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Movie Review - Pinocchio's Revenge (1996)

April 17th, 2014 | 03:07 AM


I remember in 1997 when I was working at my first job, Blockbuster Video, and saw this movie called Pinocchio's Revenge in the horror section. It gave me a chuckle. "What does Pinocchio have to get revenge for?" I thought to myself. I wondered if it was supposed to be some kind of weird sequel or grisly remake of the original story. But, while I was just getting into the genre around that time, for whatever reason I simply never got around to checking it out. Now, over fifteen years later, I've finally seen it, and have to say that I was shockingly taken aback by it. Don't let that goofy title fool you. According to writer/director Kevin Tenney, his script was originally called The Pinocchio Syndrome. After he completed the film, the distributor decided to rename it Pinocchio's Revenge, a more sensationalistic title that was clearly a marketing ploy, because the story has nothing to do with revenge!

Jennifer Garrick (Rosalind Allen) is a defense attorney whose client is suspected of being a serial killer and also murdering his son, whom he was found burying alongside a Pinocchio marionette. Although he claims responsibility for the killings, Garrick believes he is innocent and protecting the identity of the real killer, but is unable to save him from the death penalty. After his execution, the Pinocchio doll is accidentally brought home with Garrick, where her daughter, Zoe (Brittney Alyse Smith), mistakes it for a birthday present. The little girl forms a close bond with the doll, talking to it and behaving as if it's real, like she does with her other dolls. Soon after, strange events begin to occur. A schoolgirl who bullies Zoe is thrown in front of a bus, and Jennifer's boyfriend, David, is knocked down a flight of stairs. When Garrick questions Zoe about the incidents, she claims that it's all Pinocchio's doing. Is the doll alive, or is Zoe being influenced by an outside force to do harm to those around her?

Just as misleading as the title is the cover (on both the VHS and DVD) that suggests a typical slasher movie, which couldn't be further from the truth. If you're expecting a movie filled with blood and gore, you'll be very disappointed. Pinocchio's Revenge is much more of a psychological horror story, emphasizing mystery and suspense over violence. It's a slow burn of a movie (admittedly, a little too slow at times), and there are only two on-screen kills, both of them relatively tame and bloodless. Tenney's script takes a cue from the original concept for Child's Play, in which it was more ambiguous as to whether or not Chucky or Andy was doing the killings. For much of this movie, we have no idea who the evil one is: the doll, or Zoe herself. Tenney keeps us guessing every step of the way, presenting evidence that backs up both theories. From the start, we assume this is an "evil toy" movie and that the doll must therefore be the killer. But there are also reasons to suspect cute little Zoe.

The script establishes early on that she has some problems: anger over her parents' divorce, abandonment issues (dad lives out of state, mom is always working), disturbing dreams and aggressive tendencies, as evidenced by an ear-biting incident with a bully at school. Plus, her child psychologist detects signs of repressed emotions. All of this evidence stacks up against her, and Tenney uses it to make us question her mental stability. Just when we think we might know what's going on, he throws out something that makes us question what we've seen. This is also helped by the fact that whenever someone is attacked, the culprit is meticulously kept out of frame. Tenney plays with our heads, making us think we see more than we really do. Even when we see Pinocchio move or speak, we're still not sure if it's real, or just more evidence that Zoe is disturbed. It's really remarkable how long Tenney is able to milk the mystery, and this constant back-and-forth leaves us guessing right up to the very final moments.

This isn't a big movie by any means, but despite the low budget, Tenney adds some nice flourishes here and there, including the use of a split diopter in some shots. The climactic sequence, playing out in a darkened house during a lightning storm, generates some reasonable suspense, and a couple "boo" moments, cliched though they may be, still worked and made me jump. While he's no Chucky, Pinocchio is appropriately creepy, especially with his child-like voice, and the doll effects aren't bad, a combination of animatronics and a live actor (Verne Troyer!) in a suit. With the exception of one scene, Tenney chooses to not have the doll's lips move when he talks. This helps leave it up to interpretation of whether he's actually talking, or if Zoe is hearing the voice in her head. The script even incorporates a few connections to the original Pinocchio story, including the presence of a cricket (which works way better than it probably sounds), and in one scene Tenney employs a neat shadow effect to make it look as if Pinocchio's nose is growing when he makes a promise to Zoe.

The performances aren't exactly anything to write home about, but for this type of movie the cast is competent. They certainly don't hurt it, and compared to cheapo direct-to-video horror flicks these days, they're practically riveting. Rosalind Allen does a good job as both a driven attorney and a loving mother. I had a big crush on her around this time, when she was starring in seaQuest DSV, and making guest appearances on shows such as Seinfeld and Home Improvement, so it's nice to see her as the lead in a feature film. A lot of reviews tend to pile on the hate for Brittney Alyse Smith as Zoe, but considering what she has to go through, especially in the third act, I think she's pretty good. She has a natural sweetness and innocence, but can also play up the scenes where suspicion must fall on Zoe. Candace McKenzie as Sophia, apparently the Garricks' live-in Italian nanny (her exact role is never really explained), also conveys a strong sense of concern for Zoe and her mother.

The '90s are generally viewed as a low period for the genre, and there were plenty of bad films turned out during then for sure. (Ghost In the Machine anyone?) However, I have a fondness for the decade's low-budget direct-to-video offerings. It's hard to explain, but they just have a certain feeling that I like, and nowadays I'm rather nostalgic for them. Pinocchio's Revenge (I really hate that title now after seeing it) isn't as bad, or goofy, as you'd expect, especially with that title. It's a very ambitious little movie, even briefly dipping into philosophical and religious musings on the nature of evil. The ending is rather dark and leaves questions in the air, which will no doubt frustrate many viewers, but I like that it doesn't spell things out. It stays faithful to the premise it works to build, and it definitely doesn't take an easy way out with a cliched last-minute explanation. It wants to deliver more than the usual stalk-and-slash bloodshed, and, even if it isn't a great movie, its ambitions are admirable.

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Make Your Own Marvel Tesseract

April 14th, 2014 | 10:25 AM

Introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger, the Tesseract is a source of unlimited cosmic power, and has been used by both Red Skull and Loki to nearly conquer the Earth. Now, you can make your own, and it will only cost less than $20 and take about an hour. I wish I could take credit for this, but it's all thanks to a girl named Jennifer Wicks and this video she posted on Youtube two years ago. I found it just a couple weeks ago, and it was so brilliantly-simple I had to try it. I got my stuff and last week whipped it all together Thursday morning, and it came out awesome. I like collecting movie prop replicas, but all of them have been purchased. This one I wanted to make all by myself, and in just a few simple steps, so can you.

Click thumbnails for larger view.

* square plastic display case
* glass frosting spray
* self-contained LED light (blue)
* wax paper

I looked at baseball display cases, but they all either had legs inside for the ball to rest on or were housed within wooden frames. So I instead used an acrylic photo cube (3.5" x 3.5") that I bought at Michaels for less than $4.

First, take apart the cube, and coat both the inside and outside with frosting spray. At least a couple of coats are recommended. The spray is made for use on windows, but should still work on plastic no matter what brand you buy. I specifically got a can of Rust-Oluem spray, as that is the same kind Jennifer Wicks used in her video, and it worked perfectly.

Be warned, though, this should be done outdoors or in a very well ventilated room. This frosting spray is strong stuff. The smell was in my nose for the rest of the day, so I suggest you use a face mask. It's also very sticky when first applied, so make sure you let it dry thoroughly before handling. Personally, I applied a few really good coats to make it as frosted as possible.

Once the cube is fully dried (consult your specific brand for drying times, but I gave mine a full half-hour to set), you're ready for the next step. Take at least two feet of wax paper and crumple it up into a ball.

Take your LED light and place it inside the ball of wax paper. Now, the amount of lights and wax paper is something you may need to experiment with to find the right combination that works. I couldn't find the same type of light Jennifer Wicks used, so I bought these instead. They are rave finger lights and come as a pack of ten. That was good, because it turned out that one wasn't enough. I ended up needing to use four lights total, two each strapped together as seen, with about four feet of wax paper, in order to provide an amount of illumination I was happy with. Finally, take your glowing ball of cosmic blue paper, place it inside the cube and close it all up.

Voila! Your very own Tesseract. You're now ready to compete with Red Skull and Loki to take over the world.

It looks pretty good even with the lights off. In the pictures above, the blue glow appears to be much darker than it does in the films. That was just because the glow made it difficult to take a good photo. However, I was able to record this short video to better show what the effect looks like.

The only downside is that each time you want to turn the lights on or off, you'll have to take the cube apart. There are other ways to make it, including adding a small switch, but that gets into cutting, and I didn't want to deal with that. This is a much simpler way, and I think it looks pretty good. All together, not counting tax (or shipping on the lights), I spent about $15 on supplies. The most difficult part was spraying the cube, because it was just a little bit breezy outside, and it blew the spray all over. You may also need to let the cube sit in the garage overnight for awhil once you've finished it. Mine continued to smell of frosting spray long after I was done, and it wasn't until a couple days later that it seemed to have finally dissipated entirely.

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Movie Review - Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

April 10th, 2014 | 01:51 AM


It's been two years since the events depicted in The Avengers, and Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans), has now settled comfortably into the contemporary world. Living in Washington, D.C., he works as a member of the intelligence agency SHIELD. Leading a team of agents, including Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Steve is sent to diffuse a hostage situation on board a SHIELD vessel that has been hijacked by pirates. After catching Natasha stealing data from the ship's computer, Steve comes to the realization that his boss, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is keeping him in the dark about many things. SHIELD is planning to launch three new Helicarriers as part of a project codenamed Operation Insight. Equipped with special technology, they will be linked to a massive network of spy satellites, which they will use to seek out and destroy future threats before they can happen, an idea that doesn't sit too well with Steve.

Unable to access the data Natasha stole for him, Fury begins to grow suspicious of Insight himself and requests its postponement. After he's attacked by a mysterious assassin known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Fury is convinced that SHIELD has been compromised. He entrusts the encrypted data, which could be the key to everything, to Steve, telling him to not trust anyone. When he refuses to divulge what he knows to SHIELD superior Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Steve is branded a fugitive and forced to go on the run. Teaming up with the only people he can trust, Natasha and former Pararescueman Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), the trio race to uncover the dark secrets hidden within SHIELD, while Steve is also forced to confront a ghost from his past that has somehow materialized in the present.

If you read my review of Captain America: The First Avenger, you'll know I'm a huge fan of that first film. I was very excited for a sequel, but to say I was a bit worried about how it would turn out is an understatement. The Winter Soldier was directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo. Most of their previous work has been in comedy, largely for television, including many episodes of Community and Arrested Development, two of the worst shows in recent memory. Naturally, I was baffled by Marvel's announcement that they would be directing. I'm a big fan of The First Avenger's director, Joe Johnston. I thought he made a fantastic movie, so I was more than a little disappointed to learn he wouldn't be returning to make the sequel. Fortunately, though, the Russo brothers prove themselves rather adept at handling such a film, much more than I had expected them to be. Whereas The First Avenger is like a Saturday matinee style action-adventure, the Russos fashion their sequel more as a 1970s-esque political thriller, right down to the casting of genre staple Robert Redford.

Also returning from the first film are screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Grounding the film in real world issues, their script plays on themes of paranoia, corruption and government intrusion. The main thread is Captain America's growing awareness of what the world has become in his absence. His adjustment to modern times isn't so much about technology and things like that (amusingly, he keeps a list of popular movies, TV shows and music people have suggested he check out), but rather societal differences. The world he knew was much more black and white. Now it's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys, while personal freedoms are being compromised in the name of security. It works as a perfect conflict with Cap's Greatest Generation way of thinking.

Of course, while the backbone of the film is tied into modern day concerns, it's still a big fun superhero movie, and there is plenty of appropriate action. One problem I have with the other MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) films is that they suffer from too much talk and too little action. I mean, Iron Man 2 is two hours long, yet has a combined total of probably less than ten minutes worth of action, spread over only two scenes! As I said in my review of The First Avenger, Markus and McFeely seem to understand that there should be action in action movies. They know how to use such set pieces, gradually building them in both intensity and scale, to help drive the story forward.

Among the highlights are the wild ambush on Nick Fury that plays out in the streets of D.C., Steve's first fight with the Winter Soldier after a freeway attack, a brief (but awesome) scene where Cap single-handedly brings down a jet, and an absolutely crazy fight where he takes on a dozen men inside an elevator. It's one of the best close quarters fight sequences I've seen in a long time. The action definitely kicks things up a notch or two (or three), with the Russos playing up Cap's brute strength and other abilities. Steve is well known for his acrobatic-like moves in the comics, something that was missing from the first film, and I was glad to see them on display here. To top it off, we get a rousing finale, an epic action set piece that just keeps going and going. Markus and McFeely clearly know how to pen a script that delivers in both story and action, and it's a shame they can't write all of the MCU films. The fact they are coming back for Captain America 3 excites me.

Chris Evans continues to shine as Steve Rogers. He's just perfectly cast in the role, imbuing Cap with so much heart and soul. Here he gives a more emotional performance, as the script digs into his guilt over the death of best friend Bucky in The First Avenger. Along for the ride this time is Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon. He doesn't really get to do a whole lot until the end, but he's good, and Sam has some nice development. Unfortunately, we are saddled with Scarlett Johansson as our leading lady, reprising her role as Black Widow from Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. She's horrible as usual (in an even more horrifying wig), and has no chemistry with everybody she encounters. She's got to be the worst case of superhero casting since Jessica Alba in The Fantastic Four. On the plus side, in his sixth appearance as Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson finally gets to do something and show off Fury's bad ass side. It's only one scene, but it's a great scene, and he kicks major ass in it. Screen icon Robert Redford also adds a touch of class and menace to his role as SHIELD superior Alexander Pierce.

I do have some complaints about the movie. For starters, I wish the story had devoted more time to the Winter Soldier. Despite his prominence in the advertising and title, he's actually not in the movie a whole lot and is more like a subplot. I expected him to play a much larger role, especially considering the revelations about him in the second half. The movie features a new character, Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), and I wish she had more to do. After her great introduction, she's mostly forgotten for the rest of the movie. Fans will know that in the comics, this is Sharon Carter, niece of The First Avenger's Peggy Carter, but such a familial connection (if it still exists, given that 70 years have passed between films) is never established. Instead of bringing back Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders) from The Avengers for a handful of scenes, I would have preferred seeing Agent 13 fill that role so that we could start to see her develop. And I think the jokes and one-liners get a little too much. Not as bad as in The Avengers, where they were utterly distracting, but they often feel ill-placed and forced. Just a little too jokey for me.

But there are wonderful throwbacks to The First Avenger, and these are some of my favorite parts of the film. Steve visits a Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian, which brings back a lot of great memories of the first film. There's a pre-WWII flashback with Steve and Bucky after the funeral of Steve's mom, reinforcing the brotherly bond they had, and Steve pays a visit to an elderly Peggy Carter. It's a nice scene, touching and a bit sad, but I really would have liked to seen a proper reunion where they meet each other for the first time since WWII. And in one of the best reveals ever, another character from The First Avenger makes a surprise return. I don't want to spoil it, but it's unbelievably crazy, and I loved every second of it. The film also opens with a reprisal of Alan Silvestri's theme from the first film's score, as Steve and Wilson take an early morning jog around Washington, D.C. It gives a great taste of what could have been had the filmmakers brought Silvestri back. Instead, he was replaced with Henry Jackman, who ignores the theme while providing a generic and uninteresting score.

I'm not really a fan of the MCU. I didn't care for the first two Iron Man movies (the second one especially), Thor or The Avengers. But I really loved Captain America: The First Avenger. Cap has always been one of my favorite superheroes, so I'm glad to see it wasn't a fluke and that at least he's getting good movies. I enjoyed The Winter Soldier, although some things had to grow on me. The first is still my favorite, simply because I just love its old fashioned action-adventure styling, and I think it's a much more thoroughly complete moviegoing experience, whereas The Winter Soldier deliberately leaves some things vague or unresolved as a set-up for the next sequel. But even with a few bumps, it's a sharply-crafted movie with a lot of energy and spirit, that tests both Captain America's ideals and strength, and is one hell of a fun movie.

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Comic Book Review - Captain America: The Bloodstone Hunt (1989)

April 4th, 2014 | 02:33 AM


Publisher: Marvel Comics
Story: Mark Gruenwald, Kieron Dwyer
Pencils: Kieron Dwyer
Inks: Al Milgrom, Danny Bulanadi
Colors: Greg Wright, Marc Siry, Bob Sharen
Letters: Jack Morelli
Cover Artists: Kieron Dwyer & Al Milgrom
Release Date: September - November 1989

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier now upon us, I thought I'd review one of my favorite Cap stories. Unlike a lot of comic book fans, I was already into my teens before I really started getting into comics. However, the seeds of that fandom were first planted a few years before, when I got my very first comic book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1, in 1988. Then, for my twelfth birthday in 1990, my grandma got me a Marvel Comics grab bag, filled with about twenty or so assorted comics featuring the likes of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four and She-Hulk. The Captain America issues (#357-362) formed a six-part story called "The Bloodstone Hunt" that immediately caught my interest.

The story follows Cap on a globe-hopping adventure as he races a group of villains in search of five mystical gemstones. The stones are pieces of a meteorite fragment that granted mystical powers to a famous monster hunter, Ulysses Bloodstone, who lived 20,000 years ago. Baron Zemo is after the missing stones, which were separated and vanished after Bloodstone's death. To help, he's hired Batroc, Zaran, Machete and psychic detective Tristram Micawber. Learning of the group's activities and wanting to stop whatever Zemo has plans for, Captain America teams up with villainess Diamondback, and together they set out to try and find the gemstones first.

This is a really fun, quick-moving popcorn movie kind of adventure. From the jungles of Brazil to the pyramids of Egypt (with stops in Japan and the Bermuda Triangle), there is plenty of action and excitement as Cap encounters cannibal tribes, sharks, snakes and mummies! When we first see Cap, he's exploring lost catacombs deep beneath New York City, dodging booby traps such as flying darts, lava pits and crushing spike walls. It all builds to a rousing finale set on the edge of a large volcano. I have to say, for an '80s kid who grew up on Indiana Jones, this was the perfect introduction to who would become one of my favorite superheroes.

Captain America and Diamondback make fun partners. She seems to play the damsel-in-distress a little too much, but she has a real infatuation with Cap that provides some funny moments here and there as we read her innermost thoughts. Kieron Dwyer's artwork is wonderful throughout. My favorite pieces are in Part 5, where Cap and Diamondback explore an Egyptian tomb. There are some nice moody panels here, and Cap's fight with the mummy is exciting, art-wise my favorite part of the whole story.

Writer Mark Gruenwald creatively uses characters from the Bronze Age, specifically Ulysses Bloodstone and N'Kantu, the Living Mummy, both of whom first appeared in the 1970s. Their presence is a nice touch for Bronze Age fans, but won't leave newcomers confused as to who they are. They serve roles in the story that feel natural, whether you're familiar with them or not. The storyline is also notable for featuring the first appearance of Crossbones, who would become a major villain for Captain America, and a central part of Ed Brubaker's popular run on the comic starting in 2005. He also appears in The Winter Soldier.

There's nothing deep about "The Bloodstone Hunt," but there's not supposed to be. It's just a very fun and fast-paced adventure. It was later collected in trade paperback in 1993, which was re-released in 2010 with remastered artwork. For any fan of Captain America or treasure hunting adventure stories, it's worth checking out.

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Movie Review - Captain America (1990)

April 1st, 2014 | 01:09 PM


With Steve Rogers set to throw his mighty shield again this weekend in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I thought it'd be a good time to look back at one of his previous cinematic adventures. No, not 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, which I just revisited here, but his much-maligned first movie from the early 1990s. After his live action debut in a 1944 serial (making him the first Marvel Comics character to be adapted to another medium), Captain America made only a handful of other appearances, from a few cartoon guest spots in the '60s and '80s to a pair of incredibly awful 1979 television movies. Cap's journey back to movie screens began in 1984, when film rights were purchased by legendary '80s action producers Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus of The Cannon Group. The road to a feature film was a long and winding one for Cap, spending most of the decade going though a series of writers, directors and funding setbacks.

Michael Winner (Death Wish) was first attached to direct the film in 1985, with a script by James R. Silke, who had written Cannon's Revenge of the Ninja. Winner re-wrote the script with crime novelist Lawrence Block and Stan Lee before leaving the project in 1987. He was replaced by actor/director John Stockwell, who came aboard with a new script by Stephen Tolkin. By the late '80s, however, Cannon was in bad shape financially (reportedly in debt up to $600 million!), and in 1989 Golan left the company he had co-founded. He moved over to 21st Century Film Corporation, bringing the Captain America project with him. There, things began shaping up for the film, and Golan hired Albert Pyun (who had already made a few films for Cannon) to direct, based on Tolkin's script. Shooting finally began in 1989, aiming for a summer 1990 release to coincide with Cap's 50th anniversary. More troubles pushed the release date back to fall 1990, then winter 1991. Eventually, the movie was quietly released direct-to-video in 1992, although it received a limited theatrical release internationally.

In 1943, Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger) is a young man who, unable to enlist in the military for medical reasons, volunteers for an experiment designed to create an advanced super soldier. Codenamed Captain America, he is sent into action to stop the Red Skull (Scott Paulin), a hideously deformed madman, and the result of a similar experiment years earlier, who is set to launch a missile at the White House. Outmatched, Rogers is defeated and strapped to the missile before it's launched. At the last minute, he is able to avert disaster and causes the missile to instead crash in a remote area of Alaska, where he is trapped within the ice. Fifty years later, his frozen body is discovered, and he awakens in the present day. After being rescued by newspaper reporter Sam Kolawetz (Ned Beatty), Rogers learns that Red Skull is not only alive, but still a major threat to the world. With help from his former girlfriend's daughter, Sharon (Kim Gillingham), Captain America races to stop Red Skull once and for all.

Captain America is definitely far from perfect. If nothing else, though, like all good low budget productions, it's at least ambitious. Perhaps a little too much for its meager budget and scant 97-minute running time. The film takes its inspiration from both the comic's original WWII setting and the 1960s revival, wherein Rogers awoke in modern times after being frozen for decades. Many blamed Albert Pyun for simply making a bad movie, but it wasn't his fault. He wanted to make a big mainstream film, but that's difficult when your financial backing falls through during production. The low budget forced Pyun to emphasize character over action, so there is more focus on Steve Rogers and his coming to terms with a world that's different from the one he knew. (Thankfully, aside from his reaction to a girl in a bikini, we are sparred any fish out of water humor as he acclimates to his new surroundings.) So I can't really fault Pyun for anything. He did the best job possible with what resources he had.

Some of the more questionable aspects lie with Stephen Tolkin's script. It takes a number of liberties with the source material, the biggest of which involve the Red Skull. A German and former Nazi in the comics, he is now an Italian businessman named Tadzio de Santis, the head of an international crime cartel. Worse still, he only appears with his iconic visage early in the film. Whether this was always the intention or a result of the budget affecting makeup, I don't know. But it's a shame, because the Red Skull makeup isn't bad and looks nicely gruesome. He spends the remainder of the film with a scared, but (somewhat) normal looking, face thanks to plastic surgery. Tolkin's script also errs by giving him a tragic past, depicted in the opening scene and brought up again at the conclusion, something that almost makes him sympathetic in his own strange way.

There are some serious errors in logic, too, mostly involving characters' actions. Everybody seems to instinctively know what everybody else is up to at all times and where. For example, soon after Rogers escapes from the ice and flees into the remote Alaskan wilderness, Red Skull's men almost instantly descend upon him in helicopters. No matter where Cap goes, bad guys show up almost immediately. Sam Kolawetz knows that Red Skull's next plan is to kidnap the president, as if it's public information, but we never find out how he learned this or why he never warns the president, who is a childhood friend. The president is also betrayed by a member of his staff, who, in a twist revealed matter-of-factly, is a member of Red Skull's cartel. No reason for his betrayal or membership in an international crime ring is ever offered.

The tone is occasionally inconsistent, at times touching (Steve's reunion with the girlfriend he left behind in 1943), campy and silly (Cap's "Thanks, Mr. President" thumbs up), and even violent. The film opens in 1936, where young de Santis is kidnapped by the Fascist government and made to watch as his entire family is massacred. The bullet-riddled bodies aren't seen, but the barrage of gunfire is, and their screams of anguish are heard as the boy cries out for them. It makes the scene pretty damn dark and disturbing. Later, in a rather shocking revelation, someone close to Rogers is murdered in cold blood by Red Skull's daughter, Valentina (Francesca Neri).

One area where the film doesn't fail is its cast. Matt Salinger, with his all-American good looks, is an ideal Steve Rogers. The son of author J.D. Salinger, I've always thought he did a good job, bringing a sincere earnestness and slight vulnerability to the role. In some ways, I'd say it even foreshadows how Chris Evans would play Cap in the 2011 film. Scott Paulin, though perhaps a little campy at times, gives Red Skull a degree of superiority and makes him a formidable presence. Some of his dialogue may have read as over the top on paper, but his delivery can be chilling. While many seem to dislike Kim Gillingham, I think she does a good job as Sharon, too. When we first meet her, it appears she's going to be a whiny Valley Girl type damsel-in-distress, but she's actually a welcome addition. She spends much of the film as Cap's equal, always by his side. She also pulls double duty, playing both Sharon and her mother, Bernie, whom she further plays as young in the past and elderly in the present. To be honest, you wouldn't even suspect they were played by the same actress.

Although there's little in the way of action, Pyun handles it well, the standouts being both fights between hero and villain. The first one is staged in an underground missile complex, where they fight among giant pillars with large Swastikas hanging everywhere. It looks really cool, even if the inexperienced Cap basically gets his ass handed to him. It was actually an image from this fight in an issue of Wizard magazine that first made me aware of the film as a kid, and I would spend the next year in search of it. The second fight takes place at the end, in Red Skull's Italian castle. Both sequences are highlights, aided by rapid fire editing that creates a sense of energy and chaos without being annoying, and the stunt work is good, with some nice fight choreography. Cap and Skull pound the crap out of each other in the castle fight, and Cap gets to bust out some of his acrobatic moves, something the 2011 film didn't do. The Yugoslavian locations, standing in for Rome, add a bit of visual flair, and even with the lack of action, Pyun maintains a fast pace. This thing really moves.

I liked Captain America back in the '90s, but until recently, it had been a long time since I last watched it. Despite the obvious flaws, I was surprised that I enjoyed it more than I expected to after so many years away. It's budget restraints are very apparent, those logical errors stick out like a sore thumb, and the changes made from the source material are baffling. But I enjoyed revisiting it, and I think it actually works better than its reputation suggests. Yes, it could have benefited from some more action, but the cast is good, and there are plenty of moments throughout where we get glimpses of the great film it could have been. I think if the story details, especially those about Red Skull, had been more faithful to the comics, it may have been better received, even with its small scale. As it's now been surpassed by the fantastic 2011 film, this one will be little more than a curiosity piece for most. But, all things considered, watching it now with my knowledge of its long and tumultuous history, it's surprising how close it all comes to working.

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