Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

A short and spoiler-free review of “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)

Mind. Blown.

If I could tell my 19-year-old self discovering superhero comics in college exactly how good their big screen adaptations would become, I wouldn’t believe me.

I saw “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) tonight with expectations that were very high. It was still better than I thought it would be. It was easily better than last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” (although I think of them as two halves of the same epic movie).  I don’t pretend to be a film expert, so take this as speculation — I personally think the pair of “Infinity” films have made comic-book movie history in the same manner as the original “Superman” (1978), Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989) and Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy (2005-2012).

I don’t really want to make any more observations, because I’m too afraid of inadvertently posting spoilers.  But I will say that there is a massive tonal change between “Infinity War” and “Endgame.”  The banter and humor of the former is largely left aside, and this concluding story is darker and far more emotionally sophisticated.  It’s moving.  It feels strange to write here, but I kept thinking during the movie that this was a more “grown up” Marvel film.

And it is EPIC.  I honestly can’t imagine how Marvel can top it with future films.  There is an action set piece that made my jaw drop.  I can’t say more.

This is an obvious 10 out of 10 from me.

 

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A short review of “Predestination” (2014)

Blog Correspondent Pete Harrison has been recommending “Predestination” to me for a couple of years now.  It took me the longest time to get around to it — I knew that the Spierig brothers’ mindbending science fiction film would be challenging, and I wanted to wait until I was in just the right mood to take it in.

It turns out Pete’s recommendation was a damned good one.  (Followers of this blog know he is our resident horror expert; turns out he knows his sci-fi too.)  “Predestination” is a grim, moody, well directed time travel movie, beautifully performed by Sarah Snook, Ethan Hawke and Noah Taylor.  The storytelling style reminded me so much of Christopher Nolan’s work that I had to check the credits again to make sure he wasn’t at the helm.  (Coming from me, that’s high praise.)  I’d rate “Predestination” a 9 out of 10.

I don’t think this movie is for everyone.  It’s hard-core sci-fi, adapted from a short story by Robert Heinlein called “– All You Zombies –,” and its stranger story elements will challenge the viewer instead of of pleasing them emotionally.  (This would be a very confusing choice for a date movie, for example.)

And there is a major plot element here that requires so much suspension of disbelief that I think many viewers will be put off by it.  (It doesn’t involve the plot-enabling time travel tehcnology.)  I truly enjoyed this film, and even I struggled with this element’s plausibility.  I feel certain it was easier for Heinlein to get across on the page than for any filmmaker to show on screen.  (Would any of us react the way these characters do if we were in the same situation?  I don’t think the human heart works quite the way the story suggests it does.)

Still, this was a very good movie for a science fiction fan.  If you are in the mood for something dark, different and demanding, then give it a chance.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “YOU CAN FLOAT ON AIR!”

Here’s another bizarre relic of Boys’ Life magazine in the 1980’s — an ad for what was apparently a $4.95 do-it-yourself hovercraft.  (Kids needed to read that entire ad to understand that what this company was selling you was not the “AIR CAR” itself, or even its parts, but only “plans and photos.”)

A pal of mine in the Cub Scouts had his heart set on this, but  I wisely cautioned him that you couldn’t always trust advertisers.  (I’d learned my own lesson a couple of years prior from the duplicitous marketers of “Sea Monkeys.”)  You’ve gotta read the whole thing through, I told him.  Pretend that you’re dealing with the least trustworthy kid on the school bus.  It was one of those truly rare moments in my life when I counseled circumspection to others instead of vice versa.

He was pretty zealous in his desire for this thing.  For some reason, he really wanted to take it out over the Long Island Sound (to … Connecticut, presumably?)  I’m still not sure why he didn’t want a jet ski. We indeed had those in the 80’s.  Oh, well.  As dreams go, it wasn’t the worst that a kid could have.

He never wound up sending away for it.  I’m not sure if that’s because I talked him out of it or not.

But here’s the stunning O’Henry-style postscript — I’ve read a few Reddit and Twitter posts from men in their 40’s who also remember this Boys Life ad, and who actually sent away for the plans.  A couple of them claim that they successfully built this device, and that the damned thing actually worked.  (Cue the theme music for Christopher Nolan’s 2006 “The Prestige.”)  It certainly couldn’t hold 100 pounds, they qualified, but it technically still worked.

I guess if I ever run into my old friend from the Cub Scouts after 40 years, I owe him a hovercraft.

 

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Throwback Thursday: 80’s Wolverine posters!

The first of the posters you see below was created in 1987 with art by Art Adams; the second in 1989 with art by Mike Zeck.  (Is there something ironic about an artist named “Art?”)  These definitely bring back 90’s memories for me, though — I remember looking them on my friends’ dorm room walls at Mary Washington College.  (The Adams’ piece that popped up in the dorms might have been different; there are several variations of the image, and I seem to remember an all-black background.)

That would have been the Spring of 1991, toward the end of my freshman year.  It was just before I’d really discovered superhero comics, even though I’d grown up with Sgt. Rock, Indiana Jones, Conan the Barbarian and Archie.  I thought costumed heroes were generally a stupid idea; not even the Batman craze after the Tim Burton’s 1989 film attracted me to the genre.  (Burton’s film was actually considered quite groundbreaking at the time; this was long before Christopher Nolan’s amazing work eclipsed it and its sequels.)

I didn’t even know who Wolverine was.  (Trust me, I was fully converted to both Marvel and DC fandom during my sophomore year.)  I remember listening to a classmate muse about the image of Wolverine fighting Captain America — if Wolvey’s adamantium claws could cut through anything, and Cap’s adamantium shield couldn’t be broken, how would the melee depicted play out?  (Yes, I’ve long since learned that Cap’s shield is made of vibranium; I’m just not sure if that’s a retcon or not.)

 

 

Arthur Adams Wolverine Poster (1)

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A review of “Logan” (2017)

I’m not sure I agree with quite all of the accolades that “Logan” (2017) has been receiving.  (It’s being compared with Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” for example, as well as Frank Miller’s medium-altering 1986 graphic novel, “The Dark Knight Returns.”)  It’s still a damn good movie, though, and easily among the best of Fox’s “X-Men” series.  I’d give it a 9 out of 10, and I’d firmly recommend it.

This absolutely doesn’t feel like a “comic book movie.”  It feels more like a brutally violent, sometimes introspective, road-trip drama — though all of the comic book elements are still there.  I’d caution comic book fans that “Logan” was actually much darker than I expected — and, no, it wasn’t just because of the visceral violence that could only be afforded by this movie’s unusual “R” rating.  There was a lot more that went on here that got under my skin … I just can’t say more for fear of spoilers.

There is one thing I can tell you — there is none of the escapism of past “X-Men” films.  (C’mon, for being about a supposedly oppressed group, those movies always made being a mutant look fun as hell, and even glamorous.)  This film follows an aging, ailing Wolverine, and an even worsely afflicted Professor X — subsisting in secret in the Mexico desert.  What’s more, they and their aging friend, Caliban, appear to be among the last of their kind, thanks to an unexplained, decades-long absence of new mutant births.  And what little exposition is given about the other X-Men suggests that they are dead.  If you’ve been a fan of these iconic characters for a long time, then seeing Wolverine and Professor X being so painfully not larger than life is jarring, and even sad.  No matter what is the outcome of its story, this movie’s plot setup alone can make an “X-Men” fan a little despondent.

The action is damned good.  The movie surprised me by how smart it was, too.  Its examination of violence and its consequences is unflinching.  Also, we’ve been instructed through so many “X-Men” movies that humans should not seek to contain the mutants out of fear … yet “Logan” adroitly and subtly questions such one-sided moralizing.  The acting, across the board, is extremely good — predictably from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, and surprisingly from 11-year-old Dafne Keen.  She’s perfect as the young, imperiled, yet ferocious Laura.

My complaints with “Logan” were minor.  One thing that irked me was my own confusion about whether it was “canon.”  Are we to assume that this takes place in the “X-Men” movies’ “main continuity?”  Or is this a parallel universe or a different timeline?  The feel of this film is so radically different that I found it difficult to imagine it following the previous films (although the post-credits sequence in 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” seems to set up “Logan.”)  I thought that this was based on Marvel Comics’ “Old Man Logan” storyline … wasn’t that an alternate universe story?

Maybe adding more to my confusion, “X-Men” comic books actually exist in the universe of this film.  Laura carries a bunch of them, and they are a minor plot point.  Does this mean that the humans in this universe have finally accepted mutants, enough to create comic books about them being heroes?  How did that come about?

My second criticism of “Logan” is that the character of Laura is thinly rendered.  Saving her is the plot device for the entire film, and Keen is absolutely talented.  Shouldn’t we know more about her, and about her relationship with Logan and Charles?

All in all, this was a superb film, though — with an unexpected tone and a surprisingly sober, risk-taking approach to Jackman’s avowed last appearance as Wolverine.  If you like the “X-Men” movies at all, then you should definitely see it.

 

 

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My review of “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)

“Captain America: Civil War” (2016) is nearly everything I hoped it would be; it’s easily on par, if not better, than the first two “Avengers” movies.  (And I can’t help but think of this as the third “Avengers.”  Yes, Cap’s name is in the title, but this is necessarily an ensemble story about the divided superteam.)  I’d give it a 9 out of 10.

I honestly just need to be very vague in this review … this is such an eagerly awaited film, and I want to be extra cautious about spoilers.  No, there are no twists in the movie, but there are surprising character and plot elements.

The movie surprised me in a couple of ways.  One, this film appears to follow the original 2006 comic book crossover only very loosely.  (I have not read it, but I know the story.)  There is no “Superhero Registration Act” that would directly affect countless people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It’s much narrower than that — a demand by the United Nations for direct oversight of The Avengers.

Two, this is definitely the darkest and most adult outing with The Avengers so far.  Don’t get me wrong — the levity and gee-whiz comic book fun that is the MCU’s trademark is still there, and it’s no Christopher Nolan movie.  But the movie’s central story device is set in motion by the question of who should be held accountable for civilian deaths.  And so many individual major characters are motivated by grief or rage.

This is notable throughout the film, for example, in the characterization of Tony Stark, and his portrayal by Robert Downey, Jr.  He’s no longer a wisecracking billionaire playboy who all the guys want to be.  Instead, he’s a troubled, pensive leader who often seems out of his depth.  We watch as his team and the events surrounding him spin out of control, and we no longer want to trade places with him.  He’s more sympathetic.  But he simultaneously fails to engender the viewer loyalty that he so quickly and easily won in every other Marvel movie he’s appeared in.

And yet … he isn’t, as I had suspected, a cardboard adversary for Captain America’s underdog to stand up to.  There are some sad things going on in his life, both during the events of this movie and in “Iron Man 3” (2013), and his failings and poor decisions are perfectly understandable.  (I won’t say more, besides that viewers will definitely get a different spin on “Iron Man 3” after this movie.)  And Downey displays a great range in playing this far sadder Tony.

One character in the movie even makes a quip about “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), and it feels like a meta reference, as that film is regarded as the darkest in the “Star Wars” original trilogy.  (And their are story structure similarities as well.)

But don’t get me wrong — “Captain America: Civil War” still brings loads of fun.  It’s an effects-laden, geeky, hero-against-hero, superteam gangfight that is straight out of every Marvel fan’s dreams.  (And, needless to say, it’s far better than its analog this year from DC.)  Tom Holland might be the best Spider-Man yet.  The action is damn pleasing, and the one-liners made me laugh out loud.  (“Made ya look.”)

The bromances (including the broken ones) seemed real to me.  I found myself liking and caring about … Winter Soldier, of all people, and I kept hoping things worked out with his friendship with Cap.  (Sebastian Stan impressed me in the role for the first time.)

What didn’t I like?  Well, I had some small criticisms.  I submit that Black Panther was a complete misfire.  The character concept is boring (he’s an African Bruce Wayne), he seems like an ethnic caricature, and he absolutely is shoehorned into the plot.  When his tough female subordinate physically threatens Black Widow, he smugly opines that a fight between them “would be amusing.”  It felt creepy and sexualized, and maybe like something out of a 1970’s blaxploitation film.  He’s also pretty blandly played by Chadwick Boseman.

Spiderman, too, seems shoehorned in as fan service.  I loved seeing him in the movie, but i wish he’d been written in differently.  (Would Stark really recruit a highschooler to combat seasoned soldiers, one of whom is a superpowered psychotic assassin?)

Next is a criticism that is just a matter of personal taste.  I myself would have preferred a movie that was even darker.  Just think for a minute about the basic story.  We have civilian casualties driving the world’s governments to seek control over its superheroes — then the heroes themselves fighting each other with what must at least be considered possibly deadly force.

That’s a story pretty much brimming over with pathos, if you ask me.  But the movie underplays those plot elements considerably.  We hardly see the civilian casualties that are supposed to drive the plot — and when we do, they’re glimpsed briefly in news footage.  And all but three of the heroes (Tony, Black Panther and Winter Soldier) display any of the anger or sense of betrayal that you would expect from a violent “civil war” among former friends.  And it is violent … members of either faction fire missiles at, or try to crush, their opponents.  Does the MCU’s characteristic banter belong anywhere here?

Finally, this could have been an idea-driven movie like the latter two “Dark Knight” films.  But only Cap and Iron Man seem to genuinely fight about ideology.  Others fight according to personal or professional loyalty, personal revenge, or just because they are a “fan” of either Cap or Tony.  And neither does the script articulate their positions especially well.  Wouldn’t it be perfectly in character for Cap to quote Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin?  “Those who would exchange their liberty for a little temporary safety” and all that?

Oh, well.  I’m probably asking too much from a superhero movie.

This was a hell of a lot of fun.  Go see it.

 

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A review of “Deadpool” (2016)

I’ve never read a single “Deadpool” comic book, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie.  It’s  a fun, creative and …  unconventional entry into the “X-Men” film  franchise that actually made me laugh out loud a few times.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10.

It isn’t high art.  It’s got a thin story based on a rickety plot device, nearly no exposition, and it includes some cartoonish action that I thought was just too over the top, even by comic book movie standards.  (Our hero dodges bullets and survives a stab to the brain.)

It helps to bear in mind this movie’s real purpose — fan service for the infamous niche character’s evident legions of followers.  “Deadpool” isn’t meant to be densely plotted, like “X2: X-Men United” (2003), or genuinely cinematic, like the Christopher Nolan “Batman” films.  It’s a long awaited, R-rated feature film to please loyal fans of this profane, adult-oriented antihero, who would be out of place and necessarily bowlderized in a mainstream superhero-teamup flick. (And I kinda get that — I loved the “Wolverine” comics when I was a kid, and, trust me, his film incarnation is tame compared to its source material.)

“Deadpool” is damn funny.  The movie succeeds by making us laugh.  And combining a raunchy comedy with an “X-Men” film gives it a weird, cool, subversive vibe.  It makes you wonder if Stan Lee would approve of this sort of thing … until you see Lee himself in a cameo at the story’s strip bar.  It’s fun to know that dirty jokes indeed do exist within the “X-Men” movie universe.

The lowbrow jokes made me cringe one or twice (“baby hand.”)  But you’ve got to give the movie credit for delivering its bathroom-wall humor if that’s what the original character is about.  (Are the comics like this?)  Ryan Reynolds is genuinely funny, and his deadpan delivery is perfect.  The film might not have even worked at all with out him.

By the way, this movie actually reminded me a hell of a lot of a long-ago flick that I absolutely loved, but which I’m guessing is largely forgotten — Andrew Dice Clay’s “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” (1990).  That movie also had a foulmouthed, lone, maverick antihero who often broke the fourth wall, and that also made me laugh like hell.  I know it sounds like a strange comparison, but they’re very similar films.

Finally, I’d like to think that the Wade Wilson we see here actually IS a version of the Wade Wilson that we first met in the widely lamented “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009).  (And how can he not be, if that movie is canon?)  If “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) rebooted the timeline, then the Deadpool we’re rooting for here was never recruited, corrupted and experimented upon by William Stryker.  So you can have your cake and eat it, too.

 

 

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