2019 Summer Movie Review: Avengers: Endgame

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The Avengers fight against time in Avengers: Endgame. (Source: IMDb)

It has been more than ten years since Iron Man released in theaters. A movie that marked the introduction to a franchise that would eventually span across 23 movies. Ranging from truly great movies to cinematic disappointments, the franchise introduced so many characters that everyone has either grown to love or love to hate. Even seeing the core superheroes, such as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and The Hulk, teaming up in 2012’s The Avengers was a movie buff’s dream come true. Everyone has known their origins and how they evolve in modern society. The latest entry, Avengers: Endgame, marks the end of an era.

The movie leaves off after the heartbreaking finale of Avengers: Infinity War, where the powerful demigod Thanos (Josh Brolin) used the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of the universe with the snap of his fingers. The remaining Avengers, which include Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), must find a way to bring their allies back. Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) returns after spending five years in the “quantum realm”. He figures out a way to travel back in time. The Avengers reassemble to undo Thano’s actions once and for all.

[This is only the set-up. If I go on about the plot, it would give away too many plot points.]

Anthony and Joe Russo return to the director’s chair for an epic for the ages. Written with enough razor-sharp wit and poignancy by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, there is so much going on that the three-hour runtime goes by like a breeze. It’s easily the most depressing film in the MCU (I admit, this is one of the few movies where I did get misty-eyed), since it follows the superheroes dealing with trauma after Infinity War. They all have one more chance to set everything right before it’s too late in some thrilling action set pieces.

The movie features the biggest cast in any blockbuster in the last twenty years. Every single one of them all have their shining moments. The ones who stand out are Downey Jr., Evans, Hemsworth, Renner, and Johansson. At this point, all of the characters write themselves.

I can’t imagine a more satisfying conclusion than Avengers: Endgame. Don’t worry, though. The MCU is far from over. Peter Parker is making his return this summer in Spider-Man: Far from Home. There are upcoming television spin-off series centering on Loki and Hawkeye among others (not to mention Disney owning 20th Century Fox). There’s plenty more to come for this seemingly endless franchise.

10/10

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Movie Review: The Mule

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Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) makes some important life decisions in The Mule. (Source: Entertainment Weekly)

It has been ten years since Clint Eastwood directed himself in a movie. Being a filmmaker for half of a century, winning two Oscars for directing Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby (both of which won Best Picture), starring in more than half of the movies he directed, it’s hard not to be impressed by what he has done for Hollywood. Gran Torino is a prime example of his talents as an actor and filmmaker; blending deadpan humor and hard-hitting drama set outside an all-American city–Detroit–and containing a diverse cast.

After directing big hits, such as American Sniper and Sully, he is back as the director after giving us the disastrous biopic The 15:17 to Paris. Not only that, he is also the main star in The Mule. Based on a true story of Leo Sharp, a WWII veteran smuggling hundreds of pounds of cocaine from a Mexican drug cartel through Michigan, Eastwood and screenwriter Nick Schenk make several changes to the true-life story to stand on its own.

For starters, Eastwood stars as Earl Stone, a 90-year-old Korean War veteran, who is facing foreclosure on his house and his horticultural business. Years of being neglected from his family, he is in desperate need of cash. One day, at a wedding party for his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga), he is offered a job driving trucks. Earl doesn’t find that a problem since he had experience with trucks. However, he doesn’t know what he’s in for while driving all the way down to El Paso.

Since he has no criminal history, Earl isn’t worried to earn a little extra cash to cover Ginny’s wedding and college education. He eventually finds out he’s working as a drug mule for a Mexican drug cartel. This gets the attention of DEA agents Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Trevino (Michael Peña). Meanwhile, Earl thinks about his life decisions, especially when his ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) falls ill.

This isn’t the first time this year where a legendary actor played a criminal. We already saw Robert Redford using his polite manners while robbing banks in David Lowery’s magnum opus The Old Man and the Gun. As Earl Stone, however, Eastwood gives another nuanced performance; providing the dry sense of humor and the charisma he is known for in all of his movies. Earl might be stubborn and ignorant, especially with the modern technology being taken over, but he tries to be there for his family after neglecting them for years. Although the two DEA agents might be on his tail, he continues to live his life especially sitting back in the driver’s seat of his truck singing along to old songs.

The movie is not without its flaws. It’s a slow-burning film that might throw off a lot of people expecting something along the lines of Sicario. Yes, the pace does drag here and there, and I would have done without the scene where Earl is invited to a pool party at an estate, run by drug lord Laton (Andy Garcia), where there lots of young women everywhere. Nevertheless, there is a great moral in The Mule about the importance of family and putting one’s own life is put at risk for something dangerous. At 88, Eastwood is still going strong. Nothing can stop him now!

3/4

Movie Review: A Star is Born (2018)

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Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and Ally (Lady GaGa) hit the high notes in the third remake of A Star is Born. (Source: Philly.com) 

Once the talkies have come into play, there have been three different versions of A Star is Born. The 1937 version, starring Janet Gaynor; the famous 1954 version, which it received six Oscar nominations including Best Actress for Judy Garland and Best Music; and the 1976 version, starring Barbara Streisand, which didn’t receive a positive reception.

A fourth one was in production hell since 2011. Clint Eastwood was originally going to direct with Beyoncé as its star. Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tom Cruise were among the actors in talks to play the tortured musician. Eventually, Bradley Cooper not only took the role, but he also made this as his directorial debut. The new version can’t come out at a better time.

Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a popular musician with a big problem with drugs and alcohol, who offers support from his older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott). One day, at a bar, he meets Ally (a barely recognizable Lady GaGa), an aspiring singer/songwriter who quits her job as a waitress. As they develop a relationship and start writing songs together, problems begin to get in the way.

A Star is Born is the most impressive directorial debut by an actor since Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age story Lady Bird. It’s a film about the hardships of making it big in the music industry while facing personal demons. There has never been a more dynamic duo than Cooper and Lady GaGa. Jack is drinking himself to death until sparks fly when he meets Ally, who is hesitant to perform her own songs. They begin performing together–all the songs are all originals; no covers of songs from the previous films. However, they slowly face the consequences of their relationship. Its portrayal of Jack’s drug addiction and alcoholism is not easy to watch. It’s still captivating, poignant, and never once drags. I’ll lose my faith in the Academy if Lady GaGa doesn’t earn her long-awaited Oscar (either for Best Actress or Best Original Song). One of 2018’s best films!

4/4

2018 Summer Movie Review: Avengers: Infinity War

 

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It all comes down to this in Avengers: Infinity War! (Source: The Wrap)

It looks like the summer movie season has arrived early this year. After a long, rough winter in Maine, it’s about time to see these superheroes try to save our planet once again.

Can you believe it has been ten years since Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) started to form the Avengers Initiative? A lot of superheroes have been introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe–from the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to Captain America (Chris Evans) to Asgardian god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper) to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). With every single one of them teaming up to face their biggest challenge yet, it makes the scale of Avengers: Infinity War all the more gargantuan.

While this year brought us the future classic Black Panther, Anthony and Joe Russo are back in the director’s chair since Captain America: Civil War. They hit it out of the park once again in this hilarious, dark, action-packed, visually stunning epic that goes in many unexpected way and brings an emotional punch into its complex narrative. Josh Brolin’s Thanos is easily the most powerful villain in the franchise, who goes on his own mission to collect all of the six Infinity Stones, in order to not only take over the world, but the entire universe. While the movie is far from perfect, fans are most certainly in for a treat!

The MCU is far from over!

3.5/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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The Guardians are back to save the galaxy in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. (Source: IMDb)

Oh—it’s great to see these band of misfits back together!

2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy became a surprise hit among general audiences. It featured the most unusual groups of heroes. Ranging from a man from Earth raised by aliens, a green-skinned alien assassin, a superhuman warrior, a humanoid tree whose vocabulary is limited to “I am Groot”, to a trash-talking raccoon. Seeing it three times in theaters, I had an awesome time seeing these characters interact with one another while saving the galaxy and the planet Xandar from Ronan the Accuser. The movie had a lot of laughs, thrills, sharp character development, and visual wonder. So far, I think it’s my favorite in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s already a contemporary classic.

Three years later, writer/director James Gunn returns with the same main cast to do the sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. With Vol. 3 now in development, I’m actually looking forward to see more adventures of the Guardians rather than the Avengers. As far as sequels go, Vol. 2 is easily one of the better ones.

With a new kick-ass mixtape given to by his mother, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his team of Guardians—Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel); now reincarnated to a size of a tree bark, and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper)—travel through the galaxy, in search of something good and bad. They are assigned to protect the Sovereign, a gold-skinned alien race led by Heiress Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), and their precious batteries from various enemies. When Rocket is accused of stealing the batteries, their spacecraft crash lands on a deserted planet until being saved by a man known as Ego (Kurt Russell), who happens to be Peter’s father (no surprise there). He, along with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), brings them to his colorful planet while a lot of stuff happens.

If I go on about the plot, it would lead to many spoilers.

With the first movie, Gunn introduces the characters getting together to form as a family. Here—they are an assembled group of outlaws. He also brings forth the father-son dynamic into the MCU. While Pratt is the ideal choice to play Star-Lord, there would not have been a better choice for Kurt Russell to play his dad. Or, in this case, a celestial who falls in love with a human on Earth and eventually creates his own beautiful world. For years, Quill always wants to know his true heritage. With the characters we have come to know and love, we get to know more about them, particularly Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gilan) with scenes with Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker) bonding with each other. And also, Drax gives more of an emotional weight, who explains more about getting revenge on Thanos after witnessing the death of his family. He begins to ponder more about his simple past on his home planet. He may be tough on the outside, but he is also soft on the inside. Oh—and his laugh is just legendary!

Speaking of laughter, Vol. 2 is a nonstop laugh riot! One of the reasons why Vol. 1 is not just the splendid visuals and action set pieces, but the irreverent sense of humor. Vol. 2 is no exception. Drax, Rocket, and Groot steal the show here. As I described him before in my review for Vol. 1, Rocket is the Joe Pesci of the MCU. He has a filthy mouth (but not too filthy) and he is unpredictably crazy. “They told me you people were conceded douchebags,” he says to the Sovereign (who make pretty bland villains, despite Debicki’s massive stature–standing at a whopping 6’3″). “But that isn’t true at all.” The wink he gives to Quill cracks me up so much. Almost just as much as him making fun of Taserface (Chris Sullivan), which had the audience rolling in the aisles.

Vol. 2 cannot be complete without an awesome soundtrack—cleverly titled Awesome Mix Vol. 2. What the predecessor did with Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”, you know you are in for a treat if the movie opens up with ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”. It’s nearly impossible not to grin while watching it. Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” serves as an appropriate theme for the Guardians. This line sums it up right here, “If you don’t love me now / You will never love me again / I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain.” Bring on, Vol. 3!

3.5/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: War Dogs

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Two arms dealers (Miles Teller and Jonah Hill) make a deal of a lifetime in Todd Phillips’ latest war comedy-drama War Dogs (Source: New York Post)

Fresh from created The Hangover trilogy, director Todd Phillips takes a step into a satirical yet darker reality: the war in Iraq. From the invasion to Saddam Hussein’s execution to the rise and fall of ISIS, it’s hard to figure out when the war will end. Of course, we can’t predict the future. The story about two arm dealers making a deal with the Pentagon has been all over the news in 2007. Unlike Due Date and the obnoxious sequels to The Hangover, Phillips crafts an amusing yet fascinating outlook on the arms industry.

Loosely based on a true story, David Packouz (Miles Teller) lives in Miami with his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas). He wants to do something rather than living his life as a massage therapist. He meets up with an old buddy of his Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) at a funeral. Together, they exploit a government initiative where they bid on military contracts. Little by little, they make deals internationally. Eventually, they make a $300 million contract to the Pentagon supply weapons and ammunition to the U.S. government in Afghanistan. They begin to face some serious business including arms dealer Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper).

It does sound like a discount version of The Wolf of Wall Street. Apart from the fact that both movies star Jonah Hill, War Dogs is definitely less filthy yet quite informative. Phillips brings enough energy into his direction, some impressive shots of Miami, Las Vegas, and Albania, and a perfect rock soundtrack. However, it does fall short from some lousy attempts at laughs, Iz being the typical girlfriend, and the pacing feels a bit rushed. What makes the movie worth seeing is the chemistry between a scene-stealing Jonah Hill and a solid Miles Teller.

2.5/4

Movie Review: Joy

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Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) and his family try to get out of debt in David O. Russell’s latest “Joy”

The quadrio–Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, and David O. Russell–of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle return in this semi-autobiographical film of Joy Mangano. Lawrence plays the titular character who grew up in an Italian-American family. As a child, she always comes up with great ideas. However, the single mother of two children starts a business dynasty and invents the Miracle Mop. She meets QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), and the product is shown on QVC. While this is happening, Joy struggles with her marriage with Tony (Édgar Ramírez) and debt.

For someone who loved Silver Linings Playbook and enjoyed American Hustle (although being slightly overrated), I consider Joy being David O. Russell’s weakest film. Is it a terrible movie? No; it has its moments of greatness (especially the scene in which Joy shows her product on television), but there are times in which the movie feels like a soap opera, which is ironic considering there are occasions in Joy where Joy’s mother (Virginia Madsen) is confined in her room watching soap operas all day.

Russell’s previous movies had an offbeat sense of humor. In Joy, the comedy feels as incredibly forced as the drama. It’s hard to resist the stellar performances by Lawrence (in her most mature performance to date), the great Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper. Joy left me with mixed feelings.

2/4