Connect with us

Film

Review: Avengers: Infinity War

Throughout Avengeners: Infinity War, rapidity (of dialogue and drama) is mistaken for actual rhythm.

2.0

Published

on

Avengers: Infinity War
Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

What is this, a crossover episode? After 18 films, the overlords at Marvel Studios have gathered almost all of their indentured servants, er, star-studded stable together into the ever-crashing, ever-booming, and ever-banging extravaganza Avengers: Infinity War. Whether you look at this whirling dervish and see a gleefully grandiose entertainment or a depressing exemplar of the culturally degraded present moment will depend on your investment—in all senses of that term—in Marvel’s carefully cultivated mythos.

No other production house plays it safer. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and company have mastered their banal stretch-the-tale-out template to such a degree that it’s guaranteed few will question why the previously elusive Infinity Stones—which have been teased in just about every prior movie installment, as well as in some of Marvel’s TV offshoots—are collected with ridiculous ease by purple people-squashing supervillain Thanos (Josh Brolin). It happens because it needs to, and let’s be fair: If a pro forma narrative was a real deal breaker, we’d be denying ourselves the pleasures of many a space and soap opera. But it would be nice if there was more “there” there.

This is a calculatedly sudsy film, evidenced by the first scene on an Asgardian starship where Thanos crosses paths with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and all-seeing, all-hearing gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba). Spoiler: Not everyone makes it out alive, and MCU fanatics should prepare themselves for plenty more bereavement, though death is hardly a definite in Marvel’s world, particularly since some of these folks have sequels and other brand extensions on the horizon.

Soon after, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) interrupts Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and inamorata Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) as they’re talking nuptials and offspring. No time for petty human concerns, dude. There’s a genocidal giant on the way and he’s got some Stones on him. Not all of them, though, as Dr. Strange has an Infinity gem around his neck, while another is in the head of android Vision (Paul Bettany), who’s off canoodling with Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) in Scotland. And yet another, the Soul Stone, is on a distant planet where it’s guarded by…but that would be too revealing.

Once Thanos collects all the Stones and places them in his Infinity Gauntlet, the universe is his to remake, merely by snapping his fingers. At one point, Strange—in the company of Stark, Peter “Spider-Man” Parker (Tom Holland), and a few Guardians of the Galaxy like Drax (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt)—travels forward in time to see all possible outcomes of the impending battle. Of the many thousands of timelines, our heroes win in a whopping total of one. If you doubt that’s the denouement we’ll witness in the eventual grand finale (see you in 2019 Untitled Avengers Film!), I’ve got some DC Films stock to sell you.

Wait, what?!? Infinity War is just another two-hours-plus tease without a conclusive ending? Yes and no. Without giving away specifics, the ending is the best part, comparable in its giddy, cliffhanging breathlessness to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, which went for the gut because a happy resolution was assured in Deathly Hallows: Part 2. It’s fashionable, of course, to praise modern blockbusters for going “dark,” as if that by itself is genuine evidence of challenging an audience. So let’s just say that Infinity War’s climactic swivel toward the downbeat is a breath of fresh air after the featherweight interminability of what comes before.

Characters are introduced with perfunctory fanfare, be they stalwarts such as Captain America (Chris Evans) and T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), or a newcomer like Thanos henchwoman Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon). Plot points and lame quips are spouted in ersatz Howard Hawksian patois, sometimes, as on the ravaged alien planet Titan, in front of too-evident green screen. Rapidity of dialogue and drama is mistaken for actual rhythm, of which directors Anthony and Joe Russo have one mode: pedal-to-the-metal pandemonium. In this revved-up context, not even Thanos’s fervent paternal feelings for Gamora (Zoe Saldana) pack much emotional punch.

Infinity War is all manic monotony. It’s passably numbing in the moment. And despite the hard-luck finish—something an obligatory post-credits sequence goes a long way toward neutering—it’s instantly forgettable. Strange thing to say about a film featuring Peter Dinklage as the tallest dwarf in the universe.

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Josh Brolin, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Chadwick Boseman, Dave Bautista, Paul Bettany, Benicio Del Toro, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Dinklage, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Benedict Wong, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Letitia Wright, Idris Elba, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Danai Gurira, Carrie Coon Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo Screenwriter: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Running Time: 149 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2018 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Advertisement
Comments

Film

Review: Never Fear Is Driven by Its Maker’s Personal Demons

If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Ida Lupino’s own.

Published

on

Never Fear
Photo: Eagle-Lion Films/Photofest

In a 1985 interview with DeeDee Halleck conducted at the Chelsea Hotel, filmmaker Shirley Clarke stated that she made films about African-Americans as a way of working through her own ambivalence about being a woman in a male-dominated culture: “I identified with black people because I couldn’t deal with the woman question and I transposed it. I could understand very easily the black problems, and I somehow equated them to how I felt….I always felt alone, and on the outside of the culture that I was in.” One can detect a similar tendency in the work of Ida Lupino, whose independently produced dramas of the 1940s and ‘50s tackled hot-button issues such as rape, bigamy, and unwanted pregnancy. These films are no mere homilies on contemporary social problems, but complex and deeply personal explorations of what it means to be an independent woman in a world ruled by men.

Lupino’s pioneering work is suffused with a profound sense of alienation and self-doubt. Her films are about people whose conventional middle-class existence is suddenly, sometimes violently, upturned, causing them to feel completely unmoored. No longer sure of where they’re going in life or what they truly want, these people find respite away from their old life, in an unfamiliar place with a new potential lover. And Lupino tells these stories with an empathy that’s striking for its directness and lack of condescension.

Such is the case with the first film Lupino directed completely on her own, Never Fear, an emotionally complex drama about a young dancer, Carol (Sally Forrest), who seems to have it all, as she’s just gotten engaged to her partner, Guy (Keefe Brasselle), and their careers are on the verge of taking off. But then, all of sudden she’s stricken with polio, and everything changes. Carol, depressed and bitter, enters a rehab facility where she eventually makes strides toward walking again, thanks in part to the inspiration of a hunky fellow patient named Len (Hugh O’Brian). As Carol struggles with her own will to get better, she grows increasingly distant from Guy, urging him to keep pursuing his dancing career rather than settling down into a conventional job selling pre-fab “Happy Homes” as he waits around for her to recover.

Free of the noir-ish inflections Lupino brought to her other films—most notably The Hitch-Hiker, and the rape sequence in OutrageNever Fear is directed in a simple, straightforward style that bears comparison to the stripped-down neorealism of Roberto Rossellini. Lupino is captivated by the process of physical rehabilitation, offering detailed observations of Carol’s stretching routine, swim therapy, art classes, and, in one show-stopping sequence, a square dance featuring lines of wheelchair-bound patients twirling each other around in consummately choreographed synchrony. Carol is clumsy and awkward as she struggles to operate her wheelchair, a marked contrast to the film’s opening scenes, in which Carol and Guy move together with lithe sophistication as they perform a romantic swashbuckling tango.

Never Fear’s subject matter was personal for Lupino, who survived polio after an attack in 1934. But the filmmaker isn’t merely interested in the physical ailment itself, but also in the complicated pressure that recovery places on Carol. There’s a tension in the film, which was released at the height of the U.S. polio outbreak, between what Carol wants and what the men in her life want for her. When Carol begins to reject her own treatment, it’s in part because she’s rebelling against the expectations that her doctor, her fellow patients, and especially Guy have placed on her. “Be a woman for me,” Guy asks of her, but the demand is counter-productive, as Carol can only truly recuperate when she decides to do it for herself.

In Carol’s dilemma, one can sense Lupino wrestling with her own artistic ambitions, coming to grips with the reality that as the only woman director working within the Hollywood studio system in the ‘50s, she too would have to accept the guidance of the men around her, and in so doing she would be forced to bear the weight of their expectations for her—their demands, hopes, dreams, and pity. Unfortunately, Never Fear closes with a cop-out, a last-minute reconciliation that cheapens Carol’s hard-fought struggle to learn to live on her own terms by suggesting she’s fundamentally lost without a man. Almost as if the film is embarrassed by its own denouement, the final screen assures us, “This is not THE END. It is just the beginning for all those of faith and courage.” If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Lupino’s own. Never Fear wasn’t the end for her either, but merely the start of one of the most unique and pathbreaking directorial careers in Hollywood history.

Cast: Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle, Hugh O’Brian, Eve Miller, Lawrence Dobkin, Rita Lupino, Herbert Butterfield, Kevin O’Morrison, Stanley Waxman, Jerry Hausner, John Franco Director: Ida Lupino Screenwriter: Ida Lupino, Collier Young Running Time: 82 min Rating: NR Year: 1950

Continue Reading

Blog

WATCH: Stylish Queer Short Film Stay Makes Its Online Premiere

Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay debuts for free online.

Published

on

Stay
Brandon Zuck

Writer-director Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay made its premiere on the film festival circuit back in 2013, but the L.A.-based filmmaker is finally debuting it for free online. The short film, which Zuck claims is loosely based on events from his past, follows Ash (Brandon Harris) and his ex-boyfriend, Jacks (Julian Brand), on a road trip to the Florida Keys where the pair get mixed up in a fatal drug deal.

“I think maybe I was holding onto the film because it’s such a part of me,” Zuck says about his decision to release Stay on YouTube, which has been criticized by queer creators and organizations like GLAAD for ever-changing content guidelines that appear to target content made by and for LGBT people.

“YouTube started age-restricting my other LGBT films and—to be totally honest—I got furious. YouTube is this faceless behemoth and there’s nothing someone like me can do to fight any of it directly. Really the only thing I could think of was just putting more queer content out there. And Stay was sitting right there on my desktop where it’s always been. So I just hit upload. And it got age-restricted. C’est la vie. Next.”

Watch Stay below:

Continue Reading

Film

Review: The Resonant Tito and the Birds Wants Us to Reject Illusion

The Brazilian animated feature offers relief from the impersonal assault of contemporary pop culture.

3

Published

on

Tito and the Birds
Photo: Shout! Factory

In several ways, Gabriel Bitar, André Catoto, and Gustavo Steinberg’s Tito and the Birds offers relief from the impersonal assault of contemporary pop culture. Instead of the sanitized, disposably “perfect” computer animation that gluts children’s TV shows and films, Tito and the Birds weds digital technology with oil painting, abounding in hallucinatory landscapes that casually morph to reflect the emotions of the narrative’s protagonists. This Brazilian animated feature has the warm, handmade quality of such adventurous modern children’s films as Henry Selick’s Coraline and Mark Osborne’s The Little Prince.

Tito and the Birds’s artisanal tactility is also inherently political, as it invites consumers or consumers-in-training not to mindlessly gobble jokes, plot, and branding opportunities by the yard, but to slow down and contemplate the sensorial experience of what they’re watching. For instance, it can be difficult to recall now that even middling Disney animated films of yore once seemed beautiful, and that the studio’s classics are ecstatic explosions of neurotic emotion. These days, Disney is in the business of packaging hypocritically complacent stories of pseudo-empowerment, which are viscerally dulled by workmanlike aesthetics that deliberately render our consumption painless and unmemorable.

In this climate, the wild artistry of Tito and the Birds amounts to a bucket of necessary cold water for audiences. Throughout the film’s shifting landscapes, one can often discern brushstrokes and congealed globs of paint, which are deliberate imperfections that underscore painting, and by extension animation, as the endeavors of humans. And this emphasis on the humanity of animation underscores the fulfilling nature of collaborative, rational, nurturing community, which is also the theme of the film’s plot.

Like the United States and much of Europe, Brazil is falling under the sway of far-right politics, which sell paranoia as justification for fascism, and for which Tito and the Birds offers a remarkably blunt political allegory. The world of this narrative is gripped by a disease in which people are paralyzed by fright: In terrifying images, we see arms shrinking and eyes growing wide with uncomprehending terror, until the bodies curl up into fleshy, immobile stones that are the size of a large knapsack. Characters are unsure of the cause of the “outbreak,” though the audience can discern the culprit to be the hatred spewing out of a Fox News-like TV channel, which sells an illusion of rampant crime in order to spur people to buy houses in expensive communities that are fenced in by bubbles. Resonantly, the network and real estate are owned by the same rich, blond sociopath.

Ten-year-old Tito (Pedro Henrique) is a bright and sensitive child who’s traumatized by the disappearance of his father, a scientist who sought to build a machine that would reconnect humankind with birds. Like his father, Tito believes that birds can save the world from this outbreak of hatred, and this evocatively free-associative conceit underscores the hostility that far-right parties have toward the environment, which they regard as fodder for hunting grounds, plunder-able resources, and parking lots. In a heartbreakingly beautiful moment, a pigeon, a working-class bird, begins to sing, and its song resuscitates Tito’s friend, also pointedly of a lower class than himself, from a frozen state of fear and hopelessness.

As the birds come to sing their song, the landscapes lighten, suggesting the emotional and cultural transcendence that might occur if we were to turn off our TVs, phones, and laptops more often and do what the recently deceased poet Mary Oliver defined as our “endless and proper work”: pay attention—to ourselves, to others, to the wealth of other life we take for granted and subsequently fail to be inspired by. Inspiration has the potentiality to nullify fear, but it doesn’t sell as many action figures as the frenetic velocity of embitterment and violence.

Cast: Pedro Henrique, Marina Serretiello, Matheus Solano, Enrico Cardoso, Denise Fraga, Matheus Nachtergaele Director: Gabriel Bitar, André Catoto, Gustavo Steinberg Screenwriter: Eduardo Benaim, Gustavo Steinberg Distributor: Shout! Factory Running Time: 73 min Rating: NR Year: 2018

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Donate

Slant is reaching more readers than ever, but as online advertising continues to evolve, independently operated publications like ours have struggled to adapt. We're committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a Slant patron:

Patreon

You can also make a donation via PayPal.

Newsletter

Giveaways

Advertisement

Trending