And by “consistency” I mean “Spring.”

Wait…”Spring” started last week?

…I don’t believe it…it’s still cold outside…

Peas in a Pod

"I want to watch Busytown with you, Big Sister!"

“I want to watch Busytown with you, Big Sister!”

I’ve been meaning to write something on this subject for a few weeks but never seem to get around to it.  From the beginning, we were curious how Calvin would integrate into our existing threesome (or nine-some, depending on how many creatures we’re including…), and more specifically, how Meg would deal with him and how Brooke and I both have to shift our attention from entirely on her to entirely on her and him (that’s 200% “attention,” for those keeping count).

Surprisingly and thankfully, it’s been shockingly easy.  Meg has displayed nary a hint of jealousy toward him, though she certainly still wants more attention than we can sometimes give her.  In general, she’s actually been pretty helpful these past few months, frequently grabbing a rattle or other toy when we can’t reach one, or staying in the room to watch him as we go downstairs to exchange the laundry.  If he starts crying, she’s quick to say “It’s okay, Calvin.  I’m here!”  This rarely helps, but it’s still kinda sweet…

The more surprising aspect of their burgeoning relationship is how Calvin looks at her.  I mean, he gets excited when one of us walks into the room after we get home from work, but when Meg walks in, he lights up like nothing else.  The other day, I was driving the two of them home and Meg was facing forward singing some song she’d made up.  She wasn’t even singing toward Calvin, but he was just staring at her, laughing randomly.  Meg didn’t think she was saying anything funny, of course, so she didn’t really understand why Calvin was reacting this way.  Still, it’s pretty obvious that she amuses him greatly.

As I’ve mentioned to Nana and others, I’m just waiting for the relationship to turn toward the typical hostility one would expect between a brother and a sister.  Clearly they aren’t going to wait until their teenagers or anything, but will it happen when he starts crawling?  Walking?  When he starts recognizing her toys and messes with them?  There’s already some element of this, as most of “his” toys were previously “Meg’s” toys, and she’s fully aware of this.  It isn’t like she says “No, Calvin, you can’t have that,” but sometimes when she’s playing with him, she’ll take a toy he was currently chewing on as she’s done playing with it, so now he must also be done.

Regardless, he almost always wants to be around her (or, at least, he is happier when she’s around), and she usually wants to be around him.  She still asks to “play with Calvin” just before bedtime, despite being bored with it after maybe 15 minutes of actual “playing.”

I just wonder how long it will last!

Review: RoboCop

John Kinneman and Gary Oldman in RoboCop (2014)

Joel Kinnaman and Gary Oldman in RoboCop (2014)

Options for decent movies are few and far between in late-February.  The next big crop comes up mid- to late-March, but we’re in the doldrums of movies that came out in December with the Christmas rush, and other Oscar hopefuls that get a late release in hopes of generating some buzz.  The “good” sci-fi movies also get saved for the summer blockbuster season, so it’s rare to find a “good” one released in early February.  In many ways, this year’s reboot of the RoboCop franchise may not even be that movie, as it’s had a mixed response, critically.

That all said, I should also point out that  despite the zeitgeist of the time, I didn’t grow up a fan of RoboCop.  It wasn’t exactly a “kid friendly” film, though I’m sure there were many in my elementary school that had seen it.  I didn’t get to see it until college, well after I’d been exposed to far, far better special effects.  Ketchup-style fake blood and stop-motion robots just didn’t do it for me, though I could at least appreciate that, for 1987, it was probably pretty cool.

The franchise consisted of 3 movies, a TV show, a cartoon, and countless toys.  I suspect many fans of the character would have preferred that only the first movie existed, as just about everything after it was generally bad.  That first movie, though, was prescient for its time, discussing such themes as militarization of law enforcement, drone warfare overseas, and corporations taking over the government and suppressing The People.

Perhaps 2014 is a really good time for a re-boot.

This new version of RoboCop includes similar characters, but is a pretty different movie, to my mind.  This version of Alex Murphy (played by Joel Kinnaman, who is largely unknown besides starring in cult-favorite The Killing) is a devoted family man in the near future, and incorruptible cop in Detroit that makes an enemy out of the leader of a local crime ring, who swiftly takes Murphy out with a car bomb.  Severely injured, his only hope is to have most of his body replaced by machine parts, “free of charge” by OmniCorp, which is run by Raymond Sellars (played by Michael Keaton).

Sellars is only doing this, though, because he wants his androids on the streets of the US.  To replace police officers.  His robots are already overseas fighting our wars for us, so “saving the lives of cops” (i.e. bit fat checks from local and state governments…) is his next venture.  What he needs, however, is a “human face” on his cold cyborg army, so “upgrading” Murphy is his way of making it happen.

This movie, as compared with the original, focuses far more on the human element.  The point at which we cease to be human and start to be machine.  Murphy struggles with having control over his own body, as OmniCorp can shut him down remotely at any time.  They can control how much personal decision-making can be applied in any given situation (i.e. whether to be more like a human cop, or more like an efficient, cold, robot).

On this front, I think the movie largely succeeds.  It is more of a “thinking man’s RoboCop,” which sets it apart from the previous outing.  It takes the original source material and updates it for our modern age, complete with a Glen Beck-style news anchor (played by Samuel L. Jackson) asking whether US Senators are “pro-crime” for not subscribing to Sellars’ world-view.

In the end, the acting was fine.  The writing was fine.  The effects were pretty good, but not spectacular.  There were a few pretty obvious moments when we switched from “dude in costume” to “that’s a CGI dude…really obviously…”  The original movie had quite a few bloody action scenes, and while this one certainly had its share, they were mostly shootouts, which can get a little boring without some hand-to-hand combat and explosions to back them up.

I thought it was good, but not great.  A solid rental, but I’m glad we saw it in the regular theater rather than spending extra for IMAX.  Some good ideas, but could have been more.

For posterity’s sake…

Brooke and Calvin went to Kansas City this past weekend for a baby shower, so Meg and I were home on Saturday by ourselves.  For once, Meg did a wonderful job of staying upstairs in her room playing after she woke up and didn’t come downstairs to wake up Daddy until 8:15 or so.  Believe you me, this was great.

She comes into our room and points out the time, I ask her if she slept well, and we go through our usual morning routine.  I then ask her whether she closed her bedroom door so that Sam doesn’t go in (as that’s where her fish resides and I’d prefer not to deal with a half-eaten fish).  She says she closed her door, and Sam’s in Calvin’s room.  She also said…

“There’s a bird in Calvin’s room.”

To which I replied…

“Uh huh…”

I turn on the TV for her, get her some cereal, proceed to check the internet to see what happened overnight.  Nothing too crazy.  But then she brings up the bird again.

“There’s a bird up in Calvin’s room.”

“Meg, there’s no bird in Calvin’s room.  Please don’t make things up.”

“But there’s a bird in Calvin’s room.”

“Meg, lying is not okay.  Please don’t make things up.  It isn’t very nice.”

We continued with our morning.  To help entertain her a bit, I grabbed a few games for the Kindle and she sat on my lap while I showed her how to play.

A bird flew from the dining room into the living room, landing on our window blinds.

“There’s a bird, Daddy.”

“…..”

Needless to say, I apologized to Meg for not believing her, followed by me locking Sam in our bedroom while I opened the kitchen door in order to convince the bird to kindly leave our home.  Thankfully, it didn’t take long and he/she left without much of a fuss.

How did this bird get in the house?  No idea.  Our landlord poked around yesterday and couldn’t find anything obvious, either.  Best we can tell is it came in through the basement somehow, and then during the night, made its way up to the main floor and then the top floor where, thankfully, Calvin wasn’t sleeping that night.

At the very least, I know to listen to my almost-4-year-old a bit more carefully when she makes wild claims.  About birds being upstairs.