Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron officially kicks off the summer movie season.  Box office records for Marvel's eleventh entry to its venerable cinematic universe are insured.  After all, the Marvel brand is such a finely oiled, storm-weathered machine that it's nearly irrelevant to put much serious thought or intellectual weight over whether or not the movies themselves are good or bad.  Analysis is besides the point-- the approval ratings and billion dollar global business dictates Hollywood investments rather than artfulness, originality and aesthetic value.  This may sound horribly cynical-- the corporatist, overstuffed Age of Ultron can't not be iced with a little cynicism-- but that's certainly not meant to imply that there aren't pleasures to be found in Joss Whedon's second go as captain of the ship.  Nor is it meant to imply that there shouldn't be a place in the cinematic marketplace for the adventures of this rag-tag group of superhero misfits-- Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)-- learning how to form a team.  There's value in that, just as there is in Richard Linklater's effortlessly insightful 18-year spanning Before-trilogy.  I just wish slightly more people flocked to the latter and slightly less blathered endlessly at the former.

Hiring Whedon was Marvel's smartest move.  When he came aboard to write and direct the first Avengers, the Marvel universe was still an unsteady, risky venture.  Yet with Whedon's verve as a writer and willingness to work within the iron-clad Marvel infrastructure as a director, it was clear way before the iconic 360 money shot near the end of the 2012 film that franchise/brand was going to take over the world (whilst simultaneously showing the destruction of it in every movie).  Whedon already established on the great television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer a way to deconstruct, mold and sharpen genre pieces by attaching humanity, levity and relatable anguish while still respecting and holding true its mythology.  The first Avengers film was hardly a work of art but it was zesty and chock full of small, human-sized moments to savor on thanks to Whedon's sharp one-liners and gift with performers.  Avengers: Age of Ultron at times feels like a heated divide between Whedon's untethered imagination and Marvel's eternal task to retain the status quo.  Which again, isn't to say the movie is altogether bad (devotees will probably be happy, agnostics may continue to shrug), but perhaps marks a blessing that Whedon is handing directorial duties moving forward.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

White God

Perhaps just like Hagen, the mixed-breed canine headliner of Kornél Mundruczó's thrilling Hungarian parable White God, it's a little difficult to pin down the origins of this ambitiously staged morality play.  The film, which won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and was Hungary's official selection for last years' Academy Awards, wears multiple hats as an animal rights advocacy work, coming-of-age tale and revenge fantasy thriller.  With a title that draws to mind Samuel Fuller's 1982 race wars thriller White Dog and derives from a quote from J. M. Coetzee's post-apartheid novel Disgrace, White God proudly wears a wide range of influences upon its sleeve-- there's a hint of Planet of the Apes, a dash of Charles Bronson grade B-schlock, a peppering of Lassie Comes Home, even perhaps the raw ingredients of the Dardenne Brothers working class naturalism on display.  If all of these elements seems at odds with one another, well, they are.  Yet White God, in its messy and imperfect way is an utterly fascinating and vibrant piece of filmmaking, a difficult film to shake and one of the most unnerving thrillers in recent years.  I should probably mention here that the film is about a pack of dogs revolting in the streets of Budapest.  If that sounds a little ridiculous, well that's kind of true as well.

To Mundruczó's credit, he does stack the deck heavily in the favor of the pooches.  In White God, the majority of the humans are characterized as threats or obstacles to not just dogs but animal-kind in general-- some of the most potent pieces of imagery at the start of the film features freshly slaughtered cow flesh being judged for human consumption.  The inspector, we soon learn, is Dániel (Sándor Zsótér), a former professor turned meat grader who serves as the first obstacle for Hagen, a bulky yet cuddly mutt, the star of White God (played by Luke and Body, twin Labrador-mixes).  The one human grace note in the film is Lili (Zsófia Psotta), Hagen's 13-year-old custodian and bestie.  Early scenes bring to mind the golden nostalgia of children and their beloved pets, something Mundruczó undercuts with the continued tease of tension.  Circumstances bring the two at the door of her estranged father Dániel, a combustible mixture of an ill-attuned parent and a girl on the cusp of womanhood full of resentment-- Hagen gets it the worst in the end.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

MTV Movie Award Winners

MOVIE OF THE YEAR: The Fault in Our Stars
MALE PERFORMANCE: Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
FEMALE PERFORMANCE: Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
SCARED-AS-S*** PERFORMANCE: Jennifer Lopez, The Boy Next Door
BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE: Dylan O'Brien, The Maze Runner
SHIRTLESS PERFORMANCE: Zac Efron, Neighbors
KISS: Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
#WTF MOMENT: Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen, Neighbors
VILLAIN: Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
COMEDIC PERFORMANCE: Channing Tatum, 22 Jump Street
DUO: Zac Efron and Dave Franco, Neighbors
FIGHT: Dylan O'Brien vs. Will Poulter, The Maze Runner
MUSICAL MOMENT: Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
HERO: Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), The Maze Runner

Sunday, March 22, 2015

GLAAD Media Award Winners

FILM (Wide Release): The Imitation Game
DRAMA SERIES: How to Get Away with Murder
COMEDY SERIES: Transparent
TV MOVIE: The Normal Heart
INDIVIDUAL EPISODE: Drop Dead Diva- "Identity Crisis"
DAILY DRAMA: Days of Our Lives
MUSIC ARTIST: Against Me!
COMIC BOOK: "Rat Queens"
DIGITAL JOURNALISM ARTICLE: "31 Days of PrEp"
SPECIAL RECOGNITION AWARD: Glee
STEPHEN F. KOLZAK AWARD: Roland Emmerich
VANGUARD AWARD: Kerry Washington

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Saturn Award Nominations

FILM


BEST COMIC-TO-FILM RELEASE
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past

BEST SCIENCE FICTION FILM RELEASE
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow
Godzilla
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Interstellar
The Zero Theorem

BEST FANTASY FILM RELEASE
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Into the Woods
Maleficent
Paddington

BEST HORROR FILM RELEASE
Annabelle
The Babadook
Dracula Untold
Horns
Only Lovers Left Alive
The Purge: Anarchy

BEST THRILLER RELEASE
American Sniper
The Equalizer
Gone Girl
The Guest
The Imitation Game
Nightcrawler

BEST ACTION/ADVENTURE FILM RELEASE
Exodus: Gods and Kings
Inherent Vie
Lucy
Noah
Snowpiercer
Unbroken

BEST INDEPENDENT FILM RELEASE
Grand Piano
I, Origins
A Most Violent Year
The One I Love
The Two Faces of January
Whiplash 

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM RELEASE
Bird People
Calvary
Force Majeure
Mood Indigo
The Railway Man
The Theory of Everything 

BEST ANIMATED FILM RELEASE
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie
The Wind Rises 

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