Avengers: Endgame First Thoughts


CREDIT: Disney/Marvel Studios

Maybe some movies should be reviewed in parts over the course of months, or maybe even years. That’s how I’m feeling about Avengers: Endgame. So I’m going to go ahead and talk about what’s striking my fancy about it now and maybe talk about it some more later.

The closest comparison I can think of for the premise of Endgame is The Leftovers. The opening scenes for the two are eerily similar in terms of both tone and function. But of course they then head in very different directions. I didn’t stick with The Leftovers because I just wasn’t hooked by how its particular characters responded in their particular ways to the disappearances. But with Endgame, I already know the context, so I’m already in, baby. And no doubt about it, I am happy that the ultimate focus is on Tony Stark’s beating heart, and everyone keeping things right with their families. That emotional resonance is enough to buoy the whole affair along for three hours. And it’s also enough to prevent me from getting too angry about the characters who don’t have much meaningful to do or the moments that make me go, “But why?”

Also important: how about those end credits? It’s not very often 50-plus above-the-line cast members have to be assembled in some sort of appropriate order, so we must cherish it whenever it happens. And I’ve got to say, it appears that for the most part, there was no rhyme or reason to the assembly. But we shall, and must, investigate whether or not that is true for as long as we can. The cursive credits for the core Avengers are great, though.

I give Avengers: Endgame A Handful of Snaps to the Beat.

This Is a Movie Review: The Writer of ‘Sicario’ and ‘Hell or High Water’ Directs the Snow-Blanketed Mystery-Thriller ‘Wind River’

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CREDIT: Fred Hayes/The Weinstein Company

This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2017.

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for the Terrible Things That Men Do When They Think They Can Get Away With It

Release Date: August 4, 2017 (Limited)

As a lover of cinema, I favor originality, moreso in terms of premise than subject matter. It is worthwhile to give voice to underrepresented stories, but it can be disheartening when they hew closely to the formulas of familiar narratives. Wind River makes those conclusions a little more complicated by baking the invisibility into its entire purpose. The dead body of a young woman is discovered in the snow in Wisconsin’s Wind River Indian Reservation, and the investigation is complicated by the harshness of the elements, the fact that this is technically a federal jurisdiction, and the lack of attention given to Native American women in peril.

Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), the FBI agent sent to investigate, pulls up right in front of the check-in cabin but cannot see it, as a relentless blizzard erases any concept of visibility. That is not the only way she is unprepared, as the locals assure her that her lack of winter gear  means she is liable to freeze to death in a matter of hours in the woods. She just flew in from Las Vegas but was somehow the closest agent available. The residents of Wind River are bemused, but not offended. They are used to being forgotten and either making peace with the harsh conditions or surrendering to them.

Most of Wind River is a team-up between Banner and US Fish and Wildlife agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a tracker who knows the land better than anyone and discovered the body in the first place. She is the novice outsider doing her best to understand this world, and he, with a Native ex-wife and son, is the outsider from within. The snow and the lack of hard evidence force them to take meditative breaks and philosophical detours, rendering much of the film a lament about the waste of promising life. For those of you who prefer your mysteries wrapped up neatly, the truth of the crime is eventually revealed in a bravura flashback, but the full extent of it is only presented to the audience. The investigative team puts it all together, but this is still a world in which everything is ephemeral unless someone shines a light on it.

Wind River is Recommended If You Like: Hell or High Water, Mud, Prisoners

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Frostbites

This Is a Movie Review: Arrival

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This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2016.

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: Rated PG-13 for Visceral Disorientation

Release Date: November 11, 2016

Arrival takes the novel approach of making translation the focus of an alien invasion movie. Amy Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, a renowned linguist hired to attempt to communicate with extraterrestrials to understand the purpose of their visit to Earth. This may sound like a formula profoundly devoid of excitement, but if you believe that, then you are vastly underestimating humanity’s potential for paranoia, as well as director Denis Villeneuve’s (PrisonersSicario) proven knack for drawing out intrigue by just lingering on the vastness of his settings. Also, if you can get over the lack of typical sci-fi action, Dr. Banks’ sessions with the two main “heptapod” aliens (dubbed “Abbot and Costello”) are a lot of fun, in a Sesame Street-edutainment sort of way.

Ultimately, Arrival justifies its existence by demonstrating that the question of how to talk to the aliens should pretty much always be one of the most pressing concerns in this genre. More fantastically inclined entries may get away with universal translation devices, but the road to such an invention, as presented here, is a thrilling triumph of human ingenuity and transcendent gumption.

Cracking the code of whether or not the aliens are friend, foe, or something else entirely requires an entirely new way of thinking. Understanding context is always important when it comes to communication, but this is a film about when context does not exist, which is existentially terrifying. In the fight to create context, what emerges is a holistic approach that is simultaneously not at all about cracking any code and entirely about cracking a code that both exists and does not exist. To truly understand Arrival, you must accept that it can never be understood. This is filmmaking at the crossroads of theoretical physics, hope, and the sublime.

Arrival is Recommended If You LikePrimerClose Encounters of the Third Kind, the quieter moments of 2001

Grade: 4.5 Out of 5 Droopy Forest Whitaker Eyelids

SNL Recap November 17, 2012: Jeremy Renner/Maroon 5

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My feelings about erotic asphyxiation have always been complicated.

Cold Opening – Booknotes
Reading sexually explicit exploits in a matter-of-fact, calm tone – that’s how you do it.  Also, thanks for the shit-faced grin on Fred Armisen’s face. B

Jeremy Renner’s Monologue
Wow.  Most awkward monologue ever?  Not bad considering. B-