AVENGERS: ENDGAME: 3 STARS
The words "most-anticipated movie of the year" get tossed around a few times every season, usually describing a beloved fan sequel or an Oscar hopeful riding a wave of good press.
After "Avengers: Endgame" we can retire those words until January 2020. Before it played on one public screen the follow-up to 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War" smashed records. Demand for tickets crashed AMC Theatres' website and app, it became Fandango’s top-selling pre-sale title and in China, advance sales topped a record one million tickets in a matter of hours. Someone in the United States paid a staggering $15,000 online for a pair of tickets (I hope that includes popcorn) and box office prognosticators predict a domestic debut in the $260 million range.
Most-anticipated indeed, but the question remains, Does "Avengers: Endgame" deserve all the hype?
In the spirit of #DontSpoilTheEndgame I’m cribbing the synopsis of the movie from IMBD.com: "After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos' actions and restore order to the universe."
"Endgame" is, first and foremost, a fan service movie. From the sheer number of returning Marvel faves — characters number in the dozens, if not the low hundreds — too deep character backstory — superheroes have mommy and daddy issues too! — to the crew’s biggest world-saving mission to date, it indulges every aficionado’s story hopes and desires. It may leave the casual superhero fans feeling overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the film but people willing to line up for hours to see the movie on opening weekend will be rewarded for their patience.
It is epic in the terms of length — it's three hours so get a snack — location — infinity and beyond! — but it feels like "a lot" rather than epic.
The story begins on a minor chord, spending much time with the characters grappling with the loss of friends and family before finding a way to right the world-destroying wrongs of Thanos. There is humour, some action but mostly character work. Hulk is in a form we haven’t seen before, Rudd and Downey still have a way with the line and it’s a whole new Thor than any other movie. As the story hopscotches through time and space directors Anthony and Joe Russo keep the focus on the characters fans have come to love.
It’s in the third hour the movie loses its human touch, becoming a noisy CGI orgy that must’ve required the power of 1 million networked computers working overtime to render the frenetic images we see on screen.
As for who lives and who dies? (SPOILER ALERT WITH ABSOLUTELY NO REVEAL) You’ll get no hint here. Suffice to say one of the characters says, "part of the journey is the end," and I can tell you there will be unsigned contracts and actors suddenly free to do other movies that do not require the wearing of spandex.
"Endgame" feels like the end of the old cycle, the beginning of a reset. Old favourites gone, passing the mantle to others before they go. We even see a poster that reads, "Where do we go, now that they’re all gone?" I’m sure the next several Avengers movies will point the way but it is worth noting there are no hints in the post-credit scene because there is no post-credit scene (at least at the screening I saw).
The film has a sense of self-importance that fans will love, giving the characters the respect that franchises owe characters who have made them billions of dollars.
THE PUBLIC: 3 STARS
Emilio Estevez became a Brat Pack star hanging around in a library in 1985’s "The Breakfast Club." Years later he returns, this time as a grown up with grown up concerns. As writer-director-producer-star of "The Public" Estevez presents the socially aware story of what happens when people stand up for themselves and speak truth to power.
"The Public" sees Estevez play Stuart Goodson, head librarian and de facto social worker at the Cincinnati Public Library. Inside the library is an oasis of warmth for the city’s homeless community who use it as a drop in centre during the cold winter months. Outside, when the frigid weather claims one of the library regulars, the patrons, led by Jackson (Michael K. Williams), turn the building into an emergency homeless shelter. "There’s some situation at the central library," says Detective Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin). "Probably somebody had a melt down over an overdue book."
Behind the scenes the stand-off escalates as the sensationalist media, in the form of a TV news reporter played by Gabrielle Union, misrepresents the act of civil disobedience as a possible hostage situation or active shooter. A self-righteous mayoral candidate (Christian Slater) stokes the fire while library administrator Anderson (Jeffrey Wright) tries to keep the situation from boiling over. "What’s the downside to having them stay there for the evening," he asks.
"The Public" takes a long hard look at pressing social concerns. Estevez based part of this story on a Chip Ward essay about public libraries as asylums for the homeless and drives home the point with all the subtlety of one of Cincinnati’s icy winters. Lack of shelter space for the homeless population coupled with governmental cutbacks to social programs are urgent needs brought to life here in a colourful if somewhat cliched way.
The idea that, as Anderson says, public libraries are the last bastion of democracy, truly a place for everyone and anyone, is an important one but delivered with a heavy hand. By the time Goodson reads a long excerpt from "The Grapes of Wrath" to a reporter, the noble efforts of the screenplay give way to the stagier aspects of Estevez’s vision.
"The Public" features good performances from Slater, Baldwin, Estevez and Taylor Schilling as a flirtatious building manager but is weighted down by the burden of its good intentions.
AMAZING GRACE: 4 ½ STARS
Hidden from view for almost 50 years, "Amazing Grace," the rough-hewn documentary of Aretha Franklin’s remarkable two-night stand at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, is a making-of look at the recording of the singer’s soul-stirring gospel album of the same name.
Director Sydney Pollack shot 20 hours of footage but failed to use clapper boards at the beginning of each song. Later, in the editing room, technicians were unable to synchronize the sound. Decades later producer Alan Elliott’s team spent two years synching sound to image, completing the film two years after Pollack’s death. Franklin then sued Elliott for using her likeness without permission and the film was delayed even further. Now, a full 47 years since those legendary shows, the film is on the big screen.
It was worth the wait.
Franklin was already the Queen of Soul when she recorded "Amazing Grace." With 11 consecutive number one songs to her credit, including "Respect", "Chain of Fools", "Think", "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)", and "I Say a Little Prayer" she was unassailable on the pop and R&B charts. "Amazing Grace" was to take her back to her roots, singing the music she grew up with as the daughter of minister C. L. Franklin.
The Grammy-winning two-disc LP was a high-water mark in Franklin’s career and became the biggest selling gospel album of all time. Here we see Franklin standing behind the preacher’s podium, sweating, singing some of the most glorious spirituals ever committed to tape. The audience, about 200 people (plus Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts who visited on one of the nights) are treated to traditional songs like "God Will Take Care of You" and non-traditional mash-ups such as the blend of "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" and the James Taylor hit "You've Got a Friend." "It doesn’t matter what you sing," says the show’s MC Reverend James Cleveland, "it matters who you’re singing it to." With her father in the front row she delivers a version of the title song that makes even the members of her background chorus cry.
The photography in "Amazing Grace" is crude, the editing choppy but the sound is transcendent as Franklin caresses and stretches the notes of these songs to maximum effect. It is a document of a time, a place and most importantly, of a voice that sounds truly heaven sent.