Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Original Theatrical Release: April 4, 2014
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) struggles with the morality issues that accompany the new world he’s awakened to. He finds the United States Government takes a back seat to the power of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he wonders if he should continue the fight or step away from the underhanded dealings of his new employers. However, after Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is targeted by a mysterious assassin known only as The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Rogers must team up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to get to the bottom of the new assassin’s identity and motives before it’s too late.

This film was an excellent sequel to the first film, Captain America: The First Avenger and a nice follow up to events in The Avengers.

Action, action, action – there was a ton of it here and since the film wasn’t primarily set in the 1940’s, we really get to see how Cap handles modern day threats….and he sure looks cool doing it.

Anthony Mackie gives an impressive performance as Sam Wilson/Falcon, and he pretty much stole the show as far as I’m concerned. I hope he shows up for Avengers 2! He’s that cool. Sebastian Stan also impressed with his portrayal of Winter Soldier, who provides a great antagonist to Cap and his team. Scarlett Johansson, of course, sizzled as Black Widow. She’s been doing a great job in that role. And on top of all that we get to see ROBERT REDFORD in a Marvel film? What? That’s so cool! One curious omission was Hawkeye. Where the heck was he in this film? As a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. I would’ve thought he’d be called in for all this governmental hullaballoo.

There was a lot of focus on Hydra in this film, so it was nice to re-touch on where they ended up in the modern world after the events in World War II.

This is a great film overall,  so go see it and make sure to stay for the extra scenes after the credits. There are a couple of teaser after-credits shorts, so make sure to stay for ’em all if you want to get all the tasty Cap morsels you can for your money. This film should tide everyone over until Guardians of the Galaxy comes out – I’m beyond excited for that movie to drop on us.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Captain America: The Winter Soldier

12 O’Clock Boys (2013)

12 O'Clock Boys (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: January 31, 2014
Director: Lofty Nathan

Pug, a young man from a dangerous block in Baltimore, Maryland is enthralled by a band of people who partake in illegal street riding calling themselves the 12 O’Clock Boys. When his older brother, Tibba, dies – Pug looks to the Boys for guidance, much to the worry of his mother, Coco, and others in Pug’s family. Pug must weigh his obsession with bikes and this group against a rising police response to the riding and his inner desires to become a veterinarian.

To be clear – I kind of accidentally stumbled into this documentary. I went with my girlfriend to a place called the Space Gallery in Portland, Maine – and we were supposed to be going to a women’s writer group Q&A seminar. As we sat down and waited, we wondered why the audience was overwhelmingly male. We had our answer in a few minutes as the documentary started. We had come on the wrong day, and we already paid so we stayed – and I’m glad we did.

First off, the style was fresh and kinetic. Lofty Nathan, the director, filled the frame with choice morsels that assisted the narrative in telling the deep and complicated story that is Pug’s life and upbringing. Not once did he delve into stereotypical urban characters – but let each person identify themselves through their own ways. Some were gangsters, some were struggling parents, some were police officers, some were just kids.

Rather than glamorize the dangerous lifestyle led by the 12 O’Clock Boys, Nathan portrayed them as human beings in a tough situation relying on what they feel is their only release other than gang activity, drugs or other less-positive things. Through Pug and his own tough life, we understand that belonging to a group and being good at something (even if it’s just being able to wheelie really well) is what we all strive for. We all secretly want to be a 12 O’Clock Boy.

A good documentarian holds a mirror up to the rest of us and says “Look. This is you – this is your reality” and makes us reflect on it, think about it. I felt that way when watching this film. I do love documentaries but this is one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while. Lofty Nathan does not insert himself directly into the narrative as is sometimes the case with other documentarians, but we see through his eyes the disarray that this suburb, inner-city culture has become and all the problems that stem from it.

In Pug we have someone who is truly likable and easy to care about. We see his struggles and we want him to get on that bike. We see him training and we root for him as he gets better and better at riding and doing wheelies. We see the danger and we wish someone would stop him before he gets in over his head. It’s a really complicated emotional response evoked, at least in my case. Pug starts out somewhat innocent but then slowly evolves (or de-volves, possibly) once his world view perspective is changed over and over again.

On the other side of things, just visually it’s entertaining to watch. There are many dynamic shots and kinetic images on display for the visually-oriented folks out there like me. There are lots of slow-motion shots of the riding as well as fast-paced chase scenes and tension-ridden conflicts between police and the Boys.

12 O’Clock Boys is the total package. Go watch it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For 12 O’Clock Boys

Call Of Duty: Ghosts (PS3 – 2013)

Call Of Duty: Ghosts (PS3 - 2013)

In Call of Duty: Ghosts, players take control of Logan Walker (most of the time, anyway) in a world where the United States has been reduced to a third-world power after an attack by a satellite super weapon called Odin destroyed much of the infrastructure of the former government and economy. In a last ditch effort to survive, a legendary unit of special forces members with the code name Ghosts have banded together to try to take back control from their oppressors. As Logan, you are joined by your dog Riley, older brother David and father Elias ten years after the attacks and operate in secret, hoping to win the war once and for all.

I’ve long been a fan of this game series, but while most of the time I’ve been sort of excited once a new installment has come out, I kind of felt like stopping after Black Ops II due to lack of innovation and the multiplayer feeling unbalanced. To my surprise, there were some pleasant twists to this tenth entry in the series, at least enough to keep me playing for now.

First of all, the story mode was pretty engaging. It’s smooth, if short, and feels like you’re watching an action flick most of the way through. There are some nice cinematic “I am awesome” moments that make you truly feel that you’re accomplishing something great. The innovative side of using Riley, the dog, to silently dispatch enemies (in a pleasing, visceral way) in lieu of sneaking around by yourself constantly is a nice touch – but it wasn’t as innovative as I think it could’ve been. I think it would’ve been awesome if you could do co-op in story mode with one player as Logan and the other as either David or Riley depending on needs. Missed opportunity! One other bad thing is that the developers copy/pasted the ending from Modern Warfare 2 onto the beginning mission of Ghosts (which can be seen HERE), which is reason to give this title pause; What are we really buying when we get this game? A recycled money-grabbing installment of the same old thing?

Aside from the story mode (and the lifting from MW2) there ARE a couple of reasons to play this game – Extinction Mode, which is sort of like survival mode but you fight against aliens with a customizable load out and also is co-op (sort of like Zombies mode from the Treyarch games).

On top of that, there is the normal multiplayer mode that most people will no doubt get the game for, although some of the maps are too large for normal death matches and others feel too similar to others we’ve done before.

Infected Mode is a nice touch, with one random player spawning with an infection and “turning” other players until everyone is infected.

Squad Mode, too, is fun in that you get to build up a squad which will autonomously battle without you and you can see how they measure up on the leaderboards.

In my opinion, this installment could have been a lot better but what we have is an okay shooter with enough touches to entertain for another year or so before the next installment comes out. It’s far from perfect, but it’s still fun.

JOE Rating: ★★★

The Sixth Gun – Book One: Cold Dead Fingers (2011)

The Sixth Gun - Book One: Cold Dead Fingers (2011)

 

The Sixth Gun – Book One is a trade paperback which collects issues of the Oni Press comic book written by Cullen Bunn with art by Brian Hurtt.

Six guns with individual arcane powers were found during the American Civil War by General Oleander Hume and distributed among his most trusted (and wicked) associates. Over time, however, one of them – with the ability to grant its wielder visions of the future – disappeared. Then, in a time of need, the gun makes its way into the hands of a young girl – Rebecca Moncrief – who is later joined by a mysterious gunfighter and treasure hunter, Drake Sinclair. The two of them must unlock the secrets of the gun and its origins and figure out a way to lose their pursuers who are none other than a long-dead-but-returned-to-life General Oleander Hume and his posse.

If you know me at all, you know I love comic books and that I also love anything having to do with the American Civil War, so this book was a natural choice for me to check out. I had seen it once or twice and then one of the local comic book guys I know reminded me to try the first volume and I picked it up.

The artwork by Brian Hurtt is really nice and perfect (in my opinion) for the type of story The Sixth Gun is. The writing was pretty decent, too. The story moved along at a nice pace and I never really wanted to take a break. I flew through the first volume and it has a real cinematic feel to it. I’m betting this will be a mini-series or a movie in the future. I liked the characters, too. They never really felt forced and some of them were kind of complex (while others were throw-aways).

If you’re looking for straight-up Civil War action, this book doesn’t have a ton. The Civil War aspect is more just for “flavor” than anything else and provides a bit of context for the story and the world this book is set in. I’m sure if you like magic or fantasy or westerns or steampunk, then you’ll enjoy this.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Hell On Wheels: Season 1 (2011)

Hell On Wheels: Season 1 (2011)

Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) is a former Confederate soldier in a country that’s healing after the American Civil War and the assassination of president Abraham Lincoln – and he’s searching for his wife’s killers, most of whom were Union soldiers during the war. Leaving a bunch of corpses in his wake, Cullen finds himself one of the individuals living in Hell On Wheels – the temporary, mobile town following the progress of the Transcontinental Railroad as it spreads west.

When I first saw the description of this show on Netflix, I thought it might be some sort of cheesy programming reserved for late nights at home. I was wrong on that count.

Hell On Wheels, at least the first season, was pretty enjoyable overall. The main character, Cullen, shrugs off traditional southern “Rebel” stereotypes and in a way flips it so that the Union has a few bad eggs in it, too. Cullen has his low points but overall seems to use his own code of honor.

One thing I have to say is that for a man searching for his wife’s killers, he seems to take a while to really get into the hunt. We have a few instances early on in the season where he really digs in but then it almost seems as if he forgets his mission while he’s moving on down the rails.

Since Deadwood hasn’t been on the air, I’ve been looking for similar programming and while this show isn’t as great as Deadwood, it has some of the same, dusty, late 1800’s flavoring that made Deadwood so cool. I’ll definitely be checking out the second season. Hell On Wheels, like many of its characters, is likable even if it has some flaws.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Butter (2011)

Butter (2011)

Butter is a way of life in Iowa, and the king of butter carving, Bob (Ty Burrell), is retiring. Angry that Bob isn’t trying to use his butter-carving talents to get into politics, his too-ambitious Sarah-Palin-clone of a wife Laura (Jennifer Garner) steps up despite never butter-carving before to try and fill his shoes. However, there is a little girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi) who discovers her own butter-carving talents who just may undo everything Laura has tried to achieve.

I had no idea what to expect with this film. I had never seen it advertised and the premise seemed hokey, but interesting, so I gave it a shot. It was okay, but it wasn’t the best film ever.

The thing that intrigued me was the butter carving aspect. The whole “Midwest” thing has been done to death with these kinds of movies, but the butter aspect played itself out really early on in the movie. Some of the sculptures were neat, but the whole thing went way over my head because some of the sculptures were unbelievable just in terms of character achievement.

The acting was pretty good, overall. Most of the big-name talent was wasted, though. (There was even a bit part played by Hugh Jackman).

The story was pretty weak. I felt like it wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be an allegory, a comedy/farce or a drama. There wasn’t enough heart for it to be an allegory or a drama, and there weren’t enough funny parts for it to be a great comedy. By themselves, the main characters were boring. Bob is a cuckolded husband character while Laura is, as I wrote above, an over-achieving Sarah-Palin clone. Destiny is an okay character, but her development arc gets confused with that of Laura’s. The stripper character, Brooke (Olivia Wilde), was funny but she was tossed into the mix as well in an unbelievable way (the same old boring stripper clone who is uneducated and poor and would shit on someone’s lawn). The way everyone was introduced and interacted was just chaotic.

Overall, this movie wasn’t groundbreaking in any way. There are a couple of scenes that made me chuckle. Olivia Wilde is nice to look at. Seeing Hugh Jackman as a car salesman is kind of funny. So, you may be entertained for one viewing.

JOE Rating: ★★★