FRESH POUR: Captain America – The Winter Soldier (2014) / Dom Hemingway (2014)

Clint takes a look at one or two new releases that come out each week –just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.

Cap 2Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dirs. Joe & Anthony Russo
Paramount Pictures

The Marvel machine has been rolling along for the past six years now, constantly building its universe and establishing characters and organizations to create a serialized, multi-brand marketing blitz that you either love or hate, really. For some, it’s a comic lovers’ dream come true; for others, the exercise results in all-too-safe homogeneity that just leaves all of the Marvel films feeling roughly the same. I’m in the latter camp somewhat, but I enjoy the films enough on their own that I appreciate when they take chances. With Marvel’s “Phase 2,” they really seem to be taking that to heart – hiring chancy directors that are either independent schlockmasters (Shane Black, James Gunn) or established TV directors (Thor 2’s Alan Taylor, and this film’s sitcom-directing duo Joe and Anthony Russ), and trying out new superhero twists on old genres. In the case of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel may have their most successful experiment yet, even if the risks taken are only in a comparative sense within its own series.

Following the events of The Avengers, former-popsicle Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) finds himself doubting the intentions and authority of SHIELD after being asked to undertake some shady missions and feeling disillusioned about whether or not he’s doing the right thing. This is exacerbated when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked in broad daylight, leaving Captain America and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to go on the run to find out who is behind these attacks. In the meantime, SHIELD’s intentions become clearer, a mysterious 90s-as-hell assassin called the Winter Soldier crops up, and Cap finds a new friend in Falcon (Anthony Mackie), a returned vet with a thirst for justice and a slick pair of metal wings.*

The filmmakers have been pitching this as “a 70s political thriller with superheroes in it,” and that influence is clear, right down to the Three Days of the Condor-inspired casting of Robert Redford as duplicitous SHIELD head Alexander Pierce. Though all Redford really does is stand around in three-piece suits and give sidelong glances while monologuing, it’s nice to see him back on screen – however, at his age, he looks like someone just stuck a Brad Pitt action figure in a microwave and nuked it for ten seconds. The Winter Soldier fares little better; the scenes with him post-reveal (SPOILER ALERT: it’s Bucky Barnes) are interesting, but his look is extremely dated, with long, flowing 90s hair and black eyeliner over a Mortal Kombat-esque mask that seems to jar with the otherwise toned-down look of the film.

The film itself is much more grounded in tone than the goofy, irreverent Iron Man 3 or the campy, fantastical Thor 2, largely saving its over-the-top superhero antics for the dizzying climax. Most of the time, action is restricted to stealthy hand-to-hand combat, Heat-esque car chases or simple, old-fashioned espionage. I found this quite refreshing, as the Russos somehow manage to bring a kineticism and intensity to the proceedings that you couldn’t expect from directors of Arrested Development and Community episodes. While it’s not the most irreverent film of the Marvel universe, it’s got its moments, allowing Cap’s earnestness to play off the cynicism of Black Widow and Falcon just enough to not bog the film down with its weight.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of The Winter Soldier is it finally addresses some of the issues that have gone unaddressed with the political atmosphere of these films, linking it firmly to our own intelligence policies. This is a very Snowden-inspired film, with Marvel’s stand-in for the US intelligence community and the NSA actually becoming the antagonists. While there are some hairs split about rogue factions and old enemies, the solution presented by Cap – to tear down SHIELD altogether – is a ballsy move, and a comparatively revolutionary one at that. This is the response to The Avengers’ icky wiretapping subplot, which was offhandedly mentioned without comment by superagent Coulson in that film; the same thing happens in Cap 2, but it is given the appropriate level of menace. As a culture, we should be not okay with our own government/people being able to indiscriminately spy on us – hell, The Dark Knight got that right before the Marvel Universe even started – and Captain America is the perfect vehicle with which to explore the post-9/11 security state. Not long into the film, Cap realizes this is not what he wanted to fight for, and the dismantling of SHIELD poses some very interesting possibilities for the future films in the Marvel series.

With the weirdness of Guardians of the Galaxy on the horizon later this year, Marvel took a chance in allowing Captain America: The Winter Soldier to explore some relatively gritty material, at least within its own universe. When paired with any other stark political/military thriller (like Syriana, Michael Clayton or The Hurt Locker), it naturally falls short by having to juggle crowd-pleasing action with its messaging, but damn, if it wasn’t more than I expected from a comic book film.

*So with the Falcon in the picture now, and Don Cheadle in the Iron Man series, when is Thor going to get his own black sidekick?

Clint’s Verdict: Loved It!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever someone previously thought dead is shown to be alive
2) Drink whenever a character starts running at full speed
3) Drink anytime someone says the words “freedom”, “SHIELD”, “order” or “chaos”
Finish Your Drink When:
Alexander Pierce says, “Did you get the flowers I sent you?”

Dom HemingwayDom Hemingway
Dir. Richard Shepard
Lionsgate

2014 seems to be a good year for middle-aged English actors getting to ham it up and go crazy in independent films; Ralph Fiennes got to knock it out of the park last month with The Grand Budapest Hotel, and here comes Jude Law in the gangster dramedy Dom Hemingway. Here, Law plays the muttonchopped, egotistical Cockney gangster of the film’s title – a self-aggrandizing thug who speaks of himself often in florid monologue. (Think Tom Hardy’s turn in Bronson, but without quite as much of the mental instability.)

Just out of prison, Dom attempts to get back into his old life and receive his reward by gang leader Fontaine (Demian Bichir) for keeping quiet all those years, only to find himself penniless, friendless and desperate to reconnect with his estranged hipster daughter (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke). All the while, he tries to curb his bad habits while also trying to handle his life post-crime with one-handed best friend Dickie (Withnail & I’s Richard E. Grant).

The film, by design, lives or dies on Law’s performance, and it is absolutely magnetic – while Dom’s abrasive lyricism reeks of artificiality, it’s still compelling to watch as Law makes sweet, sweet love to every syllable that comes out of his mouth. To be fair, it’s perfect for the character, who vacillates between existential dread and sadness and loudly proclaiming to the world that “I AM DOM HEMINGWAY!” Unfortunately, the film he is placed in is far less interesting than he is; divided into chapters, the first half of the film sees Dom, Dickie and Fontaine settling the issue of Dom’s reparations in a wackadoo world of giant monkey paintings, elephant guns and ornate cars – a world Dom fits right into.

However, after a devastating car crash and the theft of the money he was owed, Dom is thrown suddenly into contemporary London, a place that is so far removed from his own personality it’s an entirely different world. While the concept is interesting, it falls short by being such a jarring tonal shift that not even Dom knows what to do in it. If anything, Dom’s alienation from modern London feels like a reflection of the anachronism of making a film like this today, with its influences so firmly rooted in late 90s/early 2000s Guy Ritchie films.

Clarke is barely given the screen time or personality to make an impression, and the film teases a return back to Dom’s old life far too often to get invested in his potential adjustment to being a normal person. The film shines most when Dom is able to shine, particularly in a late-film scene in which he is tasked with opening a safe to earn a job. However, plot and character threads are picked up and put down with such frustrating rapidity that no one is given the space to breathe – even Dom. The ending of the film is equally abrupt, leaving the picture as a whole unsatisfying.

Overall, Dom Hemingway is a treat for Jude Law alone (as well as Richard E. Grant’s deliciously smarmy supporting role), but the movie itself is consistent with its style and sloppy with its pacing, to the point where you almost hope for a sequel so you can see the character more in his element.

Clint’s Verdict: Worth a Watch

Dom Hemingway Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever Dom (Jude Law) goes on long, florid monologues
2) Drink any time new chapter headings appear
3) Drink every time someone gets injured/punched/etc.
Finish Your Drink When:
Dom says, “Well, I’ll be the Vatican’s cunt.”

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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