Playing Catch Up With The Films of 2016: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (dir by Glenn Ficara and John Requa)


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Some day, someone will get around to making the ultimate Tina Fey movie, which will basically just be 4 and a half hours of people talking about how much they love Tina Fey while Tina makes silly faces in the background.  Until that day comes, viewers will just have to settle for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Tina Fey plays Tina Fey playing real-life journalist, Kim Baker.  When the film starts, Kim accepts an assignment as a war correspondent in Afghanistan.  Though she starts out as neurotic and intimidated, Kim soon steps up and emerges as a passionate and committed journalist, one who is dedicated to revealing the truth — both good and bad — about what’s happening in Afghanistan.  Helping her along the way is a BBC reporter, Tanya Vanderpool (Margot Robbie) and a Scottish photographer named Iain (Martin Freeman).  Iain and Kim may be attracted to one another but Kim has a boyfriend (Josh Charles) back in New York.  How long do you think it takes for Kim to catch her boyfriend cheating via Skype?

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is one of those movies that you just know was made to be an Oscar contender.  Not only does it deal with a big important subject but it stars a popular performer in a change-of-pace role.  Except, of course, it’s not really that much of a change-of-pace.  Tina Fey’s a good actress but you never forget that you’re watching Tina Fey.  You never think to yourself, “Kim is caught in the middle of a firefight” or “Kim is getting addicted to the rush of being a war zone.”  Instead, you think, “Any minute now, Tina Fey’s going to start shooting a gun and it’s going to be funny because she’s Tina Fey.”  Towards the end of the film, when a U.S. soldier who has lost his legs tells Kim to never stop trying to tell the people the truth about what’s happening in Afghanistan, you don’t think, “Don’t give up, Kim!”  Instead you think, “Wow — so that soldier lost his legs so that Tina Fey could have an Oscar moment.”

If I haven’t already made it clear, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is an extremely uneven film, one that never seems to be sure if it wants to be a relationship comedy, a media satire, or a serious look at the realities of war.  The film works best when it concentrates on the friendship between Tanya and Kim and it’s nice to see a film about two women who are colleagues and friends.  When Tanya first showed up, I was worried that the film would devolve into one of those “Women can’t work together” diatribes or that Tanya would immediately be set up as some sort of mean girl rival for Iain.  Instead, the film explores how women support each other through even the most difficult of circumstances.  But then there’s other scenes that just don’t work as well, like the scenes with Alfred Molina as an Afghan politician who has a crush on Kim.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has its moment but ultimately its too uneven to be of much consequence.

Horror Scenes I Love: Asia Argento Gets Hit By The Stendhal Syndrome


Since I just shared 4 shots from 4 Dario Argento films, I figured why not take this week’s horror scene that I love from an Argento film as well?

Argento’s 1995 film The Stendhal Syndrome has always gotten mixed review but I think it’s actually one of the better of his post-Tenebrae films.  In the scene below, police detective Anna Manni (Asia Argento) wanders through Florence and finds herself overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the place.  Eventually, while looking at Bruegel’s Landscape With The Fall of Icarus, Anna is so overwhelmed that she faints and has a fantasy where she swims through the ocean and kisses a fish.  Of course, as this happens, she is watched by serial killer Alfredo Grossi (Thomas Kretschmann).

I have to admit that one reason why I like this scene (and this film) is because I had a similar experience when, the summer after graduating high school, I visited Florence.  No, I didn’t faint but I definitely found myself wandering around in a bit of a daze.  Standing in Florence is like finding yourself in the middle of living painting.  It’s an amazing experience and one that I recommend to everyone.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #116: The Young Victoria (dir by Jean-Marc Vallee)


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So, earlier, I was having a conversation with my BFF Evelyn and I discovered that we both have a massive girl crush on Emily Blunt.

And really, can you blame us?

First off, Emily Blunt is incredibly talented.  She’s one of those actresses who can play just about anyone and anything.  I have never heard or seen an interview with her where she seemed to be anything less than intelligent and witty.  She speaks her mind and projects an attitude of not really caring what other people think about her.  Add to that, she’s absolutely gorgeous and she has a body and a face to die for.  If I were to ever get a nose job (and that’s always been a temptation for me), I would definitely tell the surgeon to give me Emily Blunt’s nose.

Evelyn and I also love the fact that Emily Blunt always plays characters who kick ass, often times literally.  Whether it was in Looper or Edge of Tomorrow or the upcoming Sicario, one thing remains consistent.  You simply do not mess with Emily Blunt because she’s a fighter.

Finally, Emily Blunt gets to spend every night with Jon Krasinski!

Seriously, how can you not love Emily Blunt?

Emily Blunt first received attention as the result of supporting turns in The Devil Wears Prada and Charlie Wilson’s War.  Her first starring role — or, at the very least, her first starring role to receive wide distribution here in the states — was in the 2009 film, The Young Victoria.

The Young Victoria attempts to do for Britain’s famous Queen Victoria what Elizabeth did for Queen Elizabeth I.  It attempts to humanize an iconic figure and show that, underneath the popular image of Victorian refinement and emotional repression, Victoria was actually a passionate and headstrong woman.  And the film largely succeeds at doing that because Victoria is played by Emily Blunt.

Unfortunately, The Young Victoria is never quite as interesting as Elizabeth.  Whereas both films feature young queens struggling to prove themselves worthy of leading Britain, Elizabeth benefited from being conceived as a renaissance version of The Godfather.  Elizabeth was full of shadowy conspiracies, ominous whispers, and secrets.  When, at the end of the film, Elizabeth had solidified her hold on the British crown, you felt that she had truly accomplished something and that perhaps her victory was worth living the rest of her life as the Virgin Queen.

Whereas in The Young Victoria, the conspiracies basically amount to smug civil servants assuring themselves that Victoria won’t do something and then being shocked when Victoria does exactly what they weren’t expecting her to do.  And, while it’s undeniably fun to watch Victoria refuse to sign away her power and announce that she can decide for herself what her royal role should be, that’s largely because it’s always fun to watch Emily Blunt stand up for herself.

The majority of the film is taken up with Victoria being courted by Prince Albert (Rupert Friend).  Again, there’s no real conflict in Victoria and Albert’s relationship.  We know that Victoria is eventually going to marry Albert.  And, even when the two have an argument towards the end of the film, you know that they are going to reconcile.  What you may not be prepared for is a scene where Albert is gravely wounded while protecting Victoria from an assassin’s bullet.  That’s because it never happened.  A man did attempt to assassinate Victoria but he failed and Albert was not wounded at all.  But then again, why let history get in the way of a good story?

On the poster at the top of the post, The Young Victoria is described as being “gorgeous.”  And really that’s the main reason to see the film.  The film looks really, really good.  The costumes and the sets are wonderfully ornate.  The cinematography is vibrant and lush.  And Emily Blunt’s performance can rightly be called gorgeous.   By the end of The Young Victoria, you really don’t feel like you’ve learned anything new about Queen Victoria.  But you do appreciate Emily Blunt.

Film Review: The Avengers: Age of Ultron (dir by Joss Whedon)


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In some ways, I think I may be both the worst and the best possible person to review the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, largely because I’ve seen all the films but I don’t know much about the comics on which they are based. As a result, I can judge each film solely by what is on screen but, at the same time, I know that there are a lot of references that go straight over my head. For instance, when we saw Avengers: Age of Ultron earlier tonight, I had to get my boyfriend to explain to me why certain members of the audience got so excited when Iron Man mentioned an African country called Wakanda. But what’s important is that I would have still enjoyed Age of Ultron even if I had never known why Wakanda was important. The MCU has, so far, managed to maintain a balance between keeping the Marvel fans happy while also remaining accessible to viewers like me. The MCU has created its own separate reality, one that even someone like me can feel comfortable exploring and reviewing.

However, before I get around to giving you my feelings on Age of Ultron, let’s be honest about something.

There are a lot of critics out there who have been waiting for a chance to attack the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some of them have disliked the MCU since the very first Iron Man film. They have been lone voices in the wilderness, arguing that the entire franchise is overrated and, in some cases, creatively destructive. Much like the Old Testament prophets, they continue to warn of the future while other filmgoers ignore the pillar of fire forming over the nearest theater. And then there are other critics who have praised previous MCU efforts but have never really been comfortable about it. These are the critics who resent having to write positively about a mere genre film. These are the critics who still haven’t gotten over just how good Guardians of the Galaxy truly was. They have been waiting for an MCU misfire so that they can do their penance for suggesting that Robert Downey, Jr. deserved Oscar consideration for Iron Man 3.

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These critics are going to watch The Avengers: Age of Ultron and they are going to pounce. They are going to point out that Age of Ultron puts too much emphasis on action over nuance and, as impressive as the CGI may be, it’s impossible to deny that Age of Ultron almost robotically follows the classic action movie formula. They’ll point out that none of The Avengers really develop as characters over the course of the film. Depending on how they’ve felt about the MCU up to this point, some of them will point out that Age of Ultron feels a bit like a step backwards. It doesn’t have the political subtext of Iron Man 3 or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It lacks the satiric edge of Guardians of the Galaxy. And, ultimately, it’s just not as much fun as the first Avengers film.

And they won’t necessarily be wrong. I mean, let’s be honest. I write this as someone who has enjoyed (and, in some cases, loved) the previous MCU films. Avengers: Age of Ultron is not going to be remembered as one of the best of the MCU films. This is a flawed film that never reaches the heights of the original Avengers. All of the criticisms listed above are perfectly valid.

But, with all that in mind, I still enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron and I happily recommend it without a bit of hesitation.

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Age of Ultron opens with the Avengers attacking a HYDRA base and we quickly discover that the Avengers are exactly the same as we remembered them. Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is cocky, self-destructive, and torn by guilt over his past as a weapons manufacturer. Captain America (Chris Evans) is earnest and idealistic. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is … well, he’s a God. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is scared of what he becomes when he transforms into the Hulk. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is still shooting arrows and feeling out-of-place. Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is still flirty, enigmatic, and apparently in love with Bruce Banner.

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One of the reoccurring themes of the MCU is that whenever Iron Man tries to make the world a better place, he instead ends up nearly destroying it. His latest attempt leads him to create Ultron (voiced quite chillingly by James Spader), a robot who has Tony’s personality and who has decided that the only way to bring about “peace in our time” is to destroy all of humanity. Ultron’s motives are as close as this film gets to any sort of thematic subtext. Ultron stands in for every ideology that would take away a person’s individual freedom in the name of the greater good. Age of Ultron doesn’t explore this subtext as much as I would have liked it to but, at the same time, I appreciated that it was at least there. That’s more than you can say for a film like Man of Steel.

Ultron is not the only new character to show up. Andy Serkis has a small role as a character that will undoubtedly be a villain in a future MCU film. After voicing JARVIS in several films, Paul Bettany finally gets to actually appear onscreen. I can’t talk too much about his character without spoiling the film but Bettany makes good use of his limited screen time.

And then there’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. Previously, they played lovers in Godzilla. In Age of Ultron, they play siblings who just seem like lovers. Taylor-Johnson is Pietro, who can move at super speeds. Elizabeth Olsen is Wanda, whose powers are a bit less defined but mostly seem to consist of being able to do whatever the script needs her to do at the time. (As the film explains it, “He’s fast, she’s strange.”) In the past, I’ve had mixed feeling about Taylor-Johnson. I thought he was brilliant in Nowhere Boy and Anna Karenina but, in other films, I found him to be excessively mannered and a little dull. But, in the role of Pietro, Taylor-Johnson really shines, achieving a good balance of arrogance and vulnerability. As for Elizabeth Olsen, she is perfectly cast as the angry but sensitive Wanda. At the very least, Age of Ultron better serves both of them than they were served by Godzilla.

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(Add to that, Wanda and I share similar tastes in fashion, which will make it easy for me to dress up as her for Halloween.)

Director Joss Whedon does a good job with the film’s many battle scenes, especially the final one. And, as someone who hated the mindless destruction of Man of Steel, I appreciated that, as characters, the Avengers spent as much time trying to protect innocent bystanders as they did battling Ultron and his henchrobots. At the same time, it was hard not to feel that the film’s emphasis on action did sacrifice some of the character moments that have made other MCU films so memorable. Early on in the film, there’s a great scene where the Avengers simply hang out at a party. They dance, they dink, they laugh, and eventually, they all take turns attempting to pick up Thor’s hammer. It’s a fun scene because it brings these heroes back down to Earth and, for a few minutes, we get to relate to them in the way that we would relate to our best friends. Age of Ultron could have used more scenes like that.

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That said, the cast of Age of Ultron provides enough old fashioned movie star charisma that they overcome the script’s shallow characterization. In many ways, it’s like one of the old Frank Sinatra rat pack movies, where you forgive a lot because you enjoy hanging out with the cast. They’re just fun to watch. Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, and Mark Ruffalo; at this point they are so identified with these characters that the actors and their roles might as well be interchangeable.

(And, at this point, if it were revealed the Robert Downey, Jr. owned a suit of armor, would you really be surprised?)

Ultimately, Age of Ultron feels a lot like one of the less acclaimed James Bond films. It’s flawed, it’s imperfect, but fans of the franchise will find a lot to enjoy. Much as you wouldn’t introduce someone to James Bond by showing him Moonraker, you probably wouldn’t want to introduce someone to the MCU by showing him or her Age of Ultron. If, somehow, you’ve managed to exist without ever seeing any other MCU films, then Age of Ultron will leave you confused and wondering what the big deal is. But, if you’re already a fan of the franchise, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.

And, flaws and all, you’ll walk out of the theater looking forward to the next installment.

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A Vision of the Avengers: Age of Ultron for the Third Time


 

 

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The third and, hopefully, final trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron was unlocked today after a Twitter event which had millions of people tweeting the hashtag #AvengersAssemble. One has to give it up to the Marvel marketing machine. They know how to get the public clamoring for more when it comes to their films.

All that could be said has been said about this film. Just sit back and enjoy (or critique) one of the most highly-anticipated films of the year.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2nd Trailer)


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“Everyone creates the thing they dread.” — Ultron

New Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer has dropped during the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship game between Oregon and Ohio State.

For all the underwhelming reaction that the Ant-Man teaser trailer got after it premiered last week it looks like this latest trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron just builds on the immense buzz and hype created by the leaked trailer from November 2014.

No need to say more. Just watch the new hotness as we wait for May 1, 2015 when Avengers: Age of Ultron shows us something beautiful.

Trailer: Avengers: Age of Ultron (Extended)


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“I know you mean well. You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change. There’s only one path to peace…your extinction.” — Ultron

Marvel has released a new extended version of the teaser trailer they released a couple weeks ago. While it’s pretty much similar to the first teaser trailer this extended version has a new intro with Ultron in his initial form confronting the partying Avengers in Avengers Tower. The voice-over by James Spader as Ultron also sounds much different in this trailer than the first. We also get more lingering shots of all the Avengers from Iron Man all the way to Hawkeye rather than the rapid-fire cuts we saw in the first teaser.

May 2015 cannot come soon enough.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is set for a May 1, 2015 release date in North America.