Title: The Avengers
Release Date: 4 May 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Production Co: Marvel Studios / Paramount Pictures
Genre: Action | Adventure | Science Fiction | Superhero
On a sultry summer night my family and I escaped to a cool pub for supper. The Avengers was on the tv with the sound off and my wife soon found herself relating the dialogue to the children and explaining what was going on. The next day, my son – who often proclaims that he does not like to watch movies – asked to watch the whole movie with the sound on. So we watched and were introduced into the Marvel Universe. As someone who knows little to nothing about comic book superheroes I felt that I got a basic sense of the characters, although I’m sure people who’ve watched all the movies get a lot of references. All the actors are strong in their roles and are entertaining, funny, and suitably conflicted. The theme of a team of rivals needing to find a way to work together is well-done without being hit over the head too much as well. On the whole, it’s entertaining, brainless fun.
One unexpected thing is just how militaristic the SHIELD/Avengers world is. It’s a bit unsettling considering the unrestrained military spending in the real United States to think that in a fictional world there would be need for another whole level of secret military forces. I also felt that the superheroes are immortal makes the non-stop fighting among themselves and against Loki rather lacking in drama. The only thing at stake is the amount of collateral damage suffered in human lives, buildings, and vehicles.
A couple of nice touches at the end of the film address this. First, the Avengers are physically and mentally exhausted after the battle (leading to the famous post-credit shawarma scene). Second, is the montage of news reports showing some people celebrating the Avengers as heroes, but others questioning whether their responsibility in bringing such devastation to the Earth. It’s good to have the film’s premise questioned onscreen even if it’s a small bit.
Title: 30 for 30: “The Day The Series Stopped”
Release Date: 12 October 2014
Director: Ryan Fleck
Production Co: Electric City Entertainment
Country: United States
Genre: Documentary | Sports
Review: The ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series takes us back to October 1989 when the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s was interrupted by the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Archival footage and interviews with players, fans, and sportscasters show how it slowly dawned on the people at Candlestick Park that the shaking and buckling they experienced was in fact the worst earthquake in over 80 years and having devastating effects on the teams’ home cities. There are some interesting effects in the movie such as rewinding to the time of the earthquake to tell stories from different perspectives such as one Giants’ employee who was climbing a light tower in the outfield at the time of the tremor. There’s also some chilling discussion of how a reinforcement project recently completed ahead of schedule may have helped prevent a deadly collapse of Candlestick Park. Then there are surreal moments such Jose Canseco still in his A’s uniform and his elegantly dressed wife pumping gas at the one fueling station that managed to stay open after the quake. At times this documentary doesn’t seem to know if it’s a sports story or a disasters story, but then again it documents a moment in time when it was uncertain if baseball was not important or if it was a needed distraction to help the communities rebuild. I think this movie could have been better if the filmmakers focused more on the interviews rather than replaying familiar archival footage, but it’s an interesting glimpse at a moment when the “sports” story became the “news” story.
Release Date: 21 July 1989
Director: Jay Levey
Production Co: Orion Pictures
Country: United States
A recent article about this movie contains this quote:
All over America, whenever a young man turns 13, he sees this film, and it becomes his favorite film of all time. It’s kind of like a secular, comedic Bar Mitzvah. And the accumulation of young men who at the age of 13 who have seen this film over the last 25 years has given it a massive fan base and elevated it to a legendary stature.
I failed to see this movie when I was 13, or anytime since. Technically, I couldn’t have seen this movie when I was 13 because it was released when I was 15, but it’s the type of thing I would’ve liked when I was 13. Or maybe 9.
UHF has a general plot about daydreamer George (Al Yankovic) inheriting a local tv-station, and making it a hit with oddball programming. This is all just linking device for movie and commercial parodies disguised as George’s day dreams and tv shows. All of it feels pretty dated but you can imagine it was at least somewhat funny in the 1980s.
And this may be the most 80s film ever! Despite the decade being marked by selfishness and inequality, it has that 80s movie optimism where the ordinary folk rally together to beat evil rich guy. A virtual parade of 80s celebrity crosses the screen – SNL‘s Victoria Jackson as George’s love interest, Gedde Watanabe as a martial instructor as stereotypical as Long Duck Dong, Fran Drescher as the station’s nasally reporter, and Emo Phillips – EMO PHILLIPS – as a high school shop teacher making a gruesome television appearance. I can only assume Sam Kinnison, Joe Piscopo, and Spuds McKenzie were busy. The real heart of the film is a pre-Kramer Michael Richards as the station’s janitor who becomes a whacky tv star. You can tell he’s having a great time improv-ing his part.
I mock this film, but it’s sweet and does it’s best for the laughs. I just saw it at the wrong age.
Title: Silver Linings Playbook
Release Date: 25 December 2012
Director: David O. Russell
Production Co: Weinstein Company,
Country: United States
Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
Not sure to make of this one. The basic story is that Pat (Bradley Cooper) has spent some time in a mental institution after being diagnosed as bipolar following a vicious attack on the man having a fling with his wife. Pat moves in with his parents adopting a “silver linings” philosophy in hopes of getting himself in shape to win back his wife (and his failures to stick to his new ideal veer between the comic and terrifying). Along the way he meets a young widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and agrees to join her in a dance performance in exchange for Tiffany delivering a letter to his wife. It doesn’t take much of a leap to realize that Pat and Tiffany will end up together by the end of the film (and along the way they spend a lot of time talking in the middle of streets without ever getting honked at).
I don’t think the depiction of mental illness in the film is very accurate and I’m sensitive to the problems that causes. On the other hand, the acting in this movie is strong as Cooper, Lawrence, Jackie Weaver, Chris Tucker, and Anupam Kher all put in excellent performance and sell the interpersonal dynamics. Even Robert Deniro who I don’t usually like because he always plays Robert Deniro puts in a convincing performance as a man obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles with OCD and a gambling problem, but under that all really trying to make a connection with his son. So I give this a mixed review, as the story is largely hard-to-believe, but the acting and the relationships are terrific.
Title: Pitch Perfect
Release Date: 5 October 2012
Production Co:Brownstone Productions
Genre:Comedy | Musical
Recently, I’ve been seeing references to Anna Kendrick everywhere, as if the universe wishes for me to know of her existence. So I decided to watch this musical comedy which has a reputation as a cult classic. I went to a college with a big a cappella scene, but the fictional college in this film takes it to a new level, where vocal groups are the highly competitive center of campus life (and apparently members have incredible recall for song lyrics and instant harmonies). The plot leaves a lot of questions (“why if the Bellas routines are so stale & boring do they keep finishing in the top 3?” “does anyone realize that Beca’s plan to use mashups as the basis of their new performance is something already called a medley?”), but this isn’t a movie you watch for the plot. Instead you watch it for the funny dialogue, the showstopping musical numbers, and strong comic performances from Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, and Ben Platt. It’s kind of Animal House with harmony, but with the heart of an 80s John Hughes film (with a very obvious shout-out to The Breakfast Club as a plot point). So, put me down as a fan of Kendrick and Pitch Perfect. I’m ready for the sequel.
Release Date: 2014
Director: Ava DuVernay
Production Co: Cloud Eight Films, Celador Films, Harpo Films, Pathé, Plan B Entertainment
Country: United States
Genre: Biography | Drama | History
The story of the march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for voting rights for black Americans is dramatized in this excellent biographical film. The film focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr. after he and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) are invited to Selma, AL to help with their campaign to register black voters. In addition to the conflict with violent police and racist whites, the film captures the tensions between the SCLC and leaders of other groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), tensions within the SCLC leadership, tensions between King and President Lyndon Johnson, and tensions within King’s family. The brilliant acting in this film draws out how all these competing tensions affected the historic people and their motivations and desires. I was also impressed with the directing of the film, particularly in the unusual way the camera conversations among individuals. There has been criticism of this film for not being historically accurate, but while not being the documentary truth of the period of time it depicts, I think it compresses real historical truths for dramatic effect. For example, while Johnson may not have been has nakedly antagonistic to King’s plans in 1965, it is true that the President had conflicting goals and did not wish to move forward as swiftly as the Movement. I hope people will go and see this film which is both a work of art and an introduction to an important event in American history. And once you’ve seen Selma, check out the documentary Eyes on the Prize and the many excellent books about the history of the Civil Rights Movement.
Title: Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage
Release Date: 1999
Director: David Clark, Al Giddings
Production Co: IMAX, Mandalay Media Arts, National Science Foundation
Genre: Documentary | Nature | IMAX
Rating: *** 1/2
Another great IMAX film experience at the Boston Museum of Science. The film immerses one in the lunar landscape of the Galapagos Islands with it’s many uniquely-evolved creatures and plants. Then it takes you deep beneath the sea to explore newly-discovered aquatic creatures. The star of the film is zoologist Carol Baldwin (and fellow William & Mary alum) who among other things takes a submersible into the deep ocean and sucks up specimens of sea life with a nifty vacuum tube. My 7-year-old son gave the movie a thumbs up as well.