July 2019 movie capsules

The Heiress (1949, William Wyler)
★★★★
Outstanding period drama about unmarried heiress Olivia de Havilland’s courtship by charming but poor Montgomery Clift and the repercussions for de Havilland’s relationship with her father, Ralph Richardson. Small story grandly told; Ruth and Augustus Goetz adapted their own play (which was adapted from Henry James’s Washington Square). Fantastic performances from everyone involved, stellar direction from Wyler.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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Wonder Boys (2000, Curtis Hanson)
★★★½
Beautifully directed “man in [madcap] crisis” movie with writing professor Michael Douglas dealing with his wife leaving him, his girlfriend getting pregnant, his agent snooping for his overdue and overlong new novel, one student trying to seduce him, and another student killing his boss’s dog. All those threads overlap too. It’s a bit of a plotting mess, but well written and wonderfully acted. Hanson and his talented crew make a sublime picture.
DVD, Streaming.
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Hello Down There (1969, Jack Arnold)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Atrocious “family” “comedy” about Tony Randall dragging his family into his experimental underwater house of the future to prove the validity of the project to boss Jim Backus. Janet Leigh plays Randall’s wife (she could’ve done a lot better); she’s terrified of water. Their kids are in a band. The band comes along (including very young Richard Dreyfuss). Dumb script, some awful performances, lousy music (and a lot of it). Leigh’s okay, the rest is very bad.
DVD, Streaming.
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Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019, Jon Watts)
★★½
Fun, funny sequel has Spider-Man Tom Holland touring Europe on a class trip (leaving his Spidey suit at home) and trying to recover from AVENGERS: ENDGAME. He’s also wooing crush Zendaya and avoiding Sam Jackson’s pleas for help in battling giant monsters. Great anchoring performance from Holland. Loads of other good stuff… just not the big third act action finale. The two additional endings are way too essential not to be in the film proper.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Charlotte and Her Lover (1960, Jean-Luc Godard)
Not Recommended
Tedious thirteen minute short has Jean-Paul Belmondo monologuing a misogynist rant against silent ex-lover Anne Collette all to get to a predictable twist ending. Director Godard (poorly) dubs in himself for Belmondo. Blah.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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Greta (2018, Neil Jordan)
★★
Effective (rather than good) thriller about a young woman, Chloë Grace Moretz, discovering her new best friend (Isabelle Huppert) is a possibly dangerous stalker. Lots of suspenseful set pieces; they just don’t add up to a successful film. It almost gives Huppert a great movie villain role, only not to have any idea what to do with her once she’s primed. Good acting, fine direction, and very efficient storytelling. A little too efficient storytelling.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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The Best of Enemies (2019, Robin Bissell)
★★
Could be worse, but should be a lot better based on a true story about a 1971 North Carolina school desegregation crisis. Sam Rockwell is the Klan leader, Taraji P. Henson is the (Black) community organizer. Will they somehow work together to make the world a better place? Henson and Rockwell have real thin parts–courtesy director Bissell’s script–but they do a lot with them (for basically no reward). Bissell can’t hack it as director or writer.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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The Reckless Moment (1949, Max Ophüls)
★★★
Rather strong character study masquerading as a thriller about wealthy housewife Joan Bennett contending with a rebellious teenage daughter (Geraldine Brooks, in the film’s only weak-ish performance), the daughter’s skeezy older lover (Shepperd Strudwick), and the blackmailer who finds out about the illicit affair (James Mason)–all while getting the house ready for Christmas. Bennett’s phenomenal, Mason’s good, Ophüls’s direction is excellent.
Blu-ray (Region B).
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Body Heat (1981, Lawrence Kasdan)
★★★★
Singular, sweaty modern noir about charismatic, hunky, and dim lawyer William Hurt having an affair with trophy wife Kathleen Turner much to the detriment of his career and relationship with closest friends, D.A. Ted Danson and cop J.A. Preston. It gets even more complicated after Hurt meets her husband–a perfectly icky Richard Crenna–and working on revising his will. Great dialogue, great direction, great photography, editing, all of it. It’s awesome.

DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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The Swindlers (2017, Jang Chang-won)
★★½
Well-paced, emphasis on fun fun con movie with corrupt DA Yu Ji-tae and his team of blackmailed con artists trying to take down the perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in South Korean history. Everyone’s got their own agendas, their own secrets, which complicates the already arduous task. Especially newest team member Bin Hyun, who thinks he’s too smart for Yu. Writer-director Jang concentrates on the fun of the reveal and his likable cast.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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nullNarc (2002, Joe Carnahan)
★★★
Hyper-gritty cop movie about ex-undercover officer Jason Patric returning to the force to solve the murder of a fellow undercover cop (they didn’t know each other, but the NARC bond is apparently strong). Once back, Patric enlists the aid of bull in china shop tough cop (an awesomely bloated and belligerent Ray Liotta). The filmmaking’s gorgeous; in addition to flipping when it should flop, director Carnahan’s script hampers an otherwise strong Patric.
DVD, Streaming.
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In a Lonely Place (1950, Nicholas Ray)
★★½
Overall disappointing noir about down-on-his-luck screenwriter Humphrey Bogart getting his mojo back thanks to fetching neighbor Gloria Grahame taking an interest. Unfortunately they’ve just met because Bogart’s a murder suspect and, despite falling for him, Grahame isn’t exactly sure he didn’t do it. The leads are far better than the script, just never at the same time. Ray’s uneven direction doesn’t help. Bogart’s mostly just okay, but Grahame’s fantastic.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Le coup du berger (1956, Jacques Rivette)
Not Recommended
Obvious short about unfaithful wife Virginie Vitry’s attempts to con husband Jacques Doniol-Valcroze into unknowingly giving her the fur coat her lover (Jean-Claude Brialy) bought her. Middling writing and directing leads to middling acting.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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6/6 capsules

F–K (2010, R.E. Rodgers)
Recommended
All-star commercial for New York’s Labyrinth Theater Company is intense, weird, hostile, and often wonderful. Lots of awesome performances, particularly from Sam Rockwell and Christopher Meloni.
Streaming.
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Crystal Lake (2016, Jennifer Reeder)
Recommended
Beautifully made short about teenager Marcela Okeke going to live with cousins. The dialogue is off and the brief subplot inserts don’t work, but Reeder’s direction is outstanding, the cast is appealing, and the plot is good.
Streaming.
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Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971, Banno Yoshimitsu)
★★½
Fun, odd-ball Godzilla movie has the monster defending Japan from a giant radioactive sludge monster. Director Banno uses the film to make an impassioned environmental statement and, against the odds (and despite a terrible suit for the sludge monster, Hedorah), he succeeds. Great special effects otherwise. Banno goes all in on his Godzilla as Japan’s hero, Hedorah as its waste metaphor, delivering it packaged in a superior giant monster movie. English dubbed version released as GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER. Followed by GODZILLA VS. GIGAN.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986, Jeannot Szwarc)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Trying TV movie adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe short story stars George C. Scott as famous detective Auguste Dupin. Bad teleplay, lifeless direction, and a lifeless, grumpy old man performance from Scott do it in. Val Kilmer and Rebecca De Mornay are at least earnest support but they’re still not any good. Ian McShane is the only one who manages to get any life into their performance. At least no one attempts a French accent. So it could be worse.
DVD.
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Missing (2008, Tsui Hark)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Tedious and self-indulgent mystical-ish ghost story about psychologist Angelica Lee taking a hypnosis drug and seeing, you know, ghosts. Lots of underwear stuff because her dude (Guo Xiaodong) is an underwater photographer. (Writer-director Hark can’t shut up about the water in the bad narration). Okay time killer until the third act, when it all falls apart thanks to a litany of false endings. Lee’s a mediocre lead thanks to Hark’s script too.
DVD (R3), Blu-ray.
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6/4 Capsules

Picnic (1956, Joshua Logan)
★½
Way too chaste to be effective “potboiler” (maybe a Kansas potboiler?) about ne’er-do-well William Holden (playing somewhat younger than his 37 years) coming to a small town to beg a job off college pal Cliff Robertson, only to get in between Robertson and his best gal, local restless beauty queen Kim Novak. Excellent supporting performances from Rosalind Russell, Arthur O’Connell, and Susan Strasberg. But Logan’s direction is painfully flat.
DVD, Streaming.
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The Woman in White (1948, Peter Godfrey)
★★★
Half a great Gothic about drawing instructor Gig Young starting work at an English manor instructing Eleanor Parker. He soon finds himself in embroiled in a mystery involving sinister (and phenomenal) Sydney Greenstreet, an escape mental patient, as well as a love triangle between Parker and her best friend, played by Alexis Smith. Extremely well-made and acted; too roughly changes protagonist from Young to Smith, with Young really suffering.
DVD.
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6/3 Capsules

Predator 2 (1990, Stephen Hopkins)

Quite stupid sequel with an all-new cast (except PREDATOR performer Kevin Peter Hall) has almost nothing going for it except some gorgeous direction from Hopkins. He’s got a great sense for what’s going to at least look good in the film. Good performance from Danny Glover in the lead, but bad performances from almost everyone else (except Morton Downey Jr., which is definitely an ominous sign). It’s bad but beautifully directed.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Perry Mason: The Case of the All-Star Assassin (1989, Christian I. Nyby II)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Bungling direction from Nyby does in this PERRY MASON outing, which is unfortunate since many of the guest stars–except main guest star Pernell Roberts–at least try to give a good performance. Even without Nyby’s bungling, the movie would have some major problems thanks to writer Robert Hamilton’s exceptionally problematic, sexist writing of third lead Alexandra Paul.
DVD.
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Between the Lines (1977, Joan Micklin Silver)
★★
Meandering comedy about the lives and times of the staff of a Boston alternative newspaper. Director Micklin Silver gets a lot of raw, “real” moments but it usually feels like a “very special [and serious] episode” sitcom episode. Some good performances from the recognizable cast help–Jill Eikenberry’s great, Jeff Goldblum’s funny, and how can you not like Bruno Kirby. Lopsided plotting (and Stephen Collins getting his own subplot) hurt lots.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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Black Moon (1934, Roy William Neill)
★½
Phenomenally well-made but exceptionally racist thriller about a Caribbean voodoo cult brainwashing Dorothy Burgess into a sleeper agent. Jack Holt’s her unknowing husband, Cora Sue Collins is their daughter. Second-billed Fay Wray is the good White lady versus suspected race traitor Burgess. Like I said, racist; really, willfully racist. Holt’s great, so’s Collins. Great finale too. Just wish it wasn’t so super racist (even for the 1930s).
DVD.
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Showdown (1942, Izzy Sparber)
Not Recommended
SUPERMAN cartoon about a burglar dressing up as Superman when he robs places. Pretty soon he runs into the real Superman, who viciously scares him off a roof for fun. Boring action, holey plot; it’s pretty tepid stuff. Followed by ELEVENTH HOUR.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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The Return of the Incredible Hulk (1977, Alan J. Levi)

Second INCREDIBLE HULK pilot movie has lonely man Bill Bixby and his monster Lou Ferrigno getting involved with an orange grove heiress (Laurie Prange), her evil stepmother (Dorothy Tristan), and evil doctor (William Daniels). Not bad for a TV pilot aimed at seven-year old boys–the Hulk vs. bear is awesome and it’s efficient–but it’s all unimaginatively executed and rather underacted. Bixby’s likability carries the movie between Ferrigno’s Hulk outs. Aired in syndication as a two-parter with title, DEATH IN THE FAMILY.
DVD.
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6/2 Capsules

In the Electric Mist (2008, Bertrand Tavernier)
★½
Second attempt (Alec Baldwin tried in 1995’s HEAVEN’S PRISONERS) to turn James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels into a film franchise. Tommy Lee Jones is good in the lead and the supporting cast is all fine (Peter Sarsgaard is fantastic) but the script’s a mess. The “mystery” involves Jones, Hollywood actors (Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald), and a Civil War general’s ghost. Tavernier tries hard with the direction–to never let the film feel like a TV movie, which it otherwise might–and does pretty well. Probably incoherent if you haven’t read the novel.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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In the Heat of the Night (1967, Norman Jewison)
★★★★
Sidney Poitier is the big (Northern) city Black detective, Rod Steiger is the Mississippi redneck sheriff, can they work together to solve a murder? One hopes so. Excellent direction from Jewison, excellent performances from Poitier and Steiger (Steiger even gets too much to do considering it’s Poitier’s movie), meandering Stirling Silliphant script (from the John Ball novel). Great supporting cast. It’s just a thriller masquerading as a social picture.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Deadline – U.S.A. (1952, Richard Brooks) Crusading newspaperman Humphrey Bogart has to contend with his paper going out of business, the mob, and his ex-wife getting remarried. Writer-director Brooks’s ambitious are beyond what he can realize. Great performances from Bogart, Ethel Barrymore (as the paper’s owner), and Kim Hunter (as his ex). Almost entirely superb supporting cast. Great black and white photography from Milton R. Krasner; it’s about half a great movie.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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To Die For (1995, Gus Van Sant)
★★★★
Pitch black comedy about TV media personality-obsessed, burgeoning sociopath Nicole Kidman’s rise to fame and the damage she wreaks along the way. Director Van Sant and screenwriter Buck Henry (adapted the Joyce Maynard novel) embrace the story’s lack of potential for not-uneasy laughs and go for every awkward, creepy laugh they can get. Great performances, particularly from Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix. It’s an outstanding film. DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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My Scientology Movie (2015, John Dower)
★★★★
When documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux can’t get the Church of Scientology to participate in a film about the Church of Scientology, he enlists various ex-communicated Church members to help him cast actors as Church officials in an attempt to glean some insight into the mysterious organization. Sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying, always thoughtfully executed and constructed. Theroux’s exceptionally impartial, all things considered. DVD, Streaming.
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Capsule movie reviews to date

Lights Out (2016, Savannah Bloch)
Not Recommended
Well-made (particularly well-photographed by Cooper Ulrich) but ultimately pointless short about young mother Alixzandra Dove dealing with a naughty toddler who doesn’t want to go to bed. Dove’s okay, director Bloch’s okay; the writing does it in.
DVD, Streaming
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Henry Fool (1997, Hal Hartley)
★★★½
Obnoxious jerk Thomas Jay Ryan befriends (and exploits) introvert garbageman/unknown great American poet James Urbaniak, seducing his sister (a spectacular Parker Posey) but encouraging his writing. Very long, very difficult. The last act is truly phenomenal stuff.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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It Came from Outer Space (1953, Jack Arnold)
★½
Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush see a spaceship crash and can’t get anyone to believe them until it’s too late and the aliens start messing with the townsfolk. Arnold’s got a few big directing missteps (he races through every scene and doesn’t know how to compose shots on his sets). Simultaneously too short (at eighty minutes) and too long. Ray Bradbury wrote the original story treatment.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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It Happens Every Spring (1949, Lloyd Bacon)
★½
Ray Milland’s a college professor with a science-powered baseball who becomes a star pitcher. Paul Douglas is his catcher, Jean Peters is his girlfriend. Great performance from Douglas and some good writing can’t save the dull film. Milland’s disinterested and charmless, Peters is good but not in it enough to matter.
DVD, Streaming.
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The Killers (1946, Robert Siodmak)
★★½
Okay but overlong noir has insurance investigator Edmond O’Brien sure there’s more to his claim involving Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, and Albert Dekker. Flashbacks galore don’t add up to a good character arc for anyone involved. Ostensibly based on the Hemingway short story, but not really.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Perry Mason: The Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987, Richard Lang)

Satisfactory PERRY MASON TV movie has Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, and William Katt in a haunted hotel. Perry (Burr) has to defend old pal Robert Stack (who phones it in). Actually good Kim Delaney figures into the suspect pool, along with annoyingly awful Dwight Schultz. Burr gets a lot to do but Hale doesn’t. An otherwise amiable Katt’s comes off bored with his Delaney flirtation. Rocky in parts, but goodwill (and Delaney) carry it.
DVD.
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King Kong Escapes (1967, Honda Ishirô)

Charming Toho (paired with Rankin-Bass) KING KONG features a lot of homage to the original, great villains, appealing romantic leads (albeit chaste ones because 1967 and interracial romance), and an excellent fight scenes. Drawbacks include bland white guy lead Rhodes Reason and the King Kong suit. Also Ifukube Akira’s self-derivative score (reusing classic GODZILLA themes) though it too eventually is charming-ish. Goofy, but all right.
None.
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Paris Blues (1961, Martin Ritt)
★★
Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll are American tourists in Paris who meet expat jazz musicians Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier. They pair off on color lines (a change from the source novel, where Newman’s character romances Carroll’s); the men grapple with possibly returning to the States with their new ladies while still trying to hit it big. Bad script and often inert direction from Ritt does it in. A real missed opportunity; wastes the cast.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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The Incredible Hulk (2008, Louis Leterrier), the extended version
★★

Fan-made extended version–putting in deleted scenes to flesh things out to star and uncredited co-writer Edward Norton’s original intent–suffers from most of the theatrical version’s problems, but does give Norton a much better arc before he bows out to let the CG take over. Some great stuff for him and love interest Liv Tyler. It’s sad the film won’t ever get an official revision, as fan attempts show potential incredibleness. The CG end’s still bunk.
None.
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🍿
Irreversible (2012, David Levinson)
Not Recommended

Short film with a reverse order narrative gimmick and nothing else. The story–about asshole Timothy Paul Driscoll dumping girlfriend Alice Hunter–is terrible. Writer/director Levinson seems utterly unaware his protagonist’s loathsome.
Streaming.
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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005, Shane Black)
★★★
Black comedy about thief Robert Downey Jr. masquerading as an actor and getting wrapped up in a noir-ish L.A. conspiracy. Val Kilmer’s sort of the hard-boiled P.I., Michelle Monaghan’s sort of the femme fatale. Great performance from Downey and phenomenally constructed script from director Black enable the whole thing. Kilmer and Monaghan are both excellent as well. The film takes itself a little too seriously (and Black’s got some willfully unpleasant tangents in addition to his insightful genre deconstruction).
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Japón (2002, Carlos Reygadas)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Suicidal Alejandro Ferretis–he’s got a bad leg–travels to a rural area to do the deed, then meets an older woman (Magdalena Flores) and decides life’s worth living so long as she gets jiggy with him. Pretentious, self-indulgent, long. So long. Reygadas’s uneven direction is at least better than the script; the all-amateur cast is far from impressive.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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Joint Security Area (2000, Park Chan-wook)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Ineptly executed decent idea–soldiers on either side of the Korean border becoming pals and how wrong things go. Park sentimentalizes more than directs. Some of the acting makes it bearable, though far from all of it.
DVD.
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L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson)
★½
Middling (at best), “handsome,” Oscar-bait adaptation of James Ellroy corrupt cops novel set in early fifties L.A.. Good performance from Russell Crowe and a great one from Kevin Spacey can’t make up for ineffective lead Guy Pearce, risibily bad Kim Basinger turn as femme fatale, or director Hanson and Brian Helgeland’s disjointed script. It also underuses David Straithairn, which ought to be a crime.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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The Lower Depths (1936, Jean Renoir)
★★½
Problematic, reductive adaptation of Maxim Gorky play about residents of Russian flophouse and their successes and failures trying to get out of poverty. Great performances from Jean Gabin and Louis Jouvet, but director Renoir loses track of the film when away from them.
DVD.
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The Man in the Iron Mask (1998, Randall Wallace)
★★
Fun adventure has Leonardo DiCaprio as twins–one good, one bad–but really it’s just an excuse to do OLD MAN THREE MUSKETEERS with Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, and Gerard Depardieu (Gabriel Byrne’s fourth wheel D’Artagnan). Excellent performances from the Musketeers–with Irons and Malkovich always erring on the right side of ham–and Byrne’s got some good moments. DiCaprio’s okay enough; it helps he’s not in the movie very much.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Matewan (1987, John Sayles)
★½
Strangely simplistic take on a 1920s West Virginia coal miners work stoppage. The film’s jumbo scale gets away from director Sayles in the script so he relies way too heavily on caricature. Great performances from Chris Cooper, Mary McDonnell, and David Strathairn. Very disappointing.
DVD.
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The Missouri Breaks (1976, Arthur Penn)
★★★★
Singular Western pits rustler-turned-farmer Jack Nicholson against mercenary Marlon Brando. Exceptional on most fronts, including Penn’s direction, Nicholson’s performance, and the John Williams score. Brando’s good too, he’s just not Nicholson.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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My Name is Nobody (1973, Tonino Valerii)
★★½
Fun but creatively lazy comedy Western about aging lawman Henry Fonda teaming up with amateur gunslinger Terence Hill to take on “The Wild Bunch.” Sergio Leone came up with the story, produced the picture in some uncredited but important capacity, and even directed some scenes. Or just one. He can’t doesn’t save it. In addition to the wonky narrative, the film gets way too preachy about the end of the Old West.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Night Moves (1975, Arthur Penn)
★★★★
Superlative mystery drama about L.A. private investigator Gene Hackman going to Florida on a case (to avoid his crumbling marriage to Susan Clark) and getting mixed up with stunt men, smuggling, and Jennifer Warren. Young Melanie Griffith is the missing person in the initial case. Exceptional performances from Hackman and Warren. Clark’s real good too. Penn’s direction and Alan Sharp’s script are both phenomenal. There’s nothing else like it; one of the best American films of the 1970s.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Olga’s Chignon (2002, Jérôme Bonnell)
★★★½
Patient, deliberate drama about a family coping with the mother’s death. Only the wrap-up is uneven; an excellent debut from writer-director Bonnell.
DVD.
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Over the Rainbow (2002, Ahn Jin-woo)
★★½
Romantic drama about a weather guy (Lee Jung-jae) trying to rediscover his past after a car accident leaves him with partial amnesia. Part of that rediscovery involves old friend (Jang Jin-young). Good performances from Lee and Jang–an outstanding one from Jang–make up for the third act problems and some general confusion involving the film’s extensive flashbacks.
DVD (R3).
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The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor)
★★½
Just okay class comedy gets by on Cary Grant’s considerable charm as he tries to win ex-wife Katharine Hepburn back before she gets married again. Thin characters and stagy adaptation limit Hepburn most (Jimmy Stewart’s manifestly miscast). The rushed finish doesn’t help things either. Some nice direction from Cukor, though never in the pacing.
DVD (R3).
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Safety Last! (1923, Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor)
★★★½
Outstanding comedy has Lloyd going from store clerk to “Human Fly” as he tries to make it in New York City. Superb physical antics from Harold Lloyd; the film ends with his breathtaking attempt to scale as twelve-story building. Also a very accessible silent film for newbies
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Sea of Love (1989, Harold Becker)
★★★★
Beautifully written (by Richard Price) mystery has Al Pacino as a bachelor cop who tries to catch a killer who picks his victims through a dating service. Ellen Barkin is the date who becomes more than part of the job. Phenomenal performances from Pacino, Barkin, and John Goodman; great use of the New York City locations.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Caught in a Ham (2019, Miguel Jiron)
Not Recommended
Initially amusing, highly derivative (but in a homage-y sense) spin-off of a SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE character (Spider-Ham–an anthropomorphic “funny animal” Spider-Man variant) unfortunately serves as a prequel to that movie instead of a vehicle for Spider-Ham.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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The Shadow (1994, Russell Mulcahy)


★★★

After a silly opening, this 1930s-set adaptation of the 1930s pulp vigilante gets real good, real fast. Masterful script (from David Koepp), great cast (save Jonathan Winters), and some strong direction from Mulcahy. Lovebirds Alec Baldwin and Penelope Ann Miller have plenty of chemistry, as do Baldwin and nemesis John Lone.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Sling Blade (1996, Billy Bob Thornton), the director’s cut
★½
Sometimes lovely film about developmentally disabled Thornton (who stars, writes, directs) getting out of the mental hospital he’s been in since killing his mother and her lover as a child. He soon bonds with 12-year old Lucas Black, who’s experiencing his own traumas. Way too long, way too many montages. Embarrasing-to-the-production bad performance from Dwight Yoakam. Daniel Lanois’s music is almost as bad. Otherwise, well-acted and well-executed.
DVD.
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Sneakers (1992, Phil Alden Robinson)
★★★
Delightful comedic thriller has Robert Redford leading a group of high tech security experts who run afoul of Redford’s old hippie pal/nemesis Ben Kingsley. Great performances throughout (from an awesome, varied supporting cast), wonderful direction from Robinson, and a lovely, playful James Horner score. 126 minutes of expertly executed fun.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Speak (2004, Jessica Sharzer)
★★½
Pretty good young adult novel adaptation with a great performance from Kristen Stewart and some strong direction from Sharzer. The short running time hurts it.
DVD, Streaming.
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The Spies (1957, Henri-Georges Clouzot)
★★★½
Gérard Séty runs a failing psychiatric hospital and agrees to hide mysterious Curd Jürgens (for a fee). The hospital is then overrun by spies from both East and West, complicating things. All the acting is good; Séty is excellent. Very complex script, superiorly navigated by Clouzot’s direction.
DVD (R2).
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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Nicholas Meyer), the director’s edition
★★★★
Layered, complex TREK outing has William Shatner and company dealing with aging in the 23rd century, but also with Ricardo Montalban returning (from the original show) and going after the good guys. Beautifully produced, with fantastic direction, and a gorgeous James Horner score. Excellent acting from pretty much everyone.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984, Leonard Nimoy)
★★½
Well-made but problematically scripted sequel has William Shatner and the gang galavanting across the galaxy to try to resurrect a fallen comrade. Along the way, the Klingons (led by an enthusiastic but underwhelming Christopher Lloyd) go after Shatner’s kid (Merritt Butrick, back from II) and Robin Curtis (taking over from II’s Kirstie Alley). It’s a messy narrative. Great direction from Nimoy though. And some nice work from the cast, particularly DeForest Kelley.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Superman II (1980, Richard Lester), the restored international cut

Fan attempt to recreate foreign television version, which includes multiple scenes directed by original SUPERMAN director Richard Donner (the films were initially shot back-to-back). There are wildly different tones, including Lester–presumably–doing sequences laughing at people in disaster scenes. The version does offer some good Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure) interaction (the only in the series) along with fleshing out of the Lois and Clark romance. But it doesn’t fix any of the narrative’s outstanding problems. The original R.I.C. was traded online until Warner Bros. shut it down–after corporate sibling “Entertainment Weekly” did an article praising the fan effort–so no home video availability.

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Love Exists (1960, Maurice Pialat)
Highly Recommended
Director Pialat’s “tour” of Parisian suburbia, with Jean-Loup Reynold voicing the first-person narration. Covers Pialat’s childhood, the socioeconomic realities of the present, and some other features as well. Beautifully shot in black and white by Gilbert Sarthre. Superior twenty minutes. None.
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They’re a Weird Mob (1966, Michael Powell)

Rather bad comedy about Italian immigrant Walter Chiari moving to Australia. The acting is actually fine, it’s the script (by director Powell’s long-time partner Emeric Pressburger–under a pseudonym). May have been responsible for kicking off the Australian film industry? But otherwise, a big stinker.
DVD (R4).
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Thieves Like Us (1974, Robert Altman)
★★★★
Wonderful gem of a movie romance (between Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall) amid a 1930s-set crime drama. Will Carradine pick a life of bank robbing or listen to Duvall and go straight. Great performances from all involved and Altman’s direction excels in the setting. Screenplay by Calder Willingham, Joan Tewkesbury and Altman.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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36 Quai des Orfèvres (2004, Olivier Marchal)
★½
Sometimes quite good cop movie about good cop Daniel Auteuil and good-but-complicated cop Gérard Depardieu jockeying for the same promotion and both becoming morally compromised (or worse). Loses its footing more and more as things progress. Auteuil’s good, Depardieu’s awesome, but they can’t save the film from director Marchal or the script.
DVD.
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The Three Musketeers (1993, Stephen Herek)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

Graphically violent–but still PG–Disney adaptation boasts a shockingly good performance from Charlie Sheen, an appealing one from Oliver Platt, and a good villain turn from Michael Wincott but it’s otherwise fairly dreadful. Bad direction and a bad script (from David Loughery); awful performance from Chris O’Donnell (as D’Artagnan). Kiefer Sutherland tries and fails. Tim Curry’s a caricature of himself. It’s the pits.
DVD, Streaming.
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Tremors (1990, Ron Underwood)
★★★
Isolated desert town–full of lovable goofballs (led by handymen Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward)–has to contend with giant killer worm monsters. Great acting (Gross’s survivalist redefined the actor), wonderfully paced script, excellent special effects. It’s loads of fun.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Triple Cross (1966, Terence Young)
★★
WWII espionage thriller has English thief Christopher Plummer convincing German captors wants to spy for them so he can go back to the UK and become a double agent for the British. Good performances compensate for a shallow script and medicore direction from Young.
DVD, Streaming.
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The Twilight Samurai (2002, Yamada Yôji)
★½
Widowed samurai Sanada Hiroyuki has given up the warrior life to take care of his kids. Then childhood love Miyazawa Rie comes to town and things start changing. Good performances–especially from Sanada–but the narrative’s disjointed and suffers from a constant lack of focus
DVD, Blu-ray.
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Turn (2001, Hirayama Hideyuki)

A young woman (Makise Riho) gets in a car accident and, when she wakes up, finds she’s the only person in an otherwise empty world. Or is she? Oh, she also repeats the same day over and over again. Likable performances, but the film concentrates way too hard on its fantastic situation and not its characters.
DVD (R2).
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28 Days Later (2002, Danny Boyle)
★★★★
Cillian Murphy wakes up from a coma to discover the world overrun by zombies and has to try to survive. Not just from the zombies, but also from the military. Visually stunning, with Boyle shooting on DV; great script by Alex Garland; excellent performances. Murphy makes an outstanding Everyman. The film has at least one alternate ending version; rating is for whatever is on the U.S. DVD release.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Versus (2000, Kitamura Ryuhei)

Technically magnificent action/horror picture has Sakaguchi Tak fighting zombies with a samurai sword while wearing an ultra cool black leather trenchcoat. The writing is always iffy, but Kitamura’s direction tends to compensate enough.
DVD, Streaming.
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Volcano (1997, Mick Jackson)

Nicely paced disaster movie about a volcano growing out the La Brea Tar Pits. Anne Heche is the scientist, Tommy Lee Jones is the city guy, Gaby Hoffman’s his daughter. It’s occasionally annoying, with bad dialogue, but the cast is great. Heche and Don Cheadle are outstanding; Jones is fine. The film takes itself just seriously enough, which is not much.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005, Nick Park and Steve Box)
★★★½
First and only full-length theatrical outing for director Park and his clay animated creations Wallace and Gromit. It’s a great expansion of the duo’s adventures, but one is kind of okay. The clay animation and writing are exceptional work, as always, from Park and company.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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White Dog (1982, Samuel Fuller)
★★★½
Somewhat infamous film–studio Paramount shelved it before release due to controversy about the subject (cutesy star Kristy MacNichol adopts an awesome new dog, only to discover he’s been trained to attack Black people) and director Fuller stole a print and bounced to Europe to get it released somewhere at least. The film runs short, leaving a few too many plot threads untied, but it’s real good. It’s deliberative and thoughtful, nicely directed by Fuller, with strong performances from the four principals. Nice to see Paul Winfield lead a movie. Finally available officially, on DVD and Blu-ray (but from Criterion, not Paramount).

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White Nights (1985, Taylor Hackford)
★★½
Not entirely ludicrous tale of defector ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov (played by defector ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov) crash-landing in the Soviet Union and being forced into a cover-up involving Vietnam-era, tap dancing defector Gregory Hines. Phenomenal dance sequences occasionally get a little long (with Baryshnikov the more impressive). But Hines’s performance is easily the best. The Lionel Ritchie Oscar-winning song is a little much.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Perry Mason: The Case of the Lethal Lesson (1989, Christian I. Nyby II)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Quintessential middling TV movie has Mason (Raymond Burr) teaching law school and his star pupil (William R. Moses, ingloriously replacing William Katt as the series’ blond P.I.) falsely accused of murder. Way too little Burr (he’s good when he’s around), way, way too little Barbara Hale. Moses’s arc involves his rich girl-poor boy romance with boundlessly annoying Alexandra Paul. They’ve got zero chemistry, which is mostly Moses’s fault though the direction and script are also weak. But, hey, could be worse. Followed by THE CASE OF THE MUSICAL MURDER.
DVD.
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Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake (1988, Ron Satlof)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Poorly written, poorly directed PERRY MASON entry has Raymond Burr defending David Hasselhoff, which ought to have some kind of absurd value but doesn’t. Burr’s great (in lousy courtroom scenes), Hasselhoff’s atrocious (worse, it’s a try and fail not a don’t try and fail). Okay support from regulars Barbara Hale and William Katt. Hale’s not in it enough; it’s Katt’s last PERRY MASON. Great performance from Audra Lindley in the guest stars; pretty much everyone else is lousy. Though David Ogden Stiers has some good moments. Title’s way too long too. Followed by THE CASE OF THE LETHAL LESSON.
DVD.
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The MacKintosh Man (1973, John Huston)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
A miscast Paul Newman (he’s a British spy posing as an Australian for a bunch of the movie) tries to take down corrupt politician James Mason. Huston’s direction dilly-dallies and lolly-gags when it’s not dawdling. The script (credited solely to Walter Hill, who swears it’s not his fault) is bad. Newman having zero chemistry with female lead Dominique Sanda doesn’t help either. And the Maurice Jarre music is too slight. An unfortunate misfire, especially given those involved.
DVD, Streaming.
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Encore (1951, Pat Jackson, Anthony Pelissier, and Harold French)
★★★
Last (after QUARTET and TRIO) and most successful entry in trilogy of anthologies of W. Somerset Maugham adaptations. Three stories, all of them well-directed, at least one of them well-written, and all of them rather well-acted even when the writing’s not there. Great performances from Nigel Patrick, Roland Culver, Glynis Johns, and others. Maugham pointlessly and charmlessly introduces each story, which sometimes gets things off on the wrong foot.
DVD (R2), Streaming.
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Godzilla, King of Monsters! (1956, Terry O. Morse and Honda Ishirô)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Unfortunate Americanization of the original Japanese GODZILLA adds dubbing and Raymond Burr to the story of a nuclear-powered monster destroying Japan. The whole atom bomb metaphor gets shucked; the script is bad, the shoehorning of Burr is bad (in writing, performance, and direction). See the original. Skip this one. Even if you have nostalgia.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Trio (1950, Ken Annakin and Harold French)
★★
Second (after QUARTET) in a trilogy of anthologies adapting W. Somerset Maugham short stories has good acting, okay writing, and some excellent direction (from Annakin not French) but just doesn’t quite work out due to its lopsided attentions. Maugham introduces the stories, sometimes getting cut off mid-sentence, which is sort of funny, sort of not. Followed by ENCORE.
DVD (R2), Streaming.
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Frankenstein Unbound (1990, Roger Corman)
★★½
After destroying the future trying to save the environment, scientist John Hurt goes into the past where he finds the events of Frankenstein (the novel) unfolding around him, with Mary Shelley (Bridget Fonda) witnessing Dr. Frankenstein’s descent into madness. Raul Julia’s an amazing Frankenstein, Nick Brimble’s an amazing monster. Hurt’s a tad passive but very affable. He and Fonda sell their May-December romance. Nice direction, excellent music, lovely Italian locations, good special effects. Based on a Brian Aldiss novel.
DVD.
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The Art of Deleting Scenes

Tim Blake Nelson’s O adapts Shakespeare’s Othello as a modern, moody, lush, teenage Southern Gothic. Sixteenth century Venice becomes a South Carolina prep school, Palmetto Grove, in the late 1990s….

 

I finally got to write a snooty Josh Hartnett O piece, which is legit a bucket list item. I had an interesting process for note-taking his performance, which I thought might be something I could turn into some kind of content, but then decided no. Maybe for something else (with that same process), but not O. I do have a couple video pieces I’m planning on doing with the film, but next week. Or later. Not on a schedule.

When prepping the post for publishing, I went back and forth on pictures. Should I have stills from the film, should I use publicity shots or screen-grabs. When I started writing it, I intended to have quotes amidst the text and went ahead and did quotes. But not until I looked at the second disc of the old Lionsgate DVD special edition and found the deleted scenes. I skipped through them, trying to see if there’d be interesting shots to use for post images.

And what appears to be in the deleted scenes is all the “teen movie” stuff and way too much of it. It looks like the deleted scenes probably ruin Mekhi Phifer and Julia Stiles’s relationship, give Josh Hartnett and Elden Henson a lot more morose antics (without hurting their performances), and I don’t know what else. It’s really good they went, especially given where Tim Blake Nelson takes the movie. He really doesn’t get his due as a director.

It’s really good this scene of Hugo/Iago (Hartnett) trying to con Desi/Desdemona (Stiles) with Michael/Cassio (Andrew Keegan) isn’t in the film. It would completely screw up Hugo and Desi’s “relationship.”

Todd McFarlane is still Todd McFarlane

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Todd McFarlane is none of the things mentioned above, though he’s a great example of why you can be nuts if you can draw a way enough people like. I mean, Spawn? It’s objectively tripe.

No surprise he’s about to jump ship from his own movie. No surprise.

Right hand meet left hand

Back in MFA school, I was watching a lot of movies over again. Sea of Love, Sling Blade, Gone in Sixty Seconds are the main examples just because Stop Button still has the posts. I remember talking in class about how it didn’t seem like Billy Bob Thornton actually realized what he did with Sling Blade and so it screwed up the film, which got into whether or not a creative could not realize what they were doing with their creation.

The mid-aughts were a weird time for indie film breaking out. If you missed it in the nineties, you were still able to catch up. Most of the people who made excellent films then were still making movies, even if they were Broken Flowers and not Ghost Dog. So I got some push back from classmates but then agreement from the instructor. You can make a thing and have no idea what you made.

So seeing Endgame co-writer Christopher Markus disagree on how time travel works in the movie? Not a surprise. What else would you expect from the guy who wrote Dark World? But it also shows just how smoothly Kevin Feige keeps the trains running; on a Feige production, you can apparently fundamentally disagree with your other creatives with no negative result to the end product.

Basically Feige is the guy J.J. Abrams always wanted to be but couldn’t.

Avengers: Endgame’s Directors and Writers Disagree on the Ending

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