Ep. 123 – Avengers: Engame spoiler-filled dissection

April 26, 2019 by  
Filed under Podcast

SPOILER ALERT! This episode of The CineSnob Podcast is a long, lengthy discussion about every aspect of “Avengers: Endgame” and should NOT be listened to unless you have seen the movie.

For real, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Click here to download the episode!

Ep. 113 – Avengers: Infinity War (SPOILERS start at 10:02)

April 28, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

The CineSnob Podcast RETURNS to discuss the biggest superhero movie ever, “Avengers: Infinity War!”

WARNING: Cody and Jerrod talk spoilers starting a 10:02, so tread carefully, true believers!

Click here to download the episode!

Avengers: Infinity War

April 26, 2018 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, lots more
Directed by: Joe and Anthony Russo (“Captain America: Civil War”)
Written by: Cristopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”)

The rumors are true—it’s all been building toward this. The entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with “Iron Man” in 2008 and running through 17 movies in the past 10 years, culminates in the latest film, “Avengers: Infinity War.” Well, I guess really I should say it all BEGINS to culminate in “Infinity War” because—somewhat frustratingly, and despite reports to the contrary—the movie ends up being very much only the first part of a larger story, with a shocking ending that can’t help but call into question what exactly was at stake in the two hours and 40 minutes if this isn’t the end of the story.

Here’s the lowdown: cosmic bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin), who we first saw in a post-credit’s stinger in 2012’s “The Avengers,” is hunting down the six Infinity Stones that have been scattered across the universe—and turned up as MacGuffins in many a Marvel movie—in order to achieve his goal of ultimate power, which he’ll use to wipe out half of the life forms in existence in order to save resources. Out to stop him is an all-star lineup of just about every superhero introduced in the MCU so far. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) stow away on one of Thanos’ spaceships, which leads them to bump into Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff).

Meanwhile Thor (Chris Hemsworth) takes off across the galaxy with Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and surly teenaged Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) to go forge a new weapon to take on Thanos. Back on earth, Captain America (Chris Evans) travels to Black Panther’s (Chadwick Boseman) Wakanda with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and back-from-space Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to reunite with no-longer-brainwashed Bucky (Sebastian Stan). If you’re looking for Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye or Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, sorry—they stayed home on house arrest, even though the fate of the universe is on the line.

While I won’t go into spoilers, know first and foremost, this is very much a Thanos movie. The Russo Brothers have made an interesting choice in focusing the story on their giant purple villain, with their equally-giant roster of superheroes coming in and out of his orbit. Unfortunately, that means some all-stars (like Cap and Black Panther) and solid bench players (like Scarlett Witch and Bucky) are left with little screen time to make an impact. Conversely, the Iron Man-Spider-Man-Doctor Strange trio is a real winner, as is pairing Thor up with the Guardians of the Galaxy. But as the movie nears its ending, there’s a jaw-dropping event that finds no resolution—at least not until the next Avengers movie is released. And, since nothing takes place in a vacuum, the stakes that the move lays out are somewhat cheapened, because Marvel certainly isn’t going to stop making movies anytime soon. While there are awesome thrills and amazing battles that fans have been waiting years to see, my real wish was that this were a complete story—and it isn’t.

Thor: Ragnarok

November 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson
Directed by: Taika Watiti (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”)
Written by: Eric Pearson (debut) and Craig Kyle (debut) & Christopher L. Yost (“Max Steel”)

As unloved as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Thor” franchise has been, it’s still been able to reach the coveted trilogy status. But with the latest film, “Thor: Ragnarok,” it’s abundantly clear that Marvel has decided to burn down the boring version of “Game of Thrones” that is all the Asgard stuff and slot the God of Thunder into a more comical role with a blatant “Guardians of the Galaxy” influence. It’s a great idea, really, and Chris Hemsworth has a clear gift for comedy, but the unwillingness to make a clean break from the tedium on the other side of the Bifrost keeps “Ragnarok” from achieving the same highs as Marvel’s other cosmic franchise.

The film begins with Thor hanging in a cage, conversing with a skeleton, before destroying a devil-ish creature names Surtur intent on bringing on Ragnarok—otherwise known as the destruction of Asgard. Thor returns home with the Surtur’s crown for his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) throne room, only to finally uncover that his mischievous brother Loki (Ton Hiddleston) has been posing as their father since the events of the last movie, “Thor: The Dark World.”

When Thor and Loki finally track Odin down on Earth, he’s at death’s door. When he dissolves into nothingness, it allows for the coming of his firstborn, a daughter named Hela (Cate Blanchett) who is determined to rule Asgard and conquer the universe. A battle with Hela in the Bifrost sends both Loki and Thor spinning off into space, stranding the Avenger in a junkyard on a remote planet where he’s captured and sold by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, the absolute best). There, Thor is forced into gladiatorial combat against the Grandmaster’s champion, none other than fellow Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who Thor will have to convince to help him in order to stop Hela.

New Zealand director Taika Watiti delivers solidly when “Ragnarok” goes for laughs – which are often wonderfully weird, especially anything with Goldblum – but falls into the same trap as previous directors Kenneth Branaugh and Alan Taylor before him, in that the palace intrigue on Asgard just isn’t interesting, no matter how much vamping Blanchett does in her villain role (also a bad move for the story: spoiling the Hulk reveal in the trailers, but that was probably unavoidable). Doubtless this was all at the behest of the studio at large, eager to move on to something more crowd-pleasing, but unable to resist putting a button on Asgard for the dozen or so people who could have possibly given a shit.

Ghostbusters

July 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones
Directed by: Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”)
Written by: Katie Dippold (“The Heat”) and Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”)

“’Ain’t no bitches gonna bust no ghosts,” intones bewildered and hurt paranormal-hobbyist-turned-physicist-turned-“Ghostbuster”-2.0 Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), reading aloud a reaction to a YouTube video of her team’s extra-normal exploits. It’s a line that elicits a knowing, involuntary bark of a laugh, not least because it’s an example of art not so much imitating life, but rather faithfully — if painfully — reporting it.

Following an historically inauspicious trailer reception (it’s the “most disliked” movie trailer in YouTube’s decade-plus of existence), and the widespread denunciation of that reception as virulently sexist, and the repudiation of that denunciation by commenters claiming defense of a treasured classic, and so on — all months before the first press or preview screening — Paul Feig’s female-fronted “Ghostbusters” reboot could be forgiven for rolling into theaters this week with a sizable spectral chip on its wearied shoulder.

To wit: If the aforementioned “bust no ghosts” scene is the most pointed of the film’s fourth-wall-chipping glances at its own pre-detractors, it may not be the only one. Subtle (or not-so-) moments in which a male villain taunts our heroes (or heroines?) for “shooting like girls” or opines that they’re late to a showdown because (1) women “always” are and (2) they probably couldn’t pick out the right coveralls to wear, or Cecily Strong’s purposeful emphasis, as a tight-smiling mayoral assistant, in complaining about “these women” are all about as jarring and uncomfortable as they sound, but skate by(?) as paper-thin, self-aware, psuedo-Swiftian satire.

Which assessment brings us more directly to the rightful point: the film. Is it good? Is it funny? How does it fare, pushing distractions and comparisons aside?

Well, that depends.

Structurally (and in many other ways, as it turns out), we’re in strikingly familiar territory — on paper, at least. Wiig’s Gilbert is an about-to-be-tenured professor at Columbia University whose enthusiastic/eccentric/scientific-genius former colleague Abby Yates (McCarthy, introduced sporting decidedly Stanz-ian headgear) is on the verge of a breakthrough in super-spooky studies, assisted by the even-more-enthusiastic/eccentric/scientific-genius-y Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). When Gilbert’s association with Yates leads to a chain of events that outs her as a supernatural-believer to her no-nonsense dean (the wonderful Charles Dance, in what sadly amounts to a cameo) and leaves all three women out of a job, she joins forces with Yates, Holtzmann, and Patty Tolan (Jones), a subway worker with an encyclopedic knowledge of New York City architecture and history, to catch and study incorporeal entities — and, ultimately, save the city from a neon ghostly apocalypse.

The talent here assembled is considerable: Wiig and McCarthy are proven and reliable comedic tentpoles; “Freaks and Geeks” creator Feig has delivered with female-led hits “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” and the uproarious and tremendously fun “Spy;” McKinnon, Jones, and Strong are breakout “SNL” stars (McKinnon and Strong, in particular, are capable of unleashing a dizzying array of simultaneously realistic and gut-busting characters; expect big things from them). Hemsworth is undeniably winning (if perplexingly written) as a brick-stupid receptionist, and even Andy Garcia shows up to fill out a small role as an unapologetic rat-sleazehole of a mayor. The ingredients are present, then, for these Ghostbusters to stride confidently in a new direction all their own, exorcising the hulking and formidable spectre of their phantom-fighting forebears.

One significant problem, it turns out, lies precisely in the film’s own reluctance to do just that, instead allowing said spectre to loom unavoidably overhead like a monstrous, anthropomorphic, sailor-suited partial S’more. That is to say, “Ghostbusters” (2016) invests so very much time and energy nodding to and hammer-winking at “Ghostbusters” (1984) in so very many multifarious ways (plot points, art design/visual references, locations, audio cues, déjà-vu-ish characters, a glut of cameos, lines lines lines lines lines) that it does itself a number of great disservices. Not only does this significant a volume of repeated hat-tips (literally, repeated: Annie Potts’s beloved “Ghostbusters, whaddaya want?” squawk is quoted not once, but twice) constantly pull its audience out of the story to remind us that we’re watching a movie (and a contentious remake, at that), not only does it refuse to allow us to to forget the original (and, in fact, all-but-force us to compare the two), but, arguably most damaging of all, it causes the film itself to seem strangely insecure — almost as if, for all the filmmakers’ railing against and dismissal of cage-rattling trolls and hatescream fanboys, they don’t ultimately feel worthy of the mantle without concerted pandering or appeasement. It’s like Cary Elwes’s pitiable-but-understandable attempt at Jim Carrey’s “The Claw” in “Liar, Liar” — no one wants that, man. Just be yourself.

That may seem uncharitable. I apologize, if so. The truth is, I’m frustrated, because the thing could have worked. If this were the film’s only pervasive misstep, Feig and co. might’ve pulled it off — and what a success it would have been.

Let’s pause, though. Because here’s where the “that depends” part comes in.

The (other) truth is: If you’re a child aged 9-14, or if you haven’t seen or aren’t especially fond of or aren’t looking for a tonal successor to the seminal 1984 hit, chances are good you’ll like this “Ghostbusters” very much. You might, in fact, love it. That isn’t a dig. It’s a sincere distinction. This film, with its bright colors, lighter tone, and somewhat scaled-back scares, feels a bit more like a kids’ movie than the original — or even like “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon I very much enjoyed as a kid (I dug Filmation’s, too). No demon dogs, no monster-hands bursting from the recliner, no eidolic Ackroyd-fellating. Some of the inconsistencies in the universe (particularly those presented by the panoply of cameos — a nod to one character suggests we’re in the original Ghostbusterverse, while other actors are clearly new characters and one seems to have a foot in both) or departures in tone (’84 was quirky-but-subtle, and, though ghosts feature prominently, set in an otherwise “real” world; ’16 presents us with a parade of sketch-comedy characters [and there’s no telling what dimension spawned Hemsworth’s absurdly airheaded Kevin]) or issues with pacing or writing or chemistry or character or performance (a heavier premium on “funny” or “wacky” than “convincing” or “deep”) may not bother a younger viewer, and some of these may not bother an older viewer not beholden to cockle-warming memories of Peter/Ray/Egon/Winston. It is, in some ways, a “fresh” take. Kind of. When it isn’t trying desperately not to be.

And that, finally, is the death-knell. Or is it? On the one hand, you’ve got an exciting team of comedic performers seemingly hamstrung by a script that seems more interested in dutifully bowing to its elders every five pages than in making its own mark, and a film whose first cut was reportedly four hours and 15 minutes (which is palpable, in retrospect). On the other hand, you’ve got that magical viral photo of Kristen Wiig, clasping hands with a positively beaming young girl in a Ghostbusters outfit while another, identically attired down to the unutterably joyous expression, looks on. And that’s when you can’t help but think: “Huh — maybe my opinion isn’t the one that really matters here.”

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

April 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt
Directed by:  Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (debut)
Written by:  Evan Spiliotopoulos (“Hercules”) and Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”)

I know for a fact that I saw 2012’s “Snow White and The Huntsman” on DVD, delivered to my mailbox by Netflix (!) and watched with all of the urgency I could muster (meaning it sat on the TV stand for months before I decided to just get it over with). Perhaps best known for featuring a dull “Twilight”-era Kristen Stewart (as Snow White) paired with slumming Thor Chris Hemsworth (as Eric, the Huntsman) to take on evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron in a vampy ham sandwich performance) and some fairly striking imagery featuring a liquidy golden mirror on the wall, the first adventure did well enough (I guess) to warrant this odd, Stewart-less prequel/sequel that isn’t afraid to outright steal from things that are popular with the kids these days, namely “Game of Thrones” and “Frozen.”

“The Hunstman: Winter’s War” opens years before the first film, with dastardly Ravenna taking control of a kingdom after killing the sitting king during a magically-charged chess match. Meanwhile, her kindly sister Freya (Emily Blunt) has fallen in love with a prince and given birth to a daughter. Tragedy strikes, however, and when it appears the prince has killed the girl, Freya’s latent ice-princess powers are activated, and in her rage and sadness she exiles herself to the frozen north to conjure up an ice castle of her own. Please, stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Anyway, Freya enslaves children in her kingdom, training them as Huntsmen and forbidding them to fall in love. Two of them grow up to be Eric and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who, of course, fall in love. Freya loses her cool, however, and ices things up (sorry) by making Eric believe Sara has been killed. He runs for his life and goes on to have his adventures with Snow White in the first movie.

Several years later, Snow White (played by the back of a brunette’s head, since Stewart doesn’t return) sends her prince to tell Eric he has to get Ravenna’s mirror and destroy it, since it’s killing Snow White. Or something. So he and a couple of dwarves (Nick Frost and Rob Brydon) set off on a quest to get this done, and are helped along the way by a mysterious stranger who…screw it, it’s Sara. She was never dead. It was a trick!

After 45 minutes of unpacking the backstory and connective tissue, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” finally kicks into the story and…it’s just not that interesting, and the blatant cribbing from other medieval-ish media is supremely distracting as well. Chastain’s thankless character is essentially a less-vulgar version of Ygritte the Wildling in “Game of Thrones,” and all the shit with Blunt’s ice queen borders on “Frozen” plagiarism so much you can imagine Disney lawyers drafting a lawsuit as the film unfolds. Theron, in what amounts to a cameo appearance, seems to be the only one having any fun, which will be true for the audience as well.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

May 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth
Directed by: Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”)
Written by: Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”)

This far into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it’s called, we’ve seemed to settle on a formula as far as movies with the word “Avengers” in the title and all of the other movies shake out: the other movies are ultimately there to lead us to the next Avengers movie—2014’s excellent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and the good-time jam “Guardians of the Galaxy” notwithstanding—providing some entertaining spectacle engineered to kick up hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office while trying their best to cover up the fact that it’s all nothing but wheel-spinning until the next Avengers team up. And yet, here we are, after a banner year for Marvel movies both critically and financially, with “Avengers: Age of UItron,” a movie that feels less like the culmination of things and more like a set up for the next damn Avengers movie.

After the events of “Thor: The Dark World” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the powerful staff of villain Loki has ended up in the hands of Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) who is using its power to experiment on humans, namely twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in order to give them enhanced abilities. The Avengers, including Iron Man (Downey), Captain America (Evans), Thor (Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), lead an attack on Strucker’s Eastern European hideout to gain possession of the powerful artifact. Victorious, the team celebrates back in New York City, but not before Tony Stark and Bruce Banner put Stark’s computer butler Jarvis (voice of Paul Bettany) to work using the staff to create the Ultron project, an artificial intelligence charged with protecting the Earth from another alien attack. Only something goes wrong, and the Ultron that emerges is a humanity-hating android (voiced by James Spader) bent on wiping out the human race, and, of course, only the Avengers can stop him.

Writer/director/nerd messiah Joss Whedon returns to script and call the shots here after turning the first “Avengers” film into a global juggernaut and cementing Marvel Studios as a bona fide blockbuster machine. His trademark witty banter and obvious affinity for stories of ragtag teams made the initial outing something special, a fun mega-budget adventure with a real beating heart, a style used once again to great success in last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”  With “Age of Ultron,” though, Whedon’s style seems lost in the excess – there is a LOT of movie to this movie – with no place to put things he likes to, so we’re left with weirdness like a Spader-voiced murderbot who cracks wise like a cast member of “Firefly.” As for the main Avengers, moments of growth and evolution from their last on screen appearances seem forgotten as well: Captain America exhibits no real fallout from the knowledge that the people he thought he was fighting for were the enemy all along, Tony Stark still has dozens of Iron Man suits even after destroying them and walking away in “Iron Man 3,” and Bruce Banner regresses to a self-doubting neurotic about his transformation into the Hulk, despite seeming to have it under control the last time the Avengers assembled.

With most of the main characters already penciled in to Marvel’s movie schedule through 2020, “Age of Ultron” feels inconsequential at best, like a place-holder at worst. When the now-obligatory mid-credits stinger is finished, you’ll be left wondering why THAT wasn’t the storyline of this adventure all along.

Blackhat

January 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang
Directed by: Michael Mann (“Heat,” “The Insider”)
Written by: Morgan Davis Foehl (debut)

Here it is, mid-January, and for the second year in a row we’re offered up another action thriller from a respected director at the box office. Last year we had the would-be franchise reboot “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” from director Kenneth Branagh (coming off of the first “Thor” movie) and starring the handsome Chris Pine, left stranded by a studio who lost faith in the project along the way, dumping it in the dead of January to be mostly forgotten. This year, we have “Blackhat,” from acclaimed director Michael Mann (“Heat”) and starring Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. Mann alone commands attention, even if his past two films were lackluster, but along the way something must have fallen apart with “Blackhat” and it appears Universal decided to cut its losses.

As an impossibly hunky blackhat (read: bad guy) hacker, Hemsworth’s Nicholas Hathaway is introduced in prison being roughed up by guards and brought in front of the warden for hacking into the prison’s computer system (using a contraband cell phone that gave him a command line (!) as if the prison runs on DOS) to add money to fellow prisoners’ accounts. When a Chinese nuclear power plant is hacked, causing a near-meltdown, Chinese officer Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) and FBI agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) arrange for Hathaway’s release. The reason: the malicious code the hacker is using is a derivation of a code written by Dawai and Hathaway, and together they’re the only ones who can track the hacker down before he hits an even bigger target.

Peppered with spots of horrible dubbing, inconsistent special effects, and musical cues that seem to drop in and out at random, “Blackhat” feels strangely abandoned, as if Mann and the studio didn’t bother to add any sort of polish to the final product, recognizing they had what ends up being a dumb, mid-level techno-action movie unworthy of the prestige crime drama reputation Mann has earned over the years. Filled with techno-babble that only half makes sense, hacking scenes that play out like video games, and boring special effects meant to represent what goes on inside a computer (spoiler: it looks dumb and is completely stupid) when a virus is unleashed, “Blackhat” relies too heavily on making Hemsworth an action-adventure hero hacking genius, hoping you don’t question why a furloughed convict would go on an international manhunt and participate in armed raids. Drag “Blackhat” to the recycle bin and pretend it never existed.

Thor: The Dark World

November 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
Directed by: Alan Taylor (“The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Palookaville”)
Written by: Christopher Yost (debut), Christopher Markus (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) and Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The First Avenger”)

Before heading into the screening of “Thor: The Dark World,” my mind rang with an echo of a thought I had back in May, before “Iron Man 3” hit theaters. Here’s what I wrote then:

After the roaring success of last summer’s “The Avengers,” the biggest question facing the Marvel cinematic universe is “What’s next?” Since 2008, with the release of the original “Iron Man” film, everything that came afterward—vehicles for Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk—was build-up (for better or worse) to the epic team-up adventure of “The Avengers.” And boy, did it deliver, wowing critics and audiences on its way to becoming the third-highest grossing movie of all time. But after all of that (which Marvel is now calling Phase 1), what do you do?

The answer with Tony Stark’s third outing, and also with Thor’s sequel, was to stick the character back into a solo adventure that, instead of being a chapter in a larger story, marks time with epic battles for Macguffins until we see the Avengers assemble again in 2015.

“Thor: The Dark World” opens in a flashback, telling the tale of Thor’s grandfather Bor vanquishing the Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his Dark Elves. Malekith’s goal was to use a powerful force known as the Aether to return the Nine Realms to a state of darkness, but Bor was able to contain the Aether in a hidden stone column. In the present, Thor and his warrior compatriots have brought peace to the Nine Realms, while Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned for his crimes by his adopted father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Back on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), still missing Thor, discovers a portal wherein she becomes possessed by the Aether. When Jane disappears from Earth, Heimdall (Idris Elba) informs Thor, who ventures to Earth to save Jane. The Aether’s release awakens Malekith and his forces, who will stop at nothing to capture Foster and release the Aether, plunging the Nine Realms back into darkness.

To say the mythology is dense is an understatement. There’s an awful lot going on here that ultimately doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of the Marvel universe, settling for a return to the status quo by the time the end credits roll–thanks mostly to a twist that seems to forego logic and is content to let future films figure out how to explain. For those concerned that Thor’s first cinematic outing spent too much time on Earth, “The Dark World” solves that problem by spending the vast majority of its runtime in and around the sci-fi/fantasy hybrid worlds of Asgard and beyond. While that answers the question all post-”Avengers” movies will struggle with—namely “why don’t the Avengers help out?”–it may leave casual fans of the Marvel movieverse feeling indifferent.

Director Alan Taylor, a veteran of HBO’s spiritually-similar “Game of Thrones,” has done a fine job expanding Thor’s home world, but in the process it seems he’s made the character more obtuse. I have a theory that at some point the general public will throw its hands up at one of these Marvel movies and say, “No more…that’s TOO comic-book-nerdy!” While “Thor: The Dark World” probably won’t be that tipping point, the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy,” previewed in one of the movies’ two post-credits sequences and featuring a blond, be-caped Benicio Del Toro, is the odd-on favorite to send this whole thing back into the sweaty hands of the fanboys.

Rush

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde
Directed by: Ron Howard (“Frost/Nixon”)
Written by: Peter Morgan (“The Queen”)

Oscar-winning director Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”), redeems himself after his last few downfalls (“The Dilemma,” “Angels & Demons”) with “Rush,” a perfectly-paced and exciting action-drama starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl. The film follows two racecar drivers who create a rivalry with each other in the 1976 Formula One racing circuit.

In “Rush,” Howard introduces his audience to racers James Hunt (Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Bruhl) and the competitive and money-driven racing world they both want to control. With stellar cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours”) and the strong script by screenwriter Peter Morgan (“Frost/ Nixon,” “The Queen”), the intricately developed relationship between James and Niki pushes “Rush” across the finish line and crowns it a champion of good cinema.

The conflict begins when James finds himself trailing behind Niki, Formula One’s world champion, during the 1976 racing season. When they arrive to a race in Germany, aptly nicknamed “The Graveyard” for its treacherous track, it is pouring rain. Niki calls for a drivers’ meeting with the intention to cancel the race. However, when he is outvoted by his fellow racers, he is forced to race on the dangerous track. In a horrific accident later that day, Niki almost loses his life when he hits a wall and his car bursts into flames, thus putting James in the perfect position to catch up and clench his title. Although Niki is confined to the hospital undergoing treatments and surgeries, he allows his competitive spirit to get the best of him as he watches James chip away at the leaderboard.

Delving deep into each character, Hemsworth and Bruhl bring to life this amazing historic rivalry. On the surface, they are polar opposites – Niki, a stark and meticulous German racer, and James, a sex-crazed British party boy. As their backstories and common underlying desire to be the best racer emerge on screen though, so does their respect for one another. Bruhl draws you close with his first-rate performance while Hemsworth’s physical stature reinforces his “ladies man” persona.

As a high-risk sport, moviegoers experience the thrill of Formula One racing during the most climactic parts of the film, all of which feel like you’re right there on the track. Close up shots of speeding tires and turning engines leave you at the edge of your seat, and intensifies the movie’s pace and audience’s adrenaline.

Movies like “Rush” remind us that topical cinema, relevant or irrelevant to our interests, can be inspiring and sometimes great if given the chance. Race fan or not, “Rush” is a must-see, even if only for its character-driven plot line and almost flawless lead performances.

Red Dawn

November 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki
Directed by: Dan Bradley (debut)
Written by: Carl Ellsworth (“Last House on the Left”) and Jeremy Passmore (debut)

The 1984 version of “Red Dawn” had real-world fears in its corner to bolster its believability. The story of a ragtag posse of teens and young adults fighting back against an invading army comprised of Soviets, Cubans, and Nicaraguans benefited from the unpredictability of Cold War politics, from the notion that World War III could break out at any time for any reason. While it’s a little more difficult to buy into a group of mildly-trained high schoolers beating back even the most incompetent modern army, the film drops enough references to guerrillas and minutemen to lend the idea a little more credibility.

None of that is intended to convince anyone that the original “Red Dawn” is a good movie. It’s not. Its sloppy, jingoistic, and filled with some of the wimpiest explosions committed to film. But like lots of relics of the ’80s, it’s remembered fondly by people who were kids when they saw the movie for the first time. And, as is the fate of all nostalgic properties,”Red Dawn” was tapped for a modern remake.

The grammar of those modern remakes is followed closely by this new take on “Red Dawn.” Bigger, slicker action and special effects? Check. Impossibly attractive, ethnically-diverse cast? Double check. Serious scene from the original re-purposed and played for laughs this time around? Triple check. The basic plot remains the same: small town brothers Jed (Chris Hemsworth) and Matt Eckert (Josh Peck) narrowly escape a foreign invasion on American soil by North Korean forces. With the help of fellow classmates (including Josh Hutcherson of “The Hunger Games” and Adrianne Palicki of TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) and Jed’s military training, the group, dubbed the Wolverines after the mascot of their local high school, is able to seriously disrupt enemy operations armed with little more than shotguns and hunting rifles. Their revolution inevitably attracts the attention of the North Korean command, who double down on their efforts to squash the Wolverines.

Along with being yet another unnecessary remake, this modern take on “Red Dawn” runs into new problems, chiefly the conflict with the changing face of warfare. The original took place during the waning years of the Cold War, when the idea of a ground war had not yet given way to the smart bomb and guided missile combat that has defined combat since the first Gulf War. Setting the story in 2012 (or 2010, as the film has sit completed on the shelf for two years while MGM worked its way through bankruptcy) and ignoring things like remote-operated drones and the fact that the North Korean military can’t, by all accounts, tell its ass from a hole in the ground adds strain to a film already trying too hard to one-up its inspiration. Throw in plot holes like a super-weapon that knocks out all electronics except for the ones integral to the plot and behind-the-scenes issues like hastily changing the enemy from China to North Korea (by way of digitally altering flags and just re-dubbing the Chinese actors with Korean dialogue because who will notice that?) and “Red Dawn” ends up as another mess that should have never made it out of the Cold War.

The Avengers

May 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by: Joss Whedon (“Serenity”)
Written by: Joss Whedon (“The Cabin in the Woods”)

It happens in the second half of the highly-anticipated Marvel comic-book movie “The Avengers,” a precisely planned superhero assemblage that has been culminating since 2008’s release of both “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” reboot (most über-nerds unfairly ignore director Ang Lee’s fascinating “Hulk” of 2003 as art-house nonsense). As “The Avengers” ensemble cast, including Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Chris Hemsworth as Thor, contemplate how to stop the supervillain Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from destroying the earth with his barrage of alien soldiers and machines, Captain America (Chris Evans) takes it upon himself to assign his comrades to do what each one of them does best.

“Hulk … smash,” he says, directing his bulging, green, gamma ray-infused super teammate who swiftly carries out his instructions by ripping apart serpent-like battleships running amok in NYC. It’s a phrase fanboys will be pleased to hear, especially since Marvel seemed to agree with their assessment of Lee’s aforementioned attempt, which prompted the studio to hit the reset button by plugging Edward Norton into Eric Bana’s transforming role as Bruce Banner (the role now belongs to Mark Ruffalo after creative differences arose between Marvel and Norton). From that point on, the comic-book conglomerate knew exactly what they needed their Universe to become.

“The Avengers” isn’t trying to reinvent the comic-book movie like Lee or Christopher Nolan with his “Dark Knight” trilogy. It’s evident that the studio’s main objective is mass commercial appeal and not to clutter things up with complex ideas and themes. That’s exactly what they’ve been doing over the last four years. With releases like “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” they wanted to give fans already invested in these characters concrete evidence no one was going to wax philosophical. They wanted big, blaring scenes capable of melting eyeballs in 3D. In the simplest of terms, they wanted to see Hulk, well, smash.

And smash he does in “The Avengers” alongside the mightiest of heroes, which first appeared together in comic books written by industry savant Stan Lee in the early ’60s. Back then, the squad was created to compete with the ever-growing popularity of DC Comics’ Justice League. While the roster has changed over the years, the modern film adaptations have chosen to follow the characters best able to sidestep their natural comic-book kitsch (sorry Ant-Man, your protruding shoulder pads are just too silly to overcome). With approximately $1.8 billion in box-office revenue worldwide, geekdom has spoken. Despite its flaws, “The Avengers” is solid entertainment.

What better way to appease the geeks than with one of their own? Directed by cult favorite Joss Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”), “The Avengers” is pumped with exciting action sequences and razor-sharp special effects that can compete with anything Marvel has ever put out. Known for his clever writing ability (screw Buffy, the dude wrote Darlene’s “To Whom it Concerns” poem during a Season 2 episode of “Roseanne!”), Whedon’s dialogue is perfect for more charismatic characters like industrialist playboy Tony Stark — though far less so for characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the always doltish Thor, who unfortunately doesn’t provide much oomph to the already ordinary storyline. It starts with Thor’s evil brother Loki, a flimsily written antagonist who is able to get his hands on a powerful cube known as the Tesseract, which holds the key to unlimited sustainable energy. With the planet on the brink of destruction, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) rallies his all-star team together to (trumpet fanfare) save the human race. Before they can do that, however, the Avengers must experience some growing pains as a diverse superhero unit and quibble like kids on the playground. It’s during these fight scenes that fanboy fantasies come true. Watching Thor’s hammer slam down onto Captain America’s shield is the stuff of epic wonder. Other amazing feats of action bliss include the Hulk intercepting a fighter pilot as he ejects from a damaged jet, and Stark changing into his Iron Man suit in midair.

While the narrative itself leaves much to be desired, Whedon, who also has the overrated meta horror movie “The Cabin in the Woods” out at theaters, does have a knack for hilarious pop-culture references, snappy one-liners that get every character involved, and some physical comedy. It all keeps the story from falling into too many past superhero pitfalls. “The Avengers” may not divert much from the typical superhero blueprint, but what hardcore Marvel enthusiast would really want that anyway?

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