Tales of Heroism with Captain America, The Guard and Sarah’s Key

Post image for Captain America (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger is a stirring, old fashioned, and highly enjoyable preamble to the highly anticipated 2012 Avengers movie.  Set (mainly ) after America’s entry into World War II, Joe Johnston’s action-packed adventure boasts  a sincere and appealing Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, the perpetual 4-F weakling  who willingly becomes the subject for a military top-secret  body enhancement experiment because it will give him the chance to fight those nasty Nazi bullies.  
It is to Evans’ credit that we understand what scientist Stanley Tucci (complete with German accent) sees in him—the opportunity to maximize both physical strength—and moral, selfless character.  This transformed Captain America eventually goes mano a mano with his evil redfaced Nazi counterpart  (Hugo Weaving), who becomes so power-crazed that even his fellow Nazis think he’s  over the top (and when was the last time you saw that happen?).  There is a lot of fun to be had here, from the patriotic bond rallies that Captain America is at first maneuvered into joining, and then gradually enjoys ; the banter between  Cpt. America and a reluctant General Tommy Lee Jones(who doesn’t want this pretty muscle-boy  gumming up the war works-at first);  the smartly sketched camaraderie among the members of Captain America’s team , including his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and the attactive, independent heroine Peggy Carter (winningly played by Hayley Atwell as the anti-damsel in distress); and some well-done action sequences with a fairly good use of 3D.  If you stay after the credits, there’s a surprise cameo or two –which may not be a surprise to those who have seen Ironman or Thor…

The Guard, from writer-director John Michael McDonaugh, is in limited release but if the movie gods are smiling, it will get into many more theaters.  It is a  dark yet highly amusing crime movie set in a small village in ireland—starring the mighty Brendan Gleeson as a cheerfully profane, politically incorrect police constable who gets unwillingly involved in a murder investigation that dovetails with the hunt for a drug-smuggling ring.  Enter Don Cheadle as the FBI guy who wants Gleeson’s help,but will have to wait until Gleeson enjoys his day off (“it’s my day -I have plans”)-a turn of events that leads to an amusing sequence of Cheadle interrogating the locals, who frustrate him by speaking nothing but Gaelic–and a jaunty meaningless sex romp for Gleeson that might wind up having more meaning than he desires.  The mechanics of the criminal investigation take a backseat in McDonaugh’s witty script to the banter between Gleeson and Cheadle (who plays a good straight man in what is essentially a supporting role).  At the first the two don’t know what to make of each other—Cheadle doesn’t conform to Gleeson ‘s stereotyped (“I’m Irish—racism is in our culture”) view of blacks, while Gleeson confounds Cheadle by appearingto be a slow-witted complacent lug—but who might be capable of more than he lets on.  In addition, the three drug smugglers (Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot and Mark Strong) are more than standard-issue movie badguys.  They fret about the difficulty of meeting the right woman (given their trade),  the distinction between sociopath and psychopath,  and the ludicrousness of trying to rip off those police officers they’re trying to bribe.  There is so much to like to about this small movie you may be willing to watch it again with your mates—and that’s more than I can say about many a big-budget spectacular.

Sarah’s Key is half of a really good movie.  Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s film alternates between the past and the present, as modern journalist Kristin Scott-Thomas, living in France, looks into her house’s history and discovers that a Jewish family had lived there during World War II—and specifically that the family had been arrested in the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup, a shameful episode in France’s history wherein thousands of Jews had been herded into a stadium, and then separated from their families and eventually brought to concentration camps.  In flashbacks we see the young Sarah hide her little brother in a hidden closet -a frantic, well-intentioned attempt to protect him from arrest-then Sarah’s realization that somehow, someway, she must go back to release him, even if it means risking her life.  The scenes at the stadium and at the camps are devastating and gut-wrenching-Melusine Mayance will tear your heart out as the young Sarah; later there are affecting turns by Niels Arestrup and Dominique Frot as an aging couple who take Sarah in—at no small risk to themselves.  However, there is still the modern section,  in which the stubborn journalist tries to get at the truth and remind the world-and her family- of the enormity of what has taken place.  The exposition is rather clunky (“you don’t know about Vel’d’Hiv??” “I’m sorry-I must be too young to know.”) and the journalist’s family problems feel rather contrived.  In spite of this, there is some emotional power in the final sections as the present intertwines with the past to reveal Sarah’s fate-and her effect on those who came after.

As a side note, the movie does give you a chance to view two different sides of Kristin Scott Thomas. As the bilingual journalist, Thomas does her clamped down, toneless American accent when speaking English which keeps the audience at a distance—but when she speaks French it is as if she is a new actress, strong yet emotional, occasionally vulnerable and extremely expressive.  In the end, despite its flaws, Sarah’s Key  is worth a look.