Niagara Gazette

April 1, 2014

CALLERI: A comic book adventure and two foreign films entice moviegoers

Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the latest in the comic book movie derby, joins “The Lunchbox” and “Child’s Pose” in the dash for your entertainment attention.

Captain America does good deeds with less flash. His roots are in traditional warfare, but he still has that superhero gleam in his eyes. Once again, the Captain, real name Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans), is compelled to rescue millions of unsuspecting Americans, all doomed to a blistering demise thanks to the machinations of a group of villains.

This gang of thugs, robotic in their willingness to follow orders, are controlled by a well-dressed gentleman, ready to unleash spectacular flying aircraft carriers. They bristle with fire power and never have to land. A lethal masked man arrives (the Winter Soldier of the title), and he’s also got mayhem on his mind.

Blessed with eternal youth (he’s 95-years old these days) and a muscular body that comes from medical intervention (he’s a lab rat, not a gym rat), Rogers is good-natured but melancholy about events from his past. He still yearns for his deceased pal Bucky Barnes. After Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) enlists him to thwart impending doom, Rogers, always willing to help save humanity, finds himself surrounded by spies, counterspies, traitors, and friends he can’t trust.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is moderately entertaining, but judicious editing of a number of scenes would have made it much more fun. The talky screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is dull and doesn’t sustain the film’s 136-minute length. Talk can be good in an action movie; however, not much that’s interesting is spoken here. Markus was born and educated in Buffalo, so I hope he wrote the better parts.

The action is frantic, especially the fight scenes with their whiplash cutting. It’s as if the directing brothers Anthony Russo and Joe Russo took frames out of scenes to create a silent movie jerkiness. Some car chases and moments of fighting are like watching the Keystone Kops.

Except for one performer, the acting is sub-par. Evans speaks without energy. A too mellow Robert Redford shows up and ambles through his role. Only Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow creates an aura.

Overall, the movie is too by-the-numbers and lacks a sense of daring. It comes across as having been made because it had to be done.

“The Lunchbox” is a bittersweet romantic comedy from India. Letters exchanged between strangers have provided plots for literary fiction, but their use in movies is tougher to pull off. Showing characters reading notes can become boring. It takes a solid directorial hand to make this work on screen.

Although it’s his first feature film, “The Lunchbox,” from India, is in very good hands with Ritesh Batra directing from his own screenplay.

The movie explores the tradition of dabbawala, which is an astonishing delivery system through which hot lunches packed in cylindrical containers are collected, most often from the homes of workers, and are brought to their workplaces by primarily men using bicycles. One dabbawala might deliver dozens of lunchboxes to many addresses. The empty canisters are returned to the customers’ residences after lunch. Mistakes in pick-up and delivery are rarely made. One day, Saajan, a long-time government employee close to retirement, receives the wrong lunchbox. He usually gets his dabba from a restaurant,

The new food is delicious, and he sends back a grateful note. Soon a figurative relationship is begun with Ila, a young woman in a dull marriage, who cooks the enticing lunches. The errant deliveries continue, and they exchange letters. Out of this simplicity rises a superb film that engages moviegoers as so few do. Should they meet? Will they?

It’s wonderful to watch the story unfold as it examines the taboos of a slowly changing society and offers a fascinating glimpse of the sights and sounds of Mumbai. The very well-acted movie stars Irrfan Khan as Saajan and Nimrat Kaur as Ila, both of whom express the complexities of their character’s situation with great style and consideration. “The Lunchbox” is a completely engaging film.

“Child’s Pose,” from Romania, follows Cornelia, an obsessive architect eager to maintain control over her thirtysomething son. She finds an opportunity to do so after he’s charged with vehicular manslaughter. Directed by Calin Peter Netzer, and co-written by him and Razvan Radulescu, the movie stars an extraordinary Luminita Gheorghiu as the woman determined to manipulate everyone around her, not only medical personnel and corrupt bureaucrats, but also her emotionally weak son.

Cornelia, who thrives on an aberrant sense of denial, does not want him to leave her life for any reason. The strong film treads a little into psychological thriller territory. How unhealthy can a relationship between a mother and her son be? When you see “Child’s Pose,” you’ll find out.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@outlook.com.