Avengers: Infinity War

Giant purple glove enthusiast Thanos (Josh Brolin) has a sad back story. His people, the Titans of Titan (which isn’t confusing at all, couldn’t it at least have been the Titons of Titan, or the Titaniums of Titan, or the Titans of Titanic? All viable options) were ravaged by over-population and over-use of natural resources, leaving their home world in ruins. Thanos had proposed an option to prior to this, which would have meant randomly killing half of Titan’s entire population, which was understandably vetoed. Now, in the wake of Titan’s ruin, Thanos has seen the opportunity to enact his plan on a much grander scale, wiping out half of all known life in existence, for which he will need the golden infinity gauntlet and six infinity stones scattered across the galaxy. It’s up to Earth’s mightiest heroes – and a few from some other places too – to try and stop Thanos before it’s too late.
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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is an introverted guy who has difficulty making eye contact with people, let alone asking them out. One Valentine’s Day, on a random impulse, he ditches work and heads to the beach in Montauk, where he keeps seeing a girl in a bright orange sweatshirt with even brighter blue hair. Her name is Clementine (Kate Winslet) and, despite their vastly contrasting personalities, they spend the day together, and the next. Alas, all is not great in their world, however, and sadly their relationship ends when, on another impulse, Clementine decides to erase Joel from her memory using a little known company who specialises in a very concentrated form of brain damage. Joel opts to undergo the same procedure, but it doesn’t quite go as planned when he decides mid-operation that he might have made the wrong decision.
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All the King’s Men

In 1950s Louisiana, door-to-door brush salesman and parish treasurer Willie Stark (Sean Penn) runs for Governor, under the eye of local politician Duffy (James Gandolfini). A local reporter (Jude Law) takes a personal interest in him, and ends up working for/with Stark, much to the disapproval of his stepfather (Anthony Hopkins) and his childhood companions (Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo).
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The Brothers Bloom

There is one benefit to my passing out during Looper last weekend, I’ve now managed to see director Rian Johnson’s second feature before seeing all of his third. It’s streaming on LoveFilm at the moment, so if you’re a member, go forth and watch it now, post haste. All being well, I’ll be seeing Looper before this time next week, and next Sunday should see my review.

The Brothers Bloom seems on the surface to be far more straightforward than the high-school-noir Brick and time-travel-brain-twister Looper, but in reality its just as subversive as those two. Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody are brothers Stephen and Bloom, two con men who have been running scams since their early teens. Stephen (Ruffalo) is the brains of the outfit, and Bloom (Brody) always takes the leading role in the con. Roughly twenty five years after their first con, Bloom wants to quit, but Stephen ropes him in to one last job, conning Rachel Weisz’s ludicrously wealthy yet decidedly eccentric heiress Penelope from some money she’d probably never miss. Along with their near-mute accomplice Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), the brothers set out to dupe Penelope from her riches, but who exactly is the victim in this game?
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Avengers Assemble

Ugh, typing that name made me feel so dirty. Avengers Assemble. Ugh. There was nothing wrong with just The Avengers, no-one was going to go in expecting umbrellas, bowler hats and catsuits, and even if they had been, they’d have got something better anyway. Plus, ‘Assemble’ is possibly the least exciting word to ever appear in a movie title since The Adjustment Bureau.
Now chances are this isn’t the first Avengers review you’ve read, hell chances are this isn’t even the first Avengers review you’ve read that starts off by telling you it’s not the first Avengers review you’ve read, seeing as this is one of those movies (let’s not kid ourselves by calling it a film, this is for entertainment purposes only) seemingly designed to be discussed at length on the Internet. We’ve sat through 4 years of 5 prequels, and for literally years the Internet has been lying in wait to rip apart this inevitable car crash of a movie. Which makes it something of a surprise that not only is it not bad, it’s bloody good.
No-one saw this coming. They said it couldn’t be done. I agreed. The last few Avengers prequels hadn’t been great, especially Iron Man 2 and Captain America (I don’t know what everyone has against Thor, I thought Kenneth Branagh did a good job with a lesser-known character) and I firmly believed that throwing six superheroes at one another in the same film was going to look like something Hulk had sat on. The only things it had going for it were a stellar cast and a solid director in Joss Whedon, of whom I’m unashamedly a fanboy (other than I’ve never seen an episode of Buffy or Angel). Whedon is known for handling rambling, ensemble casts (Firefly) and has always managed to balance action with snappy dialogue, drama with romance and a hefty dollop of comedy, but I didn’t think there was a great enough female presence here to draw his attention, with Black Widow as the only main girl. So, going in, my hopes were high but my expectations primed for mediocrity, so it’s a pleasure to say that I honestly can’t think of many ways the film could have been handled better.
Essentially, this is an origin movie. What’s unusual is that most of the main characters have already had at least one movie of their own, mostly origin stories, so what we have here is the beginnings of a culmination of pre-established characters. You don’t necessarily need to have seen all of the other films before watching this one, but I think it’d help, as the plot is partially set-up within Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America, in terms of the basis of the Avengers, the bad guy and the maguffin. I saw this with my girlfriend, who hadn’t seen Thor but had all the rest, and she didn’t need much explaining to her other than that Thor’s devious brother Loki isn’t played by Michael Fassbender, but is instead the brilliant Tom Hiddleston, who performs ably as the primarily sole lead bad guy against an entire team of heroes.
It would have been very easy, and very foolish, to have made this Iron Man & Co, seeing as Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is undoubtedly the most enigmatic and entertaining character on screen, yet wisely Whedon scaled down the potential for the Stark Show into giving him just as much time on screen as everyone else. There is no lead character here, everyone gets their moments, no-one is our entry point into the team and there appears to be no jostling for the limelight. In fact, the first people we meet are the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill and the ever dependable Clark Gregg’s Coulson (“Phil? His first name is Agent.”). These guys, along with existing Avengers members Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) then set about recruiting the rest of the team from across the world (and a little bit further, in Thor’s case).
Once recruited, the plot revolves around a Transformers-esque power cube known as the Tesseract that Loki has obtained, and intends to use to rule the Earth. Yadda-yadda-ya, it’s not all that important, and isn’t what you’re here to see. No, we’re here to watch some superheroes fight, bicker, argue and smash. I’ve heard arguments that there isn’t quite enough action in this 142-minute movie to satisfy, but I found the dialogue scenes to be just as entertaining. As expected, the superheroes, all previously alphas in their own movies, don’t initially gel together all that easily, and Iron Man keeps the insults flying at his comrades (Thor is referred to as “Shakespeare in the park,” Captain America is ribbed for being an old man). It’s clear this isn’t just friendly banter.
When the action scenes do come along, including one mid-way through worthy of any summer tentpole finale, they will have you marvelling at everything. And the actual finale, involving a mass brawl around New York City, features an incredible tracking shot that finds all the Avengers showing off the only way they know how, that I can only fault by being not long enough. Granted, with such a large cast there are occasional incidents of characters appearing to be forgotten or sidelined temporarily whilst the others are front and centre, but this isn’t too noticeable at the time, and doesn’t distract from the action.
Unlike his previous films, here the Hulk is neither under nor overused, and is easily one of the best aspects of the movie. Mark Ruffalo, taking the giant green reins from Edward Norton, delivers possibly the greatest Hulk yet, portraying Dr. Bruce Banner as an amiable everyman only too aware of the situation he’s in. He’s rewarded with some of the best, and funniest moments from the film, not least his one-on-one meeting with Loki.
Whedon seems unable to let a few trademarks go, though discussing them could be delving a little too deep into spoiler territory, but look out for a couple of cameos from his other projects, as well as appearances from Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany and Stellan Skarsgard all reprising roles from the prequels. Natalie Portman, however, is conspicuous only by her absence. Bizarrely, the likes of Powers Boothe, Harry Dean Stanton and Jenny Agutter also crop up in tiny roles.
Some moments seem entirely shot for trailers, and I was a bit annoyed that my knowledge of Marvel’s upcoming slate and a couple of shots from the trailers ensured that some of the would-be tense moments were obviously going to be resolved (albeit awesomely), but that’s my fault for watching trailers. There is a scene to wait for after the credits, but unless you’re a fan of the comic books there’s really no point, as I had no idea what the scene was about when it appeared until I delved around the web once home. All-in-all, I’ve very little to fault about the film, other than the incessant use of ass-level shots as characters walks away from the camera. I’m genuinely tempted to go and watch it again at the cinema, something to this day I’ve never done before, and I’m not the least bit annoyed that talks are already being made about an Avengers sequel.
Choose film 9/10

Collateral

Michael Mann takes a break from shootouts and dogged cops hunting master criminals in favour of a more laidback, narrative-driven movie about Jamie Foxx’s ambitious yet stunted taxi driver Max carries his fares around the neon-lit streets of L.A. That is, until he picks up Tom Cruise’s hitman Vincent, and Max’s night, and his dreams, are thrown into turmoil as the body count rises.
Cruise seems like an odd choice to play a fairly villainous guys, but he proves spot-on, retaining his usual casual charm but with a steely glint and wolfish menace to go with his salt and pepper hair, leaving Foxx to submit lie in his shadow.
The script relies too much on luck and coincidence, and leaves some pretty gaping plot holes you could drive a cab through, plus those paying attention should see that there’s really only one way the film can end, with a last act twist clearly signposted in seemingly throwaway lines. The writer even resorts to a low cell phone signal and battery as a means of moving the plot along; generally the laziest idea anyone could use.
The film evokes memories of much better films – Leon’s hitman, Taxi Driver, The French Connection’s subway stand-off, every buddy movie ever made – reminding you that there’s little original here. So whilst it’s watchable, it’s by no means worthy of a place on the list, and was wisely cut from the 1001 book some years ago.
Choose life 5/10

Zodiac

Amidst the 4th of July celebrations in California in 1969, two young romantics drive out to a secluded spot the locals refer to as Lover’s Lane. The mood is of anticipation; anything could happen as the other kids drive away, our lovestruck pair left alone. There’s a spark of romance, playful glances, touches, the gentle ribbing of one another as they become closer. And then they’re shot in cold blood and left for dead with no word of explanation by an unseen killer. This murder, along with the many that follow it, dramatically changes the lives of many people, but our focus here is a select three; Mark Ruffalo’s cop, Robert Downey Jr’s journalist and Jake Gyllenhall’s cartoonist, as they each set out to catch the killer. Their motives are different – Ruffalo’s David Toschi wants justice, RDJ’s Paul Avery is out to further his career and Gyllenhall’s Robert Graysmith is obsessed with the puzzles the killer sends to the local papers, but all three will suffer in terms of careers, personal lives and sanity at the hands of this killer.
Based on the real life Zodiac killer (the influence of the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry, here namechecked when Toschi can’t sit through a showing), the case remained unsolved when the lead suspect died some years ago, and it’s this sense of inconclusiveness that runs throughout the film – you know there will not be a satisfactory ending. Plaudits should be laden for the realism of the film – not since All the President’s Men has so much paperwork been completed – but unfortunately the dreary, depressing side of catching a killer rubs begins to rub off onto the film during its overlong running time. Director David Fincher (Benjamin Button, Seven) is usually so adept at keeping interest, even when Morgan Freeman went to a library, but here not even a cast including Elias Koteas, Philip Baker Hall, Brian Cox, Anthony Edwards, John Carroll Lynch, Adam Goldberg and Clea Duvall can raise this above tedium. There’s a good film in here somewhere, and a good edit could bring it out. More Downey Jr. and Brian Cox couldn’t hurt though, they’re the best parts of the film and are criminally underused.

Choose life 7/10