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: Flight of the Conchords (2007-2009)

Also known as: Los Conchords (Spain)
Original Run: February 26th, 2016-current
Created by: James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie
Directed by: James Bobin, Taika Waititi, various
Written by: James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Taika Waititi, various
Music by: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby, Kristen Schaal, Arj Barker

Dakota Pictures, HBO, 22 Episodes, 26 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Having just watched Jemaine Clement in the fantastic What We Do In the Shadows, I was inspired to revisit Flight of the Conchords, as I hadn’t watched it since it was last on HBO in 2009. Also, I had never seen it in its entirety and in the proper sequence. Now I have and I’m glad I did. By the way, both seasons are streaming for free on Amazon’s video-on-demand service, right now.

So, as much as I loved this show when it was current, I loved it even more revisiting it several years later and after seeing Clement’s career evolve. It was nice to get back to basics and see him and his crew at their best. I wouldn’t call this their creative peak but I would say that it was where they were the most in-tune to the versatility of their talents.

Following a New Zealand band, the Flight of the Conchords, and their lives trying to make it in New York City, is a unique experience. The show ties together entertaining stories, hilarious musical segments and great characters that are unlike any other. Being that everyone in this show is pretty much an exaggerated extension of themselves makes it feel authentic despite its absurdity.

Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie are a perfect duo and play off of each other so well, that there is nothing unnatural or forced about their relationship. Kristen Schaal and Rhys Darby are also great members of this show’s cast and are both believable and lovable. Arj Barker, who plays their best friend, is fantastic as Dave. In fact, if you have time, go to YouTube and search for “Dave’s Pearls of Wisdom”.

This is one of the best comedies HBO has ever aired and they have aired several comedies that are now classics. I wish that the show went on for more than two seasons but the quality of work was so strong, and the ending was pretty fitting. There are few shows that feel this satisfying throughout their entire run.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other films and shows created by this same group of guys: What We Do In the Shadows, Eagle Vs. Shark, etc.

Film Review: Boy (2010)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2010 (Sundance)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Taika Waititi
Music by: The Phoenix Foundation
Cast: James Rolleston, Taika Waititi, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Moerangi Tihore, Cherilee Martin, RickyLee Waipuka-Russell, Haze Reweti, Maakariini Butler, Rajvinder Eria, Rachel House, Craig Hall

Whenua Films, Unison Films, New Zealand Film Production Fund, New Zealand Film Commission, New Zealand On Air, Te Mangai Paho, Transmission Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t call me dad, it sounds weird.” – Alamein

I’ve been a Taika Waititi fan since first seeing Eagle vs. Shark and Flight of the Conchords. I didn’t see Boy when it first came out though and I put it off for too long. I have heard great things but the subject matter was pretty close to home and I wanted to save this for a later date because I assumed it’d be a good movie to keep on the back burner when I needed something really good to watch.

Well, I certainly wasn’t disappointed and I ended up loving this more than I thought I would. It’s funny and emotional while also having a perfect balance between lightheartedness and seriousness. Really, it was crafted with perfection and with a real love of the story and the characters within.

The young James Rolleston had to carry this picture on his back and he did so with gusto and really made the film a magical experience. You saw the world through his eyes, felt his pain but also felt his youthful enthusiasm, even when he was faced with tremendous adversity and a broken heart. He had Waititi at his side in the toughest scenes but this kid shined and really represented the feelings that many boys and men have in regards to fathers that treat their sons like an afterthought. And even though Rolleston’s Boy eventually releases all his pent up anger and disappointment, he still takes the right step forward and leaves the door open to his shitty dad, showing a child much more mature than the man that made him.

This film deals with a lot of serious subject matter and emotion but it mixes in the comedy elements very well. Waititi is the master at blending tough subject matter and humor. Between this film and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he’s proven that he is a master of his craft in this regard.

Boy, the character, was such a fun kid to get to know. But the other kids were also great and had their own smaller stories sort of woven into this great tapestry. His younger brother Rocky had his own view about things and Dynasty had some serious problems she had to deal with that were directly tied to Boy and his nitwit father Alamein.

Certain moments in the film were emotionally difficult to witness but it was all presented so perfectly and beautifully. And regardless of the hardships all of these characters face, the film ends pretty optimistically with hope. It seems as if things will get better after all the bad stuff that happened. Ultimately, it shows me that Taika Waititi understands life and this film is really a celebration of it.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. 

Film Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Also known as: Wild Pork and Watercress (working title)
Release Date: January 22nd, 2016 (Sundance)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Taika Waititi
Based on: Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump
Music by: Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, Conrad Wedde
Cast: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Rhys Darby, Oscar Knightley, Taika Waititi

Piki Films, Defender Films, Curious Film, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Shit just got real… again” – Hec

Taika Waititi may be one of the best filmmakers of his generation. Finally, after the great Thor: Ragnarok, he seems to be getting some mainstream success and notoriety. But before his take on Thor and just after his underground classic, What We Do In the Shadows, he made this film.

In this picture, we have an unlikely pair on the run from the authorities. Julian Dennison, who is now most famous as the sort of evil kid from Deadpool 2, plays Ricky Baker, a juvenile delinquent sent to live with two foster parents. When the kind foster mother dies, Ricky is left with the husband, a sort of cranky man that likes his solitude out in the bush. Ricky is to be picked up by the authorities and sent to juvenile detention, as this was his last chance with a foster family and the aging bushman named Hec isn’t capable of caring for him. Ricky and Hec butt heads over this and Ricky runs away. Hec catches up to him but injures his ankle. After some discussion, the two go on the run from the law trying to split them apart.

This is a quintessential “buddies on the run” comedy but it is unique in that it is a kid and an old man and that it takes place in majestic New Zealand, most famous in movies as Middle Earth. Sadly, they don’t fight orcs but there is a funny Lord of the Rings homage thrown into the movie.

What makes this so great is that Taika Waititi just has a great balance between serious, emotional material and comedy. This isn’t as wildly hilarious as What We Do In the Shadows but it has a similar lighthearted spirit to it. It is probably closer in tone to Waititi’s 2010 film Boy, which saw a young New Zealand kid try to reconnect with his absentee father.

I have been a fan of Sam Neill probably as long as I have been alive but it was sweet seeing him have such solid chemistry with a young kid. Dennison is a rare talent and he really carries the film, making Neill that much better. And Neill certainly has a great presence on his own but Dennison brings the best out of him. I loved this pairing, which was a bit of a surprise as I wasn’t a big fan of Dennison’s character in Deadpool 2. But that was probably the writing and not Dennison’s performance.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is just a solid way to spend two hours. It touches the heart, makes you laugh but it isn’t overly sappy or sad. It’s a good time and just another nice feather in the cap for Waititi.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Taika Waititi’s Boy and Eagle vs. Shark.

Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Release Date: October 10th, 2017 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Based on: The Mighty Thor by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins, Taika Waititi, Clancy Brown, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Sam Neill, Matt Damon (uncredited cameo), Stan Lee (uncredited cameo)

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 130 Minutes

Review:

“Last time we saw you, you were trying to kill everyone. What are you up to these days?” – Bruce Banner, “It varies from moment to moment.” – Loki

The Thor movies probably get the least amount of respect out of the solo Marvel films. I enjoyed the first two, more so than a lot of Marvel’s stuff. Chris Hemsworth is fantastic, as is Tom Hiddleston. So when I learned that the third movie would also feature a version of the spectacular Planet Hulk storyline, I was super excited. When I learned that it was going to be directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do In the ShadowsFlight of the Conchords), my interest went through the roof.

To put it bluntly, this is now my favorite Marvel film. It actually eclipsed the Guardians of the Galaxy movies in both fun and scale. It is hard not to make comparisons between the films, as both Guardians and this Thor movie involve outer space adventures and a real lightheartedness missing in other Marvel pictures. My god, man… this was so much better than the drab and predictable Captain America: Civil War and light-years ahead of those convoluted Avengers pictures. This also had villains that matter and that look cool, unlike Baron Zemo, who was just some guy, or aliens on flying jet skis or killer robots for the nth time.

Chris Hemsworth is absolutely dynamite in this and even though he has been great as Thor, thus far, this is the chapter in the massive Marvel universe where he really just shines and shows that he is not only the coolest Avenger but an actual friggin’ god. This is the film where Thor finally becomes Thor, the King of Asgard, the protector of his people and a guy that can actually take it to the Hulk.

Tom Hiddleston once again kills it as Loki and this is also where his road to redemption comes full circle. Sure, he’s got his tricks up his sleeves but when his big bad evil sister shows up to destroy his home, he can’t not be by his brother’s side when the chips fall.

Having the Hulk in this was also a real treat that just added weight to the actual threat in this film. This is the best that the Hulk has been and the movie really showcases his power and pits him not just against Thor but also Fenris, a kaiju sized wolf, as well as the mountain sized god, Surtur.

Speaking of Surtur, the first part of the film, which deals with Thor besting a weakened Surtur, was really cool. Ultimately, Surtur does appear in his full form by the end of the film. While he is Asgard’s version of the Devil and he brings about Ragnarok, which is Asgard’s version of Armageddon, Thor uses Surtur’s presence in the film to his advantage. I always wondered how they could actually handle and present Surtur in a film and Waititi nailed it perfectly.

Apart from Surtur, we get Cate Blanchett as the evil Goddess of Death, Hela. She is the older sister of Thor and Loki and has been locked away for eons. The death of Odin brings about her release and even united, the brothers cannot defeat her without additional help in the form of a newly assembled team of heroes.

Jeff Goldblum shows up as another villain, the Grandmaster. He runs a planet that has a massive gladiator coliseum. This is where the big fight between Thor and the Hulk goes down. Obviously, the two end up teaming up and taking it to every baddie in the film.

For what Thor: Ragnarok is, which is a fun comic book movie, it couldn’t be more entertaining. It’s really hard for me to give out a perfect 10 score when rating a picture but in the context of superhero movies and for the fact that it is a better Marvel film than both of the Guardians of the Galaxy outings, which both earned a 9, I have to give Thor: Ragnarok a 9.5 out of 10. It will take something quite exceptional to reach a 10 in this genre but maybe Waititi will give us an even better Thor picture in the future. He’s certainly capable of it.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Thor and Thor: Dark World.

Film Review: What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

Release Date: January 19th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Written by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Music by: Plan 9
Cast: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford

Resnick Interactive Development, Unison Films, Defender Films, Funny or Die, New Zealand Film Commission, Madman Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, some of our clothes are from victims. You might bite someone and then, you think, ‘Oooh, those are some nice pants!’.” – Viago

*written in 2014.

What We Do In the Shadows is a New Zealand horror comedy that I have wanted to see for quite some time. I saw the trailer over a year ago but the film had a hard time getting distribution in the United States, even though it stars Jemaine Clement from HBO’s Flight of the Conchords and is made by some of the same people. Since it is now on Amazon’s video on demand service, I purchased it.

The film is done as a mockumentary following four vampires who live together in a flat in urban New Zealand. It shows their lives, how they make it in the modern world, examines their long friendships with one another and how they view and interact with the rest of the world. What We Do In the Shadows not only gives us vampires but it showcases werewolves, zombies, witches and other paranormal entities and how they work through their issues in a world together.

The cast in this movie is phenomenal. Each character in any other film would be a spotlight stealer but in this movie, they all shine and they all grab onto the spotlight and don’t let go from the first frame until the last.

You have Vladislav, the vampire played by Jemaine Clement, who was once a master of supernatural seduction but lost his mojo after confronting “The Beast”. Viago is a vampire that was a Victorian dandy who still embraces that style and culture. Deacon is a vampire who believes himself to be the ultimate sex magnet while ignoring his share of the chores in the flat. The fourth vampire is Petyr who is a temperamental 8,000 year old vampire that looks like Count Orlock from Nosferatu. The cast is then rounded out by a few other great characters that challenge the vampires and their relationships with humans and other creatures.

To call this film “hilarious” is an understatement. There hasn’t been a horror comedy this good since Shaun of the Dead and to be honest, this movie may be a bit better. There isn’t a scene that goes by that doesn’t have you laughing out loud. The thing that makes it work so well, is the fact that you truly care about the characters and their struggles. No one is just fodder for comedy, they all serve a real purpose and feel like real characters despite the absurdity of their situations.

What We Do In the Shadows is a rare comedy masterpiece. I haven’t enjoyed any comedy this much in years. If you are a fan of horror that is funny, this should be right up your alley.