Captain America: The First Avenger

I must admit that at first I had my doubts about Chris Evans playing Captain America. While I simply adore the guy, I thought that he was too young to play the part of the first Avenger. I didn’t think that he exemplified the characteristics of Captain America or looked like him. Besides, he was already perfect as the Human Torch so why not just get another guy? Well, consider those doubts erased because after seeing the movie, I declare that Captain America is not just among the best Marvel superhero movies released, but is actually among the best superhero movies released — period, and Chris Evans? He kicked ass.

The First Avenger starts off in the Arctic where a the military is called in by scientists who discover something buried underneath the ice. The “something” is actually a giant weapons carrier which has been deliberately sunk to prevent it from causing destruction in its target cities, mostly in the US. When the military explores the vessel, they find the shield of America’s greatest symbol of hope during the World War — Captain America. The opening scene is actually consistent with the cameo of the cap’s shield in Edward Norton’s Hulk movie in 2008.

Screen cap from the Hulk movie. (photo courtesy of http://www.firstshowing.net)

The film tells the story of a gangly, sickly weakling named Steve Rogers whose heart is set on serving his country but is rejected over and over by the US Marines due to his health conditions and weak conditioning. After faking his identity and getting rejected for the fifth time, he talks with his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who has been given his marching orders by Uncle Sam, about attempting to enlist again. He is overheard by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a scientist who has developed a serum to create the perfect soldier, which should have been the Americans’ secret weapon against the Nazis who were slowly gaining strength. Erskine, still on the lookout for a likely candidate, found Steve bearing the qualities he wanted his hero to have — humility and a genuine desire to help people. After Rogers is drafted into the program, Erskine confides that the serum has previously been given to another person, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), head of the Hydra Unit of the Nazis. Schmidt, who blindly believes that his race is supreme among all others, wants to get out of Hitler’s shadow and take over the world. Erskine says that the serum, aside from making a person stronger, actually magnifies the qualities that a person already has and in effect makes Schmidt, (who becomes Red Skull), more sinister.

Captain America (Evans, left) returns from the rescue of 400 captured soldiers including his friend Bucky, played by Stan (right).

In the movie, the audience is also introduced to  the young Howard Stark, the genius who was Tony Stark’s father, Col. Chester Philips (Tommy Lee Jones), who made no secret his reservations about Erskine’s choice for the program, and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) as Cap’s love interest. These people could not have been more perfect for their roles. But to tell the truth, Evans was really the star of the show. He was charming and self effacing throughout the movie, far from how he played the Torch — brave and resourceful too, which he portrayed consistently through the film. Stan was a great sidekick although I would have liked his role to be in more of the scenes. I liked his friendship with Steve and how he always had his friend’s back. Tucci is incomparable, that’s all I can say of each and every one of his portrayals. Hugo Weaving was not as menacing as I had hoped and the enmity that should have been present between Cap and his arch nemesis was not as played out as much as I had wanted.

What’s makes Captain America stand out from other superhero movies is actually the excellent filmmaking and the smart screenplay. It managed to achieve a certain balance of drama and fun that was very realistic and inspiring, especially during the earlier parts when Steve was still being pushed around and laughed at for his obvious physical shortcomings. The effects and the stunts team need to be applauded this early because of the seamless attachment of Evan’s head to that of a skinnier guy. Even his face was thinned down to make him seem more vulnerable. The action scenes were like frames lifted from the comic book so the fan girl in me is still in awe as I recall them.

Cap on his bike (though not a chopper)

The film also paid attention to detail since the movie was supposed to be in 1942 at the height of the war. Everything was decidedly bigger and less techie. Switches were either flicked on and off and knobs and levers were on every machine. Bombs were the size of tora tora planes and needed to be transported by giant aircraft to get to its destination. There were also nods to the earlier editions of Cap’s costume (the ones his wore on tour) and his motorcycle which was, as I recall his preferred mode of transport in his missions.

Ole Red in 1990

My only problem perhaps is the representation of Red Skull’s burned face. Instead of looking burned and resembling a skull, it kind of looked like a misshapen clay head with no nose as the surface was so fine. I actually liked the 1990 version of Red Skull better (Yes, there was a Captain America movie then. Cap was played by Matt Salinger). I think I saw that movie when I was 10 so I don’t remember most of it. Anyway, aside from the skull and a slight lull (no pun intended) about 2/3rds into the movie after the train scene, I think that the movie is great.

To sum it all up, Captain America was a great exclamation point ending to the pre-Avengers Marvel films series. It was awesome.

Fair warning: After the credits roll,  fans would receive a special reward for their patience in the form of the first teaser of the Avengers movie, which will be directed by Joss Whedon, who helmed TV hits Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse and the Serenity movie. While it looks great, I am kind of nervous about how the film would turn out with so many big stars on board and so many supervillains to battle. Still excited though.

 

Lie to Me: Kdrama Review

I finished watching this Korean drama in three days, and now that it’s over, I have half a mind to rewatch it again as soon as regain my strength from the hours I put staying up late to see this funny and touching series which follows the typical formula for a Koreanovela but adds something to the mix to make it unique and memorable in its own right.

Goon Ah Jeong is a simple civil servant working for the Cultural Ministry of Korea and Hyeon Gi Jun is the president of one of the biggest hotel chains in the country. Their personalities and their worlds are polar opposites. While Gi Jun is a straitlaced businessman bordering on excessive compulsive behavior, Ah Jeong is carefree and capable but does things according to what she feels rather than what she thinks. While Gi Jun is out to get his elusive prodigal brother at a bar, he bumps into Ah Jeong and ends up taking her to the hospital for a bee sting she sustained from a mishap at an earlier event. Through the course of the story, Ah Jeong encounters a nemesis from college — her former best friend who stole the love of her life from her and she lies that she is also married to save face. As the rumor spreads, her friends assume that she is involved with Gi Jun. With Gi Jun’s brother Sang Hi (who becomes Ah Jeong’s friend) feeding fire to the ruse, they agree to pretend to be married to help each other out and fall in love in the process. The problem is that Gi Jun’s old flame is back in town to rekindle her relationship with him.

Lie to Me was an enjoyable watch because unlike typical Korean dramas, there was no wicked witch that played an active villain, there was very little plotting involved to keep the two leads from each other, and even the attempt at establishing love triangles were halfhearted due to the strong connection of Yoon Eun He (Princess Hours, Coffee Prince) who plays Ah Jeong and Kang Ji Wan (Coffee House, Style) who plays the surly corporate tycoon Gi Jun. I watched the series because I was a fan of Eun He,  but what really got me hooked was the portrayal of Ji Wan as a stiff business executive who, for the first time, finds himself in a tailspin, trying to figure out a quirky civil servant who concocts an elaborate lie just to save her pride from those who have betrayed her. His evolution from the beginning of the story until the time he finally learns to let loose was a gradual unfolding that was convincing and entertaining. When this guy smiles, his personality completely transforms and what I appreciated most was that he seemed to be enjoying his role. What I liked about his character was that unlike other Koreanovelas that I liked (Full House, My Girl, Kim Sam Soon), he did not take half the series to decide whom he liked (2 episodes max) and did not waste time going after what he wanted despite the cost to his career. Sung Jun as Hyeon Sang Hi (the brother), was also good in the movie and kind of reminded me of Rain. It was just a pity that his part was not fully utilized in the end.

All in all, I would highly recommend this series to lovers of Asian dramas. It is well worth the time and effort to finish this 16 episode piece, and I have not been this hooked since He’s Beautiful. :-)

Eurotrip = LOL

I am a big fan of buddy comedies — the grosser, the better. Eurotrip, which was released in 2004 and which I only saw recently, is one of the best teen comedies I’ve seen in a while.

Eurotrip is a story about a teenage dude named Scott(y), who is freshly dumped by his slutty hot girlfriend Fiona (Kristen Kreuk) for band vocalist Donny (Matt Damon) and finds solace in his pen pal Mike from Berlin. When Mike offers to go to America to see him and start something with him, Scott tells him off, because he thinks that Mike is a guy. When he finds out that Mike is actually read as Mika in Germany, and that Mike is not a guy but a hot girl, he sets off for Europe with his best buddy Cooper, a slacker whose greatest ambition is to have a sexual pilgrimage to Europe, and the brother and sister tandem of Jenny (Michelle Tratchenberg) and Jamie (Travis Wester) to embark on a hilarious overseas adventure filled with mishaps including dodging a perv on the train, having a showdown with a robot mime, among a few. Throughout the trip, the gang will encounter a variety of bars, booze, and boobs, and more, not particularly in that order. All for Scotty to make it right with the girl he wanted to be with the whole time.

Uh oh!

Although the movie incorporated the same formula as most roadtrip movies before it, I thought that this flick is very funny because the stars stayed in character the whole time, nailing gag after gag with precision without much effort. They were also a charismatic bunch who had excellent rapport and appeared to have great fun doing the movie, giving off an air of general laidback-ness (is there such a word?) to the flick. The humor was crass and over the top, but never reached the point of annoying. The script banked mostly on misconceptions about Europe, but it worked because it was following a certain storyline and a general direction. All roads were leading to Berlin, after all.

All in all, a laugh out loud comedy about teens and the extent they would go for love/lust. I loved it :-)

Love Bites: A Pilot Review

Love Bites is a 45-minute series whose episodes are made up of mini sketches involving the three main characters and their circle of friends. The stories are separate but intertwined by their connection to Judd and Colleen Roucher, a couple who does tattoos for a living and Annie Matopoulos, a single lady wanting to find someone special after she realizes that she is among the last in her group who is still single.

Love Bites struck me as a miniseries version of Love Actually, or Valentines’ Day. The pilot actually focused on Annie’s friend Cassie, who lies that she’s a virgin to get a guy, Judd finding himself sitting next to Jennifer Love Hewitt on a plane. Hewitt, as it happens, is the only woman on his celebrity exemption list, a list that he and Colleen created of people that they can sleep with guilt free, and  Judd’s story revolves around deciding whether to make a move or remain faithful to his wife. Another story featured  Judd’s friend Carter who loses his job at approximately the same time that he finds out that his fiancee enjoys her time with a vibrator than fooling around with him.

Whats good about the series so far is that viewers can be sure that there will be something different every week when they tune in. New guest stars will fill their screens, such as Michelle Tratchenberg, Laura Preppon, Jim Beaver (I’m a Supernatural nut so I’m psyched about Bobby’s spot), Beau Bridges, Ben Feldman, and countless others. The main stars are familiar as they have appeared in other shows and are quite likable as they portray regular people who screw up, work for a living, hang out, and deal with regular people problems like the rest of us.

What I didn’t find too appealing about the show is that the snippets of stories that are featured are just that — snippets. It seemed rushed and limited, making it seem like filler stories rather than part of a bigger picture. I understand what the show is trying to achieve but I just can’t help feeling that the overall impact got lost in a sea of good ideas. As a result, the show misdirected its priorities to quantity rather than quality, ending stories abruptly and starting on new ones even before rapport is established with the viewers. As a result, the show loses its audience rather than draws them in.

If I would base my decision of sticking with it based on the first episode, I think that I would have to pass on the next one, even if I’m looking forward to the guest spots of some of my favorite stars.

 

Sex and the City: A pleasant surprise

Call me crazy but I just haven’t been as into this Sex and the City thing even before when it was such a hit on television. A bunch of women in their mid thirties prowling the streets of New York chronicling their misadventures in their quest to find true happiness. When the movie came out, of course, I wasn’t jumping up and down in my chair like I was with Harry Potter, and chose not to see in the movie in the cinema.

But last night, while I was channel surfing with nothing good to watch on television, I stopped at a channel featuring the chick flick and actually found myself interested. The story was pretty strong. Carrie and Big finally decide to tie the knot but in the process, Carrie gets carried away with the wedding preparations that she forgets that the occassion is supposed to be about her and her guy. This pushes Big to have serious doubts about getting hitched and ends up leaving Carrie without a groom at the venue. He eventually comes around but Carrie is furious at him and packs up her bags to leave their apartment. But the movie is not just about the fabulously clad Carrie, but also about her three friends who are all in different stages of their relationships with the men in their lives. Miranda is out of sorts with her husband Steve and decides to leave him, Samantha is finally in a stable relationship and living in LA with her actor-boyfriend but is struggling to cope with the restlessness she is is feeling while away from New York, and Charlotte finally gets pregnant after years and years of trying.

What truly got me, aside from the plot, was the fashion. I, for one, am not the most fashion forward person, opting for comfort rather than style, but the gorgeous gowns and the effortless parade of great garments worn by the stars was truly a sight to behold and had me wanting to go on a shopping spree.

Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson also stars in this movie dealing about women and their issues, their different priorities and drive to reclaim their power, and different ways that define their happiness. As a standalone, even if I have never seen an episode of the series in my life. I think this is a great chick flick that goes deeper than the superficial. I am pleasantly surprised.

The Man Who Ate the 747 by Ben Sherwood

I got The Man Who Ate the 747 by Ben Sherwood from a sale rack at the bookstore. I remember that the title caught my attention right away because it pretty much says it all. A man– trying to eat– a 747 airplane. Fact or fiction, I knew that I wasn’t leaving the store without the book.

The Man Who Ate the 747 is a story about J.J. Smith, a validator working for The Book of Records who finds himself in the podunk town of Superior, Nebraska to check out a man named Wally Chubbs, who is trying to eat an entire airplane by grinding its parts using a unique machine and chowing down on segments of the plane to woo one Willa Wyatt, whom the has loved since he was young. Anyway, when J.J. meets the woman in question, he finds himself drawn to her as well and the story pretty much revolves around how the no nonsense city slicker falls in love with the town, its people and the woman Wally wants to make the mother of his children.

In 272 pages, Sherwood manages to explain to the readers the contrast between JJ’s life in the city to his life in Superior, his inner conflict, and his eventual change of heart,using simple storytelling techniques and a very strong cast of relateable characters that readers will surely adore. The book  perfectly captures the essence of the community spirit in small towns and how people pitch in for one another. It also emphasizes the importance of love and a giving spirit in the time of a person’s need.

All I can say about the book is that it is very heartwarming. While I love reading romantic fiction written by women, I also like to read books written by men. I don’t know, but there’s just a difference in the style that is both intriguing and refreshing and they have different appeals that go for each one.The story in itself is very cool, farfetched but inspired… In real life, some guys forget anniversaries and court by way of texting, but it takes something really special to think up of such an act to prove one’s love.

But TMTA747 is more than a love story, it is also a story of faith in people and working together to achieve a common goal, and the endless possibilities that await those who take the chance. Am I sounding cheesy? :-) Well, Sherwood’s book is not cheesy but he manages to bring out all of these positive feelings by telling his unique story. And really, don’t we deserve a of inspiration once in a while?

Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk wrote several novels including The Fight Club, which got turned into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, but this is actually the first time that I would read any of his books. I had high hopes in picking up this novel because it dealt with a unique topic — porn — correction — its actually a whodunit in a porn industry setting. If anything, from the first page, it promises to be a Hitchcock on crack type of piece.

The book basically tells the story of Cassie Wright, an aging porn actress who is set to make the world record of 600 acts of fornication in one movie, entitled World Whore Three: The Whore to End All Whores. In doing so, Cassie intends not only to make history but also boost the sales of her merchandise already in the market. Cassie however, being far from naive, does not believe that she will survive the attempt so she takes on insurance to benefit a child whom she put up for adoption some 20 years back.

The story is told from the perspective of four people — not Cassie — one Mr. 72, a young man who believes that he is Cassie’s long lost son, a Mr. 137, a former popular TV actor who is conflicted with his sexuality, a Mr. 600,  a veteran porn star believed to be the father of Cassie’s child, and last but not least, Sheila, Cassie’s assistant who takes charge of the whole production of keeping 600 guys in check and ready for their minute-long shot with Cassie.

Anyhow, Snuff is not a piece of the fainthearted and the squeamish. It is very graphic in its descriptions of the setting, which in any case is far from romantic. For the most part, it is quite disgusting and unhygienic, funny, as it would be 600 guys parading around in various states of undress. The language is crude at best, like listening to a bunch of guys in a locker room. It is quirky and witty, especially as things get twisted around and the characters begin to unravel facets of their characters. Every one of the leads are given real motives to kill Cassie, and Palahniuk holds nothing back in his matter of fact statement of their intentions.

From the onset, it was established that somebody was going to die, and for the most part, people would think it was going to be Cassie for a number of reasons. She was the most vulnerable, she was attempting the impossible, she wanted to die in the attempt.

However, as pills get passed around, one of which is Potassium Cyanide among a bevy of Viagra, one would have to hazard new guesses as new factors come into play.

Chuck’s rich characterizations of the leads give the readers an insight into their psyche, if only for a while and makes them understand what makes them tick. In this sense, the read gets better with every turn of the page, no less disgusting, no less crass but infinitely more interesting, and entertaining as the author bombards the book with trivia about films not only exclusive to the porn industry but historical and mainstream as well, all the while maintaining the urgency of the situation as the time for the last guy gets to perform nears. He was also fond of using the term True Fact to punctuate the ends of these snippets of information. I checked out some of them and was surprised that they actually were true. I specifically liked the short mention of the Philippines in his reference to Merill’s Marauders shot in the country in 1961 but that’s because I live here.

Palahniuk also shared some of the crazy stuff that female porn stars do to condition themselves for their attempts to set records for gangbangs, some of them seemingly ludicrous but I am quite unsure if they are true. Still, its a bit of food for thought, and brings to life a whole new perspective about porn actors and actresses and what motivates them to do these skin flicks, as well as the effort, both physically and mentally that it entails.

I liked that there is a bit of a love story sandwiched in between the pages towards the end (Mr. 72 and Sheila) but while it had all the indications that it was going to be awkward, it sort of worked. The ending kind of leaves you open mouthed, but in a good way and not the WTH, what just happened? sort of shock.  All in all, it was a great read. Sort of dark, sort of twisted, sort of funny, and sort of confusing, but generally worth taking in.

As for ole Chuck? I think I just became a fan.