A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

April 30, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Another Marvel movie, another opening night, and at long last another review for my long dormant review blog.  I went in to Age of Ultron fairly confident that it was a good movie because people whose opinions I trust had already seen it and confirmed that it was in the top four or five marvel movies with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and the first Avengers movie.  At the same time, however, there was this nagging worry at the back of my mind that perhaps the weight of the franchise is getting too great for any movie to hold it up.  As is almost the refrain when reviewing a Marvel movie at this point though it was true once more: there inevitably must be a film in this universe that disappoints, but this one is not it.

There is NO WAY that this movie should work.  It is the result of an enormous production machine with so many moving parts that it’s hard to even conceive how vast the enterprise is.  It was in pre-production before Winter Soldier was done filming.  During the closing credits I stopped counting after the 7th or 8th FX production house was listed.  Many of the action beats must have been mapped out and already in production long before the plot was finalized.  The Marvel Cinematic universe as a whole is the filmic equivalent of the pyramids at Giza: an edifice so intimidatingly huge that it’s almost impossible to believe it was crafted by human hands.

Beyond all of that though there’s the scale of this movie alone to consider.  The MCU has reached a scale where its tentpole movies have tentpoles.  This Avenger’s film caps the second wave of films bringing the crew back together for another round of world-saving, sure, but it also has to lay the groundwork for the third wave.  We have plenty of returning heroes.  There’s Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye.  The first Avenger movie established that this team could work in a film, so it’s no surprise that for this movie they are a joy to watch as they battle foes and banter amongst each-other.  But add to all these folks several other bit players from previous films and three new super powered individuals and you have a formula for disaster.  How can you possibly have so many characters in one film, providing each with at least a couple well-timed quips and a chance to show off their powers, and not have it simply collapse under its own weight?

Part of it is that the movie doesn’t give itself time to sag.  From the in-media-rez opening battle (which feels like it contains more action in one scene than the entire first Captain America movie – particularly since it so deliberately echoes the tone of some of Cap’s escapades) to its far larger than life city destroying ending there’s hardly a moment when some kind of adventure isn’t going on.  Even the more quiet moments serve double duty moving the plot forward and giving us some greater insight into the Avengers as a team and as individuals to better set the stakes for the inevitable big showdown.

The one exception is a vital piece of quiet before the storm just before the start of the third act that provides some of the best character development so far for a couple of the least utilized parts of the team.  The surprising heart of the movie is the non-powered Clint Barton/Hawkeye who here shows that he’s perhaps more of a hero than most of his companions because he’s not super at all – just pretty damned good with a bow and arrows.  Black Widow also gets some much needed backstory during this lull and shows herself both to be more human and more frighteningly competent at her particular skillset.

The other thing that saves this film from itself is the titular villain.  Ultron has many of the best moments in the film because he’s such a surprisingly human foe.  He’s such a startlingly honest, simple, and almost literally broken character that it’s hard not to feel some degree of sympathy for him.  All this for a character that is entirely CGI.  Add him to the list with Groot, Rocket, and Golem of startlingly touching characters rendered almost entirely in a computer.

I only just saw the movie a couple hours ago so I’m not going to make any sweeping statements about its lasting merit or how well it will hold up with time, but on that first viewing I was not disappointed.  It has references for Marvel fans that hint at things to come.  It has plenty of amazing action.  It has touching moments of character development.  Ultimately it did its job and left me wanting more.  Oh, and it left me wanting that “hulkbuster” Lego set.  I wish that wasn’t sold out.

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April 30, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Pacific Rim

When I was in second grade all the children in the yard during recess were Jedis, Smugglers or Princesses. This year I predict that every second grader at recess will be a Jaeger Pilot. Fantasy/horror artour and filmic visionary Guillermo Del Torro has wonderfully crafted the perfect fantasy adventure for this generation, and it was a delight to see what he can do with a truly big budget summer blockbuster. 

Like Star Wars back in my youth this is a familiar feeling fantasy adventure that takes fondly remembered tropes and vividly re-creates them with a giant budget and the best visual technology of the modern day, except that whereas Star Wars was an homage to the sci-fi serials of bygon days (particularly Flash Gordon) with a smattering of Samurai thrown in (mostly The Hidden Fortress) this movie takes its inspiration from the Japanese Kaiju monster movies that I so loved as a child and the many Mecha anime that came from that same country. It’s easy to see Godzilla, Rodan, Neon Genesis, Big O, and so many other familiar things that contributed to this movie.
The whole project has a familiar and well worn feel to me. The plot (involving a dimensional rift under the Pacific Ocean that unleashes giant monsters on the world and the giant mechanical warriors the world builds in response) offers nothing particularly revolutionary or new. The one gimmick that really sets it apart is a clunky bin of whimsy that has it established that piloting a giant robot (a Jaeger in the world’s parlance) is too taxing a job for a single human being so two or more pilots must work in tandem to fight effectively. This makes no logical sense, but it drives the plot and stresses the whole “only together can we win” feel of the film. Really, if to demand logical sense from a movie about giant monsters and robots beating each-other up this might not be the movie for you.
It IS, however, the movie for me. For anybody who wants a simple summer smash-em-up with a kind heart and a familiar tone. It’s very appeal to me lies in its simplicity.
Amanda and I have a large collection of “comfort movies” that we can turn to after a stressful day. Films like The Princess Bride or Buckaroo Banzai that we can put on any time and watch again and again. So simple and familiar are the plot and characters of Pacific Rim that I felt as though it was a comfort movie on my very first viewing. All these people are so instantly familiar. The hard-nosed military commander with a heart. The capable but insecure co-pilot with a mysterious past. The head-strong young pilot who fights with the protagonist but will come to depend on him. Even the characters themselves at times seem to know exactly how the world they inhabit works, as when the disillusioned pilot who is Earth’s last hope flat out asks his commander why he is not paired with the candidate that is CLEARLY most qualified.
Even on that first viewing this movie felt like coming home. It’s like Del Torro drifted into my mind and made a movie for that seven year old kid who used to try to use the force to move rocks on the playground. A riotous delightful celebration of everything that epitomizes cool and awesome. I mean. Giant monsters fighting giant robots. What more do you need?

July 13, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Clue

December 6, 2011

Clue

For the last daily movie viewing in our project we’ve saved a movie that is probably one of Amanda’s favorites of all time. Certainly there are few movies we know better or quote quite as often. Things like “Not that key – the key to the cupboard” are part of our daily lexicon for some reason. Amanda can pretty much quote the entire film verbatim. Indeed it reaches the point where she has trouble watching the movie without saying the lines along with the cast, which could be distracting if I didn’t know the movie just about as well.

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December 6, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Real Genius

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December 5, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Save the Last Dance

December 4, 2011

Save the Last Dance

We’re on the third to last movie in our daily movie project tonight. This is one that Amanda wanted to add to our collection – a movie she’s seen so many times on TV that she considers it a comfort film – but I’ve never watched it before tonight.

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December 4, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Seven Samurai

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December 2, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Young Frankenstein

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December 1, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fight Club

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November 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Where the Wild Things Are

November 29, 2011

Where the Wild Things Are

This movie is not technically one of our favorite comfort films, which I mentioned yesterday will make up the last week of our project. I’ve only actually seen it once before tonight, when I saw it in the theater. I was, however, astonished then by this peculiar masterpiece, and continue to be impressed by it today as we watch it again.

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November 29, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Shawshank Redemption

November 28, 2011

The Shawshank Redemption

As we approach the last week of our movie a day project Amanda and I have a few films that we have saved against a day when we needed a really good movie to lift our spirits. A last handful of comfort movies. The absolute favorites out of all the movies we have in our entire collection. So tonight we begin our greatest hits parade (with a couple exceptions in the coming week.)

This movie is a great way to start that last week. It is and exquisite, perfect, soulful and beautiful film. It’s a case where plot, script, casting and direction merge perfectly into something astonishing and unparalleled.

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November 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment