Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The First Avenger was a perfectly solid origins story for an oft neglected member of the superhero lineup. After all, Captain America has none of the darkness of Batman, the inner turmoil of Wolverine, or the high camp of Thor. He’s just an all-American guy in a silly stars and stripes costume. The First Avenger was one of the more character-driven films of the superhero genre, and all the better for that, and The Winter Soldier builds on that, adding a new layer of interest in dealing with the time shift that brings Steve Rogers from his World War II deep freeze to the more treacherous world of 1970s global intrigue. Chris Evans manages to make his Captain America appealing with an edge of complexity, and he is ably supported by Scarlett Johansson as “Black Widow” Natasha Romanoff and Anthony Mackie as “The Falcon” Sam Wilson. But the icing on the cake is Robert Redford who plays against type and creates a villain of oily, smooth talking perfidiousness.
The Broken Circle Breakdown
A film from Belgium nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars this year has done well on the festival circuit. It is a simple story of two people who fall in love. Didier Bontinck (Johan Heldenbergh) is a romantic atheist, and Elise Vandevelde (Veerle Baetens) is a religious realist. When their daughter becomes seriously ill, their love is put on trial. There is a strong melodramatic undercurrent, but director Felix van Groeningen deflects this by providing a non-linear telling of the tale, gradually filling in the gaps that made the relationship between Didier and Elise so strong, and then seeing many of the same factors at work tearing that relationship apart. There is a raw emotional heart in the film, which is given dramatic presentation in the bluegrass music that is a central feature. (Didier and Elise are both performers, and their professional and personal lives merge in their music.) The fact that Heldenbergh and Baetens perform together with their own band gives the music even greater power. Tough and vital for much of its course, the film sags in the third act where the screenplay sinks under a burden of some unnecessary minor themes.
Short Term 12
This small indie film set in a residential care facility for at-risk young people is the real thing: A tightly directed film that looks at the minutiae of people’s lives and how it can, and sometimes can’t, tell us things about these people. The film centers on Grace (Brie Larson) and her longtime boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr), who work at the facility and do their best to care for the residents and for each other. Director Destin Cretton has achieved a remarkable feat in capturing a profound naturalism in his actors so that Short Term 12 often has an almost documentary feel, but at others in pushes the rough edged story into the more familiar form of the inspirational teacher genre. Even this does not do much to erode the intimate power of the film, and Larson has been praised by many critics as a performer to watch. Short Term 12 runs just 96 minutes, but it is packed with detail and feeling, and despite some flaws, is an outstanding example of what cinematic storytelling is all about.
Sunshine on Leith
A film that is almost too upbeat for its own good, Sunshine on Leith is a musical set somewhere between micro-budget romance Once and all-star ABBA romp Mamma Mia!. The mood is closer to the latter, but its setting in Edinburgh and story about two Scottish squaddies back from Afghanistan looking to find stability and love back home gives it an exotic charm. The songbook for the movie is taken from Scottish group The Proclaimers, but you don’t have to be a fan to get into the movie, with is a no-holds-barred knees-up that should delight audiences. There are plenty of cheesy moments, and sometimes the film veers too far toward becoming a promotional title for all things Scottish, and for the city of Edinburgh in particular. Director Dexter Fletcher throws in a little bit of grit, and life is not all warm pints and singalongs, but the film wants to make you feel good, and on the whole it succeeds.