Avengers: Infinity War

AIWDirectors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Screenwriters: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Cast: Not Ant Man, not Hawkeye…everybody else is in there somewhere, and Josh Brolin

Is it the biggest movie ever? As of “press time,” the box office for Avengers: Infinity War is about to cross the $1 B mark, making it potentially the fastest movie to $1 B ever. But the real question is, is it the best Marvel movie ever? The short answer is no, but it’s in the top 5!

Avengers: Infinity War is the mega-anticipated culmination of 10 years of Marvel Studio films. It was originally billed as simply a part 1 of a 2 part third installment to the Avengers franchise; however last summer, Marvel backed away from that idea, simply naming this film Avengers: Infinity War. A wise move, as Infinity War is a complete film, and while we know an untitled fourth Avengers film will be released next May, calling this a “part 1,” would do nothing but add a stigma to what it accomplishes independently in the genre.

“Infinity War” refers to a conflict that has been brewing since the first Avengers film opened back in 2012. Essentially, when the universe was created, 6 powerful gems were scattered throughout the universe, and if one were to possess all six, that he or she would essentially be an all knowing overlord to the entire universe. Each of the stones has been referenced one way or another in various Marvel films, and the being who seeks to obtain them all has also had his story woven throughout these films (mostly in post credit sequences). His name is Thanos (Josh Brolin), and when Avengers: Infinity War opens, he has acquired a magic gauntlet that has been forged precisely to be adorned by all six stones. So, why does he want them? Assuming that Thanos’s reputation does not precede him, he believes that there has to be balance between life and death and currently “life” is in excess, so in order bring balance into to universe he plans to essentially kill half of the universe. Now for such a huge task Thanos needs god like power, and the one who holds the infinity gauntlet with 6 gems embedded in it will have god like powers. Hence he needs all the 6 infinity stones.

This sounds like a job for the Avengers, and it would be except, if you remember last time we saw them, they were not getting along so great. The “Civil War” has effectively disbanded the Avengers, and while they are all doing their best to protect Earth from interplanetary attacks, no one was expecting one of this magnitude to happen anytime soon. Thanos is coming, and has band of cronies are searching the universe high and low for each infinity stone, two of which happen to be currently located on Earth.

That’s the conflict in a nutshell, but the film is epically bigger than this simple explanation leads you to believe. Like all of Marvel’s best films, Infinity War is a careful mix of action, adventure, humor, and style. Wisely, producer Kevin Feige tapped the director duo responsible for the best Marvel film ever, Captain America: The Winter Soldier to direct Avengers: Infinity War. Anthony and Joe Russo also directed the excellent Captain America: Civil War, so they were more than ready to tackle a true Avengers film. Now the news on this film was all over the place from, “there are too many characters,” to, “they’re all going to die,” to “this is all a ploy to get our money,” and the reality is that, none of this is true. Remember back in 2012 when Marvel’s Avengers came out, and everyone was saying, “how in the world will they balance a film with all six Avengers in it?” Look how that turned out. Now here we are six years later, 13 films further, and predictably with twice as many main characters, but no damage is done. In fact, I wager Avengers: Infinity War is the best of the three Avengers films, just barely edging out the original. The immenseness of the stakes in this film are only rivaled by the vastness of its scope. Everything you loved about The Avengers is here in this third film along with the vast epic nature of a Star Wars film. The Russos and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely flawlessly balance the top-heavy cast by somehow giving us more than we expected of our favorite characters and still leaving us wanting more. Furthermore, with a running time of 2 hours and 29 minutes, this film lines right up with the running times of each of the previous Avengers films. Additionally, in a film about hidden gems, Avengers: Infinity War is full of hidden little Easter Eggs for the film franchise lover, the comic book reader, and even the Arrested Development watcher that give the film a heavily re-watchable appeal.

Still the fact that I just wrote a movie review without mentioning any of the central characters specifically, save for Thanos, shows you that this is no kind of character study. And while a film with this much going on can not match up to the strength of the more genre-bending, cinematic, and inspired entries in the franchise, Infinity War does offer some emotional punch that few Marvel films have managed to provide, allowing it to just barely outshine its predecessors. Yet another feather in the MCU cap, and another crowd-pleasing and laudable summer blockbuster. A-

Avengers: Infinity War is rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours and 29 minutes. Stay until the end for one post-credits sequence that sets up at least 2 upcoming 2019 MCU films.

The Rundown – An Updated List of the People’s Critic’s Rankings of the MCU Films

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A

Thor: Ragnarok – A

Iron Man 3 – A

Avengers: Infinity War – A-

Marvel’s The Avengers – A-

Captain America: Civil War – A-

Iron Man – A-

Black Panther – A-

Avengers: Age of Ultron – A-

Captain America: The First Avenger – B+

Thor – B+

Spider-Man: Homecoming – B+

Ant-Man – B+

Iron Man 2 – B

The Incredible Hulk – B

Thor: The Dark World – B

Guardians of the Galaxy – B-

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – C+

Doctor Strange – C+

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Hail, Caesar!

HailDirectors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen

Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlet Johansson, and a boatload of others you will recognize including The Highlander!

I want to start this off by simply saying, Josh Brolin is today’s Humphrey Bogart.  The man knows how to rock a fedora and deliver a knuckle sandwich to any nosebleed who doesn’t know how to treat a dame (more on this in my Gangster Squad review).  It’s hard to believe that while Joel and Ethan Coen have managed to tackle westerns, crime, folk music, The Odyssey, even bowling, they have yet to take aim at the very business that has made them so successful for over 30 years, cinema!  Hail, Caesar! rectifies this glaring omission in their filmography and as impeccably as one would expect.

Hail, Caesar! has a plot, but that’s not why it’s good.  Basically, the film follows studio executive, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as he attempts to keep his talent in line by covering up scandals and fixing production mishaps.  The film’s title is a reference to Mannix’s big-budget prestige picture for the studio starring mega-star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) that tells the “story of the Christ.”  When Whitlock suddenly goes missing, Mannix searches the studio lot for clues to his whereabouts.

Like I said, the key to this film is not the plot.  Like most classic cinema, the plot is a device to direct the entertainment.  The Coens revel in the glory days of cinema as Whitlock’s disappearance leads Mannix to wander from studio set to studio set and consequently from beautifully staged genre scene to beautifully staged genre scene.  Hail, Caesar! gives the Coens license to film Gene Kelly- style musical numbers, Gary Cooper-style western scenes, Esther Williams-style synchronized swimming spectacles, and high society dramatic capers all within the context of one goofy plotline.

Furthermore, the screen is filled with trademark quirky characters, some of which look to be lost from a Wes Anderson movie (I’m talking to you Ralph Fiennes!).  Still, an important consideration is that my admiration for this film has little, almost nothing, to do with the characters or the actors.  The closest thing to a classic and fully developed character comes in the form of Alden Ehrenreich’s role as a Gene Autry-type western actor named Hobie Doyle who is forced into a role that is way out of his comfort zone. His battle with the phrase, “Would that it were so simple” is very enjoyable.  Otherwise, the reason to see this film is for its harkening back to the classic days of cinema through the lens of the Coen brothers.  The all-star cast may get people in the seats, but this film will disappoint if you are expecting to spend much time with some of your favorite movie stars.  In fact, recognizable faces are strung together in such a way that once one actor goes off screen another comes in; it’s like a wack-a-mole of Hollywood stars.  Put simply, this is a movie for people who have a fondness for the art and presentation of the movies themselves.  If your ears perk up when a character is introduced as “Carlotta Valdez,” then this is a movie for you.

I make this distinction about Hail Caesar! because I feel it can disappoint if audiences go in with the wrong mindset, but it will dazzle and entertain if they go in with another.  While the film celebrates the importance of plot and actors, you almost have to put all of that aside to fully enjoy this movie.  In fact, the preposterous climactic scene involving the acts of a group of Communists is so absurd, the Coens are basically begging you to reexamine the point of this film.  Hail, Caesar! is a blast though, and likely not a coincidence that it is released amidst wider releases of all of the 2015 Oscar contenders.  The film revels in the eminence of motion pictures and can be seen as perhaps a thoroughly satisfying appetizer worth seeing before this year’s Academy Awards. B+

Hail, Caesar! is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes. 

Gangster Squad

ImageDirector: Ruben Fleisher

Screenwriter: Will Beall

Cast: Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, and Michael Pena

(A genre review, to be read ‘gangster style’)

This is a picture that says, “Listen, you! You’ll sit there and watch if you know what’s good for ya!” Next thing you know, there’s a guy getting ripped in half, just so you get the message. Mickey Cohen is the guy who sends that telegram, and he’s played by Sean Penn who met ‘the top’ one day and decided to go over it, way over it. Just so we’re clear though, that’s just what’s needed to make Gangster Squad tick.

Cohen owns LA, but goody-two-shoes Sgt. O’Mara (Josh Brolin) has other plans for the City of Angels. He’s had enough of this sucker’s drug running, cop buying, and lady trafficking and looks to put an end to it. Problem is, his bird needs a husband not a hero, and what’s more – she’s got company on the way (baby O’Mara). Off the books, Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) says O’Mara’s got to round up a squad Ocean’s Eleven style complete with tough guy Rocky Washington (Anthony Mackie), tech-man Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), sharp shooter Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), and sidekick Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena). Not to mention Wildman Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) who’s “poaching the king’s deer” in that he’s got an eye on Mickey’s girl Grace (Emma Stone).

What follows is a ride through the gritty, pulpy landscape of post-war LA, where knuckleheads get what’s coming to them if they step out of line. Jerry’s moves on Mickey’s dame put O’Mara’s operation in some hot water, and a cat and mouse chase commences. When it comes to Gangster Squad, you know the drill: operations go south on account that a runt up and turned rat on a guy, tensions swell when a thug drops the dime on his boss, and emotions flare every time a broad bends her arm for another gent. It ain’t Chinatown, but it’s got a scene that takes place there. Point is, this is entertaining and while critically it may be a bust, here’s a fun ride with an expert cast that delivers the goods…with a few bumps and bruises. B+