The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Action;
Not rated.
Stars Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Wyatt Russell, Erin Kellyman, Danny Ramirez, Georges St-Pierre, Adepero Oduye, Clé Bennett, Carl Lumbly, Daniel Brühl, Emily VanCamp.

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has earned a reputation for excellence when it comes to superhero entertainment in general, the “Captain America” movies in particular have emerged as the best sub-franchise within it.

Indeed, within the vast expanse of the MCU, the “Captain America” trilogy has been the most consistent in elevating the source material into something more than mere spectacle, infusing common themes of duty, honor and loyalty into complex political allegories with deeper meaning than most comic book movies, while also serving as fantastic action thrillers in their own right.

The story of Captain America, of course, continued beyond just the movies that bore his name, with Steve Rogers growing from a skinny kid in Brooklyn to the ultimate soldier in World War II to a man frozen in time, parlaying his values into becoming the leader of the Avengers.

Along the way, two of Steve’s allies would stand out above the rest. First was his childhood best friend, Bucky Barnes, who would seemingly die in WWII, only to return as a super soldier, like Steve, but brainwashed into aiding the forces of evil. Rescuing Bucky from his curse as the Winter Soldier became one of Steve’s primary goals, particularly in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.

Steve’s best friend in modern times was Sam Wilson, the unassuming former soldier who had settled into a life counseling veterans suffering from PTSD before finding himself joining Steve’s fight in 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier. By the end of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, Steve was ready to retire, and chose to pass on his famous shield to Sam.

In picking up that story, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a show as much about the legacy of the “Captain America” movies as it is about the legacy of character.

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Set several months after the events of Endgame, the show reveals that Sam (Anthony Mackie) has decided he’s not worthy of taking on the mantle of Captain America, preferring to carry on as the Falcon, taking on various missions for the U.S. government. Instead, he donates the shield to the Smithsonian, believing it will inspire more as a symbol.

Bucky (Sebastian Stan), now freed of the programming that forced him to be an assassin, spends his time trying to make amends his victims and their families.

Their reality is soon shattered on two fronts. First, the U.S. government appoints a new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell), and gives him the shield. Second, efforts to rebuild world governments in the wake of Thanos’ attack in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame are threatened by a growing political movement called the Flag Smashers, who are stealing medicine and other resources and seem to have access to new sources of super soldier serum.

And so, Bucky, upset at Sam for turning down the mantle of Captain America, reunites with him to learn the secrets of the Flag Smashers and contain the serum. Along the way, the duo reluctantly crosses paths with Walker, who is after the same thing but not as understanding as what it means to be Captain America as Sam and Bucky would like.

This sets off a globetrotting adventure that brings back a number of characters from the “Captain America” movies, and offers a few surprise cameos, while also touching on a number of political themes relevant to today.

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This is a much different show than the previous MCU Disney+ entry, WandaVision, which was much more of a mystery box gimmick. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier plays like a more conventional action drama, though very much in the tone of Captain America: Winter Soldier, itself among the very best of the MCU movies. Also, where WandaVision was more about exploring some of the minor characters from all over the MCU, TFATWS is very much playing in the “Captain America” sandbox. It even brings back Henry Jackman to do the music, and using the same character themes from the movies only enriches the show’s feeling as the continuation of an epic “Captain America” story.

Sam and Bucky, often paired together while working with Steve, are now forced to carry on without that binding element, and the show often feels like a fun buddy cop movie with their clashing personalities and styles. The underlying subtext, of course, is why Sam shied away from taking on Steve’s mantle, and the show is not afraid to dive into the question of what it means for a black man to serve as Captain America. But it also ably demonstrates why Steve thought Sam was the perfect choice to do it.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, while presented as six hourlong episodes, when binged plays like an epic movie that will leave Captain America fans cheering for the continuing adventures of these characters.

Lionsgate’s ‘The Last Full Measure’ A True-Blue American Hero’s Tale

It’s the tale of a true-blue American hero, one who didn’t have superpowers, but was exceptional nonetheless.

Sebastian Stan (left) and William Hurt

The Last Full Measure, its title echoing the words of Abraham Lincoln about the ultimate sacrifice, is based on the true story of the three-decade effort to have William H. Pitsenbarger recognized for an act of selflessness in the Vietnam War that cost him his life on April 11, 1966.

The film is available now on Digital, and arrives on Blu-ray (plus Digital), DVD and On Demand April 21 from Lionsgate.

The story follows Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan), who investigates a Congressional Medal of Honor request made by Pitsenbarger’s mission partner and parents to posthumously recognize the U.S. Air Force medic (played in flashback by Jeremy Irvine) who saved more than 60 men before making the ultimate sacrifice in the bloody Vietnam battle Operation Abilene. Huffman interviews Army vets to learn more about Pitsenbarger’s courageous acts — and uncovers a high-level conspiracy behind the medal’s denial.

Christopher Plummer (left) and Diane Ladd play parents looking to honor their son.

“We never know in life when we show a random act of kindness or a random act of sacrifice what the effect might be 20, 30 years down the line,” says writer-director Todd Robinson in the extras.

“There’s a lot of remarkable courage out there, but Bill’s story is one at the top,” adds historian William Chivalette.

In addition to Stan, the star-studded ensemble cast includes Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Peter Fonda (in his last big screen performance), Diane Ladd, Amy Madigan, Bradley Whitford, Ed Harris and Samuel L. Jackson. Plummer and Ladd portray Pitsenbarger’s long-suffering parents, who wait patiently for their son to be properly recognized. Jackson, Hurt, Fonda and Harris play former servicemen who witnessed Pitsenbarger’s heroism and are still haunted by their war experiences.

Peter Fonda plays a haunted vet in his last big-screen performance.

“This is the struggle that all of our veterans face every day, is finding purpose and reason, and that’s really what the movie is all about,” says writer-director Todd Robinson in the extras. “I wanted to tell a story that transcends the Vietnam War — and frankly transcends war. They had a search for purpose that took 32 years, and in that purpose, came their healing.”

A featurette among the extras explores the film’s original score by composer Philip Klein, who felt the music had to match the heroism of its subject.

“The story deserved an orchestral score. It deserved something big and powerful,” he says in the featurette. “There was this enormous amount of responsibility that we all felt to make this worthy of this man.”

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Other extras include interviews with the servicemen who actually witnessed Pitsenbarger’s actions in 1966, awed by his selflessness. Even three decades later, his choice to stay and help the wounded mystifies.

“There’s not a one of us that wouldn’t have left there if we could, and the only guy that could leave was Pitsenbarger, and he didn’t,” comments serviceman Ron Haley in the extras.

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Also included in the extras is footage of a screening for veterans of Operation Abilene and Pitsenbarger’s family at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

“Our wish for you is simply that, when you leave here tonight, this picture has cracked the door open just a little wider for communication, that if you are a veteran, you either tell your part of this story or one like it, or that the rest of us might do our part to be good, patient witnesses and listen,” Robinson tells them.

BLU-RAY/DVD/DIGITAL SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE:

  • “The Women of The Last Full Measure” Featurette
  • “Medal of Honor Ceremony Shoot” Featurette
  • “That Others May Live: Remembering Operation Abilene” Featurette
  • “USAF Museum Screening with Veterans & Pitsenbarger Family” Featurette
  • “The Music of The Last Full Measure” Featurette
  • “William Pitsenbarger Tribute” Photo Gallery

Drama ‘The Last Full Measure’ Due on Digital April 7, Disc April 21 From Lionsgate

The drama The Last Full Measure will arrive on digital April 7 and Blu-ray (plus digital), DVD and on demand April 21 from Lionsgate.

The film is inspired by the courageous acts of Vietnam War hero William H. Pitsenbarger, a U.S. Air Force medic who personally saved more than 60 men before making the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam’s bloodiest battle. Three decades later, Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman investigates a Congressional Medal of Honor request made by Pitsenbarger’s mission partner and parents. Huffman interviews Army vets to learn more about Pitsenbarger’s courageous acts — and uncovers a high-level conspiracy behind the medal’s denial.

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The ensemble cast includes Sebastian Stan (Avengers: Endgame, Captain America: Civil War, I, Tonya), Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer (2011, Actor in a Supporting Role, Beginners), Academy Award winner William Hurt (1985, Actor in a Leading Role, Kiss of the Spider Woman), and Academy Award nominee Peter Fonda (1997, Actor in a Leading Role, Ulee’s Gold) in his last big screen performance. The film also stars Academy Award nominee Diane Ladd (1991, Actress in a Supporting Role, Rambling Rose), Academy Award nominee Amy Madigan (1985, Actress in a Supporting Role, Twice in a Lifetime), Golden Globe nominee Bradley Whitford (2001, 2002, 2003 Best Supporting Actor – Television, “The West Wing”), with Academy Award nominee Ed Harris (2002, Actor in a Supporting Role, The Hours), and Academy Award nominee Samuel L. Jackson (1994, Actor in a Supporting Role, Pulp Fiction).

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Extras include five featurettes and a photo gallery.

I, Tonya

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 3/13/18;
Universal;
Comedy;
Box Office $29.51 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
RatedR’ for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity.
Stars Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Walter Hauser.

The darkly funny I, Tonya isn’t so much a docu-drama about a moment of historical infamy as it is an examination of how unfortunate circumstances could build upon each other to fuel a situation that spirals out of control.

The subject, of course, is Tonya Harding, and her trainwreck of an upbringing in Oregon that, despite all odds, didn’t deter her in the slightest from becoming a world-class figure skater. And how the elements that inspired her to fight for success also coalesced into the notorious assault on her figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan and eventually pushed Harding out of the sport (and into boxing, of all things).

The film, aided by a great soundtrack of classic pop rock hits, is structured as a series of interviews with the particulars reflecting on the events in flashback from their own points of view, even breaking the fourth wall to explain details of what may or may not be true. The characters also have no trouble throwing each other under the bus, which could muddle the picture of what actually happened were it not for an additional “interview” with a fictionalized journalist played by Bobby Cannavale to provide focus and context.

Margot Robbie is terrific as Harding, taking on the airs of a fierce competitor who can’t seem to catch a break from the institutional bias of a sport that considers her little more than white trash. Harding doesn’t do much to shake the reputation, either, with her crude antics on and off the ice, particularly when it comes to her abusive relationship with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, rocking the famous ’stache).

The highlight is Allison Janney as Harding’s mother, a tough-as-nails wannabe show-biz mom who is willing to let her daughter hate her to push her toward success.

The depiction of the Kerrigan attack is less a blow-by-blow re-creation than it is a comedy of errors about a group of idiots planning a crime and doing nearly everything wrong to cover their tracks. I suppose it’s the film’s way of suggesting that if these are the people Harding must rely upon to achieve her goals, then whatever sympathy we might feel for her through Robbie’s portrayal aren’t necessarily unwarranted.

These attitudes would all be mitigated of course by any definitive answers as to Harding’s role in planning the assault, which the film is unable to provide. By the end, as footage of the real Harding’s figure skating plays during the credits, the film has become something of a whacky tribute to her.

The Blu-ray offers 17-minutes of deleted scenes, and in one, Robbie’s Tonya even suggests that Kerrigan planned the whole thing to make Harding look bad (which the film’s Kerrigan character swiftly denies, naturally). The bulk of the deleted scenes are a couple of lengthy takes re-creating a bizarre Diane Sawyer interview with Gillooly’s buddy Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), who may have orchestrated the entire attack.

The Blu-ray also includes five promotional behind-the-scenes featurettes running about 16 minutes, and a good audio commentary from director Craig Gillespie.

Oscar-Nominated ‘I, Tonya’ Due in March

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release I, Tonya, nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Film Editing), on Digital HD and Movies Anywhere March 2, and on Blu-ray, DVD and on demand March 13.

A darkly funny examination based on the true story of Tonya Harding, a controversial figure in the history of figure skating, and the headline-grabbing scandal surrounding her, the home entertainment release includes more than 40 minutes of exclusive bonus content, including deleted scenes and featurettes taking viewers behind the scenes of the film and its story.

The film stars Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad) in an Oscar-nominated performance as Harding, and Allison Janney (Girl on a Train) in an Oscar-nominated performance as her acid-tongued mother. Janney won a Golden Globe for her performance.