Tag Archives: Thor: Ragnarok

“AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The beginning of the end.

We live in an age of gargantuan expectations. That’s why we’re able to accept a movie with 30 superheroes fighting in it when six years ago, it felt a bit much to have just six superheroes together on one screen. Well, if Marvel achieved nothing else with Avengers: Infinity War, they achieved the impossible. They made a superhero movie with a larger cast than any of the 18 films that came before it, and they pulled it off magnificently.

A sequel to (*takes deep breath*) Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther, (*breathes again*), Avengers: Infinity War follows the mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) on a quest to find the six Infinity Stones, magical gems imbued with supernatural power. The Avengers know the location of a few of the Infinity Stones. The Power Stone, for instance, was stored away on the planet Xandar in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, while the Space Stone is housed in the Tesseract, which was on Asgard when it was destroyed in Thor: Ragnarok. The Collector (Benecio Del Toro) has ownership of the Aether, a.k.a. the Reality Stone on Knowhere, while Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have the Time and Mind Stones respectively. If Thanos finds all six of the Infinity Stones first, he will use them to wipe out half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. Scattered and displaced, the Avengers must team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to find the Infinity Stones before Thanos does and put a stop to his madness.

The sheer size of Avengers: Infinity War is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness: a double-edged sword to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When this franchise started 10 years ago with the release of Iron Man, its world was relatively focused and self-contained, keeping it small with just a handful of names featured in each individual movie. Now, they’ve straight-up exploded into pure comic-book madness. Previous MCU movies typically did not have a billed cast that went significantly beyond 10 actors. Even Captain America: Civil War, the biggest MCU film before Infinity War, was pushing it at a 18-member cast. Infinity War blows that away with 35 actors.

With that large of a cast, there’s plenty of action to show off, and there’s plenty of spotlight to share amongst all of the stars here. Whether Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Doctor Strange are fighting Thanos’ minions in New York, or an elderly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is rescuing an injured Vision, or Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is meeting the Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time, there’s plenty of memorable moments to pick out from the film to make you grin from ear-to-ear. It’s almost like a cinematic wheel-of-fortune for the movie theater: spin the wheel, and see what special prize you win at random.

This both works and backfires for the film’s available cast. On one hand, the fact that there’s so many amazing moments to pick from really brings a plethora of joy and thrills into the movie theater, making for some outstanding blockbuster entertainment. But with this large of a cast and this ambitious of a scope, that also brings in a key problem: it’s too easily distracted. Since the movie is basically one overstuffed comic-book Easter Egg lined up one after the other, there’s no real room for anyone to have their individual moment to shine, and as this is the case, our heroes are forced to share the frame with everyone else packed into the screen with them. With the original Avengers, you could pinpoint one key moment where each Avenger outshined the rest, whether Tony was threatening Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in his penthouse, Captain America was issuing out orders to the team, or Hulk was smashing Puny God’s brains in. You could not pinpoint one such moment in Infinity War, because there are no individual moments. Everyone is fighting everyone for everyone, and it’s very easy to get lost with all of the spectacle going on at once.

I did enjoy Josh Brolin quite a bit as Thanos. In a franchise where the villains have consistently been the weaker aspect of these superhero movies, Marvel has finally pushed out not one, but two fantastic villains in the same year: Erik Killmonger in Black Panther and Thanos in Infinity War. They’re very interesting for very similar reasons. One, their performances are on-point, and the actors fully commit themselves to the complexities and absurdities of their roles. Two, they are given very compelling reasons for their villainy, and you sympathize with them not because of their moral compass, but because of their life experiences that drove them to make the decisions that they did.

Killmonger, for instance, wanted to start a race war to compensate for years of suffering the African-American people have had to endure at the hands of the white majority. Thanos, while not race-driven, has an equally motivated reason for seeking universal genocide: he’s trying to save the universe. In one particular scene, he explains his violent reasoning to a hesitant listener, and he makes his position clear. This universe’s space is finite, its resources finite. And its population is growing too big to sustain itself. Comparing it to one memory where he wiped out half of one planet’s population, he pointed out that the children were starving and dying on that planet before he came. Now, their bellies are full and they are healthy and happy. In the perspective of population control and prolonging extinction, Thanos makes the hard decision to cut down on what he sees as the fat to extend life in the universe. His commitment to his mission makes him a very compelling villain to watch, even though you don’t enjoy the cruelty and violence that he brings with him.

I do think some of the material is too disturbing for some younger viewers. I myself even struggled to watch some of the movie’s harsher, more vindictive moments. Still, Avengers: Infinity War is ambitious and daring in its art, even if it is equally devastating in the same sentence. These movies used to represent something more lighthearted about superheroes; a greater ideology to be the bigger, better person and to help other people achieve the same thing. Now it’s about facing harsh conclusions and realities, and I’m not sure if I enjoy it quite as much.

When Thanos set out for his galactic conquest, he did so believing in one thing: that he could save the universe by wiping out half of it. We already know that his crusade is monstrous and horrifying. The scary part is not knowing whether he’s wrong.

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Top 10 Films of 2017

2017, you suck. From the bottom of my barely-beating black heart, you suck.

You have done nothing this year to give anyone recompense for the misery you put them through the year before, nor have you restored anyone’s already-lack-of-faith in humanity. The hurricanes that ravaged Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. The wildfires burning California to a crisp. The mass shootings from Sutherland Springs all the way to the Las Vegas strip. North Korea’s Nuclear-powered temper tantrums with the United States. The rise of the white supremacist snowflakes. All of the sexual assault scandals ranging from Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore. Not to mention the retweeter-in-chief sitting in the oval office right now.

I thought 2016 was bad. 2017 was so horribly deformed that Father Time looked down at it next to all of his yearly children, broke down weeping, and cried out “What have I done?!”. Thank God the movie theater was here to give us some relief from this year’s misery and nonsense.

A few housekeeping items before we get into this year’s top 10. First of all, as a general disclaimer, this list only includes movies that I have seen in 2017. I realize that movies such as The Shape of Water and Lady Bird may very well deserve to be on this list. However, I have not seen those movies, and I am not going to give unearned praise to movies that I have not reviewed on my own.

Second, this is a list of my personal favorite films from 2017. As this is the case, there are going to be absentees from this list that you’re going to be frustrated by. I know you thought Split and Dunkirk were the greatest films of the century and won’t survive unless you lick the film stock every two seconds, but I’m afraid to tell you that both of those movies sucked. A lot of films from the year have had a lot less to work with, yet have done a lot more with their material. They’re the ones that are going to be recognized on this list; not Mr. and Mrs. Oscar bait.

Speaking of having less to work with, let’s recognize this year’s special prize selection before we get into my top 10. Every year, I select one limited release film that did not get as much attention as many wide releases did, and yet achieved more thematically despite their smaller viewership. This year, my special prize goes to…

Special Prize: Your Name

SOURCE: Toho

A beautifully animated and emotionally poignant portrayal of love, joy, heartbreak, soul-searching, and the human connection that all of us share. Makoto Shinkai’s phenomenal animated film tells the story of Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi), two Japanese teenagers who switch bodies every week against their will. This exploration of perspective and identity is integral in learning these character’s relationships, and as their soul intertwine, we come to learn and care more about these characters and their plights. And the animation is colorful, vibrant, and gorgeous, transforming seemingly simplistic sights into breathtakingly extraordinary ones. There have been many incredible animated films released this year, including Coco and Loving Vincent. Yet none are as inventive and captivating as Your Name is.

Now enough with the formalities. Let’s get into the only 10 good things to come out of 2017, starting with:


10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The most recent film in the Star Wars saga, a film about our heroes letting us down, our expectations not being met, and our resolutions failing to be reached. When Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally comes face-to-face with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she seeks his guidance in training her to become a Jedi and help save her friends from the tyranny of the First Order. The visual effects and the action are nothing short of gorgeous, with the X-Wings, TIE Fighters, lightsabers, droids, and creatures across the galaxy reaching out to you and placing you vividly in the moment of any scene. Frontrunners Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill shine in the film’s key roles, with Hamill specifically reprising Luke in a grimmer, more mournful façade. A great addition to the Star Wars saga, but one that nonetheless challenges your identity as a fan of the series. The Last Jedi will definitely be a heavily-talked about conversation topic for Star Wars fans for years to come. Three and a half stars.

9. Baby Driver

SOURCE: TriStar PicturesA sleek, stylish, and electric action-drama booming with nostalgia, in-cheek humor, and a hot-blooded soundtrack to boot. When a getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) decides he wants to get out of the criminal life, he has to go through his boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) and assassins Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Bats (Jamie Foxx) to save his girlfriend Debora (Lily James) and hit the road running. Elgort is a powerhouse in the lead, portraying a conflicted young man guided by a moral compass in a place where it points nowhere. The action and comedy blend together perfectly, with writer-director Edgar Wright framing the film as a homage to classic 1980’s espionage films. And the soundtrack is infectious in its appeal, with featured artists such as The Beach Boys, Queen, and Simon and Garfunkel here to keep your feet tapping. The year’s biggest surprise hit. Three and a half stars.

8. Logan

SOURCE: 20th Century FoxHugh Jackman’s last outing in a role that he has served well for more than 17 years, a finale that is equal parts violent, action-packed, emotional, heartbreaking, and powerful. When Logan (Jackman) is approached by a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keene) asking for his help, he teams up one last time with his mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) to save Laura from the men that are after her. Refusing to shy away from the bloody, hard-R violence that made Deadpool a mainstay, Logan is the most emotional, the most vivid, and the most grounded story told in Wolverine’s saga. Instead of the action and the visual effects, writer-director James Mangold chooses to focus on something more practical to Wolverine: his humanity. Like The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2, Logan relates to us on a more human level as opposed to a fantastical one, and the characters deal with real struggles as human beings, not as superheroes. Jackman and Stewart also give the most defined performances of their careers, playing their characters in their most vulnerable, broken appearance to date. Time will remember Wolverine for the hero. I will remember Logan for the man. Three and a half stars.

7. Get Out

SOURCE: Universal PicturesA strange, surreal, and deeply unusual horror film, but also immediately relevant to its intended audience. When an interracial couple goes to visit the girlfriend’s parents for a weekend getaway, they discover that her parents aren’t all that they seem: and neither are their neighbors. “Key & Peele” co-creator Jordan Peele comes forward here in his directing debut as a masterful storyteller, deconstructing and elaborating on white privilege and the devastating effects it can have on individual lives. Daniel Kaluuya and Lil Rel Howery respectively delivers the films most climactic and comedic moments, with Kaluuya particularly impressive in portraying a character that is confused, scared, and victimized in a situation where no one is coming to help him. Get Out is one of the most creative, compelling, riveting, and darkly humorous films I’ve seen in years. It works across the board as horror, comedy, drama, or satire. Take your pick. Three and a half stars.

6. Thor: Ragnarok

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion PicturesMarvel’s standout of the year, a movie that has absolutely no business being this good or memorable. When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) starts getting visions of Ragnarok, the prophesied destruction of Asgard, he has to team up with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to stop Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) from destroying Asgard. Packing five different genres into one unorthodox mess of perfection, Thor: Ragnarok is a funny comedy, a thrilling action movie, an exciting adventure, a heartfelt drama, and a groundbreaking superhero epic all at once. The comedy hits exactly the right notes with the right lines. The drama, while at times a little too brisk, strikes with the emotional chord that it needs to. The action scenes are thrilling. The visual effects, mesmerizing. The music, synthesized and catchy. Even the Easter Eggs are infectious in their appeal. I haven’t had this much fun in a superhero movie since The Avengers in 2012. Yes, I’m comparing Thor: Ragnarok to The Avengers. Don’t knock it until you try it. Four stars.

5. It

SOURCE: Warner Bros. PicturesA terrifying and insightful personification of fear made possible by the brilliantly mad mind of Stephen King. When a group of kids discover an omniscient being disguised as a clown haunting their hometown, the children decide to team up and put an end to it’s villainy once and for all. The cast takes center-stage in a horror film fueled by complex emotions and ideas, with Bill Skarsgard perfectly embodying the madness and bloodlust that the iconic character Pennywise the dancing clown would possess. Director Andy Muschietti also smartly compares and juxtaposes human nature with that of a predator’s nature, asking us if these two concepts can exist in the same society. It is visually dynamic and haunting, with the makeup and costuming on Skarsgard being among the best work I’ve seen in years. A thoughtful, captivating, and intensifying look into the psychology of fear and how it affects our flawed perceptions of life. Four stars.

4. Detroit

SOURCE: Annapurna PicturesA cruel, horrifying, and maddening fact-based account of one of the most egregious cases of police brutality in American history. During the 12th Street Detroit riots of 1967, a team of rogue cops infiltrate their way through the Algier’s Motel and pin the inhabitants against the wall, demanding to know if they’re hiding any weapons inside the building. As the hours pass, the teenagers soon realize that this is not a run-of-the-mill police checkup, but instead a fight for survival between themselves and the men who are supposed to be upholding the law. Thoroughly researched and accurately dramatized from the Academy Award-winning team of screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit is one of the most riveting and essential pieces of cinema you can watch this decade. The details of this real-life account are haunting and tragic, and the cast equally commits to recreating this monstrous night with passionate urgency. Newcomer Algee Smith especially shines as a troubled R&B musician, a terrified kid caught in this confusion of racial prejudice and hatred that permanently damages him for the rest of his life. Don’t turn away from Detroit. Watch and be horrified by our nation’s history. Four stars.

3. Wonder Woman

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

A blessing to both cinema and gender equality, a film that propels its female protagonist as not only just as capable as the men around her, but in many scenes is better suited for more difficult tasks. Gal Gadot reprises her role as Diana Prince, an Amazonian born on the hidden island of Themyscira where her and her Amazonian sisters reside. When Ares the God of War makes his return to wreck havok on the planet, Diana suits up in Themyscira’s sacred armor, lasso, shield, and sword and sets out to defeat Ares and save the world. The action is fast-paced and enthralling, with Wonder Woman charging through German soldiers and toppling over buildings like the aftermath of a Superman battle. Yet, the softer moments leading up to the action is what captures us the most, with Diana finding her place in a constantly shifting world ruled by male conflict and ego. Gadot remains emotionally persistent throughout the picture, while director Patty Jenkins handles both visually spectacular scenes and emotionally grounded moments with a surprising amount of finesse. In a day and age filled with cold, bleak, heartless blockbusters, Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air we all desperately needed. Four stars.

2. The Big Sick

SOURCE:

One of the most pure, honest, and heartfelt experiences you can have at the cinema this decade. Telling the story of how comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his future wife Emily (Portrayed by Zoe Kazan), The Big Sick shows their love story starting off in a comedy club, to a hospital wait room, to New York as this magical film shows us how love transcends all cultural barriers. Nanjiani is an open book here as a writer and as an artist, telling a part of his life story with the sincerity and honesty needed to make it work. He spits out clever one-liners like they’re coming out of a comedy machine, yet he also embodies the emotional turmoil needed to make his story tragically believable, not just entertaining. Director Michael Showalter directs the entire cast impeccably here, making every scene feel genuine and down-to-Earth. If The Big Sick feels real, that’s because it is. Four stars.

1. War for the Planet of the Apes

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

An epic and emotional conclusion to this prequel trilogy that functions as a summer blockbuster, a war drama, and a somber tragedy all at once. When the apes’ forest home is raided and the apes are left broken and displaced, their leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) sets out on a journey for vengeance against the humans who took the lives of his primate brethren and end this insufferable war. Featuring a masterful performance by the motion-capture king Andy Serkis himself, War for the Planet of the Apes is an intimate, intense personal drama disguised as an action blockbuster, equal parts powerful, emotional, and morally conflicting. Writer-director Matt Reeves pulls inspiration from all of the greatest war classics in this inspired, original take on the Planet of the Apes franchise, throwing his characters through compelling, thought-provoking scenarios as opposed to mindlessly action-packed ones. The visual effects are also at their best in the series, not only accurately animating the apes’ physical characteristics and mannerisms, but also their facial expressions and emotional reactions. The best Planet of the Apes movie out of the series by far, and my pick for film of the year. Four stars.


That’s all for this list, folks. Thank you for spending part of the new year with me and my favorite films from 2017. Tune in next year for when I rate the top 10 nuclear missiles that Kim Jong-Un will inevitably fire at us.

– David Dunn

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“THOR: RAGNAROK” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

We will, we will Ragnarok you.

Just when you thought Marvel had used all the tricks up their sleeve, they release Thor: Ragnarok, a movie that has absolutely no business being this good or memorable. Here is a picture which, by every metric, should have failed. It’s a Thor movie first of all, and it features the one Avenger so dull that a cardboard mannequin with a blonde wig is more interesting than him. His co-star is the Hulk, and that meshing of fantasy and sci-fi genres makes about as much sense as putting Harry Potter in a Batman movie. It’s the third part of a trilogy, which usually ends up being the worst in the series (See Spider-Man 3, X-Men: Apocalypse). On top of that, this film is a retro-comedy aiming for the style akin to Guardians of the Galaxy. How on Asgard could Marvel have pulled this off? Spectacularly, that’s how.

A sequel to both Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok follows our golden-haired hero Thor (Chris Hemsworth) propelled through the universe as he tries to prevent Ragnarok, the prophesized destruction of Asgard. He goes to Muspelheim to capture the fire demon Sultur (Clancy Brown), Midgard to find his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the Sanctum Sanctorum to meet Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Sakaar to fight the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Asgard to face Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett). I’m telling you, this guy gets around. If he traveled anymore in the movie, he’d have to throw away his hammer and resort to montages for faster travel.

Here is a movie that, for the life of me, I don’t understand how it works. This film packs five different genres into one narrative, and that usually spells doom for any movie that tries to do that. Not here. Thor: Ragnarok is a funny comedy, a thrilling action movie, an exciting adventure, a heartfelt drama, and a groundbreaking superhero epic that hits every single note that it needs to. A movie this busy should not feel this simple, yet it flows and moves effortlessly, like how one stretches and plays with silly putty.

Where do I even start? The film’s director Taika Waititi executes his film chaotically yet masterfully, filling his characters with vibrant personalities and throwing them through action scenes resemblant of a little kid playing with his action figures. My main complaint with superhero movies (and really most action blockbusters in general) is that studios focus so much on the action and visual effects that they forget that character and personality is the driving force behind the successes of most major film franchises. For example, would the visual feats in Superman and Star Wars have felt as incredible if Clark Kent or Luke Skywalker weren’t as likeable of heroes to begin with?

Thor: Ragnarok takes cues from both of those movies as it emboldens its characters with electric personalities, playing off of their charisma and creating witty, comedic dialogue between each other. Chris Hemsworth continues to play the fratty, oblivious oaf in Thor as he always has, but here he does it with a self-awareness that makes him funny enough to pass it off as likeable. Ruffalo steals the spotlight in a mostly Hulk-dominated performance, yet rounds him out with a subtle arc that possesses its own somberness and tragedy within it. And Blanchett surprisingly offers up a menacing and diabolical performance in a franchise that is usually lacking in the villain presence, even though her motivations for fighting Thor are kind of weak in the film.

Everything else from the film is unorthodox perfection. Seriously. I haven’t seen anything like it. The comedy hits exactly the right notes with the right lines. The drama, while at times a little too brisk, strikes with the emotional chord that it needs to. The action scenes are thrilling. The visual effects, mesmerizing. The music, synthesized and catchy. Even the Easter Eggs are infectious in their appeal, with one cameo involving Tom Hiddleston’s Loki making me laugh so hard that my surrounding audience members started to look worried for me.

If I had any weakness to offer, it would be that the film’s tone is jarring compared to previous entries, with the series doing a complete 180 in genre from a Norse fantasy epic to an action-comedy so in-cheek that the “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” troupe would wonder where their invite was. But to that I say screw consistency, this is a fantastic movie; one that flips one of Marvel’s most boring characters and somehow makes him the most interesting. Maybe I would be irritated by the change in aesthetic if they did this with Iron Man or Captain America, but that’s only because those characters already have an interesting arc and personality to them. Thor is more of a blank slate, and in realizing this, Waititi pulls out his paint cans and floods the screen with as much color and life as he can.

I haven’t had this much fun in a superhero movie since The Avengers in 2012. Yes, I’m comparing Thor: Ragnarok to The Avengers. Don’t knock it until you try it. While it doesn’t confront real-world issues and moral dilemmas like Iron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Civil War does, Thor: Ragnarok more than makes up for it with its stylish action, colorful visuals, brilliant self-awareness, and gut-busting humor so hilarious that it’s difficult not to pee your pants from laughing so much. This is a movie where Deadpool could appear in randomly halfway through the picture and it would still make complete sense.

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