Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers_Infinity_War_poster.jpgEntering into the latest Avengers blockbuster I felt like I was missing something thanks to a cold open that places us in an unfamiliar environment. It’s a feeling that has come upon me on multiple occasions previously.

Not only because as a mild enthusiast I’ve missed a stray entry here and there but I also easily forget interconnected events and after a certain point, why bother? We have come to accept there will always be another Marvel movie.

Yes, this is the culmination of 10 years that began inauspiciously with Iron Man in 2008 only to balloon into a skyrocketing phenomenon that will not disappear any time in the near future. Superheroes like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and so many others have reemerged as integral parts of the public consciousness. And many fans have been waiting with bated breath for this day and they will wait again and again for future movies like it. That’s an established fact. Regardless, they can breathe a sigh of relief and thoroughly enjoy themselves with this realization of all their dreams up on the big screen. It will hardly disappoint.

To describe the plot of Infinity War is almost arbitrary as SPOILERS in this day and age are guarded against like the plague but here is a nibble anyway. Thanos (Josh Brolin), a being who has long been alluded to, is finally on the scene. The opening sequence is a microcosm of what he hopes to do on a cosmic scale, leveling half of the remnant left over from Asgard.

As a supervillain, he has a vision for the world that’s not too unbelievable. He seems to have been acquainted with Thomas Malthus’ work (even unwittingly so) while holding a contorted view of what empathy is. What others term mass genocide he deems an indiscriminate mission of mercy — killing half the universe’s population will mean resources are more widely available for everyone else left alive. He proves to be one of the most interesting characters within the narrative for the very fact we have barely met him before.

Infinity Stones also become of utmost importance again as Thanos must add them to his collection so he can rise to the stature of a demigod and dictate the outcome of all life with the snap of his finger. That’s some kind of power! The stones themselves are exquisitely color coordinated. One is safeguarded by Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumbertach), another is implanted in Vision (Paul Bettany) and fiercely protected by his girlfriend the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The Soul Gem brings Thanos back in contact with his two stepdaughters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) with grave consequences.

Everyone else who makes an appearance (and at times a lightning-quick cameo) relies on a viewer’s running tabulation of everything up until this point in the MCU. And though you’ll probably enjoy seeing these characters that you have some familiarity with — and you even laugh throughout — there is a sense they are only vague contours. There are too many of them for the resonance to run deep and personal. It really only works if audiences have bought into the machine and already have some background with these heroes in place. The scarier thought is if viewers do not. Infinity War would be void of any meaning. All flashes of imagery, destruction, and hyper-frenetic editing. Any other actual amount of personality would be absent.

Some people live and others die but to confess I didn’t much care whether any of these characters perished is one of the most unfortunate realities of the movie. It’s not that I know they are coming back necessarily or anything of the sort. I admit to being fickle. I can’t remember why I should care about these characters. Because for some so much time has passed since I had any connection with them. To watch them become collateral damage has little resonance with me. I’m numb to it.

I won’t make allusion to archetypal literature like Hamlet or film references like Star Wars or Harry Potter because in some ways that would denigrate that material. Am I being a bit harsh? Perhaps I am. In fact, it was Hary Potter and The Deathly Hallows (2010) we have to thank for this current reality followed close behind by The Hunger Games and The Hobbit. Stories like these coincidentally begun the practice now popular in the industry.

It was no longer about simply having sequels but milking a movie for all it was worth — breaking them up into pieces — making films that were meant to be a part of a greater whole.  It’s not a film so much as a commodity. Differing from the earlier examples like The Godfather movies or even The original Star Wars trilogy — those were pictures that very much could stand on their own merit. Not that they were not enriched and more fully realized with their later installments but we could consider them alone.

Infinity War comes out of this philosophy where a film was never meant to be taken by itself. Everyone knows it. The producers, the directors, the actors, and the audience.  By now as a collective assemblage of viewers, it seems like we’ve been cowed into submission.

I for one watched the movie and never quite relished it — there was nothing all that new or novel — and yet I was never bored per se. However, even my newest favorite superhero Black Panther felt like he was now fit into the Marvel mold. Nothing surprised. Nothing ignited a deep-seated exhilaration inside me. A Stan Lee cameo comes and goes.

Though the picture does promise action and verbal sparring which it delivers handily. In fact, if you consider the screenplay by writing duo Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, they do an admirable job with both the monumental juggling act and crosscutting of multiple storylines. The same can be said for the other dynamic duo directing, brothers Joe and Anthony Russo who must perform the same type of orchestration that would have buried a single director in his grave.

Still, there is an uncanny feeling the picture is made up of two kinds of scenes. You have action sequences packaged nicely with all the trimmings and CGI to your heart’s content. Then you have in contrast many stagnant sequences with all these big names standing around in a single location talking it out usually over some point of conflict, sprinkled with a few jokes or exposition that feels all too familiar. The well-timed comic relief disguises how run-of-the-mill everything is.

That’s what’s Marvel has in many ways perfected. In this regard, there’s nothing lacking and if it’s what you signed on for now 10 years ago (without even realizing it) it takes little hesitation to say you will be satiated at least until the next Marel movie and the next installment of Infinity War in a year’s time.

However, I couldn’t help but leave the experience feeling slightly lackluster about the affair. Because in many ways Infinity War is the culmination of a generation of films and really the emblem of where Hollywood continues to head. Sure, we have yet to get the second half of our story but if this is any indication of what we have to look forward to in the future, it does look like a fairly blasé fate at that. Though the jokes and the pyrotechnics are present in full force, there is little magic — that certain amount of intangibility lifting entertainment above the mediocre and allowing it to capture our imaginations. My only question is — as someone unread in Marvel comic literature — what could the Deus ex Machina possibly be?

3.5/5 Stars

 

 

Body Heat (1981)

Body_heat_ver1In his directorial debut, Lawrence Kasdan (screenwriter for Empire Strikes Back and Raiders) brought us a neo-noir burning with passion and positively dripping in sweat. Quite the combination indeed.

It opens with the seductively jazzy score, courtesy of John Barry, dancing over the credits. It brings to mind cool afternoons with cool drink in hand. The first shot we are met with is a man driving in his convertible, top down and shades up. He’s a cool and collected looking young man, but we know that there must be something lurking underneath all of this. This exterior is soon dropped and we are met with a reality that is heavy with humidity and sticky days.

Our protagonist is Ned Racine (William Hurt) who is a struggling lawyer working in Florida during an especially sweltering Florida heat wave. One indelible evening he has his first encounter with a beautiful, cool blonde named Matty (Kathleen Turner) whose temperature runs a little hotter than most. He makes a pass or two even after finding she is married, and she rejects his attempts at first. However, during a point of no return, the two give into their cravings and spiral into a passionate tryst. Their affair is fairly easy to keep hidden from Mr. Walker (Richard Crenna), but an old high school friend of Matty’s and Matty’s niece unwittingly find them out one way or another.

They’ve had enough of secrecy and Racine resolves they must kill Walker so that Matty might be freed and so she might also get money due to his impending death. Not satisfied with that, Matty wants to alter the will so she gets more. Racine is completely against that idea.

The night of the murder comes and they act it out with precision and Racine gets rid of the body.  He finds out only afterward that Matty had a new will drawn up and he doesn’t like it one bit, but he is forced to play along. The prosecutor and police detective involved in the case (Ted Danson and J.A. Preston) happen to be friends with Ned through work. They spend many a sweaty afternoon chatting it up at the local diner. That’s what makes it hard when all the facts begin to pile up and slowly but surely Ned’s involvement becomes more suspect. His alibi and the degree of his relationship with Ms. Walker is being questioned.

Meanwhile, he and Matty must find a pair of glasses that might incriminate them. It becomes clear all too soon that things are not as they seem. Matty ultimately abandons Ned, and he winds up behind bars, happier without her. In one final revelation, he starts to put some of the pieces to together in prison. He’s a hot mess.

It’s difficult not to make comparisons between a film like this and classic noir such as Double Indemnity. In both films, there is a man who seems fully committed to going through with a crime, but it is really the woman who has the most to gain from the situation. Furthermore, Ned as the Walter Neff character has his Barton Keyes in the form of Lowenstein and Oscar, who are friends but also the ones who must bring him to justice. However, Body Heat can get away with more, such as sexuality and allowing certain crimes to go unpunished. It’s a rather surprising ending that is nonetheless very interesting.

Body Heat also has the cigarette prevalence of a film-noir (which Ted Danson comically will not take part in). It’s as if Lowenstein is the only character who realizes this habit is out of place in a world of 1980s sensibilities, not to mention crimes of passion.  It was odd seeing Ted Danson in a pre-Cheers role gulping down ice tea after ice tea. Kathleen Turner and William Hurt were a good fit as the gorgeous siren and her partner in crime. They are two attractive people and yet that did not put them outside of the law as they would find out. Body Heat certainly wrenched up the heat a couple of notches and never let off. It positively burns with frenetic energy and unbridled passion.

4/5 Stars

Broadcast News (1987)

4392b-broadcast_newsI didn’t laugh at James L. Brook’s Broadcast News like I would your typical comedy (This is no Anchorman). However, I did find myself chuckling, in spite of myself, because these characters are humans and as humans, they are screw ups, petty people, and have errors in judgment. The humor comes in the everyday occurrences of working with a news station. There is constant chaos paired with egos butting heads and somehow the news still  gets reported.

At such a news station there are three seemingly everyday people who form a triangle of sorts. First off there is Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a handsome anchorman who is often sincere but lacking in the smarts and experience of others. Then, you have Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), an experienced reporter with a gift for writing and a dream to be an anchorman as well. Finally, caught between the two fellows is manic producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) who excels in her career.
Aaron is a longtime friend and partner of Jane who secretly loves her. Tom comes into the picture as the inexperienced one, and it looks like he won’t be going anywhere. However, he gets his chance with a special report and thanks to Jane he hits it out of the park. It so exhilarating and all of a sudden he feels a lot closer too. That’s what Broadcast News does to these people. It makes them feel that much closer and it begins to make it difficult to filter their feelings. That’s how Jane finds herself caught between two men who both seem to love her.
It takes a major layoff to shake up the status quo and it reveals a bit more of the pettiness that exists within the industry (reflected some by Jack Nicholson’s evening anchor). Aaron quits his job, Tom gets promoted to a post in London, and Jane gets the position of her old boss who receives the boot. Aaron is jealous of Tom and his goodbye to Jane is a rather sour one. Jane, on the other hand, has some choice words for Tom when she finds out how he manipulated one of his news reports. That’s the way life is. It might be set up like a perfect love triangle initially, but then no one seems to win in the end.

We come back to the three individuals a few years down the road and they have all moved on with their careers and their personal lives. Not everything is patched up and they hardly have much in common anymore, but they can still talk and continue living their lives as before.

This film did not strike me as laugh out loud funny or remarkably spellbinding, but it was a truthful look at life at a news station. That in itself is a compliment to the film even if it is not altogether extraordinary because it seems genuine. I will certainly always be a fan of two of Brook’s other creations for the small screen, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi. He has a great breadth of work to be proud of.
3.5/5 Stars