Gifted(B-). Chris Evans is probably best known for his roles as Captain America in the Avengers movies or as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four series. He has gotten some lower-profile roles in other films and, in my view, has proven that he’s more than an action figure actor. He turned in a solid performance in the film Snowpiercer. He’s proven himself again in Gifted.
This is a film about a highly intelligent and adorable little girl—Mary Adler (played brilliantly by Mckenna Grace, Independence Day: Resurgence)—who presents something of a challenge to her Uncle Frank. Uncle Frank just wants Mary to have a normal childhood, which is something his mother deprived Mary’s mother from having. But Mary’s intellect is far above average, and that quickly comes to the attention of Mary’s teacher, who pushes to have Mary put in a more challenging educational environment. The push to harness Mary’s intellect creates a conflict that threatens the close bond Mary and Frank have forged. At times the story seems somewhat contrived, but Mary’s charm, along with the superb dialogue and an unexpected resolution of the conflict, make the film well worth the investment of your time.
Avengers: Age of Ultron. (B+). This film is a fun, entertaining Summer action blockbuster film. It’s got all the usual characters—Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downy Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). And of course, there’s even some screentime for Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson). With all the characters, you almost wonder how writer Joss Whedon has time to develop the characters and the story. But Whedon is no newcomer to this. There’s time to develop a little backstory—particularly for Hawkeye and even time enough for a little budding romance. And there’s time to develop an action packed story arch with the unintended creation of Ultron—a super android (James Spader). By the end of the film we are introduced to a new superhero—Vision (Paul Bettany), who teams up with the good guys to help defeat Ultron and his army of super-being androids. There’s plenty of action in this film but I have to say that after a while some of the fight scenes in this film began to seem a little too similar to the fight scenes in the last Avengers film. I just hope that’s not a sign that the franchise is wearing thin. Certainly, there will be more to come. And you will want to stay for the credits so that you’ll get a glimpse of the next villain to do battle with the Avengers.
Snowpiercer (B). Here’s a weird take on the whole dystopia/end-of-the-world thing. Mankind tries to correct global warming and accidentally freezes the entire planet solid. Seventeen years later, the remnant of humanity is surviving on—are you ready for this?—a souped-up train that never stops and circumnavigates the globe once a year. To make matters worse, the survivors are organized like the passengers on the Titanic: a few super-favored people live in luxury in the forward cars, while the huddled masses live in squalor in the tail end of the train. Led by Chris “Captain America” Evans, the proletariat rises up and tries to take its revolution all the way to the front of the train and to the mysterious engineer “Wilford,” who supposedly built the train and still tends its engine. It’s very violent and goofy as all get-out, but it’s never boring. Also starring Octavia Spencer (The Help) and John Hurt (Only Lovers Left Alive) as proletarians and Tilda Swinton (The Grand Budapest Hotel) as a weird functionary from the front of the train.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (C). I enjoyed the first Captain America story, but this one was just sort of meh. Dislocated in time, square-jawed Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is not sure he’s really fitting into the shadowy ranks of the intelligence organization known as SHIELD. For one, he doesn’t trust Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Deep Blue Sea), probably because he wears a sinister eye-patch. For another, a bunch of SHIELD guys seem to want to kill him for some reason. On top of all that, there’s this hot girl he maybe sort of likes, but she’s always trying to get him to ask other girls out–plus she’s a former KGB agent nicknamed the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, The Other Boleyn Girl). But enough kidding around. This movie is 2 hours and 15 minutes of earnest and dull. There are lots of fights and explosions, of course, but nothing ever really seems to happen. Robert Redford (Indecent Proposal) seems to have a good time slumming as a top SHIELD guy, and Cobie Smulders (The Avengers) effectively pulls off her tiny recurring role as Agent Intense Brunette Sidekick Of Nick Fury. A few TV actors unexpectedly pop up in small parts, which was kind of fun. But on the whole, the movie left me unfulfilled.
Captain America: The First Avenger (B). Well, I figured I should see this 2011 release before I head out to see the sequel that is currently crushing the box office. It is a solid, workmanlike superhero movie. Told almost entirely in flashback, it is the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, The Nanny Diaries), a skinny asthmatic kid who desperately wants to fight for America in WWII. Rejected by the normal military, he willingly becomes a guinea pig in a top-secret government program to create super-soldiers. Unfortunately, some bad guys blow up the program and kill the head scientist guy shortly after Steve’s gotten all buff, but how many Captain Americas do you really need to win a war? Tommy Lee Jones (Hope Springs) is the gruff Army guy with a heart of gold. Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) is the bad guy. And the attractive Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited) is given a decent amount of screentime and virtually nothing to do as a British agent attached, for some reason, to the super-soldier project. It’s a decent, straight-ahead action movie, and I quite enjoyed it. Its relative brevity (124 minutes) is another plus.
The Nanny Diaries (B-). I was surprised that this movie did not do better at the box office, considering how popular the book was. (I read and enjoyed the book, way back when, but have long since forgotten most of the details.) The movie is a pleasant-enough way to spend 106 minutes. Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin) is a young woman trying to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life. By sheer happenstance, she finds herself hired on as the nanny for a fabulously wealthy family in Manhattan, with Mrs. X (Laura Linney, The Savages) as her exceptionally high-strung boss. She bonds with her charge, a kid by the name of Grayer (Nicholas Art, Syriana), and tries to flirt with the Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer) who lives in the Xes’ building, all the while knowing that the situation will have to come to an end–probably sooner than later, given Mrs. X’s temper. Linney steals the show, in my opinion, but then she’s always good. Worth a rental.