Sharknado (2013)

Director: Anthony C. Ferrante

Starring: Tara Reid, Ian Ziering, John Heard, Cassie Scerbo, Jaason Simmons, Chuck Hittenger, Aubrey Peeples

Boy, the SyFy Channel has put out some whoppers, haven’t they? If you see a movie airing on that TV channel, the odds are that it will be some made-for-TV, low budget piece of crap that you really needn’t bother wasting one moment with. It was for that very reason that, when the media frenzy surrounding “Sharknado” erupted in 2013, I stayed out of the storm’s path and let it blow on by. Lately, though, I couldn’t help but be curious as to what it could be, other than the hilarious title, that was attracting viewers the same way the disastrous “Snakes on a Plane” had. I had also been sampling a lot of creature features as of late, such as “Piranha” (1978), “Humanoids from the Deep” (1980) and “Barracuda” (1978). Stay the hell away from that last one! With a premise like the one belonging to “Sharknado,” you have to know that it was made to be stupid. Ultimately, I figured, “Okay. I’ll bite.”

A hurricane is blowing in to destroy Los Angeles. The entire city is about to be flooded, though not just with water, but with sharks (which the hurricane picked up on its way in) too! Completely at random, we follow bar owner Fin Sheperd (Ian Ziering), barmaid Nova (Cassie Scerbo), and a handful of others who take it upon themselves to stop this calamitous tidal wave of carnivorous fish. Lots of carnage ensues, and all logic is completely cast aside. Really, the action reaches video game levels at times. The main crux of the story is that Fin wants to make sure that his family is safe from the sharks’ onslaught. The catch is that he’s separated/divorced from his wife, and at least one of his kids feels abandoned by him. Eventually, it becomes all about marking time until the threat is contained in the most “out there” way imaginable.

Ian Ziering, of “Beverly Hills, 90210″ fame, is an odd choice for an action hero, but what the hell. And, look! Tara Reid’s in this movie… for some reason. She plays Fin’s vacuous, estranged wife. I really don’t know what she’s doing here at all. The whole subplot with the family feels like padding to allow the film a running time of just under an hour and a half. That probably means that this is exactly what it is. I know the movie was intended to be funny but, honestly, the funniest thing about “Sharknado” is the casting of someone who is merely seven years younger than Tara Reid in the role of her son. Don’t think I need to explain why that feels weird. We even get a largely unnecessary backstory for Nova… because simply being a scantily-clad, shotgun-wielding barmaid wasn’t good enough.

I suppose what I’m getting at here is that “Sharknado” knows it’s just a dumb B-movie but, rather than simply relish in that fact, it tries to overcomplicate things by actually trying to form a plot. Usually, that would be something to celebrate, but when you cast non-entities in semi-important roles like the family members of the main character… you know, the ones he’s the most motivated to keep safe… it really keeps you from giving a crap whether they live or die. I know full well how to turn my brain off to enjoy a movie, but I don’t need roadblocks in the path leading me to that satisfaction. A sequel is in the works, to be set in New York City (duh! what else?) and Ian Ziering and Tara Reid are both returning. I would laugh, but I think that’s what they would want me to do, so I’ll contain my amusement.

X-Men (2000)

Director: Bryan Singer

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ray Park

There is such a thing as becoming too beholden to a work of fiction, I suppose. You see sci-fi fans doing it all the time. Some call themselves “Trekkers.” Whatever their interest, these sci-fi fans all have one thing in common: the meticulous (and somewhat unhealthy) dissection of all that is wrong with a television episode or film. This is called nitpicking. So it was with “X-Men” when it finally hit the big screen in July of 2000, after what seemed like an endless wait to have one of the most popular comic books of all time turned into a motion picture. Some looked up at the screen in awe. Others gazed in disbelief, seeing what resembled their heroes, only not quite “…and here are the reasons why.” As an eighteen-year old just out of high school, I found myself somewhere in-between. I’m still in that uncomfortable middle ground now, leaning on the side of nitpicking. A fan of both the comics (mainly those of the late 70′s/early 80′s) and of the 1990′s cartoon series, I was grateful to finally have a live action movie to go along with the package, however I did take issue with one particular line of dialogue which pokes fun at a certain character’s traditional tight yellow costume. “X-Men” is far from perfect, but objecting to something so insignificant as this is pretty silly in the long run. If one were to be truly critical of the film, a better place to start would either be in the story or in the casting/characterization. I choose the latter.

The film opens in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1944. a young boy is being separated from his mother by German soldiers. In desperation, he reaches out his hand, and a nearby gate seemingly starts twisting and bending all on its own. The boy is Erik Lehnsherr, and he will grow up to become Magneto (Ian McKellen), a mutant with the power to control all metallic objects. Flash forward to the present day. At her parents’ home in Mississippi, a young girl named Marie (Anna Paquin) is spending some very innocent time with a boy in her room. However, when they move to kiss one another, the boy suddenly slips into a coma. Marie has the power to drain the life force out of anyone she touches, and she gives herself the nickname “Rogue.” Afraid of hurting anyone else, Rogue leaves home and runs away to Canada. There, she meets a man who fights in cages for cash and is referred to as “Wolverine” (Hugh Jackman). His real name is Logan, and he has a secret, too. Wolverine has quick-healing abilities, as well as an indestructible metal skeleton. You can bet the latter will work against him in any confrontations with Magneto. Wolverine also has no clear memories of his past, only bits and fragments.

The longstanding friendship/rivalry between Magneto and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is rooted in their opposing views towards human/mutant relations. Xavier, a mutant with telepathic abilities, believes in a world where the two sides can co-exist. Magneto, who has lived his whole life in a world of intolerance, feels that the only solution to the problem is to turn everyone into a mutant. Magneto needs Rogue to absorb his power and control the machine he has built, and he acts rather coldly about the fact that doing this would kill her. To prevent this from happening, Xavier assembles his team of X-Men, which (with the addition of Wolverine) includes Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) as members.

“X-Men” is one title that will likely remain out of Marvel Studios’ reach, remaining firmly with Fox for as long as they keep pumping out sequel after sequel. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is spot-on, as is the love triangle between him, Jean Grey and Cyclops. I also like the bond formed between Wolverine and Rogue, something that never existed in the comic. Maybe my favorite thing about this movie, actually. Professor Xavier and Magneto, if not perfect, are also represented well by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Where the characterization goes horribly wrong is with Cyclops and (especially) Storm. Although the tension between Cyclops and Wolverine is correct, Cyclops himself comes off as weak when he should be the commanding voice of the team. He was only their leader, for crying out loud! Not so, here. Wolverine, who was the popular supporting character in the comics, is the de facto leader in the film series… so get used to it, Fox says. As for Storm, aside from her being able to control the weather, everything else about her is wrong. In this movie especially, Berry’s attempt at an African accent is downright painful. I think she knew this as well, which is why that disappears in the sequels. Halle Berry was simply the wrong fit for her character. Yet, by May 2014, she will have appeared as Storm four times! I can’t watch her battle with Toad (Ray Park) without riffing on it “Mystery Science Theater”-style. To this day, I still hear the song “Rock You Like a Hurricane” during this awkward, amateurish fight scene.

I am in some ways thankful that I never followed the comic books of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk or their collective adventures as The Avengers. I was able to go into each movie with a clean slate, with no nits to pick. But I doubt I would find very much to object about those movies whether or not I had read the source material. It’s also true that “X-Men,” even with its faults, is still a very fun action-packed extravaganza. It was also partially responsible for helping to make the comic book film a genre that audiences would flock to see and big name actors would sign on to appear in, as it is today. With immensely popular storylines at the ready, the franchise still has limitless potential. It just won’t be achieved with yellow spandex.

The Abyss (1989)

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn

Because relations between the United States and Russia are as strained as they’ve been since the end of the Cold War, now may be as appropriate a time as any to look back at this underappreciated science fiction film, which got lost in the sea of box office blockbusters in the summer of 1989. That’s right… there was a time when James Cameron wasn’t the “king of the world.” Right at the tail end of the decades-long game of chicken being played between the United States and what was then known as the Soviet Union, Cameron committed to celluloid the message that everyone hoped the two nations would hear loud and clear: “Calm down before you ruin this world for everyone!” The end result is not only a great movie, but also a hint of things to come in the career of its director.

After a United States submarine is sunk following a collision with an unidentified object, accusations are being thrown back and forth between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Any hope of a détente appears lost when more “accidents” follow on both sides. In-between this action, a group of deep sea oil drillers are recruited to save the world… er, I mean locate the submarine. Sorry about that, Michael Bay. Led by Virgil “Bud” Brigman (Ed Harris), the team is not entrusted to do this job alone. Enter a Navy SEAL unit, led by Lt. Coffey (Michael Biehn), accompanied by Bud’s estranged wife, Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who designed the drilling platform and therefore knows as much about it as anyone. Early on, the SEALs are warned about the fact that a percentage of those who travel as deep into the water as they are going simply cannot handle it, and the stress causes them to go a bit mental. Lt. Coffey insists, rather forcefully, that his men have all passed their required physical tests before making this voyage. Right about that time, Coffey notices his own hand starting to shake…

Together, the two groups find the missing sub, and much more. Coffey and his group proceed with “phase two” of their mission, which involves the recovery of one of the dozens of nuclear weapons in the sub’s arsenal. The drill team find something they can’t really explain. One of them sees what he perceives as an angel and, believing that this means he is near death, the poor guy slips into a coma. The others discover what these creatures really are and what their agenda is, but only after a couple of power failures that coincide with their arrival.

As most of the nearly three hours of “The Abyss” take place deep under water, there is plenty of room for claustrophobia (and, yes, that pun was intended). I think there can be no greater example of this than the scene in which Bud and Lindsey are trapped in one of their mini-subs, its power shorted out and a sizeable leak having been sprung. With time running short, the two have only one option remaining. One of them will have to let themselves drown while the other puts on diving gear and heads back to the rig with them in tow. The thought is that the deep hypothermia will allow the drowning victim to be revived after a few minutes times. It’s just a truly terrifying scene, but brilliantly executed, and easily the one thing I remember most about this movie.

One of my favorite actors from the 1980′s is Michael Biehn. He’s one of those actors who has the ability to make you like his characters no matter how virtuous or reprehensible they may be. Of course, the one character he’ll be remembered for most is Kyle Reese from “The Terminator.” Lt. Coffey is no hero, but I don’t really see him as a villain either, in spite of all the shady moves he makes. He’s been tremendously affected by his environment, and as such is not really behaving like himself. At least, that’s what I choose to believe, and that’s due to Biehn’s irresistible charm. But it seems that, outside of the James Cameron oeuvre, Biehn was never able to parlay that charm into a steady career. He did make a brief return with his part in “Planet Terror,” Robert Rodriguez’s half of the 2007 double feature known as “Grindhouse,” but I’ll save more detailed thoughts on that for a later time.

With the knowledge of where the career of James Cameron would travel from this point, one can look at “The Abyss” and see elements of each subsequent film (with the exception of 1994′s “True Lies”). Famous for his use of CGI, Cameron first puts it to good use here. This movie, ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Titanic” and “Avatar” each would provide breakthroughs in how best to use this technology in filmmaking. You have the strong female role, which Cameron put to good use in “Aliens” and would do so again with “Terminator 2.” Long before he would go in search of the Titanic’s wreckage, Cameron would first show off his love of underwater sequences (and the finding of lost treasures) here. Even the CGI responsible for creating the shape-shifting qualities of the villainous T-1000 from “Terminator 2″ would get a trial run in “The Abyss.” It may not have had the gusto to outdo “Batman” or “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” at the box office, the film’s final message may come off a bit heavy-handed, and the whole thing might seem like a movie which Steven Spielberg could easily have directed, but “The Abyss” is just as relevant, and just as good a movie as any of James Cameron’s other works.

Shrooms (2007)

Director: Paddy Breathnach

Starring: Lindsey Haun, Jack Huston, Max Kasch, Maya Hazen, Alice Greczyn, Robert Hoffman

Honestly, I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself. I’ve seen this kind of horror movie so many times that I’ve lost count, yet still I come back for more. The good ones are like a fine, angus beef steak dinner; you wish there was more to it, and you’re sad when it’s over. The bad ones are like tripping out, only to have it go horribly wrong; you knew damn well what you were getting yourself into when you popped it in, and you have no one else to blame but yourself for making that decision. “Shrooms” wants so badly to be a steak dinner, thinking itself clever, only to present its audience with a whole lot of “a trained monkey could write this crap!”

Five college friends go out into the middle of nowhere to trip out on mushrooms… because, you know, they couldn’t find anything to munch anywhere near civilization. To really get away from it all, they decide to give up their cell phones and hide them in the glove compartment of their SUV… because it’d be really funny to have an emergency and not be able to call anyone. The invention of the cell phone has admittedly dealt a serious blow to the horror genre. These movies tend to rely on their characters being unable to call anyone for help. Once the friends get where they are going, they tell scary campfire stories, and make sure to point out the differences between the good kind of mushroom and the bad kind of– and the main character eats one of the bad mushrooms. She wins the Idiot of the Week Award! But Tara (Lindsey Haun) doesn’t die. She just convulses and has visions of the near future involving the deaths of her friends. Wait, WHAT?!

If you think you’ve got a handle on where this is going, the odds are you’re probably right. The movie throws in a subplot involving survivors of some earlier tragedy years ago, but it’s mostly just for show. The main focus of the story stays on the five friends and their paranoia after consuming the fungi (the other four, besides Tara, eat the good kind). Meanwhile, Tara innocently wails and screams and flails about… and does all of these things a lot. She keeps seeing a Grim Reaper-type of character whenever there’s about to be death and, for reasons which you’ll figure out LONG before Tara does, so do her friends.

The way this whole movie plays out, I have to wonder if it wasn’t intended as some weird anti-drug PSA type of thing. I would like to believe that’s not the case, but then so many 1980′s horror movies (not to mention other genres) pulled exactly that same card. That isn’t the biggest problem for “Shrooms.” Beyond the silly, abbreviated title, you have to sneer at movies that require their characters to act stupid in order for the plot to move along. I say this despite being a fan of several 1980′s slasher franchises. They get a pass for nostalgia’s sake, among other things.  On the subject of gore, “Shrooms” to its credit behaves more like slasher films of the 1970′s like “Black Christmas” and “Halloween,” in that on-screen blood is minimalized… at least until the climax. That’s when you discover what’s “really” going on, but as I’ve suggested, anyone paying attention will have picked up on it long before they admit it. The total lack of suspense kills this one before it’s had the chance to get going. I, myself, was yelling the identity of the killer at the screen during the first act.

I really don’t know why American horror has sunk so low. Rehashing old ideas seems to be all that we are good for. Save the reminiscence for the films which actually belong to their time periods. Is it so hard to think beyond conventional storytelling tactics? The French and the Japanese both have a firm grasp on “thinking outside the box.” Technically, “Shrooms” isn’t a horrible movie on its own. It’s just not all that good, it’s too predictable and it’s not the greatest way to spend just shy of 90 minutes of your time. Maybe if one were to try watching it while stoned, that would make a difference… Nah, not worth it.

The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

Director: Steve Rash

Starring: Gary Busey, Don Stroud, Charles Martin Smith, Conrad Janis, Paul Mooney

Too many of the giants of rock n’ roll have left this world in a premature and tragic way, at far too young an age and just when we’d gotten familiar with them. A lot of the time some kind of drugs were involved, but others did not have control over their own fate when they departed this life. However they died, this often becomes the one thing about them that the general public talks about most. February 3, 1959 will forever be known as “The Day the Music Died.” This was the day when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, died in a plane crash in Iowa. Holly in particular had such an important role to play in the history of rock n’ roll that the method of his demise, while horrible, is not the final word on his life and career.

In 1955, Charles Hardin Holley, the man who would come to be known as Buddy Holly (Gary Busey), was just a 19-year old kid from Lubbock, Texas. Together with Jesse Charles and Ray Bob Simmons (Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith, playing characters based on Holly’s real-life bandmates J.I. Allison and Joe B. Mauldin), Holly forms his rock n’ roll band The Crickets. Very early on, Buddy expresses displeasure with the way the recording industry works, and insists that his band have full control over what kind of music they will play. It takes a little bit of arm-twisting, but producer Ross Turner (Conrad Janis) sees a gold mine with Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and he’s not about to let them just walk out the door. Through his business relationship with Turner, Holly meets his future wife, Maria Elena Santiago, who was working as Turner’s secretary at the time.

In the next four years, Buddy Holly and the Crickets churn out several hits (among them, “That’ll Be the Day” and “Everyday” are personal favorites), and in the process they manage to fool more than a few as to just what kind of men they really were. One of my favorite scenes has them booked to play at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. In an age before cable television, 24-hour news and the Internet, somebody forgot to inform the theater’s manager that Buddy and his band are all Caucasian boys, and as such would be the first to play at the Apollo. He initially declines to let them perform but as he had with the record producer, Buddy finds a way to change the man’s mind, arguing that the contract which the band signed technically said nothing about performing, merely to make a week-long “appearance.” Buddy knows that he can get his band on stage at the Apollo because the manager will find a certain financial irresponsibility in the prospect of paying them for doing nothing. They go on as scheduled, and actually manage to win over the all-African American crowd. In reality, it took a few shows for this to work, not just one. Doesn’t matter… It’s a great moment.

One watches “The Buddy Holly Story” always with the title character’s fate in the back of your mind. The love story between Buddy and Maria is particularly bittersweet because we know how it ends. We are at least spared a reenactment of the plane crash, as the movie ends with Holly’s final performance. I have long regarded Gary Busey as the American Sean Bean, a reference to how the English actor always seems to play characters that end up dying. I can’t think of a single movie I’ve seen featuring Busey where his character isn’t pushing up the daisies before the fade to black, at least not right off hand. “The Buddy Holly Story” almost qualifies, except for the text over his image at the end which reminds us of that which we need not be reminded. Mostly, I’ve seen him in villainous roles (which accounts for his filmography’s high death ratio), some comic relief roles and even one or two in law enforcement. Although he is never fully absorbed into the character… sometimes you believe him, while other times he seems like Busey dressed as Holly. I can find no other role which Gary Busey has played which is more unlike anything else he has done than that of Buddy Holly. Particularly impressive is the gutsy move of having him sing all of Holly’s songs, which Busey is able to handle quite well. It’s a shame the part didn’t win him any awards, although it does stand as the only film to earn him a Best Actor nomination for the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and the Oscars.

One of the fatal flaws of most biographical motion pictures is historical inaccuracy. Often you get a movie like “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story,” which makes the mistake of assuming its audience knows nothing about the title character and rearranges events in the timeline to suit its needs. “The Buddy Holly Story” also takes advantage of the truth for drama’s sake, but never in a especially egregious fashion. Even depicting his parents as unsupportive of his chosen career path shouldn’t be looked at as a major problem, considering that Lawrence and Ella Holley aren’t in the movie for very long.

We will never know what else Buddy Holly might have had in store for us all had he not died in that plane crash, but that doesn’t mean his spirit has not lived on in others. His four short years in the business do not mean that he can’t be counted among the most influential forces in rock n’ roll. Elvis Costello sounds eerily Holly-esque, and Paul McCartney himself has stated (and I quote): “If it wasn’t for the Crickets, there wouldn’t be any Beatles.” Countless other acts from that era can say that they received inspiration from hearing the music of Buddy Holly. Without him and Elvis Presley, it’s arguable that rock n’ roll would not exist, at least not as the entity we know. Comparitively speaking, “The Buddy Holly Story” has not remained as fresh in the minds of the public as other movies from 1978 (“Animal House,” “The Deer Hunter” and “Superman,” to name a few), nor even amidst the genre of music-related films. But if watching it gets someone from the generations born after 1959 interested in listening to Buddy Holly’s songs (as it should), that more than anything would be a testament to his legacy.

Captain America - The Winter Soldier (2013)

Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie

Within the universe created by the Marvel Studios film company, in which costumed superheroes teamed together to fight a common enemy in 2012′s “The Avengers,” each individual has traversed a unique path. Bruce Banner, living a Jekyll & Hyde kind of  life, taught himself how to control the beast from within. Tony Stark/Iron Man learned how to act selflessly and that there can even be a life for Tony Stark separate from Iron Man, through three solo adventures. In two films set in Asgard and other realms including our own, Thor learned patience, humility, respect for his elders, and all other tools required for the future king of a world populated by the Norse demigods of legend… although he still hasn’t learned how to recognize when his brother, Loki, is deceiving him.

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is likely walking the most difficult road of them all. He was an undersized kid who just wanted to serve his country during World War II, and got that chance thanks to the Super Soldier program which made him bigger, stronger, and enhanced all of his motor skills. Thanks to him, the plans of the Red Skull and the criminal organization HYDRA were defeated… but the world that he knew is gone. It’s not 1942 anymore. Steve was hibernating in the Arctic for 70 years following the events of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and the alien threat that he and others had to deal with in “The Avengers” did not give Steve the proper chance to adjust to the 21st century. By the time of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” he’s a bit more acclimated to his new environment. His biggest test in the new world is not in fighting monsters from other realms, nor is it ascertaining what all this newfangled technology is all about. Now he has to struggle with the uncertainty of who is friend or foe, and contend with a new enemy who will strike at the very heart of him.

Picking up after the events of “The Avengers,” Captain America now works with/for S.H.I.E.L.D., that organization which is equipped to tackle situations which the CIA, NSA, FBI, and even the military are in no position to handle. Lately, this has meant frequently partnering up with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), a.k.a. Black Widow. One hostage situation nearly goes south because Natasha is retrieving files when she should be helping with taking out the bad guys. It turns out she was doing this under orders from S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), an explanation that still doesn’t earn her any points with Rogers, who feels his trust betrayed. He has bigger problems to worry about when a mysterious assassin known as the Winter Soldier takes Fury out, and he and Romanoff, along with a few other loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, are branded fugitives by senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). HYDRA it seems is alive, well, and firmly rooted in every conceivable corner of the United States government. With the aid of Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Cap must put an end to HYDRA’s plans before millions are killed.

The plot of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” bears the resemblance of a two-hour episode of the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV series (which itself manages to work the plot of this movie into its own storyline). As soon as Alexander Pierce first shows up, I knew that Robert Redford had been hired to play the villain. Speaking of Redford, he lends this movie the same kind of gravitas that Tommy Lee Jones, another veteran actor, had for the previous “Captain America” entry. Chris Evans, now playing the role of Steve Rogers for the third time, looks quite comfortable in the red, white and blue costume. Likewise for Scarlett Johansson, also in her third appearance as the beautiful and formidable Black Widow. Early signs in this film might lead one to suspect a romance is brewing between the two, but don’t be fooled. For all that they’ve been through together, Steve and Natasha are more like family now than anything else. Besides, she still has that will they?/won’t they? friendship with Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye to further explore without adding a new complication to the mix.

Except for a few moments here and there, you won’t have much cause to express surprise during “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Yes, the movie is fairly easy to predict, but complicated plots aren’t what these movie are made for. The intent is for the audience to have a rollicking good time, and on that “The Winter Soldier” delivers just as surely as “The First Avenger” did. Still, there will be those for whom the continued existence of this franchise remains a mystery. I will defend to the death the superhero genre much in the same way that I do the horror genre. In either case, I’ve read countless reviews which basically scream “I’ve never been into these kinds of movies, so I’m predisposed to hate this one, too.” In particular, “The Avengers” caught a lot of hell from critics who deemed their attention worth being paid to “smarter” entertainment. I can’t wait to hear or read the same sort of commentary for “The Winter Soldier.” While I respect in theory the notion of not wanting to waste one’s time, what I don’t understand is the futility of attempting to apply logic where none really exists, which is what the majority of the negative reviews for these movies attempt to do.

Unable to reap the benefits of being a period piece like the first “Captain America” film, “The Winter Soldier” trades nostalgia for politics. What if the Third Reich of Nazi Germany had been more like Al-Qaeda, in the sense that the death of Adolf Hitler did not mean the end of the threat? “Cut off the head, two more will rise” is a line that is often repeated by HYDRA members. How would the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America have handled things had he been around for 9/11? My guess is that Steve Rogers and Dick Cheney would NOT be friends.

That Thing You Do (1996)

Director: Tom Hanks

Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Tom Hanks, Liv Tyler, Jonathan Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry

Inspiration comes in many forms, typically when no effort is being made to look for it. For musicians who receive it, this can be the building blocks of something huge, something that will bring them true immortality. Jimmy (Jonathan Schaech) is a songwriter in 1964 whose ballad “That Thing You Do” is about to be given a snappy beat and turn into one of the most popular songs in the United States of America. But Jimmy is not the hero of this story. His career-minded focus and selfish behavior will make him the villain of the piece, if there are such things as villains in the movie “That Thing You Do!” Instead, the “hero” role goes to drummer Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott). Guy is a nice boy who works for his father’s appliance store in Erie, Pennsylvania. He would love to be doing something else, especially if music is involved, but he sees no future where that’s a possibility. Fortuitously, Jimmy’s band needs a new drummer, the old one having broken his arm. They perform, with Guy, at a Battle of the Bands competition… and they win. Soon, Guy finds himself touring the country with The Wonders. He’ll even get to meet and jam with his idol along the way. Just as quickly as it begins, the ride will come to an abrupt halt, but the music lives on.

Tom Hanks, who also plays the band’s manager, Mr. White, made his directorial debut with “That Thing You Do!” It was his third consecutive movie set either in or around the 1960′s, an era which obviously holds a great personal meaning for the actor/director. He’s reliving that part of his life through Guy Patterson, a character written as though Hanks could have played it. Actor Tom Everett Scott channels enough of Hanks to make this apparent, while leaving enough to make the role his own. If the movie had been made in the late 1970′s, when Hanks would have been Scott’s age, the nostalgia factor would not be as great as it is for a movie made in 1996. Everything that made the early 60′s what they were is on display, from the music to the fashion, the automobiles and the buildings. And the television sets. Can’t forget about those.

The movie marks the early point in several of its actors’ careers. Most impressively, it was made during a time before we really knew who either Liv Tyler or Charlize Theron were. Certainly, we knew that Tyler was the daughter of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, as well as the stepdaughter of Todd Rundgren (music was already in her blood!), but not much more beyond that. Although Charlize Theron’s part in the movie is not very big, and although there is nothing here to indicate that she will become an award-winning actress, Theron has an important part to play. She’s Tina, Guy’s girlfriend when the movie begins. But just like bands, relationships have multiple reasons why they don’t last. Her excuses are that she met a hunky dentist and is otherwise bored with The Wonders’ concerts. This will serve to help Guy move on from his boring life in Erie, PA just as much as his role in the band will. Tina may be gone, but there is always Jimmy’s underappreciated girlfriend, Faye (Liv Tyler). We know from the moment Mr. White begins asking personal questions of the both of them that he sees potential in a relationship between Guy and Faye. Really, if being a musician means you get to have both Charlize Theron AND Liv Tyler… Maybe I should invest in a drum set.

One of my favorite scenes in this movie,  in which no musical numbers are being performed, is the confrontation scene after The Wonders’ television debut. Jimmy is complaining about the caption on the live TV feed which, in reference to him, read: “Careful, girls! He’s engaged!” This in itself is a neat tribute to a similar proclamation made about the then-married John Lennon during one of The Beatles’ most infamous TV performances. The trouble is, Jimmy and Faye are not engaged, and it doesn’t sound like that’s something Jimmy will ever want. As Faye exposes Jimmy for who he really is, Liv Tyler reminds me of Judy Garland from “The Wizard of Oz,” the emotion in Faye’s eyes mimicking that of Dorothy Gale when she and her friend are at first denied an audience with the Wizard.

Lost in the shuffle of several award-nominated and award-winning films in his career, Tom Hanks delivers a loving tribute to the pre-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band days of 1960′s rock n’ roll. The music alone is worth watching “That Thing You Do!” over and over again. The movie is a fantasy about dreams fulfilled and the hero who wins the girl in the end, but there is also authenticity in that so many musical acts over the years have seen their star rise and fall in the blink of an eye. No matter the reason why the fame does not last… and this is true of all entertainers… the final word can only be based on whether or not they continue to gain new fans long after they are gone.