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The Avengers.

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Rating 4.5 stars.

So, the movie has just come out, and I just home from seeing it. This movie was a big deal for me, for several reasons: (1) I am, or rather was, a comic nerd, who grew up with these characters and while “The Avengers” were never my primary focus, I was always aware of them, knew their stories and read their members comics individually. I read in a time just before “The Ultimate” line started, though I did follow that series, I read the “Heroes Reborn” storyline, following the whole “Onslaught” debacle, this was where I got much of my Avengers knowledge. (2) I am a huge Joss Whedon fan, and it may be there, where this blog will focus on. I don’t want to give spoilers as everyone’s going to see it, and I wish I’d posted some “pre-movie” thoughts and expectations, but I want to discuss why this movie was a big deal to me.

I feel, as I’ve followed Whedon through, Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Serenity and Dollhouse, that this guy is my ‘bra’ so to speak. His storylines, in both plot and script speak to me, like Scott Lobdell’s dialogue used to in the X-men comics I followed, he writes characters who are tough, funny, and flow against convention and expectation. In watching “Battleship” the other night, and seeing what a truly mediocre Hollywood film looks like, I had something of a revelation: Hollywood plays on tired and worn archetypes – the hero who is unfocused, disobedient, but comes to fruition in the life threatening circumstance, as in the case of “Battleship”. We see similar archetypes in “The Avengers”, reluctant heroes, selfish, who shine when the world needs them, we see similar, and simple themes running through these movies – it’s what we go to see. Good face evil and fall down, but ultimately triumph, this is not a criticism, I like these simple, operatic themes. But in “The Avengers” we see how these simple, and worn themes can be played out to really engage the audience (as I’m sure we will see in “The Dark Knight Rises” as well). It’s not that we have seen it all before, it’s that some people do not respect their audiences (as in “Battleship”) don’t understand that the level of sophistication their audiences bringing to the table will see through boring, stereotypes, and themes smacked over our heads. It’s why “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” are blockbusters everyone goes to see, the quality of the filmmaking is obvious and apparent.

This brings us back to Whedon. Anyone who has watched his shows know him to create characters, who are archetypical, stereotypical, as a basis, but that he often comes to play with, or even, push those stereotypes to their full measure, to surprise us. That is the appeal of “The Avengers” we know what we’re going to see, we’ve all seen the previous films leading up to this, but in Whedon we know we’re going to get snappy dialogue, real heart and a climax that will pull on the heart-strings, and wow is in its awesomeness.

The strength of “The Avengers” was in the interplay between the characters, Whedon had a lot of movies (and comics) to tie up, and a lot of characters vying for the spotlight, and he fit them all in, with a not completely simple storyline, that felt fluid, and real. We care about these people, their conflicts, their inner monologue. But these are still very simple archetypes: character X has conflict with character Y, but sort it out in the end to fight the common enemy, we see this in “Battleship”, but when we don’t care about the characters, and when the director doesn’t either, we shrug it off, even laugh at it.

There was genuine passion put into “The Avengers”, humour, energy, verve, that we don’t see in so many Hollywood movies, I’m happy to have followed Whedon through his career, and to see him get the notoriety he desevres with this film. As it’s sure to shoot him to stardom.

Up In The Air.

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Rating 3 stars.

Reviews

Up in the Air-Roger Ebert.
Up in the Air-Fernando F. Croce.
Up in the Air -David and Margaret.
For the basic premise of the movie allow me to be lazy and simply quote IMDB:

With a job that has him traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: ground him. (IMDB)

Firstly, lets talk about Jason Reitman, this movie is much like, ideally, his other movies, technical, not in the visual sense, but rather, clever:  fast-paced dialogue, fast-moving characters, a niche market, if you will. Much like an Alexander Payne movie, it brings us into a worldview, think Juno or Young Adult, these movies are mentalities, that we might understand, perhaps only conceptually, or we might understand through experience. Reitman is bringing us into a world of status symbols, money, perks, people who have bought into what the Post Modernists might call the ‘structural linguistics’, or ‘models’ that we have created for ourselves. For example, the scene when Ryan (Clooney) meets Alex (Farminga) and amongst flirtations they swap business cards, awards cards, credit cards, this is used as a preamble to sex, these 2 characters are so turned on by status.

It is interesting to see this movie juxtaposed to something like Juno which was filmed very warmly, it was earthy, indie, about a rural town, with small-minded people – we see how that was a very deliberate thing. This movie is cold, glassy, blue, and about fast-moving, city goers who work from a single serving lifestyle, a la Tyler Durden.

The  sub-text that subtly becomes text took me out of  this movie, at least in the sense of me being able to relate to it. Ryan’s family critiquing his life for his self-imposed isolation, bothered me, this is  a person who knows what he wants, who he is, most importantly, enjoys what he does, is happy, but as it does not conform with others perception of reality he is berated (more on this in a moment). At the point in the movie I’m referring to (Ryan’s sister asking him to take photos of a cardboard cut out of his other sister with her fiance at certain landmarks), it does seem like Ryan’s isolation is a negative thing, insofar as he does not wish to participate in (what he perceives to be) the mundane, the ordinary life of other members of his family – this is a selfish person.

Further into the movie the text becomes obvious, and its at this point I became disappointed with the direction. I’m tired of being moralised at in film, studio execs so worried about downer endings, that movies become so formulaic that they’re predictable and uninteresting, so it is with Up In The Air. As Ryan gets closer to Alex, feelings become involved, Ryan’s travelling partner Natalie (Anna Kendrick, a fine up and coming actress who really goes toe-to-toe with Clooney) begins to question his lifestyle choices. But as we have come to understand, Ryan’s choices are rational, a well considered view of the world, he wants no marriage, no children and he likes it that way. Here is where we come back to the point that irked me, Reitman is telling us these choices are not good enough, that marriage and kids, a mortgage and a dog are what matter in life, even if you’re happy without those things. That ideal conflicts with the reality I have chosen for my life, hence I was taken out of the story, and became cynical at its choices.

Going further, the philosophy of the movie is summed up at 1hr 20 mins in when Ryan is talking to his sister, Kara (Amy Morton) who is trying to convince him to persuade his other sister, Julie’s (Melanie Lynskey) fiance, Jim (the hilarious Danny McBride) who has cold feet, that marriage is worthwhile. Kara states that he should be able to do it as he spends his life talking to people for a living, and he retorts that he talks people out of commitment, to which she replies what kind of fucked up job is that. Reitman’s message appears confused when we consider the piece as a whole:  get married and have kids, or you’ll be successful and sleep with attractive women.

Perhaps as I think about it, perhaps that is what’s going on at a deeper level, perhaps Reitman is not moralising at us at all, but rather, showing us the positives and hardships of going your own way, of having your own philosophy?

I Melt With You.

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Rating: 2.5 stars. (out of a possible 5)

Reviews

Nick Shrager @ Slant Magazine

What is always most difficult about the review process is differentiating between what might be considered an ‘objective’, or perhaps more aptly stated ‘ideal’ (in the essentialism sense)  notion of what a good movie is, and what your personal taste dictates to you is good, or not. I can watch a movie and realise that certain standards are not being met, be they cinematography, narrative, mis en scene, etc, which there are basics you expect from Hollywood movies, as a minimum. They have the budgets, the resources, if you can’t find an editor or writer to suit your piece, you lose points, simple as that.

‘I Melt With You’ has all that you expect from a Hollywood piece, pretty actors, beautiful imagery, a great soundtrack (which several critics have noted is one of the only good aspects of the film, see above). The first half of the film, is primal in its expression; old friends catching up, copious amounts of drugs and alcohol are ingested with carefree abandon, or rather, the way it’s film is raw, gritty, with swaying camera angles and altered colour palettes. For anyone who has lived a life of indulgence this can quite easily take you upward in that tide of expression (and that of seeing the wonderful Sasha Grey, who worked with Jeremy Piven in “Entourage“). I certainly was.  The movie has been criticised for this drawn out malaise, coupled with one of the characters ‘Tim’ (played by Christian Mckay) providing juxtaposition by waxing psuedophilosophical barbs, as shallow and repetitive. And one could be left to wonder what the point of such  a long and drawn out section of this movie is meant to tell us about ourselves and about life. The men are all married, getting away from their troubles (which we see as the movie unfolds they all possess), perhaps it is to show us the consequence of our choices, of the value of friends, or it could simply be some parochial sense experience for the viewer, it’s hard to say as it’s not well conveyed, and some might say, we might not care either.

This is where what I was saying earlier holds significance, I was personally moved by the partying, drug taking scenes, that’s just me, but if you aren’t moved by them, then the first hour of this movie will be tedious.

But whatever your thoughts of the first half, the second half takes an interesting tone, the movie shifts from unadulterated, positivity to morose darkness with the second half of the movie seeming like a dark reflection of the first.  I won’t go into spoilers here, but one is left at first moved by the events of the second half, but then as the events continue, we are left to feel like perhaps we are being made fun of. Characters that drew me in, became two-dimensional and congruent with a reality I could relate to. I felt like the director was going for the moody significance of his quite excellent “Arlington Road” but without such lofty, topical and well-directed material to deal with, we end up feeling left with a punch line to a question we never asked. Any deeper meaning or sub-text to the movie lost and entangled in Carla Gugino’s “Officer Boyde”, who, as has been stated in some reviews, feels like she’s in another movie, about a cop drama.

I ultimately ended up waiting for this over 2 hour epic to end, as it had entered a level of silliness that bored me, I was sticking out if only to see what happens, in some perverse way.

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