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South Park (1997)
When I was growing in the late 1990s, I had heard from my classmates about a new cartoon show that was so vulgar, irreverent and hilarious, that it seemed impossible for me to ever watch it - given my sheltered upbringing. By chance, late one night, I had the opportunity to view animated, adult-themed-comedy heaven; its name was "South Park."
I was 12 in 1997 when "South Park" debuted - and was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone - and caused an uproar with parental watchdog groups who contended that the show contributed to the downfall of American society in the cynical, politically-correct 1990s. Most importantly, however, they also argued that "South Park" was responsible for corrupting American youth.
I especially like the second part, simply because I have such a hard time arguing that it's not true. "South Park," as an adult-themed animated comedy series, was the cartoon show that I was waiting for at that time - a cartoon series that pulled no punches for the sake of political-correctness. And it was just so gosh-darn hilarious and profane; there was no way you could turn away from the comical mis-adventures of foul-mouthed South Park Elementary School third-graders Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny.
And on top of all that, "South Park" also found the time to satirize aspects of American pop culture and relevant social issues - including racism, censorship and free speech, homosexuality, abortion, war, religion, gun control, etc. - yet not take a single side in any argument; Parker and Stone gleefully tout themselves as "equal-opportunity offenders."
While I can say that I haven't watched this show in a long while (I guess you could say that I aged out of it once I hit high school), I still remember the uproar that it caused. It's really just too bad that shows like "Family Guy" and "American Dad" usurped its position as too-vulgar cartoon television. But "South Park" still paved the way for raucous, offensive animated comedy. And for that, it will never grow old.
Fear the Walking Dead (2015)
So this is where it begins (sort of)...
A few vague, scattered news reports of a strange viral outbreak. A few others about grisly killings in which the victims appeared to have been eaten. Martial law, mass chaos, and Panic In The Streets ensue...
And so this is how "The Walking Dead" begins, or should I say its new spin-off series, "Fear the Walking Dead"? "Fear the Walking Dead," as has been indicated in previews, acts as a prequel of the events that lead up to "The Walking Dead" - including, presumably, the initial zombie outbreak - which premiered in 2010 and has since become a cultural phenomenon.
"Fear the Walking Dead" was created by Dave Erickson and Robert Kirkman, the latter of whom created the original "The Walking Dead" comic book series with Charlie Adlard and Tony Moore. "Fear the Walking Dead" centers largely around a dysfunctional family in Los Angeles before the initial zombie outbreak. The pilot episode begins unsettlingly enough, and serves as a calm before the storm. Here, we're introduced to school teacher Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), her new husband who is also a teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), and Madison's heroin-addicted son Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey).
In the background of this familial drama, a larger story unfolds in which reports of cannibalism and gruesome murders - believed to be the work of some as-of-yet unidentified viral epidemic that the government is in denial of - are taking place. Eventually, the Manawa-Clark family is drawn into the madness, too, as they bear witness to the events that we're all familiar with in "The Walking Dead."
I've already read a few lousy comments regarding how bad this show is and how unlikeable the characters are. I say, give it some time, and realize that we're watching the beginning of "The Walking Dead," and a lot is still unknown at this point about the zombie apocalypse. And we have to get used to a new cast of characters and their story of survival. But I also suspect that those viewers who are already lambasting "Fear the Walking Dead" are upset because there are far fewer frenetic action scenes, gore, and zombie killings (like what we've had five seasons to become accustomed to). I blame these negative comments on viewer laziness, above anything else.
"Fear the Walking Dead" is off to a great start. While this isn't the true beginnings of the zombie apocalypse (seeing exactly where the zombie virus came from and how it was introduced into the human population will suffice there), it does give us an idea of what the world was like before the storm hit. I can't wait for episode two.
Nora inu (1949)
Another Kurosawa classic
Akira Kurosawa co-wrote and directed his black & white detective-noir "Stray Dog" in 1949 - one year before the international break-out success of "Rashomon" (1950). In post-World War II Tokyo, Japan is still in the midst of recovering from its defeat in that devastating conflict. (While the country is obviously in shambles, incredibly enough, we never really see any of that, but still, its psychological impact is felt everywhere you look. But then again, this film is not about Japan's post-war-era of reconstruction.) During a sweltering summer heatwave, a pistol belonging to young Detective Murakami (a young Toshiro Mifune, one of Kurosawa's cinematic regulars) is stolen by a pickpocket while riding on a crowded city bus one day. The weapon changes many hands over the next few days, eventually winding up in the hands of a disgruntled World War II vet, later identified as a young man named Yusa (Isao Kimura). Murakami, also a war veteran, becomes obsessed with retrieving his gun, since it is used in a series of escalating, violent incidents around the city. During this time, he is also partnered up with an older, more experienced homicide detective, Sato (Takashi Shimura, another Kurosawa regular, most famous for "Ikiru" and "Seven Samurai," perhaps), to nab Yusa, the so-called "stray dog" of the title. "Stray Dog" is yet another classic from Akira Kurosawa. The film is nicely and beautifully shot; Kurosawa was a favorite of using the natural weather conditions to symbolize things happening on-screen, and here he uses the heat to great effect. Like how Spike Lee would do on "Do the Right Thing" 40 years later in 1989, we can feel the heat and how the tension, and Murakami's increasing anxiety and desperation, at solving his case before more people are hurt, affect him on a deeply personal and psychological level. Rain, which you would think would cool things down a bit, here, represents yet another escalation in things to come later on in the film. Perhaps one thing that "Stray Dog" illustrates best is that Murakami, in a way, is just like Yusa. As someone else also pointed out, both fell on hard times after their war service and were angry and frustrated at their circumstances, but Murakami picked himself up afterward. Also as someone pointed out, that means that, sometimes, the only thing that separates the two men from each other is the notion of choice - since Murakami explains that he could just as easily have become just like Yusa at some point.
This movie is not to be missed if you're a true fan of the cinematic master craftsman, Akira Kurosawa.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
"The Usual Suspects" is not the *Usual* mid-1990s crime-thriller...
I have a strange history with the 1995 neo-noir crime-thriller "The Usual Suspects."
I saw the film for the first time when I was in middle school; I remember being thoroughly impressed with the picture and I may (or may not) have rented it a few times from Blockbuster Video (I entered middle school in the late 1990s). And then I never really saw it again, but I do remember that "The Usual Suspects" always stuck with me, even if 15 years has passed since I last saw it. And then on a whim, I watched the movie again today. My opinion has not changed on this movie at all, but today's viewing has only reaffirmed my glowing praise for this picture.
The other reason that this movie stuck with me for so long was because this film made the reputation of its director, a then-29-year-old Bryan Singer. I came to know Bryan Singer through his work on the "X-Men" movies - "X-Men" (2000) and its superior sequel, "X2" (2003). Although I won't go into the details why, I've long been a fan of the X-Men superhero team and I've long believed that Singer - through certain aspects of his personal background - was the perfect director for the first two films in that series and he brought those particular aspects of his personal background to make those films his own. That is something I'll always be thankful to him for, and "X2" is my personal favorite film that he's ever done (if not necessarily his best).
But still, let's go back to the film that started it all for Bryan Singer...
Let me just say that I consider "The Usual Suspects" to be the best crime-thriller of the '90s. Yes, I said it, "The Usual Suspects" is even better than "Pulp Fiction" (1994); while I like Quentin Tarantino, I've never truly liked "Pulp Fiction" and have considered that to be Tarantino's weakest effort - yet Tarantino won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, so he obviously did something right. I don't think that it's any coincidence that a year after Tarantino won his first Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his script for "The Usual Suspects," which I obviously feel is the better of the two. I've just found "The Usual Suspects" to be far more inventive - and watchable - in its story and characters, and complex and involving story-line.
"The Usual Suspects" is one of the most compelling, original, frightening, and (occasionally) blackly humorous thrillers ever made, with one of the greatest, and shocking, plot twists in cinematic history. The film begins in the aftermath of a mysterious ship explosion and firefight in San Pedro Bay in Los Angeles, California. The police arrest cripple and con man Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance here), who was only one of two survivors. While being interrogated by U.S. Customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri), Kint reveals that six weeks earlier in New York City, he and four other small-time criminals - Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), a corrupt ex-cop who's since been trying to go straight; professional thief Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin); McManus's partner Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro); and Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak), a hijacker and explosives expert - were arrested and interrogated by the New York City Police Department on trumped-up charges in connection to a gun shipment robbery.
Kint goes on to further explain a rich and complicated back-story, in which the five of them enter into a series of complex criminal schemes that eventually brings the attention of a mysterious crime figure named "Keyser Soze," whose criminal exploits and ruthless reputation are so feared that he has earned a near-mythical status in the criminal underworld. It all leads to a shocking revelation of just who it is that's been pulling the five men's strings the whole time - Keyser Soze, or someone else?
I have to admit that I loved every moment of "The Usual Suspects." This movie definitely earned every bit of praise heaped upon it by the mainstream and independent movie press upon its release in 1995; just as an aside, this film was released into theaters three days after my tenth birthday in 1995. Kevin Spacey earned his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor here in one of the great performances of the '90s. Though the work of the four principal actors cannot be discounted - Gabriel Byrne is by far the most sympathetic of the quintet as their de-facto, albeit highly reluctant, leader, Dean Keaton; Stephen Baldwin (whom I personally took the greatest liking to) as Michael McManus and this is probably his best-known film role before his career took a hit in the late '90s and early 2000s; Benicio Del Toro as the mangled-English-speaking Fred Fenster, who would go on to become an Oscar-winner himself in just a few short years (for "Traffic" in 2000); and Kevin Pollak as the one true common-man of the group, Todd Hockney.
Neo-noir crime-thrillers were big in the 1990s after "Pulp Fiction" almost single-handedly reinvented the cinematic medium; "The Usual Suspects," with its gripping story and characters, and snappy dialogue, was the next (and arguably) greatest thing to come from that era. It's a brilliant, mesmerizing viewing experience from a film-making team that struck cinematic gold. And how can anyone not mention John Ottman's touching, occasionally brooding and mysterious film score? I just had to mention that also before I finally close this out.
"The Usual Suspects" is certainly not your "Usual" mid-1990s thriller...
"Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." (2003) is not in a whole of distress...
The Millennium-Era series of "Godzilla" features - released over a five-year period between 1999 and 2004 in Japan - is an interesting film series, to say the least. I have been slow in getting to it, having grown up on both the Showa-Era (1954-1975) and Heisei-Era (1984-1995) "Godzilla" film series. The first film I ever saw from the Millennium Era was 1999's "Godzilla 2000" - which, as I remarked in another review - was the last film I ever saw at the now-defunct Cineplex Odeon at my local shopping mall before it closed down forever in early 2000. I was 14 when that movie came out and when the Cineplex Odeon finally closed its doors.
Just yesterday, I watched "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" (2002). Today, I just finished watching its direct 2003 sequel, "Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." When I remarked how interesting the Millennium Era is, I mean that it's interesting in that like the Heisei-Era "Godzilla" films, it completely disregards all the films that came before it - pretending that they never happened - and instead goes right back to "Gojira" (1954), the gloomy black & white monster flick that started it all. But unlike the Heisei Era, each film in the Millennium series is a stand-alone feature that not only disregards all previous "Godzilla" features from different eras, but each film in the Millennium Era prior to it is also disregarded. So, in other words, "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" disregarded the three films that preceded it.
"Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" is the only film to have a sequel, which is "Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." "Tokyo S.O.S." is a better film than its predecessor, and also a unique one. Since "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" and "Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." are stand-alone features that started 45 years after "Gojira" - these two films are unique in that they also include a loose continuity of sorts with other non-Godzilla-related Toho "kaiju-eiga" (Japanese giant monster films), namely "Mothra" (1961) and "War of the Gargantuas" (1966); for this sequel, "Mothra" is the film most referenced and shares the greatest continuity, and it also includes a few references to "Godzilla vs. Mothra" (1964) - the latter film of which has the benefit of being Godzilla's last portrayal as the bad guy in the Showa-Era film series.
"Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." is set in 2004, one year after Godzilla ravaged Japan, but was thwarted by the Japan Self-Defense Forces' (JSDF) Mechagodzilla, a.k.a., "Kiryu" (meaning, "Machine Dragon" in Japanese). Mechagodzilla, as you remember, was built around the remains of the first Godzilla that was killed in 1954, and shares that long-dead monster's genetic memories. Though Mechagodzilla managed to save Japan from Godzilla, the monster cyborg was heavily damaged and needed to be repaired.
Now, the JSDF is pondering whether or not to deploy Mechagodzilla into the field again, being that its most powerful weapon, the Absolute Zero, is damaged beyond repair and without it, Mechagodzilla will not be able to defend the country against Godzilla. Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) mechanic Yoshito Chujo (Noboru Kaneko) is on vacation at his uncle's house when he's visited by the Shobijin (Masami Nagasawa and Chihiro Ohtsuka), the miniature twin fairies who act as guardians for the benevolent insect monster-god Mothra. Chujo's uncle is none other than Dr. Shinichi Chujo (the late Hiroshi Koizumi), the Japanese linguist who first discovered Mothra and the Shobijin on their native Infant Island and witnessed Mothra's subsequent destructive rampage in Japan 43 years earlier in 1961.
The Shobijin have come to warn them that because Mechagodzilla is built around the skeletal remains of the original 1954 Godzilla, that this is why Godzilla keeps returning to attack Japan. If Mechagodzilla is returned to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, then Mothra will gladly take its place to guard Japan from Godzilla's attacks. Meanwhile, Godzilla surfaces once again to attack Japan, and Mothra joins the fray. Pretty soon, though, the JSDF also realizes that Mothra alone will not be enough, and that they have no choice but to deploy Mechagodzilla once again into battle - but the question remains of whether or not the mighty Mechagodzilla will survive another lethal encounter with Godzilla?
Maasaki Tezuka returns behind the camera to direct this stellar follow-up to "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla." The greatest thing to be said about this feature is to see Hiroshi Koizumi, a regular during the Showa Era in numerous Toho kaiju-eiga, reprising a role he first took on over 40 years earlier. As a supporting player to a younger generation of cast members, Noboru Kaneko makes for an effective leading performer who is dedicated to his job and knows every inch, inside & out, of the cyborg creature that he has been charged with maintaining. He also has a close friendship with Kiryu pilot Azusa Kisaragi (Miho Yoshioka) - having replaced Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku) from the previous film and who appears here in a brief cameo. I was a little startled to learn that Yumiko Shaku wasn't going to be the lead in this sequel, as I did find her replacement in Miho Yoshioka to not be as engaging or sympathetic as she was in "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla." This was really my only serious disappointment with this flick.
"Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." has some stellar monster battles, a beautiful reappearance of Mothra, and an awesome mix of old & new (in more ways than one). This was the last film before the all-out monster battle royale that was this series' epic closer, "Godzilla: Final Wars" (2004).
Gojira X Mekagojira (2002)
This was a good show!
I have to admit that I've been rather slow in getting to the Millennium-Era series of "Godzilla" films - meaning, the films that were made between 1999 and 2004 in Japan. I admit that I know very little about the Millennium Era, but the first movie I ever saw from this series was "Godzilla 2000" (1999) back in early 2000 at the now-closed Cineplex Odeon at my local shopping mall and was consequently the last movie I ever saw there before it closed.
Over the years, I saw "Godzilla: Final Wars" (2004) and I've only seen bits & pieces of "Godzilla vs. Megaguirus" (2000), the latter film of which I was never really impressed with from the few clips I saw of it. Only today did I watch director Maasaki Tezuka's 2002 "kaiju-eiga" (Japanese giant monster movie) "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla," which marks the fourth on-screen pairing of Godzilla fighting his cyborg-monster doppelganger, Mechagodzilla (the first three films were 1974's "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla," 1975's "Terror of Mechagodzilla," and 1993's "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II").
Since all the films in the Millennium series are stand-alone features with no previous connection to the previous entry, "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" therefore has no connection to its predecessor, and instead - like "Godzilla 2000" - goes straight back to "Gojira" (1954) and pretends that any film that came after it never happened; however, Mothra and the Gargantuas are still referenced (through stock footage). So, in 1999, a new Godzilla appears out of the Pacific Ocean to threaten humanity. No explanation is given for Godzilla's sudden reappearance in Japan, except to say that he's a threat and he must be destroyed. (I must also say that this is one of the most menacing portrayals of the mighty King of the Monsters that I've seen in years.)
So, a plan is put into action: in order to beat Godzilla, humanity must pool their resources to create ANOTHER Godzilla, a Mechagodzilla. Like the Mechagodzilla of the Heisei Era, this cyborg creature is a creation of humans (rather than malevolent aliens like in the Showa Era). However, there's a new twist here: this new Mechagodzilla (given the codename "Kiryu," for "machine dragon") is a construction built around the skeleton of the original Godzilla that was killed in 1954. Four years later in 2003, Mechagodzilla/"Kiryu" is ready to go, and disgraced Japan Self-Defense Force maser tank technician Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku) is selected to be the cyborg monster's chief pilot.
You see, Akane was one of the JSDF troops who was first dispatched to counter Godzilla when he mysteriously re-appeared in 1999, and several of her comrades were killed in the fray and she was made a scapegoat and demoted by her superiors as a result. And so now, she's been given a second chance to redeem herself and prove to her superiors and fellow Kiryu pilots that she has what it takes to save humanity from Godzilla. And also, somewhere in there, too, she becomes connected to Mechagodzilla/Kiryu's widowed biological engineer Dr. Tokumitsu Yuhara (Shin Takuma) and his young daughter Sara (Kana Onodera).
I've been saying for years that Mechagodzilla remains Godzilla's greatest opponent - in any incarnation of the character. This was confirmed upon viewing "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" finally. It's heavily armed with a bewildering array of weapons, heavily armored, and bad to the bone (quite literally, "bad to the bone") - just like its two predecessors were. But this version of Mechagodzilla also has a severe weakness. Because Kiryu was constructed around the skeletal remains of the original Godzilla killed in 1954, it has that monster's genetic memories imprinted onto it, so it has a "flashback" (if you will) moment in the middle of a battle with Godzilla and goes on a destructive rampage of its own. So for a while, the creature was out of the control of its human creators. Yet, this is something that is easily corrected by Dr. Yuhara.
"Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" also has a great human story. Its chief dramatic appeal, of course, is the beautiful young JSDF pilot Akane Yashiro, played quite well by Yumiko Shaku as someone struggling to overcome past traumatic failures and find some sort of meaning/direction for her life and try to find some sort of redemption (which she ultimately does - through her association with the Mechagodzilla program and Dr. Yuhara and his daughter).
This was a good, worthy entry into the "Godzilla" series. I hope to watch its direct sequel "Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." (2003) tomorrow and see where it goes from there.
The mid-1990s relived!
I turned nine in 1994 (in fact, according to Wikipedia, "Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad" debuted on my ninth birthday in 1994), and at that time back then I was still hooked on the likes of Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "Transformers," and "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." So obviously, "Samurai" was a natural fit into my afternoon after-school/weekend-morning viewing habits.
Unlike those other shows, however, "Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad" was the one show I just never got around to watching for some reason. It seemed like it was never on TV, or I always somehow missed it, and it was soon gone before I knew whatever happened (it only lasted for 53 episodes over the course of just one season between 1994 and 1995). Yet, I also collected the action figures this show inspired, and I still have at least one of them in my bedroom somewhere (it's safely stored away in a box in the corner).
And thanks to the wonders of TV-on-DVD, this show is now available for the first time on home video, where those of us who grew up in the 1990s can relive all those afternoons wasted in front of the television after school (when we should have been doing our homework instead).
"Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad," like "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" before it, was one of several original Japanese superhero "tokusatsu" ("special filming," or "special effects") TV shows adapted for American audiences in the early '90s and used English-speaking American actors in newly shot scenes integrated with the original Japanese footage. "Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad" came from the original Japanese superhero series "Denkou Choujin Gridman," which I've never seen and am unsure if it has ever been made available outside of Japan. On a side note, "Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad" (and its original incarnation "Denkou Choujin Gridman") were both produced by Tsuburaya Productions, which was responsible for Godzilla back in Japan.
Sam Collins (Matthew Lawrence, of "Mrs. Doubtfire" fame in 1993) is a kind and caring, but otherwise normal teenager who heads his high school rock band (as its lead singer and guitar player) Team Samurai - with his three closest friends, the jock Tanker (Kevin Castro) on drums; Tanker's crush, the brainy and tech-savvy Sydney Forrester (Robin Mary Florence) on keyboards; and the curiously strange and intellectual Amp Ere (Troy Slaten) on bass; later on the in the series, Amp was replaced by Lucky London (Rembrandt Sabelis).
Of course there has to be a girl in there somewhere, and Sam pines for the beautiful cheerleader Jennifer Doyle (Jayme Betcher), who seems to return his affections. Sam's only rival is the megalomaniacal teen hacker Malcolm Frink (Glen Beaudin), who also vies for Jennifer's affections. Frink later sides with the rogue military program Kilokhan (voice of Tim Curry), to create "mega-virus" monsters that later run amok in computer and electronic systems that go on to cause havoc in the real world.
But have no fear, good people, help is on the way...
Sam's life takes a strange turn when a power surge zaps him into his computer and he becomes the computerized superhero Servo, based on a high-tech video game character he was developing on the side. Together with Tanker, Sydney and Amp, Team Samurai becomes the Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad - here to save the virtual world AND the real world from all manner of Malcolm and Kilokhan's legion of digitized monsters. And somewhere in there, the teens of Team Samurai have to still find the time to be ordinary teenagers with ordinary teenager problems, like girls, grades, and making awesome music as a high school rock band.
I guess I'll be the only person to compare this show to "The Matrix" (1999), which was just five years off at the time of this show's debut. I'll admit that this comparison is superficial at best, but it is worth noting that both the show and the film feature epic battles that take place inside of a computerized virtual world. Of course "The Matrix" had groundbreaking special effects, and this show just had people in elaborate costumes. (I should also point out that this show does remind me of the Japanese superhero shows "Ultraman" and "Ultra Seven," which I also adore.)
Either way, I still get a kick out of "Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad" after all these years. It makes me yearn for a far simpler time, when television was much simpler and certainly more entertaining and care-free. It was a lot easier to lose yourself for a half-hour with the Power Rangers or Team Samurai, as a kid growing up in the '90s, than it is now, unfortunately, since these kind of shows don't air on television much anymore.
So gear up, and get ready to Kick Some Giga-butt, with Team Samurai and "Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad"!
A well done "Soldier"
I guess I should admit up front that I'm not a fan of Captain America, or patriotic superheroes in general. Which is why I have been extremely hesitant about approaching Marvel's "Captain America" film series. I've just never been a fan of the character, that's all.
So, I approach Captain America the same way I approached DC Comics' Superman, in which while I never read the original comics that inspired the character, I entertain myself with the big-budget cinematic depictions, and go from there - like reading the comics if I chose to.
I haven't seen 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger," but I was eager - however - to see its 2014 sequel, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." Part of the problem I was even more hesitant to see these movies was the casting of Chris Evans. I remember Chris Evans from the two "Fantastic Four" movies where he played Johnny Storm/The Human Torch and as one of the few people to like that two-film series, I thought he was perfect there. I have a personal rule about Hollywood actors playing more than one superhero (I'm looking at you, Ben Affleck) - since the superhero bandwagon is one ride it seems that everybody wants to hop onto. But, Evans's golden-boy good looks and straight-forward attitude make him an ideal pick for the role of Steve Rogers/Captain America.
The first "Captain America" was set during World War II. The sequel, "The Winter Soldier," is set in the present (2014), and features Steve Rogers trying to embrace his role in the modern world - since the patriotic ideals and values about freedom and democracy that he fought for 70 years earlier have given way to a shadier, morally gray outlook for the future of humanity. In other words, he doesn't feel he's fighting for the same good reasons now, that he was during World War II.
Part of the problem stems from his immediate superior, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., who stresses that things have changed drastically since Cap's WWII heyday. As the film begins, Rogers and his chief associate Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) uncover a conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D. that refers to the ghosts of the World War II era - namely the rogue Nazi science division HYDRA, which apparently did not die out with the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allies in May 1945. So Captain America and The Black Widow are forced to go on the run as enemies of the government, and the pair are forced to confront the "Winter Soldier," a Russian heavyweight who has a frightening connection to Rogers's past.
Also along the for the ride is newcomer Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), an Iraq War veteran with a secret of his own - he possesses an experimental flight harness that reveals him to be the superhero The Falcon, who in comics history was the first black-American superhero and who was also one of Captain America's closest allies in the comics. I partially wanted to see "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" to see the Anthony Mackie debut as The Falcon.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is a big, loud superhero-fest. The co-directing team of the Russo Brothers - Anthony and Joe - is one of the more interesting brotherly cinematic pairings in recent memory; the script - by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely - is also quite inspired (it draws heavily from a critically acclaimed comic book story arc called "The Winter Soldier" by Ed Brubaker, which I haven't read). The Russo Brothers and Markus & McFeely do pay particular attention to the fact that Steve Rogers is now a man out of his time, fighting for reasons that are vastly different from what he originally became Captain America for. Another thing the movie also does well is how it pays attention to how much the world has changed since the beginning of the 21st century, or more particularly, after 9/11, and how some people believe that some freedoms must be sacrificed in order to ensure security (and how some will surely exploit the loss of those freedoms for their own purposes). The movie also plays up some of the more recent conspiracy theories that have cropped up as a result of this - and having film legend Robert Redford (as Alexander Pierce, Nick Fury's close friend and colleague), who appeared in a number of conspiracy films back in the 1970s (which resulted from Vietnam and Watergate), is just the icing on the cake here.
In some ways, this is one of the more "mature" superhero films produced since the beginning of the 21st century (I would argue that honor goes to "Spider-Man 2," which came out all the way back in 2004, but I know for a fact that I'm surely outnumbered on this assertion). But as can be expected, some of the attempts at slowing things down to get a grasp on the characters and story and some of the underlying conflicts between the beliefs and ideals of the past (and how they relate to the present day) get drowned out by the special effects and explosions. That's not a fault of the Russo Brothers, really, but just the fact that Hollywood has come to expect so little from some of those in the audience that DO want more, and not less.
"Crash" does not "Crash" & burn
BEWARE: 1996's "Crash" is not the same 2004 film directed by Paul Haggis that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards for 2005; I still think that "Brokeback Mountain" should have won that year, and that remains one of the biggest disappointments in Oscar history, but I digress.
"Crash" is the infamous 1996 erotic psychological thriller from the controversial Canadian born-&-bred David Cronenberg ("The Fly," "Dead Ringers," "Videodrome," "Scanners"), who both wrote and directed the film, and also served as a producer. "Crash" is by far the most provocative and sexually explicit film Cronenberg has ever done - going so far as to earn the dreaded "NC-17" rating, yet still somehow winning the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and being nominated also for the prestigious Palme d'Or. That says something for a film that borders on being soft-core pornography, or does it?
Despite its graphic depiction of human sexuality (most of it taking place behind the wheel, rather than in the bedroom), Cronenberg is actually striving for something bigger here, which is how people are transformed, physically, psychologically and SEXUALLY, by the car crash (and to a greater extent, how human beings are being transformed by technology itself). "Crash" examines this by peering into a world that examines the cathartic sexual release granted to some by automobile accidents. It's a premise that will certainly make people think twice about getting behind the wheel again, and is a premise that also caused a huge sensation when the late author J.G. Ballard published his controversial novel - from which this film is based - of the same name back in 1973. (Quite frankly, it's very easy to imagine how unnerved some people might have been in 1996 after viewing this movie in the theater, and then thinking about the drive home afterward.)
In the words of one observer, the characters in "Crash" "are their own potential killers, who make themselves vulnerable to death every time they climb into their conveyances." Set in Ontario, Canada, bored film director James Ballard (James Spader, an obvious stand-in for the author of the original novel) seeks greater sexual experiences than the mundane pleasures offered to him by his crumbling open marriage to his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger). One night, Ballard gets into a serious, near-fatal car accident - a head-on collision with another vehicle - and winds up in the hospital, horribly scarred and with his left leg in a rather scary-looking contraption that I'm only guessing is a leg brace of some sort.
While recovering at the hospital, he learns that the accident killed the driver of the other car, but left the passenger, Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), a widow. He also by chance meets Dr. Remington's associate Vaughan (Elias Koteas), a car accident-obsessed, slightly mad rogue doctor who leads an underground sub-culture that re-stages famous car crashes - the September 30, 1955, car crash that killed Hollywood movie star James Dean gets a lot of special attention here.
Vaughan's special little "project" aims to examine how the energy of a car crash is not only a form of sexual catharsis, but is also a trans-formative, or "fertilizing" (rather than destructive), event for the crash victim - something that happens to liberate the victim from the boundaries (of what we consider to be) normal sexual experience, which, of course, is provided they even SURVIVE the crash in the first place. Himself a badly scarred car crash survivor, his re-staging of famous car accidents is a ploy to open up new sexual horizons for others, and he's pulled Ballard, who is by no means an unwilling participant (in fact, his initial car accident was a baptism, of sorts), into his dark world of "auto-erotica" in an effort to gain sexual satisfaction from his marriage to Catherine. Sex happens a lot in this picture, most of it in cars (hence the spin on the term, "auto- erotica"), between men and women, women and women, and men and men; it shows that Cronenberg doesn't like to play favorites and since his movie is about pushing boundaries, there's also some "scar play" in there, as well - look at what Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette) is wearing to the party.
As a long-time fan of David Cronenberg ("The Fly" still remains his masterpiece to me), I've waited a long time to see "Crash," as it shows that he was gradually moving away from the so-called "body horror" that defined much of his early career and also like the characters in this film, he was seeking new horizons to explore. Of course since the beginning of the 21st century, Cronenberg's profile has gone increasingly mainstream and he has been heavily involved in making thrillers of various types - "A History of Violence" (2005) and "Eastern Promises" (2007) come to mind - that have explored new thematic territories but his boundary-pushing auteur style and philosophical fascinations of bodily destruction remain largely unchanged.
"Crash" is a controversial (albeit needlessly so) film, no doubt, from a controversial, yet endlessly masterful and fascinating, filmmaker. It's dark, it's sexually explicit and grotesquely violent in many areas, but like all of Cronenberg's work, you just can't turn away - no matter how repulsed or disgusted you are by everything that you're seeing. "Crash" is by no means for those with a weak stomach - heed the "NC-17" rating, folks - but it is something that can open your eyes and stimulate your senses in ways few filmmakers are willing to do anymore.
Fresh Off the Boat (2015)
"Fresh" for 2015, you suckas!!!
I guess the greatest thing that can be said about "Fresh Off the Boat" is that it reminds one of better times long gone - in this case, the mid-1990s (1995). I turned 10 that year; so while "Fresh Off the Boat" is steeped in nostalgia, it doesn't weep for those days - that's what will most likely happen to the viewer, like this viewer.
"Fresh Off the Boat" also has the benefit of being the first TV sitcom headlined by an entirely Asian-American cast - reportedly the first show of its kind in nearly 20 years. The show itself is an autobiography of TV chef, restaurateur and occasional Eddie Huang (based on his book of the same name), who also serves as the show's narrator.
Huang is the son of Taiwanese-immigrant parents; was born in Washington, D.C., in 1982; and had moved with his family to Orlando, Florida, in the mid-'90s. He also has a real deep affinity for hip-hop culture (as does the writer of this review, even though I'm not Asian). Some have said there really isn't much of a big difference between hip-hop and Asian cultures (as evidenced by the rap super-group, the Wu-Tang Clan), so seeing a young Asian kid recite lyrics from songs by The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, The Pharcyde, and Ice Cube are a real delight. (One episode that will have some music-philes laughing until they cry is an episode when Eddie reunites with the cousin who first introduced him to hip-hop, and said cousin is now depressed and into grunge music.)
The show itself centers mostly on 11-year-old Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang) after his family moves to Orlando, and his struggles to fit in at his new school as the only Asian kid once everyone gets settled. His father Louis Huang (Randall Park) wants to open and run his own restaurant, there's his mother Jessica (beautiful Constance Wu), his younger brothers Emery (Forrest Wheeler) and Evan (Ian Chen), and family matriarch Grandma Huang (Lucille Soong). "Fresh Off the Boat" chronicles Eddie and his family's attempts to integrate into their new, predominantly white suburban Orlando community. Cultural clashes and hilarity ensues.
"Fresh Off the Boat" has gotten a lot of praise from viewers and critics. While the show gets off to a rough start initially, it really starts to find its own footing around the sixth or seventh episode. A lot of shows tend to do that and from that perspective, "Fresh Off the Boat" is no different. Just as the show struggles to find its own footing, so do we, as viewers, have to get used to watching a new program. Most viewers rarely have this sort of patience (or attention span) anymore, but from the first episode I liked what I was watching, but I knew there was a chance that things would improve - which they have.
I can see this show getting better and better once its footing becomes more assured and the actors become more comfortable in their roles. "Fresh Off the Boat" is something new and "Fresh" for 2015. (And the soundtrack, which features mostly music from hip-hop artists prominent at the time, certainly adds to its "freshness.")