Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – Movie Review

avengers infinity warAnd so begins the end of an era. Everything that has happened so far in Marvel’s shared universe that began in 2008, everything has led to this moment. Avengers: Infinity War is where this decade’s worth of narrative & world-building is supposed to pay off. And that makes this film more than just another instalment in the franchise. It’s an epic moment, no less than a cinematic event.

The 19th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first of the two planned Avengers films that will conclude their Phase 3 plan, Avengers: Infinity War follows the all-powerful Thanos as he travels across the universe looking for infinity stones that would grant him the strength to impose his will on all of reality and finally faces the Avengers in a battle that would decide the fate of all existing lives.

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, Infinity War begins where Thor: Ragnarok signed off and what unfolds in the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the story. It’s no doubt an ambitious undertaking by the Russo brothers but Captain America: Civil War proved that it’s them who were best suited for tackling this massive assignment than anyone else. And for the most part if not all, they do a pretty neat job at it.

Having been teased only in small doses until now, Infinity War puts Thanos front & centre as if it’s his movie. There is more at stake here than previous entries and in Thanos we have a supervillain who lives up to the expectations. His motivation for the sick fantasy that he wants to turn into reality isn’t as strongly appealing but it’s still serviceable. However, the film actually lacks that smooth, perfect balance the first Avengers film exhibited in all aspects.

The VFX team deserves the maximum credit, for everything from the set pieces to numerous locations to changing backdrops & settings to characters’ appearances & outfits is an end result of their work. There are plenty of moments that will make the audience cheer at the spectacle they are witnessing but it could also be exhausting, for CGI-laden action segments don’t carry that lasting effect and may become tiring after a while, which is exactly what happens here.

Cinematography is splendid, utilising IMAX cameras to capture the images in sharp detail & crisp clarity, but it also fails to make the most of the available technology by operating them in conventional fashion. Editing is brilliantly carried out, making sure the action keeps surfacing regularly to keep the interest alive but there were several scenes that it could’ve trimmed from its already demanding 149 mins runtime. And Alan Silvestri contributes with a rousing score that effectively uplifts the film’s larger-than-life aura.

Coming to the performances, barring a few exceptions, the entire ensemble of the MCU return to reprise their respective roles of the Avengers, the Guardians & their allies but it’s Josh Brolin as Thanos who impresses the most. The years of careful threading that underwent into hyping him as the biggest & baddest overlord of villainy & darkness ultimately works out in the film’s favour, as Thanos makes up for one formidable supervillain who’s far more intimidating than past Marvel antagonists and Brolin’s conquering voice makes him stand out even more.

As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark (Iron Man) with all his charisma & magnetic charm in tact and delivers a confidently assured input. Chris Hemsworth is even better as Thor and is bestowed with the most interesting arc of all Avengers. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America) is no slouch either and carves his own moments to shine. Tom Holland is effortlessly captivating as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and steals almost every scene he appears in. Others do well with what they are given but every single one of them is overshadowed by Thanos’ imposing presence.

On an overall scale, Avengers: Infinity War is an enjoyable, entertaining & satisfying extravaganza that somehow manages to live up to its enormous hype. There are plenty of unexpected surprises & unforeseen tragedies in store, plus the ending is going to hit the fans hard, but all of it would’ve left a more powerful & unforgettable impact if we didn’t already know that much of it will be undone in the next Avengers film. All in all, Avengers: Infinity War nearly pays off 10 years’ worth of investment with an exhilarating action-adventure spectacle and signs off by setting up a perfect stage for the grand finale.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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American Sniper (2014) – Movie Review

I suspect a lot of people appreciated American Sniper for the wrong reasons.

I say this because director Clint Eastwood has a long history of using violence to attack violence. It’s been a long time since Dirty Harry glorified vigilante justice to cheering audiences; as a director, Eastwood has chosen material dealing with the consequences of violence, and it’s never, ever sugar-coated. He forces us to think about the consequences of violence, and in this American Sniper is no different.

Thanks to a well-publicized trial, most of us know Kyle’s life story; he grew up in redneck Texas, and after the September 11 terror attacks decided to join the Navy Seals. He racked up more dead enemy combatants than any other soldier in history, only to be murdered by one of his fellow veterans in 2013.

I’m sure there were many in the audience who cheered every shot which felled an enemy combatant, but not Kyle, as portrayed by Bradley Cooper. Two of Kyle’s early victims were a mother and a small child, and it’s only with the greatest reluctance that he pulls the trigger. It’s easy to see why Cooper was nominated for an Oscar; it has to be hard for someone in Kyle’s position to keep a grasp on his humanity, and you can see the struggle reflected in Cooper’s eyes in every frame. To Cooper’s great credit, Kyle takes no pleasure in the chore he does so well.

Even in those scenes where Kyle is home, it’s clear the war has not changed him for the better. When Kyle goes to get his car repaired, for example, someone using an automatic drill spooks Kyle into thinking there’s an enemy attack for a moment. Those moments are marvelous and subtle, perfect examples of the actor’s art.

Kudos as well to Sienna Miller, who plays Kyle’s wife, Taya. In one of the most harrowing scenes I’ve seen in recent years, Taya and Chris are talking on their cell phones when, suddenly, violence erupts. All Taya can hear are explosions, gunfire, and yelling. Miller’s face runs any number of dark emotions: fear, loss, sudden abandonment. Her terror is real. (There’s also an all too brief scene with Miller in lingerie; how the hell could Jude Law cheat on that?)

Eastwood pulls no punches in the war segments, and nothing is glorified. Eastwood’s Iraq is at the gates of hell. The soldiers can’t trust anything, and they never know when something’s going to blow up, or when bullets will start to fly. They don’t know if they’re being lured into a trap when invited to dinner at a local’s home. Sometimes sophisticated technology fails. I don’t know about anyone else, but I felt as scared and uncertain as the soldiers on the screen. I shudder to think what real war is like.

People will see many messages in American Sniper, and I saw a very clear one: Chris Kyle is yet another victim of America’s gun culture. Played by Ben Reed, Kyle’s father raises his kids to shoot and his dark and ignorant view of humanity should frighten everyone; it’s no surprise Kyle became such a proficient killer with an upbringing like that.

Eastwood does not show Kyle’s murder, but most of us know what happened: Kyle spent plenty of time with his fellow veterans to give them the help he so often needed himself. Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield took Eddie Ray Routh, someone they suspected was mentally unstable, to a shooting range. In retrospect, it was a very stupid thing to do. Had they gone to a bar, or a basketball game, it is likely they would have survived. You don’t give guns to crazy people.

This is Eastwood’s most profound film on the consequences of violence since Unforgiven. I can’t imagine anyone leaving the theater waving a flag and cheering after seeing this film; just a deep sense of sadness and loss.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) – Movie Review

When a sequel is released following in the footsteps of a popular and well-loved movie the bar is set high by any and all going to see it. Expectations are high and if the follow up doesn’t equal that of the first film it could result in the end of a series or low box office figures. Termed the “sophomore slump” more than one second film has fallen prey to this occurring.

I’ve loved all of the Marvel Universe films (and Netflix series) to date, more so than any that DC has released where only WONDER WOMAN has succeeded. I enjoyed GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY immensely, a perfect combination of action, comic book love, special effects and humor. When the sequel, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 came out I was there the first week to see it. I left disappointed feeling it hadn’t lived up to my expectations. So I was anxious for it to come out on disc so I could watch it again and see it through different eyes, eyes not filled with expectations of the previous film. I’m glad I did.

The movie starts in the distant past as Peter Quill’s mother Meredith rides down the road in an open topped convertible singing “Brandy” as her handsome young beau (Kurt Russell) drives. They end up in a woods where he shows her something he has planted in the ground and both convey their love for one another. Fast forward to outer space.

The Guardians have been hired by the Sovereign to protect their all-important batteries from a marauding inter-dimensional monster. As it arrives the battle begins as does my favorite part of the film. Baby Groot hooks up a sound system to play music, something Peter aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) enjoys. With the tune “Mr. Blue Sky” blaring from the speakers baby Groot dances across the battlefield oblivious to the raging fight taking place around him. If it doesn’t make your heart dance with joy to see him you have no heart.

The team is victorious and get their reward – Nebula (Karen Gillan) Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) sister. Peter warns them to be cautious as the Sovereign are an easily offended group which of course results in Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) cracking wise at their expense. Heading out into space they are then attacked by the Sovereign, looking for the batteries stolen by Rocket which he failed to mention. As things appear to be at their worst another spaceship shows up with a man on top who obliterates the remaining Sovereign ships.

Crash landing and beginning repairs that same spaceship lands and out walks a man known as Ego who informs Peter that he is his father. Here before him is the man he’s been searching for all these years. A man who has been searching for Peter as well. While Rocket and Groot remain behind to fix the ship, with Nebula still a prisoner, the rest go with Ego to his planet at the far edge of the galaxy. But what is it that he really wants? This will become the problem all face eventually.

As this unfolds we also find out what has become of Yondu (Michael Rooker), Peter’s once father figure and the man who was tracking him down in the first film. We learn that his particular group of Ravagers were exiled because of his taking Peter years ago. At his lowest he is approached by the Sovereign to find the Guardians and retrieve their batteries.

Two themes run throughout this film. The first is that of family and fathers in particular. The Guardians are more than just a rag tag group of adventurers. Each has lost something or someone in their past and they have bonded together as a family in their time together. And each father figure has some flaw that makes them not the father they could have been but all attempt to redeem themselves for the most part save one. This presents a much deeper film than one would expect from a comic based movie.

The movie entertains on all levels from the stunning special effects visuals to the story telling itself. The acting is amazing when you consider that beneath the bluster and wise cracking heroics on display is that search for answers to familial matters. This includes not just fathers but sisters as well with Nebula and Gamora trying to find their own answers. In addition to that there are some belly busting funny moments as well, nearly all involving Drax (Dave Batista) who does a fantastic job with them.

On second viewing, without preconceived ideas in mind, I loved this movie. It might not be equal to the first but it is very close. The concepts that run through this film strike at the heart which is never a bad thing when handled well. Here it is handled exceptionally well. This is a movie to be added to any and all collections and watched more than once.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Movie Review

guardians of the galaxy

You might expect a movie studio at the top of its game to play it safe rather than strike out in new, bizarre directions. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine any other studio giving the greenlight to Guardians Of The Galaxy – a huge blockbuster movie based on a title unfamiliar to anyone who isn’t a comics aficionado, starring a relatively unknown actor playing a character most people have never heard of. And yet, Marvel scores once again with its willingness to head off the beaten track. GUARDIANS is a fun, fizzy delight, even as it mines some surprising depths of emotion from its ragtag group of anti-heroes.

Peter Quill (Pratt) – a human abducted from Earth as a child – has grown up into an intergalactic thief who has no idea what he’s getting into when he takes possession of a mysterious Orb. Little does he know that Ronan (Pace) – a genocidal Kree radical – will do just about anything to get his hands on said Orb, including sending alien assassin Gamora (Saldana) after it. Gamora, as it turns out, has an agenda of her own. Trapped in an intergalactic prison (long story), Peter and Gamora are forced into an uneasy alliance with three other misfits: a brainy, sarcastic raccoon-like creature named Rocket (voiced by Cooper), a giant tree by the name of Groot (Diesel), and the vengeance-minded Drax The Destroyer (Bautista).

The truth is that there’s almost too much going on in GUARDIANS. Not only do we meet a host of characters we’ve never met before, on a raft of new planets teeming with brightly coloured life and detail, we’re also introduced to several plot lines all stuffed somewhat awkwardly into the film. We have Ronan’s planet-destroying aspirations, which are somehow bound up with the evil plans of Thanos – that creepy purple- skinned dude who popped up at the end of The Avengers. Peter’s kidnappers turned surrogate ‘family’ are also on the trail of the Orb, turning up at moments both enormously convenient and inconvenient to the plot. It all makes sense in the end, but until it all clicks into place, it can make for a rushed, unsettling experience.

But, despite its occasionally unwieldy script, GUARDIANS triumphs because of the gang of scruffy losers (a term that will take on a different, more heartfelt meaning during the film) at its heart. Director James Gunn, who co-wrote the script, clearly feels a strong affinity for each one of these outcasts, all of whom are easily outlaws in some (if not all) parts of the solar system, each one battling – at least initially – to save his or her own skin rather than to save the world. It’s fascinating to watch the five members of this unlikely group slowly banter, bicker and batter their way into becoming a team.

Most joyfully of all, Gunn never loses sight of the prickly, selfish side of his characters. He gives them plenty of rich, emotional moments – whether it’s Peter and Gamora bonding over the loss of their parents, or Rocket’s ability to read a whole range of meaning into Groot’s extremely limited vocabulary (‘I am Groot’) – but never allows the film to descend into dangerously sentimental territory.

In fact, Gunn pumps up proceedings with a healthy, hearty dose of humour. Films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have always been more tongue-in-cheek than the likes of the considerably more dour Dark Knight franchise, but GUARDIANS is a heady trip of a different order. It practically delights in bursts of odd, subversive comedy, and actually dares to punctuate its most epic face-off with a sly homage to, of all things, Footloose.

Pratt – so winning in TV’s Parks And Recreation – holds the emotional core of the film together. He exudes an easy, rakish charm that makes Peter both dashingly arrogant and achingly vulnerable. He’s matched very well by Saldana, who is clearly delighting in the opportunity to play the world-weary, no-nonsense Gamora – bred into a killer, born a fighter. The rest of the cast does justice, too, to the film’s cheerful swing from drama to comedy and back again: Bautista brings unexpected pathos to Drax’s occasionally comical determination to avenge his family against Ronan, while Cooper sounds completely unlike himself – in a very good way – as a creature who hides a world of hurt beneath his mouthy exterior. Even Diesel manages to find a great deal of depth in a CGI character who only communicates via the same languid burst of three words.

If anything, GUARDIANS is let down by a trio of not particularly threatening villains. Pace snarls and spits in heavy make-up, but can’t quite rustle up much in the way of nuance or genuine menace. Ronan is a one-note madman, with so little in the way of backstory that he automatically becomes less interesting. Thanos, too, now voiced and performed in motion-capture by Brolin, doesn’t get much to do beyond lounge on his space throne. Only Gillan’s cyborg Nebula manages a smidgen of complexity; even then, she struggles to be half as fascinating as her conflicted “sister”, Gamora.

Before the film was even released in cinemas, Marvel announced that a sequel would be coming in 2017. It’s a no-brainer as to why. The film is smart, funny and quite wonderful on its own merits. But, even more crucially, GUARDIANS is a gamble that pays off handsomely for Marvel. It opens up the MCU in, quite literally, all directions. Don’t be surprised if you see our more earth-bound heroes heading into space sooner rather than later. The film also adds a new cast of lovable rogues to the MCU’s roster of characters: a gang who, one might say, are actually all the more heroic for being people who would ordinarily be running in the opposite direction from any galaxy-guarding duties. Frankly, we can’t wait to see what they get up to next.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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American Hustle (2013) – Movie Review

This may be a case where heightened expectations play a factor, but I found American Hustle disappointing. The narrative feels kind of obtuse/unfocused/sloppy…pick a word. It just seems disoriented, and not in a deliberate, effective way. So a lot of flash and interesting shots, but not a very sharp-feeling overall effect.

The Good – Christian Bale. Amy Adams. Christian Bale. Nice 70s aesthetic in the look, feel and sound of the film. Christian Bale. This is the first time that I have truly enjoyed Jeremy Renner in a film (I still do not buy into the “star hype” with him, but this is a good, affecting performance). The humor, while spotty, comes through very well here and there. Did I mention that Christian Bale is superb in this? Man.

The Not So Good – The combination of directing, writing, scoring and editing muddies the narrative unnecessarily. This film could have been better if those aforementioned things had been conducted more sharply and cohesively in concert with each other. But hey, maybe the way it is is absolutely intentional on David Russell’s part. If so, then it is just not to my tastes. I found Bradley Cooper’s character to be unremarkable and lacking in genuine punch, and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance to be awkward and unconvincing for the most part.

The Takeaway – This film is okay. But the trailer had me expecting something dazzling, something great. Make no mistake, there is some serious spark from Bale and Adams, and a heavy dose of 70s aesthetic. But more than anything else, this is a lesson in how you cannot always trust the hype machine to deliver on its buildup (or other reviewers, for that matter).

6 out of 10 stars

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The Hangover III – Movie Review

Meh. They caught me on a brilliant marketing effort and the Hangover brand, and then proceeded to deliver something mediocre. All the elements that made the first Hangover absolutely brilliant are noticeably absent in this latest installment. It just felt like a really lazy effort and yet another money grab. Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper look disinterested during most of the movie, ultimately mailing in their performances. I loved Zach Galifianakis in the first movie, but not this time around – he was just not funny at all. The good? Ken Jeong and John Goodman delivered solid performances, Ken in particular in an expanded role for Chow. I don’t condone streaming movies for free over the internet, but in this case I think it’s a better option than paying good money to see it in a Theatre. Save your cash for a second viewing of Star Trek: Into Darkness instead.

 

5 out of 10

 

 

The Place Beyond The Pines Movie Review

The trailer for this film doesn’t do it any justice, it is much much more than the story of a bank robber. The acting is superb, the story is very sober and the cinematography is quite good. It does feel a bit long, however. Its probably better suited for a lazy Sunday afternoon at home than watching in a movie theatre. That being said, it was worth the price of admission.

 

7 out of 10