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.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Teaser and International Trailers


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Spider-Man: Homecoming was the Spider-Man that fans have been waiting for. It was able to balance the character of Peter Parker and his alter-ego of Spider-Man. Where the Sam Raimi version was able to make the former stand-out at the cost of the Spider-Man alter, the Marc Webb version swapped the two dynamics. Webb’s version had a great Spider-Man but had a Peter Parker whose moral compass was a bit skewed.

Jon Watt’s Spider-Man and Peter Parker were a nice balance. It helped that the character was now free (to a degree) to play in the huge cinematic sandbox that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Last we saw Spider-Man and Peter Parker, he was dusted just like half the living things in the universe following the Thanos Snap. The question that gets brought up whenever Spider-man: Far From Home, the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, gets talked about is does this film take away from the emotional sucker punch that was Avengers: Infinity War and it’s upcoming sequel, Avengers: Endgame.

From this teaser trailer and it’s international version has shown, the question still remains as both teasers mention nothing about the Avengers and keeps the timeline of the film vague enough to make one wonder if this sequel happens before Avengers: Infinity War.

I guess fans will find out on July 5, 2019 when the film is released worldwide.

….and here’s the International Teaser trailer

Trailer: Spider-Man: Homecoming


Marvel released the 2nd full trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is looking pretty good. It seems that having proved himself to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has received some cool upgrades to his Spider-Man suit. While Peter appears to want to join the Avengers, Stark would have him just keep an eye on New York City and some of the more low-level stuff. When The Vulture (Michael Keaton) threatens the city, Spider-Man may be the only one to stop him. Then again, it does look like there’s an Iron-Man team up here, which is sweet. This trailer is feeling like some of Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man line.

The film comes out on July 7th. Enjoy.

Spider-Man: Homecoming Slings In With Two Official Trailers


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It’s been rumored that the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer will appear in front of Rogue One: Star Wars Story. It’s logical considering Sony has let Spider-Man to play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe sandbox which also happens to share spot in the Walt Disney Empire with Lucasfilm. Yet, we don’t have to wait for next week’s Rogue One to see this trailer. Like all superhero blockbuster films the trailers themselves get their premiere on-line (after a live premiere on Jimmy Kimmel Live) and this is no different with the first official trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming.

So, without further ado, here’s not one, but two trailers for Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Domestic: this one definitely focuses more on the high school aspect of Spider-Man’s life.

International: this one a bit more action-packed with a focus on Spider-Man’s heroics and more time showcasing the villains.

Playing Catch-Up: The Big Short (dir by Adam McKay)


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The Big Short is a film that is so critically acclaimed and that has been so passionately embraced by those who enjoyed it that it’s a bit intimidating to admit that it really didn’t do much for me.  (It’s even more intimidating for me to admit that I nearly included it on my list of the 16 worst films of 2015.)  It’s a big, angry movie and, even though it’s not really that good, it definitely taps into the zeitgeist.  It captures the anger, the frustration, and the fears that people (including me) are feeling right now.  It didn’t do much for me but I can understand why others have so passionately embraced it.

As for the film itself, it’s about the housing collapse and the financial crisis of 2008.  The main characters are all people who realized that the economy was about to collapse and who managed to make a profit off of the crisis.  For the most part, everyone gets at least two scenes where they get to rail about how angry they are that they’re making a profit off of other people’s misery.  However, they all still collect their money at the end of the film.

For the most part, our main characters are the type of quirky eccentrics who always tend to pop up in ensemble films like this.  They’re all played by recognizable actors and they all have an identifiable trait or two so we can keep them straight.  For instance, Christian Bale has trouble relating to people socially, plays drums, and looks like he probably has terrible body odor.  Steve Carell has a bad haircut and spends a lot of time yelling at people.  He’s also haunted by the suicide of his brother and he’s married to Marisa Tomei but she only gets to appear in two scenes and doesn’t really do much because this is a film about menfolk, dagnabit.  (I love Steve Carell but this is probably the least interesting performance that he’s ever given.)  John Magaro and Finn Wittrock are two young investors and they especially get upset when they realize that the economy is about to collapse.  Their mentor is played by Brad Pitt.  Since this is an important film, Brad Pitt plays his role with his important actor beard.

And then there’s Ryan Gosling.  Gosling plays a trader and he also narrates the film.  And really, Gosling probably gives the best performance in the film, perhaps because his character is the only one who is actually allowed to enjoy making money.  I think we’re supposed to be outraged when he brags about making money while people lose their houses but Gosling’s so charismatic and the character is so cheerful that it’s hard to dislike him.

(Of course, listening to Gosling’s narration, it’s impossible not to be reminded of The Wolf of Wall Street.  And it’s appropriate because The Big Short is kind of like The Wolf of Wall Street for people who don’t want to have to deal with ambiguity or nuance.)

The film has gotten a lot of attention for Adam McKay’s direction, which is flashy and always watchable but, at the same time, also rather shallow.  For the most part, McKay’s directorial tricks only served to remind me of other movies.  The narration, of course, made me think about The Wolf of Wall Street.  The scenes where characters look straight at the camera and say, “This isn’t the way it really happened,” only reminded me of how much more effective it was when the same thing happened in Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People.

And then there’s the celebrity cameos.  These are the scenes where a special guest celebrity is brought on screen to explain to us how Wall Street actually works.  The first time, it’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath and it works well because it admits the debt that The Big Short owes to Wolf of Wall Street.  (Plus, it ends with Robbie telling the viewers to “fuck off,” which is probably what I would do if a huge group of strangers interrupted my bubble bath.)  If McKay had limited himself to just doing it once, it would have been brilliant.  But McKay drags out three more celebs and, with repeated use, the technique gets less and less interesting.

But I guess it’s debatable whether any of that matters.  The Big Short taps into the way people are feeling now.  It’s a zeitgeist film.  People are rightfully angry and The Big Short is all about that anger.  A decade from now, it’ll probably be as forgotten as Gabriel Over The White House.  But for now, it’s definitely the film of the moment.

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Mini-Reviews: Amy, Gloria, Pitch Perfect 2, Sisters, Spy, Trainwreck


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Amy (dir by Asif Kapadia)

Amy opens with brilliant and, in its way, heartbreaking footage of a 14 year-old Amy Winehouse and a friend singing Happy Birthday at a party.  Even though she’s singing deliberately off-key and going over-the-top (as we all tend to do when we sing Happy Birthday), you can tell that Amy was a star from the beginning.  She’s obviously enjoying performing and being the center of attention and, try as you might, it’s impossible not to contrast the joy of her Happy Birthday with the sadness of her later life.

A star whose music touched millions (including me), Amy Winehouse was ultimately betrayed by a world that both wanted to take advantage of her talent and to revel in her subsequent notoriety.  It’s often said the Amy was self-destructive but, if anything, the world conspired to destroy her.  By focusing on footage of Amy both in public and private and eschewing the usual “talking head” format of most documentaries, Amy pays tribute to both Amy Winehouse and reminds us of what a great talent we all lost in 2011.

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Gloria (dir by Christian Keller)

The Mexican film Gloria is a musical biopic of Gloria Trevi (played by Sofia Espinosa), a singer whose subversive songs and sexual image made her a superstar in Latin America and challenged the conventional morality of Catholic-dominated establishment.  Her manager and lover was the controversial Sergio Andrade (Marco Perez).  The movie follows Gloria from her first audition for the manipulative Sergio to her arrest (along with Sergio) on charges of corrupting minors.  It’s an interesting and still controversial story and Gloria tells it well, with Espinosa and Perez both giving excellent performances.

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Pitch Perfect 2 (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

The Bellas are back!  As I think I’ve mentioned a few times on this site, I really loved the first Pitch Perfect.  In fact, I loved it so much that I was a bit concerned about the sequel.  After all, sequels are never as good as the original and I was dreading the idea of the legacy of the first film being tarnished.

But the sequel actually works pretty well.  It’s a bit more cartoonish than the first film.  After three years at reigning ICCA champions, the Bellas are expelled from competition after Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally flashes the President.  The only way for the Bellas to get the suspension lifted is to win the World Championship of A Capella.  The plot, to be honest, really isn’t that important.  You’re watching the film for the music and the interplay of the Bellas and, on those two counts, the film totally delivers.

It should be noted that Elizabeth Banks had a great 2015.  Not only did she give a great performance in Love & Mercy but she also made a respectable feature directing debut with Pitch Perfect 2.

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Sisters (dir by Jason Moore)

It’s interesting how opinions can change.  For the longest time, I really liked Tina Fey and I thought that Amy Poehler was kind of overrated.  But, over the past two years, I’ve changed my opinion.  Now, I like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey kind of gets on my nerves.  The best way that I can explain it is to say that Tina Fey just seems like the type who would judge me for wearing a short skirt and that would get old quickly, seeing as how I happen to like showing off my legs.

Anyway, in Sisters, Tina and Amy play sisters!  (Shocking, I know.)  Amy is the responsible one who has just gotten a divorce and who wants to make everyone’s life better.  Tina is the irresponsible one who refuses to accept that she’s no longer a teenager.  When their parents announce that they’re selling the house where they grew up, Amy and Tina decide to throw one last party.  Complications ensue.

I actually had two very different reactions to Sisters.  On the one hand, as a self-declared film critic, it was easy for me to spot the obvious flaw with Sisters.  Tina and Amy should have switched roles because Tina Fey is simply not believable as someone who lives to have fun.  Sometimes, it’s smart to cast against type but it really doesn’t work here.

However, as the youngest of four sisters, there was a lot of Sisters that I related to.  I saw Sisters with my sister, the Dazzling Erin, and even if the film did not work overall, there were still a lot of little scenes that made us smile and go, “That’s just like us.”  In fact, I think they should remake Sisters and they should let me and Erin star in it.

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Spy (dir by Paul Feig)

There were a lot of very good spy films released in 2015 and SPECTRE was not one of them.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am with the latest Bond film.  It’s not so much that SPECTRE was terrible as there just wasn’t anything particular memorable about it.  When we watch a film about secret agents saving the world, we expect at least a few memorable lines and performances.

Now, if you want to see a memorable spy movie, I suggest seeing Spy.  Not only is Spy one of the funniest movies of the year, it’s also a pretty good espionage film.  Director Paul Feig manages to strike the perfect balance between humor and action.  One of the joys of seeing CIA employee Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) finally get to enter the field and do spy stuff is the fact that there are real stakes involved.  Susan is not only saving the world but, in the film’s best scenes, she’s having a lot of fun doing it and, for that matter, McCarthy is obviously having a lot of fun playing Susan and those of us in the audience are having a lot of fun watching as well.

Spy also features Jason Statham as a more traditional action hero.  Statham is hilarious as he sends up his own macho image.  Seriously, who would have guessed that he could such a funny actor?  Here’s hoping that he, McCarthy, and Feig will all return for the inevitable sequel.

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Trainwreck (dir by Judd Apatow)

There’s a lot of great things that can be said about Trainwreck.  Not only was it the funniest film of 2015 but it also announced to the world that Amy Schumer’s a star.  It was a romantic comedy for the 21st Century, one that defied all of the conventional BS about what has to happen in a romcom.  This a film for all of us because, let’s just be honest here, we’ve all been a trainwreck at some point in our life.

But for me, the heart of the film was truly to be found in the relationship between Amy and her younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson).  Whether fighting over what to do with their irresponsible father (Colin Quinn) or insulting each other’s life choices, their relationship is the strongest part of the film.  If Brie Larson wasn’t already guaranteed an Oscar nomination for Room, I’d demand that she get one for Trainwreck.  For that matter, Amy Schumer deserves one as well.

Seriously, it’s about time the trainwrecks of the world had a film that we could truly call our own.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #114: The Wrestler (dir by Darren Aronofsky)


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I’m always a little surprised by how much I like the 2008 film The Wrestler.

Actually, to be honest, I’m more than a little surprised.  I’m a lot surprise.  First off, The Wrestler takes place in the world of professional wrestling and that’s a world that I not only know nothing about but which I also have very little interest.  (My cousin Gustavo — Hi, Gus! — loved the Rock.  That’s about the extent of my knowledge.)  Add to that, The Wrestler doesn’t take place in the world of televised pro wrestling.  (I may know nothing about wrestling but I do know a lot about television.)  Instead, this is a world of backroom matches, broken dreams, and fading lives.

Secondly, The Wrestler features, as its hero, a man in his 50s who is still a total and complete fuckup.  The character of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (played, in an Oscar-nominated performance, by Mickey Rourke) is perhaps epitomized by the fact that, after going out of his way to try to reconnect with his daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), and setting up a dinner date so that they can finally talk and get to know each other, Randy ends up getting consumed with self-pity, getting drunk, getting high, getting laid, and ultimately standing up his daughter.  And whenever I see that part of the movie, I hate Randy just as much as Stephanie does because I know exactly how she feels.  Stephanie can’t forgive Randy and neither can I.

And yet, oddly enough, I still care what happens to Randy.  Randy is a former wrestling superstar, a guy who was big in the 1980s but now lives in a haze of obscurity and self-pity.  He now wrestles on the weekend, works a demeaning job at a super market deli, and occasionally plays an old video game which features him as a character.  His only real friend (and source of strength) is Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper who knows what its like to get older in a profession dominated by the young.

Randy does have one final chance at a comeback, when he agrees to an exhibition fight against his former nemesis, a  “villainous” wrestler known at The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller).  (It’s interesting to note that, outside of the ring, “bad guy” Ayatollah seems to be everything that “good guy” Randy is not, i.e., responsible, stable, and content with his life.)

However, there’s one problem.  Randy has a heart condition and he has been told that continuing to wrestle could kill him.  Will Randy give up the only thing that he’s ever been good at or will Randy potentially sacrifice his life to have one last chance to hear the cheers of the crowd?

Randy Robinson is another one of director Darren Aronofsky’s obsessive protagonists, a character who is so obsessed with something that he’s sacrificed everything else to pursue it.  Fortunately, Aronofsky is a master of making these type of characters sympathetic.  Over the course of the film, Randy fucks up so much that you really are tempted to just give up on him but Aronofsky directs the film with such compassion and Rourke gives such a vulnerable and emotionally raw performance that you find yourself giving Randy another chance despite your better instincts.  The film’s melancholy ending is effective because you know that it really is the only way that Randy’s story can end.

I’m always surprised to like The Wrestler.

But I do.