Monthly Archives: April 2014

Tonight I’m Sleeping With Spider-Man

“All right kiddos, time to head upstairs.”

“And Daddy? I’ll brush my teeth?”

“Yes.”

“And get my pa-JAM-as on?”

“Yes.”

“And then I will go to bed!”

“Yeah!”

This night’s variation of the usual bedtime conversation plays out with my oldest, Ruthie, while my son begins gathering all the things he wants to bring with him upstairs to bed. He puts his toy laptop under his left arm, picks up his toy tool bag he has filled with blocks, hot wheels, a Ninja Turtle, and of course his complement of tools, (the necessities in other words), then squats down (with perfect form), and manages to wedge a big green ball between his free right arm and everything collected in his left.

Perfectly planned so he can still grab the balloon floating near the stairs.

I watch on with the small wonder that is exclusive to proud parents.

“Ready Daddy!” my son exclaims as he begins up the stairs.

“Daddy, I’m going to wake you up in the morning, okay?” asks Ruthie.

“Okay.”

“And we’re going to eat breakfast!”

“Yes, sweetie.”

We reach the top of the stairs and my daughter runs to the bathroom, excited to brush her teeth; my son’s priority is setting up his spread of toys just right. While helping them get into their pajamas I ask them about their day. I already know every minute of it, but I encourage their contemplation.

“Uncle Ethan came to visit us. He loves video games, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, he does.”

“Well…” Ruthie’s brow furrows in thought, “I love Uncle Ethan!” she finishes with all of her five year old zeal.

Our bedtime ritual continues with more discussion. Often It seems she saves up her biggest questions of the day until she is tucked into bed. We discuss the meaning of life, the universe, and everything before we say our “Goodnight’s” and “I love you’s” and I am almost out of the room when Ruthie asks one more question.

“Daddy? You want to sleep with my Spider-Man? He will help keep you safe, like… Like how you keep us safe.”

My bodyguard.

My bodyguard.

This isn’t the first time she has offered me a protector for my dreams, but I am never less amazed by her kindness every time. It is unabashed and pure, and desires nothing in return.

Sometimes I am the student, and she is the teacher.

Z Reviews: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

To preface my review I will begin by stating my expectations for this movie, to serve as a frame of reference for my impression of it.

I enjoy movies of all kinds and I can usually find something to appreciate in even very bad movies. I also enjoy being critical of movies, including the best ones; a fact that doesn’t preclude an overall enjoyment of a movie. For myself, it adds to the experience.

My expectations for the new Captain America are not the same as the ones I had for The Wolf on Wall Street, not just in content, but in quality. Which would seem to go without saying, but that does not mean my expectations for The Winter Soldier were low. To the contrary, my expectations were just different.

The Whedon Effect

If I were to base my expectations exclusively on the first Captain America, I would undoubtedly be expecting less. The First Avenger was not terrible, but “comic book movies” have come a long way in the three years since its release. The Avengers has been released within that time and with the masses exposed to a Joss Whedon script now even cheesiness is expected to have a certain level of polish and charm.

The Winter Soldier

The real ultimate frisbee.

The Winter Soldier begins with an action sequence and I quickly come up against one of my few complaints with the movie: shaky cam. A “technique” that is used to make actions shots seem more frenetic, or often to hide bad choreography; which makes its inclusion a little confounding. The shakiness to an extent masks how fast paced and well choreographed the early fight scenes actually are. Thankfully this was at its worst in the beginning and quickly improved to a tolerable level.

When it comes to Cap’s choreography there is a superb subtlety to his skill as a fighter. Captain America is strong, fast, and resilient—but he was not always so. His character did not spend a lifetime studying martial arts, nor did his means of acquiring superhuman abilities in any way bestow upon him superhuman fighting skills as well. He at first relied on his superior physical attributes and the skill came through trial-by-fire experience.

This is well reflected in Cap’s utilitarian, no-frills fighting, which cannot always be described as realistic, but manages to feel authentic within the context. More importantly it is satisfying—which correlates to what The Winter Soldier managed to do over and over again: satisfy. More than once I realized while watching that I, the viewer, was being given exactly what I wanted at that given point in the movie. Especially commendable considering the movie did not succumb too much to predictability.

captain-america-concerned

Shit gets real.

The Captain

Captain America, by name alone, paints a picture of the consummate über-patriot; loyal and ever the unquestioning good soldier.

Which is not very compelling.

By placing the word “no” in Cap’s vocabulary the team behind The Winter Soldier manages to add both depth and complexity to the character. A patriot without a doubt, but not a blind one, this current incarnation of Captain America is not a yes man, following the company line. He is more introspective, questioning himself and his allegiances when it becomes necessary to do so. A character so uniformly moral is usually flat and uninteresting, but here Cap comes across as dynamic and relate-able.

The titular antagonist similarly appears initially to simply be an archetype; cold (winter…), ruthless, unrelenting, cunning, and nearly unstoppable. Were this the case it would still be well done as the Winter Soldier seems sufficiently sinister as initially presented, but learning more about his sub-plot and where it may lead makes him a compelling character in his own right. The other villains are standard issue for the genre, and are fairly one-dimensional; though several do represent a strong nod to the source material.

Exceeding Expectations

For someone who professes to be a critical movie-goer, this review has been awful glowing, has it not?

To put it candidly: The Winter Soldier delivers exactly what is desired from it; epitomizing what a good theater movie should be. I didn’t analyze the delivery of every line, or stay vigilant for plot holes, in the same way that I don’t sit in eager anticipation of a Matrix-esque shootout during a Paul Thomas Anderson movie.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier did not have to do much to surpass the original, and with the slavering Marvel addicted masses, needed to do even less to be a box office success. No one would have been surprised to find this franchise on cruise control as Marvel rolls on toward The Avengers 2. Instead, we are treated to a well-written, tightly paced, action-thriller that, like Iron Man and The Dark Knight, can be held in judgement without the “comic book movie” moniker, and still be found worthy.