Avengers-Infinity-War

Thanos wants to steal all the Infinity Stones and kill half the universe’s population.  On the planet Asgard, Thanos (Josh Brolin) is searching for the Space Stone, encased in the tesseract , Thanos battles Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom  Hiddleston) on Asgard.  While the battle rages, Heimdall (Idris Elba) sends the The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to Earth where Bruce Banner warns Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) that Thanos wants the Time Stone and already has the Power Stone.  Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tries to take the Time Stone from Dr. Strange, but he refuses to give it up.

Some of Thanos’ minions attack Vision (Paul Bethany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) but they are repelled by Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)  Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)   Thanos wants the Mind Stone from Vision, Vision wants to sacrifice himself, and destroy the Mind Stone.

The Guardians of the Galaxy rescue Thor from outer space after Asgard is destroyed,  Thor wants to go to Nioavillir tobuild the Strormbreaker an ax capable of killing Thanos, he is accompanied by Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot. (Vin Diesel)  Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)  and the rest of the Guardians go to Knowhere, where Thanos seeks the Reality Stone.  Gamora  (Zoe Saldana) knows a secret about the Soul Stone, that she effuses to tell Thanos.  Will Thanos learn the secret of the Soul Stone?  Will Thanos collect all the Infinity Stones?  Or will Thor build the Stormbreaker Ax and kill Thanos?

Infinity War does one thing well, and that is to give each character enough lines to make each character contribute an important piece of the film.  The premise of killing half the population of the universe is a dumb one, because repopulation  is a continual thing.  The humor is well-placed, but then becomes overdone, and completely contradicts the stark nature of the ending.  The ending is jarring, it left me depressed and angry, hardly feelings that I expected to have coming out of a superhero action film.  I didn’t expect to have such a visceral reaction to this film, but I’ve spent 18 years watching these Marvel films and suffered through a few bad ones, Thor 1 &2, the first Guardians, the first Avengers, and this is my reward?  The fate of these characters seems random and capricious, and any attempt to write a revision to this movie in the next Avengers movie should be met with loud displeasure.  I, for one will not watch the next Avengers movie, why should I reward such shameless manipulation?

The acting is very good.  At the head of this very big class is Josh Brolin, he is decidedly cruel, but he is also conflicted about killing, and he displays that dichotomy very well.  Robert Downey Jr. plays the snarky Mr. Stark to perfection, like Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, no one should ever play Tony Stark other than Downey Jr. because no one can play Stark better.  Benedict Cumberbatch does a nice job as Dr. Strange.  Chris Hemsworth is finally comfortable as Thor.  He is funny and having fun as the Norse god. And Zoe Saldana packs an emotional punch as Gamora.  She is fantastic.

The direction by the Russo Brothers is over the top.  Pacing to them is getting the audience from one action sequence to another, and jamming as many special effects into one movie as possible, which is fine if that’s all the viewer demands, but there is little time for plot development, character development or backstory, despite its 2 ½ hour running time.  They get good performances, but sometimes the special effects overwhelm the acting.

Avengers:  Infinity War: Thor-oughly unfortunate ending.

 

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the-foreigner

An overprotective Chinese immigrant father named Quan (Jackie Chan) is living in London. He loses his daughter , Fan (Katie Leung) to an IRA terrorist bombing.  Despondent, he searches for answers.  He finds ex-IRA terrorist, Ian Hennessy. (Pierce Brosnan) Hennessy is now a British government official, who is trying to keep the 20 year peace accord between Northern Ireland and England.  Hennessy at first says he knows nothing about the bombing that killed Fan.  Quan doesn’t believe him, at first he is a nuisance calling Hennessy and staying in his office.  Quan then tries to blackmail Hennessy by taking pictures of Hennessy and his mistress, Maggie. (Charlie Murphy) Little does Hennessy know that Quan trained with the Americans during the Vietnam war, and will not give up fighting to find out what happened to his daughter.  What tactics does Quan use next?  How much does Hennessy know about the bombing that killed Fan.  Are there more bombings to come?

Why in the world would Jackie Chan and 3 Chinese media companies resurrect the Irish Republican Army to make them the central plot point of a fictional movie?  The IRA hasn’t been active in almost twenty years and the peace accords are holding strong.  With so many trouble spots around the world, why would Chan, and his fellow producers re-ignite a dormant war?  He could have picked Thailand to be living in and gone after an offshoot of ISIS or Al-Qaeda, he could shave been living in America and exposed an American cover-up about some group, Chan could have picked any locale and made the story more current and resonant.   Instead, the story seems dated, and filled with clichés.  There are also some sensationalistic aspects of the film that the story could have done without.

The acting is a mixed bag.  Jackie Chan is at his best in light comedic roles, like Drunken Master,  or the Rush Hour movies. His personality lends itself to those roles, he’s a likeable guy, who plays likeable characters.  Chan does not have the skill to play characters beyond that comic range.  But he attempts to play a laconic, non-verbal Rambo role and walks around in a stupor, until he gets his mission done.  It’s not a welcome change.  On the other hand, Pierce Brosnan is very good as a guy facing pressures from many sides, the viewer does not know where his loyalties lie, and Brosnan does a good job of keeping the viewers guessing.  He made this movie worth watching.

The directing is also a mixed bag.  The pacing is very slow at times, and that doesn’t help the movie at all. The director doesn’t use many visual flourishes, and he doesn’t get much of a performance from Chan.

The Foreigner:  Brosnan pierces the fog of formulaic writing.

 

 

the cars

The telecast showcases the induction of The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, Nina Simone, Bon Jovi and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

As a broadcast, there were a lot of good performances.  The Cars were very good, but the fact that Ben Orr was missing was noticed by everyone, especially the members of The Cars themselves.  Elliot Easton is one of the most underrated guitarists in rock music, and he showed why again.  The tributes were outstanding, the tribute to Tom Petty was good, although the singer of the band paying tribute to Petty, seemed a bit too enthusiastic.  The tribute to Chris Cornell was even better.  The two tributes to Nina Simone were also excellent, although I liked one more than the other, and it wasn’t the one critics were raving about

Dire Straits were a disappointment by omission, but the Moody Blues were amazing, for a band whose members are that old they are in their 70’s. To see the progressive rock pioneers to play that well, was genuinely shocking to me.  They’ve been playing for over 50 years.  And I learned something watching the broadcast.  I learned who Rosetta Tharpe is, and you should learn about her too, her career blew my mind.  The only reason I know about Nina Simone is because I watched a documentary on her.  There are no documentaries on Sister Rosetta, but there should be.

Despite some great performances, the broadcast had some drawbacks. The telecast was too long, 3 hours in total, and to devote almost an hour of that time to Bon Jovi is a bit excessive. I like Bon Jovi, but just cut the speeches and keep to playing music.   Howard Stern is not funny, he uses the same crude material he always has, and it’s getting old after 30 years.  By the time Bon Jovi started playing, I didn’t care what songs they played, and they have some good songs, but the entire night had gone on for too long at that point. There are lots of people that think they don’t deserve the honor, but the combination of Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora made that band a great one.  And frankly, there aren’t that many rock bands left to induct, because everyone is trying to be on a talent show these days.  So Bon Jovi is unfortunately one of a diminishing breed, a band that plays its own instruments and sings.

Hall, Hall Rock and Roll!

the shape of water

In 1962, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute cleaning woman, taking care of her neighbor, a “starving artist” Giles (Richard Jenkins) who was forced into retirement and is trying to make his way back into the workforce, by drawing an ad for instant gelatin.  Elisa works in a government lab where scientists are analyzing an Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) from the Amazon jungle. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) head of security, thinks he can extract the creature’s secrets by force.  Scientist Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michel Stuhlberg) thinks the creature could yield great scientific benefits, but he is conflicted.  After one of Strickland’s attacks on the creature, Elisa feels badly for the creature, and takes him a hard-boiled egg for lunch.  The creature snaps at her, and then takes the egg.  Depite the rocky beginning, the lunches become more frequent, and Elisa realizes that she’s falling in love with the creature, but Strickland and Hoffstetler may have other ideas for the Amphibian Man, can Elisa save him from further torture or worse?

At first glance, The Shape of Water is simply a science fiction movie with a monster and a damsel in distress, except this movie flips the script, and the damsel is the one doing the saving, and the monster is not the amphibian.  If the viewer digs a little deeper there are all kinds of themes in this movie.  Outcasts looking for happiness, the heartbreak of loneliness, the haves and have nots, the subjugation of women, the power of love, sometimes returned, sometimes unrequited, ageism, a celebration of classic film, all overlaid in a cold war settling where everyone spies on each other. The love story doesn’t work so well, because to be in love, there has to be communication, and other than a few words in sign language, Elisa doesn’t really communicate with the amphibian, and by making Elisa a mute, the film accidentally promotes a theme it’s trying to speak out against, the submissive female.  The ending is a cop out, but there are so many themes covered in the script that it’s hard to say it’s a let-down.

The acting is superb, it made the story much better.  Sally Hawkins was incredible, as Elisa, what made the role harder for her is she had to emote while having no dialogue.  Somehow, she accomplished this with her eyes and very expressive face, and the urgency of her sign language. Richard Jenkins is also fantastic as Giles, he complains about getting older in public, but is hiding part of his identity in private, which makes the character complex and makes the performance nuanced. Michael Stuhlberg is also hiding part of his identity, and that makes his role more complex.  Where do his loyalties lie?  Stuhlberg keep the audience guessing. Octavia Spencer is also very good as Elisa’s co-worker, Zelda.  She is especially intense when confronting her husband at a critical point in the film. Michael Shannon undoubtedly gives the best performance in the film, as Richard Strickland someone who has power, prestige and position, and uses all three to degrade and humiliate those below him, and aggrandize himself.  He sees himself as a modern day Samson, on a mission from God to save society from the Philistines or bring down the temple. More like Ahab in the Bible or Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Strickland’s obsession with the creature made him oblivious to everything else.  Strickland’s black, moldering fingers, which are unsuccessfully reattached after a run in with the creature, are reflective of his black soul.  Shannon plays Strickland as devoid of a shred of decency or humanity, yet he thinks of himself as a decent man.  And Michael Shannon understood the contradiction, and played both sides, decent to those who mattered to him, reprehensible to those that didn’t.  Shannon should have won the Oscar for Bes Supporting Actor, I saw Sam Rockwell in 3 Billboards, Shannon was better.

Guillermo Del Toro once again infuses this film with color, mostly green.  The creature is green, the water he swims in is green, the bathroom walls are green, even the gelatin Giles puts in his ad is green.  There are big, bold shots of an old movie theater where there The Story of Ruth is playing.  There is one scene where Del Toro’s fondness for classic film gets the best of him, but The Shape of Water, like all his films is a visual treat.  He gets excellent performances from his actors, and the pacing is good.  Del Toro deserved the best director Oscar.

The Shape of Water:  Dive in.

 

i tonya

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was obsessed with ice skating from the time she was three years old.  Her mother Lavona (Allison Janney) helped her train, but was also verbally and physically abusive to Tonya.  When she was 15, Tonya met Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and although he abused her too, she married him, and continued her skating career.  The abuse got so bad that she put out a restraining order on him, she stayed with him, but after placing fourth in the 1992 Olympic games she divorced Gilooly in 1993 and tried to make the Olympic team.  She tried to reconcile with her mother and Gillooly and made the 1994 Olympic team, but Gilloly and Tonya’s bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) are coming up with a plan to help Tonya win a medal in the 1994 Olympics, what is the plan?  Does it help Tonya Harding or hurt her?

When a movie starts out with essentially a three line disclaimer about the contents of the film, the viewer better buckle up, because there’s going to be a battle coming with the truth.  The problem with this film is that it’s not really a biographical film, it’s more an advocacy film.  From the first frame, it advocates Tonya Harding’s position, and uses the fact that she may have been abused to excuse her attitude and behavior.  It replaces fact with opinion, and that should never happen with a biographical film.  Tonya Harding had talent, but when the time came to show that talent, she blew it.  Even before her free skate which the movie focuses on, she was in 10th place, so her lack of focus betrayed her talent, and that’s what the movie should have been about.  The movie treats the whole fiasco, like a comedy which is tone deaf.  There were a lot of serious issues in this movie, which shouldn’t have been handled so lightly.

The acting is much better than the material deserved.  Margot Robbie almost succeeded in making Tonya Harding a sympathetic character and that is one hell of an acting job.  Harding has the personality of a sour persimmon.  Sebastian Stan is surprisingly versatile in this role, humorous one minute, and menacing the next.  Surprising, since he was kind of a monotone actor as Bucky Barnes.  Allison Janney did her best, but the character is too one-dimensional, no human being is that singularly cruel.  Human beings are complex people, who don’t operate under one set of emotions.  Janney doesn’t get to show any different sides, because the character is written as a mean, spiteful vindictive person, all the time.  Paul Walter Hauser is very funny as Shawn Eckhardt, a man with delusions of being a spy, even though he lives with his parents.  Hauser has excellent timing and a deadpan delivery.

The direction is done much in a fake documentary style, with hand held-video-cam footage, which is meant to boost the humor, but doesn’t do much for the pacing.  The director tries to make the skating sequences more exciting, by zooming in for close-up shots, but how exciting is ice skating anyway? Not very.  There was also a lot of breaking down the fourth wall, or talking directly to the audience, a technique popularized by Woody Allen in his early comedies.  Again, this technique is good for the comedic elements of the movie, not so good for the dramatic elements.

I Tonya.  On thin ice.

Atomic Blonde

In November 1989, in East Germany, a British agent with MI6, named James Gascione,(Sam Hargrave) is shot by KGB Agent Yuri Bakhtin. (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson)   Gascione, kept a list of allied spies in his watch and the list was stolen by Bakhtin.  Another MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton, (Charlese Theron) is brought in to find the list and get out of East Germany alive.  She knew Gascione before he was killed and he told her there was a double agent working for the Soviets.  While trying to track down Bakhtin, she meets another British spy, David Percival (James McEvoy) who has an East German defector named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) with him. Spyglass says he has committed the names of the spies to memory.  The other secret agent is a French novice, Delphine Lasalle (Sophia Boutella) who Lorraine feels protective about. But in a place, where she can trust no one, and where someone is a double agent, can Lorraine afford to develop feelings for anyone?

Atomic Blonde is a standard issue spy movie, with all the elements of all the other spy movies, from Bond to Bourne.  There’s action, sex and even a double agent.  But there is too much violence, not just shooting, but fist fights so intense that the participants end up bloody beyond recognition.  If the difference is that Lorraine is a female spy, there is a vastly better female spy movie called Salt.  The difference is, with Bond and Bourne and Salt, the audience cares about what happens to their characters, Lorraine Broughton is written in such a hard-edged way that it was hard to care for her.  The identity double agent was obvious, and the ending was predictable.

The acting is mixed.  Charlize Theron continues to try to prove she can act and fails again.  She tries speaking with a British accent and it sounds like an odd mix of British and American, which is odd, because she’s South African. Theron apparently thinks that if there’s enough fight scenes in a movie, that’s a substitute for actual acting. This was a movie made for Angelina Jolie, but it seems like she’s been blacklisted.  James McEvoy, who is usually likable in his films, plays such a unlikable character in this movie, that means his acting was good, but it didn’t really matter, because it’s Charlize Theron’s movie.   Sophia Boutella is just eye candy for the men in the audience, and didn’t have much of a character to play. John Goodman is good, he plays a no-nonsense CIA agent.

Atomic Blonde seems to be a movie interested in style over substance.  The whole movie wants to convince the audience that it takes place in the 80’s.  The movie looks like a bad 80’s music video and there’s a soundtrack filled with 80’s songs.  In fact, sometimes the songs overpower the movie.  Sometimes, the visuals overpower the plot.  The sequencing of the movie is shot in such a way that it gives away the fate of the hero in a matter of minutes.  Why make a spy film and give away the main spy’s fate?  The pacing is slow, and the performances are mixed.

Atomic Blonde:  A bomb of nuclear proportions.

 

jesus christ superstar live

The musical tells the story of Jesus Christ, (John Legend) from shortly before Palm Sunday to his betrayal by Judas Iscariot (Brandon Victor Dixon) and denial by Peter. (Jason Tam) Jesus was eventually handed over to Caiaphas, (Norm Lewis) Pontius Pilate, (Ben Daniels)   and finally King Herod.(Alice Cooper The people who once showered him with Hosannas, now want to crucify him.  But what is Jesus’ crime?  And will Herod find him guilty?

There were two musicals about the life of Jesus from the 1970’s, Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar.  Jesus Christ Superstar is clearly the superior musical of the two.  The songs in Jesus Christ Superstar are clearly superior songs.  The songs, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are still powerful and convey the passion story with great emotion and conviction.  One of the aspects of the songs that I didn’t like is the fact that it deemphasized the divinity of Jesus.  I suspect that that’s what made the songs popular in the 1970’s and now. The song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” continues the misconception that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, but it’s still a very well written song.  There are some songs like “What’s the Buzz” “Hosanna” and “The Last Supper”  that sound dated, but the music remained the same in this version and it still tells the story just as well as it did in 1970.The songs have to carry the story because there is very little dialogue.

John Legend stars as the titular character in the latest version of Jesus Christ Superstar, and he mostly does well, especially on the ballads where he adds touches of soul.  But Legend lacks the powerful voice necessary to carry off a song, like “The Temple” he really needed to scream in that song, but his voice is not a voice that lends itself to screaming.  Brandon Victor Dixon is very impressive as Judas, he seems to have the power to sing Judas’ songs, even though his voice falters at times.  It was a live performance.  Sarah Barelles does a decent job as Mary Magdalene, but not as good as Yvonne Elliman  Alice Cooper talks his way through his role as King Herod.

There shouldn’t be any controversy to casting a black man to play Jesus, but it is doubtless that some Christians will have a problem with this.  These Christians would seem to be more concerned with the messenger than the message.  In fact, this was a multiracial, multiethnic cast. The message of love, selflessness, fellowship and eschewing material well-being is universal, so why not have a multicultural cast embody that?  There is no better way to show the universality of these themes.

There is not much to directing this show, the staging is space, and so there’s not many elaborate set pieces to move into place.  The songs aren’t elaborately staged either, but everything goes off without a hitch.

Jesus Christ Superstar:  Can a Legend walk on water?  Almost.