Tag Archives: Mark Ruffalo

HULK SMASH HUMOR: Lou Ferrigno & PERPS by Kent Hill

MV5BNjIwYjkwMTItOTI5OC00MzljLTk3NDUtYzgxN2NiYzQ5MWNiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQ4NTE5MQ@@._V1_

Having had the good fortune of sampling the cinema of Tamas Nadas before, I found myself eagerly anticipating this little gem, PERPS; a fun-size belly laugh to shatter the silence of our isolation, during these pandemic days.

unnamed(2)

It’s like a story you hear second-hand from a buddy around the water-cooler, a night of misadventures involving movies, marijuana and assorted scallywag behaviour. Now, I’ve been to the movies and gotten baked in the wake more than once, but, I never had me a buddy so in tune with the warrior ways as Mr. Nadas, and I’ve never had to talk my way out of the back of a cop car with a mentally degenerating officer at the wheel whose girl, it turns out, was stolen from him by none other than Lou Ferrigno, The Incredible Hulk or the mighty Hercules – whichever way your tastes run.

unnamed(3)

That’s right ladies and gents, Lou Ferrigno is in this movie, HULK-SMASHING his way onto the stage with all the ferocity and presence that saw him become everything from Mr. Universe to the son of Zeus.

614BPYYdMYL._AC_SL1000_

Delighted I was to be gifted the opportunity to a fistful of questions to the mighty Ferrigno:

KH:  As a king of memorable cameos from Sharknado to HULK, what attracted you to walk on as yourself in PERPS?

LF: The storyline…and how no one messes with Lou Ferrigno.

tenor

KH:  Tamas Nadas is a former guest, a great gentleman, talented filmmaker and martial artist; the production of this little gem must have been a blast?

LF: Tamas is great. He very easy to work with, and creates a freewheeling work environment with a fantastic attitude to exploring ideas whilst filming. If PERPS eventually became a series I would love to be involved.  Viewers will appreciate the comedic timing among the actors in this in this fine short film which wears entertaining its audience like one might wear their heart of their sleeve.

unnamed

KH:  COVID-19 has reshaped the world and will continue to do so in its wake; as an industry veteran, how do you see the future of production large and small on the other side?

LF: This virus has forced us to be more careful, bring more unity back into our lives and we will be able to move forward by simply being positive and lending support and attention to those areas this pandemic has found our way of life wanting.

KH:  I have saved a couple of questions for selfish reasons…because it’s not every day I get to ask the legendary Lou Ferrigno anything for that matter. I’ve always wanted to ask what filming Luigi Cozzi’s Hercules movies were like?

LF: Luigi Cozzi’s Hercules films were a blast. He brought out the best in the Hercules myth and character for me to portray. I have many fond and vivid memories of filming scenes among ancient ruins which made my job easier because I felt like I was there.

KH: Finally…I love Sinbad of the Seven Seas. You have a scene in the film where you convince the snakes in the dungeon to let you use them to tie together as a rope to escape… It’s a moment that lingers in my mind when I think of the movie; do you have any recollections of the moment or from making the picture in general?

LF: I loved doing a different version of Sinbad, and I always wanted to work with the director Enzo Castellari who shared my love for showing a comedic side to the legendary sailor.

KH: Thank you Lou, keep standing tall, stay safe, God bless.

LF: You too, Kent….stay safe.

EWeb21TU0AA5rHu

PERPS is out on YouTube now, starring the legend Lou Ferrigno (INSTANT DEATH, THE INCREDIBLE HULK) and martial artist Tamas Nadas (MILLENNIUM BUGS).

Before launching on YouTube, Alejandro Montoya Marin’s PERPS debuted at the Santa Fe Film Festival on February 16th, 2020 and won the best New Mexico film award.

With COVID-19 keeping everyone locked in, people need a tasty laugh, and it worked. Among the many highlights is a cheerful montage that makes the viewer laugh and fall off the chair.

Why is laughter the real medicine we need in times like these…?

PERPS is your answer…

Rod Lurie’s The Last Castle

It was news to me that they have special military prisons in the States for court martials, dissidence and other forms of unruly behaviour in the ranks, but Rod Laurie’s The Last Castle gives insight aplenty into it. It’s basically prison but more intense, a penitentiary inhabited by only ex-soldiers and ruled over by one stubborn brat of a Warden in the form of James Gandolfini. Robert Redford plays a highly decorated, legendary general who is sent up for insubordination in circumstances that any rational personal should find understandable, but the US Government didn’t see it that way, so here he is. He’s a proud man who doesn’t back down in the face of bullies or tyrants, which immediately puts him at odds with Gandolfini. The warden initially shows admiration for him that turns sour after he can’t tame him to his way of thinking, after a which a sadistic streak emerges and nearly turns into all out warfare behind bars as the two let their personal natures run over into chaos. Redford, being a natural leader, forms ranks of his own from anyone who has the balls to deny authority and leads a minor rebellion, and although it all kind of gets overblown by the end, it’s nonetheless a fascinating and mostly character driven story. Support is given by a fine roster including Mark Ruffalo, Frank Military, Delroy Lindo, Steve Burton, Paul Calderon and the excellent Clifton Collins Jr. as an unfortunate rookie who becomes collateral damage in this very personal war. Gandolfini never ever half assed or phoned in a role, he was always focused, intense and specific and his character here fascinated me. This is a guy who is massively insecure and it’s evident from his behaviour that he didn’t have what it takes to engage in real life war games like the rest of them, therefore relegated to playing toy soldiers in military jail. There’s a bitter resentment in his body language and you get the sense that this guy was ready to snap for a while and the arrival of someone as prolific and headstrong as Redford’s character finally pushed him over the edge. It’s a brilliant performance in a good film that could have done without so much big budget Hollywood fireworks, but is still strong enough in the dramatic aspects to be affecting.

-Nate Hill

Shawn Levy’s Date Night

Date Night… could have been a hell of a lot worse, I guess. I’m trying to be nice here as there were parts I enjoyed but overall it’s fluff in the wind, thanks to an unwillingness to go the extra mile and give it the R rating it deserves. It’s got one killer cast, I’ll give it that, and a few scattershot scenes that work. Let’s be real though, any film that so obviously wants to pay tribute to Scorsese’s After Hours should be ready to suit up and get as weirdly dirty as that one did, instead of playing it safe in the brightly lit, cookie cutter candy aisle of comedy. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are certainly matched with chemistry here and are a spunky, underdog couple to spend the night from hell with. They’re both kinda like that one kid in the friend group that ends up being the butt of all the jokes, and then found each other, got married and doubled down on that awkward energy. A lot of these madcap stories start with a case of mistaken identity, which is what happens when Carell brazenly snags another couple’s reservation at the hottest dinner joint in town. Just their luck, the other couple happens to be Taste and Whippet (yes those are their names) a deadbeat, dysfunctional pair of ratchet gutter rats played hilariously by James Franco and Mila Kunis. Before they know it, they’re chased by a couple of dangerous hit men (Common and the underrated Jimmi Simpson) who think they owe money all over town. Also pursued by a relentless detective (Taraji P. Henson), the real conflict comes from seeing the couple unravel and their issues come pouring out until the collective hangups they have with each other are funnier and seem more pertinent than the fact that they’re running for their lives. The cameos in this thing are endless and include Mark Ruffalo, Kristin Wiig, JB Smoove, Leighton Meester, Mark Wahlberg, Gal Gadot, Bill Burr, Olivia Munn, Jon Bernthal and more. My favourites were Ray Liotta and William Fichtner as a mob boss and a corrupt DA, sneakily echoing their respective roles in the Grand Theft Auto games. This could have been a really balls out, irreverent flick if they had pushed the envelope and not slapped it with such a pansy ass rating. As it stands it has some really funny moments and a good energy overall, but every time I think about it I just imagine what could have been, had a little more freedom in creativity and content been given.

-Nate Hill

Michael Mann’s Collateral

I love Michael Mann’s Collateral so much. Few other films evoke the detached, hypnotic atmosphere of a metropolitan city, the thrum of a single night passing by, the hard bitten nature of a city whose main brand of social interaction is usually crime. Mann has a way with restless urban nocturnes and the weary, resolute characters who drift through them, personified here by Jamie Foxx’s shy, plucky cab driver Max and Tom Cruise’s lupine, charismatic hitman Vincent. They’re on odd pair to spend a murky, digitally shot Los Angeles night with, but the two actors make it a clash, confrontation and ironic companionship for the ages. Max is veering close to being a career cabbie, his dreams of entrepreneur enterprising fading fast in the rear view. He’s meek and soft spoken but we get the sense that somewhere in there is the capacity for violence and unpredictability, if prompted by the right catalyst. Speak of the devil with Vincent, a whip smart apex predator who hijacks Max into helping him make several high profile stops before a 6am flight out of LAX, each one leaving a cadaver in its wake, all related to an interwoven criminal syndicate that DA is trying to bring down. It’s high concept done on slow burn, with action taking a backseat beside Vincent, while story, character and brilliant dialogue command the forefront, a technique rarely employed in the big budget Hollywood blockbuster, but always a surefire way to success. Mann captures the pulse of LA almost better than he did with Heat, albeit to a smaller scale and constricted to one night, a nervous time-sensitive mood-scape that gives the proceedings a haunted aura. Cruise has never been better, sporting a silver fox get-up and enough scary micro-mannerisms to more than make us believe he’s an expert at his profession, until jaggedly unravelled by Foxx’s presence, who goes from unassuming hostage to razor sharp thorn in the side real quick. Jada Pinkett Smith is brilliant as a lawyer who Max picks up in the opening scene, their extended conversation set against the dreamy LA backdrop serving as a neat, Elmore Leonard-esque way to set up shop. The supporting cast are like easter eggs hidden throughout, they’re never obvious or given key monologues, but exist in harmonious flow to the chamber piece unfolding mostly in the taxi. Mark Ruffalo shows up in his coolest role to date as a detective who gets wise to Cruise uncannily quick, Javier Bardem has a showcase scene as an angry mob boss, and watch for Bruce McGill, Debi Mazar, Wade Williams, Klea Scott, Paul Adelstein, Peter Berg, Irma P. Hall, Emilio Riveria, Jason Statham, Richard T. Jones and the always excellent Barry Shabaka Henley as a jazz club owner with a few skeletons in his closet. My favourite scene is a wordless one, in which Vincent and Max see a lone coyote loping across the freeway in the hazy night. Each of them reacts, the sight of the beast meaning something different to them, internally, they share the moment, and move on. Taken out of context it could mean anything, stand on its own as a fifteen second short film, or be injected into a crime drama masterpiece like this to make it all the more atmospheric and special. It’s moments like this, along with a few other key scenes, one set on a subway train and the initial conversation between Foxx and Jada, that inject a surface level genre film with something intangible, something elemental. Mann gets this, every frame of his urban crime epics are filled with that kind of energy, and this stands as one of his best.

-Nate Hill

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok has got to be the most fun I’ve ever had watching a Marvel film. Trust Hollywood to make a sterling decision once in a blue moon, and hiring a deftly comic, renegade underdog subversive improv genius like Waititi to take the wheel is a smart, bold move. Now before I sing it’s praises to Valhalla, they don’t quite let him (he’s the Kiwi wunderkind behind the newly minted classics Hunt For The Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows) go completely bonkers, which he clearly wants to do, and although he’s kind of bogged down by a generic villain and a recycled point of conflict in plot, a lot of the time he’s allowed to stage a zany, uncharacteristically weird (for the MCU, anyways) pseudo space opera that is a blast and a half. Thor finds himself, after a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, carted off to a giant garbage planet surrounded by space portals (one of which is referred to with a straight face as ‘The Devil’s Anus’, which sent me into a fit) and lorded over by a certifiably loony Jeff Goldblum as the Grand Master, a demented despot who holds intergalactic gladiator matches for his own entertainment. There Thor is forced to fight his old buddy the Hulk, and somehow find a way to escape Goldblum’s nefarious yet hilarious clutches. He’s got just south of reliable allies in his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an exiled Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) with an attitude problem, as well as rock-armoured warrior Korg, voiced hilariously by Waititi himself as the film’s most engaging character. Meanwhile back in Asgard, trouble brews when the equally dangerous and sexy Hela (Cate Blanchett, with enough authoritative, husky smoulder to make me weak at the knees) tries to steal Odin’s throne for herself, with the help of defector Skurge (Karl Urban, who gets a mic drop of an action set piece later on). Here’s the thing about Hela: Blanchett is in top form, a commanding, dark presence… but the role is as blandly written as a number of other MCU villains, and one wonders how they’ve managed to flunk out at creating engaging antagonists a few times over now. She’s stuck in a subplot that we’ve all seen before, one that’s stale and at odds with the fresh, humorous and wonderful storyline between Thor and Banner. Their side of things is like buddy comedy crossed with screwball fare and works charming wonders, especially when they’re blundering about in Goldblum’s cluttered trash metropolis, it’s just inspired stuff. Throw in a great 80’s inspired electro pop score and a cool VHS retro vibe (I’m all about the old school) and you’ve got one of the best MCU movies to date, and most importantly one that *tries something new*, which the genre needs more of, even if it doesn’t ultimately fully commit, this is still a gem we have on our hands.

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island 


Shutter Island is my favourite film by Martin Scorsese. Now, keep in mind that I still have yet to see heralded classics like Goodfellas and Raging Bull, but that being said I still feel like this clammy psychological opus would remain at the top of the charts. I’m a genre guy at heart, and as such gravitate towards that when watching any director’s work, I just feel more at home wading into fictitious, stylized thrillers than I do with earnest biopics or urban crime dramas, which aren’t always my thing to begin with. Shutter is a brilliant piece, a deliberately dense and serpentine mystery that unfolds step by delicious step, a gift to anyone who loves a good twist and plenty of clues to keep them engaged along the way. Not to mention it’s wonderfully acted, cleverly written and primed with emotional trauma to keep us invested in the puzzle beyond base curiosity. Leonardo DiCaprio is best when portraying intense, tormented people, and his US Marshal Teddy Daniels here is no exception, a haunted man who feels like a caged animal as he investigates the disappearance of a mental patient from a secluded island sanitarium, a place that just doesn’t seem right, with a mood in the air so oppressive you can almost feel the fog, both mental and meteorological, weighing you down. The patient, Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer will send shivers up and down your spine) seems to have vaporized into thin air, and Teddy’s investigation leads to closed doors, uncooperative staff and a heightened level of dread that lurks beneath every hushed exchange of dialogue and fleeting glimpse at things he, and we, aren’t even sure he really saw. The head doctor (Ben Kingsley, excellent) is clearly hiding something, as is the austere asylum director (Max Von Sydow). The freaky Warden (terrific cameo from Ted Levine, who gets to deliver the film’s best written and most perplexing dialogue) babbles to Teddy in biblical platitudes, and the patients have run amok following a storm that compromised security. Needless to say the plot is deviantly constructed to constantly mess with the audience until the third act revelations, which come as less of a melodramatic thunderclap and more like a quiet, burning sorrow of realization, a tonal choice from Scorsese that hits you way harder. Scorsese has assembled a cast for the ages here, and besides who I’ve mentioned so far we also have Michelle Williams in disconcerting flashbacks as Teddy’s wife, so perfectly played I wish she got a nomination, creepy Elias Koteas as another phantasm from his past, John Carrol Lynch, Mark Ruffalo, Jackie Earle Haley, Robin Bartlett and Patricia Clarkson. The score is a doom soaked death rattle courtesy of Robbie Robertson, not without it’s emotional interludes but thoroughly grievous. There’s also a beautifully slowed down version of ‘Cry’ by Johnnie Ray that accompanies the horrifying dream sequences within the film, adding to the already thick atmosphere nicely. This is a film built to last, both for dutiful rewatches from adoring veterans and discovery by lucky newcomers who get to experience it’s affecting story for the first time. All these boxer biopics, big city mafia ballads and heady stuff seems to have rolled off of me as far as Scorsese goes, I enjoy them, don’t get me wrong, but they’re a one-off as far as how many times I’ll watch them. Give me a well spun, emotionally rich psychological murder mystery with no shortage of style, character and tantalizing thriller elements, however, and I’ll pop that sucker back into the DVD player time and time again. Scorsese’s best effort by far. 

-Nate Hill

John Woo’s Windtalkers


John Woo’s Windtalkers is a brutal, somber, joyless affair, a muddy and hopeless war picture that contains little of the ethereal poise of stuff like The Thin Red Line or heroic muscle such as Saving Private Ryan. As long as you can adjust and tune into it’s frequency it’s a well made, sorrowful look at the American effort against Japan, particularly a mission involving a regiment whose task is to protect Native Navajo code breakers that can detect messages fired off by the enemy. A mopey Nicolas Cage is their shell shocked leader, pressing his men onward into territory that no doubt contains the same horrors he witnessed before the film begins. We find him in a trauma ward initially, cared for by a kindly nurse (Frances O’Connor), until Jason Isaacs cameos as the recruitment officer who spurs him back into action. His troupe is composed solely of excellent, distinct acting talent and they help the film considerably. The Navajo are played by Adam Beach and Roger Willie, giving grace and nobility to two men who are out of their depth and terrified. Peter Stormare, Christian Slater, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt and a standout Martin Henderson are the rest of the troops, each getting their moment to shine within the unit’s cohesive arc. Woo is an odd choice for a war picture, and his stylized flair for bullet ridden action is nowhere to be found in these bleak, bloodied trenches, trading in suits and duel wielded glocks for faded camo and muted rifle fire. The action is neither cathartic nor poetic, simply a concussive cacophony of combat that offers little aesthetic pleasure, forcing you to find the value in empathy towards these men, and as long as you can do that, you’ll get something out of it. 

-Nate Hill

“I am very sure that’s the man who shot me.”: Zodiac 10 years later – by Josh Hains

The idea of offering up a defence for David Fincher’s Zodiac seems rather silly given that ten years later it’s widely regarded as perhaps Fincher’s greatest film, often revered as one of the finer films released over the past decade. We all know it’s great, though admittedly, I didn’t know that for several years.

I avoided Zodiac like it was coated in radioactive slime until 2014. I had heard a great deal of positive things about the movie, and had been greatly intrigued by the marketing behind it, but the knowledge that not only was it was a long, slow paced movie, but also a rather unsettling one too kept me away for so long. When I did finally give it a chance late September 2014, my mind immediately gravitated toward Google, scouring through page after page of information about the investigation in an attempt to better understand the finer details of the case, and come to my own conclusions about who the Zodiac killer may have been. My gut however, felt like I’d eaten a bad take out meal, disturbed, shaken, and stupidly hungry for more. I felt like how I imagined Robert Graysmith felt all those years ago, minus the fear, paranoia, and impending danger of course.

That David Fincher populated Zodiac with such a great cast is a marking of a great director who knows how to compile actors who will treat the characters as individuals and not just caricatures. I find it intriguing and perhaps even ironic, or merely coincidental, that Jake Gyllenhaal starred in last year’s underrated thriller Nocturnal Animals, given that in Zodiac he is essentially one. His Robert Graysmith is a nocturnal animal, an increasingly gaunt, wide eyed mouse sniffing around for a piece of cheese, in this case the next tangible clue or lead worth obsessively investigating. And it’s all thanks to his unshakeable love for puzzles, a factor that helps decode the first Zodiac letter. As he digs deeper into the case, we come to fear for his safety, in particular during a genuinely white knuckling scene in which the unarmed and unimposing Graysmith ventures into the basement of someone we begin to assume might put an abrupt end to Graysmith’s life.

Before the blockbuster splash that was Iron Man in 2008 thundered into the film scene, one could have argued that Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as the San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery was the best he’d ever given. An argument can be made that while he was seemingly born to play the billionaire tycoon and saviour of the planet Tony Stark, his best work still resides in the fractured Avery. The deeper the investigation gets the further Avery seems to slip from cool as a cucumber journalist to a paranoid, spineless slob.

Prior to his self induced exile on a houseboat, I got a kick out of the scene where he joins Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) for drinks at a populated watering hole, chugging back those luminous bright blue Aqua Velvas while rambling about the case and their personal lives. There’s a great sense of both humour and humanity in that scene, as Avery lets his guard down and actually engages with someone beyond a superficial relationship, while Graysmith sheds his mouse-like internalized mannerisms in favour of energetic, loud behaviour, though briefly. From this point forward however, Graysmith has a spine, albeit a rather loosely fitting one, and Avery has seemingly lost his, donning “I am not Paul Avery” buttons in the hopes of fending off potential threats. He’d have made a wonderful Doc Sportello.

And of course, there’s San Francisco detective Dave Toschi played with a real sense of respectable authority by Mark Ruffalo. Toschi, an Animal Cracker snacking family man, and the inspiration behind both Steve McQueen’s preferred method of wearing his service revolver in Bullitt, and Dirty Harry’s iconic law breaking detective Harry Callahan, can’t seem to figure out how to put the pieces together in the Zodiac case, understandable in light of the overwhelming amount of contradictory information at hand. Under Fincher’s direction, Ruffalo portrays Toschi as a driven yet logically minded detective. He remains dedicated for years to catching the Zodiac, but lacks the desperation and paranoia Graysmith possesses. Instead, Toschi approaches every aspect of the case with the kind of logical thinking and reasoning every detective should be in possession of, following procedure by the book, and generally doing everything he can to crack the case until the psychological burden becomes far to heavy to bear. You can see how heavy sits in his mind by Ruffalo’s subtle body language in later parts of the movie, and you soon feel sorry for the guy.

Near the end of the film, Graysmith declares “I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it’s him.”, desperate to prove that Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch; perfectly unnerving and subtle) is indeed the cold blooded killer. He gets his wish a short time later when he encounters Allen at an Ace Hardware store in Vallejo where Allen works as a clerk. Allen offers his assistance to Graysmith with a polite “Can I help you?”, Graysmith responds with a “No.”, the two men simply staring at one another until Graysmith leaves, Allen thrown off by Graysmith, and Graysmith appearing much more certain that Allens is the man they’re after. The movie moves forward eight years to when Mike Mageau, survivor of the Zodiac killer at the start of the film, meets with authorities to potentially identify the Zodiac killer, positively identifying Arthur Leigh Allen as the man who shot him and killed Darlene Ferrin. While many had their suspicions and some evidence pointed in his direction, Allen died in 1992 before he could be questioned. Not that he would have confessed anyway.

Admittedly, I have intentionally left out many details and characters, with no disrespect intended, and it should be said that every actor involved in this film, from the leading performances to the smallest of cameos (for exmaple, Ione Skye of Say Anything as Kathleen Johns, a woman who was threatened in her car by the Zodiac killer), give world class performances, some even the best of their careers to date. And the script by James Vanderbilt, based on books by Robert Graysmith, is an achievement of impeccable research and respect for the case. And the cinematography  by the late Harris Savides is bar none the greatest work the man had ever crafted, richly capturing everything with immaculate detail, from the lush valleys of California and its busy, inviting cities and streets, to the Aqua Vera drinks, to beams of red light emanating from police cars. He painted a gorgeous picture for us to gawk at for years to come.

Ten years later, I find it astonishing that Zodiac never truly ends like other movies do. Most movies tie up every loose thread with a ribbon to go with it, others leave room for potential sequels. You can’t end a movie when their is no resolution in reality, forcing a tacked on Hollywood ending wouldn’t sit right with anyone in possession of a brain. You can only leave the audience with the next best thing, the assurance of a living Zodiac victim that the man in the picture they’re pointing to is indeed the man who shot him. That Fincher was bold enough to choose this manner of ending his film shows us he’s a director capable of unsettling viewers long after the film ends, without needing to manipulate his audience or present alternative facts. Zodiac is a bona fide masterpiece, the crime film equivalent to All The President’s Men, and just as good too.

11415612_862880327137375_6688093266983067936_o

MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

Scarlett-Johansson-The-Avengers-movie-image

The Avengers (2012) was the culmination of an ambitious project that was carefully planned by Marvel Studios over several years and spans several films utilizing characters, both major and minor, from each. While the notion of a shared universe with characters from one franchise appearing in another is a relatively novel idea in film, it is nothing new in comic books where costumed superheroes cross-pollinate all the time and even contribute to a larger story (see Secret Wars II). With Iron Man (2008), Marvel decided to do in film what they’ve been doing in comic books for decades. Its commercial success paved the way for subsequent adaptations of The Incredible Hulk (2008), Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), each one featuring a scene that hinted at something bigger and it has finally arrived with The Avengers, which features heroes from all of these films banding together to form a super team of sorts.

The challenge that Marvel faced was to find a director that could successfully bring all of these wildly different heroes together and also handle the movie stars playing them. Up to that point, Marvel had employed journeymen studio directors like Jon Favreau (Iron Man 1 & 2), Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) and Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger). But with Kenneth Branagh directing Thor, it was the first time the company had hired someone with auteurist sensibilities since Ang Lee and his fascinatingly flawed yet ultimately ill-fated take on the Hulk in 2003. And so, the hiring of Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers surprised some. With only one feature film on his resume – the cult film darling Serenity (2005), and known mostly for his television work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and sci-fi western Firefly, there was some question if he could handle a $200+ million blockbluster populated with movie stars.

Whedon got his start as a screenwriter and honed his chops over the years on T.V. sitcoms and as a prolific and often uncredited script doctor (Speed, Twister, etc.), but more importantly were his hardcore comic book fan credentials, having actually written a brief run for The X-Men, so he knew how they worked in terms of dialogue, plotting and depicting visual action – perhaps the most important criteria for The Avengers gig. It was a calculated risk that paid off as the film amassed an impressive box office result and received strong critical response.

The Tesseract, a powerful energy source that was featured prominently in both Thor and Captain America, has activated itself and appears to be trying to open a portal to outer space. Sure enough, exiled Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives with the intention of using it to take control of Earth and enslave its inhabitants. To this end, he brainwashes brilliant physicist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and S.H.I.E.L.D. (a top secret government organization) operative Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to help him do his bidding. This doesn’t sit too well with S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and he decides to enlist Earth’s mightiest heroes to stop Loki.

This includes Russian super spy Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) who quickly finishes her “interrogation” of Russian gangsters to approach Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), a philanthropic scientist now staying “off the grid” by working in the slums of India and trying hard not to unleash his Hulk persona, a being with superhuman strength that is off the charts. Captain America (Chris Evans) has been thawed out since being trapped in ice at the end of World War II and is still trying to sort things out with Fury’s help. S.H.I.E.L.D. also approaches Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), interrupting his work on a clean energy source. Norse god of thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Loki’s adoptive brother, is the wild card, arriving out of nowhere to intervene when Iron Man and Captain America attempt to capture him, resulting in an impressive skirmish. This all builds up to a spectacular climactic battle between Loki and an alien army that comes swarming out of the portal created by the Tesseract and the Avengers.

With the unfortunate exception of Jeremy Renner, the entire cast gets a chance to flex their acting chops the best they can between massive action set pieces. Mark Ruffalo, the third person to play Banner after Eric Bana and Edward Norton, really nails the human side of his character, playing him as slightly twitchy and paranoid drifter. He appears confident (because, hey, he can turn into the Hulk) yet distracted – a jumble of emotions. This is easily the best representation of the Hulk on film, both visually in terms of CGI and also how he’s portrayed – as a rampaging monster – the Mr. Hyde to Banner’s Dr. Jekyll.

Not surprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. gets the lion’s share of the funny quips – he was born to spout Whedon’s witty dialogue. It is a nice return to form after the cluttered rush job that was Iron Man 2 (2010). Based on Whedon’s perchance for having prominent strong-willed female characters in his projects, Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow gets a beefed up role and proves to be an integral part of the team. Not only does she show off a considerable physical prowess but she also holds her own against the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.

Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth carry on with their characters from their respective films without missing a beat, each adding their own unique flavor to the team. In particular, Evans does a good job when Captain America steps up and takes tactical control during the war in New York while Hemsworth has some nice moments with Tom Hiddleston as warring brothers who just happen to be gods.

The Avengers is chock full of eye candy for comic book fans, from the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier to actually seeing superheroes fight each other – something, oddly enough, you don’t see in most films but that happens all the time in the comics. It is pretty cool to see the likes of Thor, Iron Man and Captain America duke it out while engaging in playful superhero banter. Unlike the other Marvel films starting with and including Iron Man, Whedon creates a real sense of danger for our heroes. There’s a feeling that they might fail and this tension is thrilling because it is so rare in these kinds of films, except maybe The Dark Knight (2008). It also raises the stakes when Whedon’s film needs it because there is a real sense that the Avengers are fighting for something tangible. He gives them something personal to fight for than just the usual let’s save the world goal. This culminates in the climactic battle in New York City between Loki and his alien army and the Avengers in one thrilling sequence after another, each filled with large-scale slugfests. The choreography during this massive battle is top notch. There is never any confusion as to what is happening and where, which is quite refreshing. The end result is pure, unfiltered comic book geek nirvana.

avengers2The Avengers falls rather nicely within Whedon’s wheelhouse as it is all about a group of misfits that band together to save the world from a great evil, just like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and so on. It doesn’t get any more disparate than a Norse god, a billionaire playboy, a World War II super soldier, a brilliant scientist, and two spies. Like much of the aforementioned work, the heroes in The Avengers bicker and fight amongst themselves but when the need to step up for the greater good arises, they put their differences aside and make a stand together. Loki continues in the tradition of eloquent Whedon villains who are incredibly confident because, well, in his case he wields great power and knows it. However, Loki isn’t just out to rule the world. For him, there is a personal component – he seeks vengeance for the slights he feels were incurred in Thor. This film was a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season in 2012 and is a potent reminder of what a filmmaker who knows how comic book works can do if given the chance. The result is a smart, witty film that is a throwback to entertaining, crowd-pleasing comic book adaptations like Superman: The Movie (1978) and Batman (1989).

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind: A Review by Nate Hill 

Films like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind come around once in a lifetime, if we’re lucky. I watched it when I was too young to fully grasp much, and it flew over my head. In the last few years I had a revisit and was knocked flat. Few stories out there have the power to mine deep within the human psyche and search for the complexities, contradictions and puzzling flaws that lie in the beautiful disasters we call human beings. A contemplative yet fast paced meditation on relationships, love, heartbreak and reconciliation doesn’t even begin to paint a picture of what you’re in for with this uniquely told and one in a million film. Sagely ragamuffin Michel Gondry, not one for the easy way out, has truly outdone himself, as has screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who is never short on wild ideas with emotional heft that sneaks up and blindsides you. Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) ditches work on a whim one morning, and hops a train out to snowy Montauk. Through fate’s mysterious grasp, he meets free spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet), and the two hit it off immediately. He’s reserved, cautious and calculated, and she’s an impulsive wild card. They couldn’t be more different, but somehow they work. Until they don’t. Joel is devastated to learn one day of a radical brain alteration technique that effectively removes the memory of an ex from your mind, and Clementine has taken the plunge. Joel is confused and lost, and while the iron is still hot in his beating heart, he decides to undergo the procedure as well. Then the film really turns your world upside down. Whilst the staff of the Institute (Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Kirsten Dunst) go to work on his mind in his sleep, he has a change of heart. With the memories of Clementine radidly disintegrating, he races through the internal landscape of his mind in order to find and save her, hiding her in obscure corners of his data log where she won’t be found. It’s a genius way to tell the story, taking a delightful turn for the surreal as both of them find themselves catapulted headlong into various moments of his life. On the outside, a tragic subplot unfolds involving Dunst and the the head doctor at the program (Tom Wilkinson). Kirsten and Tom have never been better, treating an often used trope with dignity and gentleness. For all its tricks and psychological whathaveya, the film is first and foremost about love. It isn’t interested in showing us any generic or clichéd depiction of it either, like most of the pandering fluff that gets passed off as romance these days. It strives to show love in all its brutal and painful glory, the fights, the hurt, the time spent alone, the resentment and the willingness to batter your way through all that, against better judgment and logic, if it’s worth it. Is love a force of its own, a measurable influence that can transcend a procedure like that? Is it it’s own element, or simply always a part of us? Carrey and Winslet (and, to a lesser extent, Wilkinson and Dunst) tenderly search for the answers to these difficult questions in what are the roles of a lifetime for both. Carrey has never been so vulnerable, so open, and despite his brilliant comedic work elsewhere, his performance here is a direct window into the soul, and his best work to date. Although the film is quite labyrinthine and jumps around quite a lot, it never, ever jumps the track or misses a beat. It’s always concise, deliberate and crystal clear, if you have the patience and dedication to watch it a few times in order to let all the beautiful images, words and ideas sink in. Movies are first and foremost for entertainment. You give the man your nickel, he fires up the projector and you watch the lone ranger chase down down a speeding locomotive. Every once in a while you get one like this, one that challenges and inspires deep thought, intangible feelings and teaches you something, maybe even about yourself. Every once in a while, you get one that alters your life, and that is what is so important about that little spinning machine that opens up worlds upon a simple flat white canvas where before there was nothing. A masterpiece.