Isle of Dogs

April 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum
Directed by: Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”)
Written by: Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”)

Looking back at filmmaker Wes Anderson’s past projects, one could argue the writer/director hasn’t been kind to man’s best friend.

In 2001’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” a wild-eyed Owen Wilson drives his Austin-Healey off the road and runs over the family’s beagle Buckley. Seemingly unaffected, the Tenenbaums replace the pet in a matter of minutes with a firefighter’s Dalmatian. In 2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” Anderson writes in a scene where the young protagonist’s fox terrier Snoopy gets shot in the neck with an arrow. (“Was he a good dog? Who’s to say?”)

With all the canine casualties, it’s no wonder The New Yorker wrote an article a few years ago asking, “Does Wes Anderson Hate Dogs?” Note 1: The death of these dogs has no bearing on the actual story. Both would still be great films if he had let the dogs live. Note 2: He lets Willem Dafoe kill a cat in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” so go figure. It’s a question Anderson puts to rest with “Isle of Dogs,” the second stop-motion animated feature of his career, after 2009’s fanciful “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

Anderson undoubtedly matches his first outing in the genre with “Isle of Dogs,” a deadpan, dystopian adventure starring one of the most diverse cast of four-legged, animated characters since the Disney classic “Lady and the Tramp.” Its whimsical nature, of course, is unmistakably Anderson, so if he’s not your cup of Darjeeling tea, this won’t be either. However, fans of his idiosyncratic work will enjoy the wonderful world of wagging tails he has created with such exhaustive detail. It’s noteworthy, too, that “Isle of Dogs” is Anderson’s most politically-themed picture to date, although one could argue that classism and fascism are covered effectively in “Rushmore” and “Budapest.”

In “Isle of Dogs,” the dogs of Japan’s fictional Megasaki City are suffering from dog flu and thusly banished to an island covered in trash, so the disease won’t spread to their human masters. The first of dog exiled is Spots (Liev Schreiber), the official guard dog of the city’s sinister Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) and pet to Kobayashi’s 12-year-old orphaned nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin). Committed to bringing Spots home, Atari hijacks a small plane and crash-lands it on Trash Island where he is rescued by a group of deported dogs who argue about whether they should help the boy find his pup.

For his pack of alpha-male mongrels, Anderson casts his usual, talented suspects — Edward Norton as Rex, Bob Balaban as King, Bill Murray as Boss, Jeff Goldblum as Duke, and newcomer to the Anderson roster, Bryan Cranston as Chief, a stray and de facto leader who reluctantly goes on the “Saving Private Ryan”-esque journey even though he knows it will probably mean their lives. On their way, they meet Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), a former show dog whose master Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) heads a group of young activists to fight against the “dog-hating thugs” spouting political propaganda and trying to conceal the creation of a cure for dog flu.

As in all of Anderson’s films, the soft-spoken and dryly sarcastic comedy is not really for moviegoers with a broad sense of humor or for the narrow base of Anderson naysayers who think his distinctive style only appeals to pretentious hipster doofuses. Anderson does what he does and does it incredibly well. Part of that, obviously, is the attention he pays to every single frame of his visual composition. Not only is the handmade artistry meticulous across the board, but Anderson’s eye for choreographed randomness is second to none. Even the animated fleas that scurry across a dog’s fur are impressive. Add another award-worthy score by Alexandre Desplat and some bold decisions by Anderson when it comes to translating the Japanese language throughout the film, and “Isle of Dogs” is something truly special.

While it has, for whatever reason, become sort of cool to jab Anderson for his eccentric directorial choices (there are plenty of parodies online that poke fun of him and his films), it’s not something admirers should worry about, especially since even cynics would say he’s at least consistent. If that’s something everyone can agree on, those on the right side of cinematic history should add “Isle of Dogs” to Anderson’s growing catalog of cleverness and quirk.

Ep. 98 – Ghost in the Shell, The Discovery, Power Rangers, 20th Century Women, and Cody’s tips on choosing the perfect meal from UberEATS

April 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review “Ghost in the Shell,” the new Netflix original film “The Discovery,” circle back to pick up “Power Rangers,” and take another look at “20th Century Women,” now on Blu-ray and DVD. Cody also gives listeners tips on what to order from UberEATS.

[00:00 – 18:21] Intro/Cody chooses his dinner

[18:21 – 30:16] Review – “Ghost in the Shell”

[30:16 – 40:15] Review – “The Discovery”

[40:15 – 54:20] Review – “Power Rangers”

[54:20 – 1:03:47] No Ticket Required – “20th Century Women”

[1:03:47 – 1:07:40] Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

Ghost in the Shell

March 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Juliette Binoche
Directed by: Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”)
Written by: Jamie Moss (“Street Kings”) and William Wheeler (“The Hoax”) and Ehren Krueger (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”)

In the ’90s, adolescent me had all kinds of under-the-radar alternate entertainment thrown at me by virtue of being a socially-awkward fat nerd. Some things stuck hard, like comic books, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.” Others even I deflected, like Magic: The Gathering and anime—then only accessible on VHS from higher-end comic book shops, not counting the mass-market, sanitized Japanese exports like “Sailor Moon” and the fledgling days of “Pokemon.”

I feel like I gave anime a fair shake, though, and hyper-violent cartoons with occassional nudity was an easy sell anyway. But still, nothing. As I moved into my 20s, the ubiquitousness of DVDs led to me sampling one of the masterworks of the genre I had long heard about, 1995’s “Ghost in the Shell.” And again, it didn’t take. I shook hands with anime and we went our separate ways.

But, because genre filmmaking is a beast that can’t be satiated, it was only a matter of time before “Ghost in the Shell,” with its cyberpunk-robot storyline easily retrofitted for American audiences, was given the big-budget Hollywood treatment—and the endlessly debated, probably problematic whitewashed casting that goes with it.

Set in a future where humans augment themselves with cybernetic implants and live in cities filled with Golem-like holographic advertising avatars, “Ghost in the Shell” opens with the creation of the Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first synthetic humanoid with a real human brain inside of it under the care of Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche). Major’s real body was damaged in a terrorist bombing, so she is told, and Ouelet saved her life. Since the Major is a product of the probably-evil Hanka robotics corporation, she is of course weaponized and made to hunt down terrorists with a multinational team, including the hulking, dog-friendly muscle with cybernetic eyes Batou (Pilou Asbæk), the closest Major comes to having a partner. They’re on the trail of a super-hacker named Kuze (Michael Pitt) who’s working to assassinate Hanka scientists—but his reasons remain mysterious until the Major is able to get close to him and recover her memories, changing everything.

As a dull amalgam of “Blade Runner,” “The Matrix,” and HBO’s “Westworld,” “Ghost in the Shell” is a beautiful-looking film that proclaims to be about identity, but fails to find one of its own. Its the type of movie that, 15 years ago, cinephiles would have salivated over as showcases for their home audio/video setups—a special-edition DVD in a shiny foil packaging, all gloss with nothing underneath. It’s a shame, too, because Johannson once again proves herself to be a badass female action hero in an industry severely lacking them. After this and the travesty that was “Lucy,” can we stop dicking around and just give her a “Black Widow” movie already?

Captain America: Civil War

May 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”)
Written by: Christopher Markus (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) and Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”)

When the cast list was announced for “Captain America: Civil War,” it was hard to not be afraid that it would be an overcrowded mess. After all, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” tried to replicate the success of the first “Avengers” with limited amounts of success. But leave it to brother directorial duo Joe and Anthony Russo to pull off something truly “Whedon-esque.” They take something that, on paper, should not work at all, and turning it into a rousing, action-packed, spirited film.

For being a Captain America film, “Civil War” goes a long way in its development of other characters. In a huge anticipatory move, Tom Holland is introduced as Peter Parker (Spider-Man). While the initial introduction is a bit clunky, fans may be surprised by how much Spidey they get. It is also the first appearance of Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther. It’s impressive how streamlined his introduction becomes, quickly establishing his place in the franchise while not seeming rushed. Of course, at the heart of “Civil War” is the battle between Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as well as the friendship with Rogers and Bucky, also known as The Winter Soldier. To that extent, it is a Captain America movie. To every other extent, this is basically a third installment of “The Avengers.”

For featuring nearly every Marvel character other than The Hulk, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Russo Brothers did an astonishing job of not letting the film feel overstuffed. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was a complete mess that had no discernible structure. On the other side of things, “Civil War” has nary a wasted frame, feeling lean and mean considering its two and a half-hour run time.

A major problem throughout most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the inability to develop a good villain. Sure, Loki was fun, but the threat in all of these movies is always a vaguely evil and impending world domination by an under-developed and uninteresting big bad. One of the biggest reasons that “The Avengers” was so successful as a film was that it pitted these characters against each other. Strife within the group proved to be the most interesting conflict the team has had to face throughout the course of these movies. “Civil War” follows suit, literally dividing The Avengers into teams. It is, once again, the most interesting aspect of the film. It’s much more satisfying and exciting to see Iron Man and Captain America violently beating each other up than it is to see entire city blocks be destroyed by fighting some random otherworldly species.

This all culminates in a scene that has been dubbed as the “airport scene.” In what is one of the most memorable scenes of the Marvel franchise, the teams have a battle royale in a giant setpiece. Not only is this scene immense, break-neck speed fun, but nearly every character gets at least one moment of sheer awesomeness and humor. It’s where Marvel gets to show off that they know what to do with Spider-Man, really Holland being a true motor mouth. It’s also where Paul Rudd actually gets to be himself, stealing every second of screentime and being the version of Ant-Man that should have been in his own previous film.

Something that sets “Civil War” apart from most comic book films in recent memory is that it actually addresses the issue of superheroes destroying cities and killing random folks without consequence. It’s an idea that is somewhat meta, considering that being an actual criticism of the genre, but also an idea that was terribly flubbed by something like “Batman v Superman.” To this degree, “Civil War” actually gives our heroes a real reason to be against one another. While the stakes may never feel quite high enough, the disputes are earned.

The end of the film is a bit of a let-down, but “Captain America: Civil War” is solidly exhilarating, engaging, and entertaining. It’s a truly astonishing feat that the Russo Brothers were able to introduce new characters, stuff nearly every Avenger into a single scene, and somehow make this film feel like a stand-alone rather than a table setter, one of the biggest criticisms of the Marvel franchise. Without question, “Civil War” is easily among the top three films Marvel has produced, and the franchise seems to be in capable hands with the Russo’s.

Hail, Caesar!

February 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Lucy

July 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi
Directed by: Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”)
Written by: Luc Besson (“Taken”)

There are stupid movies that are tons of fun, and there are stupid movies that are a considerable chore to sit through, offensive in their blatant stupidity. Some movies, like the recent works of Adam Sandler, seem fine with being the latter so long as Sandler gets to take his family and friends on a paid vacation to Hawaii or Africa disguised as a movie shoot. Then there are movies like “Lucy,” a brain-dead Eurotrash sci-fi/gangster mash-up filled with laughable pseudoscience, indifferent performances and nonsensical editing infuriating enough to make the swift 80-minute affair feel like an assault on the whole endeavor of movie going, making you question why you even bother leaving the house to watch this stuff.

“Lucy” opens in Taiwan, with Scarlett Johansson’s ditzy foreign student title character being forced to deliver a mysterious briefcase to a brutal Korean gangster (Min-sik Choi, channeling Gary Oldman in “The Professional”). Lucy ends up kidnapped, waking up with a plastic bag of an experimental drug sewn inside her abdomen. She and several others are to act as drug mules, smuggling the highly dangerous drug into various parts of Europe. Tied up before she’s to be sent off on a plane, Lucy is attacked by one of her captors, the violence of which ruptures the sac of drugs sending what should be a lethal dose coursing through her body. Only instead of killing her, the drug activates the unused parts of her brain, essentially turning Lucy into a superhero. Somehow unlocking her brain’s potential gives Lucy telekinetic powers, the ability to manipulate radio and TV waves, and the power to change her hair color and length at will. With the Korean gangsters on her tail, Lucy is on a mission to track down the rest of the drugs and contact Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), the world’s foremost authority on, um, speculative brain power, I guess?

Besson is a long way from the glory days of “The Professional” and “The Fifth Element” here, and, like “Taken” before it—which Besson only wrote and produced—“Lucy” feels like a cut-rate European B-movie with some big Hollywood stars slumming for the paycheck. The difference is that “Taken” powered through its pedigree with a somewhat magnetic performance from Liam Neeson. Here, though, Johansson’s default robotic vacancy and Freeman’s clear disinterest in the material do little to offset the absolute bullshit going on around them, whether its Lucy’s ridiculous escalating powers or Norman’s quackery about just what using 100 percent of your brain would lead to. By the time all the madness culminates in a shootout, a “2001: A Space Odyssey” knock off, and a cosmic thumb drive, you’re more likely to have lost some of your own brainpower along the way.

Under the Skin

April 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Dougie McConnell
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer (“Birth”)
Written by: Walter Campbell (debut)

As a viewer, watching director Jonathan Glazer’s trippy, metaphysical sci-fi mindbender about an alien disguised as a beautiful woman who lures men into her dark lair feels like an out-of-body experience. Like last year’s equally bizarre “Upstream Color” or 2012’s “Holy Motors,” you won’t always know what is exactly happening on screen, but you’ll find it impossible to look away.

Granted, the latter can only be said of moviegoers who find the challenge of dissecting films with indistinct narratives interesting. For those coming into “Under the Skin” simply for the fact that the film features Scarlett Johansson in the first nude scenes of her career, the promise of a more complex and unique cinematic experience that can be studied and analyzed probably won’t take precedent over the promise of flesh. That might be, however, the perfect analogy to use when describing Glazer’s intention as a storyteller. For those who don’t quickly dismiss Glazer’s vision for mere poppycock, there’s a lot to be said about a woman’s sexual nature and the power she has over the opposite sex.

Again, this is only one of what could be countless of theories behind precisely what Glazer is going for with “Under the Skin.” In the film, Johansson, playing a nameless alien character, inhabits the skin of a human woman and journeys through Scotland in a van where she uses her charm and mischievous grin to pick up men and ultimately lead them to their demise. How this exactly happens is, like much of Glazer and first-time screenwriter Walter Campbell’s intent, left up to the imagination. We do, however, watch the men step out of their clothes and into an endless pool of black goo where they become almost mummified before they burst into waves of silky, formless satin.

Johansson is almost spider-like with the way she attracts her prey. There’s definitely something not quite right about her character, but one can only wonder if this even makes a difference to the men she seduces during her ambiguous quest for whatever she’s trying to prove or gain. When her daily fixation with Scottish men doesn’t go as planned after she gives a ride to a gentleman with a hideous facial deformity, “Under the Skin” goes from intriguingly weird to downright loopy. By then, however, Glazer has already won. It might take a few hours to realize it, but the hook he uses to reel you in – not to mention the fantastic imagery and creepily beautiful score by cellist Mica Levi – is undeniable.

“Under the Skin” is slowly paced and, at times, frustrating, but if you’re the kind of cinephile who enjoys chipping away at a film’s deeper meaning, this one is definitely a conversation piece – even if you end up having these conversations with yourself.

Her

January 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams
Directed by: Spike Jonze (“Where the Wild Things Are,” “Being John Malkovich”)
Written by: Spike Jonze (“Where the Wild Things Are”)

The last decade of technological advances have irreversibly altered the way we humans communicate. Regular old cell phones were one thing—their ubiquity in the early 2000s led to a society where we were just a phone call away at all times. Smartphones, however, have created a culture wherein we’re connected every second of the day. From the dependable old text message to the messenger program Facebook shoved down our mobile throats to push notifications from apps like Instagram and Twitter, most people live their lives in a state of constant connectivity. Even as we go about our lives, we’re living another life online.

“Her,” from quiet genius Spike Jonze, imagines a not-too-distant future where such sought-after tech like artificial intelligence has become commonplace enough to be available for the average Joe’s personal computer. A lonely professional letter writer named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) downloads his copy, which boots up as a female and names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). As Samantha grows and adapts, her relationship with Theodore deepens to the point of genuine love.

Writer/director Jonze could have easily made “Her” into an unsubtle indictment of the isolated way we live our lives today: noses buried in our smartphones, constantly communicating via Facebook and other social networks in lieu of real personal contact, to the point we’d be foolish enough to think an online relationship could take the place of real human interaction. Instead Jonze veers the other way and creates accepting and believable world wherein a lonely man can fall in love with an artificially intelligent operating system and have it be seen as the natural evolution of human relationships, not the laughable misadventures of a sad sack.

Don Jon

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Danza
Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (debut)
Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (debut)

For an actor turned director/writer who has never stepped foot behind a camera to shoot a feature film before, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception”) makes a commendable debut with “Don Jon,” a flawed yet jaunty adult-themed comedy that puts the spotlight on male sexuality and the desires that drive some to obsession.

As the second film to hit theaters in as many weeks that takes a comedic angle to the subject of sexual addiction (“Thanks for Sharing” being the other), “Don Jon” is less about the method of controlling the problem as much as it is stripping it down to reveal the real individual behind an amplified version of something, arguably, all men do.

Gordon-Levitt stars as the title character, Jon Martello, a porn-addicted New Jersey bartender, whose only interests in life include working out, club hopping and hooking up with good-looking women, and, most importantly, spending any other free time he has firing up his laptop to get his fix of visual pleasures via adult entertainment websites. When he meets Barbara Sugarman (a perfectly cast Scarlett Johansson in one of her best roles ever), however, his secret indulgence has to become even more guarded since she is an old-fashioned Catholic who just doesn’t understand why guys watch dirty movies in the first place.

In Jon’s case, it’s not so much a question of why as it is why so much? And why, if he can easily attract a new girl to bed every night, does he always find more gratification from images on a computer screen? It’s an interesting character study Gordon-Levitt presents, although a large portion of the narrative does become rather repetitive as the film continues. For example, in one ongoing joke, Jon visits the church confessional regularly to admit his sins of the flesh (sex out of wedlock, masturbation), but after the same scene plays out again and again, the effectiveness is lost. The same thing happens with other routines in the script like the sound of his Apple computer turning on (an indication to audiences he’s about to partake in some online porn) and having dinner with his family (Tony Danza plays his dad; Glenne Headly his mom; Brie Larson his disengaged sister), which always ends in the same cliche argument (they don’t understand why he can’t find an nice girl to settle down with).

Julianne Moore (“Boogie Nights”) enters into the third act of the film as Esther, a fellow college classmate of Jon, who is basically added to the narrative so Jon can have a reason to follow some type of character arc and not come out as the same douchebag he started as at the beginning. It works marginally, although it’s hard to picture Jon as anything but a sex fiend even when he’s trying to kick his habit and learn to love someone unconditionally.

“Don Jon” is a very risky choice by Gordon-Levitt. The decision to tackle this sort of topic doesn’t leave him unscathed, but he manages to wrap everything up without writing himself into awkward corners. All in all, he definitely has a future as a director in some capacity just in case that whole acting thing doesn’t pan out like he planned.

Hitchcock

December 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Sasha Gervasi (“Anvil! The Story of Anvil”)
Written by: John  J. McLaughlin (“Black Swan”)

It would be a tough assignment for any director to capture someone as influential a filmmaker as Alfred Hitchcock much less try to understand what all the moving parts inside his head are doing. Director Julian Jarrold (“Brideshead Revisited”) and HBO attempted to do it this year with “The Girl,” an unmoving, made-for-TV movie about Hitchock’s obsession with actress Tippi Hedren during the shooting of “The Birds.”

In “Hitchcock,” director Sasha Gervasi (“Anvil! The Story of Anvil”) and screenwriter John  J. McLaughlin (“Black Swan”) choose another of Hitchcock’s classic films, “Psycho,” and try to pull back the curtain to reveal some of the behind the scene issues Hitch confronted while making a film inspired by serial killer Ed Gein. Unable to earn financing from his studio (although he had just made “North by Northwest” and “Vertigo,” which are now considered by many as two of the best films ever made), Hitch (played here glibly by Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins) decides he will finance the movie himself. His wife Alma (Oscar winner Helen Mirren) stands by him as always for support.

Living with one of the greatest filmmakers of the era, however, is no easy task. “Hitchock,” while it does give us a interesting glimpse of the moviemaking process, is more a movie about Hitch and Alma and how they are able to work through their marital issues while in the spotlight. Unlike “The Girl” there is really no mention of Hitch’s sexual advances toward his leading ladies. In “Hitchcock,” Scarlett Johansson portrays Janet Leigh, whose relationship with the larger-than-life title character is played as professional. Sure, it’s not very hard to make Hitch seem like the creepy old man making the pretty blonds in the room uncomfortable as he ogles over them for far too long (there is a scene where he peeks at an undressing Vera Miles through hole in the wall), but “Hitchock” is less about his perverseness and more about the motivation behind the man making the movies. Still, it comes up short in that aspect.

While Hopkins and Mirren are wonderfully cast in their roles and do everything they can to create this loving albeit strained relationship, what goes wrong with “Hitchcock” comes from the odd changes in tone and stagnant script. A few scenes are written with Hitch having imagined conversations with serial killer Ed Gein. McLaughlin might’ve thought this would give insight to the dark places Hitch had to be to make a movie like “Psycho,” but each of these talks feels like an unnecessary interruption.

Acting aside, “Hitchcock” is a disappointment. Instead of making a film with Hitchcockian flare, Gervasi should’ve concentrated on making a film about the man – a cultural icon of the 20th century who deserved more than getting showering over with plenty of narrative inelegance.

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?

Iron Man 2

May 7, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”)
Written by: Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”)

If personality makes up the majority of a superhero’s likability, Iron Man should be considered the Marvel comic book character you’d love to hate.

That’s not to say two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Robert Downey Jr. has lost all the charisma that made the 2008 original blockbuster film so downright entertaining and original. Even when Downey Jr. isn’t donning the maroon and gold mechanical suit that transforms him into a weapon of mass destruction, he has another captivating persona he can fall back on.

Meet Tony Stark. While you might know him from the first “Iron Man,” the sequel, aptly called “Iron Man 2,” allows us to meet the man inside the machine on a more personal level. In the film, Tony seems to be running on fumes. As Iron Man, he can still hold his own against anyone that comes his way, but as a mortal, the genius billionaire industrialist has a serious problem.

The power source embedded in his chest, which is keeping him alive, is also slowly poisoning him. Along with his health issues, Tony is butting heads with the U.S. Senate, who wants him to turn over his Iron Man machinery. The Senate says his invention is a threat to national security especially if a country decides to copy the technology and use it against the U.S.

Tony refuses to relinquish his work stating that it would take years for someone to duplicate what he has done. He is oblivious to the fact that Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has already engineered his own version of the suit and fastened it to himself to transform into the electromagnetic super villain known as Whiplash. When he teams up with Tony’s major weapons competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), the two set out to develop an army of drones that would take the arms race by storm.

Replacing Terrance Howard from the original, Don Cheadle plays Lt. Col. James Rhodes, who later attempts to put a stop to Tony’s destructive ways caused by his alcohol problem. Although he manages to spiral downward fairly quickly, love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) doesn’t give up on him that easy. Neither does S.H.I.E.L.D. front man Nick Fury (Samuel L.  Jackson) who makes sure Tony’s talents aren’t wasted. His stubbornness to join the secret agency known as the Avengers will be short-lived since all these Marvel movies are linking together for one giant superhero reunion in the next few years.

No matter what is being planned for the future, “Iron Man 2” is able to stand on its own. It works well with enough action sequences, fight scenes and some interesting characters, none of which match the humor and charm of Downey Jr. who again makes the movie his own personal and egotistical show.

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