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Knight at the Movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2014-04-09

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When it comes to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the sequel to 2011's Captain America, it's clear from the box-office receipts and its reviews that this is one of those rare times that audiences and critics have both embraced a movie. In its opening weekend the film had the distinction of having the most financially successful box-office opening of any April release ever ( by the time you read this it will most likely have gone on to make half a billion worldwide ). It also enjoys an 89-percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the critic film website.

So why did it leave me out in the cold? Over the course of the movie's over two-and-a-half-hour running time, I must have checked my watched five or six times. I wasn't bored by the film's admittedly nifty, carefully crafted set pieces, but I didn't find them particularly engaging, either. And the old-school plot—focused on a secret baddie spy organization headed by a wizened, diminutive, tottering Robert Redford embedded within the peacekeeping S.H.I.E.L.D. ( a hybrid CIA peacekeeping force )—a carbon copy of 10,000 other such plots was strictly from Screenwriting 101. ( I will pay $50 to anyone who can prove that one single audience member worldwide texted "OMG, this plot is fantastic!" at any point during or after the movie. )

Not even the spectacular male eye candy of star Chris Evans—returning for his second outing as Captain America, the WWII hero who awakens to find himself in the present—nor his easy-on-the-eyes co-stars Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie and Frank Grillo were enough to elevate my torpor ( and how unfair is it that Evans keeps his shirt on? That's just not right! ). It's not that I don't love big-budget action/fantasy blockbusters either. But clearly something about the Marvel superhero movies has left me behind—hence my feeling distracted during the screening and slightly depressed as the credits crawled trying to understand what it is about these movies that doesn't connect with me.

Since 2008 there have been nine films as part of the so-called Marvel Cinema Universe—the media franchise responsible for the collected movies which share the same fictional world and characters. The first one out of the gate, Iron Man, remains in my estimation the strongest—and that's because it gave Robert Downey Jr. a character that combined the ring-a-ding '60s Mad Men bravado and charm with the fascination for high-tech toys that, five years ago, really did dazzle. The subsequent films that have included two Iron Man sequels ( each with diminished returns ) and focused on other comic-book superheroes ( the Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Marvel's The Avengers ) have left me increasingly uninterested.

I find myself mentally checking out of these popcorn superhero flicks because, for me, their predictability isn't particularly comforting ( as it is in, say a sisterhood genre picture like The Help ), their bloated running times test my patience and, mostly, because I'm bored with all the gut-busting, "my dick is bigger than yours" subtext that runs rampant in every single one of these male testosterone-driven pictures. And this isn't exclusive to the Marvel universe: Spider-Man, Superman and every other superheroman have the same effect on me.

I guess I'm just tired after a decade of having to pay close attention to these juggernauts ( because these are the movies that Hollywood churns out, don'tcha know ), that not one of them has taken the homoerotic prick-teasing and brought it front and center. I want the long-promised openly gay superhero movie and to hell with this genre until that happens. Oh, and aside to Garry Shandling ( who plays a crooked senator in the film ): Even though you offered momentary distraction, you are not allowed to have one more plastic-surgery procedure. Ever.

Of related interest: Well, here I am immediately making an exception to my rule—of sorts. I had a great time at The Desolation of Smaug, part two in director Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy when it was in theaters. The film is certainly filled with it share of gut-busting set-action sequences, too, but perhaps it is also centered in the realm of fantasy, has some decided plot surprises, its share of gay actors ( Sir Ian McKellen starring as Gandalf ) and is genuinely enthralling at times. The movie is just out in home release ( Blu-ray, DVD, download, and combinations thereof ) from New Line.

Film notes:

—The film world lost a passionate advocate for queer cinema when Lewis Tice, a film publicist and programmer, passed away unexpectedly at 44. A gentle, soft-spoken man, Tice spent part of his early career with the Chicago International Film Festival and went on to work with Frameline and Sundance. For many years he was the publicist for the LGBT film distributor TLA Releasing ( which oversees Philadelphia'sQ Fest ), rejoining them in 2011. I first met Lewis 10 years ago when he was in town for the Reeling Film Festival and had the pleasure of working with him off and on in the ensuing years. Our paths crossed again last fall and not surprisingly, Lewis was just as delightful as when we first met. His enduring support for LGBT film will be sorely missed.

—The late playwright and screenwriter Arthur Laurents penned 1948's Rope for his then-lover, Farley Granger. Granger co-stars with John Dall ( who was also gay ) as two college lovers who murder their intellectually "inferior" classmate for the thrill of it and then invite the victim's family over for dinner. Jimmy Stewart plays their suspicious college professor who figures out "the boys" have been up to no good. Director Alfred Hitchcock famously edited this twisted little tale—his first in Technicolor—with its barely concealed homoerotic underpinnings, so that it appears to be happening in real time. The film was based on the infamous crime of real life killers Loeb and Leopold. The Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., is screening the film as part of their ongoing matinee series on Sunday, April 13 at 11:30 a.m. www.musicboxtheatre.com

—Let It GO! Two seemingly unrelated films—I Am Divine, the fascinating story of the 300-pound drag queen underground film star who took the world by storm ( in cahoots with writer-director John Waters ); and Frozen, the Oscar-winning animated juggernaut ( both critically and financially )—are just out on home release ( the latter in multiple versions ). Both focus on individuals shunned by the mainstream world for being different only to not only triumph, but be lauded for the very talent that at first put them at odds with the mainstream world.

Okay: It might seem a stretch to connect these two films but, agree or not with my read, there's no doubt these two stellar films should be added to your collection.


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