Avengers: Infinity War. It was mildly distracting to see the movie’s first major battle taking place in my downtown Atlanta neighborhood, just blocks away. Is this how New Yorkers feel all the time? Thanos is a great villain. Maybe knowing they’d have him around later let them invest more and give him some motivation beyond destruction? I like the several scenes where loved ones are torn between hard choices – Vision and Scarlet Witch, Thanos and Gamorra, Starlord and Gamorra, etc.. My main frustration with the movie was the big Wakanda scenes. We are convinced this is the most technologically advanced civilization on the planet, and they are fighting a crucial battle… with infantry, hand-to-hand? It’s a shame. They could have done something more interesting. The giant roto-tiller machines were cool, though.
Margaret. The first film of the new year was so damn good. Takes the everyday and shows its operatic moments. The surly, volatile teen protagonist is all of us at some point, many points – heroes of our own story, center of the universe, disappointed by and disappointing those who care about us. One especially nice touch is the sound. Throughout there are interludes where you hear snippets of other conversations, city life, sometimes even more clearly than the main characters. Loved it. Bright Wall/Dark Room did an entire issue about Margaret; lots of good reading there. The only other Lonergan movie I’ve seen is Manchester By the Sea. Solid, but I’d rank this one way, way higher.
Spotlight. I loved it. Great writing and acting. Teamwork, thinking, putting pieces together. There is some conflict here and there, and most of it doesn’t seem too drummed up for drama, but just real people navigating messy institutions and practical realities. Love the costume design, too. Doesn’t just capture the era but the personalities, too. One of my faves of last year.
Collateral. I keep trying to re-rank Mann movies and running out of #1 slots.
Shutter Island. Better than I thought it would be. Scorsese takes some simple genre stuff to some good creepy heights.
Foxcatcher. I appreciate the acting, but I couldn’t hang with it. Mark Ruffalo is a genius, though. Matt Zoller Seitz said it well: “If I had to make a list of movies I’m saddest about not having liked, this would rank near the top.”
Collateral. My third viewing. (Ignore my comments after the second.) It feels like every time I watch a Michael Mann movie it becomes my new favorite of his.
This movie is seriously in love with LA, too. You almost never get this much richness in setting. The surfaces, the light, daytime and night. Passing scenes and shots of a Hispanic gas station, a Korean (?) newspaper, murals, traffic, strip malls, modest neighborhoods, airport boulevards. Crucial scenes in Latino and (mostly Asian) nightclubs.
This sense of place fits with one of the movie’s themes – presence. Our protagonists are Vincent (Cruise’s cool, decisive, efficient professional) and Max (Foxx’s daydreaming perfectionist). Max is dreaming miles into the future, but too hesitant or cautious (“It’s gotta be perfect.”) to do anything to get there. Vincent is skimming along the moment, zipping through assignments. (“We gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.”)
Two early soundtrack moments underscore the contrast, too. Early on, Max enjoys the nostalgic, old-school vibes of Groove Armada’s Hands of Time as he cruises through the city. Soon after, we see some of Vincent’s subway/disconnection speech (foreshadowing!) backgrounded with a cool blues-y rendition of Bach’s Air on the G String. Pure sophistication. It’s not until (after the missed-opportunity soliloquy in the jazz club scene) Max is forced into impersonating Vincent that he starts to show some real agency.
On this viewing the humor came through much more for me, thanks to Cruise. Lines like “Promise not to tell anybody, right?” and “Don’t let me cornered. You don’t have the trunk space.” and “What? I should only kill people after I get to know them?”. I could go on. What a damn great movie.
The Avengers. The basic plot mechanics are a bit tired, but I am not ashamed to admit how satisfying it is to see the whole gang together after seeing others in the Marvel series. A couple neat camera moments (Cap in the rearview and a POV shot that flips along with the car it’s inside of). Nothing quite like the joy/terror of Hulk being Hulk. I really wish Renner had more to work with.
Zodiac. A serial killer is the impetus, but the theme is obsession. So good. If only all directors could use their minutes this well.