Monday, June 18, 2012

The Avengers (2012)

A surplus of superhero movies has come out in the past few years, particularly Iron Man from 2008 and its 2010 sequel, The Incredible Hulk from 2008, Thor from 2011, and Captain America: The First Avenger from 2011. To be honest, I’ve only seen one of the movies I mentioned (Iron Man), but I do know that through end scenes or post-credit sequences, they’ve all found a way to connect themselves to one another. Why is that? Well, I am not the director of those movies, but I can only guess that it is to set up and release, after years and years of wishing and hoping and praying, especially from Marvel Comics fans, an Avengers movie.

The story of this Avengers movie begins with an energy source called the Tesseract, which has an unknown potential. At a remote research facility, the Tesseract is being experimented on. However, when the Tesseract activates, it opens a portal, which allows the villainous Loki to reach Earth. He captures the Tesseract and plans to enslave all humans.

This leads Nick Fury, director of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency, to plan the Avengers. So, he, along with several agents (one of these agents being Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow), goes to recruit people to bond together as the Avengers. Not just any people, however. They recruit Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, and Thor, who happens to be the adoptive brother of Loki.

Now, like I said earlier, many people, particularly Marvel Comics fans, longed for this movie. This could’ve been just an empty, messy, cynical project that trashed the fans. However, director and screenwriter Joss Whedon, who previously directed the 2005 film, Serenity, delicately put together a taut, palpable, and endlessly captivating film that gives fans and non-fans something to admire. 

I was surprised by two elements of this movie. One element was the humor, particularly by Tony Stark, who is dead-on with his dry, caustic sense of humor. Everybody brings real wit in a movie that could’ve been a serious action film. I admire that extra push to add something juicier in the film for the audience.

Another element I was surprised of was the character development, particularly the dynamic between Thor and Loki. It’s always great to have a relationship like that, where the protagonist has a deep relationship with the antagonist. To me, that served as melancholy for the film. Black Widow, who I heard was downplayed in Iron Man 2, is a fiercely cunning femme fatale, when she could’ve easily been just some bland piece of eye candy.

I’ve heard a few people complain slightly about the first hour, but I personally felt the film moved at a precise pace. The first hour of the film is getting all these great superheroes together, the backstory, the tension between these people, and the build-up. The second hour is the pay-off, although that might be an understatement. That second half, especially the last 25 minutes or so, is one gigantic, kinetic, furious, incredible action sequence. There are a few action sequences in the first half, as well, but they seem like mere YouTube videos, compared to the last half. Everything that the Avengers have been planning for finally comes into place, spectacularly and tightly.

I’m sure all of my three readers out there are going to ask what my favorite character is. My favorite character was The Hulk. I’ve loved the Hulk ever since I was seven, when I saw the advertisements for that 2003 Hulk movie (and yes, I liked that movie). The filmmakers did a great job with his CGI. They turned a cool menace from the 2003 film into a rugged badass. Although I find it weird that when he and Thor have their fight scene, the Hulk has a hard time picking up Thor’s hammer. If I were the Hulk, I would’ve picked up the building, hoping that his head would be crushed or something. Everyone who goes to see this movie will have their own geek-out moment for one of the characters and when the Hulk was on, my geek-o-meter went to ten.

The cast is uniformly excellent. I already mentioned Robert Downey, Jr.’s great nuances as Tony Stark and Scarlett Johansson’s fast cunning as Black Widow, but everyone from Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, play their parts totally convincing. I was surprised, however, how much Samuel L. Jackson was downplayed. However, his Nick Fury character is, kind of, just the ringleader, but either way, while he was the least effective, he still maintained his noteworthy menacing authority. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is, also, effective and convincing.

However, as much as I give praise to the movie, I do have a few flaws with the movie. First of all, I felt that it was cut a little too quickly. I understand that’s kind of the point since the action is fast, but I still felt that I should be able to comprehend the action a little better.

In addition, and this is where I have to do some ranting, involves the post-credit sequences, a.k.a. the stingers. I feel I should warn you readers that, if not all the way, at least sit through some of the credits because there is one scene that could possibly set up a sequel, which I have to admit is gripping. However, apparently I learned that at the very end of all the credits, there is another scene, which leads to me to say I HATE stingers!

Seriously, I feel like I shouldn’t have to sit through the credits to see something. You can easily place it before the credits or wait and put it on DVD. Maybe the filmmakers want to seem edgy or innovative, but it doesn’t make you very innovative when everybody else is also FREAKING DOING IT! I can’t stand these stingers. If I ever make a list of my top 10 least favorite clichés, the stinger is, most DEFINITELY going in the top five, if not the top three. It’s cheap, it’s stupid, it’s a lousy gimmick, and I beg on my knees to Hollywood, PLEASE stop using that cliché, for the love of God! Those are my only flaws, but besides that, while I don’t love the movie, it is a extremely satisfying film that delivers on all aspects and is definitely worth the hype. Plus, Scarlett Johansson wears tight, leather clothing, as she portrays Black Widow, and Cobie Smulders is S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Maria Hill. Need I say more?

RATING: Three-and-a-half stars out of four

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Spirited Away (2001)

I want to start off this review by saying that this review is one of the most personal reviews I have ever written. Not just because it is about anime, my favorite form of animation, though that helps, but because 2001’s Spirited Away is my “boss’s” favorite movie. If her favorite movie ever changes, I will now have a reason to see it.

The plot revolves around a little girl named Chihiro, who is very upset by having to move to a new neighborhood. They arrive at a place, to which the father believes it is an abandoned theme park from the early 1990s. Suddenly, after something happens to her parents, she finds herself alone in an alternate reality that is filled with spirits and monsters. Chihiro, by getting a job working in Yabuba’s bathhouse and befriending a friend by the name of Haku, tries to find a way to get out of this alternate reality and get back to the real world.

Many critics have touted this film, with some claiming that it is similar to the 1951 Disney film, Alice in Wonderland. However, this film is much more tight and, at times, complex than that Disney film. The animation is, as always, simply masterful. When you are not looking at the realism of the animation, you are drawn by the breathtaking creativity. I nearly sprained my eyes looking from side to side at all the surreal creatures present in this alternate reality. These creatures lack the kind of simple whimsicality that would be present in an American animated film. A lot of these creatures, given the fact that a lot of them don’t speak, seem to have an unsure menace. You don’t know whether to be excited or frightened by these creatures.

Also, the characters are authentic, particularly Chihiro. When she finds herself in this alternate reality, she doesn’t automatically become a plucky, courageous character. She is confused and scared, which is most likely how we would be if we were put in this uncomfortable position. Because of this, she feels real and we root for her all the way. I, also, love the way depth is given to certain characters. You find out certain things about certain characters, but it doesn’t feel contrived. Also, the relationship between Chihiro and Haku, who kind of looks like the inspiration for Yu-Gi-Oh, is wonderful. I love how the director, Hayao Miyazaki, handles relationships between kids. They never end with them being romantically linked, but they never say that they aren’t. We have to decide what’s going on between them.

This film is elegant, graceful, and beautiful. I love the way the movie seamlessly blends ambitious creativity, social commentary, delightful comedy, and heartfelt drama. Even the score, especially, near the end is simply perfect. I don’t understand why America can’t make films as intelligent as the films Miyazaki makes. We get so much empty, soulless rubbish that we just spoon-feed our children. Even the best Disney film isn’t as intelligent as Miyazaki’s films. I swear Disney knows it, too. No wonder they keep distributing them. Hayao Miyazaki, I tip my hat to you. I can’t wait to watch the next film of yours on this Studio Ghibli Museum DVD set I borrowed from a friend. This film may not be Totoro, but damn it, it’s second best.

On a scale of zero to four stars, Spirited Away gets four stars! By the way, here’s a message to my boss, a.k.a. Tia. Here’s another reason why you’re awesome: You love this movie!