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The Avengers: Endgame (2019)

DIRECTOR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Bradley Cooper (voice)

REVIEW:

This is it. After eleven years and twenty-two movies, the long-awaited “endgame” that came to a head in last year’s The Avengers: Infinity War comes to a conclusion, and with it so too does at least the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which began with 2008’s Iron Man and has since blown up into an interconnected universe more sprawling and ambitious than has ever been mounted before. It’s also no secret—and has not been for quite some time—that the appropriately-titled Endgame is the swan song for at least some of the MCU’s crowded cast of characters, including some of its biggest mainstays, a fact its fans have made their peace with long before setting foot in the theater. The MCU will go on, to be sure (this isn’t even the last MCU installment of the year), but it will not go on for everyone. Like the sign-off of the original cast of Star Trek, it’s the end of an era. Endgame fulfills its mission. The two-part climax of this first phase of the MCU is brought to a (mostly) satisfactory conclusion, but the movie’s real strength is serving as a well-crafted love letter both to the entire MCU up to this point and to the fans who’ve come along on every step of the journey.

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Hail, Caesar! (2016)

DIRECTOR: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

CAST: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand

REVIEW:

Hail, Caesar!, a pseudo-docudrama/comedy going behind-the-scenes of a Hollywood film studio of the 1950s, feels self-indulgent, like its thin narrative exists as an excuse for obvious film buffs Joel and Ethan Coen to play in the 1950s “classic Hollywood” sandbox recreating the kinds of movies they grew up admiring.  To that end, it’s an enjoyable enough diversion, but among the Coen brothers’ filmography, it’s one of their more forgettable offerings. Continue reading

The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron (2015)

avengers-age-of-ultron-trailer-2DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon

CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Thomas Kretschmann, James Spader (voice)

REVIEW:

As a second “all hands on deck” assembling of the historic all-star team-up of 2012’s The Avengers, Age of Ultron underwhelms.  While Captain America: The Winter Soldier managed to be a worthy adventure in its own right, other chapters like Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World felt like obligatory filler, something to pass the time in between Avengers films that you could skip without missing much, but unfortunately Age of Ultron lacks the freshness and giddy sense of glee that made the first Avengers such an infectiously enjoyable spectacle.  Seeing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, and company all united onscreen isn’t as novel an experience as it was three years ago, and their adventure here feels more obligatory than epic. Continue reading

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

DIRECTOR: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

CAST: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo

REVIEW:

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-Steve-Rogers-and-Natasha-RomanoffAfter a series of underwhelming Marvel comic book flicks in the Avengers’ universe (Captain America, Iron Man 3, Thor 2), Captain America: The Winter Soldier manages to rise above the mediocrity and provide a worthwhile adventure, surpassing the Captain’s introductory outing by leaps and bounds and surpassing the first Iron Man and the first Thor as the best solo installment the Avengers have yet produced.  In fact, it might be the best comic book movie since The Dark Knightsupplying satisfyingly spectacular summer comic book entertainment that mixes high-octane action with a little character development and a little political intrigue and manages to stand on its own apart from the behemoth Marvel has created with The Avengers series. Continue reading

Don Jon (2013)

don-jon-fathers-day-clip-061613DIRECTOR: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luc

REVIEW:

For his feature film directorial debut (though he had earlier dabbled in making short films through his online production company Hit Record), Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears three hats here as writer, director, and star, and has chosen to tackle such potentially dark issues as sex and porn addiction.  But in sharp contrast to something as bleak as the Steve McQueen-Michael Fassbender drama Shame, Gordon-Levitt goes the comedy-drama route.  There’s a little synergy with Gordon-Levitt’s 2011 cancer comedy-drama 50/50—though he only starred in that one, and did not write or direct—both in its raunchiness, and in the way it uses irreverent humor to tackle a difficult subject.  The result is a flawed directorial debut, but also shows enough promise to make a case that Gordon-Levitt’s talents do not only lie in front of the camera. Continue reading

The Avengers (2012)

DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon

CAST:

Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgard

REVIEW:

I don’t think there’s ever been a movie with as much set-up as The Avengers, for which Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America all, to greater or lesser extents, served as prologue.  It was a risky gamble (any of the four movies leading up to The Avengers flopping badly enough could have derailed the whole endeavor), but it has not only paid off, it has done so with flying colors.  The Avengers is a virtual comic book movie fan’s wet dream from start to finish, and crafts an epic spectacle on a level that might surpass that of any existing comic book film.  As entertaining as Iron Man and Thor are, The Avengers easily climbs to another level.  The Dark Knight may deal with darker, deeper themes, but the two movies’ tones are different enough that it seems unfair to compare them, and both represent the genre at its crowning pinnacle.  The Avengers is delirious levels of fun from beginning to end, and provides any Marvel comic fan with two hours in cinematic candyland. Continue reading

Iron Man 2 (2010)

DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau

CAST:

Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau, Paul Bettany (voice)

REVIEW:

Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2 doesn’t surpass the first installment, and might fall short in a couple areas, but the sequel largely provides plenty more of the same to make it worthwhile summer entertainment. Continue reading

The Prestige (2006)

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

CAST:

Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Piper Perabo

REVIEW:

Director Christopher Nolan and his brother, screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, share not only obvious intelligence, but a fondness for complex plotlines. Continue reading

The Island (2005)

DIRECTOR: Michael Bay

CAST:

Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Bean, Djimon Hounsou, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan

REVIEW:

There’s an intriguing idea at the heart of The Island, but the fact that the director’s chair is occupied by Michael Bay instead of, say, Steven Spielberg or Ridley Scott should clue one in as to how deeply it’s going to be explored. Bay’s forte isn’t developing fascinating ideas, it’s a lot of whizz-bang flashy action extravaganza that might provide a momentary thrill ride for those who don’t demand too much but has about as much depth as a shallow puddle by the side of the road. The Island initially seems like it might aim a little higher with an intriguing premise, but it’s disappointing how quickly it surrenders to expected Bay form. Continue reading

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