MOVIES | “Captain America: The First Avenger” could have been worse

Captain America has been thwarting Nazis, championing virtue, and embodying American exceptionalism for just over 70 years, and yet somehow our nation’s greatest fictional hero has not managed one breakout big screen adaptation in that time. The 40s offered a film serial and the 90s gave us a less-than-stellar, straight-to-VHS feature film, but for the better part of his history, Cap has been stuck on the printed page, waiting for an age when movie studios would treat comic crossovers with a mature audience in mind. The latest attempt, Captain America: The First Avenger, is indeed more nuanced, more intelligent, and more grown-up than past efforts. Still, it never quite lives up to the character’s potential and ends up leaving a lot to be desired.The film opens with a fair amount of character development, and rightly so. This is, after all, an origin story; and despite the fact that nearly every red-blooded American could pick Cap out of a lineup (were he ever arrested for, say, shoplifting shield wax), a surprising number of moviegoers are unfamiliar with his back story.The year is 1942. Continue Reading

MOVIES | “Kung Fu Panda 2”: A goose fathers a panda, and other surprises

It’s no surprise that the success of Kung Fu Panda (2008) has led to a sequel, but with such an open-and-close story, there was some question as to where we’d find Po on his second outing. DreamWorks Animation could have thrown our panda protagonist into any number of stock action premises, selling tons of merchandise at the expense of the plot. Instead, Kung Fu Panda 2 offers a touching narrative that tackles the issues of parenthood raised in the first film while furthering Po’s ascent to kung fu mastery.The movie begins by telling the story of Lord Shen, an albino peacock and disgraced prince who many years ago overheard a prophecy that foretold his undoing by a black and white warrior. Desperate to change his fate, Shen went about destroying all the pandas in the land, but this act of cruelty horrified his parents, and they banished him from their kingdom. Now he has returned with a powerful weapon capable of stopping even the greatest of kung fu heroes.Paternity is central to Kung Fu Panda 2, as threads left dangling in the first film tie back to Shen’s past crimes. Continue Reading

MOVIES | Thanks to Mel Gibson, “The Beaver” has teeth

You’re forgiven if the thought of Mel Gibson speaking through a beaver puppet for the better part of an hour and a half inspires a cynical chuckle. It’s a ridiculous concept, to be sure, but in its execution The Beaver is anything but: casting married life, fatherhood, and mental illness in a light that’s as poignant as it is eccentric.This comedy-drama—with emphasis on the drama—centers on Walter Black (Gibson), a toy company executive whose work and family lives have crumbled due to a losing battle with clinical depression. Walter has tried every solution, to no avail, and having finally reached his breaking point, Walter sets out to kill himself.Enter The Beaver, a ratty hand puppet Walter finds in a Dumpster moments before his attempted suicide. As Walter sits perched at his motel balcony, ready to end it all, the puppet—the Clarence to Walter’s George Bailey—“comes alive,” startling our distraught hero back from the ledge. After saving Walter in the immediate sense, The Beaver explains that he has come to fix Walter’s broken life.And for a while, The Beaver does just that. Continue Reading