Spoiler-Free Endgame Review + Some Other Movies!
There are several brave souls testing the market for moviegoers uninterested in the saga conclusion threatening to make the rest of us ugly cry in public. So, options! For everybody else, a fine capper indeed.
by Hope Madden and George Wolf
“How many of you have never been to space before?”
There is a lot to resolve in Avengers: Endgame, but it’s the film’s commitment to character and character relationships as articulated by fun, throwaway lines like that, that continue to elevate this series above its single-hero franchisees.
The Avengers who haven’t yet done space travel put up their hands, and it instantly rings true, underscoring a pillar of the MCU.
In every group setting, the different heroes don’t fight for opportunities to remind viewers who they are — the angry one, the sarcastic one, the winsome one. Instead, each reacts to another character; duos and trios bicker or riff, and true character dynamics emerge.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Marvel vets all, return to reap what they’ve been sowing for years. With that veteran cast bringing instant investment to their respective roles, the filmmakers cultivate relationships Joss Whedon sparked back in 2012 when he first put Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner and Thor at the same table.
You may have heard, Endgame goes to new lengths in the MCU: three hours and one minute, to be precise. While you might skip the jumbo soda to avoid restrooms trips, you won’t begrudge this film its time. In fact, give Marvel props for not splitting it into two separate blockbusters that would have diluted the impact of such an apt, respectful and yes, emotional capper to the saga.
There’s plenty of humor here, as well, but never at the expense of the drama or action developing. Rather, it’s the natural ribbing born of well worn, familial relationships. (One Lebowski comment and another about “America’s ass” both land really well.)
On the other hand, we still cannot get behind where this series has taken the Hulk. These developments may have comic-book roots, we won’t pretend to know, but outside of a memorable scene with The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) this Hulk is no smash.
Thematically, the film thinks big: time, love, loss, sacrifice. It moves impressively from ruminating on a post-9/11 reality to the importance of cherishing your own time and place, even while you accept the challenge of fighting for a better world.
There is plenty of fighting. The action is well-placed and well-presented, delivering fireworks without the dizzying, rapid-fire editing which can often reduce battles royale to battles of patience.
And we need to clearly see who is doing what when these Avengers assemble, because, let’s be honest, Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his Infinity Stones are a tough out, and it’s going to take all hands on deck to take him down.
For any upset fanboys who might still be wondering, that does include female heroes, a fact the film makes inescapably clear with a sequence that’s well-intentioned but maybe a tad pointed (or tardy?) in its parting defiance.
In the months since Infinity War, there have been plenty of theories about how Marvel will address that mountain of a cliffhanger they dumped on us.
Maybe you’ll guess some of it, maybe you won’t (you probably won’t), but wherever the MCU goes from here, Endgame is character capital well-spent,
As long goodbyes go, this one is satisfying and …pretty marvelous.
by George Wolf
In tackling the final frontier, it’s not surprising that unconventional filmmaker Claire Denis shows little interest in the usual themes that dominate the sci-fi genre. High Life floats very deliberately in its own headspace, touching down somewhere between enlightened consciousness and acid-blooded killing machines.
Monte (Robert Pattinson) appears to be the last survivor of a spacecraft’s crew, but he’s not alone in deep space. He has baby Willow to care for, tending to her needs while he performs his duties and files the regular progress reports that feel increasingly futile.
The infant is one of many general questions director/co-writer Denis casually raises before playing with the film’s timeline to address them, all the while picking at the scabs of deeper insights into the primal desires and self-destructive instincts we cannot escape.
Denis is more than aware of her genre playground (there is a character named Chandra, after all), and while you may be reminded of other sci-fi institutions, High Life lives in the uncomfortable places even the best of these films gloss over. It is bleak and often surreal, draped in the stifling desperation of a crew seemingly controlled by Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche, a terrific model of subtle menace).
There is sex (Binoche’s solo sequence is damn near unforgettable) but no affection, reproduction reduced to its most clinical nature and an element of body horror that Denis’s close-up camerawork demands you acknowledge. Though the deep space effects may not be big-budget worthy, succinct visual storytelling is always in play.
In the latest of many challenging indie roles he’s been choosing post-Twilight, Pattinson is again impressive. In a succession of unlikable characters, he gives Monte a gradually sympathetic layer, an element that becomes critical to making the film’s third act as effective, and ultimately hopeful, as it is.
To her credit, Denis has always shown little regard for standard convention. While there is much to be gleaned from the opening and closing shots of her latest, it is the ride in between that makes High Life such a different animal.
by Hope Madden
It’s amazing to think that a film has never been made of the heist that created the term “Stockholm Syndrome.”
Well, writer/director Robert Budreau has rectified this situation with his Ethan Hawke-led semi comedy, Stockholm.
Hawke, who starred in Budreau’s 2015 Chet Baker biopic Born to Be Blue, plays Lars Nystrom. A bewigged bandit, Nystrom concocts a 1973 bank heist with different goals than your traditional smash and grab.
By taking a couple of hostages, Lars hopes to win the freedom of his best friend, imprisoned bank robber Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong).
The always-welcome Strong creates a tender and level-headed counterpoint to Hawke’s endearing, idealistic dumbass. The lead wheel to the film’s cinematic tricycle comes from the quietly powerful work of Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
Playing Bianca Lind, one of Nystrom’s hostages, Rapace’s plaintive performance suggests a character who relies on observation and personal judgment. Never showy, Rapace becomes the gravitational force that tethers flighty characters and wild antics to a realistic foundation.
Budreau seems to be asking himself how it’s possible for captives to choose to side with their captors. Credit the filmmaker for avoiding the pitfall of casting the authorities as one-dimensional bullies or buffoons. Christopher Heyerdahl is particularly effective as Chief Mattsson, a good man in a bit over his head.
Stockholm’s greatest strength, besides the understated playfulness of its cast, is the light touch Budreau brings to presenting the two sides of the standoff. And yet, in the end, he ensures that we the audience do, indeed, feel more compelled by the outlaws.
It’s a subtle act of manipulation perpetrated by Budreau, but not so terrible as to sink the film. The filmmaker’s real miss is in his superficial look into the environment within the vault that brought the captives and captors together.
Thanks to a fine cast that’s able to toe Budreau’s unusual line between comedy and drama, though, you’ll find yourself strangely fond of everyone involved.
by Hope Madden
Do you remember the JT LeRoy hubbub? Maybe you confuse it with the similar hullaballoo surrounding James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, the memoir that turned out to be highly fictional?
Please don’t. LeRoy’s bizarre fake nonfiction and ensuing scandal is so much more interesting.
Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy is a hoax perpetrated on an almost grotesquely willing public. Laura Albert, a frustrated writer, master manipulator and likely sufferer of mental health issues, invented LeRoy.
More than the nom de plume used to pen Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, LeRoy became Albert’s literary persona. Albert herself didn’t exist in this world. She became LeRoy, the writer of lurid “autobiographical” pieces that, together with a mysterious nature, won the hearts of readers, media and celebrities alike.
In fact, Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy became so popular that he had no choice but to show his nonexistent face.
Enter Albert’s sister-in-law, Savanna Koop.
The weird true-life tale of LeRoy’s fake-life tale has been documented twice in works of nonfiction (the documentaries The Cult of JT LeRoy and Author: The JT LeRoy Story, both worth viewing). Director Justin Kelly is the first to make fiction of the fiction with his aptly cast film, J.T. LeRoy.
Though the film doesn’t offer a great deal of insight beyond what you can glean from the two documentaries, it takes Koop’s point of view for a refreshing change of pace. But its real strength is the film’s cast.
Kristen Stewart makes the ideal choice to play Savanna/JT. Effortlessly androgynous, moody, sensual and conflicted, Stewart gives the character a vulnerable center, balancing Koop’s motivation between a sense of duty to Albert and a personal longing for artistic expression.
Naturally, Laura Dern shines, stealing scenes and oscillating between free spirit and opportunist. She does a fine job of illustrating Abbot’s view of creating this other personality who can take on her own pain, can amplify that pain and turn it into both an escape and art. At the same time, Dern’s the schemer, the survivor manipulating those around her. It’s interesting the way the veteran character actor weaves between artist and manipulator in a context that questions the difference between fiction and fraud.
The two leads become a great point/counter point and the film is strongest in their shared scenes. When JT wanders off alone, burdened by puppy love or struggling to keep up a persona of another’s creation, a certain spark goes out.
That’s not to say that the balance of the cast falters. Diane Kruger is particularly slippery as Eva, a thinly veiled version of Asia Argento. But as intriguing as her interplay is with JT, you miss the constant push and pull of wills when Stewart and Dern work off each other.
Also opening in Columbus theaters:
The Eyes of Orson Welles (NR)
I Trapped the Devil (NR)