Monday, June 30, 2014

WTF? Hair (1979)


 

                Should war movie musicals even exist?  The answer would seem to be “no”.  However, having seen and loved “Oh! What a Lovely War” I have an open mind about this.  Plus it’s not like they are taking over the genre.  It would be hard to compile a top ten list when there are only two movies in the subgenre.  Let me know if you can think of any other examples.  “Hair” is the movie version of the famous stage musical.  It was directed by Milos Forman and received generally good reviews.  It was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical.  The dance scenes were choreographed by Twyla Tharp.  The plot was substantially different from the play.

                A country boy named Claude (John Savage) arrives in New York City to join the Army and go off to Vietnam.  Before induction, he meets a group of hippies in Central Park.  They are dancing and singing “Age of Aquarius”.  The flower children are led by the charismatic George (Treat Williams).  These free spirits introduce the rube  to drugs, free love, and pacifism.  Oh, and they are also anti-social status as is seen in their crashing an upper class party at the repressed Sheila’s (Beverly D’Angelo) family mansion.  Sheila joins the troupe and is interested in the evolving Claude.  More dance-laced scenes ensue, but all good trips must come to an end and Claude goes off to boot camp.  We get the only training montage done to music that I have ever seen.  Thank God Twyla did not choreograph this.  Hippies leave no man behind so George and the others drive to Nevada to allow Sheila to say goodbye.  George switches places with Claude.  Hey, it’s a musical.  This switch is temporary, of course.  Claude goes off to Vietnam with a smile on his face, or does he.


Drugs can get you high
                When you are a war movie reviewer, sometimes you have to watch movies you know you will not like.  In this case, I wanted to turn off the movie after 15 minutes, but I stuck with it just to say I watched the whole thing.  I don’t regret it, but I’m not going to brag to my friends about it.  The songs are good and some are great.  The dance numbers are not as silly as I expected.  The movie definitely has the look of a play, but it is not stage-bound.  The acting is fine from a cast that was fairly new.  Treat Williams is outstanding as George.  Interestingly, it was his second big role and the first had been in “The Eagle Has Landed”.  Savage was one year removed from “The Deer Hunter”!  D’Angelo was at the beginning of a nice run that included an Academy Award nomination the next year for “Coal Miner’s Daughter”.  (Oh, and she gets nude twice, if that means anything to you.)  Forman does a good job directing and throws in some tricks like rotating the camera and long range shots.  However, the film is most memorable for the dance numbers. 


Never invite hippies to a dinner party!
                The plot is fairly predictable.  Not if you saw the play.  It differs substantially from the play.  In the play, Claude is already a hippie in the group.  Sheila is also in the group and is in love with Claude and George. The movie has both Claude and Sheila being liberated.  The movie makes a major change by having George end up in Vietnam.  These changes would seem to be an improvement over the play, although the writers of the play would disagree as they were upset with the film version. The play has more of an anti-war theme.  The movie concentrates more on the freewheeling lifestyle of the hippies.  It does not really comment much on the war and surprisingly is not even overtly anti-military.


                In conclusion, I am not a big musical fan although I do have a few favorites.  I would not number “Hair” among them and that’s not because I am anti-hippie.  It does have some good songs and some of them are iconic for my generation so I would recommend it to Baby Boomers just because it’s part of our heritage. 

GRADE  =  C 
 
trailer
 
 

Friday, June 27, 2014

CRACKER? Defiance (2008)



                “Defiance” is an Edward Zwick (“Glory”) film that was released in 2008.  Zwick was inspired by an obituary for Zus Bielski.  He based the screenplay on Nechama Tec’s Defiance: The Bielski Partisans.  The movie was made in Lithuania in a forest about a hundred miles from the location in Belarus where the Bielskis actually conducted their operations.  The movie was a modest success.  It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score by James Newton Howard. 

                The movie opens in Nazi-occupied Belarus in August, 1941.  The Einsatzgrupen with help of local police were rounding up Jews and either deporting them or executing them.  Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael Bielski (Jamie Bell) return home to find their parents dead, but their younger brother Aron alive in a hiding place.  They take to the woods where they are joined by their older brother Tuvia (Daniel Craig).  A mass grave in the woods makes it clear what the alternative to life in the forest is.  The brothers are joined by refugees that are uniformly unfit for survival away from their cushy urban lives.  The first order of business for the brothers is to take revenge against the local policeman who was responsible for the murder of their parents.  When the hot-headed Zus learns of the death of his wife, all he wants is more revenge.  A nifty ambush of a German vehicle ends in disaster and causes Tuvia to rethink things.  Faced with the continual influx of refugees,  Tuvia assumes the leadership role and establishes a policy of putting survival above revenge.  “Our revenge is to live.”  Zus disagrees with this wimpiness (“You don’t have the stomach to do what needs to be done”) and leaves to join a Russian partisan unit led by Viktor Panchenko (Ravil Isyanov).  This happens after a kick-ass fight between Tuvia and Zus.  The boys aren’t much for talking.  There are plenty of intellectuals in the camp for that.

"I just thought of a great way
to meet chicks"
                Survival doesn’t mean forgoing everything, so each of the brothers gets a love interest.  The Jews develop a concept called “forest wives” because dudes gotta get some nookie even under dire circumstances and even though they might be married at the time.  Leadership means having to shoot an asshole who is not only challenging your authority, but moving in on your brother’s forest girlfriend.  Tuvia goes all in on the arboreal sanctuary concept by leading expeditions into the local ghetto to recruit more mouths to feed.  One of the newbies is a comely lass named Lilka who provides a partner for Tuvia. 

                The Bielski Brigade does its best to create a livable camp in the forest.  Urbanites chip in to build the camp in a montage, of course.  The hardships include lack of food and an outbreak of typhus.  The need for ampicilin gives Zus the opportunity to go bad-ass on a police station.  Crises develop to keep the inhabitants from getting too complacent.  A woman violates Tuvia’s "no babies" policy.  A captured German gives the camp some outlet for all of their pent up feelings in a grim, but realistic scene.  The movie spends time with Zus as he fights with the partisans.  He evolves into quite the warrior, foreshadowing the Israeli Army.

Not all Jews went meekly
                The Germans eventually get their act together and assault the camp.  Asael leads the rearguard and Tuvia leads the exodus.  This time the sea is not parted, but the people press on to the inevitable Hollywood set piece which includes the cavalry arriving and a reconciliation of antagonists.

                As my readers know, I put a lot of value on war movies that bring obscure, but worthy people and/or incidents to cinematic light.  Zwick’s “Glory” did this for Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts.  This effort is less successful, but still a decent achievement.  Like “Glory”, “Defiance” takes some liberties with historical truth to enhance the entertainment.  The screenplay tweaks the brothers a bit.  Tuvia was the oldest and the leader, but Asael was actually older than Zus and not the milquetoast set up for transformation.  Tuvia and Zus were not at odds with each other.  The brothers did link up in the forest near their home, but this was after their parents were taken away and were victims of a mass execution.  The creation of the camp was well rendered and the various hardships are authentic, if not based on actual incidents.  Typhus was a problem, for instance. The “civilian” characters in the camp are typical Hollywood stereotypes.   The romances were Hollywood’s way of taking a relationship, wiping the record clean, and reconstructing it to Hollywood standards.  Less acceptable is the Zus arc.  Although his stint with the partisans is a nice balance to Tuvia’s camp scenes, in reality the brothers were not separated like this.  In fact, the relationship with the partisans is melodramatized.  The Bielski’s had more of a partnership with them and often joined with them for operations.  The real Panchenko was more cooperative.  More disturbingly, the last third of the movie really abandons veracity.  Although they were forced to flee several times, the movie composites them and adds quite a lot of violence that did not occur.  This is especially true of the feel good ending which reminds of the conclusion of “We Were Soldiers” in its departure from reality.

"Hey, wasn't this supposed to be parted?"
                The movie is technically sound as are Zwick films. He uses the forest location well and the snowy environment adds to the palpable hardships the Jews have to overcome.  The strength of the film is the acting.    Craig does an excellent job portraying the imperfections of Tuvia.  He is not a saint and he shows human weaknesses and doubts.  (Some will quibble about his inconsistent accent, but I have never focued on this type of thing.)  Schreiber is equally strong in a less dimensional role, but he gets to do the cathartic stuff that is audience pleasing.  The movie wisely balances the two characters including some well-crafted  intercutting scenes.  The cast is outstanding and the characters are intriguing.  In a refreshing divergence, the Nazis remain faceless.  The potentially villainous Panchenko is actually multidimensional and realistically represents the Soviet attitude towards the Jews.  The love interests are strong females. In fact, another refreshing aspect of the movie is the depiction of the Jews as survivors, not victims.  This is not your typical Holocaust movie.  It is more in line with “Escape from Sobibor”.  The most memorable scene involves the German prisoner.  Talk about cathartic.

                The weakness of the movie is its predictability.  Much of the plot developments are telegraphed.  You know someone will get pregnant in spite of the "no babies" policy, for instance.  The themes are trite.  Do you have to become a monster to fight monsters?  The movie answers no.  Community is important.  Everyone has a role to play.  When you are knocked down, pick yourself up and start over.  Life goes on.  The movie is basically a collection of aphorisms, but that’s okay because those themes deserve to be emphasized.

"Do you take this beautiful Hollywood
actress to be your not lawfully wedded
forest wife?"
                I have not mentioned the action yet.  It is quite good.  There are several graphic action sequences that are in the recent war movie cinematography style.  The assault on the police station in particular uses stop action (six frames per second) to a cool effect.  It is noteworthy that the movie realistically depicts how it ain’t that easy to hit a target in combat.

                Overall, I have to give the movie a positive review.  It is not in a league with “Glory”, but it tells an important story in an entertaining, if overly Hollywoodized way.  There is a nice blend of character development, drama, and action.  But most importantly, how many people had heard of the Bielski brothers before this movie gave them the fame they deserved?  I know I had never heard of them.  I am thankful to Hollywood for that and for the motivation to read more about them.  Movies can be educational as well as entertaining and historical movies can inspire us to learn more.

GRADE  =  B
 
the trailer


HISTORY or HOLLYWOOD:  Defiance

1.       The Bielski farm was raided by Nazis and their parents were murdered.

2.       Tuvia returns home to reunite with his three brothers.

3.        Tuvia breaks into a collaborating cops home and kills him for his role in the deaths of his parents.

4.       The brothers establish a camp in the woods where Jewish refugees flow in to join them.

5.       The brothers begin to ambush collaborators and Germans.

6.       Tuvia takes command and forbids revenge killings and wanton looting.

7.       All three of the brothers take “forest wives”.

8.       They have to flee because the camp is ratted out by a local.

9.       They form an uneasy relationship with Russian partisans led by Panchenko. 

10.    Zus disagrees with Tuvia’s policy of survival over revenge so he joins the partisans.

11.    Tuvia visits the ghetto to recruit more people.

12.    Tuvia kills his horse for food.

13.    Because typhus is a problem, Zus leads a raid on a police station to acquire drugs.

14.    Tuvia’s policy of sharing the food equally leads to a coup attempt that Tuvia deals with by shooting the ring leader.

15.    When a German soldier is captured, the Jews execute him by mob.

16.    Tuvia forbids pregnancies.

17.    The camp comes under attack and they have to cross a swamp to reach safety.

18.    Upon reaching dry ground, the Jews defeat a German unit with a tank with the help of Zus’ partisan buddies.

THE ANSWERS

1.        The Bielski farm was raided by Nazis and their parents were murdered.  Histywood  The Bielski’s owned a mill.  The parents were taken away and died in a mass execution and were interred in a mass grave.  Aron was hiding behind a tree when the arrest was made.

2.       Tuvia returns home to reunite with his three brothers.  History  Tuvia returns to find his three brothers living in the woods.  Tuvia brought with him the woman he had hooked up with after leaving his wife with her family when she refused to go with him.  Azael was actually the second oldest and had been the head of the family after their father had entered semi-retirement.    

3.        Tuvia breaks into a collaborating cops home and kills him for his role in the deaths of his parents.  Histywood  The brothers and two partisans broke into a policeman’s house at dinnertime to acquire weapons.  The man was turned over to the local partisan unit headed by a man named Gromov.  Gromov gave them some weapons and suggested they form a unit.  They ended up calling their unit the “Marshal Zhukov group”.

4.       The brothers establish a camp in the woods where Jewish refugees flow in to join them.  History  At first, it was just relatives.  The movie accurately indicates that the brothers were mainly interested in saving as many Jews as possible.

5.       The brothers begin to ambush collaborators and Germans.  History 

6.       Tuvia takes command and forbids revenge killings and wanton looting.  History  Actually Tuvia was voted on as leader.  He did control the looting in attempts not to alienate the local population, however they still occasionally demanded food at gunpoint.

7.       All three of the brothers take “forest wives”.  Histywood  The concept is accurately portrayed and all three brothers did find mates, but the mates were inaccurately depicted.  Tuvia’s “companion” Sonia was killed when a house she was sheltering in was raided.  He then “married” a woman named Lilka who was 17.  She had a crush on him from before the war.  Azael married Haya.  They also had known each other before the war.  Zus did marry a woman named Sonia, but he was the initiator of the relationship.  There are many who believe the brothers used their position to take advantage of women.

8.       They have to flee because the camp is ratted out by a local.  Histywood  They had to flee several times for a variety of reasons, but not specifically because of this.

9.       They form an uneasy relationship with Russian partisans led by Panchenko.  Histywood  Panchenko was an actual person, but he was only 20 years old when they first met him.  At first he was suspicious of the Bielski’s because of rumors that they were looting.  An investigation proved these accusations were unfounded and after that the relationship was cordial. 

10.    Zus disagrees with Tuvia’s policy of survival over revenge so he joins the partisans.  Hollywood  The brothers seldom disagreed on policies.  Zus did not leave the camp to join the partisans.  In fact, their unit often conducted sabotage and ambush missions with Panchenko’s unit.

11.    Tuvia visits the ghetto to recruit more people.  Histywood  Tuvia did believe there was strength in numbers (one of the few things Azael and Zus disagreed with him about), but he did not go into the ghetto himself.  He sent in messages encouraging Jews to leave and then sent men to guide the refugees out.  Most of them left through a tunnel, not a hole in a wall.

12.    Tuvia kills his horse for food.  Histywood  This incident happened with a different group of Jews.

13.    Because typhus is a problem, Zus leads a raid on a police station to acquire drugs. Hollywood  Typhus was a problem, but the raid was added for action.

14.    Tuvia’s policy of sharing the food equally leads to a coup attempt that Tuvia deals with by shooting the ring leader.  Hollywood  Tuvia actually had a policy of giving food priority to the men who went on missions to get it.  He did shoot an insubordinate follower, but it was not over food.

15.    When a German soldier is captured, the Jews execute him by mob.  Histywood  A similar incident occurred in a different camp.

16.    Tuvia forbids pregnancies.  Hollywood  I found no evidence of this.

17.    The camp comes under attack and they have to cross a swamp to reach safety.  History  This happened, but they left before the camp came under attack.  There was no rearguard action as shown in the film.

18.    Upon reaching dry ground, the Jews defeat a German unit with a tank with the help of Zus’ partisan buddies.  Hollywood  There was no kick Nazi ass, happy ending with redemption for Zus.  Zus was with them the whole time.
  

POST SCRIPT:  At this point, they set up a camp on an “island” in the swamp, but they were beset by food shortages and the area was surrounded by hostile forces.  Zus led a breakout by eighty fighters and they led the way back to the previous camp.  Later, the Soviets conscripted Zus and the combatants to join their partisans and Azael was forced into a staff position.  Only Tuvia remained in the camp to lead the noncombatants.
 
 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

DUELING MOVIES: Gung Ho! (1943) vs. Darby’s Rangers (1958)




VS.
 
 
 

 
                I like small unit movies, especially when they bring light to actual units that performed ably in war.  “Gung Ho!” and “Darby’s Rangers” are two of those types of movies.  Each covers the formation, training, and combat involvement of two storied World War II units.  “Gung Ho!” is the story of the Second Marine Raider Battalion led by Lt. Col. Evans Carlson and its raid on Makin Island.  “Darby’s Rangers” is the tale of the 1st Ranger Battalion led by Maj. William Darby and its involvement in the Battle of Cisterna in Italy.

                “Gung Ho!” is based on a magazine article written by one of the participants in the raid.  One of the technical advisers was Carlson.  It was directed by Ray Enright.  The Marine Corps cooperated with the film, but insisted that Carlson not be singled out.  The main character is Col. Thorwald (Randolph Scott).  His call for volunteers results in the usual Hollywoodized heterogeneous unit that includes a hick, a Brooklynite, a minister, and two dysfunctional brothers in love with the same girl.  It also is multi-ethnic with a Greek, an Irishman, an Hispanic, and a Chinesese-American.  Each volunteer is asked “why do you want to kill Japs?”  One of the correct answers in the montage is: “I just don’t like Japs”.  Carlson adopts the Chinese motto of “gung ho” which means “work in harmony”.  He is a “players’ coach” who cares about his men and listens to them.


"Okay, men.  When you get shot, don't forget to throw
your arms up in the air like this."
                The training montage has Chet Huntley (if you know who that is - hail, fellow baby boomer) as its narrator and sounds like an instructional film as he describes why they are learning certain things.  The men are taught unsporting methods that feature dirty tricks like spitting in your opponents face.  Thorwald counsels his men that they will have an advantage because the Japs lack initiative.  (Actually true.)  The training on Hawaii allows the film to remind the audience of the destruction of Pearl Harbor with some actual footage.  They are assigned a mission to raid a Japanese held island.  They get there via two submarines. The assault is action-packed.


"Yes, sir - kill the Japs.  Will do, sir."
                The movie is as accurate as could be hoped for.  Thorwald is pretty close to Carlson in personality and tactics.  Carlson had learned guerrilla tactics while serving in China.  He did adopt his slogan from the Chinese.  None of the other characters in the film are based on real people.  This was a dubious decision as one of the Raiders was Sgt. Clyde Thompson whose valor in the battle resulted in him becoming the first Marine to earn the Medal of Honor in WWII.  The final assault on Butaritari (one of the Makin Islands) is highly fictionalized.  They did get there via submarines, but there was no depth charging.  The ridiculous painting of the American flag to lure the Japanese aircraft to fratricide was obvious bull crap.  The movie was not interested in portraying the fact that nine men were accidentally left behind and the difficulties with the egress in high seas. The movie ends with the impression that the raid was an unqualified success.  In reality,  the goals of acquiring intelligence and bringing back prisoners were unfulfilled.  Not surprisingly, the movie makers were not interested in surmising that the raid actually had the unintended consequence of waking the Japanese up to the weaknesses of their island defenses.      


RANDOLPH SCOTT!
                “Gung Ho!” is surprisingly good.  There is lots of action and if you like stabbings, this movie is for you.  The acting is fine, if a bit earnest.  Randolph Scott is his usual stolid self and Robert Mitchum makes the last of his seventeen acting credits for 1943.  There’s nothing special about the cinematography, but what would you expect from a standard 1940s war movie?  Similar could be said about the unexceptional score.  The sound effects are good, however.  The screenplay does avoid clichés which is refreshing and the linear plot flows well.  Also refreshing is there is only one romance and it is minor (just enough for the movie poster).  It is propagandistic and patriotic, but not cloyingly.  Although the movie does close with Thorwald giving another speech about the fight for freedom as patriotic music swells.  The themes of teamwork, showing initiative, and fighting for American values are clearly advanced.

                “Darby’s Rangers” was released in 1958.  William Wellman (“The Story of G.I. Joe” / “Battleground”) supposedly made it in exchange for studio funding for his pet “Lafayette Escadrille”.  The studio insisted on a movie similar to the wildly popular “Battle Cry”.  The screenplay was “suggested” by the eponymous book by Maj. James Attieri.  The movie was bizarringly titled “The Young Invaders” in the United Kingdom.    The choice of black and white was done to help with the blending of archival footage.

                The movie opens with Maj. Darby (James Garner in a role originally meant for Charleston Heston) taking command of a new unit intended as an American version of the British Commandoes.  He describes the Rangers as the “tip of the javelin”.  On his wall are slogans like “Danger to a Ranger is no stranger”.  He picks a heterogeneous unit and then makes the head-scratching decision to billet the men with British families.  How this will toughen them for suicide missions is perplexing.  It does put them is in contact with British females for some truly gag-worthy romantic subplots.  One of these has a recruit courting the daughter of their crusty British drill instructor.  The highlight is when the designated unit villain leers at a British wife and says “I hope I can fit in” while holding a phallic symbol!  The training montage features the most pratfalls I have ever seen in a war movie and this is not even supposed to be a comedy.  Good drinking game – take a drink every time someone falls. 


"To be an effective fighting force, my men must
have a lot of sex!"
                One hour into the movie we get our first taste of combat in North Africa and it lasts two minutes.  That’s right, we sat through an hour of lame-ass romantic subplots and this is our reward!  From there it’s on to Italy for an extended battle with a sniper and some laugh out loud deaths.  Again, I had to check to make sure this was not a comedy.  We get the clichéd appearance of Axis Sally:  “Don’t get caught, Chicago gangsters.  You’ll be shot.”  A Lt. Dittman (Edd Byrnes – if that name does not cause a flutter, you were not a teenage girl in the 50s) to be a book-following foil to the lenient Darby.  And to show that just because you are fighting in Italy does not mean you can’t have great hair.  This also allows the movie to add one more romantic subplot.  Arrrgh!  Join the Rangers – get a dame.  The film “builds” to the big set piece which is the Battle of Cisterna (part of the Anzio campaign).  If you think this is going to pull the movie out of the trash can, think again.


"If we don't get off this sound stage
we'll never have romance again"
                The First Ranger Battalion deserved an historically accurate movie.  This movie is not it.  The reason for its creation is accurate, but not the specifics of how it was Gen. Truscott’s idea.  The training was intense, but it was highly unlikely they had a lot of time for wooing British birds in their own homes.  The movie skips over the unit’s involvement in Dieppe, Algeria, and Tunisia.  It was noted for raids behind enemy lines.  Then it was sent to Italy and its mission changed.  Similar to the 1st Special Service Force (The Devil's Brigade), which also fought at Anzio, Darby’s Rangers were improperly used as shock troops.  Its mission at Cisterna was to capture the town and hold it until the main force arrived.  Seventeen Panzer IVs had something to say about that.  The battle lasted seven hours and only 6 of 767 members survived and the unit was disbanded soon afterward.  The disaster had no silver lining as the movie claims. 
Did you know that a good way to get tight with
your drill instructor is to make moves on his daughter?


                This is a terrible movie.  One of the worst I have seen.  It is also very disappointing because the 1st Ranger Battalion did not get the recognition it should have.  The ridiculous plot is degrading.  The acting is poor.  It has the usual pompous Max Steiner score.  (Is there anything in war movie history that has stood the test of time worse than Max Steiner scores?)  The sets are back lots and decidedly fake looking.  The movie is tedious and the action is anemic and very unrealistic.  All ten minutes of it.  At one point, they attack an 88 and the Germans leave their trenches to make a banzai attack.  Dittman uses a mortar like a grenade launcher.  Wellman clearly did not have his heart in the movie and sadly his “Lafayette Escadrille” was not the career capper that he hoped for.  Wellman stopped making movies in 1958 and when you look at this 1940s crap stuck in the late 50s when war movies were making the transition to cynicism, you can see that he had overstayed.  Most of the blame must go to the studio who insisted that audiences wanted war soap operas.
 
                  In conclusion, although "Gung Ho!" is an average WWII film, it is superior to the lame-ass "Darby's Rangers".

 

GRADES:
Gung Ho!  =  C
Darby’s Rangers  =  F-

Gung Ho! trailer

   

Saturday, June 21, 2014

CRACKER? Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)


 

                I am not a big superhero fan, but I do love war movies so why not review a hybrid.  “Captain America” is a superhero who is a soldier and was involved in fighting Germany in WWII.  The character was created in 1941 and helped the good guys win the war.  He then went on to fight in the Cold War.  Lately, he has been tasked to join the Avengers to fight modern villains.  “Captain America:  The First Avenger” is a movie that goes back to the character’s origins. 

                The movie has your typical superhero opening with the discovery of something mysterious.  The setting is Norway in 1942.   An evil Nazi named Schmidt finds something Norse.  The object which has enormous potential power is called the Tesseract.  Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) is the leader of Hydra which is the German weapons development organization.  Meanwhile, in America, a wimpy looking Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) dreams of joining the military, but he can’t pass the physical.  His genuine desire to serve his country and the fact that he is from Brooklyn catches the attention of a scientist who recruits him for a super-soldier project.  Rogers volunteers for injection of a serum which will convert him into an awesome physical specimen (like if Rambo and the Terminator had a baby).  The new and improved Rogers is manned up by the gruff, grizzled, growly Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones).  He is chaperoned by the sexy British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).  At first, he is used for propaganda purposes and to sell war bonds (and pin-ups for WACS), but you can bet he has a date with Schmidt (aka the Red Skull).  In the honored tradition of superhero movies (and all recent action movies in general), the villain is hissably despicable.  And that’s before he lifts his mask to reveal a red skull.  Schmidt considers Hitler to be a pussy.

Can you guess who the bad guy is?
 
                Captain America arranges a meeting with the Red Skull and they negotiate an end to their differences.  Just kidding.  There is a big set piece where Cap infiltrates the Hydra factory to rescue a potential heterogeneous squad of he-men followers and his best friend (the world was smaller back then).  A raids montage follows which includes a fight with a German tank that apparently ate three Tiger tanks.  Cap goes medieval on the Nazis by using  a shield.  (Did they throw shields in the Middle Ages?)  We also get an Aston-Martin motorcycle ala James Bond.  There’s a Star Wars forest scene (without Ewoks, thankfully).  A train scene like you’ve never seen before.  Just kidding.  This all builds up to the climactic duel on a Hydra futuristic bomber (which was based on two actual Nazi designs – thank God the war ended early) complete with Japanese ohka-like suicide rockets.

                I have to say that “Captain America” is not as ridiculous as most superhero movies.  The acting is fine and the cast is appealing.  Tommy Lee Jones is perfectly cast as himself.  He admitted that his character has been seen in thousands of war movies.  Chris Evans is studly and sturdy as the Captain.  Kudos to him for losing a tremendous amount of weight and allowing his muscles to atrophy so he could shoot the pre-serum scenes and then eating, weight-training, and steroiding his way to his Captain America self.  Just kidding.  It was Hollywood magic.  His hero is pure, but not diabetes-inducing.  However, if you are looking for Batman-like personal strife, forget it.  The Red Skull is an acceptable villain although he was more interesting before he pulled his mask off.  There is no character development of the squad, but why bother when they were going to be left in the 1940s?  The dialogue is surprisingly kind to your brain cells. 

                The problem is not with the characters.  It’s with the plot.  It is predictable and even throws in the best-friend-has-to-die-to-make-it-personal trope.  Not to mention the sexy, girl-with-a-gun (but perfect hair) love interest.  The plot is extremely unrealistic and takes a big chance by setting itself in a real historical event, but the futuristic weapons shoved into the 1940s are cool.  It is like they had to make this movie to get Captain America into the present so he could join the Avengers, but they could not avoid sending weapons back in time to appear in the movie.  The action scenes are typically busy and explosive. And ridiculous.  All of these scenes have been cribbed from other action flicks, but the target audience for superhero movies doesn’t seem to care about originality.  As usual, the ratio of deaths to wounded is extremely high, but this is true for standard war movies.  Also the inability of the bad guys to hit the broad side of a barn makes it very frustrating if you are rooting for them (which probably hurt the movies box office with Skinheads and Jihadists).

                Overall, it is a fun variation of a war movie.  I can see it making my 100 Best War Movies list.  Just kidding.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am appreciative of what Captain America did to help the Allies win WWII, but I cannot condone drug abuse.

 

GRADE  =  C+