The Awesomeness of Avengers: Endgame (2019)

 

The achievement of Marvel Studios in crafting its Infinity Stone saga over the past ten years, without losing its audience, is perhaps one of the greatest cinematic long-form projects in history.

Indeed, Marvel’s superhero films from 2008 to 2019 are not only cinematic milestones but they are also examples of how not to get lost in special effects and big-budget action sequences by focusing on the personal story arcs of each of its characters.

So while many people are turned off by the superhero genre, perhaps because they think it appeals to young children,  they should actually look closely at how the character arcs of the main characters shift and change over the years. And that has to be credited to the love and care of the writers, directors, and producers involved with the project.

So inasmuch as the awesomeness of Avengers is its longevity,  its awesomeness is also because of the intense love and care by the studio in charting and tracking the character arc, psychologically and emotionally, over the years. Thus making the series fresh, interesting, and unpredictable.

So minus its success at the box office, the Marvel films are awesome in terms of not losing its focus on its main characters.  And that is why audiences are not excited about watching the next Marvel film but they are also excited about watching what happens next to their favorite superheroes.

At the same time, they also know that the filmmakers treat the viewer with respect by also treating the characters they love with equal love and respect.

And that is what also makes the Marvel films such a delight and success because the filmmakers do not treat comic book heroes with ridicule or disdain but treat them for what they are and what they could be in terms of expressing heroism, courage, and fortitude under duress.

 

 

 

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The Awesomeness of Warrior (2011)

While this film is basically about two brothers fighting each other as MMA fighters, The Central conflict of the film is also something that is rather close to my heart and life story.

It is essentially about two estranged brothers and their relationship with their guilt stricken father.

The reason I like this film, other than the fighting scenes, is the sensitive display of masculinity and machoism.

The Awesomeness of Daniel Day Lewis’ Lincoln

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Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal as President Abe Lincoln is a virtuoso performance that rightly won the Best Actor Oscar in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012). But DDL’s portrayal is made more powerful not because the film showed the myth of the man but also the deeply personal and flawed nature of the protagonist.

I want to talk about 3 scenes that I feel were particularly revealing in terms of the artist’s attempt to flesh out the character.

The first scene shows the kind of personal dialogues that can take place between husbands and wives. Other than the fact that Lincoln is trying hard to convince Mary Todd that stopping their son to enlist in the war would be a futile effort, the scene also reveals a dark undertone regarding their relationship wife when Mary accuse her husband of finding an excuse to commit her into a mental institution if she does not acquiesce to reason. The scene contains three revealing information about their relationship. (1) Lincoln is not supposedly this mythic and saintly person. He suffers from the same issues as most people would in their relationship. (2) Mary accuses Abe of blaming her and Robert in trapping him in their marriage. (3) As parents – even as leaders – they are rightly concerned about the health and safety of their son.

The second scene shows the psychological and psychic toll on war. Even though this could have been a scene that shows the victors celebrating and congratulating themselves over their victory, it is played out in a somber and even regretful tone (aided by the melancholic score).  The cinematography employs a desaturated and light blue tint to the image. The visuals are helped by the dark and muddy tones of the production design – namely in terms of the costumes and sets design.

There is an interesting use of light and shadow in the section where Lincoln and Grant are sitting together to discuss their plans for their future. The flickering light and shadows – supposedly of soldiers riding past on their horses – washes across Lincoln’s face imply and foreshadow the onset of weariness and exhaustion. The shadows, in my opinion, lends a sense of melancholy and in a more poetic sense – the “souls” that was lost to the war – and the “soul” that awaits the protagonists in the afterlife.

Apart from showing the softer side of our protagonist, Lincoln the film also showed his wisdom and intelligence in several scenes. One of the more instructive scene of Lincoln’s smarts is contained in the dialogue that takes place between Lincoln and Stephens in the cellar.


Thaddeus Stevens: The people elected me to represent them, to lead them, and I lead. You ought to try it.

Abraham Lincoln: I admire your zeal, Mr. Stevens, and I have tried to profit from the example of it. But if I’d listened to you, I’d have declared every slave free the minute the first shell struck Fort Sumter. Then the border states would’ve gone over to the Confederacy, the war would’ve been lost and the Union along with it, and instead of abolishing slavery, as we hope to do in two weeks, we’d be watching helpless as infants as it spread from the American South into South America.

Thaddeus Stevens: Oh, how you have longed to say that to me. You claim you trust them, but you know what the people are. You know that the inner compass that should direct the soul toward justice has ossified in white men and women, North and South, unto utter uselessness through tolerating the evil of slavery. White people cannot bear the thought of sharing this country’s infinite abundance with Negroes.

Abraham Lincoln: A compass, I learned when I was surveying, it’ll… it’ll point you true north from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps, deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… what’s the use of knowing true north?


And that’s why he is who he is…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Awesomeness of Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt

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Let’s face it… Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible films is awesome. While many critics argue that the actor (coming to his sixth decade on Earth) can no longer be expected to play a leading action hero, I argue that Tom Cruise is not only aware of his age and aging body, but that he has incorporated the theme of aging and corporeality into the series.  Hence allowing himself to continue to play the leading action hero in a credible and grounded manner

The post-millennial aging action hero, by allowing himself to grow older and grayer, is replacing the idea of action heroes as demi-gods to become person who perform heroic acts. Indeed, ignoring the realities of the actor’s age and the effects of aging upon the action hero invites even more criticisms. A common point of criticism amongst critics and fans alike is Roger Moore’s run as James Bond in the late seventies and eighties where his age and physical abilities makes it hard to believe that he is capable of performing the stunts and fight sequences as depicted in the films.

At the same time, the obvious age gap between the actor and his younger female co-stars saw him wisely turning down the advances of one in For Your Eyes Only (John Glen 1981). One of the more popular ways of dealing with age and aging in action cinema is to openly make fun of them. This strategy can be encapsulated by a catchphrase from the Lethal Weapon series. The “I’m getting too old for this shit!” approach in depicting aging and age of action heroes can be useful in deflecting criticism regarding the plausibility of watching middle-age men continuing to chase down bad guys whilst dodging bullets and explosions

The most effective way to deal with aging (in terms of aging actors and aging protagonists) is to emphasize the benefits of age and aging. This strategy circumvents negative connotations of aging by amplifying experience, effectiveness and efficiency. By doing so, older action actors and heroes reshape action heroes from a body of spectacle to matured and specialised bodies.

This can be seen in the development of Tom Cruise’s character in the Mission Impossible series. In the first entry of the franchise, Cruise’s character goes through many feats of physical action in order to protect the identities of unnamed agents. But in Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie 2018), the character races against time to defuse a nuclear bomb not so much because of the greater good but because the lives of his loved ones are at stake in the narrative. Instead of dominating and subordinating other bodies, the post-millennial aging hero directs his aggression towards the protection of his loved ones.

These acts of aggression and violent behaviours thus transform and channel the toxicity of masculinity into productive outcomes. Hence, these productive qualities of masculinity are prioritized above its toxic cousins.  

The Awesomeness of Denzel Washington’s Equalizer films

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Mr. Denzel Washington is one of the most accomplished film actors of all time (not perhaps but is).  As a fan of his work, I would argue that he provides a template for many people who would kill to have his career in terms of Oscar wins and box office gold.  But like the man said in numerous interviews, he had to work hard for it.  And I believe this can be seen in terms of his film choices. 

The Infamous Stapler Gun Scene between Denzel Washington and Marton Csokas

Washington appears to be someone who has carefully crafted out a career that allows him to toggle between so-called serious and commercial films. But more importantly, I believe the toggling has allowed him to control his career.  By starring in action films, Washington adopts the “one for them and one for me” strategy of acting in commercial films to help finance more risky and personal films. 

But this does not mean that the star does not take his action persona seriously.  For many actors, the over-the-topness of action films can often be an excuse for them to not act but to solely focus on delivering the action in action sequences.  And this approach to acting in action films often ends up making the whole affair rather perfunctory and transactional. 

But Washington’s attitude to his role as Robert McCall in the Equalizer films has produced a character that is not only a “hard body” action hero but a character that is wounded and haunted by his past.  This makes his aging action hero not only grounded (realistic) but also makes the character’s achievements in “taking out” the bad guys more rewarding because the portrayal of aging naturally adds history and gravitas to the character. In other words,  the God status of action heroes is made more relatable because McCall is not perfect but is haunted by his past.  He is a flawed character and the Equalizer films made a point to dwell and develop his social and altruistic side. 

So when McCall is forced to exact vengeance and retribution on the bad guys, the pleasure of seeing good triumph over evil increases. While his character is essentially someone who is a loner, he is not alone. The films made it clear that the character has fostered close friends and confidantes.  This socialization of the aging action hero character thus adds significance to the rationale of McCall’s action to protect and avenge his friends.  And his victories are made more rewarding because of the character’s personal relationships with other characters in the films.  

The awesomeness of Denzel Washington’s Equalizer films thus lies not so much in the fight scene (although they are spectacular) but in that they are informed by the character’s overall narrative, personality, and drive. He is not necessarily motivated because of a need to kill and destroy but to protect and avenge his friends.  Instead the awesomeness of the films comes from watching a character seeking to “equalise” or avenge his friends – much as most of us would do if our friends or loved ones are threatened. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hegemonic Masculinity and Aging Action Heroes

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The aging action hero has become an important figure in post-millennial action cinema. Its significance can be seen in how the protagonists of several big-budget action film franchises are not only struggling to save the world but are also struggling to cope with the realities of their aging bodies. Indeed, the issue of aging has become a recurring theme in franchises such as The Expendables (2009 – 2013), Taken (2008 – 2012), The Fast and The Furious (2001 – 2017), Mission Impossible (1995 – 2018) and James Bond (2006 – 2015).

Indeed, the presence of the post-millennial aging action hero and aging male body is made to rehabilitate the tropes of hegemonic masculinity and the indestructible male body by emphasizing the benefits of the aging male body and where male toxicity is replaced by wisdom and maturity; egocentricity is replaced by allocentrism. But insofar as the presence of the aging action hero is due to the fact that the actors playing said characters are also aging, its presence shows the dynamism of action cinema in offering alternative visions of heroism and heroes. Continue reading Hegemonic Masculinity and Aging Action Heroes

New “Chinese” Singapore Cinema? Form, Style, and Meaning of Singapore films in the 21st century

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Is Singapore cinema becoming Chinese/Taiwanese cinema?

In recent years Singapore cinema and filmmakers have caught the attention of international film audiences and critics alike. 

These achievements – winning big film prizes at various film festivals and competitions –  function not only as cinematic milestones for the country but it also indicates Singapore’s growing cultural and cinematic clout.

Some of her filmmakers like Eric Khoo, Jack Neo, Royston Tan, Boo Junfeng, Anthony Chan and Tan Pin Pin to name a few are not only serial winners but have also quickly become critical darlings with domestic and foreign critics.

Indeed, the successes of these filmmakers had led some critics and journalists to note the re-emergence of Singapore cinema: leading some to claim that a New Singapore Cinema has emerged in the country.

But while local journalists and critics may laud this new development of Singapore cinema, they might remember that Singapore Cinema had a golden period in the decades before independence in 1965 that is perhaps more representative of the country and region than its modern incarnation. Continue reading New “Chinese” Singapore Cinema? Form, Style, and Meaning of Singapore films in the 21st century