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.

“Whatever it takes, I know I can make it through” Here’s the new trailer for Avengers: Endgame!


So, I just watched the latest trailer for Avengers: Endgame.  Here are a few of my initial thoughts:

First off, people always make jokes about how, while Thor’s a God and Captain America is basically 100 years old but still looks like Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner pretty much only brings a bow and arrow to the fight.  But you know what?  I was really happy to see Renner return, even if he does have a questionable haircut.  And I was even more happy to see that, after being underused in the previous Avengers film, it looks like Scarlett Johannson has got a decent role.

Plus, for at least some of the film, Scarlett’s a redhead again!

I loved the trailer’s use of black-and-white.  It added a sense of tragic grandeur to the whole thing.

I’m still traumatized by the end of the Infinity Wars.  Yeah, I know that everyone will probably be resurrected and that there’s no way they’d ever kill off Spider-Man for real but seriously, that was hella depressing!  “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good….” AGCK!

Captain Marvel shows up at the end and gets Thor’s seal of approval.  One wonder if they waited to see this weekend’s box office numbers before deciding to include that scene at the end.

Speaking of which — where’s my review of Captain Marvel?  I saw it earlier this week.  I’ll be posting it soon.

It’s hard not to notice that Thanos wasn’t in this trailer.  Of course, we did see him in the previous teaser.

Finally, I love the fact that Avengers: Endgame and Degrassi share the same tag line.  “Whatever it takes!”

Here’s the latest trailer for Avengers: Endgame!

 

 

Book Review: Need To Know by Karen Cleveland


 

How well do you know the people you love?

That’s the question that’s at the heart of Need to Know, the debut novel of Karen Cleveland.

When we first Vivian Miller, the main character and narrator of Need to Know, she has a life that, on the surface, many would envy.  She has four children, a nice house in the suburbs of D.C., and a handsome and charming husband named Matt.  Of course, there are problems.  Money’s tight.  One of her children has a heart defect, one that will undoubtedly require surgery in the future.  Honestly, Vivian would be happy to stay home and spend all of her time taking care of the children but, as Matt always reminds her, they need the money that her job brings in.

Vivian works for the CIA.  She’s an analyst and, as glamorous as working in intelligence might sound, her job basically involves spending a lot of time in the office, searching through the computers of suspected Russian agents.  For instance, there’s the mysterious Yury.  When Vivian searches through Yury’s files, she comes across a folder that is labeled “Friends.”  Inside the folder are five pictures of five people who might or might not be working for the Russians.

Four of the pictures are of total strangers.

The fifth picture is of Matt.

If nothing else, Need to Know is a book that will keep you guessing.  Is Matt a Russian agent or was his picture placed in the folder just to compromise Vivian’s position with the CIA?  Has Matt spent ten years being a perfect and supportive husband or was he actually a passive aggressive manipulator?  What do the Russians want and how far are they willing to go to get it?  And, even more importantly, how far is Vivian willing to go to protect her children?

Need to Know is a strong debut novel, a perfectly paced thriller that will take consistently take you by surprise.  Karen Cleveland is a former CIA analyst herself and she puts that background to good use in Need to Know, supplying a lot of interesting details that you wouldn’t get from a book written by … well, by someone like me, whose national security expertise is pretty much limited to what I’ve seen in the movies.

(Speaking of movies, apparently Charlize Theron will be producing and starring in the film version of Need to Know.  Personally, the entire time I was reading the novel, I pictured Naomi Watts as Vivian, Jeremy Renner as Matt, and Richard Jenkins as Vivian’s boss, Peter.)

I did have a few issues with the final few chapters of the book.  Though it didn’t effect my overall enjoyment of the novel, I would have liked a stronger ending.  That said, the ending does potentially leave room for a sequel and I will definitely be reading the next book that Karen Cleveland writes!

If you’re in the mood for a good and intelligent spy thriller, Need to Know is definitely one to check out.

Belatedly, Here Are The Nominations of the North Texas Film Critics!


Two days ago, the North Texas Film Critics Association announced their nominations for the best of 2017!

On twitter, there’s been a lot of speculation as to why the NTFCA totally snubbed Call Me By Your Name in their nominations.  Hilariously, some people — all from out-of-state, of course — are assuming that the NTFCA must be made up of evangelical, right-wingers because it’s a Texas organization.  Seriously, those people have no idea how left-wing most members of the Texas media are.  Texas may be a Republican state but most of our native film critics are somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders.

Anyway, here are the nominees:

BEST PICTURE
“Baby Driver”
“The Big Sick”
“Dunkirk”
“Get Out”
“The Florida Project”
“Lady Bird”
“Logan”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

BEST ACTOR
James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Stronger”
Tom Hanks, “The Post”
Hugh Jackman, “Logan”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
James McAvoy, “Split”
Kumail Nanijiani, “The Big Sick”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Robert Pattinson, “Good Time”
Jeremy Renner, “Wind River”
Andy Serkis, “War for the Planet of the Apes”

BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain, “Molly’s Game”
Judi Dench, “Victoria & Abdul”
Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman”
Jennifer Lawrence, “mother!”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Brooklynn Prince, “The Florida Project”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Emma Stone, “Battle of the Sexes”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Nicole Kidman, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
Tatiana Maslany, “Stronger”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”
Tilda Swinton, “Okja”
Kristin Scott Thomas, “Darkest Hour”
Bria Vinaite, “The Florida Project”
Allison Williams, “Get Out”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Steve Carell, “Battle of the Sexes”
Daniel Craig, “Logan Lucky”
Bryan Cranston, “Last Flag Flying”
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Idris Elba, “Molly’s Game”
Will Poulter, “Detroit”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Ray Romano, “The Big Sick”
Mark Rylance, “Dunkirk”
Patrick Stewart, “Logan”

BEST DIRECTOR
Sean Baker, “The Florida Project”
Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Patty Jenkins, “Wonder Woman”
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
Steven Spielberg, “The Post”
Aaron Sorkin, “Molly’s Game”
Denis Villeneuve, “Blade Runner 2049”
Joe Wright, “Darkest Hour”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Thimios Bakatakis, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
Roger Deakins, “Blade Runner 2049”
Hoyte Van Hoytema, “Dunkirk”
Matthew Jensen, “Wonder Woman”
Dan Laustsen, “The Shape of Water”
Janusz Kaminski, “The Post”
Michael Seresin, “War for the Planet of the Apes”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“First They Killed My Father”
“In the Fade”
“Menashe”
“Raw”
“The Square”

BEST DOCUMENTARY
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”
“Chasing Coral”
“City of Ghosts”
“Cries from Syria”
“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”
“Jane”
“Step”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“The Breadwinner”
“Cars 3”
“Coco”
“Despicable Me 3:
“The LEGO Batman Movie”
“Loving Vincent”

Here’s The Trailer for Wind River!


Here’s the trailer for Wind River, a crime thriller that has gotten good reviews at both Sundance and Cannes.

Here are a few things to know about Wind River:

First off, a lot of people are pointing out that it stars two members of the MCU, Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.  At this point, however, the MCU is so big — with the movies and Netflix and the tv shows — that it’s hard to think of a recent or upcomng film that doesn’t feature at least one actor from the MCU.  At this point, MCU actors running into each other in non-MCU movies is no longer as big a surprise as it may have once been.  It’s kind of unavoidable.

For me, the most intriguing thing about Wind River is that it is the directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, who previously wrote the amazing screenplays for both Sicario and Hell or High Water.  I’ll be curious to see if Sheridan is as good and unpredictable a director as he is a writer.

Here’s the trailer!

Playing Catch-Up: Arrival (dir by Denis Villeneuve)


arrival_movie_poster

I cannot begin to express how happy I was when I learned that the Directors Guild of America had nominated Denis Villeneuve for his work on Arrival.

Arrival was one of the best films of 2016.  In fact, I would argue that it’s one of the best science fiction films that I’ve ever seen.  There were a lot of reasons for that, of course.  There was the brilliant script by Eric Heisserer.  There was the starring performance of Amy Adams, who is one of the best actresses working today.  There was a surprise and thought-provoking twist, one that forced you to reconsider everything that you previously believed.  There were so many reasons why Arrival was a great film but, ultimately, it call came down to Denis Villeneuve.

Working with material that would have led most directors down the road to bombast, Villeneuve instead took a deliberately low-key approach.  Whereas most directors would have encouraged their cast to play up the drama, Villeneuve encourages his actors to take a more inward and cerebral approach to the material.  Arrival is a rarity — a film about smart people in which the people actually seem to be smart.  For once, we don’t need expositionary characters to pop up and tell us that Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are brilliant.  Instead, we simply believe they are from what we see on the screen.  Much like last year’s Sicario, Arrival proves that Villeneuve is a visionary director.

Arrival is a hard film to describe, not because it’s overly complicated but because there’s a huge twist that I really can’t reveal.  Before the twist, Arrival is simply a well-directed sci-fi film.  After the twist, it is something all together different, an intense meditation on faith, love, language, and destiny.  Since I’m reviewing the film late, chances are that you already know about the twist but I’m still not going to spoil it.

What I can tell you is that Arrival opens with the arrival of twelve spaceships, all of which land at different places across the world.  The Chinese have a spaceship.  The British have a spaceship.  I imagine that the Canadians have a spaceship, because who wouldn’t want to hang out with the Canadians?  And, of course, the Americans have a spaceship.  The aliens are inside the spaceships.  They’re octopus-like creatures, ones that almost look as if they could have come from one of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories.  The aliens may appear to be fearsome but they actually seem to be rather benevolent.  No one’s quite sure because the aliens communicate through a complex series of symbols and nobody can understand what those symbols mean.

Louise Banks is a linguist.  Ian Donnelly is a physicist.  The Americans bring both in to help translate the symbols.  Of course, the rest of the world has their own linguists and physicists working to translate the symbols and, humans being humans, it often seems that the Americans and the Chinese are less concerned with translating what the aliens are saying and more concerned with being the first to understand.  While Louise works, she continues to be haunted by dreams and visions of her daughter’s death from cancer.

And that’s really all I can tell you without spoiling the film and potentially making myself cry.  But I will say that if you haven’t seen Arrival, you must go out and see it now.  It’s one of the most thought-provoking and emotionally wrenching films of the past year.

Add to that, it’s probably going to be nominated for best picture.  It’s been overshadowed a bit by all the attention paid to La La Land, Moonlight, and Manchester By The Sea.  But Arrival is just as good a film as any of them.  In fact, in the future, we’ll probably look at Arrival and say that it was better than all of them.

 

 

Here’s The Full Trailer For Arrival!


Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner in a movie directed by  Denis Villeneuve?  Could Arrival be this year’s sci fi best picture nominee?  Or will it turn out to be more like Interstellar?

I’m hoping for the former!

(But then again, who isn’t?)

Check out the full trailer below!