Josh Brolin

Avengers: Endgame

30/04/19

It’s pointless to try and give this one a body swerve. It lumbers over the cinematic horizon like a behemoth, gobbling up viewers and crushing box office records beneath its massive feet. Resistance is futile.

As one of the few reviewers who was distinctly underwhelmed by Infinity Wars, I still need to see how the Russo Brothers are going to extricate themselves from the corner they’ve seemingly painted themselves into. Oh, right… like that. Well, I guess it was the only way possible…

By the way, those of you who like to cry ‘plot spoiler!’ every time a tiny detail is revealed may want to think twice about reading the following two paragraphs. Just saying.

Endgame opens briefly on events shortly after Thanos (Josh Brolin) has made the most calamitous finger-snap in history. It then moves on five years to show the remaining Avengers trying to come to terms with what has happened to the world. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is now a ruthless swordsmen, carving up Japanese gangsters with relish, whilst sporting a disastrous new haircut that makes him look like a disgruntled cockapoo. Captain America (Chris Evans) is attending therapy classes, but is still impossibly clean and healthy. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), on the other hand, has really let himself go and now sports hippie dreadlocks and a fearsome beer belly. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has learned to manage his anger issues and is permanently trapped in his green, oversized alter ego, Hulk. And… well, so on.

Then, up pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) recently returned from imprisonment in the quantum realm. He brings along an idea that might just undo the Infinity Curse and return the world to where it was five years ago. So the Avengers assemble for one more mission.

OK, so my main beef with this is the same as it was with Infinity Wars, only even more so. There are just too many superheroes for comfort. The way things stand here, they seem to outnumber ordinary people, which can’t be right, surely? And you know, I, for one, am happier with those movies (like Shazam!, for instance) that know they are essentially kids’ film’s and feel no shame about it. Endgame, however, is for the most part so serious it hurts – it’s a great lumbering leviathan, creaking beneath the weight of its own self-importance. Happily, the po-faced stuff is leavened every so often by some much-needed humour, most of it coming from Hemsworth’s corner. (I love the fact that Thor never has to apologise for losing that gym-ready look and Hemsworth always has a cheeky glint in his eye that suggests he knows how ridiculous it all is but couldn’t care less.)

To give the Russo Brothers their due, this doesn’t really feel like a bum-numbing three-hour marathon. It’s action packed enough to allow the time to zip by and, if the script occasionally feels ridiculously over-complicated, well that’s just par for the course when you have an audience that picks so avidly over every little detail. And pick they will. Reports are that people are going back to watch the film over and over again.

Of course, as ever, we are presented with a great big climactic battle, made even more of an endurance test by the fact that the scriptwriters feel duty bound to include every single lead character from the preceding twenty-one movies in the Marvel EU. That’s an awful lot of spandex to take in. And then of course, once the punch up’s done and the dust has settled, there’s the little matter of tying up all those loose ends…

Look, the cinema going public has made its mind up on this, and who am I to say that they’re wrong? I can only speak for myself when I repeat the old mantra ‘less is more.’ Give me one superhero and one villain, and I’m a relatively happy bunny.

Endgame is undoubtedly a big movie, but maybe not in the way it thinks it is.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

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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

 

Sicario

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16/010/15

‘Cancel that holiday in Mexico!’

That would seem to be the overriding message of Denis Villeneauve’s white-knuckle ride of a thriller in which FBI operative, Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) finds herself mixed up in the violent world of the Mexican drug cartels. Assigned to work alongside Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro, looking increasingly like Brad Pitt’s Puerto Rican twin) she starts off with high hopes and good intentions, as the team work their way towards the Mister Big who is responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent people; but she soon discovers that, in this shady operation, the good guys are pretty much indistinguishable from the bad ones.

Blunt, of course, cut her action chops on the seriously underrated Edge of Tomorrow and she’s on excellent form here – but it must be said, that Taylor Sheridan’s script is incredibly misogynistic. Poor Kate is beaten, throttled and crushed at every opportunity and as the one character in the film with any apparent sense of decency, the film’s bleak conclusion seems to bray the fact that women should keep their nibs out and leave the rough stuff to the big boys. And wouldn’t it be nice if, just for once, a character’s motivations weren’t based around his desire to revenge himself on the man who killed his wife and daughter?

This is a shame, because in most other respects the film works brilliantly – there are tense shootouts aplenty, gripping covert operations and a nightmarish vision of Juarez that certainly won’t make it into the holiday brochures. But when the film’s central character is a strong woman, trying to stand tall in a male-dominated environment, her eventual failure to do so  does seem suspiciously like a missed opportunity.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Inherent Vice

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31/1/15

Paul Thomas Anderson has been responsible for some of the most exciting and challenging films of recent times – Magnolia, Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Master... cinematic masterpieces one and all. What then are we to make of his latest offering, based upon a novel by Thomas Pynchon, a drug soaked, paranoia fuelled ramble through the minds of a bunch of disreputable, low life residents of California in the year of our Lord, 1970? The main question that kept occurring to me throughout was ‘why?’ The second was ‘What the…?’ Because though it grieves me to say it, this film is an incoherent mess that can only be deemed a shattering disappointment.

Doc Sportillo (Joaquin Phoenix) is a permanently stoned PI, operating out of the back of a dentist’s surgery and showing none of the requisite skills you might reasonably associate with that role. He’s approached by his ex, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), now stepping out with the mysterious property tycoon Mickey Wolfmann. She informs him that something strange is going down and asks Sportillo to do some snooping on her behalf. There’s also the little matter of a fugitive saxophone player (Owen Wilson) a mysterious yacht called The Golden Fang and a buttoned-down police officer (Josh Brolin) who seems to have no higher objective in life than to beat Sportillo up every now and then. I’d like to offer bit more information on the actual story, but the baffling jumble of odd happenings and misadventures that ensue are frankly mystifying. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that nearly every character talks in a mumbling monotone, that Sportillo seems incapable of doing anything until he’s had yet another joint and that random characters appear and disappear like the figments of an opium dream.

On the plus side, the era is convincingly evoked, a whole team of talented actors do their best with what’s on offer and the cinematography echoes those pre digital days of the decade that fashion forgot – but at over two and a half hours long, the story soon runs out of steam and leaves us floundering in a sea of bafflement with very little information to help us float. If this film resembles any other it’s Polanksi’s Chinatown, with perhaps a spoonful of The Big Heat thrown in for good measurebut Inherent Vice is simply not in the same league as either of those classics. It’s (dare I say it) a bit of a bore.

File this one under M for ‘Missed Opportunity.’ What a shame.

2.1 stars

Philip Caveney

Labour Day

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11/09/14

Watching this slice of sweaty, deep-fried Americana, one thought kept recurring. What was Jason Reitman thinking? The director of Juno and Up In The Air is clearly capable of good things, but here he’s given us a slice of overheated hokum that seems largely designed to enforce every outmoded sexual stereotype in existence.

Adele (Kate Winslett) is a depressed mother, separated from her husband and trying to raise her teenage son, Henry (Gatlin Griffiths) to the best of her ability. On a shopping expedition, the two of them are confronted by Frank (Josh Brolin) a wounded criminal on the run and forced to take him back to their house, where he informs them he’s going to be staying for the long weekend of Labour Day. Just so there’s no misunderstanding, he starts by tying Adele to a chair, before cooking her a nice bowl of chilli and spoon-feeding it to her. Frank, it turns out, was in prison for the murder of his girlfriend (a sequence of events explained in clunky and at first, rather baffling flashbacks) but unlike most killers, he’s the extremely helpful sort and it isn’t long before he’s mending leaky taps, waxing the floors and instructing Adele in the fine art of making a peach cobbler. In fact, Frank is so patronising, it’s a wonder Adele doesn’t tell him to sling his hook, but since she seems to have the disposition of the average doormat, she’s soon falling in love with him and making plans to elope across the border to Canada. Meanwhile, she comes in handy for the occasional bit of sock darning and wound tending…trust me, I’m not making this up, it really is what happens.

The events are seen through the eyes of young Henry, who already seems to have a distinctly creepy attitude towards his Mom and there’s the definite feeling that he thinks he’s being in some way usurped by Frank. An early sequence where he gives Adele a card offering to be her ‘husband for a day’ was doubtless intended to be cute, but it’s actually rather worrying and scenes of him shopping for masturbatory material don’t help matters one bit.

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, the film offers a conclusion of such saccharine sweetness, you imagine you can actually feel your teeth rotting. It’s always tricky when an admired director offers a less than satisfying film, but for Reitman, this is a disaster he’ll have to work very hard to expunge from my memory. Winslet and Brolin must be wishing they’d never signed their contracts.

1 star

Philip Caveney