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.
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THE DEEP BLUE SEA (2012)


The latest by the mesmerizing visual stylist Terence Davies, the British director of such beautiful and ravishing films as Distant Voice, Still Lives; The Long Day Closes; and Of Time and the City, movies filled with an almost terrifying nostalgia for a world that was both a beautiful and painful experience for him. …Blue Sea also possesses many of the same characteristics of these earlier films; a certain episodic nature to the plot; a visual presentation that is stunning, with impeccable period detail; and action that often stops for a popular song of the era, songs that may not be great artistic achievements, but whose shared experience gave people the ability to survive difficult periods (one lovely scene here is a tracking shot of people in the underground during the Blitz singing one of those “there’ll always be an England” type standards of the day). The screenplay is adapted from a play by Terence Rattigan (rumor has it that the basic plot was inspired by the suicide of a young gay man). Rattigan was one of the popular British playwrights of the 1940’s and 50’s who wrote about the stiff upper lips of the middle classes and was soon chased from the theater when the angry young men like John Osborne came along. And there is a lot of stiff upper lip here in this study of a woman caught between two types of men. Rachel Weisz plays Lady Hester Collyer, the wife of the much older Lord Collyer, a wealthy judge who loves her deeply, but for whom there exists no sexual passion (Simon Russell Beale, in a deeply moving portrayal, gives the Lord a slight effeminacy, which I guess, is suppose to say it all). Hester leaves her husband for a man younger than she is, the raffish former RAF pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), who is all sexual passion, but doesn’t love her, though she deeply loves him. Caught between these two extremes, the only choices Rattigan gives his heroine, Hester sees no alternative but to kill herself. Neither Rattigan nor Davies (who adapted the play for his film version) can seem to fathom a third alternative: Hester fulfilling herself by finding her own personal passion outside of men (as men often do, like Freddie does with his flying). For Davies and Rattigan, Hester is caught between the devil and the deep, a Scylla and Charybdis, and without a man in her life, it’s unclear she has any real purpose to exist. Even with this limited view of Hester’s life, in many ways it’s still a fascinating character study and for the 1950’s, probably a rather daring one, of a woman who takes control of her own sexuality (and the character shows a lot of courage by not going back to her husband, who asks for no penance, but just for her return). But in the end, the main reason to see the movie, like the play, is for the acting; Rattigan and Davies, in his adaptation, have created characters and conflicts that are ripe for the plucking and Weisz and Beale are up to the task. But when all is said and done, the film doesn’t quite work and Tom Hiddleston as Freddie is probably the issue here. He’s just too stiff upper lip and not enough of a contrast to Beale. He’s just not rough trade enough and hence, there really isn’t a lot of sexual passion there, making Hester’s internal conflict a bit moot. Hiddleston does have the most interesting character, though; he comes home to find that the woman who has left her upper crust husband to live in sin with him has tried to kill herself; instead of empathizing with her, he flares up in anger at what she has done—made him the villain. At first one is appalled, but after awhile, once sees his point. How can one live with someone who may commit suicide at any moment, knowing that the whole world will blame you when you are utterly blameless? One can make the case that the movie ends on a faint note of hope; Hester decides to go on, her life nothing but wreckage. But as is clearly shown in the final shot of her apartment next to the bombed out buildings left over by the Blitz, she will survive to rebuild herself just as England did. This is a remake of the version made in 1955 that starred Vivien Leigh, in the sort of role she primarily took on in films after winning an Oscar as Blanch in A Streetcar Named Desire (most famously, Ship of Fools and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, older women desperate for sexuality). That role was reportedly turned down by Marlene Dietrich because she thought she could never be convincing as a woman who tries to kill herself because she can’t keep a man in her life.