SPOILER-FREE – ENDGAME REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Follow up to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Early teens and up due to some language, brutal fight scenes and somber plot topics.

LONG TAKE:

First off let me repeat – the following review will be spoiler free – unlike the BAZILLION Youtubes, reviews, “explanations,” trailers and headlines I quickly flicked away from, which started appearing about 5 minutes after midnight of its opening. I’m NOT even using pics from Endgame but relying on images from the plethora of previous movies.

If you would NOT like spoilers let me advise you do the same – don’t watch trailers or even scan the titles to Youtubes if you would prefer to be plot-wrecking-free when you go see Endgame.

Endgame, scripted by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and directed by the brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, is a terrific and worthy bookend to the 22 Marvel films now referred to as the Infinity Saga, starting with Iron Man in 2008. While you certainly could wait until it comes out on DVD, as is a surprise to no one, the cinematic spectacular is best viewed on the big screen.

The visuals are eye shockingly spectacular. I grew up when Forbidden Planet was considered an accomplishment in 1956 and around when Star Wars knocked the socks off astonished cinema goers in 1977. So, to me, the almost infinite (excuse the pun) variety of cinematic visual tricks are amazing, gorgeous, frightening, almost overwhelming and worth the price of admission for even the three or four film attendees in the solar system I have met who are not particularly interested in the Marvel super hero plotlines.

Endgame is also a DARK movie. Not just visually in places, but, as you can imagine with a follow up to the ending of Infinity War, there are: brutal fights, grim topics and emotionally wrenching scenes which may upset smaller children (and did in the screening I was in). This is no light semi-parody Ragnarok with its tongue planted firmly in cheek. While the comeradic banter amongst the players is there, Endgame is obviously a sequel to the gut-wrenching, sucker-punch storyline from the previous movie, and so one must be aware of the somber and anxious overall tone.

In addition, and much to my disapproval, there was more off color language in Endgame than in the majority of the previous Marvel movies. Though no where near the Dead Pool level, I thought it unnecessary for a film with a demographic which should reach most age groups.

And even though there’s ZERO hanky panky, all in all, please take the PG-13 rating seriously.

The characters in the movie continue to wear the skins of their alter egos with the same enthusiasm, affection, and insight as when we first met them.

The soundtrack by Alan Silvestri carries more variety than most Marvel movies and is a pleasure.

SO – that’s about all I can or am willing to say right now. When the time has come that the vast majority of people who want to see it HAVE seen it, I plan on a more in depth review addressing specifics. But until then – GO SEE AVENGERS: ENDGAME THE UNIQUE CULMINATION OF 11 YEARS IN THE MAKING OF OVER 40 SOLID HOURS OF 21 PREVIOUS MOVIES!!! BRAVO TO ALL OF THE CREATIVE TALENT WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLE AND A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE LATE STAN LEE.  GOD BLESS.

 

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING – FUN LIKE WHIPPED CREAM OR FIREWORKS

SHORT TAKE:

The sequel to Pacific Rim – not intellectually challenging but lots of fun.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anybody old enough to watch a Godzilla movie and not get nightmares.

LONG TAKE:

Some meals are meant to be savored – a great steak, shrimp bisque followed by a chocolate mousse. Some meals are simple and filling but more memorable for the people you had them with than the food itself. Some meals, like breakfast right out of the Easter Bunny basket, are meant to be completely just for fun. And then there are those days when, using a G rated version of Joel Goodson’s catch phrase from Risky Business: "Sometimes you just have to say what the heck," and you serve yourself a big helping of whipped cream and toppings.

Movies are like that too. And fittingly there is even a scene where the lead character in Pacific Rim: Uprising serves himself a huge Bowl of Reddi-whip and sprinkles while talking to his friend.

SPOILERS BUT I WILL TRY TO KEEP THEM TO A MINIMUM

The premise to Pacific Rim: Uprising is the sequel to Pacific Rim. Pacific Rim is the story of the titanic battle between Godzilla-sized monsters who come out of a crack in the ocean’s floor from another dimension to wreck havoc on the Earth (mostly Tokyo) and the Jaegers – Godzilla-sized robots which humans built to combat them. Never mind the illogic or the physics, it’s an excuse to watch grown men like writer/director Steven DeKnight spend millions of dollars recreating "lifesized" versions of the sand box action figure matchups from when they were kids.

Pacific Rim: Uprising picks up 10 years after the Kaiju have been defeated — or have they? The first Pacific Rim was quite straight forward – bad monsters come out of ocean – must beat them up until they go away. This one has a plot which is a bit more complicated and has a few more twists and turns than you might expect. Not so tricky though that you can’t still make sense of it even if you need a designated driver to get you home, but it did have a few unexpected surprises.

John Boyega (most notably Finn from the recent Star Wars installments) plays Jake Pentacost, son of the late Spencer Pentecost (Idris Elba) from the first movie. Jake is introduced as not quite the hero his father was, but who must grow into those shoes quickly. Nate (Scott Eastwood who has been paying his dues with small parts in Fate of the Furious, Suicide Squad and Texas Chain Saw Massacre 3D) plays his former best friend and comrade in arms. Cailee Spaeny, a newcomer, plays Amara, a street kid and Jaegers/technical prodigy who is drafted into the Jaeger cadets. Burn Gorman (formerly of the Dr. Who spin off Torchwood) and Charlie Day (mostly from goofy comedies and voice work in cartoons and video games) return as the Frick and Frack scientists Gottlieb and Geiszler whose creativity helped defeat the Kaiju last turn.

Much like the Thor franchise, the Pacific Rim series wisely incorporates bits of humor into their action packed sequences which help underscore the film makers' acceptance of the fact that what they are making is Godzilla meets Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots and have fun with it.

And for those of us old enough to remember when Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots first came out, watch for Clint Eastwood’s son Scott – playing the above mentioned Nate. Not remembering he was in the cast, I thought the actor looked SO familiar, and then when I realized who he was it was like when you finally "see" the picture buried in the pixels – you cannot UNsee it. His Dad’s voice, mannerisms, profile and body language will jump out at you from the screen. Not that that is a bad thing but it is an amusing anachronism seeing a close variation of the inveterate Western and Dirty Harry hero I grew up with in a goofy sci fi- action adventure.

This is not the Venus de Milo but a fireworks display at the start of a Carnival and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Pacific Rim is mostly good clean fun — well the critters all make quite a mess but there’s NO hankie pankie, (who has TIME when you’re dodging 50 story Kaiju) and a little profanity. Younger audiences might get scared – I’m talking nightmare scared – by the giant monsters screaming and tearing up buildings. But any kid old enough to understand it is all make believe should have a great time.

It's also nice to watch a global disaster type movie and not be burdened under the weight of the human-created-climate-change-global-warming believer cultists' propaganda digs that so often end up littering otherwise enjoyable flicks.

SPOILER

ONE PROVISO to that is there IS a scene where a little girl’s family is swept away as they are trying to reunite with her right in front of her eyes. So be aware if that might upset even an older child.

If you liked Pacific Rim, you’ll love Pacific Rim: Uprising as long as you’re happy with Cool Whip and don’t expect a rib eye steak.

12 STRONG – THOR ON HORSEBACK AGAINST TANKS!? WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE!!

SHORT TAKE:

Inspiring re-enactment of Task Force Dagger, the mission of an elite group of American Soldiers with their Northern Alliance allies who fought the Taliban against overwhelming odds in Afghanistan weeks after the 9/11 atrocity.

LONG TAKE:

I once had a coffee cup with the inscription: "Do not annoy the writer or she might put you in a book and kill you." Similarly, I might advise: "If you are the commanding officer of an aspiring actor, be nice or he might end up portraying you in a movie." Such is just one piece of serendipitous trivia in 12 Strong, a movie which cinematically tells how an elite group of our soldiers volunteered to go to Afghanistan for a trip which, but for the grace of God, should have been a suicide mission, entering a country and city they knew little about to work with a local insurgent who might have sold them out for their $100,000 a piece bounty, to fight 5,000 to 1 odds on foot and horseback to guide air drops against an entrenched vicious Taliban using tanks and armored artillary.

The script is based upon the experiences of a group of American elite military forces led by Mark Nutsch, who is renamed Mitch Nelson in the movie and played by Thor – I mean Chris Hemsworth. And let us not forget that Hemsworth also was George Kirk during the best 15 minutes of cinematic science fiction at the beginning of the 2009 Star Trek reboot. I only mention these movies to remind you that Hemsworth is fantastic at playing noble, courageous heroes. And he once again is awesome in 12 Strong. (As a side note, Captain Nutsch has mentioned that being played by "Thor" has gotten him some serious brownie points with his kids.)

The story is of the special forces sent weeks after the 9/11 World Trade Center/Pentagon attack and is based upon the book Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton. Rounding out the cast with Hemsworth is Michael Shannon (Zod from Man of Steel and lead baddie in The Shape of Water), Michael Pena (Collaterol Beauty, Ant Man and The Martian), Navid Negahban who plays General Dostum – leader of the Northern Alliance fighters and later Vice President of freed Afghanistan, who teamed with Nutsch's group for real and who is, to this day, friends with Nutsch. William Fichtner (Armaggedeon, Batman: The Dark Knight) as Col. John Mulholland and Rob Riggle a comedian and United States Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant Colonel who, in a quirk of fate, plays his former commanding officer, Lt Col. Max Bowers. Fichtner and Riggle are the only ones who play officers going by their real names. There really was a Col Bowers and Col Mulholland participating in this extraordinary military operation. And as a side note, to lend further points of solid credibility to the chemistry of the cast, Elsa Pataky, Hemsworth's real life wife plays his REEL "life" wife, Jean Nelson.

I had difficulty trying to find the actual names of the other soldiers who were part of the team. As it turns out they prefer, in classic hero fashion, to retain the anonymity which was at first required on this top secret mission. Mark Nutsch, the inspiration for Michael Nelson only came forward when the movie was green lighted in order to help with the authenticity. These men were not given any recognition at the time for the miraculous feat they performed.

I have a Jewish friend who likes to playfully sum up the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament as: "They tried to kill us, we fought, we won, let’s eat!"

This sentiment pretty well sums up the forthright, pragmatic and confident attitude of the military with which America is blessed. Not looking for praise or parades they simply go in, perform their duty and come home. Not withstanding they "go in" after leaving their stalwart sacrificing wives and children, that they "perform their duty" against sometimes overwhelming odds, or that they might "come home" permanently maimed, severely injured….or in a coffin.

It’s about time these men, who struck the first blow for America subsequent to the cowardly and evil act of terrorism wrought upon our country on September 11, 2001, received some acknowledgment.

I had a friend ask if I was looking forward to this movie. I emphatically exclaimed: "Thor on horseback riding against tanks! What’s NOT to like!!!" And like it I did. Hemsworth and the rest of the cast perform with infectious camaraderie, conveying the depth of trust each of those real soldiers they portrayed had for each other. Filmed in New Mexico the rugged Afghan terrain is convincingly pictured.   The battle scenes are breathtaking. And it is not spoiler, because it is in the trailer, that, indeed, these men wound their way through merciless fire against ridiculous odds side by side with their Afghanistan Northern Alliance allies, like the Light Brigade, on horseback, into ferocious tank and artillary fire. These men boldly and selflessly offered their lives to stop the brutal stranglehold of torture and repression the Taliban and Al Qaeda had against the locals and prevent further attacks on our country. Their push into the merciless enemy's stronghold broke the back of Al Qaeda and had them fleeing to Pakistan.

There have been some criticism against the details of the mission – for example: did they really ride the horses into battle against tanks? Frankly I don’t care. We get far too few movies with the guts and gusto to demonstrate the every day bravery and selfless dedication of our American soldiers to our protection and freedom. It’s about time we returned to the likes of Patton, Green Beret, The Longest Day and The Great Escape – where the matter-of-fact patriotic heroics of our American military is a given and we should be rightly very proud and joyously celebrate their accomplishments.

I am unconcern with any modest cinematic license which might have been taken to enhance the telling of this amazing story.

The core of the history is dead on: They tried to kill us, we fought, we won, let’s eat!!

PS – Assuming the web page is accurate, if you want to find out more about the accuracy of the movie 12 Strong to the actual events they portray check out: How Accurate is 12 Strong?  SHORT TAKE: Almost every bit is detail-accurate.

MY FAVORITE 2017 MOVIES

I thought I would start the new year with a review of the previous. It's always a good idea to know where you have been before you set forward into new territory.

To that end I have chosen what I thought were the top dozen movies of 2017. Do keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list and there are some movies I suspect would have made the list had I had the opportunity to see them. Among those I happily expect to be wonderful but I have not yet seen include: Darkest Hour and Loving Vincent. They will just have to be evaluated in subsequent blogs.

NUMBER ONE BEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR BAR NONE:

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Kenneth Branagh's absolutely brilliant and stunningly beautiful rendition of Agatha Christie's most famous and popular book – about a group of strangers stranded on a snowbound train with an unsolved murder. Not only is this the best example of its genre, I think it is the perfect movie.

NUMBER TWO:

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Musical based on the spirit if not the specific details of the life of PT Barnum – hailed as the father of the modern circus. Con man, philanthropist, businessman, devoted family man, flawed human – the movie uses this amazing historical figure to explore the question of what is it that makes life worthwhile.

NUMBER THREE:

WONDER WOMAN

DC FINALLY hits a major home run with the most unlikely of B list comic book supers. Gal Gadot  IS Wonder Woman. Exciting, moving, funny, inspiring, spectacular special effects – set during World War I this movie exemplifies the virtues of courage, self-sacrifice, and altruism all tied up like a Christmas present with the beautiful wrappings of a superhero adventure. This is what a superhero movie should look like.

NUMBER FOUR:

MARSHALL

 Chadwick Boseman plays a young Thurgood Marshall. While this significant historical figure will grow up to be the first black Supreme Court Justice, we meet Marshall early in his career – defending a black man against charges of raping his white female employer. Marshall is saddled with an unlikely partner – a Jewish attorney, Josh Gad, who wants nothing to do with the notoriety this case will bring. Both discover that nothing and no one is as simple as it seems. Boseman and Gad have such good chemistry I'd look forward to watching them together again in anything. And the case plays out like the best of anything Perry Mason ever tried.

NUMBER FIVE:

WONDER

  You can't tell a book by its cover. Wonder is a story inspired by the troubling encounter the author had between her child and a severely facially disfigured child. Wonder explores the world from the point of view of a similarly genetically challenged child – Auggie – played by Jacob Trembley, his sister Via, his best friend Will and Via's best friend Miranda. The brilliance of this movie is that we discover that everyone is guilty of misjudgement – including the title character and ourselves, the audience. Featuring the performances of Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Mandy Patinkin as warm and caring parents and school principal, Wonder is a delightful movie for all ages.

The rest of the movies I can not faithfully place in any one order. It would depend on what mood you are in and in which genre it fits.

GLASS CASTLE

Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) reminisces about growing up in her dysfunctional family headed by her brilliant, creative, and devoted but tragically alcoholic father (Woody Harrelson). Glass Castle is a coming to understanding that even a parent with egregious flaws can bequeath the irreplaceable parental blessings that come with unconditional love and support.

THOR: RAGNAROK

Chris Hemworth and Tom Hiddleston return as the conflicted brothers Thor and Loki in this installment of the Thor franchise. Cate Blanchett appears as Hela, the goddess of death who has escaped exile to take over Asgard. The title reveals the conflict as Ragnarok is the name of the Viking Armaggedon – the end of the world. Sounds like heavy going, but the writers chose to include a comic element which lifted the mood considerably. While admittedly a point of debate, personally I loved the new injection of a lighter tone and Guardians of the Galaxy-style humor in the previously Shakespearean melodrama that used to define the Thor stories.

PIXAR CARS 3

  Hands down the best of the trilogy. Cars 3 retains its child-like animated heart but stepped up its game considerably to give Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) a character arc and plot worthy of a live action movie with humans. Well done Pixar!

DUNKIRK

An intense, moving and inspirational account of the "little ships" captained by everyday sailors, ordinary fishermen and weekend boaters, who, facing great peril, came across the English Channel to rescue British and French soldiers surrounded by Germans, straffed by the Luftwaffe and stranded on Dunkirk beach. Starring an ensemble including Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Cillian Murphy this is as important, and at times as difficult, to watch as Saving Private Ryan.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

 Oddball sequel to the original Lego movie, this is at once a homage and parody to every Batman movie and TV show ever made. Not without, frankly, dumb moments and slightly incomprehensible plot holes and cameos, you must remember this is all really just supposed to be in the mind of a child playing with his toys. Featuring vocal talents including: Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum and Hector Elizondo, it's a hoot. Just turn your brain off and enjoy The Lego Batman Movie with popcorn, Raisonettes and a sense of humor.

SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING

Toby McGuire was too angst-y. Andrew Garfield, while a terrific actor in his own right, was simply miscast as the webswinger – much like Eric Stoltz, a fine performer, just wasn't right as Back to the Future's Marty McFly and had to be replaced. Tom Holland, however embodies Spiderman more, I think, than the original comic book creation – bringing a refreshing wide-eyed child-like naivete to the character expressing an adorably delightful hero worship for his fellow Avengers. And Holland, the actor, still manages to hold his own against the absolutely brilliant veteran Michael Keaton who portrays the mysterious multi faceted villain.

THE STAR

Last but most assuredly not least is the wonderful animated version of the Biblical retelling of the Annunciation and Nativity – only told from the animals' points of view. Primary is miniature mill donkey Bo who longs to be part of the Royal procession but is "stuck" with the family of this poor carpenter…..an irony everyone over 8 will understand. This delightful story is told with Biblical accuracy, appropriate deference towards the gentle heart who is the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a lighthearted but respectful appreciation for the beleaguered Joseph who fears he is in over his head but who stalwartly steps up to the plate to protect his wife and the Son of God she carries.  Alone, the tale of a donkey who aspires to a position for which he is obviously unfit  would be cute. Woven about around the Biblically accurate betrothal, marriage and journey to Bethlehem of Mary, Joseph and the unborn Christ child it becomes an unusual and welcome new look at the story of the Holy Family from a fresh point of view. Religious meditation often advises we contemplate a Biblical event from a new perspective. I would venture to say that, although a child's animated movie, The Star rises, because of the material and the respect with which it is treated, to a kind of meditation on this most important event in the history of mankind. The Star, itself, shines as a beautiful example of what childrens' stories can be – appealing to children but substance for the adults who bring them as well.

MAY YOU HAVE A BLESSED 2018! SEE YOU AT THE MOVIES!

THOR: RAGNAROK – EXACTLY WHAT IT SHOULD BE

The wise and ancient Greek aphorism "Know thyself" which was said to hang in the forecourt at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi can apply to many things, even to movies. Movies of a particular genre are best when they adhere to the rules of their own known Universe. A romance should have long gazes and lovers who overcome obstacles. Horror movies should have jump scares. Disaster flicks should feature near misses and heroic self sacrifice. And movies based on comic books should bear the irreverent broad strokes of plot and illustration from which they originate.

Suffice it to say that Thor: Ragnarok understands its pedigree and is abundantly familiar with its own inner workings.

The premise, obvious from the title, is another in the line of adventures featuring Thor, Son of Odin and god of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth). Here he seeks to prevent the foretold, Ragnarok, the fiery destruction of Asgard, his home world.

SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THOR: THE DARK WORLD

Thor’s goal is complicated by Loki (Tom Hiddleson) who is hiding in the guise of Odin.

SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THE THOR: RAGNAROK TRAILERS

Thor is also hindered in his quest by Hela, the goddess of death, (Cate Blanchett) and by The Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum) who conscripts him into a gladiatorial competition against Hulk (Mark Ruiffalo).

This is a movie which THANKFULLY does NOT take itself too seriously. The colors are bright, the tale is full of creatures and fighting,    narrow escapes and changing alliances, spaceships, and the most unexpected cameos in the strangest places and characters which are WAAAAY over the top.

Jeff Goldblum’s Grand Master appears often as a hundred story hologram to his city which is imagined as the world’s biggest gameshow.

Hiddleson brings back Loki, the favorite Avenger Universe character one loves to hate in all of his snarky, clever, quipping, never-quite-absolutely-sure-what-he’s-going-to-do-next, ever so fun unpredictability. And every once in a while you get the feeling he is the only sensible adult in a room of idealistic children.

Anthony Hopkins reprises his role as Odin – first, in a comic turn, as Loki pretending to be Odin, then as the real Odin bringing to bear all of Hopkins’ Odin’s gentle dignity as a king and father.

Cate Blanchett’s Hela sports long dark hair which, when she brushes it back with her hands become enormous imposing deer antlers – a look, (much like Jason Isaacs’ ridiculously tall beaver hat adorning his Colonel Tavington in The Patriot), which only the likes of a great actor such as herself could sell as frightening.

As a side note, it is interesting to consider that Blanchett also played Galadriel, another extremely powerful supernatural being – the Queen Mother of the elves in Lord of the Rings who, when offered the Ring by Frodo gave a terrifying vision to Frodo should she accept:

"In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen! Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morn! Treacherous as the Seas! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!"

But who then musters heroic self restraint and refuses ownership of the treacherous Ring.

"I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel. "

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeell just imagine if Galadriel had hungrily embraced the proffered ornament, eagerly put it on her finger, crushed Lord Sauron between her greedy fingers then you would get an idea of Hela – the flip side of Galadriel.

  And Blanchett has a Hela-va (think about it) good time munching on this role. She chews scenery, mows down soldiers, blows up castles and mews theatrically about being so very unappreciated in magnificent anti-hero finery. Hela is a worthy counterpoint to Thor’s beautifully strutting, splendidly self-aware position as the hero of the story.

But the story is not nearly as Wagernian as you might think, as characters, in very human fashion – make mistakes, trip, run into walls and annoy each other.

The screenwriters manage to run right up to that line in the sand between parody and affectionate homage and occasionally even plant one foot on either side. But they keep the ebb and flow between the comedy and genuine tragedy balanced as skillfully as a sword juggler at a PT Barnum circus.

Thor: Ragnarok is exactly what it should be: a live action comic book, brought to a gloriously larger than life by its director Taiha Waititi a New Zealand born child of both Maori and Jewish heritage, who also plays a wry rock monster gladiator named Korg.

Thor: Ragnarok is a perfect example of its kind. Like a two hour Disney ride it leaves you awash in eye-popping breath taking images, gentle humor which makes otherwise grandiose heroes familiar, and a plot which will carry you along like the Kali Rapids River Ride at Disneyworld. Thor: Ragnarok is, at turns, funny, heart-wrenching, heroic, endearing and ridiculous in only the way a comic book hero can come alive.

So grab your popcorn, turn your brain off and let Thor: Ragnarok take you on one of the most entertaining rides of the year. Had they been part of the same mythology, Thor: Ragnarok would have made Apollo proud.