April 29, 2018

Movie Review # 50 Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers:  Infinity War (2018) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans , Zoe Saladana Directed By Anthony & Joe Russo

10 Marvel years, 18 Marvel films, (and billions of dollars made), all presumably connected in the same expansive universe leading toward this one epic battle (or at least Part 1 so far of this battle), Directors Anthony & Joe Russo (The Winter Solider, Civil War, & Community and Arrested Development fame) bring the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) to the Big Screen in a starring role no less, so that he can unite the Infinity Stones and attempt to bring about great death and destruction to half the population of the universe, including potentially some of our favorite heroes.  Hey the Russo brothers had a gargantuan task, not only make a film that is entertaining, but also Marvel dared them to be different while still making sure every (or most) of your favorite heroes received great moments (while continuing to set up presumably more and more expanding)…their solution: Make the big bad the star. Really that is the most shocking thing (we are spoiler free here) about Infinity War, the star is really Thanos, for the first time in this Marvel Universe (that has had numerous useless villains) the villain is the star (look Keaton and MB Jordan were both good villains and Loki was um fine, but this is breaking new ground). I don’t know if they succeeded perfectly (I am a big fan of Winter Solider and outside of the end of Civil War that is also a great film), Infinity War clocks in at 2 hours and 29 minutes, but I think maybe it needed to be a bit longer (or have a better editor).  I would’ve traded some goofy exposition (by Bruce Banner) for a better opening and I would’ve certainly traded several minutes of that Wakanda battle sequence (where they were fighting the Outriders, some random dog/dinosaur things…dogosaurs?) for some more intimate battles, but given the sacrifice all these Marvel films make (CGI for story always), the Russo brothers have to be commended overall. The one thing this move has that other Marvel films lack is finally some consequence, failure leading to consequence (and at times it actually can be a bit emotional), I said it the second I walked out of theater, and I’ve heard it 1000 times since (we are all right btw), this is Marvel’s (and this generations) Empire Strikes Back, it is dark and the ending is not hopeful.  I think because Thanos gets so much backstory (which was a choice I liked), it does create some problems for characters that fall by the wayside in order to give other characters more closely connected to Thanos a chance to advance his story (Gamora really has a nice arc here), Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) to me was one of the characters that I was hoping for more, but I’m sure that those that got short changed here (Um Hawkeye and Ant-Man) will be back strong in Infinity War 2 (or whatever they call it). I thought Tom-Vaughan Lawler as Ebony Maw was the standout newcomer, he overshadowed solid performances by Carrie Coon (Proxima Midnight) and Peter Dinklang (Eitri). I think most people will enjoy this film, Marvel mostly delivers on its promise to unite their heroes from all corners of the Marvel cinematic Universe for an epic climax to Phase 3, some bad CGI and some lazy storytelling can’t stop this film from entertaining, ultimately it will suck you in and since it leaves you wanting more you will be back (Just like Thanos) SEE IT!  

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) A bevy of stars, some fun dialogue juxtaposed with some emotional losses, fun pairings of stars that had not interacted yet,  a very commendable bad guy, and giant set piece’s (that often make no sense, Thanos at one point throws a moon at Iron man, what?) all equal a worthy 6.5 on the Shawshank Scale for me. There is so much going on in Infinity War, it gets a bump in rewatchability because you have to see it at least 2 3 times just to figure out what the hell happened. 

1. Capt. America The Winter Soldier
2. Avengers
3. Civil War
4. Iron Man
5. Guardians of the Galaxy

1. Age of Ultron
2. Thor The Dark World
3. Iron Man 3


April 23, 2018

DVD Review #48 The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman (2017) Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Zendaya Directed By Michael Gracey
A relative newcomer to the Director’s chair, Michael Gracey  attempts admirably to bring P.T. Barnum out of the tent (and off the stage) to take on the big screen.  The movie works best when it clings to being a celebration of humanity through great characters and wonderful songs and works least when it attempts to rush past a lot of complicated P.T. Barnum quasi history. I am all for print the legend over the truth, but it can be difficult to skirt both lines, when this film attempts to, it kind of fails. I wish it had scrapped more P.T. Barnum stuff and focused more on the Zac Efron and Zendaya stuff (they had nice high school musical like chemistry).  Hugh Jackman (who I believe this is a bit of a passion project for him and he did well as the film made over 400 million worldwide) does a great job as P.T. Barnum (who knew Wolverine could sing and dance like that?).  He maybe feels a little old for the part at times (circa Kevin Spacey playing Bobby Darrin in Beyond the Sea), but he is no doubt a showman and when the song and dance starts, he nails it. Michelle Williams isn’t given enough to do as Charity Barnum, but Keala Settle kills it as the bearded lady Lettie Lutz (she gets the showstopper This is Me). I loved it at times especially when the songs were good, but I can’t forgive it for feeling like it is rushing through a lot of story (for a film well over 2 hours, it felt too short).  I think I now understand why it didn’t get nominated for Best Picture. I will say though this film has earned it's success, people love it and that is a testament to the music and feel good moments which there are many (maybe not true, but they make you feel good). I don’t think it will sneak into my Top 10 of 2017, but it definitely is worth seeing. I have a soft spot for musicals and this one is good enough to earn my recommendation. SEE IT!

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Great music, awesome performances, convoluted and poorly paced storytelling equals a sturdy 6.0 on the Shawshank Scale. I was going to give it a bump because Zac Efron managed to keep his shirt on, but maybe the film could have used a little Efron peck magic.

April 1, 2018

Movie Review #49 Ready Player One

I loved the Ernest Cline Novel Ready Player One, it was the most fun book I read last year (I didn’t read many to be fair), that said what I found a pop culture extravaganza held together with warm adolescent love and video game rules, many called a flawed book (it’s a lot to get into to). When Steven Spielberg was announced as the director of the film version I was nervous, although he is without a doubt one of the most prolific filmmakers of my life, if not the most prolific, I have found that lately his films although very good, have been short of great. His serious movies (The Post) have a little too much fun and his fun movies (The BFG) have been a bit of drag. I was worried he would gloss over the dark stuff too much, which he did, but not enough to make me not like it. READY PLAYER ONE (2018) Spielberg brings the book alive, it's a tad overbearing but still a lot of fun. Relative newcomer Tye Sheridan (X-Men Apocalypse) does a fine somewhat bland job as protagonist Wade Watts/Parzival. Oliva Cooke is much better Art3mis and steals much of the film (in part due to the changes made from book to film). I could complain about the changes but Cline himself co-wrote along with Zak Penn (The Avengers/X-Men Last Stand) so if he is okay with what they did, it’s hard for me to not be ok with it. Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) shows up as Sorrento, but the character did not get proper screen time and he has a climactic moment in the film which is just nonsensical (kind of want him to stop playing bad guys now). Also TJ Miller has a bit part that is funny, but totally out of place. I was curious to see how many rights to films, games, and music they would end up getting, and although they did manage to get quite a bit, it still isn’t as much as I wanted  (where was the RUSH music?).  Spielberg has an obvious love letter to Stanley Kubrick in there that although isn’t in the book, it does fit nicely here, I’m sure it’s polarizing and maybe a tad selfish on his part, but I liked it (a cool Chucky cameo works well also). The ending was interesting; I liked the teenage romance stuff, but was left feeling cold overall, it felt a tad lackluster. I’ve said this many times, if the story you want to tell takes 3 hours, then make a 3 hour film (nobody complains that The Godfather is too long!), this film felt like it needed another half hour. 

The Shawshank Scale (1-10) I’ll give it a very sturdy 6.0 on The Shawshank Scale and recommend it. My sense is those who loved the book will find issues, those who felt the book flawed may think the changes were improvements, and those who have no idea what the book was will have a fun ride. SEE IT!

1. Jaws  "You all know me, You know How I earn a livin"
2. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade "I like the Austrian way better"
3. Schindlers List "I pardon you"
4. E.T. "Is he a pig? He sure eats like one"
5. Saving Private Ryan "All we can do here is die"
So close: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Catch Me if You Can, Jurassic Park, and Hook.