I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.”

Roald Dahl

Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel Soldiers On

I’ll come right out and admit to you all that I almost didn’t write this review, not because I had nothing to say about the movie, but because I am terribly biased. You see, there is very little in the realm of current pop culture that I love more than the Marvel cinematic universe. One of my three bookshelves is filled to the brim with comic books (and graphic novels) as well as Loki, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America figurines.

I love Marvel, damnit. I’m convinced it will take an Attack of the Killer Tomatoes level of movie badness to make me not go see a Marvel movie at least three times in theaters and then watch it obsessively once it’s out on DVD.

That being said, it can probably be agreed on that Captain America (as played by Chris Evans) has long been regarded as the risky card in Marvel’s movie deck. What could modern audiences find in the patriotic story of a good man turned soldier? How would a post-9/11, NSA wary America possibly connect with Steve Rogers?

In my internet travels, I’ve heard a lot of discussion about how Steve Rogers is the character everyone loves to mock. To many, he’s too patriotic. He’s a goody two shoes. He’s oblivious. He’s probably the most divisive character in Marvel’s cinematic universe right now.

Plus, the new uniform is pretty badass.

Plus, the new uniform is pretty badass.

However, I’ve also seen many, many eloquent defenders of the character. Many of them explain in far more brilliant ways than I can how Steve Rogers is exactly the kind of character we need right now.

I’ve often thought that my generation is a generation of pessimism. I know that the people around me that are my age certainly are and rightly so. We’re a generation faced with massive unemployment, a world that didn’t grow up on the internet like we did and a world that’s rapidly changing. It’s confusing and it’s made for a lot of bitter young people, many of whom really don’t believe in the idea of a hero anymore.

The media exposes all and nobody is really safe from scrutiny. Thus, people are just people and it’s hard to believe in a person anymore.

That being said, I believe in Steve Rogers and—judging by what I’ve heard from other fans online—so do a lot of other people.

The latest Marvel installment, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, goes a long way toward fleshing his character out. While he’s definitely still the ass-kicking, patriotic Captain America we saw in Captain America and The Avengers, he’s grown and the movie makes an effort to show that.

This Steve Rogers is slowly finding a place to stand in the modern world and is slowly trying to figure out what it means to be a legend in his own lifetime.

One of the many brilliant aspects of the way in which Marvel Studios has handled the production of its movies is that they have the ability to make characters grow from film to film. They can and do take the time to let the characters change and to show the viewer different aspects of them.

Confronted with betrayal on two fronts and the intrusion of an old friend (now enemy) into his life, this film shows Cap’s struggle to bring together both sides of his personality: Captain America and Steve Rogers. It shows his struggle and growth toward reconciling the fact that he is a hero and the fact that he’s lost everything and is, after all, only human.

We see the addition of a new friend and ally (Sam Wilson as played by Anthony Mackie) and we see the development of The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Captain America’s friendship.

The movie is simultaneously entertaining and stressful. It’s a tense film at times, to be sure. However, it also pits Captain America against both his future and his past and enemies old and new.

Most importantly, it breaks down quite a few of the stereotypes both fans and detractors have put onto this character. We see a Steve who is trying to fit into the new world rather successfully, who is ready and willing to question the government and SHIELD and who is most certainly not just a soldier following orders. This character, on film at least, has never just been a patriotic dunce and this movie makes that abundantly clear to anyone who hadn’t realized that in the first place.

Words Are Life: A Book Thief review

Sitting on my nightstand right now is a used copy of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Even as I write this review, it seems to be judging me. I know books can’t judge people, but it definitely feels like it.

You see, I try to not watch a movie that’s based on a book if I haven’t first read that book. I am at heart a judgmental snob (this very blog is proof of that) and I like to be able to trash a movie while being able to back up my trashing via book quotes. I’m just picky like that.

That being said, I broke my cardinal rule the other night. I watched the movie adaptation of The Book Thief. I initially felt guilty but that feeling was quickly swept away.

While I obviously can’t compare this film to the book, I’d say that as a casual viewer I found it to be enthralling. There is a quiet beauty to this film. Without being overly flashy or sentimental it gets its point across and packs a punch to your emotions.

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Narrated by none other than Death himself, the book and the movie tells the story of a German girl named Liesel Meminger, who is growing up in Nazi Germany as World War II begins and ramps up. She and her foster parents end up taking a risk that puts them on the wrong side of German law and, in the process, Liesel learns the importance of the written word and the power that words can have.

As one of the characters puts it, it’s a story about the simple fact that “words are life.” It charts many aspects of Liesel’s life, including learning to read, finding friendship in odd places and growing close to her foster parents. It’s a story about choices and platonic love in the face of astronomical danger.

It’s a good story and a worthwhile film. It both kept me entertained and touched me. It made me feel. It made me think.

Set in Germany as it is, it definitely puts a spin on the idea of a World War II film. So many movies about that era are from the perspective of an American that I sometimes feel like I know very little about how the rest of the world felt. This film gives a view of war through the perspective of a child.

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Liesel doesn’t really understand what caused the war or whose side she should be on. She sings along with Nazi anthems even as she begins to question what’s happening around her. It’s a valuable reminder that the “enemies” in a war are people, that these are human beings we’re dealing with.

It’s also a beautifully shot and acted film, with brilliant performances from both newcomers and veteran actors alike. I’m inclined to like anything with Geoffrey Rush in it.

It’s a story about love and growing up, a timeless theme to be sure. It’s worth a watch and it’s bound to entertain

Racism, Sexism, and Hannibal: Eat The Rude

Originally posted on Eat This:

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I’m an American actress and I play Beverly Katz on NBC’s HANNIBAL created by Bryan Fuller. (Spoiler Alert coming right now!!!) And she dies in episode 4 of Season 2. That episode got a lot of positive reviews, but it also incited an on-line storm of vitriol directed to Fuller himself for killing off Katz, or more specifically, for being racist and sexist. I caught wind of this myself via Twitter from our beloved Fannibals. And I thought maybe it’d be productive to talk about rather than ignore it.

Fuller cast me in a role that I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of getting. I rarely if ever see minorities, women, minority women, let alone Asian women, get to play characters like Beverly Katz. I rarely if ever see characters like Beverly Katz period. And her last name is Katz for Christ’s sake. Pretty open-minded, non-racist, pro-feminine…

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Indescribable Terror: A Guide to Alarming Characters

I am not, and never have been, easily scared by fiction. As a child, I watched Halloween and ended up giggling. My mother, the eternal Stephen King fan, allowed me to read his books at what could possibly be considered too young of an age. She used the fact that I had reached a 12th grade reading level by the 3rd grade as an excuse and I’m glad of that fact. Horror movies usually leave me yawning or just vaguely grossed out. I tend to roll my eyes when somebody says I should go see the latest “best horror movie ever.” That being said, there were certain characters or creatures in films that I saw as a child that scarred me for life. The vast majority of them were not even conventionally scary. They just freaked me out. There is something hideously wrong in my psyche that mandates I shouldn’t be freaked out by Jason Voorhees or Linda Blair but should instead be scared by weird, weird things. Here are a few of the not so understandable characters that freaked me out as a kid and, if I’m being honest, still do creep me right the hell out.

5. The Beast from The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

Eating policemen one step at a time.

Eating policemen one step at a time.

I will warn you now that this is not the first time the work of Ray Harryhausen appears on this list. That man created more childhood nightmares in my puny kid brain than just about anyone and I hope he somehow realized he was freaking kids out. Based on a Ray Bradbury short story and painstakingly stop motion animated by Harryhausen, this is the simple story of a dinosaur who is unfrozen from Arctic ice by nuclear testing. He then responds by rampaging through a city and eating innocent policemen, as monsters are wont to do. There is a family legend surrounding this movie and my response to it. As a toddler, my mother used movies to control my mood. To get me to be quiet, she’d stick The Jungle Book in. However, to get me to go to sleep immediately she’d stick this movie in. I’d pass out cold every time out of sheer terror. There’s still something deeply unsettling about all of Harryhausen’s creatures and this one still gives me the jitters, just based on it’s weird reptilian eyes and herky jerky movements. Thanks, Ray.

4. Large Marge from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

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AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

It has only occurred to me relatively recently that Tim Burton may have actually shaped my childhood. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a movie that I quote more than necessary. I have the Tequila dance down pat. However, Large Marge, a ghostly truck driver who picks Pee Wee up when he’s hitchhiking, still haunts my childhood memories. TELL ‘EM LARGE MARGE SENT YA is something I’ve yelled at both friends and random strangers alike only to be met with confusion and sometimes fear. Large Marge should be a legendary character, if only because she scared the bejesus out of me.

3. Switchblade Sam (the bum) from Dennis the Menace

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For the record, I think there are only two good things about the live action adaptation of Dennis the Menace: Walter Matthau and the scene where Dennis replaces some of Mr. Wilson’s false teeth with Chiclets because dammit that’s hilarious. Christopher Lloyd has always left me vaguely unsettled. Something about him freaks me out. Maybe it’s the hair. Whatever the case, his turn as Switchblade Sam made me never want to leave my house again. I would walk to my friend’s house down the street and look behind every fence to make sure some bum wasn’t stalking me, ready to kidnap me. I could only hope Walter Matthau would also come rescue me. I should also note that his role in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  was also deeply traumatizing. Good job, Mr. Lloyd.

2. Rasputin from Anastasia

I'm on to you, Lloyd

I’m on to you, Lloyd

Beyond making me become deeply and confusingly attracted to John Cusack, this movie was also one of my favorite films as a kid. I still remember all the words to ” Once Upon a December” and I have a Bartok plushie somewhere. While it’s completely bullshit from a historical perspective, I still think it’s one of the best animated features of my childhood. That being said, HERE YOU ARE AGAIN CHRISTOPHER LLOYD. Lloyd provided the voice of one of history and the film’s greatest villains, Rasputin. Needless to say, he terrified me.  I’m starting to become convinced that Christopher Lloyd just lives to terrify children.

1. Medusa from The Clash of the Titans

SWEET JESUS SAVE ME

SWEET JESUS SAVE ME

When I say I’m scared of Medusa, I’m not talking about the stupid remake of the film with all the CGI and airbrushed bods. I’m talking about the original film and the stop motion terror that was Ray Harryhausen’s vision of Medusa. There is something so horribly off-putting about the way Medusa moves that I can’t even begin to describe the horror that filled me as a kid watching this movie. The stop motion animation granted her a snake-like movement that not only befitted the character but also scared the crap out of little me. She was an alien creature bent on freaking me out and I don’t think I’m yet over the terror that Medusa inspired in me.

Bonus: Two Things Everyone Should be Scared Of

1. The Demon from Fantasia

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I have never met a person my age who wasn’t utterly terrified of the demon in the Night on Bald Mountain sequence of Disney’s Fantasia. The animation still holds up to this day as both beautiful and horrifying. That thing was trying to eat our souls and we knew it.

2. The Crypt keeper from Tales from the Crypt

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My parents used to watch this show and, every time they did, I’d make sure I wasn’t in the room because this little puppet was bound to haunt me for the rest of the week. Nothing terrified me more than the part in the show’s opening credits where it pops out of a coffin, cackling. JUST LOOK AT IT. Excuse me while I go hyperventilate.

Scrubbed Raw: A 12 Years a Slave review

One of my favorite things to do involves, of course, movies. Every few weeks, my movie-loving friend Ethan and I take over a couch or two in one of our houses and watch one or two movies. Of course, since we’re both massive nerds we also talk about them and overanalyze them after we watch them.

Lately, we’ve been on a recent Oscar winner kick. This weekend, we decided to follow up our recent viewing of Gravity with a viewing of this year’s Best Picture winner, 12 Years a Slave.

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I am very, very aware of the fact that I really can’t be quiet for a long period of time unless it involves a classroom. While watching a movie at home, I will talk and rant and occasionally bring up random historical facts that only sometimes relate to the movie we happen to be watching. I’ve never been told to shut up so it’s just something I keep doing. I crack jokes and wander off for food and ramble about something I saw on tumblr.

12 Years a Slave left both Ethan and I silent.  Very few films are capable of that.

What talking did occur during the film was hushed and quiet and slightly stunned. I told Ethan about the professor I had in college who told us about how appalled she was when she handled a printed guide from the height of slavery to building a sugar plantation and saw the many, many fingerprints left on its well used pages.

We talked about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson and their strange, bothersome relationship. I silently wandered about my family and the chilling thought that the slave owners we were watching in this film could easily have belonged to my genetic stock.

But mostly, for the first time in the history of our movie days, we were silent. We just watched.

It’s a massive cliché when it comes to movie reviews, but if any movie deserves the adjective it’s this one: this film is haunting.

I’m a big fan of the work of director Steve McQueen. I went and saw Shame in theaters, rebelling against every Puritan instinct to do so, and it was worth it. I watched Hunger in a dark dorm room, on the eve of my Irish Literature final, and understood at least in part what it was that motivated Bobby Sands.

Each one of those films were haunting in their own way. McQueen’s films have a way of worming into your brain. They aren’t films you watch and leave in the confines of your television or computer. You take these films with you. You remember them. You dwell on them later that night as you lie in bed.

They haunt you, these movies, and their ghost isn’t exorcised easily.

This is exactly why, when I heard that McQueen would be doing a film on slavery, I knew it would be a game changer. It most certainly is exactly that.

It is the tale of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), adapted from his written account of the events. It’s the tale of a free black man who is tricked and sold into slavery for 12 years. During his time as a slave, he is owned by both a relatively beneficent owner (Benedict Cumberbatch) and then later owned by a brutal caricature of a human being (Michael Fassbender).  This is a story of Solomon’s time in slavery and his eventual rescue and it is nothing short of heart wrenching.

McQueen is a careful, conscious director. Every choice he makes means something and you can be damned sure that every shot was carefully planned out in advance.

This movie makes perfect use of that careful style and will likely stand as one of the best representations of slavery ever put to film.  Every actor delivers perfectly, including Lupita Nyong’o, who received a well-deserved best supporting actress Oscar for her turn as a woman under the thumb of tyrannical owner Edwin Epps (Fassbender). Chiwetel Ejiofor is a wonderfully talented actor and shines. This film was undoubtedly hard to film and an emotional experience and it shows in the performances.

I have never been more terrified of Michael Fassbender.

I have never been more terrified of Michael Fassbender.

The movie also scores on the visual front. It’s a beautiful, brutal film and the lush beauty of the plantation houses in the film and the lands surrounding them only serves to put the brutality of the institution the plantation owners try so hard to exploit or justify into a clearer light.

Each character in this film, as McQueen’s films are so good at accomplishing, has a motive. They have a reason for what they do, whether it’s horrifying or not. They are people, not symbols. This is largely in part due to John Ridley’s fantastic screenplay, of course.

However, perhaps the most striking aspect of the film is something that all of McQueen’s films share: the unrelenting focus with which McQueen’s camera documents every event in the film.  McQueen’s camera sees all. The viewer is permitted no break. While another filmmaker might cut away after a few seconds during a particularly brutal or dark scene, McQueen never does. We watch every second of every brutality, from whippings to hangings, and are not permitted to look away. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hard to watch. But it is very much necessary and even more so in this film than any other McQueen film.

The score for this film also bears mentioning as it is magnificent and never intrudes on an emotional moment. It just serves to heighten emotion and focus your senses, as a good score should.

There is much that could be said of this film, to be sure. It deserved every Oscar win. It deserves all the praise that has been heaped on it. It deserves to be watched many, many times and by a variety of people. It will undoubtedly serve as an amazing teaching tool and a reminder of why it’s so important to recognize people as people and to recognize that racism is still very much alive in American society.

McQueen’s works always expose the ugly truth about something, whether it’s Ireland’s struggles in the 20th century, sex addiction and the nature of mental illness or the horrors of slavery. McQueen’s work always teaches and never, never makes concessions for the sake of the viewer. His films don’t sugarcoat. They expose.

At the end of the film, Ethan and I sat back. We had already decided to watch Frozen after finishing the movie but we both needed a moment to talk and to process.

“I don’t know how to describe how that movie makes me feel,” said Ethan.

“Raw,” I replied. “I feel raw.”

Watching this movie is like being scrubbed raw. It’s rough. It’s hard to watch at times. But it is fantastic and it is important. It is soul-shaking. It is one of the best films I’ve ever had the privilege to watch.

Go watch it. Learn a little. Be aware. The world needs more films like this one.