Saturday, June 15, 2019

Shaft (2019)

I like music and movie themes are always a favorite, but you can count on one hand the number of movie themes that can single-handedly rescue a movie from mediocrity and make you care about something that is average. Whatever residuals Lalo Schiffrin gets for Mission Impossible, he has earned ten times over for that movie series. Isaac Hayes is gone but his estate should get a big check for making these movies work as well as they do. As much credit as I want to give to the theme song however, there is one other essential component that also fills the film with the value that it has, the lead actor. In the 1970s Richard Roundtree became a star playing the part of the cool private dick who is a sex machine to all the chicks, and he swaggered through three films magnificently. I don't really know why it took 19 years to get back to the character after the 2000 version of the film, because the lead actor then and now makes the theme song real.

Samuel L. Jackson may not have matinee idol good looks like Roundtree did, but he has all the attitude and charisma needed to power a movie like this. I have seen Jackson act. In "Pulp Fiction", "Jackie Brown" and "Jungle Fever", he is a real character with quirks unique to each story, but in a lot of films he plays "Samuel L. Jackson" the poet laureate of the "F" word and the bad ass with a mouth that won't quit. "Shaft" gives him the chance to use those basic cartoon skills in a pretty standard action film, but elevate that action to something more entertaining than gunfights and car chases. Jackson makes the movie he is in fun because he is having fun being in it. This is his fourth film released this year and it's only June.

The twist in this version is that Shaft is passing the baton so to speak to his son, an MIT nerd who does data for the FBI. Jessie Usher plays J.J. Shaft as if he is a newb in the big world because he has stepped out from behind his computer screen and stepped into Harlem proper. There is a lengthy backstory about the relationship, or lack thereof, between father and son. Shaft doesn't really know his child and finding out his faults and strengths are the main beats of the story. The movie is filled with offhand putdowns and double takes as Shaft tries to connect with his long lost son. Regina hall gets a female role that is much more substantial than any other in the franchise history, although it is still mostly a side part and primarily for comedic purposes. As a helicopter Mom, who never really stopped loving the man who was her son's father, she has kept the two apart, so naturally she is aghast when they reconnect. Usher let's his wardrobe do most of the acting in the first part of the movie but as he and Jackson begin to settle into a relationship, he is much more effective.

The plot deals with the usual investigation of a death that is actually connected to illegal drug trafficking. Because the story is in a hurry to get Junior and Dad back together, it is a bit rushed, and I'll be damned if I can explain why the victim was killed in the first place, but none of that matters. What matters is that there are insults, badass behavior and some fun fight scenes. Director Tim Story does not have a track record that inspires much faith in an action film. His two Fantastic Four Movies are not very popular among the comic book geeks. I don't really know his comedies, having skipped them entirely. He does seem to understand the milieu of  urban comedy and that all works in his favor because this is the Shaft movie that is supposed to be funny. There were occasional lines in the other films that would amuse but clearly this movie deserves it's classification as a comedy on IMDB.

One final note, this movie also features Richard Roundtree in the last quarter of the film. In the
previous version he was supposedly Uncle John Shaft, and the part was a brief cameo. The producers made a wise decision to make his role more central to the story and characters and it gives us a lot more to care about and laugh at as well. "Shaft 2019" may not be the classic that the original film was, but it is an entertaining night at the theater (or in front of your TV if you are not in the U.S.), so enjoy it and don't think to hard about it. Just let the song wash over you like a warm memory of awesomeness past, and listen to Jackson go off, you should be fine.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Aladdin (2019)

The long daggers have been out for this movie since it was announced. How dare Disney remake "Aladdin", how dare Will Smith get cast as the Genie, What the hell is Guy Richie doing as the director of this movie?  The purists were waiting with their skepticism and animus and you could here snarky comments everywhere. The same criticisms that have been made by people who hated on "Beauty and the Beast", "Alice in Wonderland" and "Dumbo".  While admittedly the last two were misfires, "Beauty and the Beast" managed to catch fire at the box office and please a lot of fans of that movie. "The Jungle Book" also managed to overcome early doubts and be a critical as well as commercial success. So the question now is which category is this film going to end up in, Disney Magic pile or Tim Burton tinkering wreck? ...I'm going to make you wait a little while longer to find out what I thought. First, I have an answer to a question that many have asked, why is Disney on a remake kick.?

Obviously it is ultimately about money.  Disney is a corporation that employs thousands, has millions of investors, and is the largest movie studio in the world right now. Before the mid eighties and after the death of founder Walt Disney, the studio suffered a long nearly fallow period as a film business. They put out family films that were cookie cutter product with a limited vision, and the new animation projects like "Robin Hood, The Rescuers and The Black Cauldron" were creatively weak. The company had relied on their seven year marketing of the vault films to keep the studio afloat. So what if "The Rescuers" under-performs, we have Pinocchio to play in the summer. When you have a golden goose in the cupboard dropping eggs every seven to ten years, you can get a little complacent. It was actually when the dreaded corporate types like Michael Eisner and Jeffery Wells participated in storming the Magic Kingdom, that such complacency was smothered. There was one other problem however, technology. The home video revolution that came about with the video tape recorder put the lid on the potential of these movies to be evergreens, at least in the theater. As the classic animated movies were released on home video, a new revenue stream was created but at the expense of the old one. The old platform would not sustain itself on product that people could own and watch at home, so new product has to fill the theatrical chute. We got live action remakes of "The Jungle Book" in 1994 and "101 Dalmatians" in 1996. These set the template for a remake, tell the same story but do so differently. The biggest worries most people have about the upcoming "Lion King" remake is that it will be a shot for shot reproduction. The trick however is to give us the familiar, while also making it unique enough to draw in an audience. Does "Aladdin" walk the tightrope? I'd say yes.

There are some important key differences between the animated film and this live-action version. Princess Jasmine is a much more assertive character in this telling of the tale. She does not just want to choose who to marry, she wants to be Sultan herself. Aladdin is a thief, but he is one that has some scruples and those are emphasized more in his relationship to Jasmine. Instead of a buffoon, the Sultan is an over protective father and is under the spell of the vizier Jaffar from early on. Jaffar's plans include an expansion of military power against neighboring countries, but the loyalty of the palace soldiers is to the Sultan. Some of this is ladled on to make the story more adult but it also makes some of the character actions more understandable. The biggest difference is the Genie himself. Robin Williams brilliant comedy riffs can't be replicated but the Genie has to have a fun and friendly relationship to the title character and those have to fit the actor who portrays him. Will Smith has been devoting the last seven years to films that don't play to his comic strengths but rather his acting skill, and he has been hit or miss. The role of Genie gives him a chance to put on the jocular persona he was known for and make it work as part of the story. Also, he can sing and he dances a little. From the early reaction to film clips, you'd have thought his CGI appearance was amateurish and either you wanted him blue or you hated the idea of him actually being blue, or both. The way it plays out in the film is perfectly fine and should satisfy the contradictory impulses of those critics.

We do get several numbers from the animated film repeated, but with enough differences to make the experience worth it. I was a little underwhelmed by the early clip of the "Prince Ali" song. On the small screen it loses it's impact and it looks a little silly. With the power of the full sized screen however, you can enjoy the expansiveness of the dance number an appreciate the more subtle CGi and concomitant use of real sets and actors in the sequence. "You Ain't Never Had a Friend Like Me" is filled with Will Smith moments rather than trying to replicate Williams version. In fact most of the songs had some nice updates on their lyrics and the comic bits from Smith and Richie are more universal than the now dated references from the 1992 film. One of the nice improvements is the way the narrator character from the animated film has been replaced and the new version integrates that character into the story.

I enjoyed the Bollywood style dancing and the gymnastics that are set throughout the film. Again, I saw several people disgruntled with the trailers but when things are seen in total they work pretty well. Guy Richie had some clever camera movements during the chase scenes and the travelogue moments are are interesting. I ended up being very pleased with the movie in spite of my own indifference. This came out three weeks ago and I was not in any hurry to see it, but now that I have, I wish I'd gone earlier, it's very entertaining and it feeds the beast. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Dead Don't Die

I'm going to be frank, I have never seen a film by Jim Jarmusch before. He has made a dozen films I have heard of and several that never crossed my radar. It was clear from the aesthetic I could see in promotional materials that his style is idiosyncratic and idyllic. I cannot say how representative the current film is of his movies, but I can say that if "The Dead Don't Die" is typical, I don't think I made a bad choice by avoiding his movies. It's not that the film is bad, it is simply not in sync with the way I want my cinema experience to play out. I heard high praise for many of his other movies and if I come across them I might stop down and give them a try, but I will not be seeking them out.

The trailer for this film suggests a comedy full of dry wit and zombie action. They have done a good job selling this movie to an unsuspecting audience. The film's sensibility is very different from the way it plays in the promotional material. This movie is slow moving, just like the zombies. The three main characters are so dead pan for most of the film that it is a relief when one of them finally shouts at another. This is the most passive group of police officers you will ever encounter. The zombie attacks are not particularly horrific, they are just perfunctory and slow. I suspect that what Jarmusch has done is made one of his character pieces and just hung it on the genre here to draw some interest. Well it worked, and now I have seen one of his movies.

Yes, it is a comedy, so you can expect some deconstruction of the genre as a way to develop humor, but it goes further than that. It feels as if the movie is mocking us for watching a horror film in the first place and then subverting our expectations of humor by isolating the jokes so far from anything else that is funny, that you may wonder if it really is supposed to be a comedy. There are so many "meta" moments in the film that feel like a put down rather than a wink or a nod. As the two police officers figure out what is going on by referencing the script and their lines, I began to feel left out rather than included in the joke. There are a few isolated laughs in the movie, but nothing is ever sustained for long and then there are huge passages of time where nothing seems to happen. Three kids driving in a car passing around an energy drink does nothing to enhance the story. Three other kids in a juvenile detention center appear several times in the movie and they do nothing interesting, have no relevance to the plot, and they disappear without any resolution. It certainly feels like something that would be part of an independent film project, but not the kind of independent film I'd want to go to.

The cast is one of the selling points of the film, it is large and packed with performers you might enjoy seeing on screen. The only ones who get much chance to do anything are Tilda Swinton and Adam Driver. In another one of those quirky moments that highlights that indeed the film maker himself is just a hipster from Cleveland, Swinton walks out of the story in an incongruous manner completely detached from the events of the story. The biggest laugh Adam Driver gets is when he shows up at a crime scene in his personal automobile. Meanwhile Steve Buscemi , has to play an exaggerated version of a Trump voter, Danny Glover finally is too old for this shit, and Carol Kane is a one word one joke cameo.

Maybe if you are a fan of the directors style, you will enjoy this film more than I did. I found the on the nose criticism of genre conventions to be off putting and the lack of pacing to be annoying. When the zombies do start to appear, the film picks up for half an hour or so, but then it meanders off onto paths that lead no where and a conclusion that is so self satisfying as to be a disappointment. That's right, zombie movies usually end on a down note, so let's ape that but make fun of it at the same time? I just didn't care anymore. Marketing may make this film Jarmusch's most successful box office result, but it is not a movie that will earn much love from those who see it under false expectations. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Islands in the Stream

I'm starting a new series that I hope to come back to on a regular basis. When I have a few of these entries I will put up a page with links to each one so they will be easy to catalog. There are several blog sites that do a very similar theme, forgotten films. I have participated on a few podcasts with one of my on-line friends talking about movies that fall into this category, and perhaps inspired by that, or simply my love for seventies nostalgia, I thought I would start off with this movie.

Islands in the Stream

This has nothing to do with the Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton hit written by the Bee Gees, although some of the romantic themes in the song could apply to the events in the story if you look hard enough. It is based on a posthumously published work by Ernest Hemingway and features a character clearly based on Hemingway himself. Supposedly it was turned down by Steve McQueen but I can't imagine a more perfect choice for the part than George C. Scott.

The film is set in the Bahamas at the start of WWII. Most of the Caribbean Islands were still British possessions and as such were targets of German U-boat harassment. For the most part, the was is a distant irritation, on the Island here, the main war is an emotional one being fought by an iconoclastic artist and the various people in his life.  Thomas Hudson is a renown artist who has given up painting for industrial sculpture. He has retreated from the social scene he occupied at one point to live and work in relative isolation.

Scott as Hudson appears to be something of a misanthrope, in fact as he awaits the arrival of his sons for a summer visit, he actually won't even go to the plane to fetch them, even though it has been four years since he has seen them. The oldest boy is named after him, Tommy and he is played by future Die Hard White Night Hart Bochner.

Tommy and the youngest boy, Andrew are happy to see their father although they remember him as a stern and cranky man. The middle boy David is the one who has reservations and antagonism toward his father. He and Andrew are the children of Hudson's second wife, the best friend of his first wife that he still carries a torch for. David begins his visit with his father in a surly mood and at one point flails out during what was initially a fraternal pillow fight but turns into a moment of physical catharsis.  Instead of the stern patriarch, Hudson appears to be a patient man who recognizes that his own failings as a father are haunting his middle boy.

Reconciliation occurs through a test of physical stamina and mental will when  David hooks a large game fish on one of their boating expeditions. In what seems like a very macho Hemingway moment, the fish and the boy tussle for the father's respect. Scott conveys real emotional sympathy for the boy but understands his need to prove himself. The surprising resolution to the moment is the emotional heart of the movie.

There is an earlier scene where the chaos of the wold intrudes on the idyllic summer of the family. A British freighter is sunk off the shores of the island and debris as well as one human victim wash ashore on the beach near the artist's house. Hudson manages to keep the boys back away from the dead man but there is some powerful foreshadowing taking place here as he contemplates the fate of his children in a world at war. 

There are some locals that make up the crew that surrounds Thomas Hudson in his self imposed exile. David Hemmings plays Eddy, Tom's close friend and rum soaked partner in the fishing boat charter they apparently own. Eddy becomes a friend to the boys and the voice of gin stoked wisdom at times. His performance is a standout in the film as he conveys a pathetic but confoundingly tragic figure at the same time. Also on hand is Julius Harris as Joseph the Captain of the boat. Harris was an actor I discussed recently on a James Bond Podcast I hosted. His familiar face was a welcome addition and he plays a friendly supporting part rather than the bad guy in this one. 

After the interlude with the boys, there is a third act in the film featuring a reunification, at least briefly of Hudson with his first wife. This sets up the final segment where Hudson makes a commitment that he might have resisted before the summer with the kids and the moments with his true love. This is where the adventure element of the movie kicks in. The film does feel like a series of chapters in a book and it is organized that way for us as well. This may explain the reason that the film feels so satisfying to me, because like a lot of seventies movies, it is a thing unto itself. If you read the copy on the poster at the start of this post, you may laugh at the blatant attempt to market the film as something special. It feels old fashioned, even in 1977 when the film was released. However, it worked on me. This slow film about a man coping with a world he made and one that he has avoided, hooked me with it's cinematography, sentimentality and a score by Jerry Goldsmith that is absolutely beautiful.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Malcolm McDowell Double Feature

Last night was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with an old friend that I've never met. Malcolm McDowell has been an actor I have watched for decades now in a variety of parts. I was of course first introduced to him as were most Americans by his brilliant turn in the Stanley Kubrick film "A Clockwork Orange".  This is a film that I love but that my wife loathed, but her dislike for the movie had nothing to do with McDowell. In fact, one of the two films playing last night was a favorite of hers and it may be one of the most romantic films we saw together as a couple. 

One of the ways you can get a little spoiled by living in Southern California is by having these kinds of opportunities on a regular basis. In fact it was only six months ago that Malcolm and I previously spent time together. He was a host at a musical salute to Kubrick by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Most of the stories he told that day focused on his work with Kubrick and their subsequent relationship. Last night however, at the break between films, the subjects of his stories were primarily about the Director Lindsay Anderson, who plucked McDowell from theatrical work in Great Britain and plugged him into the film world that would become his main home. 

There were dozens of stories he told to interviewer Alex Simon, but every time Simon tried to move on to Kubrick or Schrader, McDowell found a way to bring the discussion back to his long time friend and mentor. There was a terrific story about Lindsay Anderson visiting John Ford near the end of the western directors life. McDowell is quite the raconteur and was never at a loss for something interesting to share. He offered us the invitation to watch a film of the presentation he did about Lindsay Anderson at a Film festival a few years ago. I found the link he suggested and I am sharing it with you now. I look forward to watching the whole thing.

As for the features, well it has been a long time since I saw "Cat People", the overly literal remake of the classic horror film from 1942. This film came out forty years later in a great cinema year but definitely a different time in Hollywood. 

I had forgotten the long lead in sequence with backstory about the origins of the Cat People of the story. It actually looks like a long outtake from the new version of "Dune" that we are supposed to get next year. The desert sky is orange, the tree in the center of the sequence is dead and there is dust everywhere. 

The real story picks up when Nastassja Kinski shows up in New Orleans to reconnect with her brother played by Malcolm McDowell. They were separated as children after their parents died and it is just as she is turning twenty or so that they are reunited. Mr. McDowell had nothing but great things to say about her beauty in the film and how happy he was to be working with her. In his introduction to the first movie, he did point out that he had to learn to act backwards because there is one sequence early on that is shot in reverse to give the actions of the character an more ethereal feel. He did seem to regret that he never needed this skill for any subsequent film. 

In 1982, this film felt weird but not out of place with the times. There was a lot of experimentation with psycho sexual themes and mystery stories and even science fiction horror moments. I can't quite put my finger on why 80s horror movies feel as ominous as they do, but also fresh and distinctive in spite of mining some of the same tropes over and over. Director Schrader does allow the slow build of some of the tension in the film, but cuts down so much on the narrative that at times it was hard to figure out the motivations of any of the characters. For instance, actress Annette O'Toole plays a character who seems at times to be romantically linked with leading man John Heard, but she also seems nonplussed at the growing romance between Heard and Kinski's characters. In the end it doesn't matter much because she ends up naked in the pool while being stalked, so the focus is all on her in that scene when in the original it was the exact opposite. The shadows and light were the focus of the pool scene in the 1942 film. 

Probably because Schrader has a deep history with religious themes, McDowell is presnted as some sort of religious zealot, although that ends up having little to do with the story, except to create a sense of regret and guilt in his character. That would have been a worthy way to make this film more distinctive, rather than the more explicit sex and violence path that the movie ends up following. Another one of those weird elements that seems to fit in with the times is the presence of another character who may or may not know about the carnivorous sexual habits of her employer. Ruby Dee is enigmatic as the housekeeper that is also keeping secrets. Her facial expressions and have spoken warnings seem to fit with a lot of short hand characters from movies of that time, Scatman Crothers in "the Shining" is a similar character. 

I did remember how the film ends and it is both laughable and tragically appropriate. Still the most memorable element of the movie is the score by Giorgio Moroder  and the theme song by David Bowie. The Bowie tune will be most familiar to modern audiences through it's use in "Inglorious Basterds".  Here is a link so you can enjoy the song as you continue reading. 

After the first film is when Alex Simon and Malcolm McDowell engaged in their discussion and some Q and A with the audience. I've already described some of it to you and I'm sure the video on "Never Apologize" above will have some of the same things. I do want to briefly talk about his response to an audience member's question about "Caligula". McDowell was brutal in his assessment of Gore Vidal as a screen writer. Vidal had his name taken off the film and claimed that Bob Guccione, the producer and uncredited director of the film ruined it. McDowell says that Vidal's screenplay was shit and nothing could have saved this turkey. He then told a great story about pranking Vidal with Truman Capote, a writing nemesis, over some laundry. It was quite amusing, as was McDowell's comment that Vidal could take his name off the film, but Malcolm couldn't. 

The second film on the schedule is far better and more memorable for a lot of reasons. To begin with, the script is a tightly plotted mystery thriller with an irresistible concept. H.G. Wells, the author actually has a time machine and Jack the Ripper uses it to escape to the future where Wells attempts to pursue him. It is a great mash up of science fiction, horror-thriller, procedural and romance in one. The director here was Nicholas Myer, making his directing debut. Myer had previously written the screenplay for the movie made from his novel, the "Seven Percent Solution" another pairing of historical characters, Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes. 

"Time After Time" is actually the final film on my original blog project from 2010. There is not much I would add to my original comments about the film, I would urge you to go back and read them. I think the less you know of the plot mechanics the more satisfying the film is. There was one element that I will repeat here and it ties into my point about this film being a romantic masterpiece. When asked about the most memorable part of part in this film, without hesitation McDowell said meeting, falling in love with and marrying Mary Steenburgen. Their marriage lasted more than a decade and they have two children together and a very friendly relationship despite the break up. I claim that you can literally see them falling in love with one another in this movie. 

Of course that is the story of the film but the idea of chemistry between actors has never been so obvious in my eyes. good actors can fake it even when they despise on another, but this is a case of reality intruding into the film itself. 

I think I was a little critical of the special effects when I first wrote about this movie a decade ago. The photographic effects work pretty well for the kind of story we are being told here and they seemed to hold up better on the big screen last night then they did on home video when I last saw this film for a review.

I will just briefly mention that before the program started, I had gone up to the bathroom and I was a little put out by the fact that a group of people were conducting a conversation in the entryway of the theater, blocking my return to my seat. Imagine my surprise when it turned out that the two people involved were the interviewer and the special guest for the evening. I did eavesdrop a little on their conversation. Alex Simon was reminding McDowell that he had interviewed him almost fifteen years ago for a different project and they engaged in some more small talk. I went back to my seat, comfortable in the knowledge that the featured guest was here and in good form, and thankful that the cranky old man in me had not snapped at them for blocking the path.

Echo in the Canyon

Part concert film, part behind the scenes featurette and part documentary, "Echo in the Canyon" was a delightful surprise that is likely to end up on several year end lists because of it's subject matter. Laurel Canyon has been known for forty years as a mecca for the creative community in Southern California. The 2002 drama featuring Christian Bale and Francis McDormand explored some of the bohemian lifestyle that flourished there but it was mainly focused on the psycho sexual drama of it's story. This film emphasizes a very different component, one that a lot more people are likely to care about, the music scene in SoCal, particularly the years from 1965-1967.

Automatically, modern audiences might be put off by the subject of music from fifty years ago that they may be unfamiliar with. I was flabbergasted a couple of weeks ago at some of the bands my students had never heard of. But once the music starts flowing in this film, our DNA kicks in and even people who don't know the artists will know the songs. If you pay enough attention, they will also know the importance of this period to popular music. This was a transitional period as Rock and Roll was maturing from the pop strains of the fifties and the early Beatles, to a more sophisticated music structure and lyrical content. The Beatles influenced The Beach Boys who in turn influenced the Beatles, and all of that influenced dozens of other musicians.

The film was executive produced by Jakob Dylan and he is featured as an interviewer and a performer. As a way of contextualizing the music, he brings together a variety of artists to put together a tribute show to that era and to record songs for an album. In the course of the film he digs up stories about the most influential acts that were thriving in that period and place. "The Byrds", The Mamas and the Papas", "Buffalo Springfield" are the main acts, but there was a sense of comradely competition and sharing among all the musicians of the Canyon. Dylan is an effective performer but as an interviewer, his main skill is to get out of the way of the subjects that he is talking to. Michelle Phillips is pretty honest about the lifestyle she led, David Crosby brutally assesses the reasons that the Byrds broke up, Roger McGuinn is thoughtful in his analysis of what made people creative. There are a dozen other members of that community who share thoughts and stories as well, but just as you might start worrying that all we are going to get are talking heads, a musical sequence, archival footage or outtakes from a forgotten Hollywood film made by French film makers arrives to entice us further.

The retro footage from "Model Shop" shows the era of the film and was an inspiration to the producers and director to put this film together. Mid to late sixties Los Angeles is where I grew up so it has a nostalgic feel for me as well as providing some historical context. The biggest thrill in the film however is revisiting the songs that still thrive in our heads.  TV clips from the Sullivan show and Dick Clark often introduce a song, and then we get to hear from the creators themselves and finally, the music is re-created for us. Those new versions are sometime performed in an intimate living room jam session, or maybe in a recording studio as a new collection of the songs is being prepared for an album. The most joyous place we hear them however is onstage at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles in a concert from 2015 when this project began. When you hear the music, time stands still and at least for me, my memories are stimulated as much as the drugs stimulated the creativity of the original artists.

I don't see enough documentaries to feel confident about comparing their technical qualities very much. I can talk about their style and themes however, and this film hits it's themes very effectively. The entertainment value of the movie is not neglected either, especially since the subject matter is a form of popular entertainment. I was very wistful each time the late Tom Petty was on screen. Although he was not a member of the community of that era, he is the embodiment of the influence it had on popular music, and he knew that well. His reflections serve as a sort of Greek Chorus to the whole enterprise and the film ends up being dedicated to him. I saw this at the Archlight in Hollywood and in addition to be surrounded by the neighborhoods that are featured in the film, there was a special feature after the film where a correspondent for the Archlight Theater chain interviewed the film makers and they added some more to the story. If this is playing somewhere near you at an Archlight Theater, i'm sure you will find it worthwhile to stay for the extra ten minutes.

By the way, we immediately went next door to Amoeba Records to try and get the soundtrack, sadly it is not out until the end of the month. I will be digging up the original songs to listen to until then. I could not recommend this film more highly. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

I know a lot of people who have "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" high on their lists of most anticipated films of the year. If you grew up watching the many variations of Godzilla movies that were primarily a man in a suit, stomping on miniature versions of Tokyo, it's easy to understand your attraction to this franchise. These were the original disaster films, that featured large swaths of civilization laid to waste by giant monsters battling one another. Before "Transformers" or the MCU, this was your go to fix for mass destruction.

A few years ago, I had a slight aversion to these types of movies, a hangover of 9/11. The thought of the death that would be involved took most of the joy out of this after a while. Maybe it is true that time heals all wounds because I did not have a negative reaction this time around. In part it may be that the cities are mostly abandoned in anticipation of the arrival of the monsters, but I also think that since there is such a heavy emphasis on the scale of the creatures, everything else looks like toys being crushed, despite the improvements of Computer Generated Images. It still comes across as if we have guys in rubber suits wrestling among the sets.

"King of the Monsters" does not waste time setting up a backstory or building a narrative. It launches right into what passes as a plot with Scientist Emma Russell, played by Vera Farmiga, plowing forward with a tool to communicate with "Titans" in a primitive way using sound. She is estranged from her ex-husband after they lost their son in Godzilla's rampage in San Francisco five years ago. Her daughter Madison however is still in touch with her Dad electronically, and she has some worries about her mother's obsessions. Millie Bobbie Brown from "Stranger Things" plays the young Maddy and to no one's surprise, ends up in the middle of the "clash of the Titans". Kyle Chandler is her Dad, and he is a veteran of these kinds of films having been in Peter Jackson's remake of "King Kong" and the J.J. Abrams genetically derived from Spielberg "Super 8".  Ken Watanabe returns as the character he played in 2014's "Godzilla" and so do Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn. Their presence is not essential to the story, it merely adds a link to try and connect the events of the earlier film to these proceedings. New characters abound and are played by familiar faces but their parts have little impact on the main focus of this film...monsters fighting.

The pace of the movie is relentless, and that may sound like a good thing but I'm not sure it is. There is virtually no time to reflect on the implications of each new discovery or every turn in the tide  because the next plot complication arrives almost immediately. Maybe that's why the movie feels so much like a cartoon and is more easily digested, because the human characters are so superfluous to the events happening on screen. The locations around the world keep shifting so quickly that we don't get much sens of our bearings before we are whisked off to another battle on a different continent. The best things that the movie has going for it are it's scope, size and volume. Spinal Tap must have left their equipment in the studio when the sound engineers of this film went to work because this movie plays at eleven, for all Two hours and eleven minutes. There is so much, roaring, screaming and explosive impact from the screen that I would advise you to bring earplugs if you want to avoid tinnitus for a few hours after the film plays. 

Monarch is the name of the secret agency tasked with dealing with these monsters, see there is a link to Godzilla even in the name of our science group. The scientists solve problems in seconds but the military component of the group leaves something to be desired. The tactical units don't know how to secure an area that they are taking control of. The equipment is always damaged in some way as to require a fix that presents a distracting side complication to the fight. And finally, there does not seem to be a very clear chain of command. Basically, a terror group that wants the monsters to remake the planet, is battling with Monarch over control of technology and the monsters themselves. So in addition to the Three headed invasive species of Ghidorah, Monarch has to deal with Tywin Lannister. This plot thread will allow a continuation of the franchise and the restoration of some of the destroyed creatures in future episode. There are also a few seeds of the future Kong vs Godzilla battle that all the fans of these movies are waiting for. There were no crossover characters from "Kong Skull Island" in this film, but the location is referred to a couple of times and it is clear that Kong is one of the titans that will battle for apex status in the future.

So the human characters are not great, they just hold together enough plot to make the giant monster battles serve some purpose. Those big battles look pretty spectacular, but I've got to say, if it were not for human intervention, there would be little reason to think of Godzilla as the king. He gets whooped a couple of times in the movie and it is only "Science" that makes him able to challenge for the throne again. Look it's big and LOUD, and a lot of fun, but it means little and you will not be permanently impacted one way or another. Go have some popcorn, put your favorite candy in the popcorn and then butter it. Wash it down with a large soda, because after all, you are being asked to swallow an awful lot by this movie. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019


Please don't mistake what I am about to say as a dig at the movie, "Booksmart" is well made, targeted at an audience that should embrace it and it is really well cast. It is not however the second coming. Every time a film has some progressive element which appeals to cinema fans, it gets pushed at them as if it is medicine that will cure the reactionary ills that drive the movie business. Trying to force fans of independent movies into a moment runs contrary to the instincts of those fans.  I think that's exactly what has happened to this movie. Had it been discovered by cinephiles and shared with their own passion, it could have taken off like some of the movies it is compared to. As it is, there was a big launch of this, focusing on the fact that it is a female centered film, and the world shrugged.

The two young actresses who star in this film are accomplished performers.  Beanie Feldstein was terrific in "Lady Bird" a couple of years ago, playing a similar character with a very different personality. Kaitlyn Dever was familiar to me as a long running character on the TV series "Justified" where she was frequently the standout in a cast of very good actors. The two of them together in this film are convincing as off center smart girls who may have missed something along the way. Maybe it is a little regressive to suggest that the road to empowerment might include having a little respect for people who don't share your perspective. In that sense, I can see how feminists, progressives and others might suffer some shade in the afterglow of the film. Listen to the segment of the speech Molly is supposed to be giving as her valedictorian at graduation, and compare it's tone to the one she actually completes. Social Justice hearts were probably breaking all over the place. 

Director's often get praise for elements of a movie that they are not always responsible for, typically the script. Actress turned director Olivia Wilde deserves credit for some of the things that she clearly is responsible for. The relationship between the two girls is documented not just by what they say but by the body language they use when saying it. The dance moves, the head shakes and facial expressions come out of a vision of who these young women are.  They are confident but also a little too cocky. They are shy in the way most teens are, they feel overshadowed by pretty people and a high degree of social uncertainty. Wilde blocks some of their conversations as intimate but presents them as public. The most artistic piece of visual flair is the reveal of Amy's fantasy in the pool at the party they finally make it to. The underwater shot is just the thing to throw cold water in the face of what seemed like a traditional happy ending (although we know it can't work out the way we are hoping, there has to be a third act shift).

Because I am not in the demographic this film is aimed at, I really don't get or care for some of the soundtrack selections. Modern hip hop filled with expletives is annoying to me and it is typically annoying at a high volume. The softer indie rock sound seems so wane as to almost evaporate before you hear it. This is a dualistic choice on the part of the film makers and it probably works better for a younger crowd and maybe a female audience as well. I will say that the biggest laugh I had at the theater came when Alanis Moristte's 90s screed on relationships was being done karaoke style by the wrong people.

I can easily see how this movie could become a cult gem like "Dazed and Confused" has. Audiences who find it now will come back to it in a few years and think of how prescient they were for embracing this film. Others will discover it where most films like this are going to end up in the next few years, streaming on some service. They will howl with delight and wonder how they missed it when it first came out. This will develop a reputation as a hidden treasure, you can bet there will be a dozen hipster critics at the end of the year with "Booksmart" on their top ten lists. I can't say that they will be wrong, but I can say the movie is a little too smart for it's own good. Selling yourself as the next "thing" is almost certainly going to doom you to a pile of "New Coke" and "Segway" discards. 

Friday, May 24, 2019


"Rocketman" is the Elton John biopic that is both musical drama and comedy. I was able to see an early screening last week and because I've been so busy I have not yet been able to post a review at least until now. Let me just say I was really impressed with his film and I enjoyed it immensely. There are things about it that some may not care for, but if you like musicals, this is going to be your “cup of tea”.

Unlike last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, “Rocketman” does not attempt to tell the story of its subject in a linear fashion using the songs as a structure for the subjects chronology. Rather, the songs in this particular film appear in no particular order except to reflect events that happen in Elton’s life and make a particular point.

The story starts with a flashback to his childhood as he is coming to grips with his own demons. Elton John appears to have been a prodigy as a child when it came to listening to music. After briefly hearing a complicated piece of music he could reproduce it on his own on the piano. This talent made it possible for him to attend a Fine Arts Music Academy, where his talent could be developed. Since the story is based on Elton’s own ideas, it seems that the only person who backed up his desire to learn the piano and develop his talent was his grandmother. If Elton’s parents are still alive they might very well be disappointed at the way they have been portrayed on screen. His mother appears to be a lazy indifferent woman who had little interest in her son other than what he might do for her. His father was a cold hard man who did love jazz but seemed unable to share this love with his son. Much of what follows reflects Elton John's attempt to connect with his parents through his fame and success in the pop music field.

The director of this film, Dexter Fletcher, who had a hand in completing Bohemian Rhapsody last year, has been given much greater freedom in telling the story of this pop phenomena. The musical sequences are staged very much like old style Hollywood film where the neighbors might form the chorus line and where the audience becomes a choir. We often fade out of a real world situation into a fantasy element which mirrors the emotion that are reflected in the story. Of course those emotions are heightened by the fantastic music of Elton John and the lyrics of his partner Bernie Taupin, played by Jamie Bell. The two actors who portrayed these partners do an excellent job but special credit certainly must go Taron Edgerton who not only does a credible impression of Elton John as a character, but also performs the songs himself lending credence to the scene by using his own voice. Edgerton is not the only person who sings on screen several secondary characters also have moments where they a warble a few lines or sing the chorus of one of those very familiar tunes.

There are some fantastic visual elements in the film highlighted by the depiction of Elton John’s star making turn at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. This was a concert that I remember reading about in the Los Angeles Times back when I was in middle school. The dynamic performance and the setting turned an English pop star, who is not yet famous in his own country, into one of the biggest stars in the United States. This galvanizing event brings John and Taupin into the Southern California music scene where the usual tropes of a rock and roll tragedy and then redemption are played out. There is of course a great deal of attention paid to Elton’s use of alcohol and drugs and the effect they had on his mood and self esteem. The biggest negative however appears to be, the romance he began with a man who became his American manager, played by Richard Madden.  The passion that he felt is portrayed on the screen effectively but so is the disappointment that he has in this fickle and somewhat backstabbing character.

Of course other highlights in the film include mini concert performances including his appearance at Dodger Stadium in front of a massive crowd. Even in this grandiose setting however, we can see the faults in Elton John's emotional journey. We sympathize with the contradictory circumstances of his professional success versus his personal failures. There is a devastating scene where Elton connects with his father and the father's new family. It's easy to understand how a relationship like this could drive his ambition but frustrate his heart. Taron Edgerton manages to pull on our heart strings but also frustrate us with his depiction of Elton’s poor choices. It's only after Elton reaches bottom, including a brief marriage to a woman he barely knew and whose heart he broke, did he begins to come to grips with his faults. Again the musical sequences dramatize these events very effectively and in a completely different way did the diorama version of Freddie Mercury that we got last year.

If it weren't for the fact the Bohemian Rhapsody received award attention this last season, “Rocketman” would be a contender for many prestigious film awards next year. It is somewhat hard to imagine that the Academy would give it’s award for performance, two years in a row, to an actor portraying a pop star. If ever it was necessary to repeat yourself at the Oscars this year should be one of those situations, Edgerton is that good.

My daughter is not a huge fan of Elton John but she was looking forward to this film quite a bit because she is a fan of young Edgerton and loved him both in Kingsmen and Eddie the Eagle. Surprisingly, she only recognized about a third of the songs in the film. I on the other hand,  knew every song and was suitably impressed by the way they were being used by the film makers. Both of us felt that this was one of the more satisfying films we've seen this year and we look forward to revisiting it when it opens wide next week.

Monday, May 20, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum

Five years ago, I stumbled upon "John Wick" at a particularly low point in my life. A mindless action piece like that was just what the head doctor would order. I admired the commitment it made to the world that they had created and the fantasy of violence that resulted. Two years ago we got a second dose and it was a guilty pleasure that I never really felt guilty about. Revenge movies are probably my favorite go-to genre for relaxation and cathartic emotional action. As stories, these movies are not really deep or compelling. There is the barest sense of a plot. These are films that move on a few good characters, surrounded by about a million disposable ones. We watch as just about that many get disposed of.

"Parabellum" is the latest chapter in the series, a franchise that looks like it is going to be around for a long while. Keanu Reeves just gets more desperate, more beat up and more angry with every entry. The fantasy criminal society that he travels in is so ridiculously complex and interdependent that it defies credulity and simply has to be taken at face value.  The international nature of organized crime is something that makes SPECTRE look like amateur hour. That's okay though, it's cool to have your own mint, and to be able to turn every beggar, cab driver or bellman in a town, into a cog in a criminal enterprise. The idea of the "Continental" hotel working as a five star Marriot for crooks in multiple locations around the world gives some structure to we outsiders as we try to navigate the intricacies of criminal etiquette.

So if story is largely irrelevant, and the world building is fascinating obtuse, what makes the films work as well as they do? The answer is the star  and the action choreography. Keanu Reeves at one time was likely to be remembered as "Neo" in the Matrix movies. That may have been a bit unfortunate since only the first one was very good. I think however, that character will be replaced in his obituary with the role of grieving hitman John Wick. These movies are getting better rather than worse with each entry, and they are doing better business as well. That is a successful franchise worth being remembered for. His thespian skills mat operate in a narrow range, but his action skills expand every year. He is more polished and accomplished with the martial arts moves in these films and the choreography of the gun play is handled by him with aplomb.

There are new characters added to the story as we go along and one of them is played by Halle Berry. Some of you may have doubts about her, but rest assured, after this movie, her action credentials are in order and she has an open passport to kick ass in movies for the next decade. Her character only appears in the film for about twenty minutes, but it was a jam packed twenty minutes that sets up just enough backstory to make what happens feel natural if not credible. This sequence includes two other co-stars that shall remain nameless but who provide a great link between her character and John Wick. They get each other, even if they don't much like one another.

The first section of the movie is a chase through NYC. We go through parts of Manhattan that are not covered on the "Big Apple Tour" bus schedule. John Wick runs, drives, rides and sometimes flies through the night, engaging in one fantastic confrontation after another. There is an extended knife scene that finally includes a moment of gore that will make you squint your eyes. The deaths in these films are usually so rapid and continuous that we don't get much time to contemplate how they would really feel, this one is an exception. My two favorite "kills", to use the horror vernacular, are provided by an animal that John encounters as he is running from all the pursuing assassins [this seems to include at least a third of the people in the five boroughs.] Don't want to give too much away, but it is quick, unexpected, painful and hysterical all at once.

The closing fights with the Asian gang members played by the two badasses from "The Raid" films were terrific. The character of Zero, as played by actor/martial artist Mark Dacasos is intimidating and charmingly funny at the same time. This film moves into a more super stylized presentation than even the first two chapters, so much so that the jokes actually work as a result. Plain and simple, if you liked the first two films, you will certainly like this one, and there is a great chance that you will like it even more because the director, Chad Stahelski has added humor to his arsenal of weapons. I' ready for Chapter 4 when it gets here.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Long Shot

One way that you can tell that Charlize Theron is a great actress is that you can believe she has fallen for Seth Rogan in this movie. Of course it plays to some of the worst traditional chauvinist fantasies that a beautiful woman can be in love with a shlub like this, but you know what, it works because the actress sells the idea and plays it in a low key manner with just the right amount of trepidation to start with and then a full blown commitment.

This is a romantic comedy filtered through the irreverent humor that typifies movies with Seth Rogan. The premise seems like it is something that should not work in the real world but we do have the American Political situation as it is, so it seems plausible. The President has decided not to seek a second term and is willing to endorse his Secretary of State to replace him. She would be the first female President and her background will be a point of contention in the election. Masters of Analytics have assessed her on her qualities and they need to punch up her humor numbers. Theron is the Secretary of State and Rogan is a long ago neighbor who happens to be an acerbic writer with some wit. After they connect by accident she chooses him to help craft her voice and make more of her points in an amusing way.

This is sort of the flip side of "The American President" with a little bit of "The Contender" thrown in. Layer on a big helping of "There's Something About Mary" and you will understand what you are getting into. It is formulaic, but there are tweaks to the formula that are outrageous and make the movie funny in a way that we probably should not be laughing about. Rogan is presented as a clown at first, bumbling his way into the scene by making stupid mistakes. Theron is overworked, idealistic and ambitious, all things that typify a woman in the world of politics. Still, there are bits that are amusing before the two start to fall for each other. I loved the micro naps that Theron's character indulges in, and Rogan's mode of dress is infantile to begin with. Once they are thrown together and the sexual part of the relationship begins, the humor becomes more coarse. Frankly, the ultimate threat the couple faces from hacked footage on his computer is something that goes over the top, but "There's Something About Mary" is over twenty years old now, so it will probably be old hat for audiences weaned on that sort of humor.

O'Shea Jackson Jr. plays Rogan's best friend and he gets to have a moment that I never thought I would see in a Hollywood film. The two of them discuss politics at one point and Jackson's character reveals something about himself and cogently explains his position and it is a moment of sanity about how the world ought to be. The willingness to look at other points of view is what allows us to function as a society, and this film acknowledges, even if it is for humorous purposes, that this is not the way politics currently functions. I don't want to suggest that this is a serious political film but it does have some interesting themes and that is one of them.

In the end, your enjoyment of the movie will depend on your tolerance for the romantic comedy beats that make up the genre, and your willingness to care for the characters. I was won over despite feeling that both characters were a bit self centered to begin with. I liked the way their past is woven into the story to make them a bit more real, and the awkwardness of their attraction is not ignored by either of the characters. A real romantic partnership exists when the two people complement one another in the ways that their partners need them to. It may be a cliche when Jerry Maguire says in the romantic climax of that film, "You complete me," but it is true of real love and that felt like it worked here. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Exploding Helicopter Podcast: You Only Live Twice

I was a guest recently on the "Exploding Helicopter" Podcast. The host Will and I discussed our favorite respective subjects, Chopper Fireballs and 007.
There are links below to listen.

Here are the Links for you.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Small Town Hero

Here is a change of pace review for this site. I had an opportunity to watch a video screener of a small U.K. film which is getting a digital release in a couple of weeks and it will probably not be playing in a theater so it is a bit unusual for me to cover it here. The movie is "Small Town Hero" and it is set in a bucolic village in England which is beset by some troublesome aspects of modern life. You know the sorts of things that grind the average person down; littering, problem parking behavior, drunk teens creating problems for local shops. The setting could be anyplace that fancies itself as a nice place to live, but does have the rough edges that come from social interaction with those with whom we have minor conflicts.

Pep is an angry younger man that most of us movie fans can identify with immediately. At the start of the film he is off on a rant about rude theatrical behavior, including the use of phones during a show. I may not have said the words out loud the way he does, but I have thought them plenty of times. The injustice of rude behavior often tips us into reactions that our more rational selves would refrain from. Pep stops listening to his rational self and starts tuning in to his own anger at the world. As we learn in the course of the film, he has a failed relationship with an imperfect woman with whom he shares a child. Billy is seven years old and splits time between his Mom and Dad. Pep dotes on the boy and fancies himself as a good person. In part because he is tired of the small injustices in the world, he takes a stand for a local shopkeeper who keeps losing his windows to drunken teens in inebriated shows of power. Pep steps in, starts a nightwatch in front of the shop, and after bullying the vandals a bit, becomes something of a local hero for taking a stand. Fueled by his belief that he is making the world a better place for his son, and maybe being seen by his ex as more worthy, he begins a crusade against all sorts of petty crimes.

At first, although we can see that his behavior fuels his anger, we are likely to be supportive of his acts. The film is put together as one of those interview/reality/documentaries that have become ubiquitous in the last few years. Having got some favorable publicity from his stand against the drunken vandals, a film crew starts following our local vigilante as he develops into a one man crime strike force. The arc of the story will not be too hard to surmise. Writer/Director Darren Bolton has visualized the worst case scenario for this kind of social justice. When Charles Bronson picked up a sock full of quarters forty-five years ago, the audience was primed for a revenge flick where justice rather than the law was the solution. There was a muted attempt to suggest that street vigilantes could inflict damage that would be problematic, but that reservation was largely put aside for a 70s audience oppressed in their own homes by violence. "Small Town Hero" presents the darker side as a more realistic scenario. Pep, set free from social inhibition, rewarded for his chutzpah and embraced by a neighborhood watch type group, begins to embrace his empowerment.

The film manages to keep the story involving by using some humor and genuine moments of tenderness. For instance, Pep has stickers made up to plaster on the wind screeds of automobiles that have parked in an inconsideration manner, who among us has not wanted to do something similar?  The film crew catches him urinating on someone he found urinating on the public street, how appropriate. Unfortunately, these little victories are not enough to assuage his anger or his ego. He escalates the violence against those who are unwilling to conform and the people who supported him before fear that he has become a bully. When another local intervenes in a petty theft and gets some coverage, Pep looks for bigger success for himself. He keeps telling himself that he is doing this for others but the focus is usually on him. In spite of the fact that we see him as a belligerent small town tyrant, he also has moments that reveal his vulnerability. Pep interacts with Billy in a loving way, and when he realizes he has crossed a line after being berated by his ex, Pep apologizes to Billy in an off screen moment that is cleverly included in the film, without us actually seeing it. His rage at the phantom figure of the new man in his ex's life, is set aside when she gives birth to Billy's little brother. We are likely to feel one last moment of sympathy for Pep when one of his crusades gets very brutal but results in a moment of happiness for the elderly Mother of his ex.

Everything gets darker in the second half of the film as the need to return to hero status drives Pep to seek out a pedophile in the neighborhood.  The problem is there is probably not a real threat, but many people will be traumatized by the paranoia and desperation that takes over this angry young man's life. As a story telling device, the film crew works to help us be included in the escalating events. The weakness in the execution here has to do with the implausible passivity of the film crew. This sort of amoral behavior on the part of the team making a movie about reality, has been seen on the screen at least since "Network" and maybe even earlier. "Man Bites Dog" and "Nightcrawler" plumb similar themes. The indifference of the film crew is not really the story here. Just like in "Natural Born Killers", we are fascinated by the subject of the film and only partially taken aback by the supposed "objectivity" of the movie makers.

This is a tough little film with something to say, but what it is saying is pretty sour. It ends on a moment of tragedy that has been foreshadowed for almost an hour. Our sympathies are challenged and changed, while we are still drawn to the main character. There is a terrific sequence where the film crew is recording a series of rants that Pep goes off on as he drives his car. The camera is in the back seat and Pep sometimes turns to look at it as he grouses and yells and rails against perceived injustices. He holds nothing back. The editing on this is clever as each rant blends into another and at the close of the sequence we get a brilliant humorous payoff. I don't know that you will enjoy the film, despite it's moments of dark levity, but you will certainly admire actor Simon Cassidy as Pep, and the whole crew who put this together. 

Available May 6, 2019

Friday, April 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame

The culmination of eleven years of intricate story building, expanded universe and a plethora of characters, "Avengers: Endgame" has arrived. With a film like this, we have to be careful about avoiding spoilers. This is probably the most anticipated film of the year and the one that has had the most written about it. Everyone has a theory and everyone is afraid for characters they have invested in. It takes over three hours to spill out onto the screen, and there is still too much to be taken in all at once. My general take on the film is that it is a slow burn that tries to build on the emotional remnants of "Infinity War" and falls a little flat there. By the end however, the action is furious and the spectacle is visually overwhelming.

One of the things that was so amazing about "Infinity War" was that it actually told a story that made the villain into someone we can understand, even if we don't agree with him. Thanos is the biggest of Big bads in the comic world. Once he has the Infinity Stones, there is no stopping him. So the inevitable conclusion of the previous film is a somber kick in the teeth for our heroes and us. With one little credit sequence, a ray of hope got dropped on us and it has had to sustain us for a year, now it is payoff time. Captain Marvel was introduced in a film that is still playing in cinemas at the moment. She is an inspiring character, but she is equally somber as the start of this movie. Admittedly there is little to smile about, with half the population gone and the other half mourning them. Out of the blue we get a rescue of our stranded hero and a reunion with the remaining Avengers. That moment of sunshine disappears in a big plate of resentment by one of the Avengers against the others. For some reason, the drama in this segment is so sour as to be off putting. Because it takes another forty minutes or so to get resolved, the first hour feels padded.

One of the Avengers appears to have been changed for the better by the experience of failure. The image of this character in their present form is another element that shakes the foundations we have with the series. It was a strange choice and I don't think it works very well. Some of it is played for laughs, which also seems out of place in this section of the movie. There were two other paths that fit more effectively with the characters we know. Two Avengers take journeys, one into conventional bliss and the other into criminal darkness. Captain America appears to be trying to cope with what has happened by being a mentor in a survivors group while Thor has mostly abandoned his place in the group. Again, this will all seem very abstract because I want you to be able to discover the pleasures and pitfalls for yourselves.

After this lengthy opening hour, the plot begins to drive the film more. This becomes a time traveling heist film. Now both of those genres of stories have appeal to them, but the conundrums created by time travel make things incredibly complicated, despite the attempt to dismiss all of that change as irrelevant. We are going to revisit several earlier moments from the other 21 MCU films and retcon them to make a solution to the Thanos problem possible. There are so many balls in the air at once that it will be easy to get lost or confused. Don't worry, you won't have to keep track too long because things start to gel and rush forward once the objects of the heist are gathered. Of course the pleasure of a heist film is that nothing ever goes as planned and the operatives have to improvise. This results in some unnecessary side journeys which do little to move us forward but do provide the kind of fan service that followers of these movies want. So you want it, you got it. Cap makes Hydra look stupid, Starlord ends up being a bigger dolt, and Tony will get an opportunity that he missed out on in an earlier story.

Again, I don't want things to be too directly revealed, but if you suspected that Dr. Strange and Scott Lang were going to be important to the mechanics of how this will all work out, give yourself a gold star. If you understand quantum physics, you know, just to keep up with conversations, then maybe it will all make sense. I'm willing to let it be a comic book solution to  comic book problem and move on with my life. However it all got done, let me assure you that you get a final battle that will stand alongside any of the great epics of our time. So many characters are involved and there are so many reverses, short lived successes and premature victories and defeats that your head will be swimming.  I suspect the Game of Thrones battle coming up in the last season will have similar effects. My personal favorite moment in the movie was foreshadowed by a brief shot in "Age of Ultron", and it comes to full life in the segment.

Again, trying to avoid spoilery material, let's just say that the resolution of a couple of stories are indeed quite sad. I won't tell you that I cried but there was a little mist in a couple of moments. I probably would have enjoyed one final reveal a little more if the asshat behind me had not guessed it out loud two seconds before it showed up. That gas bag is the reason I am being extra circumspect with my comments here. On the podcast this weekend, we will do the best we can to keep the spoilers in a distinct section that you can skip, but I do look forward to talking with everyone about the plotlines, character twists and action moments of the film. "Endgame " is satisfying for the story lines that were developed but I don't think it works as well as a movie as many of the other MCU films have. I don't do ratings on my site but at the Lamb there will be ratings. It is maybe a top ten MCU film for me but not a top five.