Somehow I got a promotion to “attorney”! Which is ironic since we have THREE actual attorneys amongst us – and I AIN’T one of them! Tomfoolery opens Oct. 2 at Conor O’Neill’s in Ann Arbor. $20 gets you dinner and the show; $10 … just the show. Tickets going fast at pennyseats.org – from Detroit Legal News …
The Penny Seats return to the stage this October with the musical revue Tomfoolery, celebrating the words and music of satirist, mathematician, and cult favorite, Tom Lehrer. The production also includes an opening short—a 5-minute mini-musical called Volcanoes!!—composed by Ann Arbor’s Zach London, who cites Lehrer as an early inspiration.
Brent, Roy, Laura, & Matt
The show will run on Thursdays, October 2, 9, 16 and 23, at Conor O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, 318 South Main Street, Ann Arbor. The two companies are partnering to offer a dinner theatre-style show, with dinner seatings available starting at 6:30 pm, and performances each night at 8:00pm.
Audience members can purchase tickets for the dinner-and-show package for just $20, or for the show only, for $10. Advance tickets (which are encouraged) are available online at pennyseats.org or by phone at (734) 926-5346.
Lauren … Charisse?
Featured performers are Ann Arborites Matt Cameron, Laura Sagolla and R. Brent Stansfield, and Roy Sexton of Saline (ME!).
Lauren London (of Ann Arbor) directs the show, with musical direction and accompaniment by Rebecca Biber (also of Ann Arbor).
Victoria Gilbert (of Ypsilanti) oversees choreography, and Stephen Hankes (of Ann Arbor) designed the set and will stage manage the show.
Lauren says of the piece, “This show is a guilty pleasure for us. It’s pure, brash silliness, presented with gusto in a bar setting. So many of us remember Tom Lehrer’s songs from our childhood. In particular, we recall that feeling of not knowing whether our parents would approve, but presuming the worst. We snuck around, giggling and singing these songs to each other eagerly, reveling in their mischievousness; it’s wonderful to celebrate them loudly now, in all their glory. And Zach’s short piece, Volcanoes!!, is a fitting opener. It pays homage to Lehrer in its tone and staging, and will, I think, get patrons in the right frame of mind for the evening.”
The company is also thrilled to partner with Conor O’Neill’s, a cornerstone of Ann Arbor’s downtown scene. “Conor’s has been a delight to work with,” says Lauren. “We’re thrilled at the support they’ve given us at every stage, and can’t thank them enough. It’s gratifying to be able to offer theatre patrons the incredible food, personalized service, and value that make Conor’s such a satisfying place. We can’t wait.”
Bright College Days
The show continues a successful 2014 season for The Penny Seats, who presented an acclaimed production of Elektra this July in West Park. The group is now in its fourth year of operation and continues to be overseen by a volunteer staff from the Ann Arbor area. (Later this fall, The Penny Seats will re-team with 826 Michigan for their annual Five Bowls of Oatmeal performance, featuring short plays written by local schoolchildren in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area.)
For more information, visit the group’s website, pennyseats.org, or call 734-926-5346.
The show, originally conceived by Cameron Mackintosh (Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables), celebrates the music of Tom Lehrer, a comic misanthrope who makes Lewis Black and Jon Stewart seem like Mr. Rogers and Spongebob Squarepants.
Gen X knows him best as having written the songs for Electric Company (“Silent E”) but he also wrote a number of satirical songs in the 50s and 60s for shows like That Was The Week That Was, The Frost Report, and The Steve Allen Show as well as his own concert performances.
Lehrer observed, “I know it’s very bad form to quote one’s own reviews, but there is something the New York Times said about me [in 1958], that I have always treasured: ‘Mr. Lehrer’s muse [is] not fettered by such inhibiting factors as taste.“
Along with yours truly, the show features talented pals Laura Sagolla, Brent Stansfield, and Matt Cameron and is directed by Lauren London with music direction from Rebecca Biber and choreography by Victoria Gilbert. You can check out all of Lehrer’s music at his YouTube channel here.
Nina Kaur (thanks to fellow Farmington PlayerAmy Lauter for connecting us!) asked me to contribute a guest blog entry to her fun and interesting blog Thirty Something Years in Ninaland. Here’s what she wrote about me – “Every Monday I will have a guest blogger. Today I am featuring a wonderful Movie Reviewer named Roy Sexton. He is witty, charming and great critic! Enjoy reading about his journey!” Wow! Thanks, Nina! Click here for the original post on her blog.
By yours truly …
Movies have always been an important part of my life.
I like to read books (more accurately comic books these days, as I seem to now have the attention span of a tsetse fly), and I adore music. Television is fine, and I’ve spent many hours traipsing the boards of theatres across the Midwest. But movies transport me.
I love the fact that a film is an encapsulated medium. Whether 90 minutes or three hours, a movie tells one story – beginning, middle, and end – introducing you to new friends and enemies and locales in an efficiently designed delivery mechanism. With a good film, you get the experience of reading a novel (whether or not the film is in fact based on any work of literature) in a highly compressed fashion.
Your brain leaves your body for a bit, you take a mini-vacation to places you might not otherwise ever see, and you return to your regularly scheduled life a bit changed, perhaps enlightened, and hopefully re-energized.
I stop reading email, answering calls, or monitoring social media…and just blessedly check out…for a bit.
My parents cultivated appreciation for the arts by filling our home with movies and music and books and love. I’ve groused in the past about wanting, as a child, to play with my Star Wars action figures in the solitude of my toy-lined room and being forced instead to sit in our den with my parents and watch some creaky B&W classic movie on Fort Wayne’s Channel 55. And I am so grateful now for that.
My appreciation for classic cinema resulted from these years basking in the glow of our old RCA color TV. And when we could finally afford a VCR and could now watch any movie of our choosing, I was already hooked on the story-telling of vintage movies with their requisite arch wit, dramatic stakes, whimsical joys, and belief that anything was possible.
However, not everything was high art in our house. The advent of HBO in the early 80s and its repetitive showings of whatever junk Hollywood had most recently cranked out shaped my tastes for better or worse as well. I’m a sucker for the movie train wreck – the more star-studded, over-budget, under-written, and garish the better. Some of my most beloved films are among the most notoriously awful of all time: Xanadu, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Wiz, Popeye, Flash Gordon. The Black Hole, Raggedy Ann and Andy’s Musical Adventure, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Return to Oz, Battle Beyond the Stars, Krull, The Neverending Story, and so on.
If it was a flop and it was shown ad nauseum one mid-afternoon following another on HBO in the 1980s, then I fell in love with it. Like self-imposed water torture on my nascent aesthetic.
As time went by and I stomped through my high school and college know-it-all years (some might argue I’m still stuck in them), I learned from both my parents and some wonderful teachers the tools of critique and criticism. What is the intent of the piece? What is the context for its creation? How effective is its structure, composition, impact? Where did it go awry or where did it cross over into something classic?
It’s all highly subjective and a bit arrogant, I suppose, but I can’t help it. I’m entertained by the act of analysis.
In more recent years, Facebook gave me an outlet to connect with my inner-Ebert. I started posting status statements summarizing in glib, condensed fashion my take on whatever flick we had just enjoyed … or endured. My kind-hearted and patient partner John has suffered through a lot of movies over the years, many he enjoyed … and even more he did not.
At wonderful Jim and Lyn’s beautiful wedding
We still bicker about his departure from Moulin Rouge after twenty minutes with nary an explanation. I found him after the movie in the lobby reading a newspaper – I don’t know what is more telling: that he was too kind to want to ruin the movie for me by alerting me how much he hated it, or the fact that I stayed to the end without checking on his safety and security!
My friends and colleagues enjoyed these little “squibs” I posted on social media. I suppose I was aspiring to capture the grace and insight of Leonard Maltin’s “micro reviews” that I consumed voraciously as a child every January when we bought his latest edition. (The paper on those early volumes was always of some strange newspaper-esque stock prone to smudging and was pulpily aromatic. I will never forget that musty, fabulous smell.)
John always asks plaintively, “Didn’t they know this movie was bad when they were making it?!”
Perhaps I keep trying to solve that riddle, with the false confidence that my $10 movie ticket entitles me to a shot at armchair quarterbacking. Perhaps the failed actor in me is still trying to reclaim some artistic glory. Or perhaps I’m just a wise-ass with too many opinions and without the good sense to keep them respectfully to myself.
My pals told me, “Set up a blog. Capture these Facebook reviews for future reference. They’re great; they’re fun! Blah blah blah.” I have to admit that eventually my ego got the better of me, and, one late night, I explored the wonders that WordPress holds (albeit not that many) and set up ReelRoyReviews as a diary of sorts, detailing my adventures in the cinema.
Here’s the funny thing. Nobody read them. Nobody. At least for quite a while.
Well, that’s not entirely true. My mom was an avid reader and supporter and was always the first to offer an encouraging comment: “My son writes the best reviews and everyone should love them.” So there!
But you know what? Something interesting happened along the way. I stopped caring and just started writing for myself. And I started having fun. And people started reading.
Life is way too short (and exasperating) to get too intense about entertainment, so I try to take a light and conversational approach with my reviews. And I try to respect that (for the most part) these are show business professionals putting (ideally) their best feet forward and that they are human beings with hearts and souls and feelings. I hope I never seem cruel. I don’t mean to be. These writings are off-the-cuff and journal-style and come from as positive a place as I can muster.
Approach everything and everyone honestly and with positive intent and offer candid feedback with an open heart and as much kindness as possible.
Please check out my latest reviews here … Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Edge of Tomorrow, 22 Jump Street, The Fault in our Stars, and Tammy and more …
All You Need is Kill was the original title of Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt’s cheeky summer epic Edge of Tomorrow. Changing the film’s name to something akin to a 1950s NBC soap opera is the only misstep the movie makes.
I’ve heard folks describe this slyly smart sci-fi bon-bon as Groundhog Day meets the video game Halo, and there is truth to that. The movie does use a “Live. Die. Repeat.” narrative structure (Edge of Tomorrow‘s marketing slogan, in fact … which also would have made a better title), and it cannily turns video game tropes on their collective head: bloodless mayhem; squiggly, skittery, unrelatable enemies; trash-talking mercenaries; Starship Troopers-esque chunky, scruffy battle gear; and, most importantly, the ability to replay a scene over and over until you get it right and can move onto the next.
Here’s the thing: director Doug Liman (so good with popcorn fare that’s a witty cut above the rest – Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Swingers, The Bourne Identity, Jumper) is not glorifying violence but rather using genre elements (not unlike the aforementioned Starship Troopers does) with such crafty juxtaposition (including the endless, intentionally mind-numbing repetition) to emphasize the colossal absurdity, and ultimate futility, of warfare. More 50 First Dates meets Dr. Strangelove.
While the rest of the world seems to have abandoned their golden boy Cruise, I actually find him rather interesting these days. From his gonzo cameo in Tropic Thunder to his sozzled musical turn in Rock of Ages to his caustic antihero Jack Reacher, Cruise appears to have finally embraced his twitchy, sweaty inner-hooligan and jettisoned his alpha male leading man aspirations. He has given up on winky, grinny charm … and has become authentically charming in the process. He finally feels like one of us – welcome to the poor schlub club, Tommy – you always belonged here.
Cruise’s character Major William Cage is a PR wonk who has somehow talked his way into a cushy military job as Europe is overtaken by long-legged-y beasties that make ominous hissing noises like a Slinky descending stairs. The always perfect Brendan Gleeson plays a Euro-general who has seen it all and isn’t buying Cage’s line of BS, sending the yellow-bellied marketer directly to the front-lines … don’t pass go, don’t collect $200.
And this is where the movie takes off like a rocket ship. Bill Paxton, in yet another wry summer movie turn (see him equally genius in a very different role in Million Dollar Arm) is Cage’s commanding officer with a bad 70s ‘stache and an even (intentionally) worse 70s swagger. Cage ends up thrown on a beach-y war-zone (a la Normandy) alongside a crew of misfits. He gets sprayed with some icky purple alien blood, and gains the gift (or curse?) to repeat this day over and over and over.
Cruise’s performance is so unexpectedly nebbishy, sans any annoying Woody Allen eccentricities, that he has the audience in the palm of his hand instantly. We are right there with him in this comically nightmarish bad dream.
Eventually, Cage survives long enough to meet Joan of Arc-super warrior Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt playing splendidly against type – see Devil Wears Prada, The Five-Year Engagement). Vrataski once had the same affliction as Cage, doomed to repeat the same day in an endless loop until a blood transfusion took her power away. Consequently, she becomes his Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mr. Miyagi, and Ellen Ripley all in one. Blunt uses her crack timing, soulful eyes, proper British cynicism, and cut-glass cheekbones all to great effect, giving us an intimidatingly likable a**-kicker who suffers no fools gladly.
By the time the third act starts to wrap up with its inevitable “save the world by blowing up the source of all alien incursions” denouement, your patience with the film’s conceits may be worn thin. I suspect that is by design. The audience’s mental posture mirrors Cage’s/Cruise’s at that particular cinematic crossroads, and the overlap of viewer and viewed is a gas. (At least it was for me.) And this film is one of the rare examples of an ambiguous non-ending ending that works like a charm. I won’t spoil it, but I think you’ll agree.
Kyle, Steve, Jim, Sean, Roy and John
P.S. Viewing this movie was the capstone to our pal Jim Lynch‘s Big Day of Fun.
The Guardians of the Galaxy with interlopers Charlie, Steve, and Jim
In anticipation of Jim’s upcoming nuptials to Lyn Weber, we had an afternoon of silly (great!) activities:
Hudson Museum (with genuine Tucker car) and Sidetracks in Ypsilanti, SkyZone and GameStop in Canton, Putterz (with a Z!) in Ypsilanti, and Carlyle Grill and, yes, Edge of Tomorrow in Ann Arbor.
The day was less Hangover more Little Rascals.
Assorted thunderstorms and a leaky limo roof only enhanced the fun, never dampening (pun intended) the hijinks! Enjoy these photos …
Jim, Roy, and John
Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.
Facebook is fun! As some of my colleagues might tell you, I fought social media tooth and nail about five years ago, but now I can’t imagine a world without it. It breaks down barriers, opens minds, and disseminates interesting information like no other channel.
My pal Nick Sweet, a crime novelist born in England and now living in Spain, tagged me in a blog chain and asked me to answer the following questions. You can read his original post here.
But me being me … I can’t just do what I’m told. So I’m going to intersperse my answers with pages from another one of the “reviews” I wrote in my toddler years – this time about an episode of my beloved Captain Kangaroo. In fact, I adored the show so much I have my own autographed photo of Bob Keeshan as the Captain. (And you can check out Baby Roy’s take on The Bullfighter and the Ladyhere – thanks to my mom for saving these whimsical pages from my youth.)
Part of my task as assigned by Nick is also to “pay it forward” and acknowledge some bloggers that I love – please check out their work …
My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s fabulous free-thinking blog about animals, culture, empathy, and understanding here.
Lovely Kat Kelly Heinzelman’s thoughts on family, friends, and baseball at RedSoxLady35.
Gabriel Diego Valdez’ careful analysis of film, culture, and social politics at Basil Mariner Chase.
And my fellow thespian JP Hitesman’s energetic romp through local theatre offerings at Theatrical Buddha Man.
All five blogs are engaging and challenging and informative and rich – written by kind and thoughtful souls, hoping for a better, kinder world.
And here are my answers to Nick’s questions …
What am I working on?
What am I not working on? Between my daily life as a legal marketer, communicator, and strategic planner and my “free time” writing this blog, getting the word out about the Reel Roy Reviews book, proudly promoting my mom’s marvelous output as an author and a columnist and an animal rights activist, trying to be a good friend and family member, sharing a loving home and minding two nutty mutts, keeping up with my weekly comic book addiction, acting in and supporting local theatrical efforts, going to concerts and movies and plays, buying an ungodly amount of cds and dvds, and on and on, I’m not sure which end is up most days!
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Stealing this from the press release about the book … “I try to respect that (for the most part) these are show business professionals putting (ideally) their best feet forward and that they are human beings with hearts and souls and feelings. I hope I never seem cruel. I don’t mean to be. These writings are off-the-cuff and journal-style and come from as positive a place as I can muster….Approach everything and everyone honestly and with positive intent and offer candid feedback with an open heart and as much kindness as possible.”
Why do I write what I do?
Also stealing from the release (lord, I’m lazy today) … “Film is an encapsulated medium. Whether 90 minutes or three hours, a movie tells one story-beginning, middle, and end-introducing you to new friends, enemies, and locales in an efficiently designed delivery mechanism. With a good film, I feel you get the experience of reading a novel (whether or not the film is in fact based on any work of literature) in a highly compressed fashion. … In the best movie-going experience, your brain leaves your body for a bit, you take a mini-vacation to places you might not otherwise ever see, and you return to your regularly scheduled life a bit changed, perhaps enlightened, and hopefully re-energized.”
How does your writing process work?
John laughs that he thinks I write my reviews as we’re still in the parking lot of the theatre. There is some truth to that. I’ve always been annoyingly analytical while watching a movie or a play or a concert – what choices were made, why, what do they say about the artist or about our culture? So all of that stuff is swirling in my head, and I quite literally have to purge it when I get home, or I lose track of the ideas and find myself on the cranky side. So, the minute we walk in the house, I grab the laptop, head upstairs, plunk myself on the bed, and exorcise these crazy thoughts.
What a wonderful day! Thanks to Henry Ford Centennial Library’s Henry Fischer for organizing the Big Read Wrap-Up author event. I was (and am) so proud that my mom Susie Duncan Sexton was among so many great writers, that she has an essay included in their book Animal Tales, and that my canine “siblings” Jack and Zelda are featured on the front cover.
Animal Tales book cover
Me reading my mom’s essay
Here’s the book description: “Call of the Wild Dearborn: Animal Tales is a community anthology featuring short stories, poems, and essays about animals, the environment, nature or wildlife.” It will be available to purchase online at the library’s site soon. [All photos in this blog entry by Don Sexton.]
My mom emailed, “What I would add is the ‘moment in time’ that Selfridge [Jeremy Piven tv series] identified in his final installment for this season last night seated around a Thanksgiving table with his entire family … because you, Roy, so poised on that stage reading about Jack and Zelda with that magnificent slide of the book cover was incredibly moving for me! Like nothing ever before! Loved every moment of this event. Super concept! Pleased to have been included … I am delighted to have a story in the book and that my Jack & Zelda are a part of the cover! I once taught the works of Jack London, so I enjoyed the Call of the Wild theme of the presentations at the Saturday afternoon event.”
Rosalie’s in Jonesville
My parents had a marvelous lunch at adorable Rosalie’s in Jonesville, Michigan, on the way to the event, and John and I had such a nice dinner with them and with Terry Branoff at La Pita in Dearborn following – with a quick stop at beloved Dearborn Music. And then Terry and I were off to see Lady Gaga. Here’s my mom’s website: www.susieduncansexton.com – enjoy!
With references to forgotten Broadway musicals and even more forgotten films (Buckaroo Banzai or Time Bandits, anyone?), analysis of my ongoing “war” with the Cher-army, many funny asides, boffo binge-book-buying by all in attendance, and a whole lot of zany fun, yesterday’s book signing/singing event was a hit!
With Peter Blackshear [Photo by Don Sexton]
Magic to do [Photo by Don Sexton]
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
Songs were sung: “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin, “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music, “My Funny Valentine” from Pal Joey, and “This is the Life” from Golden Boy.
Film musings were read: both entries from the book on the beautiful black and white comic weepie Penny Serenade – one by my mom, author and columnist Susie Duncan Sexton and one by yours truly.
And we got to catch up with some wonderful, kind, supportive friends (photos here)…
[Photo by Megan Blackshear]
With accompanist Rebecca Biber [Photo by Don Sexton]
John Mola, Susie and Don Sexton, Sean Murphy, Jim Lynch, Melynee Weber, Lauren M. London and the London kids, Angie Choe and Sean and kids, Matthew Theunick, Zaida Hernandez, Karen Southworth, Beth Kennedy, Jenna Jacota Anderson, Sarah Rauen, Marjorie and Patricia Lesko.
Thanks to Rebecca Biber for the wonderful accompaniment and witticisms. And thanks again to Bookbound and Peter Blackshear and Megan Andrews Blackshear (and Chester!) for hosting such a fun event.
[Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage - click here to view.]
With actress Sarah Rauen [Photo by Megan Blackshear]
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
Here is Bookbound’s write-up:
“Bookbound (1729 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor) hosted local community theater actor, blogger, and author Roy Sexton for an afternoon of laughs and music. He read from his new book of cheeky movie reviews, Reel Roy Reviews, and entertained with movie themes and show tunes with Rebecca Biber accompanying.”
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
Finally, what an honor and a privilege for us to be included in dear and talented and beautiful Beth Kennedy’s fantastic blog I Didn’t Have My Glasses On.
Here’s a quote: “there were so many sextons, so little time……and i was so happy to be a part of it all, and in awe of the heartfelt and mutual support shared by all.” We love you, Beth! Read the rest by clicking here.
ReelRoyReviews is officially launched, y’all! Time for me to collapse…
Wow! What a night! I may be recovering from last night’s book launch at Common Languagefor weeks (which is going to be tough ’cause there is another fun event scheduled for April 26 at 3 pm at Bookbound in Ann Arbor – I may need to get in some power naps before then).
Enjoy these photos from last night, courtesy of expert presenter and photographer John Mola. (You can view more pics here and here.)
Thanks to Keith Orr and Martin Contreras, owners of Common Language, for their generosity as our hosts for the evening. They are wonderful souls! Go now (right now!) to their store and buy lots of stuff. And meet their beautiful, happy, sweet canine rescue mascot Duke.
Thanks to my guinea pigs … er … amazing readers who took part in presenting some of my wilder reviews. Yes, there were accents, cartoon voices, Mad Libs-esque games, saucy asides aplenty, laughter, editorializing, aural mimicry of John Barry’s hypnotically bizarro Black Hole score, and spot-on Xanadu roller boogie choreography.
After a lovely intro by Keith who had some very encouraging things to say about me being a reviewer who blends the personal and professional in a humorous and (more or less) kind-hearted way (I’m paraphrasing shamelessly!), the rogues gallery rundown of readers (who pretty much unraveled any good will achieved by Keith’s remarks) included the following folks …
Rachel Murphy with “Did you read the book first? Life of Pi“; Lyn Weber with “Never trust a movie with a colon in the title … The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones“; John Mola with “Whatever the hell that is supposed to mean … HBO’s Behind the Candelabra“; Rebecca Biber with “Twerking, tongue all a-twangle: Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz“; Nick Oliverio with “A psychedelic fever dream … for kids! Disney’s The Black Hole“; and Barbara Bruno with “Gene Kelly, sir, you owe us an apology: Xanadu.”
I love my talented friends, who made me feel so very special reading these crazy musings of mine. My mom once told me that Quentin Tarantino will show up at friends’ homes and make them listen to his scripts (in development), read aloud by the maestro himself. I totally get that now, as last night I realized (while listening intently, of course!) that I have a tendency to overuse the terms “heebie jeebies,” “balsa wood,” and “skeezy.” I’ll leave it to you to figure out where and how!
Thanks again to Keith and Martin for a fun night – they are now carrying copies of Reel Roy Reviews in the store as well as my mom’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter essay collections. (Read her latest Homeward Angle column here.)
And my deepest appreciation for the friends who participated and who attended.
Speaking of friends, while I’m in this giddily self-promotional haze, thanks to new friend Gina Furia Rubel for the following comments about the book. (Gina’s Twitter bio describes her as “CEO of FuriaRubel, a Legal Marketing, Web & Public Relations Agency; media source, speaker, blogger, & attorney who loves travel and photography” … all true! But she is also a warm, very witty, and delightful soul who loves animals and movies. My kind of person!)
Gina writes, “If you love movies, wit, snarky commentary and humor as much as me, you will love reading Roy Sexton‘s book, Reel Roy Reviews. Perhaps, Roy, you will solve the riddle of how the $10+ movie ticket and $8 popcorn entitles many of us to ‘armchair quarterbacking’ or answer why the movie Xanadu was ever filmed….”
As all the Marvel movies go, my hands-down favorites feature Captain America. So I approached Captain America: The Winter Soldier with some trepidation that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. How wrong I was.
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
The first Captain America film did a lovely job borrowing nostalgic pixie dust from films like Dick Tracy and The Rocketeer, and director Joe Johnston grounded those proceedings in postmodern yet earnestly American messages of anti-bullying and of championing the underdog. The follow-up, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, takes that Americana quilt-work and ups the ante, delving deep into the dark heart of post-millennial U.S. society.
In the years since September 11th, we have seen fear and anxiety chip away at the most American of values: tolerance and courage, freedom of thought and sincere kindness. The film attacks that dilemma square on, albeit with Marvel Studios’ now-trademark escapism, wit, and whiz bang effects.
I dare not spoil any of the twists and turns, and, while some have compared this sequel to 70s government conspiracy classics like Three Days of the Condor, it is more of a pulpy roller coaster ride than a tightly coiled potboiler. Regardless, it is smart and well done and expertly paced.
Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers/Captain America, and, unlike his flippant work as another superhero Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four series, he exudes a soulful sadness as a man quite literally out of his own time and depth. His heartache over an America that has strayed so far afield from his World War II-era “Greatest Generation” perspective is palpable.
The plot details the explosive corruption that runs through all levels of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization – that CIA/Interpol-hybrid that has been a unifying element in all Marvel’s cinematic output. This sequel draws cleverly on thematic elements established in the first Captain America entry, specifically the Nazi villains’ monstrous notion that ethnic, spiritual, intellectual cleansing will bring about order in a chaotic world. Winter Soldier neatly turns that concept on its head, alluding to how some Americans today seem to share that same nefarious concept: that the only way to avoid anarchy, violence, and societal decay is to quite literally eliminate all those people who threaten “order” in their questioning of the powers-that-be.
Robert Redford is a fascinating and welcome addition to the Marvel Universe, playing Alexander Pierce, a Washington bureaucrat whose Machiavellian intentions are simultaneously noble and suspect. Bringing a nuance we don’t always get to see in these movies (with nary a glib moment), Redford telegraphs sincere, profound, and arguably misdirected concern for a world that he feels has gone totally off the rails. He is the kind of comic book heavy that only a steady diet of FoxNews and MSNBC could inspire.
The other supporting players, including Scarlett Johansson, Emily Van Camp, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Frank Grillo, Samuel L. Jackson, Toby Jones, Jenny Agutter, and Anthony Mackie, rise to the material, providing gravitas and the occasional (much-needed) lighter moment (or two). Sebastian Stan as the titular Winter Soldier is a heaping helping of imposing glower, and he makes the most of a rather underwritten role (not unlike Tom Hardy’s Bane in Dark Knight Rises).
Unfortunately (and this is the only minor quibble I had with the film), the movie does little with the Winter Soldier’s fascinating, Terminator-meets-Manchurian Candidate back story. Hopefully, the inevitable third film will fill in those gaps.
Superhero flicks have, in aggregate, become an ever-expanding cinematic metaphor for the angst that blankets our planet – movies of note include Bryan Singer’s X-Men films (e.g. civil rights/tolerance), Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (e.g. class warfare, Orwellian nanny states), and now both Captain America entries. These films employ a kind of four-color funnies code with larger-than-life heroes and villains standing in for the mundane, insidious cruelties we enact daily.
Samuel L. Jackson notes at one point early in the film, “This is the world as it is … not how we’d like it to be” – nailing a haunting fear and sadness most of us over 40 grapple with daily. Not sure where the movie Marvel Universe goes from here as the studio’s architects are clearly picking poignancy and punch over popcorn and pizzazz. But I for one can’t wait too see what’s next.
Bonus! ( … apropos of nothing … )
This Thursday, April 10 at 7 pm, Common Language in Ann Arbor (317 Braun Ct.) will host a mixer. I will be signing books, and theatre colleagues from The Penny Seats (including Rachel Murphy, Lyn Weber, Rebecca Biber, Nick Oliverio, Barbara Bruno, and now John Mola) will offer interpretive readings of some of my wilder essays. Light refreshments will be provided. See you there! Nice coverage from Sarah Rigg and MLivehere.
Thanks to Ryan Roe and the Tough Pigs: Muppets Fans Who Grew Up website for this shout-out to Reel Roy Reviews and my review of Muppets Most Wanted. Be sure to check out the site – it’s a lot of fun!
Finally, enjoy this video interview of yours truly from last week’s Legal Marketing Association conference. Thanks to Lexblog and the Lexblog Network and Kevin McKeown for this opportunity!