Captain America is our pick of the week…
Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Sex sells. Except when everyone’s like, “Where is the sex?”

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That Was The Week In Which…

Initial footage from the film adaptation of Fifty Shades Of Grey received a lukewarm reaction.

Entertainment website The Wrap (link) described the footage from the adaptation of E.L. James’s S&M bonkbuster as “surprisingly tame” and noted that romance was the “over-arching theme”.

But is that much of a surprise? If a studio spunks a reported $40 million at a project based upon an already successful brand, they’re hardly going to make Nymphomaniac (review). Still, to make the film without landing the (relative) commercial suicide of an 18 certificate doesn’t sound particularly likely. And has there been a successful, crossover erotic drama since Basic Instinct? (No, Basic Instinct 2 doesn’t really count.)

Whatever the content, it won’t be the first excursion into explicit filmmaking for director Sam Taylor-Wood who previously contributed the short Death Valley to Destricted, a sex-meets-art compilation that also featured films from the likes of Gaspar Noé and Marina Abramovic. Although it’s doubtful whether she gained any experience that can be applied to the Valentine’s-2015-due Fifty Shades… from creating an eight-minute clip of a chap very publically “sorting himself out”. Presumably the new Christian Grey – Jamie Dornan from sexy serial killer drama The Fall – won’t be subjected to quite the same experience.

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The Big Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The first Captain America film was disappointing. Since then, thankfully, Marvel has perfected its formula to serve up a scintillating brew of thrilling action, absorbing plot, eye-rolling funnies and well-drawn characters for the sequel.

The action in this follow-up takes place in the present day, with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), the former US army officer enhanced to ‘super soldier’ status by the American government, adjusting to life in the 21st century following his awakening after 70 years on ice. History, though, catches up with him – a deadly assassin with roots in his past is hot on his trail. But unable to trust even S.H.I.E.L.D., it seems Captain America must figure out a way to survive – and save the world – alone.

He’s not quite alone, of course. Of the handful of people he can trust, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is one – and she duly lends her assistance. With her Black Widow alter ego, Romanoff is proof that supporting characters in ‘dumb’ Hollywood blockbusters – and a lady one at that – can exist with three dimensions.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo bring their extensive television experience to the franchise, which similarly relies on an episodic, interlocking structure to create one epic, richly woven mega-story and inspires a fervent fan base. Involving plot and fun script aside, casting is top drawer, action is pulse-quickening and it’s packed with surprises. Roll on the next one. Words: Kim Francis

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, trailer

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Also Out: 20 Feet From Stardom

Glorious vocal harmonies have been the hallmark of numerous classic singles over the years, but where does the backing singer stand in the great pantheon of rock history? In truth, it’s probably somewhere even more remote than their stage position mentioned in this great documentary’s title.

Combining fresh interviews with the likes of Jagger and Springsteen with archive footage and isolated backing vocal tracks, 20 Feet From Stardom celebrates these unsung heroes. Predominantly female and often exploited by producers or labels, they’re leftfield characters when compared to a conventional rock star (some are adverse to the spotlight, others enjoy the gospel-like teamwork of performing with others) despite being able to outshine them when it comes to pure vocal delivery.

The most compelling case study is that of Darlene Love. Marginalised by her former mentor Phil Spector, she rediscovered her vocal gift after hearing her performance of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) while working as a cleaner in Los Angeles. It’s just one of numerous consistently interesting strands of the film, the greatest musical moment of which is the raw recording of Merry Clayton’s jaw-dropping vocals on The Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’. 20 Feet From Stardom really is a joyous experience for any music fan.

20 Feet From Stardom, trailer

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New Talent: Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Who? An English actress who is firmly established on stage but relatively new to film.

What’s she been in? She played Ophelia alongside Jude Law in a West End production of Hamlet. Her most notable film role to date was in Tom Hanks’s Larry Browne. She also starred in J.J. Abrams’ short-lived TV series Undercover.

What’s coming up? This summer will see her biggest cinematic role so far when she stars as Dido (no, not that one) in Belle (trailer below). She’ll also star in Blackbird as a young musician who is stuggling to come to terms with her fame as part of a cast that also includes Minnie Driver and Danny Glover.

They say: “A captivating heroine; exuding the dignity and restraint of a young woman well accustomed to unequal treatment.” Variety

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Last weekend’s UK box office saw The Grand Budapest Hotel check in at the top during its fourth week of release. Prison drama Starred Up (review) banged up at #6 as the highest new entry of the week, swiftly followed by A Long Way Down and Labor Day, the latter of which is mostly notable for annoyingly refusing to switch to the UK spelling for its release here. Brit films The Machine and Svengali debuted at #31 and #49.

The next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film will feature an all-star cast comprising Megan Fox and… Erm, does Whoopi Goldberg count? And does anyone still care?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, trailer

Finally, Shane Meadows and Mark Herbert have made a short film in support of the Teenage Cancer Trust. Says Meadows: “I first heard about Teenage Cancer Trust when my friend Vicky McClure [This Is England’s Lol] told me she was opening their new unit in Nottingham. When she told me about the amazing work they were doing up and down the country for young people with cancer, I was a bit embarrassed I’d never heard of the charity before. You can’t walk away from visiting a Teenage Cancer Trust unit without feeling like they are making an enormous difference.”

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Words: Ben Hopkins (except where indicated)

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