The most enticing moment in Avengers: Age of Ultron is successful because it is so elusive, and it may very well be the worst moment as well. When it begins, we are informed that the titular superhero smack-down squadron and consummate bickerers are off to Africa. We know we are going to Africa because the characters essentially say “we are going to Africa”. Smash-cut to a helicopter shot of a derelict shipyard. We know this is a shipyard because there are ships. It is also, one would assume, on a coast line, for that is where ships tend to reside. At this point, everyone’s favorite quasi-military font appears in lower screen with text that informs us, in as many words, “Shipyard, Off the Coast of Africa”, in case we were wondering if the ships were, in fact, airplanes, or whether they were docked in Nebraska.
So hand-holding and inelegant this text is, and utilizing the form of on-screen text which is already the laziest and least elegant storytelling mechanism in all of cinema, that it almost must be an intentional self-parody. All of these big time beat-down films rely on techniques like these to show us a story happening, and then to doubt us, and then to tell us what is happening all over again in case our eyes had deceived us, as though we audience members in our infinite wisdom could not figure out in fact that the image of unmoving ships placed right after we are told “Africa” is in fact, an image of ships docked off the coast of Africa. It is a comic, delicious moment nearly avant-garde in its laziness. It’s the sort of moment that asks the mind to wander: “why is this text here? It is providing no new information anyway, but movies like this are supposed to have military text every time they change location, so if that is what you want, here you go…” Continue reading
By far the most notable thing about Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, beyond all the self-righteous tent pole-blockbuster-theme park-cultural-seismic-indicator nonsense, is that Whedon shows a sense of mercy in consistently buoying the film with levity and humor to distract from all the pretense. The chiefest fun to be had is rather definitively not related to one-and-done special effects or action or the superpowers of the main characters themselves. It is, instead, Whedon’s way with words, his wit. Most of it is filtered through franchise MVP Robert Downey Jr., here his usual sardonic, witty self as Tony Stark/ Iron Man, with much of the humor coming from his playful attitude toward Nick Fury’s (Samuel Jackson) dogged attempt to “bring the team together”. Bruce Banner/ The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), used intelligently in more ways than one, has two dynamite laughs toward the end of the film, one with a literal punch-line. Continue reading
Snowpiercer is the last of the big three South Korean directors’ English-language cross-over attempts. Of course, by “big three”, I don’t mean to say these three, Park Chan-wook, Kim Jee-woon, and Bong Joon-ho, are the three best South Korean directors working today (I couldn’t by definition claim that). But they are undoubtedly the three with the most foreign attention shined their way. Chan-wook and Jee-woon went simple with their English-language endeavors, creating the deliciously naughty psychological horror Stoker and the terrifically-fleshy and well-directed by hum-drum Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Stand respectively (seriously, it’s a display of the director’s talent that it shines through in a script so unfitting and as positively lame as that film’s). Joon-ho’s film took a bit longer to release and aims a bit higher. But lofty narrative ambitions don’t always benefit a film without a script to back it up (thus The Raid, for its elegant, brutal simplicity, was a much better film than the still-good Raid 2). It’s a good thing then that Joon-ho decided to jettison narrative sense or substance mid-way through the film. As for what he replaced them with? It’s much more depraved, much giddier, and above all, much more wonderfully off-the-wall indeed. It’s a study in contained chaos, and like the best of the South Korean New Wave, madness is never far around the corner.