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All reviews - Movies (58) - DVDs (72)

Packs a lot of fun but breaks little new ground

Posted : 10 years, 8 months ago on 9 May 2012 12:39 (A review of The Avengers)

What can I possibly say about The Avengers that you haven't already read somewhere else? Probably nothing. But I'll throw my two cents in anyway...

Over the years Marvel Studios has captured the imagination of both comic-book nerds and normal people alike (I kid, I kid) to an insanely impressive degree. How? Well by spending a shit-load of money, acquiring many top-notch talents, and taking a few well-calculated risks -basically all of which have paid off incredibly. (Only ONE film cost more than it grossed, and it was a co-production that suffered a mere 25-million dollar loss. Bonus points to whomever can name that movie.) By now Marvel has created a movie-making empire that knows no bounds. I predict that summer block-buster super-hero movies will NEVER GO AWAY. Ever. Great news to some. And honestly I don't particularly mind.

So, how did the latest entry into the spandex-hype Olympics go over for me? Just fine. Er, no, I mean it was fine, but that's about it. And really, that's okay.

What I mean to say is that The Avengers is not my new favorite movie and I won't be purchasing a copy on Blu-ray. But it was a mostly enjoyable time at the theater and a pretty good popcorn movie. I still think Thor was a better film and I always will, but I consider The Avengers to be a good deal more impressive than Captain America. Putting it on a par with the Iron Man films might be a stretch, but even as I write this I'm beginning to suspect that possibly none of them would have more or less "staying power" with me than the other. So yeah, you know The Avengers, for all its hype, ranks somewhere in the middle for me.

I will say that, on the whole, the film did a rather impressive job of providing ample screen-time to all its heroes and not short-changing anyone in particular. It needed all of its 142 minutes to do it, but even so, the pacing was never a real issue and I didn't check my watch once. That may sound like modest praise, but I do mean this as a noteworthy achievement. That said, the film felt a bit stale at times in its scene transitions and in terms of tone and content. I'll go ahead and assign some of my trouble with this to Joss Wheedon, whom I simply don't ever foresee becoming one of my personal favorite director/writers. For one thing, I don't find his humor as clever or as... well, funny as most seem to. I did laugh a number of times throughout the film, but generally not with any real amount of mirth. The quips eventually feel showy and bland at the same time, and if even one of you knows what I mean by this then consider me thrilled.

Also, while the final third of the film does deliver some excitement, the action sequences eventually over-stay their welcome by nearly an entire reel and began to feel silly and slightly redundant. I can only watch so many giant flying prehistoric fish robots tear open the sides of Manhattan skyscrapers without a single observable casualty for so long. But again, I'm nit-picking. More exciting were certain instances of in-fighting and smart-ass-ery between our heroes. The way some of our characters' reputations proceed them made for genuinely interesting fare. And the idea of our superheroes questioning one another's abilities and usefulness provided some very entertaining and captivating exchanges. It was often these moments that the film was at its strongest.

But with so much happening on screen, I think the usefulness of a typical review is limited. So from here I'll run through the characters and offer my observations. (Below, from left to right)

Black Widow: The most pleasant surprise of the film. Scarlett Johansson's character wasn't given much to do in Iron Man 2 so hers was the returning character with the most to gain. And indeed it was nice to see Black Widow fleshed out here. (No, I don't mean to suggest a semi-nude Scarlett scene.) I enjoyed her back-story well enough and I believed her character (which actually becomes key and even more fun in a couple of "interrogation" scenes) Johansson looks about as beautiful as I've seen her and she does a very good job with her material.

Thor: Thor remained agreeably dorky in that Norse god way of his, though with fewer "fish out of water" jokes, as this marks his second visit to Earth. Actor Chris Hemsworth once again gives off a charming, good-natured, semi-dullard, but decidedly likeable vibe without sacrificing anything in the way of badassness. This comes as some relief when positioned alongside Tony Stark's -nah, let's face it- Robert Downey Jr's douche-baggery.

Captain America: Still boring, still kind of a tool, still overwhelmingly dull at his core and bland around the edges. If planet Earth could be saved by good-looks alone, Chris Evans would probably be your guy. Hell, he'd likely have his own monument in every major city. Just don't ever ask him to save a movie. In fact, if he begins to show up on screens all over the place, why hell, just give Loki the damn planet. Anyway, the film tries to give Skippy DoRight stuff to do, but as often as not it seems a bit forced. "Sure Captain, your shield can boomerang back to you the way Thor's hammer does. Fine, whatever."

Hawkeye: I'll admit to not knowing shit about Hawkeye going into the film. And guess what? I still don't know the first damn thing about him. Except for he's a master marks-man with a bow and that what looks like two dozen arrows are in fact two thousand. I've enjoyed Jeremy Renner in previous roles. Nothing about his performance really stood out here.

Iron Man: Tony Stark naturally remains the smug, overly-pleased with himself, given most of the "best" lines in the movie, douche-bag that we've all grown to love/hate. Frankly this persona has worn thin with me and I find it increasingly difficult to find much amusement in Downey's portrayal. I understand that he's probably no better or worse here, but I've just grown tired of the character. (Similarly I've never seen Pirates of the Caribbean 3. I'm only slightly more inclined to see Iron Man 3. What? There's 4 Pirate movies? Get outta here.) That said, watching Iron Man fly around and blow stuff up is still really fucking cool looking.

The Hulk: I actually haven't seen either of the Hulk films. So yes, I suck. But if you asked me who my favorite character in The Avengers is, I'd have to say Mark Ruffalo's Dr. Bruce Banner, no contest. Given the somewhat limited screen-time given him, Ruffalo absolutely owns this role as the tortured and emotionally repressed super-genius (who holds a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics). Ruffalo possesses a certain easy world-weariness that lends itself perfectly to the role, as well as suggestion of emotional depth and mystery that one can never quite perceive but is nonetheless always aware of. And the raging green Hulk monster looked really impressive, whether in frantic action moments or standing still. Nice job all around with this character.

This brings us to Nick Fury who I won't say much about other than that from beginning to end I was mostly conscious of Samuel L. cashing a paycheck. Hate me if you must, but nothing really excited me about his character. The fact that he often shares his scenes with Cobie Smulders (how's that for a name?) helped. She plays Agent Maria Hill -essentially the ship's first-mate for all intents and purposes. Looking really, really pretty accounts for any remaining purpose and she excels at it.

Finally we have Loki, our primary villain. Loki still exudes some of that bitter, trench-coat wearing (c'mon, look at his costume-design) high school outcast turned high school shooter persona that we met in last year's Thor. Understand I'm not making light of such atrocities. It's literally one of the major things that come to mind -or mine, anyway- when observing his character. Played by Tom Hiddleston he remains something of a lackluster villain here. Not sure what it is, just lacking that certain something. But he's crazy and jealous and power-hungry, and a little pathetic and that adds up to dangerous. Or just dangerous enough to make the film get by. And certain camera treatments of his character (particularly high-angle shots) helped with any convincing that still needed doing. But I don't think there's much mileage left in his character.

Ah, but that brings me to the mid-credit scene and I wouldn't dare spoil it here. Let's just say I immediately recognized the character in question -which, more than anything else, reveals a certain level of dork in me that I wasn't fully aware of. You know, just in case my uncharacteristically long treatment of this film left any doubt.

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It's all bark

Posted : 11 years, 4 months ago on 19 September 2011 08:33 (A review of Man Bites Dog)

Dark? Yes. Funny? At times. Tedious, overly self-important, and undeserving of its cult-status? Absolutely. The somewhat brilliant concept behind this film would've worked better in a short. The social-satire at the heart of the movie, while initially as intriguing as it is shocking, just doesn't have the legs to hold an audience captive for the duration of a feature film.

Imagine Jonathan Swift's essential essay, "A Modest Proposal" stretched out into a 300+ page historical novel. All of its stinging social criticism, its irreverent snarl would get buried by redundancy. Similarly, with Man Bites Dog, the keen, appalling social indictments that had me nodding my head in reluctant recognition at first, managed by the end to leave me rolling my eyes in weary disinterest.

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They don't make Them like they used to...

Posted : 11 years, 4 months ago on 19 September 2011 08:24 (A review of Them)

While Them is more of a suspense/chase film than anything it would appear that on the whole the French still treat horror as a legitimate genre. Here this is evident in every aspect of the film, from the fantastically understated musical score, to the strikingly gorgeous, earth-tone heavy cinematography. From the beginning the lead actors lend the film a quiet dignity, as the couple (Lucas and Clem) moves very naturally from tenderness to playfulness and back again. They seem intimately comfortable with one another, yet at the same time enchanted as they pass their time at a large, minimally restored, but charming and elegant country house.

This all serves to set up solid ground work so that throughout the second half of the film the audience is able to plant themselves firmly inside the fear that the characters experience. Effective tricks like a bedroom scene shot in real-time (as documented by an unobtrusive digital radio-alarm clock in the corner or the frame) and a taut pace tempered with achingly slow creep-down-the-hallway scenes all work together to unite the viewer with the terror growing inside Lucas and Clementine. Allegedly based on a true story, the film ends the only way it can, I suppose. It may not satisfy gore-hounds, but, within the context of this film, the closing sequences deftly brings a chilling close to this disturbing tale.

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Irreversible (2002) review

Posted : 12 years, 4 months ago on 3 October 2010 11:50 (A review of Irreversible (2002))

If you're reading this, you most likely have an idea by now of what this film is, what it contains, and how it is achieved. Curiosity finally got the better of me too, and I'd be lying if I didn't say a large part of me regrets it. I do not, however, wish to blame the film-maker, as given the content and message behind the movie, I can't think of any way to improve upon the ultra-tragic nightmarish effectiveness of the film. Nope, I simply blame myself. I am not, you see, a film historian, nor am I in the middle of writing a thesis on the impact of film as an artform and it's role in the critique and analysis of violence in modern French society. Alas, I am merely a movie-lover, a somewhat studious, but relatively casual appreciator of film as art, film as storytelling, and film as escapism. And while I hate to admit it, this is one of those rare movies, one of maybe two or three that I've seen, that truly demands stricter credentials than those I have to offer. I guess what I mean to say is that, while this is a very good film, if you don't HAVE to watch it, maybe just don't watch it.

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My Winnipeg review

Posted : 12 years, 4 months ago on 3 October 2010 11:48 (A review of My Winnipeg)

With my Winnipeg, Guy Maddin offers audiences an intensely personal, poetic, and passionate film. The mood of this work wavers from bitterness, nolstagia, regret, blissfulness, and estrangement, but in the end evokes more feelings of LOVE--the real kind, at times murky and complex, at others luminous and simple--than the last 10 films I've watched combined. For in the end, that's what My Winnipeg is- a true labor of love from a serious artist. Viewers will recognize hints of German expressionism, French surrealism, Citizen Kane-esque shots, an entire history of film technique that Maddin employs as he tries to unravel the fibers of his soul, the heart-strings that bind him to his beloved town in a knotty, tangled mess. This is a film that investigates cause and effect, nature and nurture, the truths and untruths we carry with us, how they've shaped us and we them. Please do not take all this to mean that this is one of THOSE CEREBRAL ARTHOUSE FLICKS, the kind most people only pretend to truly enjoy. Instead view this film as an invitation to revisit your own life story, your own geographical and spiritual landscape. Because as Maddin tells us, "the truth is relative".

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I Love You, Man review

Posted : 12 years, 4 months ago on 3 October 2010 11:47 (A review of I Love You, Man)

Not a GREAT film by anymeans, and yet one of the most satisfying comedies of the year. Whether or not the actors or the comedy fits your taste, I think what many fans of this movie like myself truly appreciate is the fact that there isn't a single mean-spirited thing about it. Few recent comedies endear themselves to audiences as much a I Love You, Man does, in part because it contains none of the cynicism with which comedy directors often treat their subject, audience, or both. Instead, this movie compels us to laugh at and with the characters for their humanity. And it's the instantly recognizeable humantiy of the characters that makes the humor so rewarding. Insecurities can often be painful and even immobilizing. They are real things that we all cary around with us. But when confronted thoughtfully and kindly they can be softened, made manageable, even celebrated. We become able to look at our hang ups, our self-consciousness, and respond with a healthy "YES!". And that's what this film does as well as any.

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Hatchet review

Posted : 12 years, 4 months ago on 3 October 2010 11:46 (A review of Hatchet)

Um...maybe it's that I've lately and almost exclusively been watching a lot of intense, disturbing, and usually foreign horror/thrillers, but I found Hatchet to be a breath of fresh air. This movie certainly has its flaws--its almost as though the director made what turned out to be a pretty solid film by accident-- but it succeeds on many levels as well. As you may have heard this movie doesn't take itself too seriously, and in this case that attitude works in its favor. Sure, some comical lines don't come off, but enough of them struck the right chords to keep me amused. There are a few faces that comedy lovers will instantly recognize, a Very pretty face that I didn't recognize (the one that doesn't show us her nipples) and of course a few of THE faces of eighties horror. And it is eighties slasher/chase horror that this film is paying homage to. The gore and makeup effects are acceptable, and sometimes impressive, while the villian itself ought to please B-horror fans. Overall, this is a fun, slick film with some modest scares and and a suprising amount of goofy, well delivered laugh-getters-- enough to make you forget that the thrills never quite achieved awesomeness. Not all films have to set out to be GREAT and oddly enough to say, this one benefits from never aiming for it in the first place. See it before the sequel comes out so that you can say you remember when the Hatchet Series was good.

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After Hours review

Posted : 12 years, 4 months ago on 3 October 2010 11:42 (A review of After Hours)

Not sure how this one got by me for so long, but glad I finally wised up. Imagine the lead character, Paul, as a straight-laced, nine-to-fiver pinball bouncing around helplessly and erratically through the bumpers, shoots, and ramps of SoHo New York, and you've given yourself a pretty good feel for the pace and unpredictability of this film. Strong and quirky, yet authentic, performances highlight nearly every scene, delivered by a talanted ensemble cast. Over the course of a night the characters weave in and out of each others lives, propelling the story forward with relentless energy. Scorsese's artistic vision seldom takes any breaks either, as the camera skillfully showcases the shadowy charms of the director's beloved city. Watching the movie, I never felt that Scorcese was exploiting SoHo for its eccentricities, but rather humorfully celebrating them, all the while responding to the often voiced complaint, "New York City is just too big! It's too anonymous." As the coincidental interconnections between Paul and the rest of the characters mount, so Paul's nightmare grows. Scorsese seems to be responding, with a sly smile, "Ok, sure. But the alternative is worse!"

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Red Eye review

Posted : 12 years, 4 months ago on 3 October 2010 11:41 (A review of Red Eye)

Sadly, the quality of this film actually imitates today's typical flying experience. As anyone who's traveled by commercial plane in the last 9 years knows, once you make it through the dignity-stripping hassels of passing through security, the worst is over. So goes it for the first 10 minutes of this film. But alas, we still have to get thru the takeoff--a tense, unsavory sensation for many-- before we're up in the air and really moving toward where we want to be. Liken this to the introductory scenes between our two leads in the film: a disagreeable, naseau-inducing series of exchanges between the usually charming McAdams, and the normally compelling Murphy. Here the dynamic falters up and down between bland and repellent. The film finally begins to find its stride as the plane reaches cruising altitude-- The actors settle into their strenghts as their characters move toward their true essences. Motives are revealed, tenacity is tested, and the tone becomes more and more menacing. Any satisifaction is short lived, however. As the movie reaches the final act the film takes one final turn for the worst. In the end I felt much as though I'd arrived safely at my destination, only to discover my baggage was lost.

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Tideland review

Posted : 12 years, 4 months ago on 3 October 2010 11:39 (A review of Tideland)

Gilliam's pretentious disclaimer (just let the work speak for itself) at the start of the DVD feature began what would be a very tedious two hours. His intro leads us to believe that this is an intensely personal work that aims to discover his inner-child. Fine. No matter what the medium I respect when an artist is first and foremost working for him/herself. However, in the case of film there are MANY others involved in the creative process, not to mention the audience. (And with film, perhaps the audience should be considered. If I don't appreciate a painting I simply move on to the next thing my museum ticket grants me access to. Walking out of a film entails a little more sacrifice.) It frustrates me when I feel a director is focused entirely too much on entertaining his own interests and entirely too little on satisfying those of the audience. I think that's exactly what Gilliam is guilty of here. It's as though he's so wrapped up in this nightmarish fairytale/resiliance of the child-soul fable, complete with tilted camera effects, overhead shots, layering of animation atop live-action, and myriad other cute tricks, that somewhere along the way he forgot to produce a decent film. The direction and storytelling struggles to blend surrealism and realism effectively, so that the audience is left with charactatures rather than real people, little sense of structural space, and a vague feeling at several points that the film has simply lost it's way. But I guess that's fine, because it certainly doesn't seem to be in any hurry to get anywhere.

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