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Dude Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

When I was training to be a newspaper reporter, I learned never to bury the lead. Which meant, always start with the most important stuff right up front.

Not in the second paragraph.

And certainly never in the third.

I am, however, willing to state here, in the fourth paragraph, uncategorically, that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a fantastic, rip-roaring, rootin’-tootin’, bad-guy shooting, uplifting, side-splitting fantastically good movie.

I liked it, is what I’m trying to say.

I thought it would be difficult for any Marvel movie to surpass the wonder that is Marvel’s The Avengers, which I thought might have been one of the best movies of the decade at least. And, to be sure, CA: TWS, doesn’t surpass The Avengers, but it comes darn close.

Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury, while Scarlett Johansson also is back as Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow. They’re joined by Anthony Mackie, playing Sam Wilson, the Falcon, and a host of other folks, including Robert Redford as S.H.I.E.L.D. high-muckety-muck Alexander Pierce.

And they all — every single one of them — are fantastic in their role. The Black Widow, instead of being a girlfriend, or a pawn, or a sacrifice to make the male hero’s journey personal, is a formidable hero in her own right, facing down doubts and horrors from her past. She also benefits from the double-edged sword that is Captain America: She believes she can be better because Captain America believes she is better and she doesn’t want to let him down.

That’s only one of the things that makes Steve Rogers such a dangerous man.

Not only is the film well acted, but it’s filled with astonishing special effects, drastic fight scenes, Easter eggs too numerous to count (including the birth of at least two new villains, a certain tombstone near the end and namechecking the Sorcerer Supreme), and — believe it or not — an extended meditation on the idea of freedom versus security.

Following the events in New York, chronicled in Marvel’s The Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. is all set to step out and take over world security. This eagerness is making Captain America a bit wary as it seems S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to start killing people before they actually commit a crime.

Should Americans and, by extension, the world give up their freedoms to become safer from a world that now contains super soldiers, aliens, gods and ten-foot-tall rampaging rage monsters?

Unfortunately, it’s not a question that will get answered in this movie, because it turns out that the entire operation has been compromised by Hydra, the bad guys from the first Cap film. Which means that the entire notion is, prima fascia, a bad idea. It sort of deflates the argument I was having in my head there, but I applaud the movie for at least bringing it up.

I’m also amazed by the actual change displayed in this movie. In most action series, there’s a set status quo and, once the movie is over, no matter what happened in the previous two hours, everything is back to the way it started. Not so in this movie.

Things change. Structures and organizations you thought were permanent fixtures of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been completely transformed.

And all this before the Winter Soldier hits the scene, himself stalking out of Captain America’s past with a secret that could shatter him without a fight.

So, yeah. It’s a great movie, not just a great superhero movie.

What I loved the most about this movie can be summed up in one amazing elevator ride.

Captain America is trying to leave the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters after telling a powerful person no. He steps in the elevator. Two floors down, several men get on. Several floors after that, more rough and tough men come on. Eventually, the elevator is packed with roughboys and Captain America, who realizes what’s about to happen.

Instead of immediately smacking them all silly, Captain America first tries to settle the situation peacefully.

“Before we get started,” he says, “does anyone want to get out?”

The answer is no, so then he wipes the elevator floor with them in an amazing fight scene that’s worth the price of admission all by itself.

Go pay said price of admission and enjoy yourself. This is a fantastic movie for the family or anyone else who enjoys action movies with fun, adventure, laughs and a couple of moments of genuine sadness and deep emotion.

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Dude Review: Gravity

I’m not one to gush. (Shut up, Tia and the Teaching Dutchman! Just shut up!)

Also, I’m normally late to the party any time I try to review a movie or something. It’s usually weeks to months after the movie has begun showing and most people already are over the whole thing. Both of which sort of contribute to the urgency of what I’m about to say next.

Go see Gravity now. As fast as you can. On the biggest screen you can find. And see it in 3D. The experience of seeing this movie is worth more than Hollywood is gouging you for the 3D and IMAX screen.

I kid you not, dudes. This is one of the most emotionally exhausting, physically involving, visually stunning movie that I have

Fear. Agoraphobia, fear of open spaces. Claustrophobia, fear of enclosed spaces. All at once.
Fear. Agoraphobia, fear of open spaces. Claustrophobia, fear of enclosed spaces. All at once.

seen in years. Most movies, I’m able to enjoy it because I never forget it’s only a movie. I don’t get frightened. During Gravity, I wasn’t frightened either. I was terrified. The movie sucked me into its reality and didn’t want to let me go.

Life of Pi was a beautiful movie that had some pretty good characters and dialogue. Marvel’s The Avengers still is hands-down the best movie of the decade, but that might say more about me than about the movie’s quality. Gravity though. . .

I’m almost not sure where to begin heaping superlatives on this movie. The direction? The visuals? The special effects? The casting?

Let’s start with the thing that will grab you first (especially if you’ll pop for the IMAX and 3): the visuals. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, the movie opens with at least a 10-minute-long tracking shot. That is, the scene never cuts but follows the actors and the setting for a solid 10 minutes without any editing or other film tricks used to make things easier on the director and cast.

In this case, the movie begins with three astronauts, played by Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Phaldut Sharma, working their way through a repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Played by Sandra Bullock, Dr. Ryan Stone, is more of a survivor than a hero.
Played by Sandra Bullock, Dr. Ryan Stone, is more of a survivor than a hero.

Long-time astronaut Matt Kowalski, played by Clooney, is tooling around the telescope in a maneuvering backpack to test out its capabilities. Shariff, played by Sharma, is working at the interface of the shuttle and the telescope. Ryan Stone, played by Bullock, is fighting back nausea and agoraphobia while trying to install a targeting device of her own devising into the telescope.

We know that Stone is suffering, not because anyone tells us this, but because we can actually see these things on Bullock’s face, read it in her posture. It is, honestly, a magnificent job by Bullock. I didn’t think she had it in her to be this good. I stand corrected.

As the exercise nears its end, the astronauts hear from mission control that the Russians have hit one of their own satellites with a missile to decommission the satellite. There’s debris, but nothing to worry about. Until it is. The satellite debris took out another satellite, which created more debris, which took out more satellites and so on and so on. (This is an actual concern. In 1978, NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler proposed a scenario in which debris from satellites causes a cascade, producing so much debris in stable orbit around Earth that we would be effectively barred from space. It’s called a Kessler Cascade or the Kessler Syndrome. So even more points for authenticity.)

The orbiting debris hits the area around the Hubble and basically destroys everything in its path. Shariff is killed immediately and, as we see later, rather graphically. Stone loses connection to the Hubble and spins off into space and Kowalski is nowhere to be heard. With the destruction of most of Earth’s low-Earth-orbit satellites, most of the long-distance communication capability is gone.

This, right here, is where the movie moved from enthralling to, frankly, frightening. Cuarón does an amazing job switching focus from an audience viewpoint to Stone’s viewpoint. The entire time this has been happening, there’s been no sound except for what characters say, the vibrations they would feel through their suit, and the musical score. And this is when that silence, which Stone had only just recently said she so adores, becomes oppressive.

Dr. Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski must depend on each other to survive the merciless void of space. But can they?
Dr. Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski must depend on each other to survive the merciless void of space. But can they?

The only way for anyone to survive is to find someone else and make their way to the shuttle to catch a ride home. And hope the shuttle hasn’t been destroyed. (It has.) And from there go to the International Space Station and hope the Soyuz emergency capsule hasn’t been used, leaving behind one that has already deployed a parachute. (It has and it has.) Obstacles arise almost faster than we can process them. And, above it all, is the ticking clock as the orbiting debris comes around the Earth for another shot at any surviving astronauts.

The movie lasts only 90 minutes, but I’ve never been as worn out by a movie in as short a time. Literally, my body was sore from how tense I was during the movie. I cringed, clawed at the arms of the chair, kicked out in fear and, more than once, ducked down in my seat to dodge incoming debris. I was tired, emotionally and physically exhausted, when I finally stumbled out of the IMAX theater.

Dudes, I kid you not. This movie doesn’t really deserve the hype. It exceeds the hype. It deserves more hype.

In fact, I’m going to round up the family (what’s left of it still in town, that is) and make them go with me to see this movie again. It’s one of those movies that I think we all should see because it’s such an amazing experience. You should go see it as well.

Dudes, do I really have to rate this? Okay, I’ll give it six dudes out of a possible five.

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Giving Greetings In His Native Tongue

You know, there’s a reason Sarcasmo is called Sarcasmo.

Mostly, I’m thinking that all comes down to him having been corrupted by a certain bad influence for long periods of time than his younger brothers. Not that I’m going to name names. Something about the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution or something.


Anyway. Today’s a big day for Sarcasmo. It’s the day he gets to finally have a birthday without a zero or one in front of his age. He’s not 06, nor 16, but 20. Which, oddly, is more frightening than I thought it would be, having a little dude in his 20s. You know, I’m just going to stop doing that right now. Let’s be positive.

The reason Sarcasmo is called Sarcasmo is because he believes sarcasm is his native language. Not English. No, that would be far too easy. Instead, he likes to refer to sarcasm as just one of many services he offers.

Oh, right. Like he’s got any sort of monopoly on that. Erm. Ah. Or something.

As I was saying before that bit of sarcasm slipped in, Sarcasmo has had a number of different names over the years, but this is the only one that was 100-percent Sarcasmo approved. He likes to think it fits his self image of a worldly man. I’ll not mention the other ones because I don’t want to have the young dude stroke out on his birthday.

Although it’s sometimes hard to remember that he’s the same child I once held in my arm (that’s arm, not arms. Arm. I could balance him on my forearm, with my palm cupping his head. He loved that.) when I think of my now about 6-foot-4-inch young man, there’s still a little of the baby dude in his eyes.

Even though he’s spent the last half decade or more attempting to grow a hard, cynical outer shell so as not to take anything more than glancing blows from an angry world, I believe at his heart there still exists a core of effervescent joy constantly seeking out the marvelous and wonderful in the world around us. Being older, but not old enough, it can have a hard time showing through, but I see it in his actions, if not most of the words.

Sarcasmo is one of the scariest-smart dudes I’ve ever met. If he ever begins to use his powers for evil, instead of good, I, for one, am running for the horizon at speed. This is a dude who has the tools to create a world of his choosing, should he only choose to use them.

It’s tradition on birthdays that the loved ones surrounding the birthday dude or dudette give gifts. There’s one gift I’d like to give Sarcasmo that I don’t think he’ll take, but I’d like to see him do it anyway. It’s this metaphorical hammer and chisel to maybe crack open that cynical shell a bit and let some of the joy in the world seep inside.

Sarcasmo is a young dude’s nickname. Here’s hoping he earns and accepts a new one.

Until then, though, it’s time to air kiss a bit of love his way. Happy birthday, Sarcasmo! We love you.

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