Indulge in a double-feature of American movies

“Captain America”
2 hrs 5 minutes


If last week was all about the sweet melancholy of independent cinema, experienced in a funky urban theatre in the hip SoHo section of London, this week was all about the pure summer popcorn joy. Back in the USA, this weekend I indulged in a double-feature of two the most deliriously American movies I’ve seen in a long time. Both are genre movies, although they manage to encompass at least four genres between the two, and both offer the kind of stand-up-and-shout fun that we haven’t seen since 2008’s original “Iron Man.”

I know it’s a lot of time to sit in a theatre, but rain is forecast all week, so if you get the chance, take in both “Captain America” and “Cowboys & Aliens” back to back and treat yourself to a massive dose of the season’s very best blockbusters.

Starting out early, I saw “Captain America” at the first matinee offered. This meant I was in for an unexpected surprise. Not only did I get a good matinee price, but I got to see the movie in 2D, instead of the highly touted and substantially more expensive 3D. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting serious 3D fatigue. The gimmick is fun, sometimes, but generally the picture is dimmer than necessary and the glasses are just distracting. Actually, the effect itself is pretty distracting, now that you mention it. In 2D, I got to experience the beautiful new digital projection in all it’s glory, with nothing in between me and the screen.

The film begins, much as the comic did in the early ‘40’s, with scrawny little Steve Rogers pining to join the army and go off to fight the Nazis, along with all his friends. Though much of the film employs practical, old-style effects, the precision graphics used to make the tall and buff star Chris Evans look puny is spot on.

Rogers, unable to join the army through normal means, is chosen to participate in the “super soldier” program where, through scientific means, a man may be enhanced to four or five times his normal limits. Rogers becomes tall, strong, and fast, but is still looked at as little more than a curiosity by the military brass. Relegated to the USO and the Buy Bonds effort, Rogers becomes the titular “Captain America,” performing in front of appreciative crowds before a host of dancing girls. It’s embarrassing, but at least he’s doing something for the war effort.

That is, until his best friend is kidnapped by a brutal Nazi offshoot called Hydra and it’s vicious mad leader Johann Schmidt, known not-so-affectionately as the Red Skull.

Suddenly Cap swings into action, beginning a series of hair-raising adventures that will not only prove his worth, but help to turn the very tide of the war.

“Captain America” is nothing but good old fashioned nostalgic fun. Marvel, ramping up for next summer’s “Avengers” movie, has taken a few chances this summer, banking on the fact that audiences wouldn’t get superhero’d out. “Thor” a lesser known super-hero/Norse God, worked well as a movie, and “Captain America,” a period costumer, works even better.

Appealing to both superhero fans and World War II buffs alike, this rip-roarin’ adventure not only sets the stage for adventures to come, but plays almost perfectly in it’s own right. Yes, the Red Skull looks a little silly, and the ending is a bit abrupt. Yes, there are some logical flaws. But for every small deficiency, the movie makes up for it with pure, honest entertainment without a hint of irony or snarkiness.

Director Joe Johnston brings the same sensibility he employed on “The Rocketeer,” and applies it to a story three times the size. “Captain America” was a blast.

Grade: A-

“Captain America” is rated PG-13 for cartoon violence, and mild language.

“Cowboys & Aliens”
1 hr 58 minutes
Universal Pictures

For most of the day, I assumed “Captain America” was the most entertaining movie I’d seen this summer so far, but little did I know that director Jon Favreau was about to top it with his sci-fi western “Cowboys & Aliens.” To be honest, it wasn’t really a fair contest. Favreau had a major ace up his sleeve, in the form of one Harrison Ford.

I should say at the outset that, for some reason I can’t really fathom, “Cowboys & Aliens” is getting fairly poor reviews. Ignore them.  Like “Cap,” this is a movie without a bunch of irony — it is exactly what it claims to be. Daniel Craig is Jake Lonergan, a dangerous outlaw who wakes up in the desert without his hat, boots, or his memory.   To make matters worse, locked on his arm is a strange metallic bracelet of unknown origin. After bushwacking some bushwackers, Jake acquires the necessary western accoutrements, as well as a horse, and make his way into the small town of Absolution.

Though Jake doesn’t know who he is, the sheriff sure seems to, and after getting into an altercation with a drunken idiot, Jake and the boy both end up in the paddywagon.  Things get more interesting when the boy’s father shows up to collect him.  Harrison Ford is Col. Dolarhyde, a growling Civil War veteran and cattle baron who holds the town under his thumb. And just when you think we’ve got all the characters established for a classic western tale, everything turns upside down.

The aliens show up.

“Cowboys & Aliens” works so well because it is able to showcase both of it’s genres without sacrificing anything. The aliens are scary and cool, and maybe just a little goofy if you stop to think too much about it. All the cowboys (and indians, too) are pitch perfect, but remarkably reveal depths of character that you rarely get to see in a regular western. Ford is by far the best, and displays more life than I’ve seen from him in years.

The movie is exciting, funny, and the kind of experience that makes you want to whoop for joy. “Cowboys & Aliens” is nothing less than a great time at the movies, and with the one-two punch of it and “Captain America,” the summer has hit a high-point.

Grade: A

“Cowboys & Aliens” is rated PG-13 for some gruesome and scary alien violence, as well as plenty of western gunfights. Also some mild language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.