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Review- Captain America: The First Avenger, Oranges and Sunshine & Precious Life

By August 5, 2011No Comments

Captain America posterOf all the remakes, sequels, fran­chises and com­ic book adapt­a­tions we are being offered this winter Captain America: The First Avenger is the one least likely to send a shiver of excite­ment down a Kiwi filmgoer’s spine. And yet, from rel­at­ively mod­est begin­nings a half decent adven­ture film grows – it isn’t going to change the way you think and feel about any­thing but Captain America at least won’t make you want to run scream­ing for the exits in embar­rass­ment and shame.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans from Fantastic Four) is a weedy, sickly kid from Brooklyn – digit­ally de-hanced if that’s the oppos­ite of enhanced – who des­per­ately wants to fight the Nazis for Uncle Sam. After sev­er­al humi­li­at­ing rejec­tions kindly sci­ent­ist Stanley Tucci enlists him in an exper­i­ment­al super-soldier pro­gramme, fills him full of what looks like blue Powerade and turns him into a muscle-bound, fast-healing, über-grunt.

But the army (Tommy Lee Jones in good form) doesn’t know what do with him so he’s sent off to sell war bonds and stoke the home fires while a deranged Hugo Weaving hijacks the Nazi war effort for an even more dan­ger­ous world dom­in­a­tion scheme. Eventually, through sheer bravery and gung-ho can-do, Cap forces the Army to see sense and he gets to take it to the fiendish Hun.

Not much more than a Saturday morn­ing kids seri­al brought into the 21st cen­tury, Captain America dis­dains psy­cho­lo­gic­al com­plex­ity – or more than one lay­er of mean­ing – in favour of the kind of old-fashioned “beat up the Nazis” mater­i­al that had audi­ences cheer­ing sixty years ago. The real pur­pose of this film, though, is to intro­duce Captain America to the next stage of his devel­op­ment: next year’s Avengers movie fea­tur­ing Iron Man, Thor and Samuel L. Jackson and on that basis alone it’s job done.

Oranges and Sunshine posterYou can see a dif­fer­ent, subtler, dare I say it bet­ter, ver­sion of Hugo Weaving in Oranges and Sunshine an emo­tion­al true story about a dis­tress­ing twen­ti­eth cen­tury scan­dal. For dec­ades until 1970, the British and Australian gov­ern­ments encour­aged thou­sands of young chil­dren – many orphans but many not – to be depor­ted from the UK to orphan­ages in the lucky coun­try. For the gov­ern­ments it was expli­cit sup­port for the ‘white Australia’ immig­ra­tion pro­gramme and for some kids it meant unpaid forced labour (and worse) at the hands of the Christian Brothers.

Emily Watson plays the cru­sad­ing social work­er who uncovered the tragedy nearly 25 years ago and who is still work­ing to reunite people with their fam­il­ies today. It’s a shock­ing story told with (mostly) restraint.

Precious Life posterAlso let­ting bit­ter irony do the heavy lift­ing is a doc­u­ment­ary from Israel called Precious Life. TV Journalist Shlomi Eldar thought he was telling a human interest story about a baby from Gaza need­ing a life-saving bone mar­row trans­plant at a Tel Aviv hos­pit­al but, as little Mohammad’s con­di­tion deteri­or­ates along with the situ­ation in the region, he finds that his film is tak­ing on the con­cen­trated power of meta­phor: the saint-like doc­tor Raz Somech, des­per­ately try­ing to make con­tact with his Gazan patients while – as an army reserv­ist – he’s invad­ing the same ter­rit­ory is the whole crazy she­mozzle in a nut­shell. Precious Life is easy to miss but I hope you don’t.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 August, 2011.