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“The Avengers” review: Impressions of a Marvel masterpiece

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Four years ago today, “Iron Man” arrived in theaters and kicked off a bold, long-term plan (by Hollywood standards, at least) that would see four different Marvel superheroes appear in their own solo movies, then unite in a single film featuring not just all of the previous films’ stars, but many of their supporting cast, too.

It was a plan that seemed to disregard the inevitable clash of egos and all of the other behind-the-scenes elements that often doom a franchise before it gets started. And because of that, it was a plan everyone wanted to succeed, but quietly expected to become another ambitious failure.

Yet here we are, four years to the day after Robert Downey Jr. became the living embodiment of armored superhero Tony Stark, and “The Avengers” is riding a wave of positive buzz as it approaches the finish line and its long-awaited premiere.

Even more unbelievable, though, is that despite all of the odds against it and the stratospheric expectations heaped upon it, “The Avengers” still manages to not only live up to those expectations, but to exceed them with an epic adventure that’s just as impressive as its larger-than-life characters.

Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans in 'The Avengers'

For a film that required so many prologues to get to this point, it’s surprising how little up-front exposition is required to bring newcomers up to speed with “The Avengers” universe. While the film clearly assumes some familiarity with the main characters and a few basic plot points of the preceding films (“Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor,” “Iron Man 2,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”), co-writers Joss Whedon and Zak Penn have done a great job of weaving any necessary information into the early portions of the film and making the exposition feel organic.

The premise of “The Avengers” is this: Thor’s evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has returned, and he plans to use the Tesseract (the powerful, glowing blue cube last seen in “Captain America”) to take over Earth. When Loki proves too powerful for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. to take down on their own, all of the characters from the previous Marvel Studios films team up to defeat Loki and the alien horde helping him.

It’s a plot that seems laughably old-school in its simplicity, but its genius lies in how this bare-bones narrative foundation allows the film’s talented cast and creative team the room to do what they do best.

A scene from The Avengers

From start to finish, “The Avengers” is a film that draws heavily from classic comic-book tropes. An early misunderstanding has the heroes fighting each other before they eventually realize that they’re on the same side, and the combination of personalities on the team has the expected oil-and-water chemistry. As in all good crossovers, they eventually put aside their differences and cooperate for the common good (in this case, saving the Earth).

It’s the sort of adventure that comic fans are accustomed to seeing in print, but just like the best comics, “The Avengers” truly shines in how it fills out its narrative skeleton and the area around these tropes with vibrant storytelling, compelling character development, and moments filled with so much heart – and humor – that the entire package stands on its own.

Initially, what’s most surprising (though in hindsight, not very surprising at all) is how well director Joss Whedon’s focus on dialogue, humor, and character development drive the film forward and make the moments without action just as enjoyable and interesting as the action sequences. At times, it’s hard to tell where Downey’s clever repartee as Tony Stark ends and Whedon’s influence on the character begins, but it’s easy to see the writer/director’s signature all over Mark Ruffalo’s version of Bruce Banner and – more noticeably – his green alter ego, Hulk.

With Hulk, Whedon somehow manages to find the sweet spot between the raging, uncontrollable behemoth of the 2008 film and a new side of the character that makes him the source of some of the film’s funniest moments. This new dynamic is presented as a natural evolution of Bruce Banner’s relationship with the beast inside of him, and Whedon finds a humor-rich vein to mine in the creature’s lack of impulse control and primitive take on the events transpiring around him.

Marvel’s wise decision to bring back Tom Hiddleston as Loki also pays off in a big way, and the British actor not only holds his own against the film’s cast of heavy-hitters, but draws your attention every moment he’s on screen, oozing with all of the charisma you’d expect from the god of mischief. At times, he’s almost too good, as his scenes with Chris Evans make Captain America seem, well… a little bland in comparison.

Thankfully, for every scene featuring Loki and Captain America, there’s another that puts Loki and Tony Stark in the same room and lets Hiddleston and Downey put on a two-man show as trickster god and narcissistic genius, respectively.

Samuel L. Jackson in The Avengers

It’s worth noting that “The Avengers” doesn’t fail to appease on the fan-service side, either. Over the course of the film, nearly every permutation of hero and villain finds its way to the screen at one point or another, and Whedon masterfully balances the roles each character plays in the big-picture story. Much was made of the dynamic between Captain America and Iron Man in the run-up to the film, with fans wondering how the two characters could possibly share the same screen. “The Avengers” director makes it seem easy, though, and neither Captain America nor Iron Man – nor Hulk or Thor, for that matter – feel relegated to supporting roles.

The most important takeaway from “The Avengers,” however, seems to be the film’s triumph as a comic-book movie that defies the trend toward dark and gritty superhero stories.

Where many films adapted from comic books have kept things at street level, “The Avengers” soars through the air at every opportunity and chooses bright, witty, and unabashedly heroic over dark, grim, and conflicted. Possibly the greatest compliment that can be paid to “The Avengers,” however, is that the film comes the closest of any recent superhero movies to capturing that sense of wonder and spectacle that first turned many kids into lifelong comics fans.

Yes, on top of all the expectations the film lives up to and all of the obstacles it overcame to get to this point, “The Avengers” greatest accomplishment could be this: its ability to make an entire audience feel like children reading their favorite comic for the very first time. It’s a quality that precious few comic book movies seem to capture these days, so let’s hope it’s enough to make audiences assemble for “The Avengers.”

“The Avengers” hits theaters May 4.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar

via GIPHY

IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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