Avengers: Infinity War Review

Avengers: Infinity War movie posterSynopsis
When Thanos (Josh Brolin) travels throughout the universe to collect the powerful infinity stones, all of Earth’s heroes and the Guardians of the Galaxy must come together to stop him, before he can end half of all life in existence.

Review
Well, here we are. 10 years, 18 movies, and one comic fan’s wet dream later, Thanos has finally arrived. Thanos has been teased at since the end of The Avengers in Phase One, intermittently throughout Phase Two, and was pretty silent throughout Phase Three… until now. The buildup to his arrival has been one for the cinematic history books. A shared universe between movies is nothing new; Universal’s monster universe from the 1900s, the Alien and Predator films, Nightmare on Elmstreet and Friday the 13th, the list goes on. However, what is unprecedented is the scope and interconnectivity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Marvel Studios needed to make the culmination of their journey to be great, at the very least, in order to properly payoff all of the threads they have been dropping since 2008. Avengers: Infinity War not only meets expectations but surpasses them.

You know what to expect from this film right off the bat. Within the first ten minutes, my jaw was on the floor. And it stayed there. The excitement never let up. But that’s not to say the action was turned up to eleven like a Michael Bay movie. No. The Russo brothers did a fantastic job of balancing action, drama, and humor. They’ve shown they can do so with a large cast in Captain America: Civil War and they’ve done it yet again here. While it may be the longest MCU film to date, clocking in at an hour and a half, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

One of my biggest gripes about Thor: Ragnarok was that it didn’t know when not to be funny. It didn’t take the time to let the somber moments be somber or the dramatic moments to linger before cracking a joke to break the mood. Not so in Avengers: Infinity War. Yes, it is funny and there are plenty of jokes and humorous moments are abundant. However, it isn’t afraid to take a step back and be dramatic, to be emotional, to let your jaw hit the floor and stay there for a moment. Like a fine wine before drinking, these moments are given the time to breath before moving on to the next great action piece or quip. It is some very disciplined story telling from the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to balance the different story elements so well.

But best yet, the characters feel balanced.

With nearly thirty characters to juggle, it’s amazing how shared the screen time is between all of them. Throughout the film, the characters are in several groups with many unique combinations, such as Thor, Rocket, and Groot, or Tony Stark, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man. These groupings made for some pretty great moments, either humorous or unexpectedly heartfelt. Despite the large cast, no one feels like they get short–changed on screen time. There are those those get more time than others but no one feels over-shadowed.

There might be a good reason for that.

Throughout the film, Thanos gets just as much screen time as all the heroes, probably even as much as all of them combined. He is treated like a main character. Much of the film’s run time is devoted to him, allowing his character to be deeply explored. He’s not just a stereotypical MCU villain that fits the one-dimensional format that plagues the franchise. Like the movie as a whole, Thanos is balanced between building his back story and driving motivations, as well as showing how formidable he is. He has easily and quickly become one of the MCU’s best villains (not that it was a high bar to hurtle).

While showing Thanos and all these heroes on screen, the tone felt balanced as well. Having spent several outings with many of these characters, each of their individual movies had their own tone and feeling. There is definitely a common, humorous tone between them that Marvel has refined over the last decade but they still had a uniqueness to them. Again, the Russo brothers and the writers managed to make these tones flow together smoothly. So when we jumped from the Guardians to Iron Man to Thor, it wasn’t jerky or awkward.

Slight spoilers in this paragraph. Given that this is considered part 1, with Avengers 4 being part 2, of the fight with Thanos, it should be no surprise that this ends on a cliffhanger. Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of cliffhanger endings in movies. However, I don’t necessarily think it’s a cliffhanger in the traditional sense. In a way, this is Thanos’ story, not the heroes’. While it ends on a cliffhanger for the heroes, Thanos’ story is completed. It’s a fairly unique way to end a film, allowing me to put aside my usual feelings towards cliffhanger endings.

I thought Avengers: Infinity War was GREAT πŸ˜€ Calling this anything short of ‘epic’ would not do this film justice. Even that almost doesn’t feel appropriate to fit the scope and grandeur of what happens on screen. I love this film for the same reason I love The Avengers: it feels like an event. It brings together threads that have been laid out throughout the MCU films up to this point. And let’s not forget, this is only the beginning of the end of the buildup. We still have the conclusion in the as-of-yet untitled Avengers 4 next year. Marvel has proven time and time again they are expert story tellers and know what makes their characters tick. They’ve just proven again why they are continuously at the top of the box office.

You can also check out a spoiler-free audio review of this film in theΒ Avengers: Infinity War episode of the Film Focus podcast, guest starring me!

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Anthony Russo – Director
Joe Russo – Director
Christopher Markus – Screenplay
Stephen McFeely – Screenplay
Alan Silvestri – Composer

Robert Downey Jr. – Tony Stark / Iron Man
Chris Hemsworth – Thor
Mark Ruffalo – Bruce Banner / Hulk
Chris Evans – Steve Rogers / Captain America
Scarlett Johansson – Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
Don Cheadle – James Rhodes / War Machine
Benedict Cumberbatch – Doctor Strange
Tom Holland – Peter Parker / Spider-Man
Chadwick Boseman – T’Challa / Black Panther
Karen Gillen – Nebula
Tom Hiddleston – Loki
Paul Bettany – Vision
Elizabeth Olson – Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch
Anthony Mackie – Sam Wilson / Falcon
Sebastian Stan – Bucky Barns / Winter Soldier
Peter Dinklage – Eitri
Benedict Wong – Wong
Chris Pratt – Peter Quill / Star- Lord
Zoe Saldana – Gamora
Dave Bautista – Drax
Vin Diesel – Groot (voice)
Bradley Cooper – Rocket (voice)
Pom Klementieff – Mantis
Josh Brolin – Thanos
Terry Notary – Cull Obsidian
Tom Vaughan-Lawlor – Ebony Maw
Carrie Coon – Proxima Midnight
Michael James Shaw – Corvus Glaive

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Ready Player One Review

Ready Player One movie posterSynopsis
In the near future when a virtual reality world known as the Oasis serves as the most popular social getaway, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is on the hunt for three hidden keys hidden by the game’s creator. His search puts not only his virtual self but real-world self in the sights of IOI, a corporation looking to control the Oasis.

Review
I wanted to see Ready Player One for exclusively two reasons: 1) it is based around a video game (one of my favorite past times), and 2) it is directed by Steven Spielberg (my favorite director). A marriage of the two was guaranteed to get me into a seat. I know that it is based on a book of the same name, written by Ernest Cline. However, I have never read it so I can’t say how it compares to the source material. What I can say how it stacks up as a film and boy does this film deliver!

As soon as the movie steps into the Oasis, you are overwhelmed with breathtaking visuals. While much of the world looks realistic, it does just enough to prevent itself from falling into the uncanny valley territory, making sure you know it takes place inside a video game. With that, a wide range of environments are visited throughout the film. There’s a race track, a night club, a bustling city, tundra, literally every kind of place imaginable makes an appearance, driving home that the Oasis is a place is inside a video game.

Since half the movie is inside a video game, where literally anything is possible, this movie takes full advantage of that. Every turn of the camera reveals a plethora of pop-culture characters, icons, and items from anything including video games, movies, or television series. Nothing is left out. I can’t wait for the home video release so I can comb through the movie and find all the easter eggs that I missed in the theater. As someone who loves to play video games (one of the reasons this review is so delayed), I felt a real love and reverence for the medium oozing from this film.

No video game movie would be complete without some action and adventure. The action is big and the adventure is exciting. This film takes full advantage of the “anything is possible” aspect of its video game setting that I have mentioned several times already. The opening scene is a car race along a track filled twists and turns and loop-the-loops, populated with all kinds of movie characters. Later the characters have to make it through a portion of The Shining. And then a huge fight sequence happens in and around a castle in an icy world. Even in the real world, there are car chases and excitement throughout. All of it, in the Oasis and the real world, everything is well shot. It doesn’t rely on too much shaky cam or cut-a-ways. What’s important stays in the frame.

World building can be a tricky thing to do. Some movies use flashbacks, some use exposition, Ready Player One does a little of both, as well as its own special method. While Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) narrates some of the basics of how the world works in 2045 after a virtual reality world takes over the real world, the Oasis’ history is given through flashbacks but not in the standard fashion. Instead, the game’s tasks requires Wade and his friends to look through the game’s creator’s memories. This way, the history is integrated into the story itself and doesn’t derail the narrative. I found this technique unique and engaging.

One of my favorite characters was actually the villain I-R0K, voiced by TJ Miller. I-R0K is a gun-for-hire, tasked by the main baddy, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), with eliminating Wade’s avatar inside of the Oasis. Miller infuses I-R0K with his signature wit and humor, creating a character that you know instantly is Miller. His voice feels like a mismatch compared to I-R0K’s large and sinister figure, making it all the more comical (appropriately so).

I thought Ready Player One was GREAT πŸ˜€ From simple things like appearances of popular characters or items, to classic genre tropes, to easter eggs, even to why people play video games in the first place, I felt connected to the story and the characters themselves in a way that I can’t say happens very often to me during a movie. Director Steven Spielberg weaves a dazzling pop culture tapestry and a love letter to games and what it means to be a gamer. There isn’t anything more exciting than playing with your friends or more satisfying than playing simply for the enjoyment of the game. This movie understands that and shares that pleasure in a genuine and beautiful way.

Trivia
Oasis is actually an acronym. It stands for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. This is mentioned in Ernest Cline’s source novel but not mentioned in the film. (Via IMDb)

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Steven Spielberg – Director
Zak Penn – Screenplay
Ernest Cline – Screenplay

Tye Sheridan – Parzival / Wade
Olivia Cooke – Art3mis / Samantha
Lena Waithe – Aech / Helen
Philip Zhao – Sho
Win Morisaki – Daito
Ben Mendelsohn – Sorrento
TJ Miller – I-R0K
Mark Rylance – Anorak / Halliday
Simon Pegg – Ogden Morrow

Game Night Review

Game Night movie posterSynopsis
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) host a weekly game night with their friends. When Max’s brother (Kyle Chandler) offers to host game night, the group finds themselves solving a murder mystery like they never expected.

Review
When I first saw the trailer for Game Night and saw it starred Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, and Lamorne Morris (aka New Girl’s Winston (aka my favorite character)), and the ridiculous premise, I was sold. I like comedies and I like movies that take a regular event, like a weekly, friendly gathering to play board games, and turns it on its head. And I have to say, I was not disappointed.

Sometimes in films with larger casts, some characters might be eclipsed or feel unnecessary. However, in this movie, no one character ever really outshined another. Every character felt unique, bringing something different to the film both in terms of comedy and character arc. In comedies, characters can feel the same. Again, not here. Big props to the casting director who brought this group of actors and actresses together. Everyone worked well together as couples and as a large group. It reminds me a little of Ocean’s Eleven where the cast just works so well together and has great on-screen chemistry, elevating the movie further than the script could alone.

Speaking of the script, the script was tighter than it is in most comedies. It was funny when it needed to be, focused on the action when it was supposed to, and let the character moments take front and center when necessary. It balanced all aspects of the film, never feeling rushed nor drawn out. To go with what I said above, every character had their place, each couple had their own arc besides the main story arc, and at running at just above an hour and a half, they all felt complete.

As great as the script was, the cast was even better. I’m a big fan of Jason Bateman and and even bigger fan of Rachel McAdams. The two of them are absolute magic together. Not surprising, Lamorne Morris was one of my favorites in the film. He brings the same sense of humor that makes his character of Winston in New Girl so lovable. Besides them, I didn’t know much of the rest of the cast going into the movie but I thought they all were great. Billy Magnussen as the not-quite-as-smart one in the group might have been my favorite of those I was less familiar with.

I thought Game Night was GREAT πŸ˜€ From the very beginning, this film had me laughing and it never stopped. Every character had their place in the story and the entire cast worked great together, in their pairs and in the overall group. And the tight script only elevates the great cast. It may be early in the year but I foresee this being one of my favorite comedies of 2018.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
John Francis Daley – Director
Jonathan Goldstein – Director
Mark Perez – Writer
Cliff Martinez – Composer

Jason Bateman – Max
Rachel McAdams – Annie
Kyle Chandler – Brooks
Sharon Horgan – Sarah
Billy Magnussen – Ryan
Lamorne Morris – Kevin
Kylie Bunbury – Michelle
Jesse Plemons – Gary
Michael C. Hall – The Bulgarian
Danny Huston – Donald Anderton
Chelsea Peretti – Glenda
Camille Chen – Dr. Chin
Zerrick Williams – Val
RF Daley – Tats
John Francis Daley – Carter
Michael Cyril Creighton – Bill
Brooke Jaye Taylor – Linda
Jonathan Goldstein – Dan

Black Panther Review

Black Panther movie reviewSynopsis
After the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes his place as king of the technologically advanced and secluded country of Wakanda. His succession is in jeopardy when the mysterious Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) challenges T’Challa for the throne.

Review
I think it’s safe to say that Black Panther is one of Marvel Studios’ most anticipated movies to date. Chadwick Boseman stole his scenes in Captain America: Civil War, a lot of time and effort was put into researching different African cultures for inspiration for Wakanda, and the cast consisted of fan-favorite black actors including Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gunra, and many others. Black Panther had the world’s eyes on it. It stood its ground, didn’t falter, and brought one of the most compelling experiences to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

One thing Marvel films have always been good at, in my opinion, is having great action. Black Panther is no exception. Whether it’s a car chase through the streets of Korea, a large-scale battle on the plains of Wakanda, or a one-on-one battle between Black Panter and Killmonger, every action piece is well choreographed and well shot. The camera does a good job of staying on what’s important in the scene and framing the action. At no point did I feel lost or didn’t understand who was where and doing what.

This film really stands out because of its cast and their chemistry. Letitia Wright played T’Challa’s genius little sister, Shuri. She and Boseman felt like siblings. They had this playful banter that felt natural and didn’t feel like it was written in a script. The same can be said for whenever Boseman, Nyong’o, and Gunra shared a scene. I had a smile on my face when these three were together.

Going into Black Panther, I was most interested in seeing Michael B. Jordan as the villainous Killmonger. I haven’t seen him in an antagonistic role before so I wanted to see how he would do in the part. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Jordan oozed swag. His character was intelligent, cold, and calculating and Jordan pulled it off with ease. Admittedly, Marvel has had a bit of a villain problem. Outside of Loki, not many have been compelling. Killmonger is a perfect foil to T’Challa. The two of them have similar goals but approach them different ways, much like Professor X and Magneto in the X-Men franchise. For being unsure what to expect, it’s hard to imagine another actor filling the role as well as Jordan did. He might have stolen the entire movie for me if it wasn’t for one actress: Letitia Wright.

Wright hands-down made this movie several times better than if she wasn’t in it. Her take on Shuri was better than I ever could have imagined. She was witty, sassy, strong, and intelligent. I mentioned it before but her and Boseman’s chemistry was uplifting. She wasn’t afraid to give the king a hard time and to ground him when necessary. She brought a lot of the film’s humor. I can’t wait to see what is in store for Wright in the future.

Wakanda is a technologically advanced country located in the heart of Africa. Director Ryan Coogler vision for the country is breathtaking. I know this sounds like a clichΓ© but the country is almost a character unto itself. It is this mix of futurism and African tradition. Clearly, a lot of time was spent visualizing this β€œcharacter.” Whether in the Golden City or on the country’s plains, you won’t believe your eyes.

With the MCU consisting of nearly twenty films, there is a lot of interconnectivity between the films and it can be daunting to jump into one of these movies β€œin the middle.” However, Black Panther does a great job of standing on its own. Yes, the death of T’Chaka, T’Challa’s father, that essentially kicks of this story happens in Captain America: Civil War, but this movie recaps the events nicely. Other than that, there is very little that new viewers won’t understand. This film can stand alone but if you have seen the other movies, it will help you understand its place in the series overarching story.

Since The Avengers, most of the movies proceeding it have had a similar style of humor. I brought it up in my review of Thor: Ragnarok because it was almost too much in that film that it undermined many of the more serious moments. This movie has that trademark Marvel humor but it uses it much more effectively than most MCU films. There was only one time that I really felt it was interjected at the wrong time.

As much as Killmonger didn’t fit the traditional MCU villain mold, Ulysses Klaue, aka Klaw, did. He feels extremely underutilized. As someone who knows his significant history with Black Panther, it’s disappointing to see him not used to his full potential. And Andy Serkis does wonderful in the part. It probably would have been hard to have two well-built villains in this movie but it hurts a little that Klaw had to end up shorted.

I thought Black Panther was GREAT πŸ˜€ As Chadwick Boseman made a great impression as a supporting character during his debut in Civil War, many of Black Panther‘s supporting cast have unforgettable roles. The action is well shot and choreographed and the villain is actually complex and empathetic. Black Panther shows that even ten years later and eighteen movies in, the MCU still has plenty of steam.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Ryan Coogler – Director / Writer
Joe Robert Cole – Writer
Ludwig Goransson – Composer

Chadwick Boseman – T’Challa / Black Panther
Michael B. Jordan – Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens
Andy Serkis – Ulysses Klaue
Lupita Nyong’o – Nakia
Danai Gunra – Okoye
Martin Freeman – Everett K. Ross
Daniel Kaluuya – W’Kabi
Letitia Wright – Shuri
Winston Duke – M’Baku
Angela Bassett – Ramonda
Forest Whitaker – Zuri
Florence Kasumba – Ayo
David S. Lee – Limbani
Nabiyah Be – Linda
John Kani – T’Chaka
Sterling K. Brown – N’Jobu
Atandwa Kani – Young T’Chaka
Ashton Tyler – Young T’Challa

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Review

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle ReviewSynopsis
While serving detention, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Martha (Morgan Turner) come across a magical video game that transports them into the game itself. The four must embody their avatars and beat the game to return home.

Review
When I first heard a Jumanji sequel was in the works, I was skeptical. Over the last few years, movie studios have been reviving/rebooting/remaking 20+ year-old franchises to ride a nostalgia wave that is sweeping through Hollywood right now, to mostly with negative results. Jumanji is one of my favorite Robin Williams movies and one of my favorites from my childhood in general, so seeing that tarnished was not something I wanted to see. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has managed to break the trend of terrible revived/rebooted/remake of a 20+ year-old franchise and actually provide a memorable and hilarious experience.

Really, the fun from this film all comes from the cast, their chemistry, and their overall enjoyment in their roles. Jack Black as a teenage girl is something I never knew I needed to see until this movie. He had the attitude, the tone of voice, the strut, everything. The scene where (s)he learns about going to the bathroom as a guy literally had me laughing in tears. Dwayne Johnson is one of my favorite actors right now so of course I thought he was brilliant, too. I’ve frequently said that he needs someone to bounce off of to truly hit his stride as a comedic actor and with both Jack Black and Kevin Hart, he is at the top of his game. Kevin Hart always makes me laugh and he riffs on his short stature wonderfully. His and Johnson’s moments are the next best thing in this film, behind anything from Jack Black of course. Karen Gillen is more of a recent favorite of mine but like the others, she did not disappoint.

I thought Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was GREAT πŸ˜€ I was worried that this movie would become another reviled sequel to a beloved film. Thankfully, the cast put their heart and soul into it and turned out one of the funniest movies of the year.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Jake Kasdan – Director
Chris McKenna – Screenplay / Story
Erik Sommers – Screenplay
Scott Rosenberg – Screenplay
Jeff Pinkner – Screenplay
Henry Jackman – Composer

Dwayne Johnson – Spencer
Kevin Hart – Fridge
Jack Black – Bethany
Karen Gillen – Martha
Rhys Darby – Nigel
Bobby Cannavale – Van Pelt
Nick Jonas – Alex
Alex Wolff – Young Spencer
Ser’Darius Blain – Young Fridge
Madison Iseman – Young Bethany
Morgan Turner – Young Martha

Inside Out Review

Inside Out movie posterSynopsis
Riley (Kaitlyn Dias (voice)) and her family have moved from Minnesota to their new home in San Fransisco. Inside her head, her emotions Joy (Amy Poehler (voice)) , Sadness (Phyllis Smith (voice)), Anger (Lewis Black (voice)), Disgust (Mindy Kaling (voice)), and Fear (Bill Hader (voice)) are trying to help Riley with their new home. Things take an unexpected turn when Joy and Sadness accidentally fall out of headquarters, leaving the other emotions to control Riley until they return.

Review
First, Pixar asked, β€œwhat if toys had feelings?” Then they asked, β€œwhat if robots had feelings?” Now they ask, β€œwhat if feelings had feelings?” Inside Out tells the story of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias (voice)) and what goes on inside her head and emotions during her move to her new home in San Francisco. Leave it to Pixar to literally jump inside our imagination and dream up what that world would look like. If anyone is up to the task, it’s Pixar.

I am beginning to feel like a broken record because every time I watch a newer animated film, I always seem to say that it is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. Inside Out‘s animation is simply gorgeous. It is colorful, it is expressive, and it is unique. I liked that the real world and the world inside the characters’ heads had two very distinct styles. The real world was more muted and toned back, whereas the inside world was bright and cheerful. I really liked the design of the emotion characters. They didn’t have solid outlines, rather they were fuzzy and not quite clear. Their aesthetic matched the world around them perfectly.

Something I didn’t really think about until after the film was over but appreciated once I thought about it was that the emotions didn’t actively work against each other. They are all friends and work together because they love Riley and want what is best for her. There are disagreements between them on several occasions (one is even central to the story) but it is the same as you having squabbling with your best friend.

Many movies have a clear antagonist, someone the characters are actively working against or someone we, as the audience, are supposed to dislike. This movie does not have anyone like that. Instead, the conflict comes from two friends trying to learn from and understand each other. I think this is a great concept, especially for a younger audience, because it allows the characters to grow since we see them have to face more of an internal challenge rather than an external one. Sometimes our greatest antagonist can be ourselves.

These challenges the characters faced are very much adult problems but shown in a way that can be understood and relatable to a younger audience as well. Pixar has pulled this before on other films, like the Toy Story series, which is why their films are almost universally loved and endure rewatch after rewatch, even years later. They touch such a wide audience that virtually everyone, from any age group, can find something to enjoy and take away from the film.

That being said, I don’t think I would have appreciated Inside Out‘s message were this to have come out when I was younger. At its core, this movie is about understanding the emotions that we feel and that every emotion is necessary really hits hard and is relevant to everyone. I have no doubt I would have come to appreciate it eventually, but I think being able to fully understand it right out of the gate allows me to enjoy it that much more.

I thought Inside Out was GREAT πŸ˜€ Pixar has proven themselves time and time again that they are skillful storytellers. With Inside Out, they show their expertise once more. Who else could have made a movie about emotions so emotional? Stunning animation and great storytelling with relatable characters and a strong message propelled this movie high on my favorite Pixar films.

Favorite Quote
Fear: What the heck is that!?
Joy: Who puts broccoli on pizza?
Disgust: That’s it, I’m done.
Anger: Congratulations San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians, and now you.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Pete Doctor – Co-Director / Story / Screenplay
Ronnie Del Carmen – Co-Director / Story
Meg LeFauve – Screenplay
Josh Cooley – Screenplay

Amy Poehler – Joy (voice)
Phyllis Smith – Sadness (voice)
Lewis Black – Anger (voice)
Mindy Kaling – Disgust (voice)
Bill Hader – Fear (voice)
Richard Kind – Bing Bong (voice)
Kaitlyn Dias – Riley (voice)
Diane Lane – Mom (voice)
Kyle MacLachlan – Dad (voice)