THE AVENGERS


The Avengers is a very entertaining movie and gets the adrenaline going, which isn’t quite the same thing as saying it’s totally successful or rises that far above what it is.  Written by Joss Whedon and Zak Penn and directed by Whedon, it’s an oddly schizoid movie.  On one side are wonderfully witty lines with often hysterically snarky dialog while on the other side are serious, earnest and highly dramatic tete a tetes that fall flat on their face.  On one side are the vibrant actors and Oscar nominees (Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Renner) and on the other are film personalities with pretty faces (Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Chris Evans)–and no matter how equal the writers may try to make the various superheroes when it comes to their powers, Evans will never be able to Eve Harrington Downey when it comes to Stanislavksy.  (For those keeping score, Scarlett Johansson falls somewhere in the middle, which in many ways reflects her role in the movie, a character trying to bridge the gap between all the antagonistic good guys.)  And finally on one side you have large scale action sequences filled with massive set pieces of uninhibited, glorious destruction (Manhattan now seems to be the new Tokyo, destined to be destroyed on a regular basis due to the specter of 9/11 in the way Japan is haunted by the atomic bomb) and on the other side is very little death (see Battle for LA in contrast—for The Avengers the studio apparently wanted to challenge the audience, but in a very non-challenging way).  As was noted, Whedon and Penn have a way with a snarky line (the best written scene is when all the heroes are in one room and due to the influence of Loki, get under each other’s skins saying all the mean things everyone in the audience is thinking).  But when it comes to heavy scenes, the authors can do little but immediately make fun of them once they’re over (Whedon had the same issue in Cabin in the Woods—the unbearable scenes of overage teenagers in distress were only made palatable, if that, by the more comic scenes of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford).  These more serious sequences might have had a better chance if all the actors were of equal caliber (there’s actually a very nice one between Ruffalo and Downey that suggests this); but this was ultimately a battle, unlike the one against Loki, the superheroes simply could not win (for an example, take the scene between Thor and Loki that Iron Man aptly described as Shakespeare in the Park).  The whole thing culminates with a knock down, drag out for the Big Apple when some aliens resembling the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz make their way through some sort of space time continuum and unleash their blitzkrieg upon an unsuspecting metropolis.  The battle itself is not exactly boring, but it also isn’t that imaginative and all in all, pretty derivative (again, it’s the snarky wit and two hysterically funny bits by the Hulk that really made this work as well as it does).  The special effects are, of course, first rate, though none may quite equal the SFX of Gwyneth Paltrow in Daisy Dukes (though one does shudder at the idea of this fashion style making a comeback since very few people can get away with short shorts—I know, I’ve tried).  The ending is resolved through a deux ex machina provided by Stellan Skarsgard (let’s face it, the plot is a bit clunky—c’mon, be honest with yourselves and give the devil his due) as well as an inconsistency with how much control Bruce Banner has over his green (ho, ho, ho) alter ego (apparently, it corresponds to the needs of the script at any given time).  But in the end, The Avengers is a perfectly fine time waster.  It’s no Iron Man or The Dark Knight, but, hey, it could have been worse.  It’s also no Spiderman III, Superman or Fantastic Four.

BOYS AND THEIR TOYS: Reviews of Iron Man 2 and Toy Story 3


After leaving Iron Man 2, I think my friend Jim summed it up best when he said that you know you’re in trouble when the only scene in an Iron Man film (a movie filled, well, overwhelmed really, with big technical set pieces), the only one that really makes the audience sit up and take real notice, is a relatively small and contained fight scene in a hallway headed by Scarlet Johansson, a set up for her role in upcoming Nick Fury films. She changes her hair (into strands that look like whips, making her into a beautiful Medusa), puts on a body tight uniform and gets to quiet work taking out an army of men with more ease and style than even Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel did in The Avengers television show. No mean feat as fans of that series can tell you. It’s not that Iron Man 2 is without any pleasures. Robert Downey, Jr. is back and he’s still fun and his Nick and Nora Charles type banter with his assistant Gwyneth Paltrow still has some wit to it. But the biggest plus to this Marvel comic book brought to celluloid life is the villain, the snarling, sociopathic meany Ivan Vanko inhabited with tattooed viciousness by Mickey Rourke. Playing a Russian scientist who believes Tony Stark (Iron Man’s alter ego) did his father a foul turn, Rourke marches down a race track in all his steroid glory throwing power driven whips that can slice metal in half with a flick of the wrist. Beyond this, though, there isn’t much to see. There is a rather frightening set piece where Stark’s arch nemesis Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) has stolen the Iron Man technology and has Iron Man like robots appear on stage to the theme songs of the four branches of the military, showing how easily fascism can worm its way inside the military industrial complex. But it’s also a movie where the robots start shooting up everything in sight and just never manage to hit a person (kind of makes you wonder why Hammer even bothered if they were such poor shots). The casting doesn’t always help. Though Sam Rockwell and Don Cheadle (who took over for Terence Howard from the first movie in the role of Rhodey) are good actors, they never seem like they really belong. And the script is a bit clunky. Justin Theroux is the only one credited as screenwriter, but it feels a bit like it was written by committee. There’s a set piece where Cheadle dresses in an Iron Man suit and he and Downey, Jr., have it out at Stark’s palatial mansion for no apparent reason but to see a lot of things blow up and to set up a plot turn later on. The funniest moment probably has to be when Clark Gregg as Coulson (one of Nick Fury’s agents) tells Stark not to leave the premises or suffer dire consequences and they’ll be watching; Stark leaves the premises, comes back, and Coulson (who for some reason wasn’t watching), slaps him on the wrist like an ineffectual nun and says not to do it again (wow, when they mean dire, they mean dire). That’s probably how the studio is going to treat the next installment of the franchise.
I also went to Toy Story 3 with my friend Jim and Jim’s initial reaction was surprise at how dark it was. Yeah, it is, at least darker than the other two. I don’t know if that’s why I liked it the best of the three, but my friends probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear it (that there was only one Randy Neuman song certainly had to help). There does seem to be something here that is deeper, more richly emotional, and therefore, inevitably much darker than in the other two. Toy Story 3 begins when Andy, who when he was a child spoke as a child and played as a child, but now that he’s leaving for college, puts away childish things, planning to assign Buzz Lightyear, Jesse, the Potato Heads, etc. to the attic while taking Woody with him (after all, would you want to wake up every morning in college without your Woody with you). Through a series of misunderstandings, the toys end up at a daycare run like a prison from one of those chain gang movies in the 1960’s (I believe there is a specific reference to Cool Hand Luke). Not only must the toys escape their day care penitentiary, they must also escape the prison of disbelief—that Andy really wanted to get rid of them and never see them again. What would a Toy Story movie be without new toy characters and this one comes with a metrosexual Ken doll who likes to try on clothes, doesn’t understand why no one else does, and finds his perfect mate in Barbie. There’s also a psychotic teddy bear (hard to believe, huh?); a monstrous baby doll that becomes more sympathetically pathetic as the story continues; and perhaps most delightful of all, a Buzz Lightyear that gets stuck on Spanish mode and becomes a Latin lover straight out of a Ricardo Montalban film. The story itself (screenplay by Michael Little Miss Sunshine Arndt) is perhaps the most exciting of the three (one of the odd things is that nobody I know can even remember the plot of the second film) and it has one of these plots that paints everyone into an impossible corner, only to be saved, of course, at the last minute. Jim thought I probably saw the rescue coming since I’m a writer and usually do, but this time I had no idea, possibly because I was too caught up in the story to even think about it. My friends hate it when I deconstruct popular entertainment, but I can’t help it (you should hear my take on Air Force One). So one of the reasons I liked Toy Story 3 is because of what it had to say about how important toys are to a child’s development in the way that it encourages imagination and teaches them to create. I know. I have a bad habit of taking the fun out of fun, but still, it works for me.

THERE’S COMPLICATED AND THEN THERE’S COMPLICATED: Reviews of It’s Complicated and Sherlock Holmes


In It’s Complicated, the author Nancy Meyers (who also directed) constantly uses the idea of French films as a metaphor for what is happening in her story. And she’s exactly right. The pitch line for this movie, a woman has an affair with her ex-husband who left her for a younger woman years earlier, is exactly the sort of thing the French, with their “oh, so adult” sense of relationships, would do. It would star someone like Catherine Deneuve as the wife and people like Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu as the ex-husband and the new boyfriend. It’s hard to say that the French would do it better; they have their hits and misses. But for me, It’s Complicated never does quite rise to its sophisticated occasion. Everyone works very hard, especially Meryl Streep as the wife who has become the other woman. She’s constantly laughing or flailing her arms or rolling her eyes; if a line isn’t working, then her body sure is. Alec Baldwin probably gives the best line readings of the leads, he seems so relaxed, though Steve Martin has some wonderful scenes being stoned. In the end, however, it’s John Krasinski as Streep’s future son in law who has the best double takes and gets the most laughs. It’s hard to say exactly why it doesn’t work as well as one would want. It has all the right ingredients. But perhaps the clever script isn’t quite clever enough and perhaps Meyers doesn’t quite have the right Gallic touch for the material. Perhaps Streep’s friends and her children are just a bit too much of a drag. Perhaps everybody’s just trying too hard. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I don’t know. It’s complicated.
Sherlock Holmes may on the surface be about the famous Victorian detective, but the movie, or at least the best parts of it, are about a straight married couple (Holmes and Watson) going through a divorce made all the more difficult because one is marrying someone else and the two are still in love with each other. Gee, this sounds awfully like the movie It’s Complicated. It’s not, though I would have to say that in many ways calling the plot to Sherlock Holmes complicated might be a very apt description. This was the part of the movie that didn’t really work that much for me. The evil plan put forth by Mark Strong’s Lord Blackwood has something to do with destroying both houses of Parliament with the eventual idea of taking back the American colonies which have been weakened by the Civil War. His ultimate goal is world domination, but exactly how reclaiming the United States would help him do just that is somewhat unclear, and therefore just a tad on the camp side (sort of like Lex Luther wanting to cause an earthquake and have California slip back in the ocean so all his new property will be beach front—actually that makes a little more sense). It also depends not so much on cleverness on Blackwood’s part, but on such dull plot twists as his taking the easy way out and bribing some jail keepers. But no matter; Blackwood’s plan may be a tad confusing, but the love spats of Holmes and Watson (played wonderfully by Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law) are very clear indeed. Eddie Marsan (having a good couple of years) also works well as Inspector Lastrade, but Rachel McAdams doesn’t really strike the right cord as a femme fatale, though it is fun to see how shy and uncomfortable Holmes gets around women. It’s heavily directed by Guy Ritchie, which works part of the time, but at others, gets a bit in the way. The uneven script is by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg. It’s not a disaster, but not as good as it could have been.

Sherlock Holmes to be Gay in New Film


According to gay.com:
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Sherlock…Homos?
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Tongues are wagging at the news that Guy Ritchie’s upcoming Sherlock Holmes film will give the legendary detective (portrayed by white-hot Robert Downey Jr.) and his ever-faithful assistant, Dr. Watson (almost forgotten “It” boy Jude Law), a chance to finally express their attraction…to each other.
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The source of the wagging is none other than RDJ himself. (incidentally, this “news” comes days after rumors that producers demanded some major changes. …) According to News of the World, when asked about the relationship between the two sexy sleuths, he reportedly answered, “We’re two men who happen to be roommates, wrestle a lot and share a bed. It’s badass.” Law went on to add, “Guy wanted to make this about the relationship between Watson and Holmes. They’re both mean and complicated.” Mean? Complicated? Grrrr
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Those familiar with Ritchie’s macho, undernuanced and oversaturated style know better than to expect any hint of a “Brokeback” mystery here. But kudos to him for giving a go at some bloke-on-bloke action. And why not? Holmes was a borderline misogynist with but one vague heterosexual relationship. Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle rarely provided insight into the inspector’s emotional life, but when he did, it was in the context of Holmes’ feelings for Watson.
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Let’s just hope it’s not a total cock tease, with Holmes falling into one of his drug-induced stupors or “doing it for a case.” Yawn. Then again, we know both these guys can play gay, and I’d break out my pipe to watch these two strip off the manacles of Victorian finery and get “mean and complicated” with each other. Case closed.