Captain America: The First Avenger: To extent that reading reviews of any comic-book movies could involve any kind of injustice, obviously it would be the nerdy, niche-y, not-actually-anything-to-do-with-justice kind of injustice (kind of like the injustices combated by fictional costumed heroes!). That said, it kind of sucks that Captain America is going to wind up with substantially less enthusiastic reviews than Thor. What’s up with that? I mean, I enjoyed Thor well enough, but Captain America is a semi-unexpected delight that actually, for the most part, uses its Marvel Universe-building as an advantage, not as an obligatory subplot. Thor does have some nicely timed fish-out-of-water comedy, while Cap is pretty earnest throughout. But the sincere 40s sci-fi war story of Captain America works better than the sincere gods-versus-gods melodrama of Thor. You can read more about it in my actual review, but from a craft perspective, Captain America is probably the best-directed Marvel Studios production to date. Perhaps Joe Johnston would take this as a small victory, as it essentially just confirms his facility over a couple of actor-directors (Kenneth Branagh and Jon Favreau), but given that all of the really accomplished Marvel-related movies have come from outside their own house, it’s something, at least.
Friends with Benefits: Something occurred to me while watching Friends with Benefits: crafting a romantic-comedy obstacle is rough business. Maybe that’s just due to the glut of samey-sounding/feeling romcoms (Friends with Benefits follows the identically premised No Strings Attached, and that wasn’t exactly the first movie to explore the idea of non-romantic sex between people who are in fact extremely well-matched, romantically), but it seems like in order to keep characters apart modern romantic comedies either force ridiculous contrivances (he’s engaged to someone else! She finds out that it was all just a stupid bet! Or was it?!) or tortured psychological motivation (she’s waiting for Prince Charming because her mom never found him! He has problems with commitment because his mother left!) (those are actual supposed motivations for Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake not admitting that they like each other in Friends with Benefits) that seem like characters could just, you know, stop dwelling on.
It’s tricky, because the mental stuff is probably more realistic in theory but rarely has enough weight in practice; but you don’t want to do one of those movies where someone has to run to the airport at the end after a solid forty to sixty minutes of stupid misunderstandings. I don’t really have a solution, and it’s certainly possible to work within those constraints: I actually liked Friends with Benefits; it was cute and funny, two things many rom-coms never manage. But I guess what I’m saying is, screenwriters and directors should spend less time commenting on cliches and more time just studying romantic movies that don’t have many of ’em, like Say Anything. Yeah, that’s my solution to everything. [As far as rom-com obstacles go, I’ve always preferred: We were already married to each other, and weren’t very good at it. Comedies of Remarriage! -Ed.]
The Myth of the American Sleepover>: I’m a sucker for one-night-in-the-life movies, probably doubly so for those about teenagers (as so many of them are); it’s such a bracing, immediate antidote to those movies that try to cram an entire school year into ninety minutes, an admitted structural pet peeve of mine. I’m also a sucker for the lyrical everyday imagery of Aaron Katz’s Dance Party USA and Quiet City. The Myth of the American Sleepover falls somewhere in between Katz’s aesthetic and the more pandering mainstream versions of the one-crazy-night formula (say Can’t Hardly Wait)—it’s chattier than the former, but more grounded than the latter. If you want even more comparisons: it’s not as panoramic as Dazed and Confused or hilarious as Superbad.
But David Robert Mitchell’s debut film, which follows a bunch of loosely connected teenagers on the last night of summer, does have its own quiet rhythm. Besides the effective young actors, mostly first-timers, enacting convincing awkwardness, what’s most striking about Mitchell’s work is its non-cloying sweetness. The characters are by turns misguided, careless, or clueless, but not one of them comes across as mean. As far as hormonal teenagers go, most of them have good intentions; some are even suspiciously articulate about their transition from childhood to whatever comes next. The film stops short of outright sap, though, and ends at just the right moment.
Another Earth: I’m also a sucker for indie sci-fi; anything, really, that helps shield the genre from bad Philip K. Dick adaptations and Michael Bay. So this low-budget picture about a second Earth appearing on the horizon has my attention; I hope it does something interesting with it rather than just keeping Earth 2 on in the background, like so many nerds’ basements on Sunday nights in the 90s (too labored?).