Film Review: The Catcher Was A Spy (dir by Ben Lewin)


I was so impressed with Paul Rudd’s performance in Avengers: Endgame that, last night, I decided to watch another Paul Rudd film, 2018’s The Catcher Was A Spy.

Based on a true story, The Catcher Was A Spy tells the tale of Moe Berg (Paul Rudd).  When we first meet Moe, it’s towards the end of World War II and Moe has been sent behind enemy lines to investigate just how close the Nazis are to building an atomic bomb.  Intelligence suggests that physicist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong) is leading the Nazi effort and, if the intelligence turns out to be true, Moe has been ordered to assassinate Heisenberg.  As Moe considers whether or not he’s actually capable of killing a man, we get flashbacks to how Moe eventually ended up working as a spy.

What we learn is that, in the 1930s, Moe Berg was a major league baseball player.  He was a catcher and, though he was never a great player, he was famous for being far more educated than the average professional athlete.  At a time when open anti-Semitism was socially acceptable among America’s upper classes, Moe Berg managed to get an Ivy League education.  Not only does he keep up with current events but he can also speak several languages.  The other players aren’t quite sure what to make of Moe, nor does Moe ever seem to make much of an effort to open up to anyone, including his girlfriend, Estella (Sienna Miller, playing yet another girlfriend in yet another biopic).

Because he can speak Japanese, Moe is selected to be a part of a delegation of players who will be sent to Japan.  While the rest of the players hang out around the hotel, Moe hangs out with an intellectual named Kawabata (Hiroyuki Sanada), discusses inevitably of war, and — for reasons that the film deliberately leaves unclear — decides to shoot a film of Tokyo Harbor.

Five years later, with the United States now at war with the Axis powers, it’s that film that leads to Moe getting a meeting with the head of the Office of Strategic Services, Bill Donovan (Jeff Daniels).  No longer a baseball player and apparently bored with coaching, Moe wants to become a spy.  Donovan notes that Moe has never married and asks him flat out if he’s gay.  Moe smiles slightly and says, “I’m good at keeping secrets.”

And indeed, he is!  Unfortunately, Moe is so good at keeping secrets that we never quite get into his head.  It’s hard not to compare this film to the superficially similar The Imitation Game.  But whereas that film made you feel as if you were seeing the world through Alan Turing’s eyes, The Catcher Was A Spy always seems to be standing outside of Moe Berg.  In the film’s final title cards, it refers to Moe as being an “enigma” and that’s pretty much the way he is throughout the entire film.  We like him because he’s played by Paul Rudd but we never really feel like we know him.  The closest the film comes to suggesting what’s going on inside the head of its main character is when Moe — who has described himself as non-religious — attends a Kol Nidrel service at a Zurich synagogue and, for a few minutes, Moe lets his guard down.  But, for the majority of the film, Moe remains unknowable.

With the exception of one battle scene, it’s also a rather low-key spy film, one that’s more in the style of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy than SPECTRE.  Again, that may be true to the actual story but, considering that it’s a film about a possibly gay Jew working to take down a homophobic, anti-Semitic war machine, it’s still hard not to regret the film’s lack of big “stand up and cheer” moments.  Clocking in at a rather brisk 97 minutes, it’s hard not to feel that there’s some big pieces missing from the film’s story.

Here’s the good news: Paul Rudd proves himself to be a thoroughly charismatic leading man in this film, showing that he can hold the audience’s attention even without special effects or a punch line.  Rudd does an excellent job playing a character who, to be honest, has very little in common with what we may think of as being a typical Paul Rudd role.  Rudd is always watchable, even while Moe Berg remains an enigma.  Hopefully, Rudd will get more opportunities in the future to show us what he’s truly capable of doing as an actor.

Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (dir by the Russo Brothers)


(Minor Spoilers Below!  Read at your own risk.)

So, how long does the no spoiler rule for Avengers: Endgame apply?  There’s so much that I want to say about this film but I know that I shouldn’t because, even though it had a monstrous opening weekend, there are still people out there who have not had a chance to see the film.  And while this review will have minor spoilers because, otherwise, it would be impossible to write, I’m not going to share any of the major twists or turns.

I will say this.  I saw Avengers: Endgame last night and it left me exhausted, angry, sad, exhilarated, and entertained.  It’s a gigantic film, with a plot that’s as messy and incident-filled as the cinematic universe in which it takes place.  More than just being a sequel or just the latest installment in one of the biggest franchises in cinematic history, Avengers: Endgame is a monument to the limitless depths of the human imagination.  It’s a pop cultural masterpiece, one that will make you laugh and make you cheer and, in the end, make you cry.  It’s a comic book film with unexpected emotional depth and an ending that will bring a tear to the eye of even the toughest cynic.  By all logic, Avengers: Endgame is the type of film that should collapse under its own weight but instead, it’s a film that thrives on its own epic scope.  It’s a three-hour film that’s never less than enthralling.  Even more importantly, it’s a gift to all of us who have spent the last ten years exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The film itself starts almost immediately after the “Snap” that ended Avengers: Infinity War and we watch as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, returning to the franchise after being absent in the previous film) finds himself powerless to keep his family from disintegrating.  After often being dismissed as the Avengers’s weak link, both Clint Barton and Jeremy Renner come into their own in the film.  As one of two members of the Avengers who does not have super powers, Clint serves as a everyperson character.  He’s a reminder that there’s more at stake in Endgame than just the wounded pride of a few super heroes.  When Thanos wiped out half the universe, he didn’t just wipe out Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Groot.  He also left very real wounds that will never be healed.

When the film jumps forward by five yeas, we discover that the world is now a much darker place.  When we see New York, the once vibrant city is now gray and deserted.  Our surviving heroes have all dealt with the Snap in their own way.  Clint is now a vigilante, killing anyone who he feels should have been wiped out by Thanos but wasn’t.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) drinks and eats and feels sorry for himself.  Captain America (Chris Evans) attends support groups and, in one nicely done scene, listens as a man talks about his fear of entering into his first real relationship in the years since “the Snap.”  Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is living as a recluse and is still blaming himself.  Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is now an avuncular, huge, and very green scientist.  Only Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) remains convinced that the Snap can somehow be undone.  She’s right, of course.  But doing so will involve some unexpected sacrifices and a lot of time travel….

And that’s as much as I can tell you, other than to say that the film takes full advantage of both the time travel aspects (yes, there are plenty of Back to the Future jokes) and its high-powered cast.  With our heroes — which, along with the usual Avengers, also include Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) — hopping through time and space, we get a chance to revisit several of the films that led up to Endgame and it’s a thousand times more effective than it has any right to be.  Yes, one could argue that the cameos from Robert Redford, Tom Hiddleston, Hayley Atwell, and others were essentially fan service but so what?  The fans have certainly earned it and the MCU has earned the chance to take a look back at what it once was and what it has since become.

Indeed, Avengers: Endgame would not work as well as it does if it hadn’t been preceded by 21 entertaining and memorable movies.  It’s not just that the MCU feels like a universe that it as alive as our own, one that is full of wonder, mystery, sadness, and love.  It’s also that we’ve spent ten years getting to know these characters and, as a result, many of them are much more than just “super heroes” to us.  When Tony Stark and Captain America argue over whether it’s even worth trying to undo the Snap, it’s an effective scene because we know the long and complicated history of their relationship.  When the Avengers mourn, we mourn with them because we know their pain.  We’ve shared their triumphs and their failures.  Tony Stark may be a guy in an iron suit but he’s also a man struggling with his own demons and guilt.  Steve Rogers may be a nearly 100 year-old super solider but he’s also every single person who has struggled to make the world a better place.  As strange as it may be to say about characters known as Iron Man, Captain America, and the Black Widow, we feel like we know each and every one of them.  We care about them.

Needless to say, the cast is huge and one of the great things about the film is that previously underused or underestimated performers — like Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, and Karen Gillan — all finally get a chance to shine.  As always, the heart of the film belongs to Chris Evans while Robert Downey, Jr. provides just enough cynicism to keep things from getting to superficially idealistic.  Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo get most of the film’s big laughs, each playing their borderline ludicrous characters with just the right combination of sincerity and humor.  Of course, Josh Brolin is back as well and he’s still perfectly evil and arrogant as Thanos.  But whereas Thanos was the focus of Infinity War, Endgame focuses on the heroes.  If Infinity War acknowledged that evil can triumph, Endgame celebrates the fact that good never surrenders.

As Endgame came to an end, I did find myself wondering what the future is going to hold for the MCU.  A part of me wonders how they’re going to top the past ten years or if it’s even possible to do so.  Several mainstays of the MCU say goodbye during Endgame and it’s hard to imagine the future films without their presence.  It’s been hinted that Captain Marvel is going to be one of the characters holding the next phase of the  MCU together and, fortunately, Brie Larson is a quite a bit better in Endgame than she was in her previous MCU film.  Hopefully, regardless of what happens in the future, Marvel and Disney will continue to entrust their characters to good directors, like the Russo Brothers, James Gunn, and Taika Waititi.  (Wisely, Disney reversed themselves and rehired James Gunn for the next Guardians of the Galaxy film.  Of course, Gunn never should have been fired in the first place….)

And that’s really all I can say about Avengers: Endgame right now, other than to recommend that you see it.  In fact, everyone in the world needs to hurry up and see it so we can finally start talking about the film without having to post spoiler warnings!

For now, I’ll just say that Avengers: Endgame is a powerful, emotional, and entertaining conclusion to one of the greatest cinematic sagas ever.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Life (dir by Daniel Espinosa)


I don’t care what Neil deGrasse Tyson says.  Space is dangerous.

Just judging by what I’ve seen in the movies, it might be a good idea for humanity to stay earthbound.  Seriously, it seems like every time a group of astronauts and scientists spend an extended period of time off of our planet, bad shit happens.  They either end up leaving behind someone on Mars or sometimes they crash land on a planet inhabited by vampires.  Occasionally, they end up with evil creatures bursting out of their chest and, if they’re not careful, they might even end up accidentally traveling all the way to Hell and back.

For that matter, it might be a good idea to also stop listening to Bill Nye.  I’ve seen enough movies to know better than to trust science.  Did you know that every time a revived corpse has gone on a killing spree, a scientist has been to blame?  In the movies, science always says it’s going to make the world a better place but ultimately, it just seems to make things worse.

Consider Life, for instance.

This science fiction film, which came out earlier this year and didn’t stick around in theaters for very long, opens with the crew of the International Space Station taking questions from a group of school children on Earth.  Everyone is really excited because a probe has been picked up evidence that there was once extraterrestrial life on Mars.  Starting from one cell, the scientists have managed to clone an alien organism.  (Or something like that.  Wisely, the movie doesn’t waste too much time on how all of this actually works.)  The school kids name the organism Calvin.

Isn’t that cute?

But here’s the thing.  Life is a science fiction/horror movie hybrid and, as a result, we already know that it was a mistake to bring that alien to life.  We know that almost everyone in that space station is going to die a terrible death.  It doesn’t matter that the scientists are played by people like Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, and Rebecca Ferguson  We know what is going to happen because we’ve all seen at least one movie in the Alien franchise.  We know what’s going to happen and, when things start to fall apart, the entire audience nods and says, “I told you so.”

That’s not to say that Life doesn’t work.   Life may be predictable but that’s actually a part of the film’s charm.  This is the type of film that you need to watch with a group of your loudest and snarkiest friends.  (I watched it with my sisters during the 4th of July weekend.  We all love Jake.  We all love Ryan.  Things got a bit out of hand.)  You don’t watch Life because you’re looking for an upbeat portrait of space exploration.  You watch Life so that you can yell, “No, don’t bring Calvin to life!  No, you idiot!  Don’t go into space!  Don’t lock yourself in the lab!  HAVEN’T ANY OF YOU SCIENTISTS EVER SEEN A HORROR MOVIE BEFORE!?”

(Indeed, one of the unexpected pleasures of Life was seeing that even brilliant people will do stupid things when confronted by the unknown.)

That said, Life occasionally caught me off guard.  It’s not that I was shocked to see the members of the cast being picked off one by one by Calvin.  Instead, I was shocked by the film’s relentlessly dark and bleak vision.  For a film called Life, it’s ultimately all about death.  Just because a character is being played by a big star, that doesn’t mean they won’t end up with Calvin entering their body and graphically devouring them from the inside out.  Calvin was a truly frightening creation and director Daniel Espinosa does a good job of capturing the claustrophobia and clutter of the space station.  Even if they didn’t exactly break any new ground, Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick deserve a lot of credit for pursuing the film to its dark conclusion.  In space, they seem to suggest, there is no hope.

In conclusion, the main lesson of Life seems to be this: outer space is a terrible place and the worst thing that humanity can do is leave the planet.  Science is going to be the death of us.  Neil deGrasse Tyson has a lot to answer for.

Trailer: 47 Ronin (Official)


47Ronin

So, we have Keanu Reeves playing against type in Man of Tai Chi now we have another Keanu extravaganza where he returns to the role he continues to be cast in. The role of the reluctant hero who also happens to be the only one who can save everyone.

47 Ronin, I will have to assume, is probably very loosely-based on the 18th-century real-life account of the forty-seven ronin (masterless samurai) who took on the rival lord of their former lord and master. Their legend grew upon the success of their mission when they presented themselves to the Shogun and were given the chance to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) to keep their honor instead of being executed like criminals for the murder of the rival lord.

This story continues to remain a popular one in Japan and for those in the West who know of it. The film looks to take the basic premise but adapt the story in a more fantasy-setting that makes this 47 Ronin look more like a live-action anime than a traditional jidaigeki film like the recent 13 Assassins. This film marks one of the first Western Chushingura (fictional accounts of the forty-seven ronin event).

47 Ronin is directed by Carl Erik Rinsch and is set for a Christmas 2013 release date.

Trailer: The Wolverine (CinemaCon Exclusive)


TheWolverine

First we had the WonderCon Exclusive trailer for Pacific Rim drop a couple days ago. Now we have the CinemaCon Exclusive trailer for the upcoming The Wolverine which looks to be an improvement from this film’s first trailer.

This trailer for The Wolverine looks to emphasize the action in the film instead of the film’s story. We get many scenes of Wolverine doing what he does best. For fans of the character this storyline and setting should be recognizable as being based off of the Chris Claremont and Frank Miller mini-series about the character that helped create one of this character’s better backstory.

The Wolverine drops in the theaters on July 26, 2013.

Source: AMC Theaters

Scene I Love: Sunshine (dir. by Danny Boyle)


The scene in Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” where the crew reaches Mercury is one of my favorites. It may not be as powerful as Kaneda’s Death, but this is one of those moments I can watch and smile at. There are no words, but visually, It’s an awesome moment of reflection in the scheme of things. John Murphy and Underworld’s music add a nice touch to this.