For a number of reason, Age of Ultron got a lot of flak from MCU fans for, essentially, not being The Avengers. The film had the thankless task of being a set-up film, masked as a climax film. This is really Civil War Part One. This is the inciting event whose consequences come home to roost in Captain America: Civil War. But the film also had to introduce fractures into the team, introduce a slew of new characters, set up Phase 3 films, and still manage to tell the story of the Avengers fighting their biggest traditional foe. I think it works very well in the larger context of the MCU, and would have just fine on its own had Disney not made one of its very few forays into meddling with the MCU. They felt the film was too long (they have since made longer) and made director Joss Whedon choose between neutering Thor’s storyline, which was the thread connecting the film to the overarching Infinity Gems plot, or cutting the entire sequence at the Barton farmhouse (not much of a choice because cutting that sequence breaks the film). How did that work out? AofU still made a bunch of bank, and angered director Joss Whedon is now directing Justice League and Batgirl for the DCEU. Continue reading My Favorite Scene: Avengers Age of Ultron (2015) *Who Is Worthy?*
If you’ve given up completely on broadcast TV to produce quality dramas, I don’t really blame you. Cable, with its freedom from content restriction, has carved out a golden age of TV drama to the point where there’s a greater quantity of well-written, well-acted drama on TV than there is in the movie theater. The networks have retreated into formulaic shows and franchises like CSI, Law & Order, NCIS, etc. There are some good shows for the super hero crowd like The Flash, Arrow, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but aside from The Blacklist, nothing to match cable. That was until This is Us came along last season.
This is Us isn’t just good; it’s great. It’s a show I should hate since it constantly deals with family, death, relationships, y’know….real life. It’s unapologetically earnest, consistently funny, always well-written, brilliantly acted, and in one year (we’re three episodes into season two) has already become the best network drama of the decade. The show’s pilot contains a brilliant twist, which I don’t want to ruin if you want to give the show a try, but my favorite scene in it comes from the pilot in a moment of joy and heartbreak. Two of the show’s characters (Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimilgia) have triplets in the pilot and they lose one of the babies. TV veteran Gerald McRaney plays their doctor in three episodes of the first season, and Dr. K is my favorite non-recurring character (Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown is my favorite of the regular cast). He gives Ventimiligia’s character wonderful and horrible news and then delivers a speech that should be hokey; it really should come off as treacly nonsense, but it’s not. It’s a beautiful and wise scene, and if you haven’t given This is Us a try, do. It’s an absolute triumph.
The Martian was my favorite book of 2014, so when it quickly was turned around into a huge movie the following year, I was a little nervous they could get it right. Especially so, because Ridley Scott, who used to be one of the most dependable directors in Hollywood, was helming it and was riding a decade long dry spell. Fortunately Scott was able to summon up a final science fiction masterpiece (no, I don’t hold out any hope for further ones) aided by perhaps the performance of Matt Damon’s career, an amazing ensemble cast, and fundamentally awesome source material (you can read my full review here).
One of the reasons that the story of Damon’s botanist, stranded on the Red Planet when his crew thinks him dead and leaves him behind, works so well is that it is 1) grounded in science and 2) as filled with funny moments as the novel is. Damon doesn’t have to quite do the amount of solo camera time that Tom Hanks did in Cast Away, but this is probably the closest to that feat that any other actor has come. Like Hanks did with Wilson (the greatest prop in movie history), Damon uses his logs to come up for an excuse for essentially breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience. My favorite of these log rants begins with Damon using Vicodin as a condiment and ends with a convoluted explanation of how Mars now belongs to him under maritime law and that he is, in fact, a space pirate.
By the way, Andy Weir’s second novel (Artemis) hasn’t even been released yet and has been snapped up by a studio with The LEGO Movie team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller attached to direct.
As someone who loves the English language and watching it get stood on its head and played with, I am also a huge fan of 2007’s Juno. Not only do I think it’s a great and, at times, hilarious movie about the fairly serious subject of teen pregnancy, I think Ellen Page should have won an Oscar for her portrayal of the exasperated, increasingly inflating teen who finds her baby new parents by picking them out of a Penny Saver. I love the rhythms of language Diablo Cody (who did win an Oscar for the script) picks for Juno. When I was a teen, and really still, I think phrasing things the way everyone else does is boring, and am constantly making up new words to fit my needs.
My favorite scene in the film, though, is one that is one of the best father/daughter talks I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s wise and funny, showcasing not only Page’s talent but that of JK Simmons, who is one of the best additions any movie can make to its cast. Juno’s dad has a pretty realistically bad reaction to the news that she’s pregnant and that’s one of the movie’s most painfully real reminders of how serious this all is, but by the time this scene takes place, he’s calmed down and gives her some of the best advice any father could ever give his daughter. The question is, “Can two people fall in love and stay in love together forever?” Simmons answer is better than any summary I could write.
Among Spielberg’s “important” films, Amistad isn’t the home run that Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List is, but it’s still a powerful film and one with an incredible ensemble cast anchored by Anthony Hopkins in an Oscar-nominated performance as former President John Quincy Adams.
In today’s political climate, it’s hard to imagine, but after Adams lost his bid for re-election as President, he ended up running for Congress and returned to the House of Representatives (the only former President to do so) and government service. There, he was enlisted to represent the “cargo” of the slave ship La Amistad before the US Supreme Court. The Africans enslaved by the ship, had escaped the hold and slain their captors before being apprehended when their ship arrived in America. The 1839 case hinged on whether this was a matter of kidnapped human beings rising up and shaking off their chains or human cargo that should be returned to its “owners”. Hopkins arguing on their behalf before the court with a ten-minute dissertation on freedom is one of the most riveting monologues and pieces of acting I’ve ever seen. Hannibal Lecter’s introduction may be the most obvious best scene of Hopkins’ career, but this is every bit as good.