Saturday, 21 June 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Movie Review

This week, I put on my coolest looking mechanized suit, took off my helmet and clumped on down to the local movie theatre to check out Edge of Tomorrow (2014) starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton. It's directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity).

The concept for Edge of Tomorrow is pretty straight forward and detailed well in the trailers. Major William Cage (Cruise) is a PR guy with the Armed Forces who, much to his chagrin and terror, is asked to suit up for combat for the first time against a new alien enemy known as the Mimics. The ensuing massive offensive is a complete disaster with the last vestiges of the human defense forces wiped out to a man. During the battle, Cage dies but suddenly finds himself alive again and right back to the beginning of the day before, on the eve of battle. Cage, confused, seeks out Rita Vrataski (Blunt), a hero of the previous Battle of Verdun, who tells him she experienced the same thing. With Rita's help, Cage uses his new found time-looping ability to keep reliving the battle over and over again, finding ways to turn the tide in humanity's favour. 

The idea, here, is to emulate Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day (1993) only in a totally different setting. And it totally works.

This could easily have been a dark, grim and monotonous tale of endless slaughter and cool special effects. Instead, Liman infuses an energy and light-heartedness that's unexpected to say the least. There are some genuinely funny moments in this movie. Because Cage ends up redoing the same day hundreds of times, Liman decides to have all kinds of fun with the concept, very similar to Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day. Some of the similarities include timing specific events based on trial and error to get where he needs to go and using knowledge about people gleaned in previous loops to get them to trust him and do what he wants. Liman also uses different camera angles and character perspectives to change up the scenes so you don't end up feeling like you're sitting through the same scene over and over again. It's extremely well done.

Tom Cruise is at his best in this action/sci-fi romp. He's become very good at picking scripts that focus his talents in such a way that you can't help but root for him in the film. He doesn't get a really wide range of emotions to show off, but all the classic Cruise moves are there. Like him or hate him in the real world, Cruise knows his craft and plays to his strengths.

Emily Blunt also shines as Rita Vrataski. As a war hero, her character has become a rallying point for the last human defensive strategy. She plays this up and is a hardass in most of her scenes. She also has just enough femininity to take notice of her beauty along with her strength and her obvious chemistry with Cruise. Oh, and she gets to kick a bunch of ass in the movie too, something rarely scene in action films these days.

And then there's Bill Paxton. While Cruise knows how to pick roles and scripts that play to his strengths, Paxton could teach a University course on the subject. He's used to absolute perfection in this as the over-the-top, southern twang drill sergeant who glories in battle. He provides the foil for a lot of the humourous one-offs in the film with Cruise and the two work seamlessly together. If you're not a fan of Paxton after seeing this film, you're doing something wrong in your life.

That's not to say all is well in Edge of Tomorrow. I've got a few bones to pick with this film. Chief among them is the camera work.

Maybe it's just me, but I've never understood the whole shaky camera phenomenon. Made popular by director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum), it mainly involves shooting scenes with a handheld camera instead of a steadycam and purposefully making small, jarring movements with the camera during shots. This is supposed to add a level of realism to the scenes, invoking a sense in the viewer of actually being there and moving around as you would in real life. The problem is, we don't actually view the real world in this fashion. If we did, I'd be in a constant state of motion sickness. Just like I was with this film. Truth is, when the camera starts to inadvertently shake around even during the calmest of scenes in the movie, let alone those filled with action, it makes following said action difficult. This is probably just a personal pet peeve of mine, but nobody would be happier to see this trend in Hollywood disappear than me. Unfortunately, Liman uses it extensively in the movie.

Also, there's the Mimics themselves. A cool and crazy looking alien, the effects were top notch and the details of how the Mimics move and use their time-looping abilities was nothing short of amazing. The issue lies in using a tired cliche in Hollywood movies where a huge invading force has this one ridiculous Achilles heel which, when neutralized, renders all of the remaining forces inert. To me, it smacks of lazy writing and, when you think about it, there's no human equivalent. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, think The Avengers (2012). Ironman bombs the alien mothership in outer space and all of a sudden every single one of the thousands of aliens on earth decides it's time for a nap. It's just too damned convenient and way overused.

The ending of the film employs another tired Hollywood cliche as well. I'm not going to spoil it for you. I haven't read the source material that this movie was based on, so I'm not sure how the original story ended. I can tell you that I'm willing to bet this likely wasn't the ending envisioned and the studio stepped in to tack this on. 

Overall, a solid effort by everyone involved with this one. A great action, sci-fi piece with generous amounts of humour thrown in. A high concept film that doesn't end up getting bogged down in it's own high concept.

4 out of 5 stars.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Movie Review
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Jun 21 2014
Rating: 4

Thursday, 12 June 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Movie Review

This week, I traded in my spandex for some cool black leather, strapped some kitchen knives to my wrists and flew down to the local cineplex to see Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past starring most of the cast of the original X-Men franchise and some of the rebooted X-Men: First Class franchise.

This installment sees our intrepid heroes from the original X-Men franchise in the not too distant future fighting for their survival from the evil and all-powerful Sentinels. They're losing. With only a few scattered mutants left, they come up with an idea; send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman making his record-breaking 7th appearance) back to the 1970s when the Sentinel program began and stop it from happening. Encouraging Wolvie to take this leap is returning aged thespians Ian McKellan (Magneto) and Patrick Stewart (Professor X), who've managed to put aside their differences for this one chance to rewrite history. Wolverine's consciousness is sent into the past where he meets up with some of the characters from the X-Men: First Class franchise including James McAvoy (Professor X), Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique). Some new characters are also introduced. Most notably, Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask and Even Peters as Quicksilver.

I'm going to say this now to avoid a lot of confusion. If the above synopsis and character names made little-to-no sense to you, this is not the movie for you. I can't put together a primer for you as this review would end up being 14 pages long and you'd probably fall asleep around page 3. No, you're just going to have to trust me on this. If you've not seen the previous 6 films in this franchise or, at the very least, the 4 X-Men films (you could reasonably skip the two standalone Wolverine movies, which I'd recommend you'd do anyway since they're both awful), you're not going to have a clue what's going on. 

Having said that, I'll do my best not to delve too deep into the backstory and focus on the merits of the movie.

First, it's important to note that this movie heralds the return of Bryan Singer to the director's chair. He directed the first two X-Men films, both of which were financially and critically successful. He basically ushered in the modern age of tentpole superhero movies. He's also an amazing director when it comes to ensemble casting. His first major film, The Usual Suspects, as well as the first two X-Men films show off this talent, and this movie is no exception. Remember, this movie is a blending of two distinct casts; the cast of the first three X-Men films and the cast of the reboot X-Men: First Class. There's also at least 5 new mutants introduced as well as additional supporting cast members. How on earth was Singer going to be able to handle all these old and new and not-so-familiar faces?

By placing the focus on the characters. That's how.

Don't get me wrong, the movie has plenty of mind-blowing action set pieces. Most of them, though, serve as a means to further the character development and the story, not take away from it. This, coupled with making sure nearly every character has their moment to shine, leaves you identifying with the characters and their plight in a much more personal manner.

In fact, the real fight in the third act for this movie is not against a monster or another mutant or the Sentinels or anything like that. The fight ends up being for one person's soul. I know, I know, that sounds totally cheesy, but it's also totally true. The entire point and purpose of the main plotline of the movie is the redemption of a single character.

Cool, huh?

Nearly every actor turns in a great performance in this one. In particular, James McAvoy is amazing as a drug-addled, guilt-ridden Charles Xavier. Sure, you know he's going to pull himself together and help save the day, but his portrayal of that journey reminds me of why he's one of the most under-rated actors working in Hollywood today.

Hugh Jackman also gets a nod here, but more for what he didn't do rather than for what he did. It's safe to say that, in the first three X-Men films, Wolverine stole the show. In fact, those movies could've been called "Wolverine and his Amazing Friends" rather than "X-Men" since most of the action and plot revolved around him. Essentially, it's the role that made Jackman a household name. The character was so popular that he spawned two solo efforts, which exactly none of the other characters appearing in the same franchise got. At first, it looked like the same thing was going to happen here when it was decided that Wolverine would be the one to go back in time. However, Jackman takes a step back from the intensity and grittiness that made the role famous and plays a much calmer, cooler, mentor style character. It actually works very well and gives the other characters a chance to shine. In fact, at the penultimate moment of the third act when all is decided, he's nowhere to be found. 

Then there's Quicksilver. Evan Peters steals every scene he's in. The character isn't overused, but isn't under utilized either. It's kind of a one-note character, which clearly the writers and directors realized, so they kept him to a few scenes and that was it. And absolutely nailed it. The speed effect associated is done superbly as well and made for some of the funniest moments in a movie that was a little lacking in the levity department.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention all the cool cameos. For fans of the previous films, I'm not going to name names, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by who all manages to turn up, even briefly. I know I was.

Not all is well in the land of mutants, though. This movie, due to the time-travel nature of it, serves as something of soft reboot moving forward in the franchise. Because the previous movies had different directors and writers and maybe weren't really meant to co-exist in the same movie universe, there were some serious continuity issues throughout. While this film saw fit to address some of those, a lot of them are still lingering. I can't go into a lot of detail without giving away some major spoilers. I will say that the next movie in the franchise, called X-Men: Apocolypse, is going to have some serious explaining to do. Just like Lucy.

Oh, and this is more of a general gripe than specifically aimed at this movie, but can we all just agree that having a movie shot or converted into 3D does almost nothing to enhance the viewing experience? It was a lovely experiment, but I'd like it to go away now, please. This film had some very dimly lit moments, especially at the beginning of the film. This dim lighting becomes even dimmer when putting on the shaded 3D glasses. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to see this movie without seeing it in 3D unless I wanted to see it in a shoebox. And I didn't want to see it in a shoebox. I'm fine if the format sticks around for those that seem to enjoy it, but please make sure there's a non-3D alternative for those of us who like to be able to tell what the hell is going on when a scene in a movie is shot at night.

4 out of 5 stars
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Jun 12 2014
Rating: 4

Friday, 23 May 2014

Godzilla (2014) Movie Review

This week, I put on my best rubber dinosaur suit and trashed a model of Tokyo on my way to the local cinema to check out Godzilla (2014) starring Aaron-Taylor Johnson. It's directed by Gareth Edwards.

The story of Godzilla is one most of us are familiar with, which is one of the many reasons why this movie might throw you for a loop. There's definitely a giant lizard-like creature in the film. There's also a couple more large creatures in the film that don't really resemble any other species, but they're definitely large. There's even a chunk of the movie that takes place in Japan. See? Some familiar stuff in there for sure. It's all in how it's presented. 

At the beginning of the movie, there's a unique and fairly effective opening credits sequence. Opening credits have become something of a dying breed in modern cinema, so it was a nice change. I was taken aback, however, when Bryan Cranston was given last billing among the principal cast. "Last billing?", I asked, incredulous. "Did these guys even see Breaking Bad??". As it turns out, they probably didn't. There's a very good reason Cranston is billed after everyone else and that's because he has less screen time than everyone else. 

Which really pisses me off.

Not because they didn't use Cranston effectively. They did. His scenes are among the most powerful in the movie. No, it pisses me off because he was so heavily featured in the trailers. Going into the movie, I had the sense that he was the lead based on what I had seen in the trailers. He's not. His part is a glorified cameo at best. His exit from the film doesn't even make a lot of sense. It's almost like it was done for shock value and not much else.

What we're left with is Aaron Taylor-Johnson [(Kick-ass (2010), Kick-ass 2(2013)] in a role that he couldn't possibly have made more boring. He has zero facial expression and, in the end, serves almost no purpose in how the film ends. Yet Edwards spends a lot of time on Taylor-Johnson's character. So much so, in fact, that it comes at the expense of the giant, city-destroying monster of fame and legend who's kinda featured in the film's title.

Just so you know, if you're going to this movie to see Godzilla himself, you're probably going to end up leaving the theatre disappointed. It's about an hour before the big guy shows up. It's only a single scene and then he disappears. He isn't seen again for another 30 minutes or so, and that scene is also brief. He's gone again after this and only shows up for the big fight scene at the end and even that keeps happening off-screen. It gets incredibly frustrating. It seems like every time the giant lizard we all paid to see starts to go toe-to-toe with one of the other giant monsters in this movie, we immediately cut away to find out what Taylor-Johnson and the US military are doing, which is mainly screwing things up for everybody.

There's a lot of long-winded exposition, especially from Ken Watanabe's character. He mostly stands around looking pensive and dropping fortune-cookie-style wisdoms. This may mean that, in the already green-lit sequel, we'll be able to dive right in to some Godzilla smashing action. At least, I'm hoping so. 

My biggest gripe with the movie is the lack of Godzilla in a movie called, oddly enough, "Godzilla". My second biggest gripe, however, is the overuse of cliches. There's quite a few. Here's a brief list

  • Guy who's believed to be crazy by everyone turns out to be right all along cliche
  • Main character has daddy issues cliche
  • Main character has an extremely specific set of skills that just happen to be the exact thing needed. Right guy, right place, right time cliche
  • Guns have been shown to be completely ineffective, so let's keep using guns cliche
  • Dog survives massive disaster while countless humans die around it cliche
  • Scientist guy keeps arguing with military guy and scientist guy turns out to be right cliche
  • Happy reunion cliche

These were quick notes I made during the movie. A second viewing would probably catch a few more.

Now let's talk about the visuals. I've already said there's not much Godzilla in this movie until the very end. Unfortunately, the end of the movie takes place at night...in the fog...behind some really dirty glass. We end up with what should have been a kick ass ending if only we could make out what was actually going on through the dank, foggy, dirty lens.

Pacific Rim (2013), for all of it's faults, at least delivered exactly what the trailers promised; giant robots fighting giant monsters. The Godzilla trailers promised Godzilla and Bryan Cranston. We got about the same amount of both, which wasn't anywhere near enough of either.

2 out of 5 stars
Godzilla (2014) Movie Review
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on May 23 2014
Rating: 2

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Amazing Spider-man 2 (2014) Movie Review

This week, I put on my favourite unitard (we miss you, Denis Leary) and web-slung my way down to the local theatre to check out The Amazing Spider-man 2 (2014), starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Jamie Foxx. It's directed by Marc Webb.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 kicks off shortly after the events of the first film. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is struggling with his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) after promising her father he would stay away from her. This, coupled with the continued mystery of his parent's disappearance gets further complicated by the introduction of several new villains, all of which end up working together in an effort to kill our intrepid hero.

At it's core, this is the biggest issue with the film. But I'll get back to that. First, let me heap some praise on it.

As with the first film, the chemistry between Garfield and Stone is undeniable. They just work together on screen, no doubt aided by their real life romance off screen. Sally Field also turns in an excellent performance befitting an actress of her renown and caliber. Some of her interactions with Garfield are downright heartbreaking. 

Visually, this is the most VFX fueled Spider-man movie to date. The action sequences are nothing short of amazing (ha!). I was very skeptical at the prospect of bringing Electro to the big screen. Said skepticism was unfounded. Other than some clunky dialogue and way, way too much back story, the action beats involving Electro are easily the best parts of this movie. It's a shame everything else got so messy.

And by messy, I mean really messy. This movie never really decides what it wants to be. Is it a romance? A comedy? An action movie? A sci-fi film? A drama? A teen angst movie? A conspiracy movie? It's definitely hard to classify. I can only tell you what I experienced, and that was a series of jarring plot threads that didn't work together.

Here, I'll point form as many plot elements from the film that I can remember and you tell me if it's too many or not:
  • The Rhino is introduced
  • Peter and Gwen's on again/off again romance
  • Harry Osborn is introduced, then plays a major role in the movie as Peter's childhood chum and dying billionaire
  • Norman Osborn is introduced with his back story explained
  • Peter's parents and their fate is revealed
  • Peter's parents appear again later in the film and give us the reason why Peter became Spider-man when bitten
  • Max Dillon is introduced. The "nerdy character who barely exists" cliche is explored ad nauseum before he's turned into Electro, who then plays a major role as the key villain of the film
  • Gwen is accepted to Oxford University in England, further complicating things with Peter
  • Aunt May gets a job to pay the bills and keeps it a secret from Peter
  • Peter stops being Spider-man for 5 months
  • Peter keeps seeing Gwen's dad all over the place, complicating his relationship with Gwen
  • Harry needs Spider-man's blood
  • Hints of additional villains abound. In particular, the Vulture's wings and Doc Ock's arms are clearly shown
  • There's a hostile takeover at Oscorp
  • INSERT MASSIVE SPOILER HERE

Sadly, I could probably come up with at least a half dozen more. A vain attempt is made to connect some of these threads, but it doesn't work. It was just too damned busy and likely explains the film's lengthy run-time.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the film's soundtrack. It's terrible. Like the movie, it can't seem to decide what kind of tone it wants to convey. At one point, it's all high trumpets and very heroic music. Thirty seconds later and it's all deep base and crazy electronics. Then we're back to the heroic music again. None of it seemed synced with the action. It was so jarring that it took me out of the movie throughout.

In the end, this movie is overburdened with the all the groundwork the studio wanted in there for potential spinoff films. It's a shame too. This franchise is going in the wrong direction and fast. I know Sony has greenlit two additional sequels after this one with at least two spinoff movies as well. They'll have to work really hard with Spidey 3 to earn the audience's trust to keep the series alive and kicking.

2.5 stars out of 5

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) Movie Review

This week, I put on my tactical turtleneck (tactilneck?) and sprinted to the local Red Box to rent Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) starring Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branaugh. It's directed by Phil Alden Robinson.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) is the second attempt at a reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise. The character and the previous movies were based on books by late author Tom Clancy. The original film saw Alec Baldwin playing Jack Ryan opposite Sean Connery in the total 80's guy movie The Hunt for Red October (1990). Harrison Ford then took up the role for two films [Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994)], then Ben Affleck had a crack at the first reboot opposite Morgan Freeman in The Sum of All Fears (2002). The one thing all these previous films in this loose franchise have had in common is that they were all based on actual works by Tom Clancy. This film, however, is an "original" story inspired by the characters created by Clancy. This may explain why this movie is such a mess story-wise.

First, though, let me touch on the title. It's terrible. I'm not sure what they were going for here, but it just doesn't fly. Had it just been the protagonists' name, like the Tom Cruise led Jack Reacher (2012), I think that would've worked. Or, barring that, they could've come up with a title that had something to do with the plot of the movie. Shadow Recruit is, in fact, a plot point of the film, but it's not a great title for a movie. It's like the studio didn't think the audience would get that this is both a Jack Ryan movie AND a reboot showing his initial recruitment into the CIA.

The film itself is just a hot mess of action beats and prolonged exposition. It's a shame too as all the pieces are there for a great film. Chris Pine does a good job with the Jack Ryan role and is at his actiony best. Kevin Costner turns in a nuanced performance as Ryan's recruiter and mentor. Keira Knightley is very believable as Ryan's very confused and understandably upset girlfriend. She even manages to get thrown into the high speed hijinks late in the movie. Branaugh is fantastic as the Russian baddie. He's not all popcorny and over the top. More of a suppressed rage just on the edge of bubbling to the surface but never quite getting there.

No, the people and places are fantastic. It's the story that's bad. Bear with me while I try to sum this up for you.

You get to see Ryan in the initial helicopter accident that ousted him from the marines and landed him at a desk at the CIA as detailed in The Hunt for Red October (1990). He ends up doing covert work within banking institutions attempting to track down illicit funds to ensure they're not being used to fund terrorist activity in a post 9/11 world. When he stumbles across said funds, he heads to Russia to investigate. While there, he seems to uncover a plot by Branaugh's character that will somehow totally collapse the US economy, all while making sure Mother Russia has plausible deniability. This leads Ryan to some cloak and dagger antics involving security codes and stolen files. I'm still not clear on how one man was going to be able to wreck the US economy all from a desk in Russia, but I'll let that slide. Where it gets needlessly complex and borderline silly is the two subplots within. The first involves Branaugh's son, who was thought to  have been killed many years ago but is really a sleeper agent within the US. You get introduced to this son fairly early in the movie and you get to see him do some pretty bad things, but it's only in the last 30 minutes of the film that you get to find out who he actually is. Until then, he's just some random guy that seems to have a knife fetish. On top of that, apparently ruining the economy with buy and sell options on US currency wasn't enough, the sleeper son is also going to detonate a bomb from the back of a van underneath a specific road on Wall Street that will collapse 7 skyscrapers. Thwarted (spoiler, sorry), this explosion that never happens also somehow prevents Branaugh from carrying out his nefarious currency scheme, even though Ryan, during one of the long-winded exposition pieces, didn't indicate a bomb would have to go off for this plan to work at destroying the US greenback.

If you had a hard time following that last paragraph, imagine how I felt trying to follow it all in the movie.

This film starts out with hope and promise. It ends up being a mess of terrible story telling and gaping plot holes. It seems the Jack Ryan franchise will be needing another reboot some time in the years to come.

2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) Movie Review

This week, I traded in my Canadian citizenship, put on some red, white and blue and sprinted to the local cinema to catch Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) starring Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson. It's directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.

With this sequel, our hero finds himself working for the global agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. It's intelligence work and not straight up military service, so Cap routinely finds himself at odds with the upper management of S.H.I.E.L.D. and some of their more clandestine operations. This also puts him at odds with Natasha Romanov (Johansson) also known as the Black Widow. To make matters worse, there's a new antagonist in town called The Winter Soldier who looks vaguely familiar to our man Cap. A series of events puts Cap on the run with Widow in tow, trying to unravel a mystery while also dodging the various baddies.

First off, I should mention, I was not a fan of the first Captain America movie. The second lowest grossing movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (only Ed Norton's The Incredible Hulk (2008) made less), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) was boring and trite. A period piece steeped in sci-fi, it had major pacing issues throughout. It had it's moments, but most of those were supplied by perennial villain and overall badass Hugo Weaving. Sadly, Weaving has let it be known that, even though he's still under contract to Marvel, he has no intentions on reprising the role of the Red Skull.

What we're left with is a sequel that seems to have examined everything that didn't work with the first movie and jettisoned most of it in favour of a modern day political action drama that borders on the darkest of the recent Marvel films.

In a welcome change from the goofy antics of a lot of Marvel stuff these days, this movie is downright dour. Gone is most of the levity and lighthearted ribbing. In fact, in it's 1 hour 50 minute run time, there's nary a joke to be found.

The biggest issue with the film, however, is the hero himself. This isn't entirely Chris Evans' fault as the character of Captain America is so one-dimensional, it's hard to add any depth to it. If there was one word to describe the character and Evans' portrayal of him, it would be "affable". In fact, he's so damned affable it gets annoying after a while. I'm not saying they need to darken him and make him an anti-hero, but surely we could have him take some risks and break the mold every now and then. At no point in this movie do you ever have to wonder what Cap will do in any given situation. He's the same guy in or out of the costume. A veritable Clark Kent who never actually turns into Superman. It makes for little depth and precious little drama when you always know what the character is going to do and can never die.

I also took issue with Robert Redford, which is a shame as I'm a huge fan. He's wasted in this role. Given very little to do other than to attend board meetings, Redford never really gets a chance to shine and seems to be mostly phoning it in throughout.

Further to that, there is entirely too much exposition going on in some facets and not nearly enough in others. The main plot in regards to S.H.I.E.L.D. is spelled out and explained ad nauseam to the point where you wish people would stop talking and just get on with it. This actually creates some pacing issues in the second act. The Winter Soldier, however, is left shrouded in so much mystery that I walked out knowing almost nothing about him or how he came to be, which left me not really caring about the character one way or the other.

On the plus side, Johansson is great in her role as Black Widow. She has more to do in this movie than she had in Ironman 2 and The Avengers combined. She's the perfect foil for Cap with her questionable methods and motives. She's also insanely easy on the eyes, which definitely helps.

Newcomer Anthony Mackie also shines as Sam Wilson/Falcon. A chance meeting with Cap early in the movie followed by some shared war stories later on make the pairing of the two completely believable. It gets a little bromancy at the end, but Mackie mostly plays it straight and plays it very well.

As to the overall plotline of the movie itself, it seems like it wants to take some chances and risk a little more than most of the safe Marvel movies we're used to. And it does. However, in my oh so humble opinion, it doesn't take enough of them. I won't spoil anything for you. All I'll say is you won't need any tissues nor will you need a roadmap to figure out where it's all heading.

3.5 Stars
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Apr 12 2014
Rating: 3.5

Thursday, 6 March 2014

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: A comment on the current state of television

These are some very weird times for TV. Allow me to elaborate.

The absolute very best and the absolute very worst TV shows that have ever been produced and aired are being produced and aired right now.

This duality leaves us in a bit of a pickle. We can't really say we've made strides forward and progressed to great TV when the worst of the shows keeps dragging the average down. For every Breaking Bad, there's a Toddler's and Tiaras. For every The Wire, there's a Cake Boss. In fact, I'm willing to bet there are more bad TV shows being produced than good TV shows right now.

Now here's where it gets a little odd.

In a lot of cases, the same people are watching both types of shows.

Weird, right? I know people that watch shows like Breaking Bad or Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire and not only love them but recognize them for the truly brilliant pieces of drama that they are. But they also watch shows like Jersey Shore or The Bachelor or Duck Dynasty. These latter shows offer nothing to the collective culture of our generation. Yet there they are, being produced, broadcast, and watched not just by the lowest common denominator, but by bright intellectuals and everyone in between.

I know what you're saying. "Oh, Bitter Critic. These are just guilty pleasures. I know they're bad but I watch them anyway". It's a fair point. But at the end of the day, you're a viewer and you're providing ratings. You're helping to keep them on the air. Without viewers and ratings, these shows wouldn't exist. I'm talking about the kinds of shows that bring us all down by their very existence. The only way shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo are going to stop getting made is if people stop watching them.

Please don't misunderstand me; this isn't a plea for everyone to stop watching bad TV shows. Watch whatever makes you happy. I'm just fascinated by it. The sheer breadth of scope between the great shows and the terrible shows should make the division between those who watch the high end and those who watch the low end much more distinct. That distinction just doesn't seem to be there.

Having said that, it's obvious that we're living in the golden age of television. I don't think anyone can deny that.

For example, more and more actors are starting to realize that on TV, they can tell a much richer, more comprehensive story. A story that dwarfs any movie simply by being able to tell your story over hours and hours of television. Thus you end up getting shows like True Detective on HBO that stars two Hollywood heavyweights the likes of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey.

Or you get shows that start to blur the line between Hollywood movies and TV programs. A show like Game of Thrones with it's epic grandeur, massive scope and cast of thousands.

But then I'll be at a buddy's place and he's tuned to A&E and a commercial comes on for a new show called Bring It. The show, as much as I could gather, seems to be a "reality" show about little girls doing competitive cheerleading and their overbearing, living-vicariously-through-them mothers going with them all over the country. As one mom in the promo said "This isn't competition. This is WAR". After sitting through this promo, two things popped into my mind. The first was that I was never going to get that 30 seconds of my life back. The second, and more important of the two, was what in the hell happened to the "A" in A&E? Doesn't the "A" stand for Arts? Where's the art in putting together such catastrophically bad TV shows?

I'm not looking for a solution here. I'm not looking to judge anyone either. We all have our vices.

I'm kinda curious, though. What if the reason we haven't had any contact with alien life up until now is the fact that they saw an episode of Real Housewives of [insert city here] and realized that our culture would have nothing to offer them?