Film Review: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Dir: The Russo Bros
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chrises Evans, Hemsworth, and Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scarlett Johansson, Josh Brolin, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Peter Dinklage, Tom Holland, lots and lots of other amazing humans, possibly some aliens, and one badass cape.
Runtime: 2hr 29min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light, if any. No major plot points revealed.

At last, the moment Marvel fans have been waiting for since Iron Man’s debut film in 2008 has dawned. A decade in the making, those loyal to the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe get to see dozens of superheroes (and a few villains) meet onsceen in what is being marketed as one of the largest collaborative efforts in film history, and the result is an ambitious and unrelenting crossover spectacle that is sure to keep fans on the edge of their seats until the lights go up in the theater and the last name ticks by on the credit scroll.

img_20180426_184828_4731152136814.jpgAvengers: Infinity War follows the fractured Avengers (and a ragtag crew of other heroes) as they attempt to stop the intergalactic threat Thanos from securing the all-powerful infinity stones and thus wreaking his judgment upon the earth. And… that’s pretty much all to be said without wandering into spoiler territory.

First of all, for those going into this film spoiler-free (as one should) I have only one word of advice: Forget everything you think you know. With a film series that now spans 19 installments, it’s difficult not to speculate and generate theories as to what will happen to the much-beloved characters fans have grown to know and become attached to over the last ten years. But I assure you, Infinity War defies expectations and unfurls enough twists and surprises to keep the most intuitive fans guessing until the final seconds.

This film features a massive cast, and while some faces do get more screen time and focus than others, no one feels shoved to the side or left out. The smaller story-lines are all connected by one major over-arcing conflict (named Thanos), which keeps the story churning ahead like a train barreling down the tracks, and prevents the plot from meandering too far off course. Several of the unorthodox pairs and groupings that come about in this movie are flat out strokes of comedic and narrative genius, with interactions and rapport that practically ooze chemistry. I never realized how badly I wanted a Thor and Rocket Raccoon team-up movie until now, but if it ever happens, Marvel has my money. Somehow, even in such a jam-packed film, several characters manage to undergo a decent and impressive amount of character development despite sharing the screen with so many colorful personalities. This film could very easily have felt like “too much,” but because the cast is broken up into different factions most of the time, it manages to escape coming across as bloated and bogged down.

The writing capably balances comedic moments (with several jokes that had me laughing out loud) and the heavier, more serious scenes that strive to yank at the heartstrings and appeal to the viewer’s emotional investment in the series. The result is a well-paced film where some of the smaller moments are more charming and evocative than the bombastic high-stakes events. A film of this magnitude also promises a wealth of action, and once the fight-scenes start, they hardly ever let up, except some breaks for exposition and banter. There are numerous instances of creative combat and fan-service that are certain to please and thrill, though fans who disliked the large cast and epic fight scenes in Civil War will possibly find little to appreciate about the action sequences in this film. Likewise, those who are looking for a more casual movie-going experience or have missed the major films in this series might want to skip this one until they’re caught up. Many of the jokes and references in this film will not make sense to those who have skipped a few chapters – in fact, the opening scene is proof that this isn’t a film meant to draw in new viewers and initiate fresh fans. The first seeds for Infinity War were planted ten years ago when Tony Stark first graced the silver screen, and for the nineteenth chapter, the Russo Bros and other hands behind this film have delivered an explosive, emotionally-jarring, and potentially scarring adventure that hardly takes a breather from start to finish.

On a visual level, the effects are of standard Marvel quality. Some CGI looks fake, other times it’s seamless… that’s more or less par for the course for these movies. Alan Silvestri’s score makes an excellent addition and expansion to the existing themes and music from previous films, and adds a bit of extra power to both the emotional scenes and the ones rife with combat.

Folks who have witnessed all or most of the eighteen films leading up to this one, who flock to early screenings and don their favorite character’s colors and symbols for premieres and eschew sneak peaks and early footage in favor of going in blind, will find a lot to like about this film, but might also find parts of it frustrating simply because there is such a great level of investment in the fan-base. This is a film with a lot on the line, and not everyone will be pleased with the result. Obviously, the most contentious and hotly-discussed moment(s) of this movie will mainly concern the ending… which is why I’m not going to go into it. But I will say that my jaw dropped more than once, there are some loose threads left dangling, fan reactions are likely to be split, and I’m already concocting theories as to what will happen in the sequel, which is an entire year away. It is frustrating to have to wait that long, but at least we have the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel to make it more endurable.

Infinity War has had an entire decade of build up, and though it’s not a definitive conclusion to the current phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is apparent that the end is nigh, and this war might exact a greater toll than fans are prepared for. But overall, Infinity War is a wild ride that Marvel fans absolutely should not miss.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

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5 Favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe Films

In the lead up to Infinity War this Thursday night, I thought I’d list my favorite films in the MCU thus far! Though, bear in mind, this is a list of my favorites, not what I consider to be the best.

MV5BMjM2NTQ5Mzc2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTcxMDI2NTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_5.) Ant-Man (2015)
I know this film doesn’t feature on many top Marvel film lists, but I thought this adventure, which feels like a fun side quest instead of a direct installment to the main, over-arcing narrative, was an absolute blast. Paul Rudd is the perfect choice for the role, combining humor and a sort of “every man” affability that made him both likable and relatable as a character (despite his prison record). It’s a superhero movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and sometimes, that’s exactly what’s needed in the midst of intergalactic wars or cities and planets in peril. I laugh every time I see the Thomas the Tank Engine scene, and for some reason, the size-changing hi-jinks don’t get old. I look forward to even more hilarity in the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, dropping this summer.

MV5BMTg1MTY2MjYzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTc4NTMwNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_4.) Black Panther (2018)
This film (coupled with the preceding Thor: Ragnarok) was the perfect installment in the MCU to set up Infinity War because it defies several of the common superhero tropes while still adhering to Marvel’s standards in quality and entertainment. Much like Ant-Man, this film is a palette cleanser, a nice break for those suffering from the “Marvel fatigue” as it helped rejuvenate a genre that sees more and more repetitive installments every year. T’Challa’s journey to assert himself as both an individual hero and a true leader to his people made me excited for superhero movies again, and it also has what is probably the most well-developed and exciting villain in the entire MCU. Plus, this film gave us Okoye and Shuri. Need I say more?

MV5BNjgwNzAzNjk1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQ2NjI1OTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_3.) Doctor Strange (2016)
Alright, alright…. maybe I just really enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch with a beard and a snarky attitude enough to see this film twice in IMAX 3D. But Doctor Strange is a unique character with a level of sarcasm and ego to rival Tony Stark, and his transition to the big screen was a refreshing trip into the world of illusion and different deimensions, as his story focuses more on the abilities of the mind and “magical” manipulation, which provide for absolutely stunning visual segments and complex, entertaining fight scenes. The final confrontation in this film also features a unique twist that is a nice change-up from the standard “hero must beat the big bad” recipe. And the cape is easily the best sidekick in the entire MCU (sorry, Falcon).

MV5BMTAwMjU5OTgxNjZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDUxNDYxODEx._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_2.) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I knew nothing about the titular characters going into this film, and came out of it blown away at how hilarious this motley crew of space adventurers could be. This film is a visual and auditory feast of bright colors, unique characters, and 80’s and 70’s jams coming together for one epic and laugh-out-loud romp across the galaxy. And while Groot is an absolute delight, and one scene in particular makes me tear up every single re-watch, Rocket Raccoon and his foul mouth will always be my favorite member of this ragtag squad. Plus, this film has the great distinction of being the only MCU film to feature a final confrontation that contains a dance-off. And that should be enough to convince any one to see it, if for some reason they live under a rock and haven’t watched this MCU gem yet.

download.jpg1.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
From the moment I saw Chris Evans in Captain America: the First Avenger back in 2011, his position as my favorite Avenger was sealed… and that conviction only grew stronger with the sequel, which I still consider to be one of the best all-around films in the whole MCU. Winter Soldier is equal parts political/espionage-laced thriller and action-packed superhero movie that blurs the line between right and wrong and good and bad, with an impeccable focus on character development and a lot of build up to future movies in this series, especially Civil War, which only narrowly missed this list. The Captain America-based storyline is (arguably) the most integral in the entire MCU, as his actions and decisions bear so much weight on the Avengers/S.H.I.E.L.D as a whole. For me, Steve Rogers/Captain America is the easiest character to feel attached to, to be inspired by, and his journey and development as an individual and as a member of the Avengers is the one I am most invested in, and his portrayal in Winter Soldier is him at his finest and truly coming into his own, learning that his shield cannot only be used to defend, but it must be a weapon too. Plus, this movie gave us Bucky/The Winter Soldier. Enough said.

Forking Irrational

Lots of folks have irrational fears. I have a few myself. Jewelry, car washes (I have been making strides against this one, however), mascots, and things with holes in them (not as severe as most who share this fear, thankfully).

But what about irrational anger? Or hatred? I mean, at some point in life, I’m sure almost everyone is guilty of being irrationally angry about some scenario or comment or interaction, or someone feels irrational, inexplicable hatred toward some being or item.

Me? I have an irrational hatred toward forks. Three-pronged forks, to be exact.

Three prongs simply are not enough. I must have four prongs on my forks. I’m not so anal about it that I specifically request four-pronged forks when I go to restaurants, but if it is within my power to procure a fork with four prongs as opposed to one with three, I will do so.

If I could eliminate three-pronged forks from the universe, I absolutely would, no question. I do not care about any potential detriment to etiquette their extinction would cause, three-pronged forks are an abomination and deserve to be destroyed.

Where did this irrational hatred come from? No clue. But the sight of three-pronged forks fills me with intense, fiery hatred. They are the most inferior members of the fork family, of that I will never be dissuaded. In fact, they might even be the lowliest of all utensils… or perhaps that is reserved for the spork.

And, since it’s not causing harm to anyone, I have more or less accepted the fact that, although this particular hatred is 100% forking irrational, there’s nothing wrong with it, and so I shall continue my fork hating ways undeterred.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

Book News!

My YA novel, I’m With You, is officially available on the Nook, and it’s only $1.99!

Here is the LINK to the Barnes&Noble website. Give it a read, and leave a review to help an indie author out.

book coverSynopsis: When fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan eavesdrops on a conversation between his father and two mysterious strangers, his life–and the life of his little sister, Remiel–is changed forever. After their father makes a startling decision, the Morrigan siblings are forced to flee the only life they’ve ever known and embark on a dangerous adventure across the nation of Empirya. With the help of a disinherited vagabond, a cynical violinist, a fire-juggler with a fierce temper, an aspiring mechanic, and a cheerful librarian, Ciarán and Remiel must fight to escape those who have been hired to hunt them. But will Remiel’s dark secret prevent the Morrigan children from finding a place they can truly call home?

It’s also still available in ebook format on Amazon, and is still available for paperback on both Amazon and Barnes&Noble for $9.99.

Writing Techniques: Out of Order

It’s almost safe to say that no writer writes exactly the same way – it’s a unique process for most. Some folks must have absolute silence, some prefer total isolation, others can be productive in a busy coffee shop whilst other patrons are slurping lattes and chatting with friends. It’s all up to the writer.

And how a person writes vastly differs as well.

When I was writing I’m With You, I wrote the first draft entirely in order until around chapters 13-15 range (can’t remember the specific chapter), then I got stuck. I tried to slog through it, but couldn’t figure out exactly how to puzzle out that segment, so I just moved on to what became chapters 17-19. I had a better idea of where I wanted that portion of the store to go and what I hoped to achieve with it, since it’s a fairly contained section of the narrative. Thus, it was easier for me to draft.

I used to think I had to write in a strictly linear pattern – point A to point B to point C and so on – so when I hit a roadblock, I’d just… stop. Several bouts of frustration and stress later, I’d manage to get momentum going again, but it didn’t occur to me until around my college years that I could write out of order. I could go from point A to point J if I wanted. It doesn’t matter, so long as you can seamlessly link the parts together after they’re all done.

That realization – though simple for some, it was a groundbreaking revelation for me – actually first came to me while writing essays for college. English majors have to write a lot of essays. A crap ton, one might say. And the bane of many college writers is the intro paragraph, which contains the dreaded thesis statement. I used to sit and stare at my computer for ages, trying to think of a compelling intro with a powerful hook, as the cursor blinked mockingly at me from an empty document. To be fair, I’ve encountered many other students and writers who also thought that you had to do the intro first. How else would you know what to write, if you haven’t yet set it up?

I learned, by my senior year, that, as long as I had at least some idea of what I was going to write about, I could just skip the intro, write out the rest of my essay, and then hope motivation and momentum carry me enough to pump out an intro by the time the rest of it is done. Or, if sudden inspiration happened to strike, I could go back and write it out at any point. There are no rules dictating the order in which you write an essay, or a narrative, or any piece of creative work.

By my last couple of semesters, my drafts starting looking like this:

487009_4395092474564_234789100_n

For the record, I do still believe that intro paragraphs can die in a hole. As you can see, the start of this draft is ugly, my thesis ends with “something something something,” and I haven’t even got a title.

But here is the final version, which came together as I was writing the rest of the essay:

final scor.PNG

A bit wordy, but it gets the job done. Your thesis and intro can take shape during the development of the body paragraphs. A lot of the time, I would have no idea how to word my thesis, but I knew what I was trying to prove… and working through the meat of the essay helped me find the right words.

For my current MS, I got stuck on a particular chapter for months – but I didn’t dwell on it very long. I didn’t forget about it entirely, of course, but when I felt hopelessly stuck and had no idea what to write next, I just moved on and kept chugging away at the other sections of the story, the ones I did have a clear path for. Ultimately, I worked past the roadblock and got the chapter done. So, if your writing patterns and habits seem a little unorthodox, don’t let others tell you that your style is out of order. Sometimes, being out of order is exactly what a writer needs.

~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Film Review: Chappaquiddick (2018)

Dir: John Curran
Starring: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms, Bruce Dern, Jim Gaffigan, etc.
Runtime: 1hr 41min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light

Chappaquiddick is based on the true story of the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident, in which a car accident involving senator Ted Kennedy (Clark) resulted in the death of political campaign secretary Mary Jo Kopechne (Mara). As controversy erupts regarding his level of involvement in Kopechne’s death, the senator must decide which is more important – the legacy and reputation of his family, or the truth.

Chappaquiddick_(film)Chappaquiddick presents a compelling and relevant commentary on the perceived moral infallibility of politicians and public figures versus the truth of their glaring flaws and inherent humanity. The film lingers on the word “integrity” more than once, and it seems that is the idea that haunts Kennedy as the events of that night on Chappaquiddick consume his life and threaten his career. As the senator smooths his hair and adjusts his appearance in mirrors and ensures that he looks good for the cameras, he is the picture of integrity, the image of an upstanding man of high moral character – and yet, so often, his words and actions behind closed doors contradict that. The outside fails to reflect the inside, though the outside is all that the public sees.

Clarke’s portrayal is gripping and nuanced as the last Kennedy son, living in the engulfing shadow of Robert and Jack, a man slowly breaking beneath the burdensome reputation of his celebrated family, struggling to appease the rigid demands of his wheelchair-bound, yet intimidating father (Dern), and the truth surrounding a young woman who met her death, cold and alone, in the depths of a lake. Early in the film, a wet, defeated Ted Kennedy tells his cousin Joe Gargan (Helms) “I’m not going to be president,” and that statement encompasses the truth of who Kennedy is, in this film. A man who will never escape the shadows that eclipse him.

Though Clarke’s performance easily dominates the screen, the supporting roles in this film are superb, especially Mara as Mary Jo, as she is, essentially, the ghost that trails Kennedy throughout this film, resonating long after that car plummets into the water, a presence that cannot merely be relegated to a footnote in someone else’s history. Helms also delivers a solid performance as Gargan, torn between his loyalty and familial ties to the Kennedy family, and the struggle to do what is right. Andria Blackman as Ted’s wife Joan Kennedy gets the film’s lone F-bomb, and it’s my personal favorite line in the entire film. Dern is powerful as Kennedy family patriarch, and, though the senior Kennedy was confined to a wheelchair and suffering from the effects of a stroke that left his movement and speech impaired, Dern’s portrayal makes him a dominant force to be reckoned with, with a glare that could freeze anyone in place.

One major strength of the film is how it subtly presents different “sides,” or compares viewpoints and situations. In the film, the problems swarming Kennedy are juxtaposed against the efforts of the Space Race – a fitting contrast, as Ted Kennedy’s political career and social life plunge into purgatory while Neil Armstrong takes his first victorious steps on the surface of the moon. One giant leap for mankind, and one massive misstep for Ted Kennedy. It’s a nice touch, aiding the tone of the film, and makes Ted’s mistakes all the more apparent. Another contrast is the way Mary Jo is treated, often referred to as “the girl,” by the Kennedy’s collection of black suits, but referred to by name by Gargan and those close to her, even by Kennedy himself. The core of this film is the way it shows ideas butting heads with each other – most prominently, the weight of a family’s reputation against the importance of truth and honesty, and politics versus morality and how they often fail to intersect.

What truly happened on the night of July 18th, 1969 at a bridge on Chappaquiddick island, might never be fully explained or revealed, and many of the details have remained unclear. The film does a fair job of keeping this relatively ambiguous tone, as the true nature of the relationship between Ted and Mary Jo is left to interpretation, and Ted appears conflicted enough about his choices that the film avoids entering character assassination territory. Viewers can form their own opinion of him – I’ve never held the Kennedy family on a golden, untouchable pedestal, so I found the portrayal to be well-balanced. Sharp editing and writing assist in making Chappaquiddick a partially completed puzzle that offers enough of a clear picture to satisfy audiences and answer pesky questions, while leaving enough blurred ideas and “what ifs?” and “might haves” to avoid straying too far into slanderous artistic liberty pitfalls that plague so many films based on “true” events. However, those with a rosy perception of the Kennedy dynasty might think otherwise.

Overall rating: 8/10

Current Tunes #3

Some selections from my current writing playlist…

Stranger in the NorthNamewee ft. Leehom Wang (or G.E.M. Tang)
Though I was quite the J-Pop aficionado back in the day, my appreciation eventually grew to cover C-Pop and a bit of K-Pop. Though I haven’t kept up with it much in recent years, this tune caught my attention and it’s become a staple on my playlist. Both versions sound absolutely gorgeous and the official music video is stunning, I highly recommend it.

Run Don’t WalkK. Michelle
I first heard this song on the overhead at work and every time it came on, I tried to memorize the lyrics so I could look it up later. After a few failed attempts, I finally found it, and it’s been a constant on my playlist ever since. I listen to it as a “theme” of sorts for a romantic pairing I’m refining in my current MS, and it’s been a pretty big help during my editing sessions.

ZombieBad Wolves
This new cover of the brilliant Cranberries song is just as awesome and impressive as Disturbed’s recent cover of The Sound of Silence. Obviously, it’s got a different sound than the original – a bit heavier, yet still in the same realm – but the anti-war/violence message it carries is just as powerful and relevant today as it was when the song debuted in 1994. It’s also a fitting tribute to Dolores O’Riordan, the lead singer of the Cranberries, who passed away earlier this year.

Me and MineThe Brothers Bright
This song has a folksy sound, but with a dark edge – exactly the way I like it! The line, “I will burn your kingdom down if you try to conquer me and mine,” is so badass, and a great line for an anthem, and really helps get the creativity pumping during writing sessions.

I Am Not Nothing Beth Crowley
I love Beth Crowley’s original songs (usually inspired by YA literature, also my favorite literature) and this recent one has been a feature on my writing playlist ever since she released it. This song, about asserting identity and worth and starting over, is beautiful and inspiring, and I never skip it when it comes on my shuffle.

All The Kings MenThe Rigs
I’m currently writing/editing a YA fantasy novel, and this song carries the perfect sound for what I’m trying to capture in my writing. Fantasy, with a bit of a dark twist and an edgy sound.

Moonlight SonataHidden Citizens 
I’ve recently discovered “epic rock” covers of classical music, and this one is definitely my favorite of the ones I’ve come across thus far. There’s something so inspiring and invigorating about classics being re-imagined in a more epic, pulse-pounding format, and it gives them a new and powerful sound. Just right for when I’m trying to write out action scenes.