Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers Infinity War

Thanos (Josh Brolin) shakes the Avengers to their core, as well as the audience.

For the past ten years, Marvel has made (for the most part) solid entertaining movies. It has also been that long since The Dark Knight, which has always been the best superhero movie. Few movies have been any kind of a threat (Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther). Now comes the cream of the crop, Avengers: Infinity War. In my mind, The Dark Knight is still number one, but it has been shaken by a solid silver place finisher.

I will be brief, for I would fear of any form of spoilers (there will be none here). If you have seen any of the Marvel films (I know you have), you know there have been six infinity stones in the universe. They are being hunted by Thanos (Josh Brolin), in his quest to bring balance to the cosmos. This is done with the infinity gauntlet, which he can use to wipe out half of all living things, with a snap of his fingers.

That is as far as I will go. Standing in his way are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain America (Chris Evans),….ok, basically everyone in every Marvel movie except for Ant-Man and Hawkeye (that was easier).

Remember Spider-Man 3, when there were too many characters and story lines? Well, Infinity War has only one real story line and one villain. Nevertheless, all the star players are not only here, but needed. Afterall, that is how hard it is to defeat a guy like Thanos. The first ten minutes alone prove my point.

Credit also must be given to directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Each character is given same amount of screen time, but the right amount of it. Kudos to the actors for remembering the old rule: no small parts, only small actors.

Speaking of which, there is even a role for Peter Dinklage. I mean that transition not as a put down joke, but from the heart. There is no doubting the man’s talent.

Parents, I was about to say it is like any Marvel movie, but, to be fair, there are a lot of darker moments. That is all I will say. Middle School and above.

That is all I will say, because this is not a movie to read about. It is one to experience. And what an experience.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

My Left Foot (1989)

My Left Foot

Christy Brown (Daniel Day Lewis), feeling proud of stealing coal.

 

As someone who is a dominate right-handed person, I can’t imagine doing anything with just one foot, but the left foot by itself is unthinkable. Yet that is what Christy Brown had to do for his life. He did not live to see My Left Foot (he died in 1981), his story is still one that resonates today, not just because he had cerebral palsy, but because (like everyone) he had more than his fair share of character flaws.

That is not to say he wasn’t extraordinary. Born into a traditional (and large) Irish family in 1930s Dublin, we see the story of Brown in flashbacks as the grown up Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis) is at an event celebrating his memoir. He shares his book with a newly met Nurse, Mary (Ruth McCabe). At first, it is her eyes we see the life of Christy, but then we find ourselves seeing it thru his eyes.

It is beyond frustrating at first for the adolescent Christy (Hugh O’Conor). He has a caring family and siblings, though his father (Ray McAnally, who passed away after filming concluded) is not the best at showing his love. The one clear rock in Christy’s life is his mother (Brenda Fricker), as shown in the brilliant scene when he communicates with his first word, “Mother”.

As a young man, Christy learns the many things we all do: sports, first love, heart ache, and self discovery. A lot of this is also shown in Dr. Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw), who takes a huge interest in Christy and his art.

No review of this movie would be complete with out mention of the acting. Perhaps the only bad thing one could say about Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is that it overshadows that of Hugh O’ Conor’s. Both are extraordinary, making it seem like one performance instead of two. Still, this is the film that brought people’s attention to Day-Lewis (it won him his first of a record three Best Actor Oscars).

The film won another Oscar for Brenda Fricker as Best Supporting Actress, who is stellar. It is clear that, without her, Brown would never have been able to be fueled to do all he accomplished. Still, as is the case in every movie he has been in, Daniel Day-Lewis showed us for the first time (and many times after) why he is one of the greatest film actors we have ever had (and if you don’t believe me, just look at the making of this movie and how in character he was. He was carried around the set when the cameras were off).

Parents, the movie is rated R. There is one bit of nudity (young boys see a nude photo in a book, and talk about sex). The main aspect though is swearing. I would say High School and above (though some mature middle schoolers may be okay at seeing it).

Had Christy not been flawed as a human, I doubt the movie would work as well as it did. To put it bluntly, he is no Helen Keller. I would say he is prickly, but that is understating it. Still, My Left Foot is a true inspiration of what the human spirit can accomplish, and a great study in how moving a performance can be.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

 

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Cinema Paradiso

Young Toto (Salvatore Cascio) blooming into his love for film.

Recently, a good friend (and film critic) mentioned how every film goer has blind spots. In other words, certain movies just escape us and we miss them one way or another, unless we seek them out. That being said, I am still furious with my past self for not having seen the masterpiece Cinema Paradiso sooner. I can’t fathom how anyone would call themselves a movie lover and not want to see this film.

Set in present day (the movie came out in 1988, winning the Oscar for Foreign film), we meet Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), who has just been informed that a man he knows, Alfredo, has died. The funeral is tomorrow in his hometown, where he has not been for thirty years. In a series of flashbacks, the movie shows his life up to his decision to leave his home town and pursue his true passion: film.

As a child during World War two, young Salvatore (“Toto”) has one escape in his life of school: the local cinema. He soon befriends Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), the protectionist, thought it is not easy. Toto learns the ins and outs, and then some.

Ok, you can get mad at me if you want, but I don’t want to give anything else away. All I knew about the movie (directed by Giuseppe Tornatore) going in was that it was about movies and was in subtitles. Sure, I felt I would get a lot of references, see some romance, and maybe even laugh a little. What I did not know was how moved I would be. Those who know me best know that it takes something special to make me cry (not just during movies). There was nothing to prepare me for the emotional impact that I was going to have at the end of this film, and what an impact! After spending so much time with Salvatore, seeing him grow up, learning life lessons, I guess the tears were inevitable. (It also does help when you have a majestic sweeping score by the hugely talented Ennio Morricone).

Parents, the version I saw was the PG version (a later, more mature version was released, unseen by me). The PG one had some swearing, thematic material, and sexual material (one movie being shown shows a woman’s bare back, and boys in the audience are clearly masturbating, though nothing is shown). I would say High School and above.

Like Singin’ in the Rain, Cinema Paradiso is one of the very best movies about movies. It shows one of the key elements of magic that movies have always possessed: the element of escapism.

Molto bello.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread

“Whatever you do”, Alma (Vicky Krieps) says to Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis), “do it carefully”.

 

About twenty minutes or so into Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant Phantom Thread, I was remembering what Hitchcock said about the audience needing to be played “like a piano”. Of course, the fact that the musical score is nearly all piano helps, but this movie about a dress-maker is made with such care and precision that there is no better way to describe it.

Taking place in the post war era of 1950s London, we meet Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a renowned dress-maker. He is beyond passionate to his work, showing artistry skills with dresses like Van Gogh did with colors. He runs his business with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) with a very firm but gentle hand, though it is clear he does better with dresses than he does those who wear them.

One day he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), who is smitten by more than just the dresses he makes her. She is a waitress, but is perfect at being a muse for Reynolds (“no one can stand still longer than I can”, she claims). When she moves in with him, it is clear that routine is essential to his daily life (even breakfast becomes a hassle).

I will not go on more with the story for fear of giving it away. I will say that (though this should not shock anyone) this is yet another film that reminds us how precious it is to have an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis. His performances are not many (and has said this would be his last), but what is lacking in quantity is more than made up for in quality. We know how dedicated (which does not seem like a strong enough word) he gets into character. Even though his normal voice is english, his voice here seems so in character that it does not seem like his own. Props also should be given to Krieps, Manville, and the rest of the cast. To hold your own against DDL is something one should be proud of.

Like clothing, Anderson (who also did the cinematography) directs in such a delicate matter you feel bad if one stitch were to come undone. The beauty of the whole film also cannot be overstated. Every frame uses the lighting and shadow so well it is almost like an Edward Hopper painting.

Parents, the movie is a rather minor R rating. There is very minor nudity (seen through dresses), but none of it is sexual. There is swearing (mainly F bombs), but that is it. If your kids were to be interested, I would say mature middle schooler and above.

While I am holding against all hope that this is not the last time I will see him on the big screen, Daniel Day-Lewis does truly give a wonderful swan song. So great is his performance that I did wait till the end credits, just to see if he was also the costume designer.

While it was Mark Bridges who did the costumes, I still feel like DDL helped in some way.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

A Ghost Story (2017)

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story‘s Ghost (Casey Affleck)

Undoubtably, A Ghost Story is not a movie for everyone. If you are the type of person who just likes to watch a movie for entertainment and nothing more, this movie is likely to fly over your head. If you think movies are able to give you a chance to meditate on life, then this movie is pure poetry.

 

Director David Lowery tells a story that is vastly simple: a man (Casey Affleck) dies in a car crash. After being identified by his wife (Rooney Mara), he returns as a ghost, and spends time at the house where his wife is recovering from his loss.

 

That is it. Seriously, that is it to the story. It is far from all that is left in the movie. Even at a run time just under an hour and a half, this film (which has very little dialogue) is far from boring. You would not be blamed from thinking it is, even with scenes such as the woman spending about five minutes (in one shot) stress eating a pie. Oddly, it was this scene (about twenty minutes in) that got me realizing I was watching something unlike I ever have before.

 

Parents, the movie is rated R, mainly for the scene of the crash and swearing (I seriously only remember one F bomb). I would say middle age and up (if you have kids that would enjoy films like this).

 

A Ghost Story goes way beyond narrative, in the shadow of other miraculous films like The Tree of Life (2011), Fantasia (1940), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). A Ghost Story is not one you can understand in one viewing. However, after the first viewing, it haunted me (in a good way), making me like it more and more. When I went to rent it again, I ended up just buying it.

 

It is a film I will have to reflect on more and more as I grow old.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away

Every frame of Spirited Away is a jewel, but this one of Chihiro is the most poetic…

Even though I have seen Hayao Miyazaki’s uncanny masterpiece Spirited Away countless times (there are only two or three other movies I think I have seen more), I only just recently finally saw it on the big screen, as well as in its original language. Still, it lost not one ounce of its magical effect: The experience only added to it.

As the first anime movie I ever saw, I can safely say that Spirited Away is the one anime movie for people who don’t think they like anime movies. Miyazaki has made countless classics, but this has to be his number one film (though My Neighbor Totoro is a close second).

The story of Spirited Away is like that of Alice in Wonderland. A ten year old girl named Chihiro (Daveigh Chase, who was also Lilo in Lilo & Stitch) is on her way to her new home when her parents stumble upon what looks to be an abandoned theme park. They see food that does not seem to be for anyone, so they eat it (well, chow down). Chihiro eventually realizes that the park is a place of unimaginable creatures and spirits. Her quest has her meet unforgettable characters including the tyrannical boss Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the boiler man Kamachi (David Odgen Stiers), the blunt yet kind Lin (Susan Egan), and the helpful friend Haku (Jason Marsden).

I will leave it at that, because this a movie that is not to be seen or heard, but experienced. Any artist out there would benefit to pause every frame, and spend five minutes looking at it. Miyazaki (who also wrote the script) gives such pin point detail to each inch of our screens that we are stunned. Even the animators at Disney and Pixar will tell you how much of a master this man is.

Upon watching the movie again, I also realized how much of a hero Chihiro really is. It is not just that she puts herself in harm’s way (the scene where she runs on a pipe is beyond bold for any person), but it is why she does it. Despite her puny appearance (she looks like she weighs no more than 50-60 pounds), she has a heart of purity and soundness, and it is perfectly reflected in the film’s closing line (which is very underrated).

Parents, this is a movie for any child. There are some scares, but nothing too bad. More so, it is one which you can sit down and watch with them (and even enjoy).

 

Recently, I did a poll on Instagram about whether Disney should keep making live action remakes of their films (most were for the idea). I am personally growing tired of it: Some of them did work, but now they are just overshadowing the far better originals. Spirited Away is one movie that, no matter how much money Disney (or any studio) has will ever be done well in live action. Heck, bring in James Cameron, and a live action version would still be terrible. Some movies are meant to stay the way they are.

I could go on and on about my love for Spirited Away, but it is better to experience for yourself if you haven’t already done so. It is impossible not to be moved by this film.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride of Frankenstein

The Monster (Boris Karloff) and his mate (Elsa Lanchester)

The first time I saw Bride of Frankenstein, I had not seen the original Frankenstein (1931). Funny enough, I really did not need to see the first film at all, which I found out after revisiting the sequel. That is not to say the first film is a bad one, but that Bride of Frankenstein may have been the first sequel to ever outshine it’s predecessor.

The film starts off with Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester, who also plays the bride, though in the credits she is simply refered to as ? ) telling her friends (as well as the audience) that the monster (Boris Karloff) survived the crash at the end of the first story. His quest for meaning and friendship is thwarted at every turn (though he gets close with a blind man), so his anger is unleashed on all he crosses.

Eventually, he meets Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), a former co-worker of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive). Henry is recovering from the events of the first film, and wants to finally marry Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). Pretorius tells the monster that he is able to make him a mate, but needs the help of Frankenstein.

I will leave the plot there, since it is rather simple and one I don’t want to give away (thought it is safe to say you know the bride is made). Even if you never heard of this movie, you know what the bride looks like, with her hair like it was hit by lightning. It is just as famous as the original monster’s make up, if not more so.

Of course, you could argue against certain things in the plot, such as “the lever”. “Don’t touch that lever!” a character yells. Keep in mind, the movie was from 1935. Still, like all great old flicks, Bride of Frankenstein has aged better than wine.

Parents, while this is a classic horror movie, there is nothing that young kids would be too afraid of. There is no swearing or nudity or blood. Basically, I would say age 7 and up.

The 1930s produced many a monster movie, but Bride of Frankenstein is the cream of the crop. Recently, Universal has started to make their own “dark” universe with monster movies (though I have not seen 2017’s The Mummy with Tom Cruise, and judging by what I heard, it ain’t pretty). Their next remake will be of this film (with Javier Bardem in the role of the monster). While I am not entirely on board with the idea, the fact that they don’t even need to remake the original (which has been done before) shows how superfluous the original Frankenstein is when compared to its far superior sequel.

To a world of Gods and Monsters, indeed.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist

The eerie glow on the silhouette of The Exorcist

 

“The LORD said to Satan, ‘ Where have you come from?’

Satan answered the LORD, ‘From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.'”

– Job 1: 7 (NIV version)

Satan has been depicted countless times in the media that it seems we sometimes might forget how horrible he really is. Whether the demon is or isn’t Satan (the name is supposed to be Pazuzu, who, according to IMDB, is a demon from Assyrian and Babylonian Mythology), the demon does come out as saying he is the devil, and his actions more than make up for it.

This, of course, is just one of many reasons why people consider The Exorcist one of the scariest movies ever made. There have been at least four sequels and countless other films dealing on the subject of exorcism. I have not seen them, but even if I did, I doubt I (or anyone) would think they could even begin to compare to the one that truly started it all.

Based on the book by William Peter Blatty, that was based on (rather loosely) true events, the movie tells the all too well-known story of Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair, who recieved so many death threats after the movie was released she needed body guards for six months). Living with her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), she gradually is possessed by an evil spirit. We also see the story of Father Karras (Jason Miller), who is recovering from the loss of his mother, and questioning his faith. There are other characters, including Lt. Kinderman (the infallible Lee J. Cobb), Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), and the horrific voice of the spirit, played perfectly by Mercedes McCambridge.

While all the performances are brilliant (Burstyn, Miller, and Blair would all be nominated for an Oscar), the true star is director William Friedkin. Without him this movie would not be known as it is today. Like all great horror movies, he still gives us just enough hope when we feel it is all gone. He also gives us more than our fair share of images that haunt us long after the movie ends.

The movie did win two Oscars. The first was for Blatty’s screenplay, but it is the second one I want to focus on, Best Sound (the winners were Robert Knudson and Christopher Newman). Much of the dialogue is rather soft, but not so with the sounds one hears; the moving of furniture, a knock at the door, heavy breathing, terrifying growling, needles in the skin, breaking glass, water splashing, scampering across the floor, etc. Never before have I seen a movie when I am clutching on to the volume remote.

Parents, do I really need to say it? Don’t let any child watch this movie. High School and above.

I will say this though: if you have a child (again, who is in High School) who is acting like no movie has ever really scared them, then make your choice as to when they can see The Exorcist. I have never met anyone who was not afraid of this movie, and I am confident I never will.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

 

The Shining (1980)

The Shining

Danny (Danny Lloyd) comes across the creepiest cinema twins in history.

“A big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside.”

This is how author Stephen King has described the Stanley Kubrick film version of The Shining. Of course, not all movies based off of movies will make the author happy (like P.L. Travers, who strongly disliked the Disney version of her literary character Mary Poppins).  Still, this review is coming from someone who has not (as of now) read the original material. I saw the film first around the age of twelve, not knowing it was based on a book. From that perspective, I found it terrifying.

The story is rather well-known: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a former teacher who takes his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd), in his only screen performance) to the Overlook Hotel to be the caretakers for five months. A (somewhat) recovering alcoholic, Jack is determined to being secluded in order to help finish his writing. He is so optimistic he does not seem to mind that one of the former caretakers butchered his family before killing himself, or that the hotel was built on an indian burial ground.

The other element being brought to the stay at the Hotel is the peculiar Danny, who has the ability to “shine” (see the future, and read the minds of others who can do the same). The only other we see who can do this is the Hotel’s cook, Hallorann, (Scatman Crothers). It is he who informs Danny (as well as us) nothing good resides from room 237 (more on that later).

There is one thing that King does say positive about the movie, and that is the visual appeal. This is no real surprise, as the movie was directed by film icon Stanley Kubrick (known to be as much a perfectionist as anyone behind the camera). If you were to choose any shot from The Shining and say it was your “choice”, it would be hard to argue regardless of what it was. Whether it is Jack in the doorway shouting his famous “Heeere’s Johnny!”, any visuals of the hedge maze, the long unblinking stare of Jack, the red bathroom, the elevator full of blood, or the hallway showing the creepiest twins in film history.

“Come play with us Danny.”

Chills.

Parents, it should come as absolutely no surprise that this film is not for kids. Besides the obvious creepy scenes and swearing, there is one main scene of nudity that does take place in room 237 (as well as some nude pictures, and a brief scene in a bed room that is far more creepy than sexual). In other words, unless you have the most mature middle schooler, High School and above.

Perhaps if I do read the original book, I will be able to see more of what King dislikes about the movie (he did not approve of the casting of Nicholson or Duvall). The movie came out with mixed reviews, so much so that it got two Razzie nominations: Duvall for worst actress and (believe it or not) Kubrick for worst director (you read it right). Time, of course, is always the best judge of movies, and The Shining still stands as one of the best horror films. It has layers that can keep being peeled away (the ending is for sure going to raise questions upon every viewing) and you still are not sure what to expect. Anytime a movie does that, it is something special.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

ET

The image speaks for itself…

There is a scene in E.T. when Mike (Robert MacNaughton) is describing the relationship between his younger brother Elliot (Henry Thomas) and the alien to a grown-up.

Mike: He communicates through Elliot.

Grown-up: Elliot thinks it’s thoughts?

Mike: No. Elliot feels his feelings.

The idea of feeling of feelings is what makes Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece so endearing. A good director knows how to read the minds of the audience, but a great director knows the feelings of the audience as well. In the case of E.T., the main audience is not just children, but the child in all of us.

Another key feature of the film is how Spielberg films from a point of view. Nearly every scene is filmed from the point of view of E.T. or Elliot (and sometimes his siblings). The only adults we really actually see in the film is the mother (Dee Wallace) and (for the second half) Keys (Peter Coyote). We never really see anything from their point of view. There are a few exceptions. We do see Keys looking for E.T. after his family has left him on earth. We also get that wonderful comic scene of how the mother thinks she hears a noise from Elliot’s closet, and actually does “see” E.T. hidden in the stuffed animals.

It truly baffles me whenever I meet someone who does not like this film, but I am beside myself when it is someone who has never even seen the film. The story is still well-known to them though. Elliot is the middle child (always the unsung hero is the middle child) of Mary, a single mom of three (the other is a young Drew Barrymore as Gertie). As a middle child myself, it was impossible for me not to relate to Elliot. My parents also were separated, I wished to always hang out with my older brother’s friends, and I had a younger sibling who I thought got more attention than I did. In short, life was hard to a degree.

Enter E.T., who is as shocked to meet a human as Elliot is meeting an alien (though the best reaction comes from Gertie). All of the scenes with Elliot prove that Henry Thomas gives perhaps the best (if not the most famous) performance by a young male actor in film history (his audition tape was equally compelling). It is a little bit of a shame though, because it does overshadow the fine work given by his siblings. MacNaughton does start off as the wise scheming older brother, but is still kind-hearted and more understanding (especially at the end). It is also a credit to show Barrymore (who has had acting in her family bloodline for generations) as a little girl who is far smarter than the others give her credit for.

Along with the comic moments, the movie clearly has movies of suspense. The “chase” scene is heart pounding to anyone, regardless of age or knowledge of the outcome. No small part of this is due to the other star of this film (and nearly every Spielberg film), legendary composer John Williams. Like every movie he has composed, E.T. would be a totally different (and really not at all brilliant) film without John Williams.

Then comes the moment, as the suspense becomes utmost relief and wonder. You know the scene, you know the moment. I don’t need to explain how it is etched in our minds and hearts and souls for eternity.

Parents, if you have not let your kids see this movie yet, I don’t know what you are waiting for. I would say any age. Yes, there are scary moments, but it is a movie where being scared is okay. Yes, some of the adults seem like villains, but they really aren’t actual villains. There is also some swearing.

Whether you watch the original theatrical version, the updated version (with updated special effects and two added scenes), it is clear a movie is a classic if the only bad thing about it is the video game (which I thankfully never got to play).

E.T. is just flawless entertainment for anyone.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****