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
Many have gone out to bat for Foxcatcher’s particularly dour format of carefully positioned gloominess, and they are right to focus on the film’s meticulous craft. It’s a stolid, compartmentalized film, assured and close to perfectionist in its specific, highly detailed character, its rigid delineation of human frailty, and its formal precision backing up an intentionally cold-and-clinical dissection of American inequality. Grotesque millionaire John Du Pont (Steve Carrell) fancies himself an American hero and plays with Olympic wrestler Mark Scultz (Channing Tatum) from beginning to end, but director Bennett Miller would not have you think of it as play. Through his eyes, the film is as detached and despondent as humanly possible, perhaps fitting for the films’ themes of mechanical people sleepwalking their way through life with bored non-momentum. Yet style and story clash and never occupy the same film, smothering clinical precision with the film’s weepy, drippy “important story” narrative and sacrificing the sweat and spit of genuine emotion for a staid waxworks show. Foxcatcher is a perfectionist film, but it gives perfectionism a bad name. 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