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AVENGERS: The Never-Ending Game

Opening tonight at a multi-plex near us all:

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

(Dirs. Anthony Russo & Joe Russo)
We’re now 22 films, and three phases into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began in 2008 with IRON MAN.

Apparently all three phrases are now known as “the Infinity Saga” since they largely concern the McGuffin of those glowing multi-colored Infinity Stones that major villain Thanos has been after since early in the franchise. So this is a specific storyline thats gone through most of a series that’s well into the double digits. Talk about never-ending, huh?

But to many casual movie-goers, that background matters less than if this blockbuster behemoth starring every Marvel character ever (well, close to it anyway) is worth its bloated three hour running time as the mega movie event of 2019 (at least until STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER comes along).

Well, I believe both hardcore and casual fans will be satisfied by ENDGAME. It often plays as a greatest hits of the series, and gives every Avenger and guest star their moment to shine. And that’s a lot of moments as there are lots and lots of characters to cover.

In the last entry, INFINITY WAR, Thanos (a CGI-ed Josh Brolin), having finally gathered all the stones, snapped his fingers, and made half the universe, including half of the Avengers, crumble into red dust.

Five years later, the characters that survived the snap including Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) – who luckily are the leads, plot to attempt time travel in order to retrieve the Infinity Stones so that they can undo what Thanos has done.

Despite Ant-Man saying that “BACK TO THE FUTURE is a bunch of bullshit,” our superheroes run around through scenes from previous movies, most notably the capturing of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in the first Avengers, in a manner that heavily recalls BACK TO THE FUTURE 2. These sequences are a lot of fun, and touching at times like when Downey Jr.’s Tony running into his father Howard Stark (John Slattery) in 1970.

After all of these time hopping shenanigans which, aside from BTTF also draw from many other movies that draw on the device (at one point, Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes/War Machine even reels off a list of time travel films including TIME COP!), we come to the big ass battle finale which, to me, apes the finale of yet another time travel movie, TIME BANDITS, but I won’t tell you how here.

Shit gets real as a couple of major players are killed off, and the somber finality of it all is plenty palpable. I mean, sure they can always reboot these characters later, but it’ll be with different actors/actresses and it just won’t be the same.

Yes, ENDGAME is way too long, but I guess it had to be to fit in all of these people and their individual storylines. But why have so much of Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon, when he never says anything that’s particularly funny? Much better is Rudd, whose comic charm goes a long way, and Ruffalo who spends pretty much the whole flick inCGI-ed Hulk mode, because he finally found a way to work with his green alter ego.

There are so many characters that the epilogues for many of them just go on and on in the last half. That goes for much the chaotic climax too.

CAPTAIN MARVEL is still playing in many theaters, but Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers is prominently featured here, maybe because she’s pointing the way towards phase four since all these old-timers are fading.

While I may consider it extremely overstuffed, I bet most audiences will find AVENGERS: ENDGAME to be a satisfying three course meal. Once again, the MCU has served up an impressive, blindingly shiny platter of their choice concoctions which scores of fans will be feasting on until, well, again, the next STAR WARS.


More later…

CAPTAIN MARVEL: Spectacularly Adequate But The Cat Steals The Show

Now playing everywhere:
(Dirs. Anna Boden & Ryan K. Fleck, 2018) 

The 21st movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduces a new character, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Actually, a new old character as she’s been around for 50 years, so she’s new to the MCU, and new to me. I’ve, of course, heard of Captain Marvel, but didn’t know about her back story, or powers, or, well, anything really.

But I’ve been here before. Whenever they put out a new movie featuring characters I wasn’t previously familiar with, I head to Wikipedia and learn the basics so I at least have an inkling of understanding going in.

In this origin story, we are introduced to the lead character played by Brie Larson as Vers, a member of Starforce (that’s Starforce, not Spaceforce) on the planet, Hala, which is inhabited by the alien race, Kree. We also meet Vers’ mentor, Yon Rogg (Jude Law) who is training her to fight the shape-shifting, green-skinned Skrulls, who have been endlessly warring with the Kree.

Larson’s Vers, who is plagued with visions involving Annette Bening as Supreme Intelligence (that’s her actual character name, well, one of her character names here), gets captured by the Skrulls, and escapes in a pod that crash lands in 1995 Los Angeles (through the roof of Blockbuster Video, mind you). From here on out, the movie’s soundtrack is all ‘90s hits – Nirvana’s “Come as You Are,” Salt-N-Pepa’s “Whatta Man,” Elastica’s “Connection,” Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains,” etc. (Larson even wears a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt at one point).

Soon after, S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and Phillip J. Coulson (Clark Gregg), show up on the scene, both digitally de-aged (there’s always gotta be some digital de-aging in these flicks, you know?). Then there is simultaneously a foot chase on the LA Metro, a car chase, and a bunch of furious fist fights. Fury and Vers team up to, you know, save the world from an alien threat, the twist being that the ones we thought were the good guys may not be. Not that that is much of a twist.

Danvers and Fury find one of her old friends, fellow fighter pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), who joins them on the adventure, and Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), who turns out to be not so bad, also comes along for the ride – oh, and to save his fellow Skrulls. Oh, and the McGuffin is once again the Tesseract (it’s been in around half of these Marvel movies), a cosmic, blue-glowing cube that can control matter and energy.

Vers begins to figure out something that most moviegoers will figure out right off that bat – she was an Airforce fighter pilot named Carol Danvers (the “Vers” come from her dogtag getting fractured in a plane crash that gave her her powers (I’m not going to explain anything more than that).

It’s a zippy adventure that fun to watch, even if you can pretty much guess everything right before it happens. The one element I didn’t expect was a cat named Goose who totally steals the show. 

The cat stows away on the military plane that Danvers and Fury commandeered, and even follows them up into space. That’s where we learn that Goose isn’t a cat, he’s a Flerkin, which are alien creatures that resemble ordinary earth cats except when they shoot masses of tentacles out of their mouths, or swallow whole objects or people.

Goose could be seen as an update of Jonesy from ALIEN – think orange cat on a spaceship – but if Jonesy could annihilate hoards of attackers. Now, Jackson is always really funny, but I’m not sure he’s ever been as funny as he is here talking cute and lovey to Goose.

I like Larson quite a bit, and think she won the Oscar for ROOM for good reason. She puts in a solidly stoical performance in the title role here, but sometimes I felt maybe she was taking it all a bit too seriously. No matter, the character still works despite than when I squint she looks like Supergirl. The plot is no great shakes, story beats can be seen way in advance, and some of the MCU tropes seem a little stale, but it’s still a fun superhero movie with enough cleverness to keep most entertained.

The audience I was in for this film were with it big-time because the regular roster of MCU characters that fill in the margins of the studio logo was replaced with a montage of images of Stan Lee’s many cameos throughout the franchise. It got big applause – the first time I’ve seen a logo get that kind of response. Of course, there was also his obligatory cameo later in the film (he had shot a bunch of cameos for upcoming films before he passed last November).

Except for Goose the Flerkin, CAPTAIN MARVEL is, at best, spectacularly adequate. That still means, like most Marvel movies, it’s well worth the price of ticket. Just make sure that, like always, you stay for the end credits stingers. But, of course, you know that; everybody knows that.


More later…

Film Babble Blog’s Top 10 Movies Of 2015 (With Spillover)



As the Academy Award nominations are going to be announced tomorrow, I thought it was finally time to unveil my top 10 movies of the last year. I saw over a hundred movies on the big screen in 2015, and I found it to be a good, not great, year for film. 


There are a number of notable films I haven’t seen yet, but, of course, you can never see ‘em all. So let’s get right to my favorite motion picture picks of ’15, in descending order:



10. ROOM (Dir. 

Lenny Abrahamson)




Like I said in my review last fall, if Brie Larson doesn’t get a Oscar nomination for her harrowing role as a woman who’s been held captive in a backyard shed for five years taking care of her five-year old son (the result of a rape by her abductor), I’ll be very offended. The kid (Jason Tremblay) was pretty 
“on” too.


9. THE MARTIAN (Dir. Ridley Scott) Astronaut and can-do acheiver Matt Damon sciences the shit out of his predicament of being stuck on Mars, and it makes for an inspirational epic of cerebral sci-fi. Read my review here.

8. INSIDE OUT (Dirs. Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen)


It’s been five years since a Pixar film made my top 10, and this one definitely wins a placing because, as I wrote last summer, it pulls every heartstring there is.

7. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
(Dir. Quentin Tarantino)



The Eighth Film by Quentin Tarantino, as it’s identified in its opening credits (who else does that?), is his most divisive work for sure, but its bloody Western mix of THE THING with RESERVOIR DOGS, with a splash of Agatha Christie, really entertained the bejesus out of me. Here’s why.

6. ANOMALISA (Dir. Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman)



A stop-motion emotional masterpiece from the guy who brought you BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK. And it’s the second film on my top 10 that has Jennifer Jason Leigh in it! My review of this delightful yet unnerving piece of high art will be posted when it opens in my area later this month.


5. CAROL (Dir. Todd Haynes)



Todd Haynes’ film follow-up to one of my favorites of 2007 (I’M NOT THERE) is a sophisticated, complicated, and immaculately artful look at a lesbian love affair in the oppressive era of 1950s New York City. The performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are as pitch perfect as their setting. Read my review.

4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
(Dir. George Miller)



As I wrote in my review last May, George Miller’s fourth entry in the MAD MAX series is a “brutally brilliant blast”; “an orgy of fire-breathing cars, pole-swingers, chainsaws, steampunk thugs, and gas fire explosions all given a heavy metal soundtrack by a masked musician with a flame-throwing electric guitar atop a vehicle piled with amplifiers.” And it’s even more awesome than that sounds.
3. SICARIO (Dir. 

Denis Villeneuve)




As modern action movies go, as much as I loved MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, this superbly dark cartel counterinsurgency thriller got to me more. The terrifically intense turns by Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro have a lot to do with that. My review.

2. THE REVENANT
(Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)



Leonardo DiCaprio deserves (and will probably get) the Oscar for what he went through in the punishing wild here, but I predictTom Hardy will at least get a nomination too for his supporting part. The film itself, as well as Iñárritu, may also get nods, but coming after last year’s win for BIRDMAN, I wouldn’t bet on it. My review.


1. SPOTLIGHT (Dir. Tom McCarthy)



Tom McCarthy’s fifth film, his follow-up to last year’s infamous Adam Sandler flop THE COBBLER (WTF?), which focuses on the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team into the scandal of child molestation and systematic cover-up within the Catholic Church, is a clean, precise procedural about a extremely messy, and unsettling subject. 


The perfect storm of an excellent cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Liev Schreiber; a sharp, involving screenplay, along with its top notch editing, score, and Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography all collide together to make this my #1 movie of 2015. I’ll be shocked if the Academy doesn’t reward multiple categories for this one. My review.

Spillover: In no particular order, here’s a bunch of other 2015 favorites:

LOVE & MERCY (Dir. Bill Pohlad)


THE BIG SHORT (Dir. Adam McKay)



STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (F. Gary Gray)



AMY (Dir. Asif Kapadia)



THE END OF THE TOUR (Dir. James Ponsoldt)


Legacyquel Tie: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (Dir. J.J. Abrams) / CREED (Dir. Ryan Coogler)

STEVE JOBS (Dir. Danny Boyle)

THE WALK (Dir. Robert Zemeckis)


EX MACHINA (Dir. Alex Garland)


THE SALT OF THE EARTH
(Dirs. Juliano Ribeiro Salgado & Wim Wenders)

WHILE WE’RE YOUNG
(Dir. Noah Baumbach)



MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie) – Hey, it’s a lot better than SPECTRE!


So, those are my picks for 2015. Let’s see what Oscar has to say about it tomorrow morning.


More later…

ROOM: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at both multiplexes and indie art houses:

ROOM (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson, 2015)


Brie Larson’s sturdy performance in SHORT TERM 12 is considered by critics to be her breakthrough, but it’s her powerful work in ROOM, Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s award-winning 2010 novel, that should make the actress a household name.

Larson plays Joy Newsome, a young woman living under horrifying conditions. For the last seven years Joy has been trapped in a sound-proofed, concrete garden shed in the backyard of the house of her abductor only known as Old Nick (Sean Bridges).

With Joy is her son, five-year-old Jack (first-time child actor Jacob Tremblay), the result of one of many rapes that Joy has suffered over the years. To Jack, the small, filthy space they live in is their entire world. Joy has maintained this illusion by telling Jack that there is nothing beyond the four walls of “room” except outer space, and that what he sees on their crappy beat-up TV is make believe.

However, the day has come for Joy to tell Jack the truth, because she’s devised a desperate plan for escape. Joy fakes Jack’s death, and rolls him up in a rug for Old Nick to take away in his pick-up truck. Joy instructs Jack to wriggle out, jump from the bed of the truck and run for help.

The plan is successful and Jack is able to direct the police to the shed, and mother and son are finally free. Jack is astounded at how big and limitless the real world outside the room is, while Joy struggles with rehabilitation.

Joy discovers that her parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy) have divorced, and that her mother has a new boyfriend (Tom McCamus). Without spelling it out, Macy conveys how uncomfortable he is with having a grandson who is a product of rape.

Needing financial help, Joy agrees to do a prime time interview, but it doesn’t go well because of the glibly insensitive questions posed by the show’s host (Wendy Crewson).

This leads to Joy spiraling down into depression, and attempting suicide. Jack, still wide-eyed at his surroundings, gets his long hair, which he calls his “strong,” cut by his grandmother, and sends his ponytail to his mother in the hospital. This gesture helps in Joy’s recovery, and we see that once again Jack has saved his mother.

Abrahamson, whose film FRANK (the one with Michael Fassbender as a musician who wears a giant papier-mache head) was one of my favorite films of last year, handles this material with great poise. Every scene seems to have profound purpose, especially one late in the film where Joy and Jack revisit room for closure, though composer Stephen Rennick’s score lays it on a bit too thick at times.

I was incredibly moved by ROOM. It’s a durable drama that has moments of gripping suspense – i.e. the escape sequence – but it is its tender concern for its characters that will stay with me the most. It’s largely due to the stellar acting of the mother-son duo.

Tremblay puts in an impressive naturalistic performance for a 5-year old, although his voice-over narration, a totally unnecessary device here, gets a little icky.

Larson, who may be best known to mainstream movie-goers as Amy Schumer’s sister in TRAINWRECK, excels as Joy. One can feel her strained pain in her every expression, and all of her interactions with Tremblay shine with authenticity.

It’s flawless work, a career best, and if she doesn’t get nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, I’ll be very offended.


ROOM’s dark disturbing first half is exceedingly effective, but it’s the way that its second half earns its uplift that makes it a fully rounded, and satisfying emotional experience.

More later…