Tim reviews writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s controversial biblical epic “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe, on KARE 11 TV (NBC) in Minneapolis. He also reviews the Arnold Schwarzenegger action adventure “Sabotage.” See the reviews below.
Don’t be surprised to read and hear in the next few days about how the superhero extravaganza “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is one of the most, if not the most character-driven Marvel movies to date. Expertly crafted by “Captain America: The First Avenger” screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, “The Winter Soldier” is stacked deep with rich character portrayals that merely begin with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans).
To be sure, the visual effects and action are as spectacular as you would expect out of a Marvel superhero movie. But not once do those effects outweigh the presence of the characters in the film, which deftly plays like a classic political conspiracy thriller. Better yet, layered in between the action and intensity are brilliantly subtle performances, starting with Evans as the titular character.
Having the benefit of working with Evans on the first “Captain America” film, Markus and McFeely told me in an interview this week that they could definitely sense the growth in the actor, even though it’s been a me
re three years since the first film. In particular, McFeely said, it’s amazing to see Evans play the role with such a “quiet strength,” while Markus noted it is another great example of an actor “doing more with less.”
“In a vacuum, you get nervous as writers seeing characters just standing there in certain situations, but with Chris Evans, he knows what the power of standing there is going to do on-screen,” Markus said. “Chris is very good of letting his weight speak for him, even though he’s a slim, young man.”
Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” finds World War II-bred Rogers after the events of “The Avengers,” still trying to adjust to the modern world. Trying to live a quiet life in Washington, D.C., Rogers suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the organization has been greatly compromised by unknown forces — and millions of lives, including his own, are at stake because of it.
With little time and few people he can trust, Captain America embarks on a perilous trek with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in an effort to ferret out the mystery, even if it means destroying the very organization that the Avengers were built upon.
“Captain America: The Winter Solider” is interesting in that it addresses a contemporary threat that will resonate with modern audiences, yet it manages to tie events from the first film to the second that creates a sprawling and engaging narrative.
A big part of that storyline is the emergence of the Winter Soldier, who for people not familiar with the comic books, was once Rogers’ best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), before he was transformed into a killing machine by the Nazi organization Hydra during World War II.
The interesting thing is, even though the Winter Soldier storyline is a fan favorite, getting Marvel to agree to do it wasn’t an automatic for Markus and McFeely.
“To be honest, there was some back and forth on it because some people thought it was too soon to bring him back,” McFeely said. “One of the reasons it works in the comics is because Bucky has been gone for so long and it’s haunted Steve Rogers for so long. But in the movie universe, he’s only been gone for three years in movie time. We tried to crack other storylines, but nothing was ever as compelling as the Winter Soldier coming back and kicking his best friend’s ass.”
While Markus and McFeely try to remain as faithful to the Captain America comics as possible, they also realize that sometimes changes need to be made to make the stories more contemporary. One such change came with the introduction of the character of Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), whose story is updated to fit the tone of “The Winter Soldier,” and the duo is confident fans of the character won’t balk at the portrayal.
“I think the fans have embraced the fact that the Marvel cinematic universe is going to be different than the comic book universe,” McFeely observed. “So in the cinematic world, you may not wear a red-and-white outfit and talk to birds, but you’ll still be able to fly. There are some concessions made to realism and I think Marvel has found a lot of good will among the fans in the eight or nine movies they’ve done with the decisions we’ve made.”
“Plus, comic books allow for five different origins,” Markus added. “So, if anybody is going to be tolerant of changing the facts to fit the current needs, it is the comic book fans.”
Another such case of changing the facts to fit the needs — or maybe enhancing them, is the introduction of Alexander Pierce, a smaller player in the comics who was elevated to the top of the character ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. for “The Winter Soldier.”
“The name Alexander Pierce exists in the comics, but he’s more of a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who kicks a lot of butt and we needed an elder statesman who Nick Fury could look up to, and perhaps have shifting allegiances to,” McFeely said. “So Pierce is an example of a character where we went looking in the Marvel Universe for a name and some characteristics.”
As Markus and McFeely learned, the creation of Pierce for the cinematic universe was an evolving one that remarkably ended with the casting of film icon Robert Redford.
The interesting thing about Redford’s involvement in the picture is, he was solicited by the production because of the political conspiracy thriller tone Markus and McFeely were creating for “The Winter Soldier.” But thinking Redford would be great for the role and actually getting him to do the role are two different things, the scribes said.
“(The film’s co-producer) Nate Moore stopped us in the hall one day and said, ‘So we’re going after somebody who’s been in the kind of movie you’re patterning our movie after,'” Markus recalled. “We were like, ‘What the hell are you talking about? We’re not trained to think Robert Redford could be in a movie we’re writing. That’s crazy talk.'”
As it turned out, Markus and McFeely were quick learners.
“We re-wrote the part to get Redford, and once we had Redford, we re-wrote it again because he very wisely pointed things out, like, ‘You have three lines there and I only have to say one of them because you’re going to see the rest of it on my face,'” McFeely said. “It was great to tailor the part to his legendary presence.”
Fans of Redford’s films will no doubt feel the presence of the actor’s “Three Days of the Condor” and “All the President’s Men” in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” except with a decidedly different twist.
“It has this smaller noble man vs. this huge machine feel, except this time Redford is the machine,” McFeely said. “The film screams ‘political thriller’ when Redford is put in there. He brings the gravitas and the presence from his previous films with him.”
Sure, seven years have passed since the first “300” film and the specter of Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas is still looming large. But if anybody has fears that such a larger-than-life screen persona can’t be replicated, they’re sure to be knocked on their asses with Eva Green’s stunning portrayal of Artemisia in “300: Rise of an Empire.”
Beautiful, charismatic, ruthless and sexy as hell, Green’s Artemisia commands your attention every second she’s on-screen. The great thing is, while Green possesses all the physical attributes to make the character work, you can also see the wheels spinning behind her piercing eyes because Artemisia is also wrought with inner turmoil. The character is filled with all sorts of complexities, and Green said she reveled in every single one of them.
04/Eva-Green-in-300-Rise-of-an-Empire-photo-Warner-Bros-1024x629.jpg 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 922px) 100vw, 922px" /> Eva Green in ‘300 Rise of an Empire’ (photo: Warner Bros.).
“Thank God there’s the back story, otherwise, she would just be a one-dimensional killing machine,” Green observed. “Instead, we find out that she was traumatized as a child and had to build this sort of inner armor to survive. Her heart is so hard and there’s almost nothing left.”
Nothing, except a passion ignited by her enemy, the Greek General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton); an adversary she doesn’t necessarily loathe — but admires — because he’s equal to her in skill and stature. They go toe-to-toe and them some throughout “300: Rise of an Empire,” and in one of the film’s wildest scenes, Artemisia tries to seduce Themistokles in what may is destined to be one of the most-talked about sex scenes in years to come.
“It is kind of interesting when Themistokles shows up and it’s like, ‘Whoa,'” Green said with a laugh. “He might have awakened something in her, or not, because she’s completely mad. That childhood trauma made her blind and so full of vengeance. Her mission in life is ‘War, war and war.'”
Opening in theaters Friday in 2D, 3D and on IMAX screens, “300: Rise of an Empire” is based on the graphic novel “Xerxes” by “300” author Frank Miller. Directed by Noam Murro and produced and co-written by “300” helmer Zack Snyder, the story not only recalls the origins of the mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), it effectively runs parallel to the fateful journey of the 300 Spartans who march into battle against the Persian Army.
The crux of the story, though, is Themistokles’ battle against the massive invading Persian forces, ruled by Xerxes and led by Artemisia, who is the vengeful commander of the Persian Navy.
Admittedly shy in real life, Green loves roles like Artemisia because they give her an opportunity to blow off steam in ways she never otherwise dream of doing. After all, the soft-spoken yet engaging French-born actress clearly isn’t the sort of person who you’d imagine decapitating a person and kissing their disembodied head on the lips. She’ll leave that up to somebody as insane as Artemisia.
“To be irreverent, not polite and have no respect is fun because it’s so big. It’s fun to go so extreme,” Green, 33, enthused. “I think it’s important to have fun with it instead of being so serious and doing it with butterflies in your stomach.”
Adding to the fun for Green on “300: Rise of an Empire” was to get trained in the ways of the warrior. Not only did Green dive into an intense regimen to not only be fit physically to do all her own stunts, she also became very proficient with knives, swords and a bow and arrow.
“I’m action hero now,” Green said, laughing. “It was one of the things that I found appealing about the role. I was so excited to learn for a couple months how to play with double swords. It ended up being like a dance, in a way. But you still have to learn how to train to get stronger to do the fight scenes. You have to lift weights, and do lunges and squats so you can go low in your stances.”
Green said the idea of doing so much training was daunting at first, but it didn’t take long for the jitters to go away.
“I really got a kick out of it. I’m not really physical, usually, so it was like, ‘Whoa. This is a challenge,’ but it turned out to be great. I felt so much stronger. Now, I’ve lost everything I gained, of course,” she lamented.
Effectively, Green got the entire package playing Artemisia in “300: Rise of an Empire,” and to top it all off, she got to wear some pretty wicked wardrobe, too.
“The costumes were beautiful. Very regal, yet rock ‘n’ roll,” Green said. “They were very cool.”
Green is teaming up with Miller again in August in the “Sin City” sequel “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.” Before that, she’ll be starring in the new Showtime series “Penny Dreadful,” which is described by the cable network as a psycho-sexual thriller.
Throughout Tim Lammers’ career, he’s had many wonderful opportunities to talk with director Tim Burton and the key players who helped bring his stop-motion films “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Corpse Bride,” and “Frankenweenie” to life.
Now for the first time, Tim has assembled the stories from Burton and his band of creatives all in one place. In “Direct Conversations: The Animated Films of Tim Burton,” you will not only hear from Tim Burton, but Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Allison Abbate, Martin Landau, Elijah Wood, Atticus Shaffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, the late Ray Harryhausen, and more. Burton also reflects on “Vincent,” the classic stop-motion animated film short that features the director’s first collaboration with legendary actor Vincent Price.
The release of “Direct Conversations: The Animated Films of Tim Burton” comes as the 1993 classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas” celebrates its 20th anniversary.