Fantasy

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.

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.

Sorry to Bother You

First Hit: What I liked about this film is that it is funny, unique, and unlike any other film I’ve seen.

This film is an alternate universe to present day Oakland, CA. Here we have Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) looking for work, living in a garage, and dating artist Detroit (Tessa Thompson). One of the early funny scenes is when he and Detroit start messing around in bed and a garage door opens which exposes his room as a garage and his neighbors say "get a room". Very funny scene and sets a tone for the film.

Enjoyed Cassius’s interview for a telemarketing job because of what we discover about his creativeness to make himself look like he has a great past working record.

Getting the job, he’s coached by Langston (Danny Glover) to use his “white voice.” This was hilarious, and the voice Danny uses, and the voice Cassius uses are perfectly nerdy white. I loved it. His managers tell him if he does well he’ll be elevated to the position of Power Caller. As a Power Caller he’ll make a lot of money and get to ride in the private elevator. Watch for the entering of the elevator code - hilarious.

The film uses funny ways to see how he doesn’t connect, and then connects with people he tele-markets. All of a sudden, he drops from his desk into the home of the person he’s calling and directly discusses his pitch and deal.

The movie also has a story about workers rights. Leading this effort is Squeeze (Steven Yuen)  and working with Cassius’s close friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) start a protest with all of the other telemarketers. Cassius and Detroit are for the cause however, Cassius has now moved up to the Power Caller floor, he holds back from wholeheartedly supporting the protest movement.

As a Power Caller he starts selling for a company called WorryFree run by Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) that offers people the option of working for no money, but they get a place to live, food to eat and entertainment. But others think this is just slave labor. Steve is so impressed with Cassius’s ability to market that he wants him to manage his newest endeavor, making Equisapiens. Equisapiens are people who take a specific drug giving them the strength of horses and also change their physical appearance to look like a person and a horse. Because of their strength, Lift claims can do more work better.

There is more to this film and it is even more bizarre including a reality show called “I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me”.

As I watched this story unfold, all of a sudden someone I know in real life appears on the screen as a newscaster. Ken Baggott is the newscaster that gives us a play by play during the film. That was a great surprise.

Stanfield was excellent as the creative goal achieving telemarketer who had to decide whether he continues to pursue a career where he excels or support his girlfriend and friends and do the right thing. Thompson was outstanding as Cassius’s girlfriend. She’s very fluid in this role and made it very natural. Yuen was strong as the instigator for workers rights. Glover was excellent as the long-time telemarketer. Fowler was very strong as Cassius’s friend who supported his friend. Baggott was perfect as the newscaster. His voice and reporting of the events were spot on. Boots Riley wrote and directed this very creative and inventive film.

Overall: What made this work was the acting in an inventive creative film.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

First Hit: I liked it and thought it did a great job of bringing Han Solo into the overall Star Wars story.

Sometimes prequels to an established story fail. Other times they add and bring to life characters that we’ve already been introduced to. This film is one of the latter. Just like the 2009 film Star Trek did for the Star Trek movie and TV series.

Here, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) has a big job to do. He must give us cocky irreverence alongside being a strong capable person and carry a believability of his intention to be a strong dependable character of the resistance in the future.

The first part I really loved was his flying his low-level cruiser into a very tight area and getting stuck. It is the attitude that he can make it yet accepting he didn’t and then moves on. You also sense that he learns from each mistake.

He gets separated from the love of his young life Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and vows to her he will come back for her.

I loved that his last name “Solo” is given to him by an Empire recruiting officer. He has no last name and no family, so when the officer says, "your name" he says "Han" and the officer says "Han what?" and Hans says he doesn't have a last name, so the officer says “Han (waits a moment or two) Solo” because he's alone and a renegade – perfect.

After joining the Empire, he gets expelled from flight school, and finds himself fighting for the Empire by slogging it out in the mud which he detests because he sees himself as a fighter pilot. He becomes slightly enamored with Captain Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who he soon finds out is only parading as a Captain to get over on the Empire and make some money because he owes Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Failing this Beckett, his wife Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio Durant (voice by Jon Favreau) decide to steal some hyper-fuel Coaxium as a way to repay Vos. Their problem is that Solo, hoping to join them by blackmailing Beckett, tries to turn them in but the tables are turned, and Solo gets thrown into jail to battle the beast.

The beast happens to be a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and because Solo speaks a little Shyriiwook (Chewbacca’s language) they plot to get out of jail together. They do, join Beckett and make an attempt to steal the Coaxium.

Failing this, Solo runs into Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) who owns the Millennium Falcon, and together they try to find and steal more Coaxium because Solo thinks Qi’ri is being enslaved by Vos, he wants to buy her back.

This is the set up and what the viewer gets is the introduction of Solo, Chewy, and Lando for the future films. It also sets the tone for the resistance whom Solo helps.

The downside of the film is that it is a little long. However, it is engaging. The film does not depend on computer generated graphics and stuff to make it work, it depends on characters that you learn about and begin to care about or dislike. They bring in just enough of the upcoming story, the Star Wars series of films, by building a strong base for these characters. Did Solo really win the Millennium Falcon in a card game?

Ehrenreich was excellent. Although I didn’t think anyone could bring the swagger of a young Harrison Ford Solo, Ehrenreich did a credible job. Clarke was very strong as Qi’ra. She hid her changed alliances very well and kept the audience and Solo guessing. Newton was great in a smaller role as Beckett’s wife. Harrelson was outstanding as Beckett who was a swindler extraordinaire always looking out for himself and his wife. Suotamo was excellent as Chewbacca. I thoroughly enjoyed how he and Solo because partners. Glover as Lando was very strong. He carried the basis of the future and older Lando perfectly. Bettany was outstanding as Vos. His growing evilness as he got angrier was perfect for the role. Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan wrote and excellent script. It carried the deep Star Wars theme through the entire picture. Ron Howard, as director, showed why he’s one of the best and an excellent choice to make this prequel.

Overall: Extremely entertaining and worthy of the Star Wars franchise name.