Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Release Date: April 22nd, 2019 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Ross Marquand, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Linda Cardellini, Tessa Thompson, Rene Russo, John Slattery, Tilda Swinton, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Taika Waititi, Angela Bassett, Frank Grillo, Robert Redford, Ty Simpkins, James D’Arcy, Ken Jeong, Yvette Nichole Brown

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 181 Minutes

Review:

“You could not live with your own failure, and where did that bring you? Back to me.” – Thanos

*There be spoilers here! But I kept it as minimal as possible.

Here we are… the end.

Well, it’s the end of an era but not the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although, this may be the end for me, as there isn’t much else I’m looking forward to from the MCU after Endgame. Granted, there hasn’t been much news on what’s coming next, either.

But anyway, how was this film? The big, badass finale to a 22 movie franchise?

It was good but it wasn’t anything close to stellar.

My biggest issue with it was that it was a pretty big clusterfuck that had too many parts to try and balance. Where the previous film Infinity War did that just fine, Endgame had so many more extra layers thrown on top of it that it was overkill. I mean every single character that had any sort of significant impact on MCU storylines over 22 films ended up shoehorned into this thing. Even Natalie Portman, who wanted nothing to do with these movies after being in two of them and dialing in a mediocre performance both times.

Also, the time travel element to the story did a bunch of things that didn’t make sense and they also pissed on Back to the Future because it’s easier to shit on a classic (and its fictitious application of quantum physics) than to actually write a coherent time travel story of your own. Endgame opted to go the lazy Doctor Who “timey wimey” route than to concern itself with paradoxes and all that other catastrophic nonsense. They even kill a version of a character from the past and it in no way effects the present version of that same character.

The big battle at the end was the most epic thing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done but what should have felt like Marvel’s version of The Return of the King felt more like Ready Player Two. It was a CGI shitfest and I’m not even sure how Spider-Man was web-swinging on a large, open battlefield where the only objects above him were fast moving spaceships going in the opposite of the direction he was swinging in. But whatever, physics is hard, brah.

I liked that this film gave us some closure for some major characters. Granted, I’m not all that happy with what that closure was but like Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr., I’m also very, very tired of this franchise. I feel like Endgame really is a jumping off point for fans that have rode this train for 11 years that feel like they need a break. I feel like I need a break and even if my mind was made up before this film, Endgame really solidified it.

Although, I am a bit excited for whatever happens with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor. As for the rest of the characters and their films, I don’t really care. I think I’m only really enthused about cosmic Marvel and not Earth Marvel, at this point.

Almost all of the acting was damn good, especially in regards to Robert Downey Jr., Karen Gillan, Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson.

Brie Larson on the other hand is a fucking charisma vacuum and every time she was on screen, I felt like I was looking at a first time community theater actress trying to play Nurse Ratched. And the Justin Bieber makeover was terrible. That scene where she blew up the ship and floated there, victoriously, just made me yearn for someone, anyone else to be in that role. My brain immediately thought, “Man, imagine if that was Charlize Theron, the theater would’ve just erupted instead of everyone just sitting here sucking loudly on empty soda cups.” I’m not wrong, I rarely ever am.

Anyway, the movie was messy but it had some really good moments. But this isn’t a movie that can stand on its own. You need the previous 21 films for context or all of this would be lost on you. Sure, it’s emotional and some bits are powerful but without 11 years of context, the weight isn’t there. And I prefer to judge films on their own merits as a sole body of work and not as an episode of a TV show or a chapter in a book. But at the same time, there is no way you can recap everything before this, as this film series is now too damn big.

Well, it’s over I guess. In 2008, it was hard imagining this day. But here it is. And I’m tired.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Everything in the MCU before this film, as it all leads up to this one.

TV Review: Mad Men (2007-2015)

Original Run: July 19th, 2007-May 17th, 2015
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: David Carbonara, RJD2 (opening theme)
Cast: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Batt, Michael Gladis, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Maggie Siff, John Slattery, Robert Morse, Jared Harris, Kiernan Shipka, Jessica Paré, Christopher Stanley, Jay R. Ferguson, Kevin Rahm, Ben Feldman, Mason Vale Cotton, Alison Brie, Joel Murray, Peyton List, Harry Hamlin, Linda Cardellini, Rosemarie DeWitt, Randee Heller, Caity Lotz, Ray Wise, Stephanie Courtney, Patrick Fischler, Alexis Bledel, Anna Camp,

Weiner Bros., Silvercup Studios, Lionsgate Television, @radical.media (pilot only), Lionsgate Television, AMC, 92 Episodes, 47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Last night saw the end of an era, as the series finale to Mad Men aired. The show was one of the best shows of the last ten years and frankly, one of the best television shows of all-time.

Sure, maybe I’m late in reviewing it because it is now over and it has been on television since the summer of 2007. I also didn’t have this blog back then and I like to wait and review television shows after they have had time to establish themselves.

Chances are, most of you reading this have already seen the show and formed your own opinions. Most of you probably loved it or at the very least, liked it. Sure, there is the minority that didn’t and that is fine. Regardless, it is what this show brought that makes it so iconic and important.

As viewers, we were thrown back into the 1960s. The time and the style of the show ignited nostalgia in a lot of folks and thus, had them engaged from the first scene: Don Draper sitting in a bar trying to solve the dilemma of marketing Lucky Strikes cigarettes.

The strongest element of the show was not its style however, it was its substance. With that opening scene, you knew that you were in the past, where things were quite different. A time where minorities and women were treated generally, pretty poorly. Also a time where cigarettes could be marketed and people were a lot less concerned about the health risks of smoking, drinking and sexually transmitted diseases. As the show traversed its way through the 1960s and into 1970 – in the final season, our characters were faced with a multitude of issues and many of them had to deal with the consequences.

There isn’t anything in this show that hasn’t been dealt with our addressed in entertainment before but what this show did, was take all of these issues and put them in one place. Mad Men was a brilliantly executed smorgasbord of the social, economic, political, health and safety issues of the time. It also doesn’t hurt that the show was just always stunning to look at and perfectly acted.

Whether it was the set designers, the creative directors or the wardrobe people on set, it all became a happy and perfect marriage and gave us something special and unique. It has also paved the way for other shows on non-premium cable television to take more risks and not be fearful of being too edgy.

Without Mad Men, AMC wouldn’t have become a television powerhouse. For those that forget, AMC used to just show old black and white movies and that was it. Mad Men opened a door at the network that led to shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead, Hell On Wheels, Halt and Catch Fire, TURИ: Washington’s Spies, The Killing and the soon to debut Preacher, Fear the Walking Dead, Humans and Into the Badlands. Mad Men also inspired a resurgence of period dramas on other networks – some successful and some, not so much.

With the last episode now having aired, I can say that Mad Men lived up to its continued hype and never disappointed. It was quality from day one and maintained its superior level of television storytelling all the way up to the very end. And ultimately, it had the balls to take everything it told you from the beginning and flip it on its head at the end.

The show had a unique ability to reinvent itself and its characters without the viewer realizing it in the moment. That being said, the characters on Mad Men could very well be the most human characters in television history.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Magic CityHalt and Catch FireThe Astronaut Wives Club and Manhattan.

Documentary Review: Center of Attention – The Unreal Life of Derek Sanderson (2015)

Release Date: June, 2015
Narrated by: John Slattery

NBC Sports Films, 47 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Recently I read Derek Sanderson’s autobiography Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original. While reading it, I was wrapped up in his tale and thought it would be a great story for a documentary. Luckily for all of us, NBCSN agreed and made a one hour film about Sanderson, which premiered this week after a Stanley Cup Finals game.

The documentary interviewed friends, family, coaches and former teammates – most notably the legendary Bobby Orr. It went on to highlight his career and his trouble with drugs and alcohol. Granted, I felt that Sanderson’s story could’ve been more fleshed out and presented over two hours instead of one but NBCSN still did a great job of hitting all the highs and lows of a man that went from the top of his sport to rock bottom in life.

While Sanderson’s story, at face value, isn’t unique, it is the character that Derek Sanderson was that make’s his tale compelling. He was the king of cool, often times referred to as the “Joe Namath of Hockey”. He was, at one time, the highest paid athlete in the world. And where so many of these stories end in tragedy, Sanderson’s had a happy ending, as he overcame his problems, turned his life around and dedicated his remaining days to helping those with substance abuse issues.

Still alive and kicking, when many thought he was on a quick trip to an early grave, Sanderson is a shining example of perseverance and a real man, who overcame adversity, conquered his demons and turned it all around for the better.

I hope NBCSN does more documateries like this, especially in the world of hockey. It was refreshing and engaging, especially when ESPN rarely showcases hockey stories in their great 30 For 30 documentary series.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Last GladiatorsKing’s Ransom and Big Shot.

Film Review: Iron Man 2 (2010)

Release Date: April 26th, 2010 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Justin Theroux
Based on: Iron Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Debney
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Jon Favreau, Paul Bettany (voice), Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Leslie Bibb, Gary Shandling, John Slattery, Kate Mara, Olivia Munn (cameo)

Fairview Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 125 Minutes

Review:

“If you try to escape, or play any sort of games with me, I will taze you and watch Supernanny while you drool into the carpet.” – Agent Coulson

I remember that when I first saw Iron Man 2, I was disappointed. I really hadn’t watched it since it came out but it was nice revisiting it and I was surprised to discover that it was better than I remembered it. Maybe it’s because Marvel movies are a dime a dozen now but this had more of a plot and more character development than most of the massive team-up movies we get today.

This film also introduces us to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who would become a major player in the Avengers franchise, and it recasts James Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine with Don Cheadle, who brought more charisma than Terrence Howard and also has much more chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. We also get more of Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury, Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, small roles for John Slattery and Kate Mara, a cameo by Olivia Munn and others, as well as the addition of Gary Shandling and the return of Leslie Bibb.

The main additions to the film are the villains though. We get Sam Rockwell, recent Oscar winner, as Justin Hammer, a rival of Tony Stark. We also get Mickey Rourke as Whiplash, who is a combination of Iron Man villains the Crimson Dynamo and Whiplash. I liked both men in their roles and thought they had a solid chemistry when they shared scenes together. Whiplash’s backstory was interesting and I actually would have liked to have seen him return. Well, I’d like to see Hammer return too and since he doesn’t die, his return isn’t impossible.

The film isn’t as good or as refined as the original but it expands on the Iron Man pocket of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe that hadn’t reached its apex by 2010. It is a better film than The Incredible Hulk and seeing it now, I like it better than all of the other Phase One Marvel films after the first Iron Man. Although, I am planning to revisit Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger over the next week.

I think that Jon Favreau did a great job directing the first two Iron Man movies. It was a hard task but he accomplished what he set out to do, which was to build a good foundation for the future of the MCU. The entire franchise was born out of Favreau’s vision for Iron Man and I think it was a good vision and a great starting point.

The climax was long but it was much bigger than the simple fight that capped off the first film. Iron Man had his work cut out for him but now having allies made for a much richer finale. I just wish that the actual fight between Iron Man and War Machine against Whiplash wouldn’t have ended so quickly. I felt like Rourke’s character deserved a few more minutes of being a total badass. Then again, he bit off more than he could chew in engaging two men in Iron Man suits.

Iron Man 2 is a better movie than what I thought it was at first glance, back in 2010. Ultimately, it is a fun, larger than life, popcorn flick. It’s a damn good one at that, though. We now live in a world where there’s a half dozen superhero movies per year and that might be a low estimate. Iron Man 2 is better than what has become the standard, as the genre becomes more and more watered down with each comic book movie and television show.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Iron ManIron Man 3Captain America: Civil War.

Film Review: Ant-Man (2015)

Release Date: June 29th, 2015 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
Based on: Ant-Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Anthony Mackie, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Michael Douglas

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 117 Minutes

Review:

*Originally written in 2015.

Ant-Man is the next film in a long line of Marvel films that are a part of the Avengers universe. Ant-Man being one of the original Avengers means that this film is long overdue. In fact, I had hoped that it would have happened in Phase One of the Avengers film line and not as the last film in the Phase Two set of movies. Regardless, it is nice to finally have Hank Pym in the Avengers fray. Oh wait, I mean Scott Lang.

Yes, Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd) is the hero here even though Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) is in the film. Pym however, is Lang’s mentor and the original Ant-Man, who we knew nothing about until now. Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp, is also shown in costume via flashbacks. There is kind of a nice set up, in the film’s intro, that shows us a very young Michael Douglas (thanks to CGI) bantering with Howard Stark and Agent Peggy Carter in 1989.

Scott Lang is one of the more unique characters to be on the Avengers roster, even though he hasn’t achieved that status yet, in this film. He is a thief turned hero – on a quest for redemption in order to have a normal relationship with his young daughter. The Scott Lang character kind of takes the best parts of Hawkeye’s character in Avengers: Age of Ultron and magnifies them much more. You care about Scott, his daughter and their relationship probably more intimately than the relationship of any other characters in the Marvel movie mythos except for Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter.

Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas do a superb job in bringing life to this long overdue Marvel character. Evangeline Lilly is also great, as the daughter of Pym and the Wasp. Corey Stoll was okay as the villain who eventually becomes Yellowjacket. Although, Yellowjacket isn’t a villain in the comics, he is just another alias of Hank Pym.

Yellowjacket being the villain just seems half-assed. He is essentially the same thing as Ant-Man except he can fly and shoot lasers. Ant-Man has the advantage in that he can summon armies of ants. I’m sorry, but an army of ants against a tiny guy with lasers isn’t going to bode well for the tiny guy with lasers. What could one guy with a laser gun do against an army of ravenous orcs? This also goes back to a recent comment George R.R. Martin made about how Marvel too often pits its heroes against villains with the same set of powers and it isn’t as interesting as heroes matching up with something that is a contrast to their abilities. I couldn’t agree with Martin more.

Despite the villain issue, this film is better than that mess Avengers: Age of Ultron. When I stated in my review of that film that the solo Marvel films are better due to story, character development and not being forced to fit too much into one movie, Ant-Man just solidified that point for me even more. It is more fluid, more organic and tells a human story, unlike those massive CGI-littered Joss Whedon action fests.

To be honest, Ant-Man is one of the best Marvel films to date. It is better than both Avengers, both Thor films, the first Captain America, the second and third Iron Man, that one Hulk film with the other actor and whatever else there is except for Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier and the first Iron Man film.

It isn’t a picture without flaws though. At times, it got a bit too hokey. The humor was great for the most part and I loved the comedic characters, especially Lang’s crew played by Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian (the one with the Russian accent), who you might remember as the Joker’s henchman that Harvey Dent abducted in The Dark Knight.

The film felt rushed at times and the editing was a bit shaky. Like other Marvel films, things feel like they got left on the cutting room floor. Where some characters felt well developed, others were lacking. Corey Stoll’s role just seemed disjointed at times, as his motivations were never all that clear and his slip into insanity just kind of happened. It just didn’t feel like an organic metamorphosis.

Additionally, the sound editing was problematic. When Lang is taking direction from Pym in his helmet, it sounds like voice over work and doesn’t sound natural. Other Marvel films have had similar problems. Also, when Lang is ant-sized, in some scenes he can’t be heard by normal-sized characters but in others he can. I’m not sure if this was explained and I missed it or if it is just some Marvel-sized plot hole.

Judy Greer is also in this film, which makes me wonder how many more summer blockbusters will she cameo in? And using her for a minor role was a waste of her talent, unless they have plans for her later on. I feel like she could have been used for a bigger Marvel role than the 14th Avenger’s baby mama.

I liked this film. Be sure to wait for the mid-credits scene and then for the post-credits scene. We get two special bonuses with this film. Granted, they don’t necessarily lead to anything profound but they put in motion the next steps in the Ant-Man branch of the Avengers franchise family tree.