REVIEW: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ is an emotional rollercoaster that works

Minor vague spoilers ahead….

“Avengers: Infinity War” could have been a mess of overcrowded characters, introductions, plots and action sequences, but it turned out quite the opposite. “Infinity War” managed to do what previous MCU films like “Age of Ultron” and “Civil War” could barely grasp. There’s a balance between the large influx of characters that doesn’t feel choppy or uneven.

“Infinity War” doesn’t feel congested with characters, finding a way to bring previously unknown to one another heroes together in major ways (i.e. Tony and Strange) as well as including minor delightful encounters (i.e. Steve and Groot; Bucky and Rocket).

The characters aren’t the only thing that blends well, the tones do as well. Fitting the Guardians and each individual Avenger into one other’s worlds seems like an impossible feat but the movie doesn’t make it one. There’s humor at the right points, incredible action sequences that leave you hyped and absolute heartache to boot. It’s all around a well done emotional rollercoaster.

Actor wise there’s a lot of standout, Josh Brolin plays Thanos in an extended way for the first time well and his lackey Ebony Maw in particular stands out. But the biggest standout performance of the film belongs to Zoe Saldana; Gamora goes through a range of emotions and struggle in this film and it’s an incredible performance by the woman behind her.

The final act of the film can’t really be talked about, but it’s exciting, shocking and heartbreaking all at once. The last five minutes in particular bring tears in big ways like with Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany yet simultaneously by actors capable of conveying a whole hell of a lot of emotion in a few simple words, those honors particularly belonging to Sebastian Stan, Tom Holland, Danai Gurira, Chris Evans and Bradley Cooper.

Clearly “Infinity War” is merely the first part of a two part epic. The first film gave time to shine for characters that made their last stand here, while also setting up an ending that will allow some original members their time to shine before they exit in the next film. Our logical brain tells us that the ending isn’t final, that many of the things that occurred will be repaired but the emotion of it all makes logic a little hard right now and may be hard until we see the results of the fixes in the fourth Avengers film out next year.

One last thing: There’s the question of how this affects the MCU as a whole, since everything in Marvel is connected. The anticipated “Captain Marvel” is set in the past, but should “Ant Man and The Wasp” be a really sad movie now? Will “Agents of SHIELD” along with the Netflix series and other television properties that will air between now and next May experience the effects of the huge universal loss this film has caused? Or will we be asked to just believe it all occurred before this film simply because Marvel has finally painted themselves into a corner by keeping everything connected?

 

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REVIEW: ‘Love, Simon’ a long overdue fun, poignant coming of age tale

Slight Spoilers for those who haven’t read the book ahead…

Based on Becky Albertelli’s best-selling novel “Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda” and directed by openly gay director Greg Berlanti, “Love, Simon” is a fun, heartfelt teenage romantic comedy/coming of age story that will give a generation of teens (and those of us adults who’ve been where the lead character is) the chance to truly feel seen on the big screen.

Simon Spier, played by the fantastic Nick Robinson, is just an average teen, but with one huge ass secret: he’s gay. All too often LGBT+ stories are filled with heartache and unhappy endings. “Love, Simon” will make you cry but not because someone died instead because you feel what Simon is feeling as he struggles with his own coming out story. That’s in part because of Robinson who plays the character with honesty and heart.

Unlike way too many teen movies the other characters don’t feel unrealistic either, they actually feel like teenagers we all were, are or knew. Keiynan Lonsdale, who plays Bram, in particular is a standout amongst the supporting cast. It’s of great importance to me that he becomes a star. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel should play every white kids parents in movies moving forward. And Natasha Rothwell and Tony Hale steal the show with the comedic teacher moments and later they’re unwavering (though in the Vice Principal’s case slightly misguided) support of their students.

But of course the most realistic part is the portrayal of a young queer kid coming out. No, we don’t all get lucky with supportive friends and family like Simon does and thankfully most don’t end up outed by the town idiot, but you can still understand who Simon is because at some point, or maybe still, we’ve been where he’s at. Figuring it out, ready but also not.

The story holds you with heart and realism, but also does some of those fantastic unrealistic things every great high school movie does. There are two fun musical numbers, an outlandish school carnival that no school would ever actually have the money to put on and a romance you can root for. Except it’s all better and more refreshing than it’s ever been because it’s about a gay teen, his gay-Jewish-black love interest and his diverse, fun group of friends.

The book plays as a solid template to the movie, not an exact interpretation, but one that works brilliantly all the same. Bram and Simon spend more time together in real life before finding out who’s on the other side of the keyboard, a welcome change since that remained to be a bother in the book. And the use of Simon’s imagination as to who Blue may be is shown onscreen interestingly through different actor’s as he theorizes who it might be. Directorially overall it shows that Berlanti is more than just that guy who runs all the DC superhero shows on the CW.

An excellent cast, beautiful story, fun and realism aren’t the only things that make this movie great. The soundtrack and score do as well. The chosen songs fit well with Simon’s very modern to very old school music tastes and the score feels like an awesome 80’s teen movie with a modern twist, setting a perfect tone and romantic AF vibe throughout the film.

Basically Hollywood needs to make more LGBT+ movies like this: happy, romantic and fun films with heart and soul, we’re not all doom and gloom Oscar bait.

And if you see this and don’t find yourself cheering as Blue sits in the Ferris wheel next to Simon at the end you might not have a soul (and you should totally see this).

REVIEW: ‘Black Panther’ is a stunning game-changer

There’s not much that you can say about “Black Panther” that hasn’t already been said. Its cultural significance and representational importance, which I’ll leave to people much smarter and much more qualified than I to discuss, are game-changing. Outside of that it also breathes some new life into the MCU and superhero films in general.

I don’t know about you, but “Thor Raganarok” aside, lately Marvel films have started to become a bit monotonous. We’ve reached a point where it’s tough to remember if that scene happened in an Avengers, Iron Man or Captain America movie. That definitely isn’t the case with “Black Panther.” Aside from the fact it stands out with its predominantly black cast, it also tells a new story, has unique action sequences, a well-written villain and memorable characters that won’t be quickly forgotten.

The women in particular stand out. Danai Gurira’s Okoye has strength and personality for days. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia isn’t just another superhero girlfriend. She challenges T’Challa and has her own beliefs and motivations. In a movie universe that’s churned out a fair share of disappointingly sidelined ‘superhero girlfriends’ Nakia was absolutely refreshing to see. Angela Bassett is a force of a woman and queen mother. And lastly there’s the number one scene stealer of the entire film, Letitia Wright. Wright’s 16 year-old genius Princess Shuri is one of the best characters Marvel’s ever placed onscreen. She’s funny, she’s brilliant, she’s tough, she’s respected by those around her and at her base is still just a playful little sister who exhibits fun and fantastic dynamics with the other characters.

Just because the women run this thing doesn’t mean the men aren’t incredible as well. Chadwick Boseman truly embraces the character and is given great room to flesh out T’Challa as a man and king much more than his cameo in “Captain America Civil War” allowed. Winston Duke plays the seemingly imposing but actually delightful M’Baku perfectly.

Then there’s Michael B. Jordan who plays a villain you can sympathize with and disagree with simultaneously. Marvel films don’t always have the most standout villains, Loki being possibly the only one most people really recall, but Erik Killmonger is in a whole other class. While his methods and actions may be too harsh, his reasoning and struggle allows you to understand him. Borderline starting a world war isn’t the answer, but he has some incredibly good and thought provoking points.

Honestly though none of the above was surprising, you go in expecting the greatness from these characters and actors. The most surprising part of the film is Martin Freeman’s presence as Everett Ross. Like many I was concerned why this non-entity character was going to be in the film, but in a shocking turn of events he wasn’t overdone, overused just to have a white man there or painted as some kind of white savior trope. He helps when he’s asked and respects the authority of the Wakandan royal family.

Overall the performances are just stellar, which considering the caliber of the cast isn’t a surprise. “Black Panther” easily has the most talented, award winning/nominated cast of any Marvel film.

The look and feel of the film are just right as well. Director Ryan Coogler builds Wakanda in a gorgeous way. Whether it’s a fight scene or calm wide shot of the technologically advanced nation each scene is beautiful to watch and don’t even get me started on the incredible music.

(Slight post credit spoilers ahead…)                                                                           

Lastly there’s the post credit scene’s, a staple of the Marvel universe. The first one sets up an interesting new future not only for the characters of “Black Panther,” but also for the future of the MCU as a whole. The second welcomes back the first broken white boy Shuri has fixed Bucky Barnes, looking a little bit like Jesus. The short scene is fun and, though I know roughly a million things will be happening in “Infinity War,” but it’d be fun we get to see Bucky become Shuri’s tragic white second big brother who she constantly makes fun of.

Basically go see “Black Panther,” it’s the best thing you can do with your time at the movies this month.

REVIEW: ‘Star Wars The Last Jedi’ takes some gambles and most pay off

 To keep this spoiler free this is gonna be kept short.

After 2016’s “The Force Awakens” the Star Wars saga could have been in for a similar round of films to the original trilogy and while that’s not a bad thing it would have felt a little predictable. That however is not the case with “The Last Jedi.” Director Rian Johnson has created a unique, different film that still feels like it truly belongs in the universe but has its own edge.

“The Last Jedi” sets up twists, a bit of humor that fall flat at first but picks up quickly and new characters and expansions upon the universe that builds more of the world Star Wars takes place in.

Performance wise new characters especially take the spotlight, Laura Dern is a standout as the new vice admiral in command that makes unexpected choices with that brilliant Dern style of acting she does. Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose is a delightful and important for diversity addition to the world.

Carrie Fisher’s last time as Leia Organa is just as perfect as Leia always is. While what their plans are to do with her character for the next film aren’t yet decided one thing is for sure: her presence in the Star Wars saga will be deeply missed.

Returning characters Poe and Rey both shine. Oscar Isaac was a bit underused in the first film, but this time around that was not the case. Poe became a more fully formed character who’s both a leader and a fun, ever so slightly cocky pilot. Daisy Ridley continues to embrace the role of Rey showing her as both strong and a bit naïve to the world she’s found herself in. The only returning character that continues to be a little underwhelming is Kylo Ren. Adam Driver is just very difficult to take seriously as a vicious villain when he doesn’t have the mask on, but everyone around him makes up for it.

And of course there’s Mark Hamill, this time getting to do more than stand on a cliff. He brings back the Luke Skywalker we all loved, but changed enough due to his time cut off from everyone he knows. He’s the same Luke, but hardened by his choices and regret.

Overall “The Last Jedi” is an excellent addition to the ongoing Star Wars saga setting up a nice plot for episode nine and not at all feeling like the two and half hour run time it boasts.

REVIEW: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is a wild, fun and unique ride

Spoilers Ahead….

The god of thunder is back for his third solo run and better than ever before. “Thor: Ragnarok” achieves what the most recent solo films haven’t, managing to be both fun and action packed while being wholly focused on the individuals name that’s in the title.

Thor films have often been my personal favorite for the simple fact that they’re set apart and there’s little chance of me having to see Tony Stark or any other random Avenger for no reason. I just get to enjoy a godly adventure where Thor actually gets to develop as an individual throughout the films. And while there were a couple other’s in this one that was still absolutely the case this time around (though I could have done without the Strange cameo).

With the apocalypse looming Thor sets out to save his people and Chris Hemsworth gets to embrace this character for what will likely be the last time in his own film. Hemsworth is funny, a thing more people need to realize, and while previous movies have only somewhat capitalized on that fact director Taika Waititi ran with it brilliantly. The humor, not just from Hemsworth, isn’t constant but it’s there and it’s always funny.

One of the funniest parts being the sibling banter that’s always been delightful between Thor and Loki. Tom Hiddleston has been playing the conniving Loki for a while now and this film did something unexpected: it let his character grow. Whereas the last film duped growth, this one actually showed him being more than just a trickster; it let him be the man that Thor believes him to be.

The women of this film however are the ones that truly steal every scene. Cate Blanchett is devilishly divine as Hela, not only looking like a conqueror but sounding and carrying herself like a true evil threat. Tessa Thompson is fantastic as Valkyrie, she’s fun, she’s badass and she manages to outshine every man in this film with ease simply through the way she commands the screen.

Waititi directed this movie in inventive ways that made it stand out from the other Marvel films in tone. He used the fact that these characters are in other realms with fantastical things to his advantage, giving the film a slightly wild look that visually appealed. Waititi also managed to be a scene stealer playing the delightful revolutionary Korg.

Other bits you have to love: seeing the warriors three even if they all die immediately, Idris Elba being the ultimate kind badass Heimdall who frankly should be ruling the Asgardians, Anthony Hopkins final bow as Odin, Jeff Goldblum being just delightfully Goldblum and the surprisingly well done use of Hulk/Bruce Banner.

Overall Thor movies just keep getting better. Some people will probably hate this one, they’ll say it’s too funny or the use of music should be kept to “Guardians of the Galaxy” films but that’s what makes the one so great. Every Thor film feels like a unique experience and this one might be the most unique film in Marvel’s entire universe.

I look forward to seeing Thor, now all ultra-powered to the point that he’s rendered all the other Avengers practically useless and one eyed, again. It’s a shame this is likely the last Hemsworth led Thor film but if it is the last they truly went out of the highest of high notes.

REVIEW: ‘Baby Driver’ mixes music, heists and unique humor seamlessly

Director and writer Edgar Wright knows how to make a damn good movie, it’s a fact that’s been cemented over the years in his numerous cult classics, but “Baby Driver” takes the director to whole new level of brilliance.

From start to finish “Baby Driver” holds your attention and keeps your body humming. Take Wright’s ability to write perfect dry humor, wildly choreographed car chases (as well as possibly the best damn foot chase ever seen in a movie), a stellar cast and music being used in a way it never really is and you have a film that’ll easily be one of the best of the year.

Ansel Elgort plays Baby as caring, innocent and calm to an impressive degree. He doesn’t say all that much in the long run, but you feel like you know everything about him by the end and a lot of it comes from the small interactions he has with strangers and the kindness he radiates. There’s also the wonderfully tender relationship he has with his foster father as well as his new love Debora.

Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Hamm are delightfully deceptive as the wildly in love and incredibly dangerous married couple Buddy and Darling. Jamie Foxx is well crazy as he’s aptly named Bats. Jon Bernthal makes an all too short appearance and leaves his mark even though he’s not seen again.

And then there’s Doc the seemingly dastardly, yet also unexpectedly kind leader of the pack played perfectly by Kevin Spacey. Aside from playing him evil with a soft spot for Baby, he also delivers some of the best comedic lines of the film in a delightful deadpan (especially his final moment where he references Monsters Inc.).

Its pop culture references and witty dialogue are such a part of what Wright does so well and the cast manages to pull it off seamlessly.

Then there’s the music. After coming out of “Baby Driver” it’s very likely you’ll find yourself wondering if movies have been using music wrong up until now. Every song is perfectly chosen and you can’t believe no one has ever used these particular songs in this particular context before. And then there’s the simple way the music flows with the action. At the open of the film you find the words from the song following Baby around on street signs and graffiti; then it’s in sync with every turn of the wheel, every shot from a gun. Music isn’t just in this movie it’s a character of its own. The attention to detail is astounding and the work that the team behind this film put into it is so impressive.

The film has an aesthetic and style all its own. It’s classic, timeless and yet modern. It shows very Americana esque, showing Atlanta in a way that’s not shown often enough because too many people think of the “The Walking Dead” when they think of the Georgia city. It’s a heist movie, but it’s also a car chase film; and yet it also manages to be a love story.

“Baby Driver” is absolutely unique.

REVIEW: ‘Wonder Woman’ lives up to and exceeds the hype

“Wonder Woman” is not only the superhero movie the world needs, but also the superhero movie DC has needed for years.

DC’s recent films have expanded their universe, which is great, but the films have been either disappointing, crowded or a combination of both. “Wonder Woman” is the complete opposite of all of those things.

Gal Gadot shines in her leading role as Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman.  Gadot manages to bring a life to Diana that her male DC predecessors have failed to accomplish with their characters. Gadot’s Diana is strong, hopeful and personable in a way that lights up the screen.  Also let’s give thanks that they allowed Gadot to use her real accent and gave all the ladies of Themiscyra accents to match. Diana Prince is the strong, brilliant woman that has deserved a shining big screen light for years because of Gadot’s performance.

DC’s genius decision to nab the last of the Chris’ before Marvel could really paid off. Chris Pine makes Steve Trevor the man you want him to be, ignorant enough for the time but also endlessly supportive of Diana. Pine makes you believe in him and his cause.

The plot perfectly combines Diana’s Greek Mythological background with a mix of her canon comic origin stories. The story is gripping in its fantasy, but also in its reality with a striking and unique score behind it.

The story also manages, like so many things do intentionally or not, to be incredibly timely. A powerful woman leading a change and a charge for a fight she believes in. It’s a bold and timely statement about fighting for your home, yourself and your people whether those around you are in your corner or not. It’s also important with its social commentary specifically with its secondary characters, unlike so many films “Wonder Woman” manages to actually remember that not everyone was white in the past. The character Sami particularly stands out in a moment when he tells Diana that he never wanted to be a soldier, but because of the color of his skin it’s the only job he could get.

And all of these things don’t come together as beautifully as they do without director Patty Jenkins. Jenkins lens into the male dominated world Diana is walking into is incredibly well done. The fight scenes are enthralling and manage to be shot both realistically and fantastically with the Amazonian powers in play. Having a woman behind the camera for this female driven film was the best possible decision. he was no gamble (@ Hollywood Reporter, she directed an OSCAR WINNING FILM).

Overall “Wonder Woman” is the best solo superhero film to reach the big screen to date.