Avengers: Endgame Movie Review

**There’s really no way to write a review of Avengers: Endgame without some minor spoilers. You may wish to read this post viewing…

The word “epic” can be overused by those who review movies like me, but it unquestionably applies to Avengers: Endgame. It’s epic in its running time (none of the other 21 MCU pics run three hours) and epic in the number of well-known thespians reprising their superhero and villain characters. It doesn’t seem feasible that so many characters could manage to coexist in this vast universe without seeming like a gimmick. If you happen to think predecessor Infinity War was overcrowded, you’ll get whiplash here. Truth be told, there are moments when this borders on playing like a greatest hits reel based on what’s preceded it during the last eleven years.

Yet Endgame figures out a rewarding way to stick the landing and honor the dozens of faces that we’ve spent billions of dollars visiting since 2008. At the conclusion of Infinity War, bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) had collected his precious Infinity Stones and decimated half the intergalactic population into dramatic looking dust particles. What’s left is mostly the core of the OG Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). There’s others as Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is the sole surviving Guardian of the Galaxy. And we have the two notable characters that were MIA last summer – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).

One might think this whole saga might be about the original band and some newer friends taking on Thanos. You would be wrong. Endgame has plenty of time bending tricks up its endless story arch sleeves. The first is an unexpected resolution that comes very early. However, that climax is just a set-up to further complications.

This is indeed a time travel movie in which the screenwriters almost sheepishly concede the contrived nature of such a device. The survivors set upon a course of multiple back in time ways to retrieve the Stones and bring back their loved ones. It doesn’t happen overnight and the lengthy nature of the plan coming together provides funny and poignant moments. Tony is off the grid with his beloved Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a new addition. Bruce is in full Hulk mode, but kindler and gentler. Thor is rounder and drunkenly grappling with his losses. Hawkeye is a full-blown vigilante. When the gang revs up their figurative DeLoreans, it gives us a chance to revisit lots of MCU personnel. And it’s a LOT of former players. Some are genuinely surprising. During this lengthy stretch, the film walks a fine line of not devolving into nostalgic sugar shock amidst the action sequences. By the final act, it rises above it.

We know the battle scenes will be well choreographed and well-directed (with the Russo Brothers handling duties once again). The final one is rather jaw dropping with the mixing of so many known quantities. Thanos is one of the stronger villains in MCU history and he remains so here, though there’s nothing fresh to add about his character. His daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), on the other hand, continues her evolution as a fine addition to the roster.

The comic relief comes more from Thor as opposed to Ant-Man or Rocket and Hemsworth is up to the task. Captain America and Black Widow are given their emotional moments that we’re invested in from their backstories. To this writer, it’s Tony who’s always been the damaged beating heart of this franchise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe simply wouldn’t exist as it is without Downey Jr.’s brilliant work. That’s never changed. The quality of the movies he’s appeared in has. His performance has always been fantastic. If we’re ranking, I would put Endgame as an overall experience just under the first Avengers in 2012 and Infinity War. I can’t promise that thinking about all the shifting time plot points might raise as many questions as answers. I won’t deny that its emotional payoff is real and we have Downey and an amazing group of technicians bringing these comics to life to thank for it.

***1/2 (out of four)

Velvet Buzzsaw Movie Review

There’s a moment in Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw where one of the vapid SoCal characters walks past a pile of garbage and declares it an inspired work of art. He doesn’t realize it’s just plain garbage. The writer/director has his eye trained on the reviewing class here in this satire fueled with intermittent gore. Items are junk or priceless because critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) says so. His opinion matters and his choices influence. When he has his eyes dilated after an eye appointment, someone asks if those flimsy and disposable sunglasses he wears after are the new designer craze.

These small moments provide some well-placed humor as Gilroy dissects his power-hungry characters one by one. The setting is Los Angeles, the same locale from his 2014 effort Nightcrawler (which happened to be my favorite film of that year). Gyllenhaal starred in that as well. His portrayal of Louis Bloom was a desperate figure looking to climb the ladder of his chosen profession. In Buzzsaw, Morf already has made it. The Bloom figure would be Josephina (Zawe Ashton). She works for an art gallery run by Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) and she’s trying to make her mark. Josephina gets that chance when a tenant in her building dies and leaves behind a vast collection of paintings. No one knows much about the dead man’s background, but his works are immediately deemed masterpieces.

It takes a considerable amount of time for people to discover that the paintings have a mind of their own. A violent mind for anyone who dares to exhibit them. Or perhaps they’re just blinded to it because they see the dollar signs involved. Everyone in this piece judges art by that monetary standard only. Whether it’s an image that could harm you or whether it’s literal garbage, it’s valuation is what counts.

Velvet Buzzsaw is a bizarre and hit or miss concoction filled with stuffy self-important individuals to root against. You may find yourself cheering on the paintings to do their grisly thing. The cast is sprawling with Gyllenhaal adding another peculiar part to his repertoire. Russo (who’s married to Gilroy) is as ruthlessly profit hungry as she was in Nightcrawler (though her part isn’t as memorable). Her background here does provide the title as it’s the name of a punk rock band she was in decades ago. Toni Collette is a curator looking for her best angle to get in on the new craze. Natalia Dyer (of “Stranger Things” fame) is an opportunistic assistant who gains the unfortunate distinction of finding lots of dead bodies.

The artwork comes alive in visually arresting ways from time to time. The main difference between this and Nightcrawler comes down to this – I was constantly enthralled by the disreputable populace of the latter. It’s a more rare occurrence in the former. Velvet Buzzsaw won’t be mistaken for trash, but it shouldn’t be hailed as a sensation either.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Velvet Buzzsaw

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival just before its Friday debut on Netflix is Dan Gilroy’s latest picture Velvet Buzzsaw. The horror satire reunites the writer and filmmaker with his Nightcrawler lead Jake Gyllenhaal in a film said to mercilessly mock the world of art critics and collectors. Several movie critics seem quite impressed. Others are more mixed. The current Rotten Tomatoes score is 82%. Costars include Toni Collette, Gilroy’s spouse and frequent collaborator Rene Russo, and John Malkovich (who must have office space at Netflix with this, Bird Box, and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile).

Reviews suggest Buzzsaw could be quite polarizing. It may have a tough time breaking through with Oscar voters nearly a year from now. That said, both of the director’s previous works nabbed one nomination. 2014’s Nightcrawler was recognized for its Original Screenplay. In my view, it should’ve received more nods than that (especially Gyllenhaal). 2017’s Roman J. Israel, Esq. saw Denzel Washington garner a lead actor spot.

If Velvet has enough strong boosters, another screenplay nomination isn’t totally out of the question. Yet there’s a long road ahead to see whether that’s a possible outcome. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Just Getting Started Box Office Prediction

A pair of Oscar winners hope to bring in an older audience next weekend when Just Getting Started premieres. Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones star as retirees taking on the Mob in this comedy from Ron Shelton, best known for his directorial efforts of the past including Bull Durham and White Men Can’t Jump. Rene Russo, Glenne Headly (in her final film role), and Joe Pantoliano are among the supporting players.

Freeman has been appearing in these geriatric yuck fests with increasing frequency as of late. Earlier in the year, Going in Style debuted to a decent $11.9 million. 2013’s Last Vegas fared even better with an opening north of $16 million. A number similar to Style would seem to be the absolute high bar here. However, I have trouble seeing this getting into double digits.

One big reason: distributor Broad Green Pictures is bankrupt and promotion for Started has been muted at best. A theater count will help shed light on its potential and my estimate could be adjusted accordingly. My initial feeling is that this just gets started in the mid single digits and fades quickly.

Just Getting Started opening weekend prediction: $5.2 million

The Intern Movie Review

Nancy Meyers brings her brand of comedic drama featuring a strong female character to the screen once again in The Intern. This time it’s Anne Hathaway as Jules, the CEO of a flourishing NYC online fashion company who’s struggling to balance her harried work life with her personal one. The latter includes her stay at home husband (Anders Holm) and little girl. Jules finds someone to assist with that balance in the form of Ben (Robert De Niro). He used to work at a phone book company (an obsolete business) and he’s battling general boredom in his retirement. The 70 year old widower decides to apply for a senior internship with Jules’s company and he’s soon assigned to work directly under her.

The Intern explores the issues of Jules deciding whether or not to hand control of the business over to an outside CEO. There’s also some marital issues at hand and her ongoing frustration with her distant mother, which helps explain some of her own personality quirks. We have Ben’s burgeoning romance with the company’s in house masseuse (Rene Russo). As the over two hour tale unfolds, the pathos level continues to increase as Ben and Jules become closer.

It’s all perfectly pleasant, continually earnest, and sad to say – a little dull. Hathaway’s performance gives her an interesting and strong character to play with, even if her work here comes off a bit mannered occasionally. De Niro is in Mr. Nice Guy mode and he’s just fine, even if this part isn’t exactly challenging in any way.

Frankly, there’s not much else to say here. The Intern can be a little bland but it’s engaging enough to not be a total waste of time. Faint praise, I recognize. If you’ve enjoyed Meyers pics such as What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated, you’ll probably think this is decent.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Intern Box Office Prediction

This Friday, Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro headline the workplace comedy The Intern and in a sea of male driven titles like Black Mass and Everest, this will attempt to break through to a more female audience. It may succeed.

The pic comes from director Nancy Meyers, whose resume includes hits like What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated. It marks Hathaway’s return to a genre where she’s seen successes like The Devil Wears Prada. The Intern has been heavily marketed and is probably mostly critic proof (reviews have yet to be released at press time).

While the film will almost certainly have to settle for the runner up spot behind animated kiddie sequel Hotel Transylvania 2, I believe The Intern could potentially debut above $20 million. However, my prediction puts it a bit under that.

The Intern opening weekend prediction: $19 million

For my Hotel Transylvania 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/09/18/hotel-transylvania-2-box-office-prediction/

For my The Green Inferno prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/09/19/the-green-inferno-box-office-prediction/

Nightcrawler Movie Review

“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people, but that I don’t like them?”

So says Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), our central character in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler who barely leaves the screen during the film’s running time and probably won’t escape your mind for some time either. When we first meet Lou, he’s a common thief stealing scrap metal who makes what he believes are captivating attempts at obtaining employment. We immediately notice that Lou has no social skills whatsoever. He doesn’t know how to relate to people. All he knows is how to negotiate but he hasn’t found a field in which his negotiations bear fruit.

This changes when Lou happens upon a crime scene and figures out that Los Angeles TV news stations will pay handsomely for gruesome footage. “If it bleeds, it leads” he’s told by another “nightcrawler” played by Bill Paxton . Lou believes he’s found his calling and soon his explicit videos of horrific offenses are airing at 6AM and 11PM by the lowest rated Southern California affiliate. Their news director Nina (Rene Russo) recognizes Lou’s value in increasing ratings. And Lou knows his worth and uses his leverage to bargain with her – not just for gainful employment but for everything he wants from her. This is done in a pitch black comedic restaurant “date” with Nina in which he makes his wishes explicitly clear.

Lou also hires assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed) and he suffers the endless banterings of a boss who is forever conducting a verbal performance review of his employee. Their interaction veers between hilarious (in a very dark way) and chilling (in a very real way). Our central character doesn’t like people in a manner that’s somewhat reminiscent of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Everything is negotiable to Lou and as amazingly awkward as he is, his objectives are usually met. This extends to his filming work and if the photos of a slain family member aren’t close enough to the bullet holes lodged in the fridge, there’s a way to fix that.

For the better part of this decade, Gyllenhaal has made one solid choice after another from Source Code to End of Watch to Prisoners. This is the pinnacle so far. With director Gilroy’s screenplay giving him a truly unique and endlessly fascinating character to work with, Gyllenhaal nails his quirky and creepy role. Russo gets her juiciest part in years as the producer who will go to the same lengths as Lou to ensure success. Ahmed is the most sympathetic person here (it’s not saying much) and he sees his demented mentor much like the audience does.

Nightcrawler effortlessly manages charcoal colored comedy with a heightened sense of tension. A major accomplishment indeed. The screenplay has plenty to hint at regarding the public’s insatiable need for the most violent news stories while we are eating breakfast or ready to turn in for the night. Lou Bloom realizes it and knows how to profit from it. He figures a way to achieve his sick dreams. Our brilliantly realized title character with a career best performance from Gyllenhaal gets it right with that opening quote. He doesn’t really like people. And while the characters he speaks with in Nightcrawler thinks he doesn’t understand them, maybe he does all too well.

**** (out of four)