Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the epitome of a modern superhero movie, both in its strengths and its flaw. The film does the positives enough to be a good, maybe even very good, movie but the negatives are present enough to keep it from being great.
On the positive side, the film has some rousing moments of action, some laugh out loud moments of humor, and a straight-forward story that doesn’t try too hard to be much more than a standard action film template. When it comes to the action scenes, the Russo Brothers moved away from Joe Johnston’s lighter touch and there are some real moments of brutality here. In the first Captain American, people got bonked and beat up; in The Winter Solider, people get knocked the fuck out.

So where does the film go wrong? The biggest issue is that it’s what I call Brute Force Cinema. The plan of attack in most every case isn’t a game of Spy vs. Spy or some intricate plan to weave their way in, it’s pretty much a throwback to a simply storming of the castle. This isn’t a huge complaint but for a movie to reach greatness, I think you need a little more cunning and plotting.
Also, while the action scenes were mostly solid, they were very cutty and the final action scene was kind of the Cinema of Chaos in which you kind of didn’t know where most people were.
And finally, Marvel is starting to get themselves into a place where action scenes are going to start to lose much tension because we keep seeing magical devices to get people out of jams and it seems like people can take an awful lot of punishment without dying. Not that dying is even a problem, as Agent Coulson proved to us when he died in The Avengers and then popped back up in ABC’s The Agents of SHIELD.

Still, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was fun and entertaining enough to make me forgive any of the issues I had with it and I’d definitely recommend that fans of superhero films or action movies give it a look. There’s nothing about it that transcends the genre so if superheroes aren’t your thing, this won’t win you over.

Oh, and as for the After Credit Scenes, you’ll probably want to stay for the mid-credit scene but the after credit scene is pretty forgettable and not really worth the wait IMO.

 

With the first weekend of the NCAA tournament behind us and many of the big names already bounced from the Madness, I thought it was as good a time as any to toss out my first mock draft of 2014. While I do believe that this draft class has been overhyped, I think the rumblings of a wild offseason are going to be 100% true and we’ll see a lot of player movement around the draft. So let’s see how the lotto picks might shake out.

1. Milwaukee – Jabari Parker
I think the Bucks need his offense and his Alpha Dog attitude and they have the defensive minded bigs who’ll be able to make up for Parker’s deficiencies on that end of the court.

2. Philadelphia - Andrew Wiggins
Worst case scenario, I think Wiggins settles into being a defensive stopper on the wing, which is something Philly desperately needs. Like Carter-Williams this year, I think Wiggins will be better in the pros than he was in college.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers via Orlando – Joel Embiid
Cleveland prematurely ends the Kyrie Irving Era by dealing the point guard and #9 pick for #3 pick and Victor Oladipo. Orlando adds a name player/All-Star to help recruit free agents while Cleveland gets their dignity back by ending the “Stay Kyrie” movement that makes them seem like a desperate girlfriend, pleading to keep their boyfriend who’s already checked out of the relationship. It made sense to act like this with LeBron but with a good-not-great injury prone kid who plays the most loaded position in the NBA? It’s time to move on.

4. Somebody, Anybody via LA Lakers: Dante Exum
Do you really think Kobe’s hanging the hopes of the twilight of his career on a rookie? I’m not sure who the Lakers can get since they have no other assets and Kobe’s big deal is clogging the cap, making it hard to add two stars (or even one if they re-sign Gasol.) Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony have been rumored to want to head to LA but do either of them really want to spend their peak years with an aging, banged up Kobe and Gasol? I think the Buss family will make a deal on draft night; I just don’t think it’s going to net them a star the caliber of which Laker Nation has in mind.

5. Utah – Marcus Smart
Utah could use his defense and fiery attitude. A Trey Burke, Smart, Gordon Hayward trio complements one another well and could become an effective unit. Odds are that, ultimately, it will be a kind of mediocre group but there’s upside there.

6. Minnesota via Boston – Julius Randle
Boston trades #6, #17, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk for Kevin Love and #15. Minnesota fans are probably hoping for more but Love’s impending free agency destroys his market value. I think Danny Ainge’s desire to make a splash this offseason will be strong enough that he rolls the dice on dealing for Love and hoping he can re-sign him and Rondo next year.

7. Sacramento – Aaron Gordon
Gordon seems like the perfect complement to DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay (if he doesn’t opt out.) He’s a defensive minded forward with a nice hoops IQ and knows his role. I don’t think he’ll blossom into a star but he should be everything the Kings are looking for.

8. Detroit – Doug McDermott
Doug can shoot, Detroit can’t. Doug can’t defend, Detroit can. What’s not to like? (Well, besides the Adam Morrison comparisons.)

9. Atlanta via Orlando via Cleveland – Gary Harris
Atlanta closes the door on their former playoff squad by dealing Al Horford for something along the lines of: Nik Vucevic, Moe Harkless, and the #9 pick. Harris is a perfect fit for the more workmanlike Atlanta squad. Some Orlando fans might see Kyrie and Al’s injury reports and have T-Mac/Grant Hill flashbacks but adding these two is worth the risk, especially since it might be enough to recruit Carmelo Anthony down to Orlando.

10. Phoenix via Denver: Noah Vonleh
When Gary Harris comes off the board, Denver starts fielding offers for their pick. I think Phoenix makes the most sense as they have assets and picks to deal and, well, they’ve been starting Channing Frye at PF so Vonleh seems like a no brainer, especially since he could be a solid complement to last year’s #1 Alex Len.

11. Philadelphia: Kyle Anderson
When your nickname is Slo Mo, you better have amazing skills to have any chance at making it in the NBA. Well, Anderson’s skills are pretty damn silly and he’s arguably the best passer in the draft, besting any of the point guards. His lack of athleticism is a concern but if he’s flanked by Nerlens Noel and Andrew Wiggins, he might just have a chance at making it.

12. Orlando Magic: Willie Cauley-Stein
Newly acquired Al Horford has always wanted to play PF instead of C so the Magic land a defensive minded big to allow Horford to get minutes at his preferred position. Also, if the Magic are looking to land ‘Melo, adding a rim protector is a must.

13. Atlanta – Clint Capella
Danny Ferry loves him some Euros so I think that he’ll take one here, be it Capella, Dario Saric, etc. Capella is the latest Next Ibaka and sounds like he might be a perfect complement to the newly acquired Vucevic so I’ll slate him here.

14. Chicago – Elfrid Payton
NBADraft.net moved this guy into the lottery in their latest mock, which is a reach but looking over his scouting report, he seems like a guy who Thibs would love so I’m going to put him here.

And that leaves us at the Celtics (via Minnesota). Tyler Ennis? James Young? Rodney Hood? KJ McDaniels? There are a lot of interesting options available but none that I’m completely sold on. Hell, another good tournament game and Andrew Harrison might be in the discussion as a third guard who could play alongside Rondo or Avery Bradley.

 

The “Veronica Mars” movie faced a near impossible task. It’s hard to make a great movie that is both welcoming to newbies while also throwing in enough references to the show that built such a legion of fans that they were able to raise the Kickstarter money for this movie to even happen. The film is able to walk that line but, in doing so, delivers a couple of cases that are very generic and would have made for a forgettable episode had it appeared during the initial run of the show. Perhaps the worst part about it is that it kind of is exactly what the people who didn’t watch the show expected; a fairly typical female driven crime show. The lover she can’t quit, the “wrong” choices that feel so right, the quirky if not entirely crafty solutions to problems – these all played better as a high schooler than they do as an adult.
“Veronica Mars” isn’t a bad movie, it’s just a generic one, and one that (along with the uneven third season) kind of solidifies the fact that the show was better off getting canceled before it could limp to an even weaker finish.

 

Liam Neeson’s latest actioner “Non-Stop” is an enjoyable yet stupid flick which is probably best enjoyed while sitting amongst friends and having some drinks. It’s a rental that flashes some very clever moments, most of which are soon followed by something silly that is either: a head-scratcher, a head-shaker, or a throw your head back in laughter-er. But if you have a drink in hand, it’ll make it all the better so here are the rules to the Non-Stop drinking game.

Take a Shot for Every Sideways Glance or Knowing Look
This will get you nice and sauced early on. If you’re a light drinker or, hell, even a social drinker, you might want to switch this to half or a third of a shot because the first fifteen minutes of this film is one suspicious look after another. Liam Neeson sideeyes every single person in the airport and once we get onto the plane, it’s like everybody is hiding something and letting us know that they are hiding something by giving an awkward stare to someone else. You might actually want to prepare a couple dozen shots before the movie starts so you can keep up with all the glances in the first act.
Once the plane takes off and the plot gets going, you’ll probably have had enough to drink that you should slow down and switch to beer.

Drink Every Time Liam Neeson Uses Poor Communication Skills
One of my pet peeves in thrillers is when people get in trouble because they lie about something they really don’t need to lie about (or tell a lie that is ridiculously easy to expose) or they just are so terrible a communicating that their comments just make things worse. This movie had enough going on that I wasn’t THAT upset but, good lord, Liam Neeson’s character’s communication skills are borderline comical. For instance, in the beginning of the movie, he finds out that he has to stay in London for three days after his flight. He doesn’t want to. He wants to fly back home right away. He ends his phone call by barking, “Well, I’m going to have to do what I have to do!” Why would you say that? What does that even mean? And do people really think that what goes down afterwards is because Liam Neeson couldn’t get a round trip ticket?
Regardless, Neeson’s choice of words doesn’t get much better as the film goes on and there were a few times when I just wanted to yell at the screen because he was pretty much saying the most ominous things possible. Neeson’s character is the kind of guy who, after seeing a woman drop her purse, would pick it up and call after her, “Miss!” and when the lady turns around he’d say, “I have something you need”, “I’m not going to hurt you.” “Don’t run.” “Don’t make me chase you!” all while just trying to hand her back the purse. If this movie was more popular, there’s an easy Saturday Night Live sketch to be written about this character. (As it is, Awkwardly Ominous-Sounding Nice Guy played by Liam Neeson could still be a pretty funny sketch.)
However, as I said, it didn’t bother me THAT much in this film because it had enough going on to keep me from fixating on it. Which leads to…

Drink Every Time Liam Neeson’s Character Accuses Someone
And to be fair…
Drink Every Time You Think You Know Who Did It
The strength of this film is the twists and turns of the second act. While some of the twists don’t make complete sense, the film, after a slow beginning, picks up the pace a bit and has you questioning everyone. Honestly, you really don’t need to drink much in the second act since it’s quality but you’ll want to maintain and/or build that buzz for the doozy of a final act.

BATHROOM BREAK: Whenever Someone Starts Explaining Their Motives
Ironically, the one time you’ll want to ignore this is the time early in the movie that happens in an actual bathroom. And it’s not like the person has much time to explain himself in that scene. However, after that, you’ll pretty much want to ignore any moment in which someone starts talking about why they did what they did because it’s mostly groan-worthy and the movie would almost be better without it.

And finally, don’t drink during the last fifteen minutes or so of the movie. Once you start to realize that the antagonist is being revealed, put down the drink (or pound it if you’re still sober) and enjoy the ride because this film gets into Fast and Furious-levels of ridiculousness in the final act. You won’t want to be drinking, not because you’ll want to pay attention, but because odds are that any second you could do a spit take because the silliness is, dare I say it…

NON-STOP!

 

I often make jokes about CBS Films since they churn out one clunker after another (and most of them seem like lousy films from the jump) but they might have picked up a winner with “Afflicted”. Yes, it’s found footage which can be annoying. Yes, it’s reminiscent of “Chronicle”. But the trailer looks great and the travelog device seems like it could work well in a film. Color me intrigued.

 

On the bright side, Amazon does seem to have found two interesting shows in their latest batch of pilots. “Transparent” is an interesting dramedy about a family of people dealing with issues of self and selfishness. Jeffrey Tambor gives a tremendous performance as the father who is dealing with coming out while also coming to grips that his children are self-involved. “Mozart in the Jungle” is an interesting look at the classical music scene in NY, although it doesn’t really seem that much different than any other scene in NY (or, at least, as portrayed by TV.) Gael Garcia Bernal is great but the breakout star is Lola Kirke, who is kind of like a quieter, more vulnerable Rashida Jones vibe.
The downside is that both shows have a niche vibe to them. “Transparent” is as LA as “Mozart” is New York and I’m not sure how well either will play in Peoria. While I could see both garnering some critical acclaim, I can’t imagine either will garner much of a wide audience, which is what Amazon needs most as it continues to try to launch Prime as a contender to Netflix’s throne. Amazon does have a few shows aimed at that target but they all miss. “Bosch” is the best of this bunch; it stars Titus Welliver as a cold and worn down homicide cop who lives for the job. So much so that he gives away Celtics/Lakers tickets to other cops so they won’t be available for weekend duty and he’ll be able to take their shifts. Written by best selling author Michael Connelly, the show isn’t bad but it is about as generic as a cop show can get. In a world in which TV cops are almost all anti-heroes, Bosch leaves too much of a been there, done better feel impression. And, yes, that’s the best of the rest of the shows.
The other drama, “The After” is from X-Files creator Chris Carter and it feels like something that might have seemed fresh around the time X-Files was out but it just comes off as another “Lost” rip-off that, with chaos hitting the streets of Los Angeles follows a group of people trying to stay alive. Stay alive from what? Who knows? Because for most of the show, the only thing that we know is going wrong is that the power is out. Yet people are running around like mad. And there’s a laughable, inexplicable helicopter crash. The ending revelation pushes the show towards something that could be pandering to the red states but I can’t imagine anyone, liberal or conservative, having much interest in watching the wholly unlikeable cast. Compared to these guys, The Walking Dead cast comes off like the Huxtables. Finally, there’s one more comedy, “Rebels”, which is about a widow who takes over a football team. It’s another Hollywood treatment of pro sports that seems to be written by someone who has no idea how pro sports work (the upcoming movie “Draft Day” is another example.) The show is billed as a comedy but there’s not many laughs. This show fails to clear the very low bar that past football based shows have set and I’ll be stunned if it sees a second episode.
In the end, Amazon still seems to be competing with cable channels like IFC or SyFy rather than HBO or the networks or, hell, even AMC. Nevermind that the writing isn’t as sharp but the drama pilots don’t even look that great. SyFy’s Continuum and Helix both blow these shows out of the water. Even a failure like AMC’s “Low Winter Sun” at least looks like a big league swing-and-miss as opposed to the straight-to-DVD caliber productions Amazon’s hoisted out there.
One issue might be the lack of commitment that Amazon is making to these series. Rather than half-assedly tossing out pilots, Amazon needs to commit to two of three shows and throw legit budgets out there and give the shows a vote of confidence that will allow them to attract the top writers and actors and crews. While the rest of Hollywood seems to be moving away from pilot season, Amazon is betting their entire launch on it. This makes some sense when the original pitch was that Amazon was making pilots based on works of unproduced writers and directors but since that was mostly a ruse and Amazon is making shows from established professionals, they need to put their money on the table and invest in making at least a short run series that can garner attention and make them a viable player instead of a mere threat. With their cash and reach, Amazon is primed (no pun intended) to make waves in the entertainment industry but as of now, that potential remains unfulfilled.

 

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No! Not the flashforward!
Season 2 of Hannibal kicks off with one of my least favorite cliches in modern television which is the flash forward. We see a fight between Hannibal and Jack Crawford and then at a crucial moment, we cut to black and “12 Weeks Earlier”. The gimmick screams lack of confidence in an episode; it felt like an exec gave a note that he wanted a boost of energy in the beginning to keep people tuned in. In this case, the flash forward is even worse because, as fans of Silence of the Lambs know, neither of the parties in the fight can die and showing us that Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford knows the truth about Hannibal defuses what one would believe is the main thrust of season 2 – Will Graham trying to convince people that he isn’t a killer. Now the season becomes focused more on HOW Will will recover his memories but that’s a far more internal and less filmic struggle and not one that I have much faith in NBC (and a show that relies on the flash forward) being able to pull off. Even in season 1, the show didn’t really get doing until the puzzle pieces fell into the place; the mental instability of Will Graham was the focus of the slog of middle episodes.
The strength of the show is still its look and its creepiness and the show ends with a doozy of a final shot but my fear is that this is going to feel like an off-kilter season. With Hannibal as Will Graham, investigating scenes being the more interesting background element and the jailed Will Graham angle being the less intriguing forefront.
To me, the premiere and this season of Hannibal should focus most on, well, Hannibal. Will Graham trying to prove his innocence isn’t as strong of a show as Hannibal’s mindset. There’s a hint of that in the discussion between Hannibal and Gillian Anderson’s character when she says that Hannibal doesn’t know what a threat he is but I’m just afraid that the focus of this is going to be far too much on Will. We know that Hannibal still thinks he and Will are friends but I’d like to see more of the mindset that can believe that setting someone up for a lethal injection doesn’t mean they’re still not friends. Ironically, showing Hannibal’s inhuman mindset will humanize him since, right now, he’s little more than a well spoken, creepier version of your text book psychokiller. I’d argue that we’ve gotten less of a sense of Hannibal’s character in a season of “Hannibal” than we did in “Silence of the Lambs.”
I know a lot of critics are throwing “Best Show on TV” comments out there but, to me, that has more to do with the tone of the show and the easily grasped yet cerebral one liners/dialogue than anything else. And in terms of a TV show that will win over more viewers, I think Bryan Fuller and company should be planning for this to be the final season or start talking to Netflix and Amazon ASAP. Although, being released in the All-at-Once Netflix style is probably best for this show so getting cancelled from NBC could be a blessing in disguise. “Hannibal” is best served as a single meal rather than a course a week.

 

Explosions in the Sky and Eluvium, two great post-rock bands, have teamed up for an album. The first single is below and it’s a little more electronic and droning than I had hoped. I need to give it another listen but this has tempered my expectations more than it whet my appetite.

 

After coming up with the plan for 12 Years a Slave 2, the Execs shift their focus to Gravity. The biggest hurdle? How to get more Clooney the second time around.

 

OK, not really. But I made a short/mashup with my friends about the subject and here it is. Watch it, share it, hopefully don’t be offended by it!

 
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