Friday, April 27, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War


Remember the days of Tony Stark at a press conference saying "I am Iron Man," or Nick Fury's "I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative," or the alien invasion of New York in the *first* Avengers movie? All that feels like so long ago now, even though the latter was only six years ago. And they were simpler days too. 

If you thought the first Avengers or even Age of Ultron was ambitious, imagine that taken to the umpteenth degree. The first Avengers film put six heroes united together. At the time, that was incredibly ambitious and it felt amazing that they pulled it off so well. Now? Going into this movie and coming out of it, one looks back and it feels like child's play now. 

Make no mistake, this is definitely one of the most ambitious movie events of all time. It takes almost every hero we've seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, and even some of their sidekicks, and brings them together for a film that has so many heroes in it... one probably has to wonder if doing such a project justice is even possible. Well, they do manage to pull that part off, more or less. Most of the heroes do get their fair share of screen time and their fair share of awesomeness. 

Anyway, remember the Avengers mid-credits scene that introduced the big bad Thanos? Who showed up a couple more times across the scope of the series but never really did much? Well, he's finally here. And he's decided it's time to collect all the Infinity Stones and put them in his Infinity Gauntlet so he can basically shape the universe to his liking. And that basically means... time to unite *all* the Avengers. And that includes the Guardians of the Galaxy. Because they're gonna need everybody. 

There are a lot of adjectives to describe this film--across multiple spectrums. In some ways, I still don't know how I really feel about it. This film is awesome, visceral, funny, brutal, shocking, exciting, and heartbreaking. And even a little thought-provoking on occasion, of all things. And while it suffers from some of the flaws of the franchise it's part of, it's also daring and bold in some ways that few other superhero movies in general have ever dared to be. 

This is a film that starts the action basically immediately--and almost never stops. We get a couple of brief quiet scenes--namely a moment between Vision and Scarlet Witch--but beyond that, this film almost never lets up. Even if there's not necessarily an action set piece occurring, there's always some important conversation going on. Really, the only thing that happens that actually isn't that interesting (at least relatively) is a side quest of sorts with Thor, Rocket and Groot involving the Asgardian getting himself a new weapon with the help of a Peter Dinklage character made giant through the use of some goofy-looking CGI (which is strange, since most of the visual effects in the movie are incredible). Even that kind of pays off though, since the weapon that is created for Thor is pretty awesome. 

And the action sequences are indeed incredible. One of the opening set pieces involving a fight between Stark, Strange, and Spider-Man vs Thanos' minions is quite exciting to watch. Another one that takes place on Thanos' former home-world is quite memorable too, in part due to the smartness of it. (By the way, those who were complaining about some of the choppy editing in Civil War, which was also directed by the Russo Brothers who directed this movie? That has been fixed.) There's even a massive battle near the end that brings to mind Lord of the Rings, of all things--and it's pretty awesome. 

The biggest pleasant surprise of the movie is Thanos himself. Given what (little) we had seen of him so far in previous movies and the trailers, there was little reason to believe he was going to be much more than a "destroy the world/universe" villain--probably better than Justice League's Steppenwolf, but nothing to write home about. Turns out he might actually be the most interesting/complex villain (besides Loki) in the entire MCU so far--the wait for him has paid off big time. He's still obviously insane and evil, but there's an unexpected depth to him. It helps that Josh Brolin gives an excellent performance. (And that's another thing: this film has one of the biggest ensemble casts ever, and virtually every one of them gives their all in this, as you'd expect.) 

And then there's the ending. Obviously, no spoilers shall be spoken here. But it's one with impact, and it's also quite abrupt--stuff happens, then about four minutes later it's over. See you in May 2019 for Part Two! It's also an ending that I have mixed feelings on. While on one hand I want to give the writers credit for going into territory that many may have thought they were too scared to go to, I also find it a tad annoying that it's clearly engineered to make you want to come back for more--the word "cliffhanger" definitely applies, and is arguably even an understatement. I also want to give credit for there being some cinematic brilliance of types you probably don't expect out of the genre, but then I also have to criticize it for happening all so fast. 

Make no mistake: you are not prepared for this movie. You'll think you are, but you aren't. It's pretty much impossible to be prepared for the practically nonstop action, or for the more play-to-emotions side of the film. Of course, people who are not all that invested in the MCU at this point may just find the overwhelming spectacle too much and end up being bored when it's all said and done and hardly care about the transpired events. For everyone else, this film is a rare experience. Not necessarily a masterpiece, but definitely a rare experience. And even that is quite the achievement. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

World War Z


Some people like zombies, some people don't. I generally subscribe to the latter opinion. I am fine with it if they're able to put together a good story that just so happens to involve zombies. However, this is not of those stories or movies. This is apparently actually based off a book--or at least, the book's title anyway. 

What's the plot to this one? Well, a zombie outbreak starts. Basically literally out of nowhere. Gerry Lane and his family are driving through downtown Philly... stuck in traffic... until something ahead of them blows up, a cop tells them to stay in their car... and then gets run over by a garbage truck that's been taken over by a zombie and is wreaking havoc. So after escaping Philly with his family, Brad Pitt's character has to go search for a cure because... uh... because he's the main star, I guess. (By the way... we *never* find out what started the outbreak.) 

Those first 20-25 minutes or so which involve the start of the outbreak and Gerry fighting to survive with his family actually aren't that bad. In fact, they're pretty exciting and intense. Beyond that, however, we have... the infamous Israel scene where fast zombies climb on top of each other to form a ludicrous looking human wave/pyramid to scale a wall. And a plane crash scene. And... not much else. 

This is actually probably the biggest problem with this movie: the inconsistent tone and pacing. This is probably in due part to the insanely troubled production, but we go from an exciting beginning to some detective work with some typical zombie horror tropes and a bit of shaky cam, and then the action kicks up again for a little bit. And then we get to the final act which is actually rather boring by comparison, and has an insanely dumb "resolution." And the ending is confusing. Is the war over or not? It sure looks like it's more or less over (or at least the worst of it is), but the narrator claims it's only just begun. I suppose that's just to set up for a sequel, though--which will hopefully never happen.

Seriously, there's not much to this movie. The plot is stupid. The zombies themselves are rather over-the-top and don't help matters here. The cast is pretty thin; aside from Brad Pitt, you have Peter Capaldi, Matthew Fox, and Raina from Agents of SHIELD... and that's about it. And those other three names aren't even in the film that much. And although I kind of want to cut the director some slack because of the troubled production, it's Marc Forster, who also directed Quantum of Solace (the worst Daniel Craig James Bond movie), and I'm thinking the guy should never be allowed to direct an action movie again. 

The film might have actually kind of worked if it had stuck to Brad Pitt's character fighting to survive with his family. Maybe then we could have actually had some more developed characters and it could have turned into more of a family survival movie in the zombie apocalypse. Because that first short bit of the movie is sort of promising. Not great or anything, but at least it's interesting. 

Now obviously there would have to be low expectations going into this movie in the first place. But even in a subgenre like this, that doesn't excuse an apparent lack of effort or just messy writing. In more lowbrow parts like this of the action/adventure genre, one probably expects just to be entertained for a couple of hours and not given a masterpiece. This film doesn't even give you that. It doesn't even work as a popcorn action movie. Unless you're a massive fan of the zombie genre, this is a waste of time. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018



One of the biggest letdowns of the decade has been the "fall" of Pixar. Sure, they technically haven't really truly fallen. But they hadn't had an A-grade movie since Toy Story 3 in 2010. (Sorry, Inside Out fans.) A few of them have been pretty good, but still not quite great--and therefore not up to the same standard as the greatness we were given for so long from them. And a few of them have just been average--which, by Pixar standards, is not good at all. 

I wasn't really expecting Coco to break the rut and be a true return to form. I was interested in the "Dia de Muertos/Day of the Dead" concept from the beginning, but the story revolving around music and a kid stuck in a strict "anti-music" family did not sound that interesting. And given the last several years of Pixar, I had no reason to expect anything better than "good but not great." Right? Right? 

The story still does revolve around the kid (Miguel) who's stuck in a strict anti-music family. At first, it looks about as ridiculous as it sounds--the grandmother even goes after random innocent passerby who are playing music outside the house. (I guess it's intended for laughs, but it's really just stupid.) Matters aren't really helped by the fact that Miguel *does* have a passion for music and has an idol who just happens to be dead--which makes the film seem like a ripoff of Ratatouille at first. I'll be frank: while the film is interesting from the start, things don't really kick off until Miguel accidentally gets transported to the Land of the Dead itself and has to get back home. I won't say much else about the plot, but it gets a lot better from here. 

Yes, this is Pixar's best film in years. This also seems like their most inspired one in a long time. Despite a somewhat rough start that is unfortunately required to kick-start the plot and then the story taking a little while to move even after that due to required exposition and background information, the plot is actually quite excellent ultimately. For a while we're more or less taken on a journey through the Land of the Dead as Miguel seeks out his idol and ancestor. While the plot takes a little while to get moving here, it works because we're getting introduced to a whole new world/dimension (plus the different culture). Plus, plenty of exposition is needed to get to the final act--and thus to the actual major story events. 

It certainly helps that the Land of the Dead is gorgeous from an animation perspective--Pixar has been outdoing themselves the last few years in that department, and this film is no exception. There is an insane level of detail, and quite a lot of color differentiation that works without being distracting. It also helps that there's a fair amount of slapstick humor involving the skeletal humans that dwell in the Land of the Dead (literal jaw dropping). 

The story really does take its turn to fully shine in the final act, though. While someone may be on alert for a plot twist due to the amount of time left when it appears it's time to resolve things, they still manage to surprise with the actual plot twists that do happen. And after an exciting climactic act, the conclusion is very fulfilling--and things are wrapped up also a little emotionally, in typical Pixar fashion. 

Aside from the somewhat annoying start, there's not a whole lot else to gripe about. The main song "Remember Me" is a bit overplayed even in the course of the movie, but it works when it's actually important for it to do so. There's a couple of other musical numbers that just kind of feel like placeholders--they should appeal to mariachi fans, but are still more forgettable regardless. It doesn't help if you're the kind of viewer who doesn't care for musical numbers in movies (and I am one of those viewers). 

Coco may not quite be among the elite of Pixar films, but it's still a welcome return to form that we haven't seen from them in some time. It was hard to tell if Pixar was running out of ideas or if they just didn't care as much anymore, but this movie still proves there's some of their old selves still left in the tank. Hopefully they can keep this up and continue to delivery high-quality animated movies that basically anyone can enjoy. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows


Remember that Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr? Well, it was good and successful enough that there was a sequel. Of course many have probably already forgotten about those movies in the wake of the success of Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock. But there is still a certain group of those who are likely to find enjoyment in Guy Ritchie's version--if they like the idea of Sherlock being as good of a fighter as he is a detective. 

That first movie was a pretty fun ride, but there were some kinks to be worked out--most notably the villain and the fact that the antagonistic group he was affiliated with was a weird supernatural magic death cult or something (which felt so out of place in a Holmes story). The pacing was a little off too. In this version, both of those are dramatically improved upon. 

In this film, we go straight from Lord Blackwood of the Occult Illuminati... to Professor Moriarty himself, Holmes' arch-nemesis. The only problem with that idea is that if a third one ever happens, they'll have a tough time topping Moriarty. This one seems to take place some time after the first movie, because Holmes and Moriarty have apparently been at odds for a while now and aware of each other's existence--yet they have never met. Moriarty is getting fed up with Sherlock's meddling and is also closer to carrying out his plan to... um... blow up buildings. Okay, Moriarty's plan is less convoluted than Blackwood's, but it still is indeed a bit convoluted. 

If the first movie (though enjoyable) fell a little short of its potential due to the lack of a gripping villain/conflict, this one does much better in that regard. Moriarty is just in general a much more threatening antagonist (played pretty well by Jared Harris)--there is a sort of terrifying calm about him. And the action scenes in this movie are both more well-done here and more tense. The two standout scenes are an excellent train sequence and a forest chase scene--the latter of which includes some of the best use of slow motion I've ever seen. 

This movie has a rather interesting goal--it attempts to both be intellectual enough to keep the more demanding viewers interested and yet still have enough of the qualities of a more popcorn-action-esque movie to keep others interested. It's not executed perfectly; there are still a couple of slow points here and there. The gypsy character may technically be somewhat important to the plot, but she's still one of the most forgettable things about this movie. 

Still, this Sherlock Holmes sequel gets right some of what its predecessor didn't--but still more or less keeps parts what did work in the first one without repeating itself too much. And this one's just more compelling in general. Holmes and Moriarty's battle of wits is infinitely more interesting than some occult guy supposedly killing people with magic when we know it's not magic. Moriarty makes a remark to the effect of when two foes like themselves collide, there is "collateral damage." Well, the collateral damage and overall threat here feel more real. Ritchie seems to understand better in this installment than the first one what needs to be done in a Holmes movie with the kind of parameters he's already set. Hopefully one day they'll finally get around to a third one of these.