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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Sicario (2015) – Movie Review

“Sicario” describes, with surgical precision, the fatal and bloody desecration of Mexico as a result of its decades long cartel war. And it does so by compressing this almost endless tragedy into a two-hour tour-de-force of filmmaking.

At its center we find idealistic FBI-Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), who is recruited to pursue a Mexican drug-baron. She is being guided by a seemingly untouchable covert assassin named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). Their investigation and methods are pushed further into unknown territory where justice and morality are no longer valid. The end not only justifies the means, it requires them.

Denis Villeneuve’s masterful piece exemplifies not only filmmaking of the highest order, but carves out a place alongside the terrible news reports as a deeply regretful, angry and at times almost unbearable look into the abyss of a socio-political nightmare that is fueled by first world-habit and global economics.

Through the powerful performances by Blunt, Del Toro and Josh Brolin in the leads as well as the excellent supporting cast, do we get a sense of the human cost (physical and psychological), which the war on drugs has taken.

From an exploding prison population, to the destruction of Mexican agriculture, to refugees and a cycle of violence that is beyond barbarity; the pull that “Sicario” exerts over the viewer is undeniable and by skirting the limits of bearable tension, without ever becoming exploitive, it is never giving an inch concerning its subject matter.

Few movies this year will have such a clear and defined structure and unflinching approach towards a situation that appears to be beyond salvation, while showing at the same time, that life nevertheless continues.

Taylor Sheridan’s script doesn’t miss a single beat and without sidestepping anything frees itself from beaten movie conventions by using familiar elements in an extremely skillful manner.

All these themes, stories and characters are captured through the lens of veteran Roger Deakins (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men) who lets us always know how the micro- and macro-particles of any conflict are inextricably intertwined. We share the vistas of beautiful sceneries while having to witness their downfall.

Whatever ideals the likes of Emiliano Zapata once had, their country has now, as it is described in the movie, become „”the land of wolves”.

Fifteen years ago Steven Soderbergh’s „”Traffic” which earned numerous Oscars, not the least of which went to Benicio Del Toro, made a clear statement about the various strands the drug trafficking business touches. Now, all those years later we see in „”Sicario” that even the faintest of hopes that „”Traffic” held onto have been eviscerated.

What now? One might ask.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Inherent Vice (2014) – Movie Review

Larry “Doc” Sportello, an unorthodox private-eye (Joaquin Phoenix) smokes a joint in his California shore-house–the waves on one side, and a whole mess of bad vibes on the other. Then in walks his ex-old lady, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), brining some of those bad vibes with her. She’s with a married man now, Mickey Wolfmann, and his wife wants her help to make off with his money and get him sent to a loony-bin. Through a cloud of marijuana smoke, Doc barely manages to mumble, “I think I’ve heard of that happening once or twice.” Agreed, Doc, that does seem pretty predictable. But then Wolfmann disappears and so does Shasta and the body count begins to climb. What follows is one of the most unique and unexpected trips of 2014. Inherent Vice throws the audience into the year 1970. Everyone wants to just smoke a joint and love each other, but they can’t seem to stop the wave of paranoia that’s overtaking them. As Doc delves deeper into the seemingly infinite mystery that unravels, neither he nor the audience is ever sure who to trust. One of these beautifully morally ambiguous characters is Lt. Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), who gets plenty of screen-time and spends most of it eating frozen bananas and railing against hippies. Brolin and Phoenix’s on-screen chemistry is off the charts, and the complicated relationship between their characters is explored through scenes of extreme hilarity. At the same time that I was questioning Bigfoot’s moral compass and how dedicated he really is to justice, I was watching the screen through a filter of tears from laughter.

Many have been calling Inherent Vice a combination of Chinatown and The Big Lebowski, and that’s a pretty accurate description. It blends the beautiful look and complicated plot of neo-noir films with an almost surreal kind of stoner-comedy and it meshes perfectly. It also pulls from retro-noir films like Sunset Blvd. and utilizes a large deal of narration. Noir films usually blend exposition with character development in their narration–The male protagonist narrates and his beautifully crafted sentences highlight how tough he is and how fed up with everything he’s become–but Inherent Vice takes a different route entirely. Sortilège (Joanna Newsom) narrates and exposition comes packaged together with an almost sentimental poetry that adds a layer to the loving, yet distrustful view of the Californian landscape. Sortilège is a highly mysterious character that takes a lot of the narration verbatim from the novel by Thomas Pynchon that this film is based on. She’s a seemingly omniscient, psychedelic chick who navigates the screen on a physical plane, but also enters and leaves Doc’s mind through voice-over when she sees fit.

Paul Thomas Anderson directs and this is another movie to add to his seemingly air-tight repertoire (Boogie Nights, There Will be Blood, Magnolia). He lets the actors navigate the screen with minimum editing and allows entire dialogue scenes happen in one take. This is a risky move– cutting is usually used to increase humor or add suspense, but somehow this movie manages without it. I can’t stress enough how humorous Doc’s interactions with other characters are. And the more tense scenes thrust Doc into danger with little to no warning and effectively get the heart racing.

I’m sure a lot of people will complain about the complexity of the plot in this one. As Doc makes his way through a haze of pot smoke, conspiracies, and government corruption more and more names are dropped and exactly what’s going and on and who’s pulling the strings becomes almost impossible to make out upon first viewing. This is because plot takes the backseat to the film’s powerful entertainment value and its themes. When I watched it for the first time, I honestly didn’t know what was happening after the half-way point, but I barely had time to think about it because I was so engrossed by the little episodes that the movie presents. One of my favorite scenes features Doc and Shasta in a flashback as they run through the rain with Neil Young’s “Journey Through the Past” playing in the background. The music takes priority over the dialogue and I wanted to weep for this beautiful moment that was now lost in the “city dump” of Doc’s memory. It cuts to Doc navigating the same area in present day and the vacant lot that him and Shasta had been running freely through has now been occupied by a building shaped like a Golden Fang–a symbol of the criminal organization that plagues the characters throughout their journeys.

And that, to me, is what the movie is all about. The simplicity of blissful ignorance being slowly replaced with growing knowledge of the darker side of the American dream. 1970 is the perfect year for this drama to unfold–characters can’t stop talking about Charles Manson, and distrust of police is just beginning to evolve. Something wicked has been lying in wait and the movie takes place in that small window where optimism began to shrink back in the American mind and people began ignoring hitchhikers and locking their doors. The insane complexity of the plot only serves to highlight this more–great evil is operating under the surface, but Doc can never be totally sure how much of it is just in his head, or who is pulling the levers. Or maybe everyone’s got a lever except for him. It’s tough to tell when you’re lightin’ up a J and just trying to help somebody out.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) – Movie Review

Nearly ten years after the last film, this long awaited sequel takes us back to Frank Miller’s dark, grey and white hellhole city, and reintroduces us to Marv (Mickey Rourke), the bruised and battered anti- hero who spends his nights lusting after stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) in a saloon bar, who finds redemption after saving a homeless guy from some drunken college boys. Nancy herself is a tormented soul, still having visions of her departed hero Hartigan (Bruce Willis.) But this is the guy who saved her from the beastly son of Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), who’s targeted her for revenge in place of him, and has also run chancer Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) out of town. Meanwhile, there’s the tale of the temptress the titular suffix is referring to, Ava (Eva Green), who’s got embittered tough guy Dwight (Josh Brolin) wrapped around her little finger.

In an industry where the cash cow sequel is quickly churned out to a hugely successful film, writer/director duo Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez have shown admirable restraint, if nothing else, by making fans wait nearly a decade for this follow up to 2005’s adaptation of Miller’s graphic novel starring Bruce Willis, who has only intermittent moments this time round as a mere spook. Retaining the distinctively grey, bleary background look and not skimping any more on the brutal, blood splattered violence of the first film, the makers have delivered a film that has all the fundamentals right, but doesn’t quite come together the way the original did.

By making the fans wait so long, you would hope that the golden pair were trying to prepare something genuinely masterful, with every little cylinder firing just right, and the film doesn’t shatter this illusion. The problem here may be over ambition, with a desire to recreate the flashy, comic book style of the novels coming at the expense of a truly coherent, at times even logical story. While the atmosphere, the low pitched, gravelly delivery of the dialogue and the moodily grey and black settings still carry it along nicely, without a solid structure at the heart of it, after a while it all gets a bit too much.

For all this, though, the characters, the driving force of the film, are no less engaging. Brolin is a suitably picked lead tough guy, who does the whole mumbling, brooding thing just brilliantly, who has perfect support with Rourke as his cohort. Probably most impressive is once again Boothe as the sinister, evil villain, who does cold and icy just great. The only thing that lets everything on the surface down is the misfiring Pulp Fiction style narrative structure, the one spanner in the works in what is otherwise still an exhilarating, distinctive experience unlike any other.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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