Category Archives: 2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Avengers: Endgame had the ending I was hoping for, but maybe not necessarily the right ending for the movie. And it’s only got one. If Endgame has any singular successes, it might be in its lack of false endings. It does a lot of establishing work, sometimes new to the film, sometimes refreshing it from previous Marvel movies. Endgame is the twenty-second “Marvel Cinematic Universe” movie; you probably can get away with watching thirteen of them and getting the story. And maybe not all the ones you’d expect. And not always for the best narrative reasons, not given where it takes some of its characters.

The film opens catching up with Jeremy Renner. Even before the company logo. He missed the last outing because of something in another one of the movies. Not one of the Avengers movies either. Anyway. Renner, despite being really effective in the first scene, is a red herring. He’s there immediately for texture and structurally for when he comes back later on. Because first things first, after all. Given the way the previous movie (Infinity War) ends, there’s some anticipation. There’s some big action in the prologue too, some big team-ups, some nice moments. But it’s really an epilogue to the previous film. In fact, there’s even a cliffhanger moment they could’ve used to split them. Only no, because then the movie jumps ahead an arbitrary amount of time. Arbitrary in how it effects the narrative, but so specific you’ve got to think there’s some reason. Maybe for the twenty-third Marvel movie. Or the thirty-third.

The movie uses the jump ahead to allow for a new ground situation. Sometimes it’s drastic, sometimes it’s not. Even when it’s a theoretically big change, it doesn’t necessarily do much to change how the character functions in the film. Maybe it gives them some angst or whatever, but everyone’s got angst after the last movie. It only affects behaviors in a few. The rest… well, they’re a little thin. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do an amazing job writing good scenes for the actors, but not good subplots for most of them. There are some disconnects between script and direction here, particularly with Chris Hemsworth. Markus and McFeely’s script gives him a lot of possibility and directors Russo have zero interest in pursuing it. Shame thing goes for Mark Ruffalo. He gets more to do than ever before, but never any good scenes to himself. Renner and Scarlett Johansson end up somewhere in between. They’ve got material, they get time for it… it still comes off a little too perfunctory.

In theory, Endgame’s two leads are Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. Downey gets the most to do in the film and it’s a fantastic performance. It’s his movie, as much as it can be any actor’s movie. Meanwhile, the script doesn’t give Evans quite enough to do, even though it frequently has him around things to do. Markus and McFeely actually don’t give Evans an arc for the film. Him, first tier guest stars Brie Larson and Don Cheadle, Ruffalo, no actual character arcs. It’d be disappointing if it weren’t a movie about a bunch of superheroes time traveling to save the world.

The time travel goes back into the other movies, but doesn’t get too nostalgic about them. It’s nice Endgame can get traction out of the three locations, as they’re locations because of narrative detail not dramatic potential. There are a couple good action sequences in one of them, some wasted material for Hemsworth, some wasteful material Downey makes into gold, some old footage reused then CGI’ed to get another “name” guest star in the end credits, a major plot development for third act repercussion, and a too flat melodramatic moment. And a bunch of good acting, good directing, excellent CGI, and whatever else.

Endgame couldn’t get better, technically speaking. Everything directors Russo need to do, every shot, it all works. There’s a lot to keep moving. It gets kind of monotonous after a while, as the film’s ambitions are all about getting its story told, getting all its connections made, all its references echoed, all its characters in the right place for when the actors’ contracts run out. There’s no time to make wide filmmaking swings, but directors Russo don’t even seem interested in trying. They’re more than happy to leverage an old movie beat to get the job done.

Especially if it’s at Hemsworth’s expense. Especially Hemsworth’s.

There aren’t any bad performances. Downey’s the ace. Then Evans or Paul Rudd. Rudd’s better than anyone but Downey when he’s getting introduced; he’s momentarily the lead then he’s background. He ends up with even less to do than Renner. But Evans is in the whole movie. Ruffalo’s fine. There’s nothing for him to do. Hemsworth seems more than capable so it’s weird how little he gets to do. He’s fine. Johansson’d be better if she didn’t end up losing her arc once Renner’s back. There’s a moment where it seems like she’s going to give a really good performance. Instead, she’s fine. Good in comparison to others, when adjusting for all the film’s factors. Cheadle’s good with his stuff, which is mostly background noise. Karen Gillan gets a big arc, at least in terms of narrative importance, but loses it. She’s okay.

Gwyneth Paltrow is back for a bit. She’s good. It’s not a lot. But she and Downey get their magic going as needed.

Bradley Cooper’s great as the CGI raccoon’s voice.

As for Josh Brolin, whose villain was the whole show in the previous Infinity War? The CGI, motion-captured mean blue giant thing still works and Brolin’s fine, but… he’s got a thin part this time out. Technically lots to do, all of it really thin.

Endgame succeeds in being a well-acted, well-made, and well-written (enough) conclusion to the “world-building” done by the previous twenty-one movies. It just might have been nice if it tried to do anything else. Anything at all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the Marvel comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Brie Larson (Carol Danvers), and Josh Brolin (Thanos).


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Michael vs. Jason: Evil Emerges (2019, Luke Pedder)

I make this statement with absolute sincerity: a Michael vs. Jason fan movie is a good idea. It doesn’t need actual acting, because neither of the slasher villains are going to be speaking or emoting. Their shapes and the filmmaking are going to do the work. You could do it on zero budget, you just need the masks.

And the Harry Manfredini Friday the 13th music.

Michael vs. Jason: Evil Emerges has some Friday the 13th music, carefully remixed just enough not to be infringing (I assume). They don’t use the Carpenter Halloween music at all because you figure they’d get sued. Good enough for Luc Besson, good enough for some Australian family who really wanted to make a Michael vs. Jason slugfest.

And it is, for a time, a glorious slugfest.

I wasn’t actually expecting one. Not like director Luke Pedder delivers, but for a while, it works really, really well. Stars Joshua Pedder and John Pedder give their all; it’s a wrestling match with some ultra violence. Not gore ultra violence because there’s no money for it, so instead just ultra violent sound effects and editing emphases. It’s cool. It’s kind of dumb, but it’s cool.

Then some Australian hicks show up and threaten the slasher movie villains with guns and bats. It’s all way too predictable and way too unimaginative. Because director Pedder doesn’t seem to get where the film’s strong, where he’s strong—the two villains duking it out.

See, Michael vs. Jason doesn’t just not have a sick mix of Manfredini and Carpenter’s music themes to go over the action, it doesn’t have a single night shot. It all takes place during the day. In this very distinct forest. In Australia. Or in New Jersey, but a New Jersey where the Australians have invaded and run things like a bunch of fascists. They’re killing Michael (John Pedder) without a trial or anything. Jason (Joshua Pedder) has already woken up because his mom told him to get out of bed and kill people.

Michael vs. Jason doesn’t open well. The mom voice is bad, the Jason mask is bad (not the hockey mask, but the full latex mask Joshua Pedder wears so no one could possibly recognize him in the other parts he plays in the short), then comes the Michael stuff and it’s all cribbed from H40, including the too big mask.

The seemingly unintentional charm of it—the actors all covered in one mask or another so they can Fake Shemp, the bad and wordy dialogue, the Australian accents—get it through until Michael inevitably breaks free of his captors. There’s an extended sequence where Michael’s chasing this kid in reflective sunglasses—he’s the boss, probably played by Christopher Goldup, who does the fan movie shot in a woods with no budget equivalent of scenery chewing—and it’s kind of… good. Pedder intuits how to use the reflective sunglasses for effect, even if they’re silly. The whole thing’s silly.

Then Jason shows up and the wrasslin’ starts and Michael vs. Jason coasts to the end. It never gets better than that first fight, where there’s a combination of good choreography, all-in performances from John and Joshua, and some nice cuts from director Luke. The finale has a fake thunderstorm and CGI gunshots. The thunderstorm filter isn’t impressive, but the CGI gunshots are cool until you notice they don’t leave any damage.

I can’t believe I’m getting 600 words out of this one.

Anyway. Michael vs. Jason has a good fight scene, some fine cuts, and the Australian charm factor to get it through its way too long thirty minute runtime. It’s not really a proof of concept, except one to show how director Pedder’s got one heck of a can-do attitude. You’d have to be mildly interested in the concept or potential to be engaged, but Michael vs. Jason is far from a failure. It’s just very hard to recommend. Especially at the thirty minute runtime.

It’d probably work better as just the slasher rumble.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Luke Pedder; screenplay by Pedder, based on characters created by John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Victor Miller; released on YouTube.

Starring John Pedder (Michael Myers) and Joshua Pedder (Jason Voorhees); fake shemps: Christopher Goldup, Michael Holmes, Jaxon Green.


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Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy (2019, Tim Mahoney)

When I decided to write about Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy, it was because I wanted to make the wee dick move of putting it in Stop Button’s rarely used “Cult” category.

Thought it’d be funny.

Controversy, which never suggests it’ll be anything but writer-director-star Mahoney setting up a flimsy straw man and knocking over while making fun of mainstream scholars and, eventually, Israeli women–Controversy suggests I need a new category for “Bullshit.” And I could get into why I saw Controversy, but eh. I could talk about the manipulative, condescending misinformation ads Mahoney’s partners run “before” the film, but after the theaters showing it cut down the lights on the Fathom Events stream. There’s a lot surrounding Moses Controversy, including the only real “controversy” and the one Mahoney doesn’t even acknowledge… you know, was there really a Moses. Because… probably not? Like, let’s be real.

After trying to identify all of Mahoney’s manipulations, I immediately understood why the “God Awful Movies” guys take notes. It’s hard to keep up with all the blithering nonsense. It’s an assault of it. And there’s a question about how much Mahoney is knowingly manipulating—the whole thing seems to boil down to his dad being a deadbeat and Mahoney wanting the Bible to be true so his superstar single parent mom wasn’t wrong about it. And not just kind of true. Literarily true. The Patterns of Evidence series starts with Exodus, now God Gave Us Alphabets (spoiler, sorry), meaning Mahoney will probably get to parting the Red Sea sometime in… 2040. He’s got a lot to get through. Especially the way he wastes two hours—plus the intermission—to come up with some fanfic about God creating the alphabet and giving it to Joseph so Moses could write the Torah to share with Jews and infect the world. It’s not even as cool as the androids spreading aliens in Alien 6. But, if you wanted to give Mahoney some benefit of doubt, maybe he just wants to acknowledge his mom’s accomplishments.

Might be nice if he acknowledged her actual accomplishments instead of her churchy-ness, but whatever. He might be coming from a good place.

Though, then there’s all the deceitful bullshit he does, like suggest Douglas Petrovich is some kind of art historian and not some Bible school truther. Mahoney doesn’t just do it to cover how his Bible guys don’t have any actual street cred, he also lies about Chris Naunton (Egyptologist for hire, think Indiana Jones if Indiana Jones ran a WordPress site with the ads turned on). Apparently meeting in a building means Mahoney’s interviewee should have that building’s organization mentioned on their credentials.

So it’s probably no surprise when he interviews Orly Goldwasser, the only woman interviewee, he doesn’t do it in her office but outside in Jerusalem. Where he can put subtitles up when she speaks English and then cuts her to appear like she’s a dismissive contrarian. One of the other fine Christians in the audience loudly referred to her as “Goldmonster” when she’d come on screen.

And it’s actually kind of strange, because before Mahoney does the whole “God gave me the ABCs” thing, he seems like he’s going to do “Why don’t you mainstream scholars think ancient Israelites could have come up with an alphabet, are you saving they’re not very smart.” Then cut to Mahoney digging on Goldwasser. Though she doesn’t get the brunt of the attacks. The film’s… ha. Wocka wocka—film. Okay, sure. The film’s two villains are retired professor William G. Dever (I’m actually shocked Mahoney didn’t dig on Dever’s Harvard Ph.D.) and actual sitting George Washington University professor Christopher Rollston. Rollston comes out okay in the end because apparently he does believe Moses was real and could read and write. But until that end, Mahoney takes him through the mud. Not as much as “agnostic but we all know he means atheist” Dever; it’s really mean too because of all the actual professors (well, except Goldwasser who seems to have no idea Mahoney’s going to diss her so bad in the final product), but of most of the professors—Rollston’s the nicest to Mahoney. Yes, the old retired guys like Dever do treat him a little bit like a dope. Because he looks like a dope sitting listening to them. Only, he might not actually be sitting listening to them because Mahoney fakes a lot of reaction shots throughout. He also looks into the camera and narrates, but the teleprompter app on the iPad he carries around the whole movie like he’s a serious interviewer keeps screwing up and he can’t find a rhythm. Or doesn’t know he should have a rhythm. Really, who knows. Who cares.

The heroes in the film are either from Liberty University or Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; neither school has any direct connection with the film. Oh, right. How did I forget.

Mahoney wears around Columbia Sportswear shirts the whole movie with the tags really visible, which is something to pull off because his cameraman often can’t figure out how focus works. On a digital camera. He must have been fiddling with it.

So, yeah, you could assign Mahoney some possible earnestness but then it turns out he’s making a big show out of wearing this brand… who aren’t official sponsors so… is he maybe getting shopping points on their website. I mean, there’s even a shirt with a tag on the back brand identifying. It’s something to see. Something you shouldn’t see, sure, but something to see.

Mahoney’s best pal in the movie is David Rohl (who can’t even bring himself to agree with Mahoney one hundred percent of the time). Rohl is the cool archeologist guy in Egypt or whatever. Where he’s an archeologist doesn’t matter because the only time he takes Mahoney into a cave to look at a relic it’s a CGI recreation. They don’t go to the actual historical site. Because it’s bullshit.

Rohl appears to be the one who came up with Mahoney and Patterns of Evidence’s idea of 1500 BCE Exodus or something. Earlier than real fake historians would’ve put it. So he agrees with Mahoney on the whole God created the alphabet thing and gave it to Joseph who gave it to Moses who Jesus said wrote about him (in that alphabet but, you know, not really) and so it’s all true. The Patterns Mahoney keeps talking about are either his immaterial questions or a linear timeline. He uses the term for both, but really, the timeline thing… it’s incredible. He’s just talking about cause and effect yet can’t seem to… think his way around the idea.

I’m trying to think of anything else before I stop subjecting us all to this response. I didn’t write down all the dog whistle phrases like mainstream but there are a couple other ones. There was one moment the audience laughed when Mahoney pulled one over on the smarties and I laughed too because Mahoney says they answered a question but didn’t actually ask it, just cut their responses the way he liked. Because it’s bullshit.

If I were going to start writing about this kind of crap, I would have to create that “Bullshit” category.

Okay, last thing. Mahoney and his lousy CGI team (you can forgive the million people in the desert who’d never be able to eat long enough to get to Mount Sinai unless they went Donner). They rip off the Raiders of the Lost Ark ark. Not well. But they try. And it’s crap.

Because of course it’s crap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Mahoney; released by Fathom Events.


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Captain Marvel (2019, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)

Captain Marvel is difficult to encapsulate. Its successes are many, some of its achievements truly singular (the CG-de-aging of Sam Jackson, combined with Jackson’s “youthful” performance, is spectacular), and there’s always something else. Even when you get past all the major things—first female Marvel superhero movie, franchise prequel, “period piece,” inverted character arcs, big plot twists—there’s something else you can find in the plotting or how directors Boden and Fleck stick with a joke. If they make a joke work, they don’t let up on it. Ever. They turn it into character development. Even when it ought to be absurd, they make it work.

But most of all there’s lead Brie Larson, who gets some big moments in the film—sometimes through the grandiose handling, direction-wise, but also sometimes in her performance. Marvel is a fast movie—once Larson crash-lands on Earth, the present action is around a day. And Larson’s got a lot to do in those twenty-four hours. The film doesn’t start on Earth, it starts off on a highly advanced alien planet, where Larson is living and working for Jude Law in a kind of space special forces unit. Larson’s from somewhere else (Earth) but doesn’t remember it (Earth). Larson’s aliens are warring with a different species of alien; this other alien species can shape-shift, which is a problem because they invade planets and take them over and they’ve just followed Larson to Earth.

Where she fairly quickly realizes she’s from Earth, sending on her a quest to find herself, with sidekick Jackson in tow. Jackson’s simultaneously the comic relief and the audience’s view into the action, but only for tying in the latter (sorry, earlier) Marvel movies. Who knows what he actually looked like when acting the scenes, but Jackson’s performance is awesome. He does great with the “aliens are real” thing, he does great as the sidekick. He and Larson are wonderful together, even though it’s mostly just for the smiles and laughs. Boden and Fleck take all the smiles they can get. Not every laugh, but definitely all the smiles. Captain Marvel, even with its harshness, is fun.

Often that fun comes from Larson’s wiseass lead, who might not remember anything about her life on Earth but still remembers how to be a good Earth movie wiseass. The wiseass stuff is never to deflect from the emotion either. It informs the character and performance; there’s no avoidance, not even when the film could get away with it thanks to the amnesia angle. Marvel takes the right parts of itself seriously.

Like the friendship between Larson and Lashana Lynch. There’s a lot left unsaid in the film, which is fine as it’s an action-packed superhero movie with warring aliens and not a character drama, but Larson and Lynch quickly work up a great onscreen rapport. It’s not as fun as Larson’s interactions with Jackson, but it’s part of where the film finds its emotional sincerity. Captain Marvel never leverages the emotional sincerity; for example, when there’s danger, Boden and Fleck will defuse it (quickly) with a laugh instead. The defusing doesn’t get rid of the emotional sincerity either, though some of that emotional sincerity is the only way the filmmakers can get away with the plot twists. It helps Larson is, you know, a seemingly indestructible superhero.

Lynch has a daughter, Akira Akbar, who used to know Larson too. Lynch and Akbar come into the film in the middle, so it’s a surprise how much influence Akbar’s going to have on Larson’s character arc (and performance). Because until the big interstellar finale, there’s a lot of focus on Larson’s reaction to recent events. Often for laughs, sometimes for narrative, but her character is fairly static. Sure, she’s on a quest for information but she’s got no idea the relevance of that information. Just it has something to do with Annette Bening.

Bening is—for the most part—just the personification of this alien A.I. god when it communicates with Larson. Everyone sees something different when synced with the A.I. god. Larson sees a Bening avatar and eventually tracks down the real Bening. Bening is both clue and solution to Larson’s puzzle. Larson doesn’t have all the pieces or the box to guide her putting them together—and the puzzle’s fairly simple (again, it’s an action-packed superhero movie with space aliens) but Larson brings more than enough in the performance department. Pretty much everyone brings the necessary gravitas then takes it up a notch.

Marvel is always an effective film, in no small part thanks to its cast and the direction of that cast. Bening and Law are quite good (though Bening’s far better with even less “character” than Law), Lynch and Akbar are good, Ben Mendelsohn is awesome as the leader of the bad aliens (the shape-shifters). His performance—despite constant special effects and makeup—is understated, reserved. Even with the constant element of surprise—he’s a shape-shifter, after all—Mendelsohn’s performance is tight. Plus he gets some laughs, usually at Jackson’s expense.

Larson’s really good. Plot-wise, nothing Marvel throws at her slows her down. Larson’s able to find the sincerity in the broad dramatic strokes. Like the books, sincere performances… they do a lot. Larson’s particularly great with both Lynch and Akbar, implying a forgotten familiarity counter to her overt behaviors in a moment.

And the supporting cast of ragtag aliens and Men in Black (including a de-aged Clark Gregg in a fine shoe-in) is all effective. They don’t need to do much. Larson, Jackson, Mendelsohn, Lynch… they’ve got it covered.

Technically, the film’s just as strong. The CG is all excellent, the photography (from Ben Davis) is good, ditto Debbie Berman and Elliot Graham’s editing. Andy Nicholson’s production design—of nineties Earth in particular—is good. Basically everything except Pinar Toprak’s score, which often feels too small for such a big film. It’s not bad music, sometimes it’s really effective, but it’s also yet another indistinct Marvel superhero movie score. It’s all about accompanying the action, not guiding it, which is a whole other discussion. Occasionally it’s really spot on, but mostly it’s just there.

Kind of like the nineties pop music. It sort of works—having grunge-y songs for the 1994-set act—but it seems like a big miss Boden and Fleck never explore, you know, what kind of music Larson would’ve liked when she was on Earth and not just whatever is time-period appropriate.

Doesn’t Marvel czar and Marvel producer Kevin Feige like music?

Anyway.

Captain Marvel. It sets out to do a lot of things and succeeds in all of them. The film puts the galaxy on Larson’s shoulders; she deadlifts with it. Boden and Fleck have a wonderful way of making it fun for the audience when they take a moment to check a requisite plot point box. They—Larson, Boden, and Fleck–and the hundred animators who made Samuel L. Jackson, well, Sam Jackson again—do something special with Captain Marvel.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck; screenplay by Boden, Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, based on a story by Nicole Perlman, Meg LeFauve, Boden, Fleck, and Robertson-Dworet, and the Marvel Comics character created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Debbie Berman and Elliot Graham; music by Pinar Toprak; production designer, Andy Nicholson; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Brie Larson (Vers), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Ben Mendelsohn (Talos), Jude Law (Yon-Rogg), Lashana Lynch (Maria Rambeau), Akira Akbar (Monica Rambeau), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Gemma Chan (Minn-Erva), Djimon Hounsou (Korath), Lee Pace (Ronan), and Annette Bening (Supreme Intelligence).


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