Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the savviest Marvel fan.

I’ve seen all the movies, and studied each Wikipedia entry numerous times, but I still have trouble keeping track of it all. Who’s romantically linked to who, what sinister backstory the characters emerge from, and last but not least, what exactly the Infinity Stones are.

Even though my passion outweighs my general understanding of what’s going on, I had one hell of a time at Avengers: Infinity War. Experiencing the latest, and undoubtedly most ambitious, Marvel entry in a packed opening-night crowd was the most fun and energetic time I’ve had at the movies in years. I don’t like the idea of “fan service” (which, to me, means a reference for its own sake) but the Russo brothers deliver spectacular moment after spectacular moment, featuring our favorite characters doing what they do best, but all in service of the plot – Thor brandishing his new-and-improved weapon, Black Panther leading the Wakandan army, Doctor Strange melting our minds, to name a few – constantly infusing the audience with high-voltage doses of adrenaline.

The first 80% or so of the film is an absolute blast. The events of the most recent Marvel films (Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 specifically) seamlessly brought worlds together for this epic collaboration. From where the stories have been heading, it does make sense that the spacey world-building existing in parallel with what’s happening on earth, all merge to defeat the Biggest interdimensional Bad in the MCU: Thanos.

And how Bad he is. Thanos is on a quest to collect the Infinity Stones (tied to unique elements of the universe), load them into his handy glove, and wipe out half of existence. The world’s been in trouble plenty before (at least 18 times prior to this, if I’m counting the movies right!) but Thanos’s end goal, and means to do it, is nothing short of horrifying. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the sequence at the end is as unsettling and dark as anything Marvel, or even Lucasfilm, has ever done.

The film’s climax is as bleak as the beginning of the film is delightful, but the story certainly feels far from over. It’s too soon for one to have inspired the other, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of Luke Skywalker’s words in Star Wars: The Last Jedi: “This is not going to go the way you think.” An endless string of critics and pundits have labeled the “Marvel formula,” and Avengers: Infinity War is a giant, Thanos-sized middle finger to any presupposed template these movies are meant to follow.

I’m used to walking away from Marvel movies fully energized and pumped up for more, while this left me dejected and almost mournful; though that’s not a bad thing. The exit corridors echoed with quiet murmurs of what comes next, what can be done, and what the future may hold. Love it or hate it, this is an ending that has audiences talking, thinking, theorizing, about what this all means for characters and worlds we’ve known for 10+ years. Nothing is sacred, everything is up for grabs, and the possibilities are infinite.

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Weekly Round-Up: May 08-14, 2016

Two weeks ago, I saw:

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Ambitious mega-sequel tying together plot elements from the far reaches of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plus introducing charismatic new characters in Scarlet Witch and The Vision. I had some trouble following what was going on but I overall enjoyed it (though I don’t understand how Iron Man can let his tech run wild so many times!). RECOMMENDED.
  • Youth (2015) – I enjoyed this film slightly more this second round, though it could certainly use an editing job. At its best, it’s terrifically emotional even though at times it seems to not know where it’s going. RECOMMENDED.
  • Ant-Man (2015) – If this film had come earlier in the MCU I might have liked it more, but I couldn’t take the “buggy” qualities very seriously. Michael Pena is great as Ant-Man’s friend though, who tells outrageous long-winded stories (which surprisingly drive the plot forward). NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Sorry Winter Soldier, but Civil War is the new greatest superhero movie. A key element to this star-studded affair is the showdown between Team Cap and Team Iron Man, but its core theme that actions have consequences is a mature and complex one, heightening the superhero film to new heights. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Palm Springs Weekend (1963) – Silly teeny bopper flick about college kids who go on vacation to Palm Springs, where they drink booze, gamble, get arrested, and even fall in love. I adore these kinds of movies but acknowledge that they’re not for everybody. RECOMMENDED if you like baby boomer kids getting into trouble.
  • Friday the 13th (1980) – One of the dumbest horror movies to generate its own franchise, I admit I had a terrific time seeing this on a big screen, for the very first time, this past Friday the 13th. It was an outdoor screening at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, where the audience whistled with each love scene and cheered every time a camp counselor was slashed. NOT RECOMMENDED, but this movie is probably REQUIRED if you’re a horror buff.

What did you see two weeks ago? Did you fall victim to Friday the 13th?

Weekly Round-Up: May 01-07, 2016

Last week, I saw:

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – Possibly the greatest superhero film ever made, this episode features the First Avenger under pressure from a staggering bureaucracy, as the threat of a mysterious figure looms closer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Carnival of Souls (1962) – Occasionally spooky mystery/horror about a young woman who apparently survives a car accident, then moves to Utah where she is pursued by, and drawn to, the undead. There were some interesting shots, but this mostly felt like typical “B” movie material to me. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • The Good Dinosaur (2015) – I love the most recent Pixar film, and got a ton out of the audio commentary by director Peter Sohn and other members of the creative team. Their discussion of how this film, with less dialogue, presented a greater “acting” challenge for the animators was particularly insightful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – This film clicked with me much better this time around, through its likable characters and now-iconic soundtrack. While this is certainly part of the MCU, it feels so accessible since it starts (mostly) from scratch with (mostly) new characters to the saga. RECOMMENDED.
  • Selena (1997) – Well-rounded, terrifically cinematic biopic of the late Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla. Jennifer Lopez shines in the title role in a deservedly star-making performance. RECOMMENDED.
  • Joy (2015) – This played even worse on home video than it did in the movie theaters. The sum of Joy‘s parts is significantly greater than the whole, which is a soppy convoluted mess. The scenes of Joy Magnano at QVC are still cinema magic, however. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • The Jungle Book (2016) – The latest Disney live-action film also improved for me upon a second viewing, with a greater appreciation for the adaptation of narrative elements from the animated classic into live-action. I’m still knocked out by the outstanding visual effects. RECOMMENDED.
  • The Revenant (2015) – The worthier winner among the Best Picture nominees, I was reminded how this film is true, challenging, innovative art. Tom Hardy almost steals the show as the monster Fitzgerald, but Leo’s performance acting mostly solo, and pretending to be brutally mauled by a bear, is nothing short of astonishing. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: April 24-30, 2016

This felt like one of my bigger movie weeks in some time – last week, I saw:

  • That Thing You Do! (1996) – Entertaining kaleidoscope of the 1960s music scene, about the rise and fall of a one-hit wonder band. RECOMMENDED.
  • Carol (2015) – This is a tough one; I loved the production of Todd Haynes’s latest melodrama, from the exquisite costumes and perfect period sets to the passionate musical score and sensual camera work, but the story and script had me rolling my eyes. I have a very hard time believing anybody would want to have an affair with the lifeless character portrayed by Rooney Mara. Mostly well made, but ultimately this flick is NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Thor: The Dark World (2013) – I love the characters and world of Thor, but this sequel didn’t hold up as well as the original. There was plenty going on, it just wasn’t as engaging or interesting as I’d come to expect from the gang. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015) – I can’t get enough of these movies, but I can see why an outsider would think that they’re all the same. (They pretty much are, to be fair.) Still, there’s plenty of creepy moments and enrichment of the mythology that I’d nonetheless rate this one RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: April 16-22, 2016

  • Boyz n the Hood (1991) – Very impressive story about good kids growing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Authentic performances and dialogue elevate this film into true art. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Iron Man 3 (2013) – My favorite so far in the Iron Man saga, with our hero facing genuine PTSD after the nutso events of The Avengers. There was so much going on I had trouble following the story, but with so much happening I was still entertained. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see two weeks ago?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is The Big Sleep of superhero movies. Its main character takes on a seemingly straightforward assignment, and is plunged headfirst into a confusing, arguably convoluted, mystery. No one can be trusted as the lead navigates through a dark, unsettling landscape of mystery, intrigue, and danger. They are also among the strongest in their respective genres: The Big Sleep as one of the great film noirs, and The Winter Soldier as possibly the best superhero film.

Like the first chapter of Cap’s story, The First Avenger, the strongest asset is its lead character. Steve Rogers / Captain America found himself surviving long past World War II era into the present-day, but fortunately the “fish out of water” jokes were mostly contained within the previous film The Avengers, allowing a more serious assessment of Cap’s situation. He is no longer the war hero on the front lines, but a piece of a broader bureaucratic puzzle struggling with differing agendas with partners, reporting to a cryptic Director, and the growing dread that his way of life is no longer relevant 70 years after his own time.

Tragedy strikes early on, and Cap finds himself on the run as a perceived threat, and partners up with Agent Romanoff (Black Widow) to unscramble the threat. Their detective work draws them deeper and deeper into a dark conspiracy, and find supposed allies are not what they seem. The narrative gets even more clouded as a figure from Rogers’s past resurfaces as a nightmarish killing machine.

This is one of the more compelling elements of The Winter Soldier: the harsh imprints left by a traumatic wartime experience. It creates emotionless, heartless monsters of some, while others (like Steve’s friend Sam Wilson, later Falcon) turn this experience into support, by leading counseling groups for soldiers facing PTSD. Excellent foils are created between war veterans, ranging from light to the very dark.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Marvel storytelling at the top of its game, with stunningly shot action sequences and a mind-boggling yet exhilarating tale of bureaucracy, conspiracy, and heroism in the modern age.

Weekly Round-Up: April 10-16, 2016

Last week, I saw:

  • The Avengers (2012) – Epic superhero tale bringing together Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America (each of whom had their own films) with Black Widow and Hawk-Eye to save the world from invaders. It got kind of spacey for me, but I liked how much time we got with Black Widow over the other characters, who we presumably know (if we’ve kept up with the MCU). RECOMMENDED.
  • Love Affair, or The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967) – Slow-cooking erotic tale about a young woman who falls in love with a middle-aged man, and they spend a lot of the movie in their apartments. Wikipedia says this movie was controversial for its time (which I can understand), but the narrative wasn’t exactly groundbreaking even if its explicit content was. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • The Jungle Book (2016) – Gorgeous visuals bring the classic story to life in a whole new dimension as the jungles of India are animated to spectacular detail. My favorite parts of this film were how it differed from the Disney classic, particularly in the savagery of villain Shere Khan and the sweeping narrative (making it feel more flowing and less episodic). RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: March 20-26, 2016

  • Beach Party (1963) – The one that started it all. Delightful pop musical introducing us to the cast of kids led by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in their prime, with a terrific soundtrack featuring the two leads plus Dick Dale and His Del-Tones. This isn’t a masterpiece, but a wholly enjoyable piece of 1960s kitsch. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Thor (2011) – I couldn’t believe how much I liked this movie. The arrogant Norse god Thor is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth, but this “fish out of water” story is consistently endearing and compelling. His brother Loki is my favorite Marvel villain to date, and Natalie Portman also delivers a strong performance as a determined physicist. RECOMMENDED.
  • Eating Raoul (1982) – Still in love with this wacky comedy, one of the sweetest and cleanest movies about very adult subject matter. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • In the Realm of the Senses (1976) – A very dirty movie about very adult subject matter. This round (my third or fourth time watching), the musical moments stuck with me the most, melodies underlying the desperate passion the couple has for one another. RECOMMENDED.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Complex and moving story of a “kid from Brooklyn” becoming a powerful hero. Like Thor, this movie is heightened by strong characters and a layered narrative. RECOMMENDED.
  • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999) – I was reminded why people make fun of this one, but several moments (particularly the “Duel of the Fates” climax) are genuinely thrilling Star Wars moments. Definitely worth watching, even in spite of Mr. Binks. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see four weeks ago??

Weekly Round-Up: March 13-19, 2016

This past week took me forever to get through an audio commentary (aka non-chemical sleeping pills) but I got on a better roll afterwards:

  • The Graduate (1967) – This movie is still REQUIRED, but the audio commentary by director Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh isn’t. It felt like more of a conversation than actually discussing what was taking place onscreen, though I enjoyed learning about the editing/pacing decisions from Nichols.
  • Zootopia (2016) – Wonderful political allegory about prejudice and tolerance, disguised as a family film about talking animals. REQUIRED.
  • Iron Man 2 (2010) – Essentially, a rehash of Iron Man 1. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Brooklyn (2015) – My second time with this movie was even more emotional, from a greater understanding of the story and choices our heroine Eilis is facing. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?