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January 7, 2015

Simplistic TV: Agent Carter Premiere Episode


Maybe it’s because I’m an unapologetic Marvel “fanboy”.  Maybe it’s because strong female heroines like Ellen Ripley, Beatrix Kiddo, and Sarah Connor have always been more interesting to me than their stereotypical square-jawed Dudley Do-Right male counterparts.  Maybe it’s because several other shows in the same genre, including its parent company predecessor, underwhelmed out the gate.  Maybe it’s because my male physiology reacts to seeing the flawless Hayley Atwell by raising my endorphin levels to a staggering amount.  Hell, it may be all of those reasons combined which resulted in my enjoyment of the premiere for Agent Carter. 

Agent Carter, a spin-off of Marvel’s best One-Shot short film of the same name and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., takes place about a year after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger and follows that film’s standout character, Agent Peggy Carter.  Carter, a war hero of the highest order, is now forced to find her way and try to do her job as a spy while stuck in a chauvinistic, male driven world keen to keep her serving coffee and answering phones.  So yeah, it’s like Mad Men meets Alias.  Truthfully, the series gives Marvel a real opportunity to flesh out the Peggy Carter character.  Thus, bringing more understanding as to why Cap’ still pines for her and why she would be the one chosen as the first Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Carter has got the no nonsense determination of a Nick Fury and the beautiful but deadly charm of Black Widow.

“Love The Hat.”

In defense of Agent Carter’s less enjoyable programming peers, shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Constantine, and even (gulp) Gotham have story arcs meant to be spread across the normal 20 to 26 episode season structure.  Agent Carter is meant to be a strong, short arching, cinematic punch of 8 episodes; much like a standard UK television series.  (Which is why UK television is of a higher quality than American television in my opinion.  Although, that’s a conversation for another day)  However, it is clear from at least the first two episodes that showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas are confident in what they are doing, know what their show needs to accomplish, and know how to SMOOTHLY insert elements of its comic book and MCU source material in a way that enhances the experience instead of hindering it.  (Ahem!  Gotham.  Ahem!)  And really, it’s just plain fun.  The 40s era SPIRIT and charm has always been a great vessel for any absurd or unbelievable concepts the show wants to try.  (See: Indiana Jones)  And don’t worry about punches being pulled either.  Agent Carter may not be Boardwalk Empire in terms of graphic violence, but it is not from a lack of trying.  There is death and brutality in this female led, 40s era, 8 o’clock, comic book show, owned by Disney that may surprise you. 

Hayley Atwell seems to be born to play this role.  You can see why Marvel had the confidence to give her a big showcase show like this that she has to practically carry alone.  She not only nails every countering line to the volley of sexist insults hurled her way, she seems to have the ability to share an instant chemistry with whichever actor they put across from her.  She fortunately gets to separate herself from Scarlett Johansson and Ming-Na because they both play very guarded characters.  Peggy Carter is guarded in a different way in my opinion.  While Melinda May and Black Widow use lies to protect themselves, Carter, armed with truth, almost dares anyone wanting to crack her shell to step up try.  Her confidence as a character and Atwell’s portrayal of that confidence is perfect.

Dominic Cooper, although having a minor role, is still great as Howard Stark.  He does not take the easy way out by doing a Robert Downey Jr. impersonation.  He leans more toward the Howard Hughes/Citizen Kane type of billionaire-genius-playboy-philanthropist.  My one tiny gripe would be the Edwin Jarvis character, played by James D’Arcy.  D’Arcy is a great choice for the role and plays Jarvis well, but I hope the writers turn up his snark a bit more.  I realize I am contaminated by Paul Bettany’s brilliant A.I. version, and I know they are utilizing the role reversal of Peggy being tough and Jarvis being foppish.  I just want the banter between the two of them to be a little more biting, much like it is with Downey Jr. and Bettany.  It is there between the two…but I’m greedy for more. 

The rest of the supporting cast is fine in their roles, more or less not getting in the way of the story.  I say that hoping the Lyndsy Fonseca waitress character Angie either amounts to something much bigger or falls a little more to the wayside.  Shea Whigham’s character Roger Dooley is a preferable boss to Peggy Carter than Bradley Whitford’s Agent Flynn from the Marvel One-Shot.  Dooley seems to fit better in the era than Whitford’s Agent Flynn did.  Now, that may just be because I’m used to seeing Whigham on Boardwalk Empire.  However, I like to think it’s his gruff and unapologetic use of chauvinism as apposed to Flynn’s snarky approach.  Whigham is clueless to Carter’s activities, but I don’t see him as a cliched idiot. 

While staying up to see a humdrum Ant-Man trailer, I managed to find something even better cooking right under my nose.  Agent Carter is a show that hits the ground running with a quality to it that might catch you off guard.  It is a welcome addition to the Marvel universe and seems to bring hope that Marvel shows to follow will also learn from its predecessors mistakes.  Scan yourself for vita-rays…have someone tie you to a chair…turn on some Benny Goodman…oh and tip generously…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

November 24, 2014

Slaughter Film Presents: Action Movie Time Machine – Captain America


Now-a-days comic book movies have become the saving grace of the summer blockbuster season. What were once exorcises in a maligned art form are now the most highly anticipated events of the year. So for the next few weeks we’re going to take a look at comic book films from back in the day. When they were still paying their dues. When all the answers to every problem wasn’t an army of digital effects artists and programmers. All aboard the “Action Movie Time Machine”. It’s time to visit the first
The year is 1979. A nuclear power plant known as Three Mile Island, had a near melt-down. Robert Duvall loves the smell of napalm in the morning”. Young men and women with radical hairdos mourn the death of punk legend Sid Vicious. All this and Reb Brown throws his shield as “Captain America”.
It all begins with Steven Rogers, Reb Brown, who has just returned home for a long stint with the Marines, from which he has been discharged. His plan now is to see America, as he drifts from town to town in his killer ’70s pussy-mobile. Complete with seagull “van art”. With his military career behind him, Steve plans to get along by selling his paintings… Not the Captain American you remember from the comics?
This is all fine and well until he receives some distressing news from Jeff, an old friend who asks Steve to meet with him. As Steve makes his way to meet Jeff’s home, a group of teamsters attempt to  kill Steve by creating an oil slick on the cliff side road Steve is traveling on. Steve loses control and slides off the edge of the cliff. Miraculously, Steve emerges unscathed and doesn’t seem to be alarmed in any way.
This oil slick scene consists of Steve trying to regain control of his van for over thirty seconds. It doesn’t sound like much, but believe me, it’s classic ’70s goofy. Aside from it being goofy, this scene stands out because one talented madman had to operate the van, sliding on the edge of a cliff, as they filmed the scene. Bravo!
Eventually Steve arrives, only to find Jeff murdered. He meets with Simon Wells, a scientist who once worked with Steve’s father conducting secret experiments and carrying out highly classified projects for the United States government. Simon suggests that perhaps Jeff’s death and the attack on Steve could be connected. Someone must be trying to get their hands on Jeff’s data concerning the Neutron Bomb which he has been building. And Steve was attacked because…his father, who is now dead, did…umm…stuff..?
Steve’s father was developing a special steroid to boost the average man’s strength and endurance. This synthetic steroid is called the “F.L.A.G. Serum”. Simon now wants Steve to follow in his fathers footsteps by taking the FLAG Serum and using his increased strength to help protect the Neutron Bomb.
This is around the time our story develops in two ways;
The first being a terrorist crime boss plot  to build a Neutron Bomb and detonate it in the metropolitan area of Phoenix, Az. The bomb will kill everyone within so many miles, but leave everything else untouched. With everyone dead, his men will be able to walk right in and steal the city blind.
The second is Steve wrestling with the temptation of his newly found freedom and instead taking on the responsibility of becoming a super soldier and fighting off terrorists. What helps Steve make up his mind is several more attacks on his life by hired goons. One of which is almost fatal. Steve’s life is saved when Simon injects the FLAG Serum into Steve while he is unconscious. The serum works and Steve recovers almost overnight.

With Steve now on board, Simon has a red, white and blue costume designed to conceal Steve’s identity while he’s fighting for America. This new outfit comes with a Plexiglas shield, a refurbished van complete with high-tech doo-dads and a patriotically painted motorbike.
With the Neutron Bomb now complete, Steve races to intercept it in transport. Once he does, Simon meets Steve to disarm the bomb before it blows…which he does… The End.
Before I share my thought on “Captain America”, I would like to cover a little bit of Marvel movie history.
This is the second time Captain America was portrait in any live-action incarnation. The first being a fifteen part serial starring Dick Purcell, from 1944. It was a poor adaptation of the then Timely Comics character. Purcell played District Attorney Grant Gardner who became Captain America to prevent a mad doctor from acquiring equipment to build super weapons. No super soldier serum equals no Captain America in my opinion.
Now, years later, Marvel had been trying to take the company in other directions. They were chomping at the bit the to have more of their characters adapted into film and television. The only problem was that the technology, at the time, wasn’t powerful enough portray some of the more fantastic super human concepts. The various production teams that worked on these projects were also often limited by budget. These shortcomings resulted in either one of two things.
They had to re-imagine certain character elements, simplifying them to help sell the overall production. Or they tried to make do with what they had and failed miserably. The Incredible Hulk television show was a good example of this. Rather than adding ridiculous prosthetic makeup and costume to Bill Bixby’s character (David Banner) to make him look like the Hulk, they just painted Lou Ferrigno green. They kept it simple, focused on the characters and it worked.
The same goes for this film. Reb Brown actually plays the son of Captain America. This way Universal Studios didn’t have to spend the extra money turning the film into a period piece set in some foreign country so Captain America could punch Hitler in the face. What doesn’t work so much is that his shield and costume are completely re-invented. He looks nothing like the Steve Rogers/Captain America from the comic book and comes off pretty goofy. But, after all, it was the ’70s. If I’m not upset about Batman’s “Tumbler” not looking like the classic Bat-mobile, or that he has shark repellent in his helicopter, or that “Bat-nipples” are a thing, I guess I can’t get to excited about a Plexiglas shield and motorcycle helmet.
The REAL problem with “Captain America” is that it is a ’70s made for television movie of the week. And with that it has hammy acting, poor edits, mediocre special effects, it lacks a major comic book villain and it drags a bit in the middle. Is it a great film? No. But it is a pretty fun super hero time capsule.
It aired on CBS long before my time, but I could imagine being a child back in ’79 – sitting in front of the television, patiently waiting for the movie to start and complaining that the commercials are taking too long. Mmmm, the sweet smell or nostalgia. 
  So in conclusion, “Captain America” isn’t for everyone. But for those of you who are comic nerds or if the ’70s were your heyday — you’re going to love it.
I’m Cory Carr and this concludes another trip on the “Action Movie Time Machine”. Until next time, Semper Fi Punk!
For more from Cory, check out his website, where he and his good friend Forest Taylor record weekly podcasts, reviewing the films that are legendary, even in Hell!
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