"LOOK, I'm 95. I'm not dead!"
That's what Chris Evans, aka Captain America quips at one point during the fabulous Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And I'm not the only one who thinks this movie is the greatest. It's been No.1 at the box-office three weeks in a row.
Whenever I write about one of these action movies, based on comic book characters, I inevitably receive a few e-mails from what are called "fan boys" (but this includes interested ladies, too.) They lecture me on what I don't know about the history of Batman or Superman or SpiderMan or any of the X-Men, etc. And it's true. I've never read a Marvel or Action comic. I was too busy reading Modern Screen, where I eventually started working in show biz. (Movie stars were kind of like comic book characters in a way!) I know what I know about action heroes from their movie incarnations.
And what I know about The Winter Soldier is that experts say it is one of the very best action films based on a comic book character ever made. It doesn't even need the comic book trappings. The movie stands alone as a twisty, exciting, thought-provoking thriller, in which our hero -- who was transformed from a nerd to a dynamo of strength during World War II -- has to redefine his role in the universe and ponder what his country does and what it expects of him. (You will be inevitably reminded of recent NSA proclivities.)
Everyone -- including an excellent Robert Redford -- performs beyond usual expectations of the genre. These actors include Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan and Scarlett Johansson (luscious as Black Widow.) But it is Chris Evans who really holds the thing together. He just has...something. I can't think of another actor who could be so convincing, so sincere, so, well -- All-American! Captain America is an iconic role, but Evans manages just the right amount of humor, humility and in this one, a rather touching disillusionment.
The fight scenes, the "action" are spectacular. Nobody looking for that alone could possibly complain. But the other side of it, the conspiracy/thriller side; that's unique, almost 007-ish.
I hope Evans reconsiders retiring from movies. He has created something truly special in Captain America. And if a subsequent film could maintain the quality of Winter Soldier, Evans might be well-compensated enough, financially and as an artist, to stall his retreat from celebrity.
•SPEAKING OF great movies, ABC-TV ran its annual broadcast of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments. All five hours. (This includes the commercials.) You don't need to "believe," to realize this is one of the most spectacular, well-realized, vividly colored, ravishingly costumed epics ever made. Perhaps it is THE best. And as eye-popping as the special effects are, so are the characteristic DeMille-directed performances. He apparently always told his actors to project to the balcony -- in China! In the case of the great Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, who loves Moses (the wonderfully hunky but Exodus-fixated Charlton Heston) but is forced to marry the Pharaoh, Yul Brynner, she projects to a balcony on Mars!
It is one of the most delectably overwrought female performances in film history. Toward the end, Baxter and Brynner seem to be enacting some ancient version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. ("You are no god, you are not even a man!") Forget the parting of the Red Sea, Anne Baxter is the most dazzling special effect of The Ten Commandments.
•REMEMBER MOVIES and TV before VHS (some people still use it!) DVDs (some people still watch these!) DVR and YouTube?
I do. And while certain aspects of Internet technology can be frustrating or intrusive, I take my hat off to those out there who have a historical/nostalgic interest in films and TV and set up blogs and websites devoted to things you never thought you'd see again.
One of these is called The Redundant Variety Hour. It's a site devoted to variety shows of the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s. (After that, the genre finally expired.) You can find everyone from Cher to Raquel Welch to Gale Storm to Tallulah Bankhead, Ann Miller, Ann-Margret...Joey Heatherton, Liberace...Peggy Lee...Tom Jones ....the Osmonds, the Brady Bunch and pretty much almost anybody else who ever attempted a song on national TV. (Lots of great clips from vintage Tony Awards, Oscar ceremonies and the Ed Sullivan Show.) You could probably track down most of these rarities on YouTube but this particular site is alphabetized, categorized and easy to navigate. I was alerted to this blog when a friend send me a terrific clip of Elaine Stritch performing a number from Mame -- something I'd never seen before!
It's one of those online spots that can trap you into hours of browsing -- you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wonder "Whatever happened to class?" as the song from Chicago goes. You'll also wonder whatever happened to the time-honored business of "camp." When show biz had a sense of humor, a wink and a nod.
Now you're clubbed on the head, mirthlessly.
•ENDQUOTE: "She believed in the power of love, and wasn't afraid of being hurt." I love this remark from one of Elizabeth Taylor's grandchildren, Naomi deLuce Wilding. She wrote a piece in Glamour magazine about her "granny" (known to us as The Star of Stars.) This article spoke volumes about the real woman behind the image. Elizabeth really did believe in the power of love and she believed it was "going to last forever" every single time. Yes, even Eddie Fisher and Larry Fortensky. (Especially Fortensky. It was her first truly "sober" marriage.)
Oh, I received an e-mail from hairdresser/make-up man Maury Hopson, who knew Elizabeth well. He wrote: "Yes, she was always late, but she was always worth waiting for!" And another (a woman) who knew ET as Mrs. Warner of Virginia tells us: "Elizabeth was kind and real to me."