Documentary Review: Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe (2014)

Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Hayley Atwell, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Dominic Cooper, Vin Diesel, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Jon Favreau, Kevin Feige, Clark Gregg, James Gunn, Chris Hardwick, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier, Jeph Loeb, Anthony Mackie, George R.R. Martin, Tom Morello, Bobby Moynihan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Pratt, Joe Quesada, Robert Redford, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Ming-Na Wen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright (uncredited)

ABC Studios, Disney, Marvel, 42 Minutes

Review:

After watching the beefy but solid Star Wars documentary Empire of Dreams, I noticed that Disney+ also featured a similar made-for-TV documentary about the making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I figured I’d check it out, as it originally aired in 2014, on the cusp of the MCU reaching its peak.

Unfortunately, this isn’t as compelling as Empire of Dreams and it plays more like a Marvel produced production used mainly to pimp themselves out and market Captain America: Winter Solider and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. But I get it, this played on ABC, which like Marvel, is owned by Disney.

It’s still an informative piece with a lot of insight into the making of the first Iron Man movie, which opened the floodgates for the rest of the MCU.

It also expands beyond that and delves a little bit into each movie up to the then still in-production Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, I think that this was the first real peek into the Guardians of the Galaxy production.

The best part about this short feature is the interviews with the stars and filmmakers who helped bring this universe to life. I especially liked hearing the enthusiasm that Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau had with the early Iron Man pictures.

Overall, this isn’t a must watch but it’s worth your time if you are a big MCU fan.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other filmmaking documentaries about blockbusters. Empire of Dreams, immediately comes to mind.

Documentary Review: Comic-Con – Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (2011)

Release Date: September 10th, 2011 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
Written by: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Joss Whedon
Music by: Jeff Peters
Cast: Joss Whedon, Guillermo del Toro, Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Kenneth Branagh, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen, Thomas Jane, Seth Green, Edgar Wright, Corey Feldman, Paul Scheer, Todd McFarlane, Matt Groening, Frank Miller, Gerard Way, Grant Morrison, Paul Dini, Joe Quesada, various

Mutant Enemy, Thomas Tull Productions, Warrior Poets, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I think the fans are the most important thing in the comic book business. And I might add, in any form of entertainment. I feel… you gotta be nice to the fans because without them… you’re nothing.” – Stan Lee

Here we go, these nerdy fan documentaries are a dime a dozen but I guess this one got some recognition for being well produced and for featuring a slew of famous nerd-centric personalities.

I didn’t know that this was a Morgan Spurlock film until I was already watching it. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have watched it. Reason being, I think the guy’s a f’n hack and disingenuous. His most popular film Super Size Me was unwatchable to anyone that can see through a ruse, which it was. It wasn’t science, it wasn’t a real test to see how fast food effects you, it was one man’s entertaining mockumentary, sold as a legit documentary and damnation of the fast food industry. His documentary series on FX was also mostly a big bullshit endeavor where he went into everything with a bias then cherry picked info and edited everything down to the narrative he wanted. He’s the reason behind the modern alteration to an old phrase, “No shit, Spurlock!”

Anyway, this is exactly what you’d think it is. A bunch of famous nerdy types talk about their nerdy shit and their love for the San Diego Comic Con, which is barely about comic books at this point and isn’t anywhere near as cool as it once was. You missed the boat by a decade or so, Spurlock.

The only thing I really liked about this was seeing the behind the scenes stuff on cosplay. I don’t normally give a shit about cosplay but it was interesting to see, nonetheless.

As far as the interviewees, the only one that stuck with me was Stan Lee. Everything else was edited so choppy that the vast majority of comments could have been things out of context and then just thrown together for Spurlock to manufacture whatever narrative he was going for. Stan Lee’s bit was heartwarming though but that’s because he’s Stan Lee and he always has eloquent shit to say.

You’d probably be alright if you never watched this. It doesn’t do anything to inspire you to go to San Diego Comic Con. If anything, it told me to stay away because I like comics and don’t give a crap about massive celebrity panels or Joss Whedon publicly ranting about lefty hysteria.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: any of the dozens of other documentaries about nerd conventions or nerdy hobbies, there are so many.

Film Review: Thor (2011)

Release Date: April 17th, 2011 (Sydney premiere)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne, J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Protosevich
Based on: The Mighty Thor by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Patrick Doyle
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, Colm Feore, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner

Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 114 Minutes

Review:

“I never wanted the throne, I only ever wanted to be your equal!” – Loki

As I am reworking my way through all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films in preparation for Avengers: Infinity War, in about a month, I was really looking forward to revisiting the first Thor.

While I thought that Thor: Ragnarok was maybe the best Marvel film to date, a part of me wanted to go back and watch the two Thor pictures before it. Sure, I knew they wouldn’t be as good as Ragnarok but I absolutely adore Hemsworth’s Thor more than any other hero in the larger Avengers franchise. And yeah, I’ve been a massive Robert Downey, Jr. fan my entire life.

It’s not just Hemsworth’s Thor that makes these films a really fun experience though. A lot of credit has to go to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who is, by far, the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Granted, he’s not a total villain and may be more of an ally in the films now but he was certainly an evil force in the early films. No other villain has had his presence, his charisma and his longevity. Every other villain is essentially a one-off castaway. There’s a reason as to why Hiddleston doesn’t simply disappear like all the others.

The Thor movies also have an incredible ensemble of people. But then they also have Natalie Portman, who I’ve never been much of a fan of and frankly, she didn’t really enjoy doing these movies anyway and more or less didn’t want to do the second one and got herself written out of the third. But the loss of Portman also caused Kat Dennings to be written out. Really, she was more entertaining and probably would’ve worked better as Thor’s girl because the banter between the characters would have been more fun than the boring and lazy Portman.

Anyway, we see Thor banished from Asgard because he pissed off Odin, his father. He has to prove himself and his worth in order to be allowed back into his home realm. He meets Jane, a scientist, and her crew. Thor’s first mission is to retrieve his magic hammer, Mjolnir. He then must fight Destroyer and eventually confront his brother Loki, who has deceived him throughout the events of the story.

We get the return of Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, as well as a cameo by Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury and the debut of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.

This feels like a smaller film than what Marvel puts out now. But I like the smaller feel. The world of heroes hadn’t yet expanded to where it would, a few films after this one. This is a cozy origin tale and really is a stark contrast to what we would all see in Thor: Ragnarok. Plus, the Asgard side of the story is broad enough to not feel like you have cabin fever sitting in a small desert town the entire movie.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Thor: Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok. Also, The Avengers, as that’s the next time that Thor would show up.

Film Review: Murder On the Orient Express (2017)

Release Date: November 2nd, 2017 (Royal Albert Hall premiere)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Michael Green
Based on: Murder On the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Music by: Patrick Doyle
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman

Kinberg Genre, The Mark Gordon Company, Scott Free Productions, 20th Century Fox, 114 Minutes

Review:

“My name is Hercule Poirot and I am probably the greatest detective in the world. ” – Hercule Poirot

Anytime that Kenneth Branagh is working on something, I am interested. Not everything he does is great but he puts his own spin and personal touch into every picture. So when I heard that he would be taking on the role of Hercule Poirot, I got enthused about this project. When I saw the rest of the cast that was attached to this, that enthusiasm became excitement.

I guess I was most excited about seeing Branagh come together with Johnny Depp but Depp plays Mr. Ratchett and is therefore, the murder victim. Depp does an amazing job, especially in his scene opposite Branagh, but he is in the picture and then leaves pretty quickly.

The cast is pretty star studded, boasting the talents of Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz and others. Everyone pulls their weight well and this whodunit mystery is well played from every angle.

Being that the majority of this film takes place in pretty close confines and that it never gets visually stale is due to the luxuriousness of the sets and the surrounding outside geography. Ultimately, the real props go to the cinematographer and the director for capturing such an enchanting environment.

The story is pretty good and for the most part, follows the book with a few new embellishments. While I haven’t read the book, I did look into its plot and wanted to see if this film had the same ending. It mostly does. But having not read the book, I found the mystery fairly easy to figure out. And there just wasn’t anything all that surprising.

To be completely honest, I did like the movie. I really loved Branagh’s interpretation of Poirot. However, it was mostly just an entertaining mystery that was good to kill a few hours. It’s not too memorable, other than the cool ensemble. It’s also a much tamer picture than I felt it should be. Sure, a guy dies a horrible and violent death but the film sort of dismisses the actual brutality of it all.

The end of the film teases that Poirot is heading to the Nile, which is a reference to the Agatha Christie novel Death On the Nile, another Hercule Poirot tale and possibly a future sequel to this film. I would watch another one, for the record.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Dunkirk (2017)

Release Date: July 13th, 2017 (Odeon Leicester Square premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy

Syncopy Inc., Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

Review:

“Where’s the bloody air force?” – Irate Soldier

At one point, Christopher Nolan was my favorite modern director. Interstellar left a bad taste in my mouth, Inception was cool but tedious and I’ve always thought that Memento was a bit overrated. However, The Prestige and The Dark Knight Trilogy are some of the best examples of filmmaking in the last decade or so. When it comes to Nolan, I always remember the positives and I will always give his films the opportunity to captivate me.

Dunkirk is not a perfect motion picture, many films rarely are. However, it is solid, strong and a true return to form for the British auteur.

War movies have run their course for me. Many of them are just more of the same. They’ve become incredibly derivative and they all just sort of blur together. That is, until one that is unique or exceptional comes along. I wouldn’t quite label Dunkirk as exceptional but I would say that it is unique.

The film picks up right in the action and never lets up. It is pretty relentless but not so much so that you are forced into a stressful and intense two hour action sequence. There is enough story and character building to make you care about the people in the film, even if you really just get to peek into these men’s lives for a day or so.

The acting is incredible and the cinematography is beautiful and immensely breathtaking. The scenes with the fighter pilots are a real treat and the true highlight of the film. Especially with Tom Hardy just owning every scene he is in, even if he doesn’t have a lot of dialogue throughout most of the movie.

The scenes featuring Cillian Murphy are fabulous. He plays a soldier rescued at sea who is shellshocked by the attacks he’s survived. His character creates some major problems for others in the film but you can’t feel anything but sadness for him, despite the consequences of his actions. Frankly, Murphy proves time and time again that he is one of the best actors of the modern era but I don’t see him in enough films.

James D’Arcy and Kenneth Branagh command the screen when they are present. Branagh always has this sort of effect but it is great seeing D’Arcy really shine and get to sink his teeth into something meaty.

The only real negative about this film is that the multiple characters and their missions are all edited quickly together and the film jumps back and forth between them all. The issue, is that the timelines for each set of characters doesn’t line up. So when the boat scenes cut to the fighter jet scenes, we’re not seeing the same passage of time, yet they are edited together for dramatic effect. Honestly, I would have preferred the film to just sort of happen chronologically, as it would have been easier to follow. I don’t know if this was done to come off as more of an artistic approach or if it was just to make the action sequences flow a bit better but I had to keep reminding myself that certain things were happening from a different point-of-view that I had already seen earlier.

Dunkirk is still pretty incredible and it shows that Nolan has still got it. It also shows that war films don’t have to tread the same path or tell another version of the same story we’ve seen countless times. It’s also nice seeing a major World War II film that has nothing to do with America. Besides, the Dunkirk incident is an incredible story and it deserved to be told on the big screen, which hasn’t been done since the mostly forgotten 1958 film of the same name.

Rating: 7.75/10