Monthly Archives: April 2019

Avengers: Endgame — How Far We’ve Come (short spoiler-free first thoughts)


Recently, I watched YouTuber Ralphthemoviemaker’s video series on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which I would highly recommend. But he doesn’t start with 2008’s Iron Man. In the first video of the series, Ralph starts all the way back in 1986 with Howard the Duck. He then discusses everything from then to Iron Man, including the decent but campy Blade trilogy, the ridiculous Daredevil and Elektra, and Ang Lee’s laughable Hulk. It made me consider how far superhero movies have come in just two decades. Sure, we still see misfires all the time, as with any genre. But from my vantage point, the increase in quantity since the early 2000s has led to an overall rise in effort. 

Recall, if you will, the unbridled insanity of Nick Nolte’s rant at the end of Hulk. Why did anyone, let alone Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee, think that was something audiences wanted to see? Or how about the infamous basketball sequence from Catwoman? Mute Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, anyone? Yeah, I thought not. 

Fast-forward a decade to Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of a behemoth undertaking which cares deeply about its characters, has genuinely laugh-out-loud humor, and whose action, while loud and bombastic, is rooted in actual stakes — goals achieved and true triumphs sought.  

If you’re not a big MCU fan, I totally get it. But this is a big, big deal for me. I love comic books. They fascinated and inspired me as a kid and into my teens, and even now I’ll kick back and peruse new issues. The fact that Disney allowed this little spark of an idea that began a decade ago to blossom organically and refine its voice after they purchased the intellectual property is nothing short of a minor miracle. This kind of thing will never happen again. Not to this degree or this level of artistic success.


I think Endgame is most notable as a signpost of how far we’ve come. Gone are the cheesy cinematography and attempts to appeal to the ‘youths’. Added are the stakes, pacing, pathos, and character development best exemplified in the genre by Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The best films in the genre have built upon each other, just as the best MCU films add new and interesting tones and shades to this universe. The Russo Brothers have really pushed the boundaries of what is possible in movies. Their knack for balancing all of these characters and all of these flavors is just astounding, and I have never seen anything quite like it. This movie loves its audience and rewards us for taking this journey. It gives and gives and gives, and yet remains perfectly balanced, as all things should be. 

-George Napper

Cinefalcon articles about Endgame will return

It doesn’t get much better than ‘Ash is Purest White’


We begin in an underground club populated by gangsters and end two and a half hours later in that same club. But the two versions of this setting couldn’t be any more different, much like the vast differences between China at the turn of the millennium and modern-day China. Such is the thesis of auteur Jia Zhangke’s latest film, Ash is Purest White. 

This modern masterpiece combines elements of many of the 21st century’s other greatest cinematic works, such as Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Ash has the tentative romance of Mood, the broad economic analysis of Blood, and a dash of the wide-eyed wonder of Boonmee. 

Tao Zhao plays Qiao, the girlfriend of gangster boss Bin, played by Fan Liao. Their romance seems to run hot and cold, based on their shifting commitments to either ramping up their illicit activities or settling down in the countryside. But before they can make a decision, they’re ambushed by some young thugs in a street fight that lands both of them in prison. From then on, the film is Qiao’s story. After serving her five-year sentence, she embarks on a long, country-crossing journey to find her elusive ex-lover. Keep in mind that we meet these characters in 2001 and end in present day.


What’s so special about Ash is often in its margins. As China changes, becoming more mature in global status, its young upstarts from yesteryear seem to get thrown by the wayside. But Qiao does not go quietly into that good night. In many ways, she becomes more fierce and fearsome than anyone else she encounters in the underbelly. She’s a fish swimming upstream: her own goals, her own plans, her own ambitions, and damn everyone else. The dreams she had for herself and Bin may be a square peg in a round hole, but she tries like hell to make the pieces fit.

We never see the couple consummate their love or even kiss, and that’s significant. We’re not meant so much to root for this romance to succeed, but we’re meant to find meaning in their possible escape from the mundane. But when Qiao finally finds Bin, he seems like a slave to banality. Though polite and thoughtful, he finds every excuse not to engage with her. As an audience, we’re sheltered from her pain to an extent — Zhangke seduces us again with Qiao’s femme fatale side in the film’s flawlessly executed third act. By that time, we see a rural and industrial China in ruins. Where we were once swept away with Qiao and Bin’s Bonnie and Clyde routine, we now see what time has done to their turf — and to them. 


Tao Zhao’s performance is nothing short of groundbreaking. She carries the enormous weight of this film on her shoulders, cutting every possible opponent with a striking look. It sometimes feels as though the film is going to turn into an ultra-violent revenge picture. Just counting the number of times Qiao is wronged by a supposed ally, it’s hard to imagine in real life that one would be as collected as she is. But she needs to be in order for Zhangke’s metaphors to work, and Zhao is more than up to the task of making that smooth operator believable and sympathetic. 

This is not like any gangster film you’ve ever seen, or any other film you’re likely to see, for that matter. Its ambition is matched by the strength of its craftsmanship. Often in the same scene, it’s a Shakespearean tragedy, an informative travelogue, and a searing modern romance. I highly doubt we will see something this finely realized for a long while.

In Chinese with English subtitles; in limited release nationwide

-George Napper



I get why a lot of people really don’t like Seth Rogen. He can’t make a movie without basically playing himself or inserting as many sex and drug jokes as possible, even if sometimes they don’t fit. But I’m about 50/50 on his recent output, so it’s fitting that the director of the film 50/50, Jonathan Levine, directed the new Rogen co-starring romantic comedy Long Shot.

Like 50/50, which co-starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Rogen’s friend struggling with cancer, Long Shot places Rogen alongside a more widely-beloved actor and yields great results. It also clearly has more on its mind than a typical Rogen vehicle, although it is more of a straight comedy than the former. 

Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is an aggressively progressive journalist who we first meet doing some quite dangerous investigative reporting. Because we’re right there with him, we know what he’s all about and we care about him as more than a joke machine. Charlize Theron plays Charlotte Field, the Secretary of State for a laughably egotistical President, a semi-analogue to Trump played by Bob Odenkirk. He’s not seeking re-election, so he decides to endorse her. After meeting at a party, Charlotte and Fred rekindle their friendship from years ago, when Charlotte was Fred’s babysitter (as conveyed in a hilarious flashback sequence). 


After reading some of his writing, Charlotte decides to bring Fred on as a punch-up writer as she tries to build up her broader appeal and image for a Presidential run. Initially, there are major roadblocks to Fred’s success. His more in-your-face style doesn’t jive with anyone in Charlotte’s inner circle except for Charlotte. But by toning it down in some respects, he makes serious inroads, and ultimately finds himself in bed with her.

There are so many real belly laughs in this thing, and it’s a wonder that it all balances out. It’s got raunch and sweetness and some decent political satire all rolled into one very entertaining package. Both Rogen and Theron have big individual comedy moments that range from the very high-brow to the very broad. I think one of the best things you can say about this movie is that it feels like it comes from one succinct voice, even though it’s got lots of different types of comedy and many, many, many different comedians showing up for cameos and supporting roles.

Long Shot is the perfect summer rom-com. It leaves you smiling, laughing, and it’s got some great surprises along the way. We may be looking at one of the biggest hits of the summer.


-George Napper

‘Long Shot’ opens wide on May 3