FS, Contributing Writer
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
The Marvel comics juggernaut continues with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (wide release), the second movie in a planned trilogy about the supersoldier created in the first flick to fight Hitler but accidentally encased in ice after defeating the malicious Hydra organization and its leader, the Red Skull. In this sequel he’s been defrosted in the here-and-now and made an agent of the SHIELD operation designed to deal with all sorts of villains.
The subtitle doesn’t refer to the once icebound Steve Rogers, the costumed shield-wielder. It identifies his nemesis this time around, a fearsome assassin with a metal arm who possesses the Captain’s powers — and more. The Winter Soldier is a deadly weapon in the arsenal of Hydra, which has not only survived — like our hero — for 70 years, but is using the contemporary world’s appetite for security to take over the globe.
When Captain America learns what’s happening, the square-jawed fellow must go on the lam and evade those out to capture him in order to foil Hydra’s plot — a dangerous game, since even the government and SHIELD have been compromised.
“The Winter Soldier” is basically an updating, with huge special effects, of the paranoid action thrillers that were popular in the 1970s — movies like 1975’s “Three Days of the Condor” with Robert Redford.
The comparison is accentuated here by Redford’s presence as the head of the World Security Council, who has an agenda of his own and three huge flying carriers, veritable Death Stars, at his disposal.
This is one of the better Marvel superhero movies, with Chris Evans likable as the man out of his time and Scarlett Johansson luscious as his ally the Black Widow.
The big action sequences, unfortunately, are shot and edited in an overly kinetic fashion, but otherwise this is the rare sequel that actually improves on its predecessor, while touching on a significant current issue — the power of the national security apparatus — in the process.
“The Unknown Known”
That issue is also at the center of “The Unknown Known” (Angelika), the hypnotic new documentary by Errol Morris.
Essentially a long interview with Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary to George W. Bush who was a primary architect of policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, it offers a biographical sketch as well as his cagey responses to Morris’ questions.
The picture is titled after one of Rumsfeld’s famous locutions — that there are known knowns, known unknowns, and known knows — but posits that there also unknown knowns, things we know but obstinately refuse to acknowledge. It thus suggests that Rumsfeld, who absolutely refuses to admit misgivings about any aspect of the policies he engineered (even if it means self-contradiction), is the ultimate example of the sort of self-deluding individual that Morris has often focused on.
Morris uses his cinematic craft to paint a portrait of Rumsfeld that’s fascinating and subtly devastating.
No one could claim subtlety for Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” (wide release), which adds to the Bible’s brief narrative of the Flood a villain with thousands of followers — a warlord descended from Cain who intends to seize the ark by force — and fallen angels morphed into gigantic rock monsters that help Noah build his vessel and defend it from the evil hordes.
It also adds a strongly environmental message and even a shout-out in favor of veganism, as well as lots of domestic discord among Noah, his sons (all unmarried here) and his wife.
But as goofy as the movie is, it possesses a sort of loony grandeur, not only in its eye-popping visuals, but in the powerful performance of Russell Crowe in the title role.
Literalists will find little to like in the result, but as a modern reimagining of the Scriptural story it’s quite remarkable, even when it’s more than a little nutty.
Gross is the word for “Sabotage” (wide release), the latest vehicle for former Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He plays the head of a DEA special forces unit who masterminds the theft of money belonging to a drug cartel, which responds by killing off the squad’s members one by one.
The picture is marked not only by a crazily convoluted plot but also by violence so extreme that it’s literally nauseating. Schwarzenegger strides through it all with a perpetual scowl as he chomps away on an apparently bottomless box of cigars.
The cascade of blood and gore in “Sabotage” makes it one of the year’s ugliest, vilest movies — as well as a crushing bore.