Category Archives: Movies

Link’n’Blogs – 5.18.18: Top Gun at 32?


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I loved Lincoln Logs when I was a kid. Though I never entertained the idea that I would be a designer, engineer or architect, something about putting together these wooden and plastic pieces was simply simple fun. Connecting to ideas through the blogosphere seems similar to this pursuit, hence the title of this weekly post. Each Friday, I intend to post something interesting I’ve read out there on the internets. Hopefully others will find these posts as thought provoking as I have.

Is it possible that Top Gun was released 32 years ago this week. My goodness. Is it possible that the long germinating sequel might hit the screen next year? Yes, according to Variety. Are you ready to take the highway to the danger zone one more time? Click the picture below for the story.

Untitled

And, in case you’ve forgotten…

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Avengers | Infinity War – A SPOILER FREE Movie Review


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Infinity War PosterEpic, engaging and emotional, building from moment to moment with intensity and a surprising amount of touching humor, Avengers|Infinity War is an astonishing achievement. Going into the movie, the question of how filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo were going to give each of the member of the sprawling cast a moment in the spotlight was paramount.

Somehow, they manage to do it.

Another concern was would the movie feel like a proper culmination of 10 years of Marvel films.

Check that one off, too.

Finally, there were worries that about the stakes of the movie: would they and their outcome justify all the strum und drang of the proceedings? Yes. They absolutely do.

This is a difficult movie to review while avoiding spoilers. A spoiler filled discussion of Avengers|Infinity War is justified and will follow after another viewing or two but, of this movie, suffice it to say, that the conclusion of the movie will likely leave audiences breathless and wondering what, exactly, comes next. And this is, perhaps, the greatest strength of the movie. For all of our collective familiarity with the characters and this Marvel Cinematic Universe, we are somehow uncomfortable and on the edge of our seats wondering about the fate of the heroes, their friends, families and world and how they will ever defeat the seemingly unstoppable Thanos.

Most superhero movies – and Marvel movies are no different – suffer from antagonist problems. That is to say, the antagonists are rarely as interesting as the heroes they oppose. They are often one note. And they usually are derivative of the hero himself (cannot write “herself” for Marvel movies yet).

In Thanos, Avengers|Infinity War presents a villain who rises above all this. He might be the most fascinating character in the movie. Josh Brolin has been appearing in stingers and brief cameos in Marvel movies for years to little effect. Sure, we have known Thanos was coming but what did we really see him do? Put on a glove? Here, he completely embodies the unthinkable, unstoppable force that is the character. Let us hand it to Marvel, again, on its casting. Brolin is wonderful and Thanos is no simple role to play.

Avengers|Infinity War has something for everyone. Fans of Iron Man get plenty of Tony Stark. Fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy will spend time with Star Lord and the gang. Fans of Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther… well, you get the picture. Somehow, each member of the massive Marvel cast is given time to shine. Captain America? Check. The Black Widow? Yes. The Hulk and Thor? Without question. Does that mean every question about every character is answered? It does not. Are there some dangling plot threads that are left to dangle? There are. But it is both amazing and gratifying to see how many of our heroes are featured, and featured well.

Frankly, the only film of which I can think that does half as good a job of this is the Academy Award winning Return of the King and it took that movie about 13 different epilogues to handle its cast. Run to a theater right now and you can probably still catch the last one. Avengers|Infinity War juggles over 50 different characters and is a somehow brisk affair at an almost 3 hour running time.

One of the joys of the movie is the team ups. Want to see Iron Man and Doctor Strange (the Beard Bros) working together? How about Black Panther and Bucky? Rocket and Thor? It seems to have been a blast to write these scenes because they crackle with energy and the cast is clearly having much fun.  The entire film is surprisingly fun especially when one considers the stakes at hand and the carnage that is wrought… no spoiler there, I hope!

There are moments that will fly over the heads (catch the Drax reference there?) of many movie goers. There are some that will even challenge the most Marvel Maniacs in the audience. There may be a little too much fan service. Additionally, in the context of such a massive affair, something had to receive short shrift that here, and that is the Black Order, the villainous collection of super-powered beings Thanos sends out to confront the Avengers. They are, primarily, amazing creations of which the audience gets to know very little. That is too bad.

But this is a minor quibble. Avengers | Infinity War is a monumental achievement. Marvel has, once again, raised the bar for what a superhero movie can be in terms of scope and complexity and also in terms of themes and consequences. This one may leave audiences thinking long after the final reel. That is something most superhero movies do not do. Avengers|Infinity War leaves a mark.

And not just on the Avengers.

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR receives SIX INFINITY STONES out of a possible FIVE.

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Countdown to INFINITY… Thor | Ragnarok


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ONE A WEEK UNTIL Avengers Infinity War opens in May!

Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther

Week Seventeen: Thor | Ragnarok

Thor Rag

It is said of Thor | Ragnarok that director Taika Waititi allowed his cast to improvise wildly on set. Re-watching the movie, it is obvious this is true. The film is almost as fun as the Guardians of the Galaxy installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and has a villain in Cate Blanchett’s Hela that is far superior to any adversary the Guardians faced. Add to the mix a truly wonderful character in Valkyrie and you have all the ingredients of a superior superhero film if…

… you ignore the fact that the deus ex machina at end of the movie and the salvation of the Asgardian people is, essentially, the exact same one utilized at the conclusion of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

This movie is a significant set up for Infinity War, far more a lead in than Black Panther, which immediately precedes it. It also is significant fun in its own right. Far superior to Thor: The Dark WorldRagnarok is more confident and knows what it wants to accomplish. It closes a number of plot lines while advancing others. Great movie. Great performances. Great fun.

(But it does have THE WORST soundtrack – bracketing Immigrant Song – of all the Marvel movies – it is really bad)

Thor | Ragnarok is a terrifically fun movie and, when it opened last fall, I gave it FOUR and a HALF AIR CRAZY CAMEOS out of a possible FIVE. 


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Scourge
  • Hela, Goddess of Death, sister of Thor and Loki
  • Valkyrie
  • The Grandmaster
  • Korg
  • Thor’s new “Thunder” power

CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:

  • Thor starts the film by informing the audience what he has been doing since we last saw him: he has been searching for the Infinity Stones and he has not found any.
  • Thor has an extended (albeit utterly unnecessary) conversation with Doctor Strange.
  • “Fake” Infinity Gauntlet – apparently the gauntlet that Odin has (along with some other trinkets in his trophy room) are fake. When Hela gives Scourge a tour, they also pass the Tesseract – the Space Stone – one of the Infinity Stones Thanos will pursue in Infinity War. Did Loki steal it before the destruction of Asgard, by-the-way?
  • Oh, so this is where the Hulk has been!
  • Clearly the Asgardian refugees encounter Thanos’ ship and, well, given that Thor ends up flying through space until he slams into the Milano, the ship of the Guardians of the Galaxy, things do not seem to go well.

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Countdown to INFINITY… Spider-Man | Homecoming


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ONE A WEEK UNTIL Avengers Infinity War opens in May!

Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther

Week Sixteen: Spider-Man | Homecoming

SpiderMan

Tom Holland is perfect as Spider-Man. Perfect. Marvel directors seem to have unerring instincts in casting and their choice for Spider-Man (who debuted in Captain America: Civil War – a film creatively revisited in this one) in Tom Holland is spot-on. This is a very fun film and does a massive amount of world building while telling a compelling Spider-Man story, too. The filmmakers based their take on the high school movies of John Hughes, and they do a great job generating that vibe.

Spider-Man | Homecoming is absolutely jam-packed with delightful easter eggs… Bruce Banner’s picture on a classroom wall display of famous scientists, the principal of Peter’s school is the grandson of a solider who fought with Captain America in World War II, Captain America’s educational videos, the Sokovia Accords, Donald Glover (soon to explode as Lando Calrissian is on hand), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is on screen, and Jennifer Connelly – the wife of Paul Bettany who provides the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. and is the Vision – is the voice of Peter’s suit, which he names Karen. There are many more and, somehow, they do not overwhelm the movie.

Spider-Man | Homecoming also features one of the best Marvel villains in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Fun, breezy and suitably Marvel, this is the second best of all Spider-Man movies (it does trail Spider-Man 2 by a pretty wide margin). It is also the most multi-cultural of all the Marvel movies (prior to Black Panther) and that casting serves it very well. There are a series of great set pieces here and the interplay between Spider-Man and Iron Man is fun to watch. It is so pervasive, however, that it does lead one to question whether Spider-Man will be able to carry his own movie.

Oh, and the twist ending is very, very well handled.

When Spider-Man | Homecoming opened last summer, I gave it FOUR AND A HALF (because Holland is just SO good) FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOODS out of a possible FIVE.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Adrian Toomes, The Vulture
  • Damage Control
  • MJ (Mary Jane, perhaps?)
  • The Shocker (two, in fact!)
  • Aaron Davis (the Prowler)
    • Miles Morales is referenced… he will become a Spider-Man, too!
  • Phineas Mason, The Thinker

CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:

  • For a movie that almost immediately precedes Infinity War, there are surprisingly few lead ins to the movie, however…
  • The so-called Iron Spider armor is introduced at the end of the film when Peter turns down Avengers membership.
  • Tony Stark’s relationship with Pepper Potts seems very much back on after the “break” the two were on in Civil War… perhaps setting up for tragedy in Infinity War.
  • The new Avengers upstate New York headquarters features prominently in the last act. It is also remodeled just in time for Thanos to, likely, destroy it.

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Countdown to INFINITY… Doctor Strange


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ONE A WEEK UNTIL Avengers Infinity War opens in May!

Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther

Week Fifteen: Doctor Strange

Strange

 

Okay, to be fair, Doctor Strange is, almost beat-for-beat, Iron Man. Rich, arrogant, watch loving scientist learns a lesson in humility when he almost loses his life. He had treated those close to him poorly. He is something of a rogue, but lovable. He is the smartest guy in the room. He is a cad.

One might imagine that, if Robert Downey, jr were not otherwise engaged, he would have been an excellent choice for the title role in this film. As it turns out, Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job with Doctor Strange. He continues Marvel’s terrific casting choices. And he promises to be a lot of fun in Infinity War. Rachel McAdams is great, too, but a bit wasted. I would like to see more of her. And the movie cannot be forgiven for wasting the terrific Michael Stuhlbarg. It also has one of the most lame Stan Lee cameos.

The plot is limited, the villain (this is an old Marvel story) boring and the conclusion typically “the whole world is at stake-y.” But it has some very trippy visuals, for sure. In any ranking of the Marvel films, Doctor Strange would likely chart in the lower third but, hey, the Marvel movies are pretty good.

Doctor Strange is unlike other Marvel films in one very important way: it opens up an entire multiverse of magic and it helps prove that superhero movies can be sued to tell all kinds of different stories.

 

I gave Doctor Strange FOUR EYES OF AGAMOTTO out of a possible FIVE when it came out. Though it is a bit reductive, it is also a lot of fun.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Stephen Strange; Doctor Strange (though he was name dropped in Winter Soldier)
  • Kaecilius
  • Then Ancient One
  • Christine Palmer
  • Baron Mordo
  • Wong
  • Dormammu

CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:

  • The Eye of Agamotto is, itself, an Infinity Stone, the Time Stone to be precise. As Doctor Strange wears it around his neck, Thanos may be as interested in the character as the character is interested in protecting it.
  • According to Wong, word of the Ancient One’s death will spread through the multiverse and folks, like Thanos perhaps, will know that the Earth has no one to defend it.
  • The idea of a multiverse in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is first introduced here. There are many concepts laid out in Doctor Strange that likely will be important to Infinity War.
  • The mid-credit sequence sets up Thor | Ragnarok in that it is a scene from that movie and that movie directly leads into the more cosmic portions of Infinity War.

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Chappaquiddick – A Movie Review


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chapI must admit that I went into the film Chappaquiddick with only a limited, working knowledge of the events dramatized in the movie.

I left the film with little more.

There are some fine performances in Chappaquiddick. Jason Clarke leads the cast as Ted Kennedy and more than acquits himself in the movie’s featured role. The actor has typically played hard body tough guys and his Kennedy is neither of those things. Also worth mention is Ed Helms as Joe Gragan, an “adopted” Kennedy brother who confronts his morality and his loyalty as the events of Chappaquiddick unfold. Both assay their real-life counterparts extremely well.

The movie, in surprisingly straightforward fashion, tells the story of the tragic, drowing death of Mary Jo Kopechne, who is trapped underwater in a car driven off a bridge by Senator Ted Kennedy. Kennedy’s actions after the accident are the heart of the story as he vacillates between his desire to tell the complete truth and his desire to protect his political future. That he waits to report the accident for 9 hours does not help his case.

Chappaquiddick seems to want to present events in the most even-handed fashion it can. It seems to want to paint a picture of a man in crisis who is bedeviled by forces within and without. It seems to want to let the audience draw its own conclusions.

Because of that, Chappaquiddick plays out way too carefully, way too by-the-numbers. With no attempt to employ a clever narrative structure the movie tries to generate tension with successive will-he-or-won’t-he do the right thing vignettes. Clarke plays these in perfectly fashion, but after two or three of them, the audience has gotten the point. Ted Kennedy, as presented in Chappaquiddick, is a man confused by his legacy, confronted by the demons of his family and overmatched by the situation he is in.

I was hoping for much more from the film than an encyclopedia article about the events. I did not get it.

CHAPPAQUIDDICK receives THREE FAUX NECK BRACES out of a possible FIVE.

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Countdown to INFINITY… Captain America | Civil War


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ONE A WEEK UNTIL Avengers Infinity War opens in May!

Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther

Week Fourteen: Captain America | Civil War

 

Civil War Mondo

If you can get over the fact (and I think I have – it has taken me four years) that the plot of this movie hinges on the heroes acting exactly as the villain intends and that a two-decade old VHS tape must play in order for the movie to work, it is almost perfect.

Civil War transcends the typical trappings of “make heroes fight each other” and pits the Avengers against each other with stakes that seem real. While the team disintegrates, the movie, somehow, manages to perfectly introduce two major new characters: Black Panther and Spider-Man, both of whom who have since headlined movies of their own.

Add to the proceedings humor, brilliantly staged action and pathos, and you have an excellent movie and one of the best Marvel films. To paraphrase the title character: “I could watch this all day.”

By-the-way, though I think his plan would never have worked, the villain won in this one. The Avengers are, for all intents and purposes, no more at the end of this film.

 

I gave Captain America: Civil War  FIVE VHS TAPES out of a possible FIVE when it came out. It deserved all five.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • T’Chaka; king of Wakanda
  • T’Challa; The Black Panther
  • Everett Ross
  • Baron Helmut Zemo
  • Spider-Man
  • Aunt May

CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:

  • Of all the films preceding it, Captain America | Civil War prepares for Infinity War in the most clear fashion. It leaves the Avengers broken and scattered. It leaves them ultra-vulnerable to an attack, like the attack Thanos will mount.
  • The Vision has a conversation with the Scarlet Witch about the Mind Stone embedded in his head which came from Loki’s staff and also created the Scarlet Witch’s powers.
  • The Winter Soldier is left in Wakanda at the end of the film. He will be there in both Black Panther and, according to the previews, Infinity War.
  • “That shield doesn’t belong to you…” I do not know that the filmmakers knew what a key line that would be when they wrote it, but watch for Black Panther to supply Cap with the soldier’s most emblematic weapon in Infinity War.

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