Review – The Avengers: Age of Ultron

The best scene in The Avengers: Age of Ultron is, unsurprisingly, one we saw in the trailers. It’s not the bit in which Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) dons the Hulk-buster armour to battle Mark Ruffalo’s not-so-jolly green giant, though, nor is it the lead-up to that instantly-iconic overhead shot of the Avengers arranged in a circle, attacking in all directions. Both of those moments are fun, but they don’t get to the heart of what it is that made 2012’s The Avengers or 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy such great movies. The best scene in Age of Ultron is where the gang, during some much-needed downtime, sit around sipping cold ones and taking turns trying to lift Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) hammer, Mjolnir.

The secret to the relentless success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that we really like these characters. Writer-director Joss Whedon likes them too, and his specialty is adopting dysfunctional surrogate families such as this one. As a writer, he’s at his best when a movie comes up for air. By necessity, there aren’t many moments like that in Age of Ultron, even though its two and a half hours long; he makes the most of the few there are, and whenever he’s back in his element the chemistry between these marquee leads begins to spark and reignite. But the novelty has worn off. As a director, Whedon is less convincing. He’s at once trying to do too much and not enough.

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Review – Dead Space: Downfall

As a general rule, video games make terrible movies. This is a fact. Browse briefly through the catalogue of German madman Uwe Boll. Take a peek at the litany of big-budget, big-screen adaptations, from Hitman to Need for Speed to Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed. All shit. All unnecessary. There are many reasons for this. One of them is that most game stories are profoundly silly. Plenty of reasons for that, too. The action-oriented video game, in particular, has inherent dramatic limitations, most of them related to the player’s (justified) expectation of gameplay. Storytelling in games has to account for a unique form of audience disruption. The narrative needs to be interrupted every few minutes for as long as it lasts. Very few stories can survive that kind of trauma, but very few gamers care – they’re there for the interruptions. To play. When you adapt a video game story, when you make it passive, you lose what makes video games wonderful. Video game stories are parasites. They can’t survive without their hosts.

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Review – Arrival (Spoilers)

Arrival is a movie about humanity’s first contact with an unknowable alien race, which is funny because sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in the universe who has any sense. See, everyone loves Arrival. Critics love it. Audiences love it. You, dear reader, probably love it too. Me? I do not love Arrival. I actually dislike it quite intensely, for reasons that are varied and numerous and difficult to explain. Difficult, because it always is talking about a movie like this; about anything, really, that most people seem to enjoy. But especially difficult in this case, as Arrival is built around a significant plot twist, and, when it eventually reveals itself, how you felt about it will likely determine how you felt about the movie overall.

We’re all adults here, so I’m going to talk openly about that twist and various other leaky holes in Arrival’s plot, any one of which the audience could fall down and break their legs at the bottom of. If that bothers you, don’t read on. Or, better yet, go out and watch the movie, then come back when you’re done. Okay? Okay.

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Review – American Hustle

It seems somewhat fitting to me that a film like American Hustle is as inherently duplicitous as its title would suggest. This is not a Scorsese-esque crime thriller, nor is it really a black comedy built around the late-1970s Abscam scandal, although it masquerades (and director David O. Russell would like you to believe it) as both. Rather, it’s a powerful character study. It’s a story about four preposterous individuals, each chasing their own absurd interpretation of the American Dream.

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Review – Foxcatcher

When I sat down to watch Foxcatcher, I had no knowledge of Foxcatcher. Didn’t know it was a real-life tragedy; had no idea the movie was based on a true story at all. And I think, honestly, that deepened my appreciation for not just where the story ultimately goes, but how sincerely (and, in many ways, mundanely) director Bennett Miller chose to present it. Foxcatcher bleeds colour. It’s detached and observant. Quiet. Deliberate. Characters shuffle from scene to scene like mourners. Eventually the movie depicts a funeral, but it feels like one from the very beginning.

I suppose that constitutes a spoiler. The case is twenty-odd years old and the details are public record, so you can’t be too upset, but I’ll refrain from mentioning anything specific. The cutting and the writing and the seriousness and the mystery of it all keep you curious about where things are headed. Part of the experience is letting the movie show you when it gets there.  Continue reading Review – Foxcatcher

Review – American Sniper

American Sniper opens in Iraq, with U.S. Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle prone atop a roof, one eye to the scope of his rifle, as he provides overwatch for a convoy of United States Marines. The air, his spotter declares, “Tastes like shit”. As the armoured fighting vehicles rumble across the scorched earth and kick up columns of dust behind them, a woman and a child emerge from a nearby doorway. They are passing something between them; it looks bulbous and unsightly, like a grenade. It might be one. It might not. The kid takes it, and sets off running. Kyle, through the scope of his rifle, watches him bolt towards the convoy. His finger tightens on the trigger.

The camera pulls away before we find out whether or not Chris Kyle took that shot, and we won’t return here to get our answer for some time. But this moment of decision serves to establish all the things the movie is going to be about, and it does so with assurance. And what is American Sniper about? Not war, or terrorism, or the political and cultural changes which spiralled out of the tragic events of 9/11: it is, for better or worse, a movie about Chris Kyle.

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