Adventure

Avengers: Endgame

Fist Hit: A long swan song with highly predictable scenes and very little cohesive clarity.

I’m glad it’s over, and I hope I don’t have to see another Avengers film in my lifetime. Yes, that is how I feel after sitting there for three hours and one minute just to give everyone, in the Avengers franchise catalog, a scene where they could shine a little.

Were there good parts? Yes, a few. I did think Thor (Chris Hemsworth) getting fat from drinking too much beer and lying around playing video games was slightly amusing. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) was showing his age while fading graciously into the great beyond was poignant.

Everyone had their day in the sun in this story. This includes but not limited to; Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and at least twenty other known Avengers, fighting Thanos (Josh Brolin) who had destroyed one-half of the people on Earth as a way to have the inhabitants wake up.

The petty fighting between factions in this group of Avengers was brought forth and forgiven. Simmering mistrusts were rectified. Everything seemed to be tied up in a beautiful neat bow.

But the story was rather meek and dividing up the defeat of Thanos by the various personalities and powers diluted the entire reason for the franchise.

I won’t bother calling out a group or sub-group of actors and their performances as there are too many people to name. Overall, there were no outstanding performances. Everyone did what they were supposed to do, make their screen time be about their character’s strengths and weaknesses, no more no less. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote this overly ambitious screenplay: Make every Avenger have a say in the story and its ending. What they forgot about that this sort of story loses focus, the audience cannot attach themselves to a single hero, and it makes for a really long experience in mediocrity. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo co-directed this, and in the end, they did what the producers wanted.

Overall: I couldn’t wait for the end because the movie came across as an amorphous mass of ideas.

Dumbo

First Hit: Overdone, overreaching, and overproduced leaving little to the imagination — dumb.

Director Tim Burton has a habit of creating worlds and often what we see is his complete vision. He tidies the storyline in such a way that the audience can only watch and not imagine themselves. With fantasy, I think it is important to leave things to the imagination.

With Dumbo he’s created a world where we have to feel sorry for the Medici Circus because it has fallen on hard times. The circus is run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito). The train cars are perfectly faded. There is the strong man who is also the accountant, as well as assorted clowns, snake charmer, and other mixed people. The only animals that are left in this dilapidated circus are dogs with colored fur and elephants.

Two children are running around the circus, Millie and Joe Farrier (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins respectively). They are being taken care of because their mother has died and their father, Holt (Collin Farrell), had to leave the circus to fight in the war.

Upon the father’s return, he’s missing an arm which adds to the depressing scene. Holt’s act with the circus was riding horses, and when he returned with one arm, he discovered the horses were already sold. He’d hoped he’d do a one arm riding act. Max tells Holt his new job will be to tend the elephants, including the new huge one who is pregnant.

When the elephant gives birth, they find out the baby elephant has enormous, I mean really huge, ears which makes him the laughing stock of the circus audience. Here is where I see a mistake, why is the audience laughing? It is merely a ploy used to make everyone feel even more bad for the Medici Circus clan.

The children are fascinated by the big-eared pachyderm, and through an accident of inhaling a feather, Dumbo sneezes and ends up leaving the ground. Soon the kids discover they can induce Dumbo to fly by flapping his ears and coaxed by a feather.

The circus is about to fold when evil villain V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and his girlfriend, Collette Marchant (Eva Green) come to see the flying elephant. Vandevere likes what he sees and buys the Medici Circus, and now everyone works for Vandevere.

Unfortunately, V.A.’s money man J. Griffin Remington (Alan Arkin) puts conditions on V.A. and Dumbo’s performance. This enhances the sadness because Dumbo’s mom is taken away again and now the Medici Circus team wants to retaliate.

You can easily imagine what happens. The whole story is to make everyone feel bad, then let Dumbo save the day along with the kids.

The most positive aspect of this film was the quality of the pictures. Burton does this well, and he’s to be commended for this, but otherwise, the movie is predictable and sadly lacking soul. The computer-generated Dumbo was a work of thoughtful art, but at times, he seemed to human-like.

Farrell was reasonably adequate to the role, but there was nothing for him to stretch into and make it his own. Keaton was OK as the villain, he’s good at it. DeVito was charming as the small circus owner, but I found it hard to believe he owned or ran the circus. The actual running of the circus, like putting up tents, seemed to happen through magic. BTW: The tent poles were longer than a train car, so I kept wondering how did they get them from place to place? Parker was stunning. Her intelligence and maturity were well beyond the child character she played. She embraced this role and was the best thing in the film. Hobbins was equal to the task as well, and it is his and Parker’s performances that kept me engaged. Green was excellent and put something of herself into this role and made it work. Arkin was sardonically perfect for this role as an arrogant banker and money man. Ehren Kruger wrote the screenplay which seemed too buttoned up and left little to the imagination. Burton was himself. His visuals were good and generally dark in character. I also thought that Vandevere’s “Dreamworld” was overdone and took the film too far out of any sense of wanting this film to be real and down to earth.

Overall: Everything was perfect and the way it was to be seen, therefore when I left the theater, nothing came with me.

Alita: Battle Angel

First Hit: The integration of human CG characters and humans in film reached a new level here.

In the past, computer graphic (CG) characters have not, visually or emotionally, felt human enough to engage the emotional or deep feeling part of the audience. Despite the action-oriented basis of this film and the main character, Alita: Battle Angel effectively makes this leap and crosses this border.

We begin with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) is wandering through a massive pile of debris which is being created by Zalem, a tethered city floating about a mile above the earth’s surface. The waste pile is the discard of Zalem.

Ido finds and picks up the remnants of an android that has a human face, but without a body and an engaged brain that appears undamaged. Taking it home, he attaches a body that he’d built for his now deceased daughter and names the girl Alita, after his dead daughter.

He and his ex-wife Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) had a daughter whom they called Alita. She didn’t have use of her body, and Dr. Ido was building a mechanical body to attach to her head so that she would survive. The daughter died too before he could finish. Bitterness between Ido and Chiren developed, and Chiren joined Vector (Mahershala Ali) to control the earth’s inhabitants. Vector gets his direction and commands from Nova (Edward Norton) who is the supreme being on Zalem.

The new Alita has no previous memories of where she came from and who she is so when she tries an orange for the first time, is blown away by the flavor. Although later she tries chocolate and thinks this taste is far better than the orange.

Alita soon learns she has skills as a fighter and after meeting Hugo (Keean Johnson) begins to show signs of being able to have and show deep feelings. Hugo wants to go up to Zalem that is dumping the garbage on earth because he thinks his life will be better there. Alita is not so sure that this is a good thing as she begins to understand that Zalem is where she came from, she was a weapon.

Where the film excels is watching Alita grow into her emotions and having some emotional intelligence as a young teenage looking girl is impressive. Showing her love for Hugo and her father is so well done that often I didn’t think of Alita as a robot but as an odd looking human with amazingly expressive eyes and facial features even though she had a body made of Nanotechnology components.

The script also gives Alita plenty of opportunities to show her fighting skills. She becomes a Hunter-Warrior. Hunter-Warriors kill enemies of the people and are paid by representatives of Zalem. All the other Hunter-Warriors think Alita is incapable of fighting until they challenge her. Throughout the film, she proves them wrong about her abilities. Through these battles, Alita proves she’s the best warrior on the planet when she wins the famous Motorball game in which the winner gets a free pass to Zalem. The fights are fun to watch, but they are typical CG in that most of the movements are humanly impossible. However, it is her humanness that makes this better than your standard CG fighter film.

Rosa Salazar as Alita was used as the model to develop the facial features and movements for the CG personnel. Waltz is excellent as Dr. Ido, Alita’s creator and father. He does so much with his facial expressions which help us to believe that Alita is real. Connelly is good as Ido’s ex-wife and right-hand person to Vector. Ali was outstanding as Vector the being who controls earth for Nova. Johnson was excellent as Hugo, the young man who has misguided ideas and falls in love with Alita. James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, and Robert Rodriguez wrote the complicated screenplay that also indicates follow-up films will be made. Rodriguez did a great job of using CG technology to bridge the human/machine gap.

Overall: The enjoyment is in the emotional context of the film as the action scenes are typical.

Films that rose above the fray in 2018

This was a particularly good year for films. At first I didn’t think so but after I reviewed the films I watched and wrote about this past year, I was pleasantly surprised. I was entertained by outstanding acting, strong and poignant films about racism, and out loud laughs. My next post will be about the Oscar nominations.

Game Night: This film was funny from the get go and I laughed out loud all the way through.

Leaning Into the Wind: Andrew Goldsworthy: If you liked the film River and Tides, you’ll love Leaning....

The Death of Stalin: There are very funny moments, but I couldn’t help but wonder was his regime filled with that much personal corruptness? Probably.

Flower: The acting lifts this bizarre storyline to funny, engaging and entertaining levels.

Red Sparrow: Although long at 2h 19min, it had enough twists, turns, and detail to keep me fully engaged.

You Were Never Really Here: Beautifully shot scenes, dynamic soundtrack, but this oddly paced film tells a story of redemption, salvation or deeper despair.

Beirut: I really liked the way this film was put together and came to fruition.

A Quiet Place: Well done film and the silence of the actors made all the difference in the world.

Deadpool 2: First Hit: This film is fun, irreverent and filled with out-loud laughs.

RBG: Excellent film about a woman who lives within her strength and defined and changed U.S. law.

Disobedience: Extremely well-acted film about how antiquated thinking can split families and a loving relationship.

Hotel Artemis: Who says Hollywood cannot create a unique and well-acted film.

Blindspotting: Extremely powerful and pointed film and raises the bar for Best Picture of the Year. In my view this unnominated film is by far and away the best film of 2018.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot: A unhurried film revealing the power of how forgiveness of others and self, can make one’s life different.

Three Identical Strangers: A truly amazing story about how sciences’ curiosity didn't take into account the effects on human beings.

Sorry to Bother You: What I liked about this film is that it is funny, unique, and unlike any other film I’ve seen.

Leave No Trace: Sublimely acted and evenly paced film about a man and his daughter living in a public forest.

Puzzle: I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant film about a woman finding herself through a passion.

BlacKkKlansman: Fantastic film about race relations in the United States while reminding the audience about how far we have to go.

Eighth Grade: Outstanding acting and script gives us an insightful view of what it is like to be in the Eighth Grade today.

Fahrenheit 11/9: Covers a lot of stuff but I think it was mostly about Presidents and people in power managing and acting poorly.

Pick of the Litter: It was an fantastic and interesting way to learn about how guide dogs are taught to be amazing caretakers for the blind.

First Man: Compelling reenactment of an audaciously brave time in the 1960’s where we were challenged by President Kennedy to go to the moon.

The Hate U Give: A fantastic film about the existence of racism and, as indicated here, in our police departments as well.

Green Book: Excellent acting, engaging story, and both funny and thought-provoking make this film fun to sit through.

Boy Erased: Outstanding cast delivers sublime performances in a powerful story about LGBT conversion programs.

A Private War: Rosamund Pike (as Marie Colvin) gives a deeply complex performance of a war correspondent who brought personal stories of war victims to the forefront.

Bohemian Rhapsody: Accurate or not, this film was fun, well-acted, engaging, and joyful.

Can You Ever Forgive Me: Excellent acting about a caustic, friendless author that finally finds her voice.

Mary Queen of Scots: Saoirse Ronan (Mary Stuart) and Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth 1) give powerful performances in this adaptation of how Mary Queen of Scots tried to claim her title to the throne of England and Scotland.

Vice: I liked this oddly created film about a powerful yet enigmatic man who really ran our country for a period of time.

Ben is Back: Extremely well-acted story based on 24 hours of a mother and her addicted son’s return for the holidays.

Roma: Outside of the beautiful black and white photography and languid movement of the story, I left the theater with little.

The Favourite: A stark, intense musical score underscores the bizarre and tension filled interrelationships between the queen and her court.

Shoplifters: Wonderfully engaging film about a Japanese family who chose each other while fighting to stay nourished and together.

A Dog's Way Home

First Hit: Although, at times, cute and pointedly created to pull the heartstrings, it was also boringly long and misguided.

Having a dog, I was looking forward to seeing this film about a dog finding its way back home.

It started cute enough with a group of cats and a mother dog living in an abandoned building across the street from Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his mother Terri (Ashley Judd). The warning though is that the voice over begins and it will only get worse.

Terri is an Iraqi war veteran with PTSD and is a volunteer at a local VA hospital. Lucas works at the center and has been feeding the cats underneath the abandoned building. By feeding them, he’s keeping the cats alive, which also stops the tearing down of the abandoned homes by the owner.

The owner of the building gets stymied from building on the ramshackle lot because of the animals living on the premises. When animal control comes and thinks they’ve removed the animals, what they miss is a mother cat, some of her kittens, and a puppy who was still nursing from its mother.

The puppy, voice by Bryce Dallas Howard, is now being taken care of a mother cat who nurses it. At times it's funny to watch as the dog grows more massive than the momma cat. These dog and cat scenes are setups for later.

Lucas and his girlfriend Olivia (Alexandra Shipp) find the puppy and Lucas decides to keep it. Because the home Terri and Lucas live is doesn’t allow pets, they must be careful in raising the puppy, now named Bella.

Some of these scenes are cute, as were the scenes when Lucas sneaks Bella to his work because the house owner is coming to fix something in the home they rent. When Bella stumbles into a PTSD meeting of vets, of which Terri is one, the vets love Bella and Bella provides comfort as the soldiers speak about their war experiences.

The film sets up the premise of Bella finding her way home because a mean animal control officer is intent on capturing and euthanizing Bella. In the city of Denver, pit bulls are not allowed in public because they’ve been deemed as dangerous. Bella is suspected of being a pit bull although no one proves this. To keep Bella safe until he can find a new home Lucas sends Bella to live with Olivia’s family four-hundred miles away in New Mexico.

Just as Lucas travels to New Mexico to pick-up Bella, Bella was hearing her inner voice to go home, escapes and begins a long trip to find Lucas.

During this trip, Bella becomes friends with and protects a “large kitty” (it’s a cougar). During their travels together, they fight off wolves, get separated by cross-country snow skiers, and finally meet up again.

It’s during this segue of Bella’s trip home that I got bored. We spend at least 20 minutes with two men who take care of Bella and another dog, whose owner doesn’t want, only to have Bella leave and try to find Lucas and maybe “large kitty.”

This film is predictable, poorly constructed, and many scenes were only designed to make the audience feel something. This point, of making expressed emotional scenes, in itself, isn’t a bad thing, however when it’s this obvious, it a detriment to the film and demeaning to the watcher.

Hauer-King was poor. He seemed overly simple and not one who honestly thinks things through. His acting had no depth of character. Judd was outstanding as the PTSD mother. I loved her holding the wrist of the animal control officer – entirely in control of the situation. Shipp was steady as the girlfriend. She was believable in her scenes. Howard was nauseatingly childlike as the voice of Bella. As a puppy the voice was OK, and as Bella grew up, the voice didn’t change to reflect a maturing of the dog. Cathryn Michon wrote a very week script. Multiple scenes could have been shortened or removed (the whole segue with the gay men). W. Bruce Cameron did a poor job of directing this. The acts with the animal control officer were too overt and not realistic, nor were the scenes with “large kitty” and Bella on the ice.

Overall: Although the concept was good, the story was poorly constructed and overtly created for emotions.