Citizen Kane

Avengers: Infinity War

02/05/18

The furore has settled. That inevitable record-breaking opening has come and gone. The embargoes have finally been lifted and, hopefully, the Marvel die-hards have accepted that reviewers are actually allowed to talk about what has been widely touted as the ‘holy grail’ of comic book movie adaptations. It’s time to take stock of Avengers: Infinity War. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the genre but, that said, I have seen most of the eighteen films that lead up to this one – and, you know what? I actually enjoyed a few of them. But I can’t help feeling dismayed that this has been accorded such awe-struck reverence. Let’s face it, it’s not some major cinematic milestone. It’s not Citizen Kane. It’s a big dumb movie about people in spandex who hit each other. 

Of course, such movies always require a big, bad villain and here that post is filled by Thanos (Josh Brolin, somehow still recognisable under the layers of pixels), who admittedly has a little more nuance than most Marvel villains – but only because, unlike his predecessors, he doesn’t advocate the destruction of all humanity – just half of it. And even that’s because he believes said destruction is the only sure way to ensure any kind of future. Which sort of makes him a pragmatist, I suppose. He’s currently on the search for the Infinity Stones that will make him the ultimate force in the universe. One of them is in the possession of Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the other is, rather inconveniently, embedded in the forehead of Vision (Paul Bettany).  There’s a final ultra-mysterious stone somewhere but nobody seems to be sure where that one might be hiding.

Thanos dutifully sets off on a mission of destruction and The Avengers get the old group back together in order to oppose him. So that’s Iron Man and Spider-Man and Black Widow and… many others. Just in case that wasn’t enough, they are augmented by The Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther and just about anybody else available… apart from Hawkeye, who presumably isn’t considered super enough, having only a humble bow and arrow to work with. Actually, I can’t help feeling the makers have missed a bit of a trick here by not including an Uncle Tom Cobley-Man, but hey, maybe I’m just not reverential enough.

It’s probably pointless to say anything else about the story – it will only incur shouts of ‘plot spoilers!’ from those who have appointed themselves as the guardians of such things – but the film’s main problem is evident from very early on. Too many superheroes. There are virtually herds of them, racing across the screen and doing super heroic things to try and slow down the seemingly invincible Thanos. (If he’s this powerful without the Infinity Stones, you can’t help wondering why he’s going to such lengths to get his mitts on them.)

To be fair to directors, the Russo Brothers, they do a decent job of keeping this potential sludgefest moving merrily along, mainly by cross cutting from one major plot strand to another – there are five to choose from. The film is at its best when it keeps things light and snarky – usually whenever Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is onscreen – but when it tries for solemnity, well… I just can’t stop reminding myself that this is actually a film about people in spandex punching each other – and look, I really wouldn’t mind that so much, if it didn’t go on for quite so long. An action set piece in Wakanda, starts well, but seems to last for what feels suspiciously like a week.

Of course, the big thing here is that, unusually for this genre, there are several high-profile casualties… but who amongst us is naive enough to believe that, with a second instalment already being made, those ‘shocking’ deaths will be allowed to stand? What, kill off several billion-dollar franchises in one fell swoop? I seriously doubt it. Call me cynical; I don’t care.

In the end, Infinity Wars is a decent enough attempt at tying up a bunch of narrative loose threads but it’s not the masterpiece that many have claimed and, trust me, if you haven’t seen at least a few of the earlier movies referenced here, you’ll struggle to figure out what the hell is going on. Kids (and those who generally think that bigger and louder automatically equals better) will no doubt have a field day with it, but as far as I’m concerned, Infinity War Part Two can take as long as it likes to get here. I’m not holding my breath.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Advertisements

The Room

03/12/17

We are sitting in a packed cinema and large sections of the audience are hurling handfuls of plastic spoons at the screen…

No, it’s not some weird cinema-related nightmare, but a showing of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 magnum hopeless The Room, screening at The Cameo Cinema, because these people know a cult when they see one – and with James Franco’s The Disaster Artist looming on the horizon, there really couldn’t be a more propitious time to do this. Up until a week ago, The Room had managed to completely pass us by, but I knew that my daughter and her beau were longtime fans and, wanting to be able to view Franco’s film with some background knowledge of its inspiration, I asked if we could borrow their precious (signed by Tommy W!) DVD copy. Shortly after viewing it, we heard that The Cameo would be doing a screening and felt we had to go along and experience it with an audience. Perhaps, I thought, we’d missed something first time around…

Some films become a cause celebre because they are brilliant. The Room has earned that accolade because it is, frankly, terrible. From the endlessly repeated shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, to the interminable soft-porn sex scenes (one of them shown twice!), to the fact that Wiseau cannot even seem to walk convincingly, let alone act, write or direct a feature film, this is risible stuff. And it doesn’t matter how often Wiseau claims that it was always meant to be a comedy, it’s quite clear that what he actually thought he was delivering was a deep and powerful meditation on the human condition. Oh dear…

Johnny (Wiseau) is a man who works in a bank. In what capacity, we can only guess, but we do learn that he is frustrated that he has yet to be given the ‘promotion’ he feels he so richly deserves. He is however, endlessly devoted to his girlfriend, Lisa (Juliette Danielle), who he is planning to marry in just a couple of weeks. We are led to believe that Lisa has a job, though we never actually see her doing work of any description, unless you count her indolently pushing a broom around the apartment every now and again. Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero), is somewhat bemused when Lisa starts trying to seduce him and keeps reminding her that he is Johnny’s best friend, and she is getting married soon and yet, he somehow can’t quite bring himself to resist her advances. Suffice to say that Lisa is depicted as an evil, self-centred banshee, callous enough to risk her relationship for a bit on the side, and even brushing aside her mother’s announcement that she has breast cancer with a glib, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it.’ Johnny is… well, equally unbelievable.… and you know what, it’s really not worth going into any more detail on the plot, which is pretty nonsensical anyway. No character here does or says anything remotely convincing.

Often described as ‘the Citizen Kane of bad movies,’ The Room is certainly shoddy enough, but not so enjoyably bad that it actually becomes ‘good.’ I mean, it’s not Plan 9 From Outer Space, for instance, a film that I can watch repeatedly and never tire of – but I will admit that watching Wiseau’s efforts with a crowd of laughing, jeering devotees, certainly helps to lift the mood. I laughed a lot. Having said that, I really don’t feel compelled to watch it again for a very long time.

Which brings me to a conundrum. It is, of course, our practice to awards star ratings to movies and I feel that in the normal run of things, I’d be hard pushed to give this any more than one. Having experienced it in a cinema with a crowd of fans, then okay, I’m prepared to go for two stars, but I really don’t feel good about it – and I have to say that Wiseau is incredibly lucky that his lamentable efforts have been rewarded with a sizable following in his own lifetime, something that Ed Wood, who died an alcoholic pauper, never experienced. And Cameo, if you’re reading this, a showing of Plan 9 From Outer Space strikes me as a really good idea.

Oh, the spoons? Good question. Pay close attention to the framed pictures in Johnny’s apartment and you’ll get the gist.

2 stars

Philip Caveney