Movie review: Avengers: Endgame

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review 11 years in the making. This is Avengers: Endgame!

IMDb summary: 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.

Disclaimer: this review is going to be super vague as I’m trying to avoid spoiling even the smallest moments of the film. Still, I might not always manage to do that, thus, proceed with caution!

Writing

Endgame was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The duo has written a lot of previous MCU films, so they certainly have a good knowledge of this universe and these characters. And that shows as the script is just spectacular. So so so much happens in this movie: it is complex yet clear. Also, being the ‘end of an era’ type of a film, Avengers 4 really focuses on the core original Avengers, while the new characters kinda fade into the background. Focusing a film in this way makes sense to me: the newbies have to earn their right to be at the forefront. Moreover, Endgame also does a great job with setting up the future: both a couple of concrete films and just concepts that will hopefully turn into movies. Quite a few very comic-booky concepts too!

In my opinion, where Endgame shines the most is by being the sequel to end all sequels. It continues Infinity War perfectly and deals with all the issues head-on (like the ‘should have gone for the head’ gripe). It also references so so so much stuff from MCU that it makes Easter Eggs a part of the plot. Everything is referenced: lines, whole scenes, and Internet/fan jokes. It is so satisfying spotting the references or the subversion of the references: Marvel really rewards the loyalty of its longtime fans.

While I cannot really talk about the ending in this spoiler-free review, let me just say that it feels poetical. And though it may hurt, we all know it’s right.

Directing

I truly bow my head to Anthony and Joe Russos for giving me my new favourite MCU film (and their previous 3 films – Captain America 2 and 3 and Avengers 3 literally take up all the runner-up spots). The fact that they manage to portray such a complex story with clear editing is unbelievable. Plus, the fact that they succeed in making a 3h movie so engaging is also an achievement. I also appreciate all the different tones/genres that they squeeze into Endgame.

First, Endgame is a comedy: it has so many amazing comedic moments and is also a perfect conclusion (even if a temporary one) to MCU as the more family-friendly/lighter franchise. It takes that statement (that some use as a compliment and some as a critique) and owns it. I believe that these comedic undertones to the film come from The Russos’ directing roots as they did, in fact, made a name for themselves with Arrested Development and Community – two beloved comedy TV series.

Endgame is also a drama: it has depth and character moments aplenty. When I say there was no dry eye in my midnight screening, I mean it.

Endgame is also a superhero actioner through and through. It has all the CGI one would like but it also enhances it by actually making the viewers care about the characters involved rather than the third act just being a clash of random pixels. It has so many goosebump-inducing or so-called ‘money shots’. I especially loved one female empowerment shot that is hopefully not a one-off, but rather a signal to the changing times (though there was a severe lack of female viewers in my screening: really wanted it to be a 50/50 split but it was more like 80/20).

Acting

There is no way that I can possibly name all the cast members involved with this film but I believe that they all did a great job, no matter how short their involvement might have been. The core 6 – Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, and Jeremy Renner – them I will mention by name because their performances should go down as one of the best ever in movie history. The actors got to showcase their dramatic chops so much because we really see the characters as just completely broken people. The fact that the actors also have perfect comedic timing (some especially) make their overall performances that much greater.

Post-credits

With Endgame, Marvel breaks the tradition that it created, and doesn’t have a post-credits scene. And I think that’s perfectly fine: there is nothing to promote or tease moving forward (Spiderman 2 is so separate and also already being promoted with trailers that it doesn’t make sense to stick it on there): Endgame is the end of not one but 3 phases, so let it feel like a definite ending. Besides, there are setups for the future before the credits roll. Also, I believe that the lack of post-credits is also good in that it doesn’t undercut the emotional weight of the ending of the picture. The last scene one sees and remembers is the end.

In short, Avengers: Endgame makes you laugh and cry and everything in between. It also makes sure that you will come back again. Not only for future films but to rewatch this one. Again. And again. And Again. (at least that’s what I’ll be doing).

Rate: 5/5 (I mean, are we surprised? Also, that number rating has never been about objectivity but rather included by necessity).

Trailer: Avengers: Endgame trailer

P.S. If you would like to take a trip down memory lane, these are my previous MCU reviews: Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Civil War, Doctor Strange, The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, Age of Ultron, Guardians 1and 2.

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Movie review: Avengers: Infinity War

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a movie that requires no introduction – Avengers: Infinity War!

IMDb summary: The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

As per usual, just before we start, these are my previous MCU reviews: Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Civil War, Doctor Strange, The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, Age of Ultron, Guardians 1and 2.

Also, since #ThanosDemandsYourSilence, I’m keeping this review spoiler free!

Writing

Infinity War was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (the duo who wrote all the Captain America movie and The Chronicles of Narniacinematic adaptations). There were so many things to love in the script. Firstly, the screenwriters did an amazing job handling the plethora of characters that they had to work with. They didn’t have time to develop any of them really so you do kinda need to have seen at least some of the previous movies to really enjoy this one (but then again, if you are watching Infinity War, you have seen some of the previous 18 films for sure). What the screenwriters did manage very successfully was to give each of the characters some meaningful moments that were either emotional and weighty or funny and entertaining. The different scenes of the various characters meeting each other and interacting were just brilliant. The deep cuts to the MCU lore (cameos and tiny plot elements from other films) were also greatly appreciated. I also liked the fact that script fast-tracked over some meetings and explanations, as that made sure that the movie’s pace stayed top-notch. Secondly, they did an amazing job developing the character of Thanos and explaining his motivations and point of view. Marvel officially doesn’t have a problem with villains no more. Thirdly, the movie did a good job of picking a theme – sacrifice – a sticking to it, through and through.

Fourthly, the script delivered on the unexpected twists and the consequences a.k.a. characters we didn’t forsee died, both throughout the film and in the third act. Every one of those deaths meant something and was felt by every fan in the screening. I’m incredibly interested to see how will these consequences be dealt with in the next film: whether Marvel is gonna go back on some of them or all of them. I would love to see a lot of these characters back but I would also love to see them making the ballsiest move in cinema and not bringing any of them back. The film’s post-credits scene – only one but worth the wait – hints at how the universe will move forward and solve the problem, like Thanos (I wrote that in a ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria’ singing voice).

Directing

After nailing the unique political thriller vibes with The Winter Soldier and after managing to work with a massive cast in Civil WarAnthony Russo and Joe Russo were trusted with the biggest Marvel movie yet and they did an excellent job. They made it feel like an event and not just a movie. The vibes this time were cosmic and so so so Marvel Comics-like. The massive group of characters was even bigger this time and all of them were accounted for. The action was epic and explosive and there were so many amazing team-ups and groups during the fight scenes (especially one great episode with my favorite female characters). The quips during the fighting felt very Marvel but not cheesy or annoying. The editing was also clear and seamless.

Acting

Infinity War had an awesome display of that perfect Marvel casting and just listing the whole cast is gonna take forever but here we go: Robert Downey Jr. (his new armor is lit), Chris Hemswort (Thor has a great arc), Mark Ruffalo (interesting things happen with Hulk), Chris Evans (still Cap even if not of America), Scarlett Johansson (loved the new look), Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange has really come into his own), Tom Holland (still a teenager), Chadwick Boseman (still the king), Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen (some great stuff involving the two of them), Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle (have some great ‘the team-ups of the sidekicks’ moments), Sebastian Stan (also known as a L’Oreal model), Tom Hiddleston (his arc picks up where Ragnarok left off), Idris Elba (his arc might anger some fans/theorists), Benedict Wong (has no cash), Chris Pratt (has a great gag about voice), Pom Klementieff (surprisingly important), Karen Gillan (has a great visual scene), Dave Bautista (the funniest of the cast), Zoe Saldana (Gamora has a briliant arc), Danai Gurira (still a bad-ass), and Letitia Wright (the third member of the science bross) are all back and better than they have ever been.

From the newbies, Peter Dinklage has a gigantic cameo, while Josh Brolin does a great job with the motion capture. Thanos’ pawns are voiced/captured by Terry Notary (mocap performer in Apes, Warcraft, and Kong), Tom Vaughan-Lawlo (little-known actor), Carrie Coon (Fargo season 3), and Michael James Shaw (TV actor).

In short, Avengers: Infinity War is the movie event of the year that has to be watched multiple times to truly be appreciated. My next screening is on Monday, when’s yours?

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Avengers: Infinity War trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Isle of Dogs

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of one peculiar little picture. This is Isle of Dogs.

IMDb summary: Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.

  1. Isle of Dogs was written and directed By Wes Anderson and was undeniably his picture. His style of filmmaking is just so unique and different that it is impossible to confuse his films with anyone else’s. While Anderson did write the screenplay himself, the story credits went to Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman (two of Anderson’s frequent collaborators), and Kunichi Nomura (a Japanse actor/writer who was also one of the two casting directors for this film).
  2. I have seen a lot of articles and comments online about Isle of Dogs in relation to the appropriation of Japanese culture. I certainly had a similar thought when watching the movie. I wasn’t entirely sure why the setting had to be Japan, though I found the interplay between the languages – English and Japanese – quite an interesting choice for the film. I also wouldn’t like to state that the filmmaker was definitely appropriating something as I believe that cultures should be shared. And yet, where is the line between respectful homage and appreciation versus malevolent appropriation?
  3. In my mind, Isle of Dogs’ story unfolded on two plains: the surface and the hidden one. The surface story was an elaborate but clear adventure narrative about some dogs and a boy fighting an evil empire. That story was a bit slow but the humor was still snappy (the comedic timing was quite impeccable). The deeper meaning that I took from the picture was the commentary on the modern society, which enjoys nothing more than othering and excluding people that it finds unsuitable for a whole number of reasons (a lot of which relate to the person’s identity).
  4. I highly enjoyed the format of Isle of Dogs. I have always been a fan of the stop-motion animation and I sill find it just so captivating. The amount of work that goes into this style of animation blows my mind every time I see a new film using it. The design of the animals was also great – real but not really. Every shot felt just so material: saturated with objects, colors, and textures. The symmetrical steady shots also felt very Anderson. The film was also very musical in that its score had an underlying beat, constantly ringing in the background, which provided a sort of rhythmic backdrop for the story. The animation, art, and music departments should get as much recognition for this movie as Anderson himself does.
  5. Isle of Dogs’ voice cast was full of Hollywood’s most recognizable and expressive voices that added so much to the picture. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Power Rangers), Edward Norton (Collateral Beauty), Bill Murray (The Jungle Book), Jeff Goldblum (ID2, Thor 3), Bob BalabanGreta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards), Scarlett Johansson (Ghost in the Shell, MCU), and Tilda Swinton (Okja, Doctor Strange) all had roles of varying sizes.  On the Japanese front, Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama and even Yoko Ono lent their voices to some characters.

In brief, Isle of Dogs was a bizarre and fascinating Wes Anderson-y ride that might or might not have been culturally insensitive.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Isle of Dogs trailer

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Movie review: Black Panther

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the newest and, arguably, the most important Marvel movie! This is Black Panther!

IMDb summary: T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

As usual, before I start, my previous MCU reviews are here: Guardians 1 and 2, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor 3.

Writing

Black Panther was written by the director of the film Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. I thought that the duo did a stellar job with the script. I’m not going to talk about the plot in detail, so as to keep this review spoiler free, other than to stay that a lot of narrative things happen in this film and a couple of them are quite unexpected. There are also a few of meaningful deaths (that might silence MCU critics who say that nobody ever dies in this universe). What I’m going to discuss more elaborately are the brilliant and multiple thematical concepts of Black Panther.

Just on the surface representational level, this film was a game changer. Black characters were elevated from the roles of the supporting friend/the funny sidekick/the one-scene cameo and were brought to the forefront. It’s also refreshing to see fictional black characters rather than real-life rebel slaves or civil rights activists (those smaller biographical movies are important too, but diversity in the blockbuster field is key as well). Also, even though this movie told a fictional story about fictional characters, it honored and paid homage to a lot of its real-world equivalents/inspirations, which raised a question for me: why haven’t we seen pictures about real, past or current, African tribes that were not documentaries???

Anyways, more on Black Panther paying homage to certain real-world ideas/events. I absolutely loved how the movie honored the connection that Africans have with their ancestors (and how in touch with their spirituality they are) as well their connection with nature (healing herbs, animals as deities). It was also great for the movie to acknowledge the violence within African culture (both the inner to the culture and the one coming from the west). Most importantly, it was just so amazing to see the Afrofuturism ideas on screen, which connected modernity with the traditional side of the culture. Scholars have been racking their brains about how to develop Africa without Westernizing it! Well, just do what Black Panther did: connect the two things rather than make one negate the other!

As the movie’s main character was a sovereign of a country, Black Panther also had some political commentary, mostly about a single country’s relation and obligation to the world. It also explored the well-known idea of the sins of the father reflecting of the children but in a royal context.  The film also had some fascinating things to say about communities, tribes or one’s ‘people’. How do we define that category? Do we draw lines based on race? Ethnicity? Nationality? Culture? Common beliefs and ideals? One of the central conflicts in the film was based on the fact that the villain and the hero of the story had different answers to that question. Speaking of the villain, Killmonger might be Marvel’s best one yet because he wasn’t just a villain but a character in his own right, whose goals were radical yet valid. The viewer could definitely understand his frustrations and reasons for his thinking.

Directing

Ryan Coogler (of Creedand Fruitvale Station) did an amazing job with Black Panther. He realized the visuals of Afrofuturism so well (with the help of production design, of course). The sets were brilliant and the costumes – absolutely impeccable and so cool as well! The action was really great too: fast-paced, intense, and meaningful for the plot. The pacing was also great!  The much-celebrated music of the movie was great (so it has been celebrated for a reason). I wanted to hear even more if it!

Acting

Black Panther assembled a stellar cast, led by Chadwick Boseman (Civil War) in a role that he was born to play. I’d love to see his involvement in the MCU leading to more non-biographical roles for him (cause I have seen him in quite a few biopics). Coogler’s collaborator Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fantastic Four) played the villain and fully embodied the role, both physically and emotionally. I absolutely loved his character’s Americanized look too. An absolute scene stealer was Letitia Wright as the tech (and actual) princess. I loved her portrayal as a tech genius who was super excited about her creations and I also loved all her outfits and amazing sense of humor (bit cringe-y at times but so relatable). Lupita Nyong’o (The Jungle Book, The Force Awakens) also had a great role in the film – really loved seeing her in a big picture in person (not as in Star Wars, in motion capture).

Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira played an incredible role of the leader of Dora Milaje (who were all so amazing), while the breakout star of last year Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) also had an interesting role to play (I loved how his character’s cape-like looking thing was also a shield). Winston Duke played a fun and multifaceted character too. Some more seasoned talent was also spotlighted: Angela Bassett was great as the mother of the king, while Forest Whitaker (Southpaw, Arrival, Rogue One) was perfect as an elderly statesman. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis (War For The Planet of The Apes, The Last Jedi) also reprised their earlier roles in the MCU and were great. Freeman was a lovable CIA agent (not a word I’d use to describe a CIA agent, but, oh well), while Serkis was super crazy as one the villains of the film but it was really nice to see him in a non-motion capture performance.

Post-credits/End-credits (bit spoiler-y)

While Black Panther was mostly divorced from the MCU (it didn’t have many Easter Eggs that I could notice except of course the Stan Lee cameo), it did have a neat after-credits scene, where a fan-favorite from Civil War (‘White Wolf’) was defrosted. He seemed to be doing well in Wakanda.

The mid-credits scene was closely related to this picture and had a nice message of peaceful communication. It sounded a tiny bit naive but I can’t really fault hope.

In short, Black Panther was both a great Marvel comic book movie and a sophisticated game-changer in terms of representation for the whole context of modern cinema.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Black Panther trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Early Man

Movie reviews

Hello!

While some people flocked to the theater to see the last Fifty Shades, I joined my favorite demographic – kids – at the cinema. This is Early Man.

IMDb summary: Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures and woolly mammoths roamed the earth, Early Man tells the story of Dug, along with sidekick Hognob as they unite his tribe against a mighty enemy Lord Nooth and his Bronze Age City to save their home.

  1. Early Man was written by Mark Burton (comedy writer) and James Higginson and directed by Nick Park (Chicken Run director). This animated feature comes from Aardman – one of the few stop-motion animation studios still working in the mainstream (the other studio being Laika). I have always loved this type of an animation style and the aforementioned style was one of the factors that drew me into the cinema to see Early Man.
  2. Having seen the trailer numerous times (they were showing it literally before every movie here in the UK, Aardman being a British company), I vaguely knew what the story was going to be and wasn’t certain how to feel about it. Part of me was thinking that it’s a good thing to educate children on the origin of humans but another part of me (the anthropology student) wasn’t sure how the film would handle the ideas of a ‘primitive’ (can’t stand that word anymore, thanks, anthropology). Anyways, Early Man’s solution to the tricky representation was to just make every character into an idiot and also, have the movie to turn out to be about something completely different: not the origin of humans but the invention of football.
  3. The whole football storyline (which was, basically, the main plotline) was where the movie shined. All the real world comparisons and jabs completely worked: starting with the instant replay puppets, unfair referee, players acting as if they were hurt and ending with Lord Nooth being a corrupt sports manager (‘Voluntary contribution…everybody has to pay’ was such a great oxymoron of a line). This whole idea to focus on football (or soccer for the US) also seemed very British/European. South America enjoys football too, so maybe this film will be financially successful down there. In addition to smart jokes, Early Man also had a plethora of really stupid ones, which I didn’t care for, but the primary audience (a.k.a. children in my screening) absolutely loved.
  4. The animation of the picture was really great and the character design stayed within the Aardman brand (more round, obviously clay-like characters in contrast to Laika’s more spindly and weirdly shaped ones). The pacing of the movie was good too and I did appreciate how quick and short it was. As all sports-movies (yes, Early Man is a sports movie), this film had a fun and quite inventive training montage. Lastly, I’d love to find out whether any of the football players in the movie were based on real athletes.
  5. Early Man’s voice cast featured some incredible British A-listers (their involvement was the second major draw to the movie for me, personally). Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts, The Danish Girl, Jupiter Ascending) was great as aloof, optimistic, and infectious lead Doug, while Tom Hiddleston (Thor 3, Kong, High-Rise) sounded like he had fun embodying such a caricaturish old-school villain. Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams was basically voicing an animated version of Arya (only obsessed with football, not revenge). While one could definitely recognize the voices of all the actors, their accents did sound a bit thicker than usual, which seemed like an intentional choice to go with the overall tone of the film.

In short, Early Man was a lovely and neatly animated movie with a nice message of writing one’s own story. It also kinda made me want to watch a football match or even kick a ball around for a bit myself.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Early Man trailer

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Movie review: 12 Strong

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another January release. This time around, it’s 12 Strong!

IMDb summary: 12 Strong tells the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11; under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down for the Taliban.

Writing

12 Strong – a biographical action drama – was written by Ted Tally (adapted The Silence of the Lambs all those years ago) and Peter Craig (wrote both parts of Mockingjay and the upcoming Robin Hood and Top Gun 2), based on the non-fiction book ‘Horse Soldiers’ by a journalist Doug Stanton. Overall, the film’s script was very much ‘by the books’ but it also had a couple of original and unique ideas.

The movie’s set-up was typical. It included: a reminder that 9/11 happened (and simultaneously situated this film in a the war on terrorism timeline), a couple of scenes with the family members of the soldiers (and no other character development, except maybe a few bonding scenes with the other soldiers), and a single scene to introduce the villain (and honestly, his actions in the said scene were so despicable that that one scene was enough).

The ideas, which I found original, were few but present. I really liked the warlord’s speech about the difference between a warrior and a soldier. I’ve always thought about these two words as synonyms that meant the same, but, now, I see that they do slightly differ in the reasons for fighting (whether for survival or as a job). The warlord’s (whose beliefs were presented as very Western – was that an authentic feature or did the filmmakers wanted to make him more sympathetic to the Western audiences?) concluding statement, about the US becoming just another tribe in the Middle East rung very true, knowing the events that followed the ones of depicted in this picture. I really wish that the movie had more of a ‘looking back’ perspective like the one expressed in that monologue. Lastly, some questions that this movie (like all the others of this genre) raised but didn’t necessarily answer, for me personally, were: how do the followers of Islam balance their own culture and the human rights (that’s mostly a women right’s question that is interpreted wrongly by some Muslims)? And how can the West help that region achieve freedom and peace without imposing Westernization upon them?

Directing

12 Strong was directed by Nicolai Fuglsig – Danish filmmaker and photojournalist. This was his American film debut and he certainly didn’t do a bad job. Action/terrorism movies are a hard sell and they only really capture the audiences’ atention when they have some awards backing (e.g. The Hurt Locker or, more recently, American Sniper). Fuglsig’s picture didn’t have any big names attached (Hemsworth is only a draw if he is Thor) and it’s coming out in an unfortunate month. Still, the film was quite okay. The shoot-outs were well constructed and intense. The movie aslo did a good job of visualizing the new kind of warfare by showing the choppers in the clouds and the combat on horseback combat.

 

Acting

12 Strong assembled a cast, full of quite well-known actors. Leading them was Chris Hemsworth (Thor 3, The Huntsman, Ghostbusters, In The Heart of The Sea, Avengers 2). He was joined by Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Nocturnal Animals), another Marvel family member Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, Collateral Beauty, The Lego Ninjago, Murder on the Orient Express), and the up-and-coming Trevante Rhodes (who got everytbody’s attention with Moonlight and will soon appear in The Predator). A bunch of other actors played the other 8 (of the titular 12) soldiers but, as they didn’t really have a character arc, I don’t see the neccesity to mention them. Navid Negahban played the warlord ally of the American troops: he has played a similar role before multiple times. His next project is a bit different, though – he will be the Sultant in next year’s live-action Alladin.

In short, 12 Strong was a mediocre and by-the-numbers action/drama with some good performances and a few intersting ideas.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: 12 Strong trailer

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2017: 100 Book Challenge

Uncategorized

Hello!

Welcome to another 2017 round-up post. I’ve already done a post about my favorite and least favorite movies of the 2017 and now it is time for my list of book for this year. I don’ really post about books on this blog (I write short comments about them on Instagram as @sharingshelves) but since a lot of the books I’ve read are movie related (novels and comics that are adapted into films or non-fiction works about movies), I thought that some of you might be interested in my suggestions/recommendations. Also, I wasn’t planning on repeating the challenge but I managed to finish 100 books again this year (did the same in 2016). I have to promise myself that I’m not even going to attempt to read this many books next year, as when I have a certain numerical goal in mind, the reading experience does become more about quantity than quality.

Before I give you the list, here are a couple of general notes about it:
• From the 100 books this year, 10 were in Lithuanian (my native language) and 90 in English – I’m reading less and less in my native language every year.
• Most popular authors were Galbraith/Rowling for novels and Ennis, Bendis, and Snyder for comic books.
• I’ve read more graphic novels this year but fewer non-fiction books. My most often read comic book characters were Batman and Wonder Woman.
• I didn’t do an author break down by nationality but a general overview is this – I mostly read books by English-speakers. I didn’t even read a single book by a Lithuanian author (one by an author of Lithuanian descent was on the list, though).
• I’ve read mostly stand-alone books this year: if we’are not counting the comic book series, I’ve only read one full novel series.
• The 20th and 21st-century books were my most preferred for leisure reading, while for my English course, I’ve jumped around all time periods, but mostly focused on the literature of the 19th century.

Anyways, here is my list of books divided into the different genres. In every part, I’ve highlighted a couple of my favorites! I have also linked some movie reviews next to the relevant books. Enjoy!

Non-fiction:

  1. S. Cain – ‘Quiet: The Power of the Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’
  2. W. Isaacson – ‘Steve Jobs’ (adapted to film)
  3. R. Roll – ‘Finding Ultra’
  4. P. Pfitzinger and S.Douglas – ‘Advanced Marathoning’
  5. F. Hufton – ‘Running: How To Get Started’

Fiction:

  1. D. Brown – ‘Digital Fortress’
  2. M. Zusak – ‘The Book Thief’
  3. W. Carther – ‘Death Comes For The Archbishop’
  4. Z. N. Hurston – ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’
  5. N. Gaiman – ‘American Gods’
  6. N. Gaiman – ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’
  7. S. Meyer – ‘ The Chemist’
  8. A. Huxley – ‘Brave New World’
  9. A. Huxley – ‘Island: a novel’
  10. I. Welsh – ‘Trainspotting’ (adapted to film)
  11. J. Moyes – ‘ The Girl You Left Behind’
  12. L. Groff – ‘Fates and Furies’
  13. R. Galbraith – The Cuckoo’s Calling’
  14. R. Galbraith – ‘The Silkworm’
  15. R. Galbraith – ‘Career of Evil’
  16. L. Moriarty – ‘Big Little Lies’
  17. A. Burgess – ‘A Clockwork Orange’
  18. G. Orwell – ‘Animal Farm: a fairy story’
  19. G. Orwell – ‘1984′
  20. D. Eggers – ‘The Circle’ (adapted to film – review)
  21. J. le Carre – ‘The Night Manager’
  22. E. Morgenstern – ‘The Night Circus’
  23. L. Evans – ‘Their Finest’ (adapted to film – review)
  24. M. Bulgakov – ‘The Master and Margarita’
  25. D. O’Porter – ‘Goose’
  26. C. Palahniuk – ‘Fight Club’
  27. C. Bukowski – ‘Post Office’
  28. N. Larsen – ‘Passing’
  29. G.R.R. Martin and G. Dozois (as editors) – ‘Rogues’
  30. D. Gibbins – ‘Crusader Gold’
  31. R. Sepetys – ‘Between Shades of Gray’
  32. B. Ridgway – ‘The River of No Return’
  33. F. Molnar – ‘The Paul Street Boys’
  34. T. Parsons – ‘Starting Over’
  35. T. Capote – ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’
  36. A. Christie – ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (adapted to film – review)
  37. A. Thomas – ‘The Hate U Give’
  38. P.K. Dick – ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ (adapted to film – review)
  39. S. King – ‘It’ (adapted to film – review)

Cinema related books:

  1. G. Jenkins – ‘Empire Building’
  2. J. Luceno – ‘Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel’
  3. A. Freed – ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ novelization (film review)
  4. C. Fisher – ‘Postcards From The Edge’
  5. C. Fisher – ‘The Princess Diarist’
  6. C. Fisher – ‘Wishful Drinking’
  7. D. O’Neil – ‘The Dark Knight’ novelization
  8. C. Clark – ‘The Prince, The Showgirl and Me’
  9. C. Clark – ‘My Week with Marilyn’
  10. J.K. Rowling – ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ script (film review)
  11. A. Kendrick – ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’
  12. S. Nathan and S. Roman – ‘Frozen’ novelization
  13. S. Bukatman – ‘Blade Runner – BFI Film Classics’

English 3rd year degree books:

  1. Aeschylus – ‘Prometheus Bound’
  2. C. Marlowe – ‘Doctor Faustus
  3. J. Milton – ‘Paradise Lost’
  4. M. Shelley – ‘Frankenstein; 1818 text’
  5. R. Henryson – ‘The Testament of Cresseid’
  6. D. Defoe – ‘Robinson Crusoe’
  7. N. Shephard – ‘The Quarry Wood’
  8. N. Larsen – ‘Quicksand’
  9. A. Carter – ‘The Bloody Chamber and other stories’
  10. C. Bronte – ‘Jane Eyre’
  11. E. Bronte – ‘Wuthering Heights’
  12. A. Bronte – ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’
  13. G. Elliot – ‘The Lifted Veil’
  14. G. Elliot – ‘The Mill on The Floss’
  15. C. Dickens – ‘Great Expectations’
  16. H.G. Wells – ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’
  17. B. Stoker – ‘Dracula’
  18. W. Collins – ‘The Woman in White’

Graphic novels:

  1. Various authors – ‘Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Doctor Strange’ (film review)
  2. D. Abnett – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket Raccoon and Groot steal the galaxy’ (film review)
  3. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Gone To Texas’
  4. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Until The End Of The World’
  5. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Proud Americans’
  6. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Ancient History’
  7. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Dixie Fried’
  8. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 1’
  9. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 2’
  10. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 3’
  11. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 4’
  12. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 1 The Lies’ (film review)
  13. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 2 Year One’
  14. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 3 The Truth’
  15. M. Finch and D. Finch – ‘Wonder Woman: Resurrection’
  16. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The Court of Owls’
  17. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The Nights of Owls’
  18. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The City of Owls’
  19. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: Endgame’
  20. J. Tyrion – ‘Batman Detective Comics Rebirth: Volume 1 Rise of the Batmen’
  21. G. Morrison and A. Kubert – ‘Batman and Son’
  22. T. S. Daniel – Batman: Battle for the Cowl’
  23. A. Conner and J. Palmiotti – ‘Harley Quinn Rebirth: Volume 3 Red Meat’
  24. J. Hickman and C. Pacheco – ‘Ultimate Thor: Volume 1’ (film review)
  25. M. Wagner – ‘Trinity’ (film review)

And that is it for the books I’ve read this year! What was your favorite book(s) of the year? What are you planning on/excited to read in 2017?

Leave a comment below and Have a Happy New Year!

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BEST, WORST, and MISSED movies of 2017

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!!

Happy New Years Eve!

For most people, it’s a day/night of celebration: partying and drinking. Well, I’m also celebrating but in my own way – by posting my cinema round-up of the year. Like in 2015 and 2016, I’m providing you with my personal list of best and worst films (and I’m linking all of their reviews). A new development for this year is the fact that my top 5 list of obscure, small, ‘missed’ movies/honorable mentions is expanding into a 10 just because I’ve seen too many pictures this year that I want to bring to your attention once again! As always, please don’t bear any hard feelings if our lists don’t match! This post was written in the name of fun and I’m really looking forward to reading your picks in the comments!

BEST Movies:

  1. Logan
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. Wonder Woman
  4. Blade Runner 2049
  5. Thor: Ragnarok
  6. Beauty and the Beast
  7. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  8. War For The Planet Of The Apes
  9. Wind River
  10. It

Those who read my blog somewhat regularly probably aren’t surprised by the fact that my list contains 4 comic book movies. As much as I love the genre in general, what I loved about these particular films was the fact that they expanded the status quo: Logan brought the sophistication that we haven’t seen since The Dark Knight, while Wonder Woman was a game-changer for the female characters. Thor 3 fixed the weakest MCU trilogy, while Homecoming achieved what was deemed impossible – told the first good Spidey story in a decade. Joining the comic book films, are the three sci-fi juggernauts: Star Wars 8 (no surprise here, though, maybe it is a surprise as I seem to be one of the few who truly enjoyed the picture), Blade Runner sequel (visual and narrative masterpiece), and Apes 3 (an underappreciated finale of a great trilogy). The last 3 pictures bring some more variety genre-wise. Wind River represents drama (as well as my anthropological interests), Beauty and the Beast symbolizes my love for live-action fairytales (and my choice to remain a kid inside), while It is the biggest surprise of the year – the first horror movie that I’ve ever enjoyed.

WORST Movies:

  1. Snatched
  2. Transformers: The Last Knight
  3. Rough Night
  4. The Emoji Movie
  5. Geostorm
  6. Tulip Fever
  7. Suburbicon
  8. The Snowman
  9. American Assasin
  10. The Dark Tower

My worst list has it all: awful comedies (Snatched and Rough Night), confused dramas (Tulip Fever and Suburbicon), and underwhelming action thrillers (American Assasin and The Snowman). It also showcases a genre that should die (disaster films – Geostorm) and a franchise that should do the same (Transformers). The infamous cash grab for the millennials (The Emoji Movie) and the bad kind of Stephen King adaptation (The Dark Tower) finish of the list!

Honorable mentions/Movies you’ve MISSED:

I’ve decided not to number these and divide them into 3 levels of obscurity, from the least known to almost mainstream (or even actually mainstream) films.

To begin with, in the most obscure category, I’ve put The Death of Stalin, The Party, and Free Fire. First is a British adaptation of a French graphic novel, which itself is a reimagining of Russian history; second is more of a character piece than a movie with the shortest runtime of a feature film I’ve seen; and the third is an action movie that builds its story around the main action sequence that last the whole picture.

The second trio of more well known movies consist of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Their Finest, and T2: Trainspotting. The first is an extraordinary revenge story from a proven director, the second – a romantic take on war and the movie business, and the last is everything I love about my adoptive country of Scotland!

Lastly, the 4 final movies that the majority of moviegoers have heard about and which couldn’t necessarily make my top 10 list but were so unique that they deserved to be mentioned are Paddington 2(a bundle of joy in these dark times), John Wick 2 (a successful sequel in a not that big of a franchise), mother!(the picture that was more fun to analyze than watch), and The Big Sick (a romantic comedy like no other).

And that is it for 2017 cinema! I hope you enjoyed reading my lists! Every year, its gets harder and harder to decide on my picks because of the sheer amount of new movies I’m able to see. Please don’t be mad if your favorite/least favorite movies were not on my lists! Also, if you missed some awards contenders in this post, they might have been excluded because I haven’t seen them yet or because I expect to talk about them a lot during the next two months. Hence, they will get enough praise then, it’s what I’m saying.

Anyways, have a happy 2018 in the cinema and in life!

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Movie review: Murder on the Orient Express 

Movie reviews

Hello!

A glamorous whodunit has landed in theatres. This is Murder on the Orient Express.

IMDb summary: A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Prior to seeing the film, I had some knowledge about Hercule Poirot: I and my aunt used to play a Poirot video game, where you had to either assist the detective in solving a mystery or you were playing as the detective. In addition, while I haven’t seen any of the previous adaptations of this book, I did go straight to the source and read an original novel by Agatha Christie. I would love to read more of her writings about Poirot but that extensive list is a bit overwhelming.

Writing

Agatha Christie’s detective novel Murder on the Orient Express was adapted to the screenplay format by Michael Green (the writer of 3 (not counting this one) big movies of 2017: Logan, Alien: Covenant, and Blade Runner 2049). I thought that he did a fairly competent job. Since I have read the book only recently, I noticed a few changes in the story, mostly in the set-up, the locations, and the character traits. Other than these small details, the narrative stayed the same and the ending, which I was a bit disappointed by while reading the book, also stayed the same. In the film form, I did not mind the ending that much. I’m just wondering whether that complex reveal and its various tie-ins were explained well enough for a viewer, who wasn’t familiar with the story in the first place, to grasp.

I quite enjoyed the character development that Poirot received. I don’t think these particular details of his past were in the original book but I’m sure they were taken from one of the other Christie’s books of the same series. The emotional vulnerability that the character exhibited in the film made me believe his final decision (the one that came from the heart) more believable. The other characters did not receive much character development unless it was directly related to the case. Since the plot also involved a lot of performative elements, even the character development that was given could not be fully trusted.

Last few points on the script: I feel like it had a more overtly political tone than the book had, or at least elements relating to race, nationality, and governance, were more noticeable in the film. Murder on the Orient Express also had a fair few of chucklesome moments and a surprisingly big amount of sexual innuendos.

Directing

Murder on the Orient Express was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who has quite a lot of experience directing adaptations of classical books (mostly Shakespeare). He has also worked with the fantasy, action, and fairytale genres with Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and Cinderella. Overall, I thought he did a great job with this movie. I believe that the glamour of the setting was well realized, while the limits of it were used for the benefit of the film. The picture had quite a few impressive looking long tracking shots and also a couple of very unique looking straight-overhead/from the top shots. A couple of scenes of more obvious action-y nature were added to keep up the pace of the film, while the extensive interviews of the book were placed in various inventive locations around the train to make them more interesting. The black and white flashback sequences were a nice touch. My only gripe with the visuals of the film was the fact that some wide exterior shots looked really fake and too obviously CGI.

Acting

Kenneth Branagh was quite spectacular as Hercule Poirot. When a director plays the lead in his own film, I always get a bit worried, but I think Branagh handled the challenge well. I think he portrayed the character eccentrically enough but didn’t go into the cartoon territory (which was my worry). Poirot actually seemed like a serious and real person with some unique quirks.

The supporting cast of the film was quite extensive and full of big-name talent. The actors all delivered good enough performances with their limited screen time. Johnny Depp (Pirates 5, Fantastic Beasts, Black Mass, Alice 2) had his most ‘normal’ performance, so maybe the audience members, who have been turning away from him and his over the top roles, will come back? It was also really nice to see Daisy Ridley in a non-Star Wars role and Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast, Pixels) in another live-action rather than voice role. It was also interesting to spot Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench (Tulip Fever, Spectre) doing something more mainstream after mother! and Victoria&Abdul, respectively.

Penélope CruzWillem Dafoe (Death Note, What Happened To Monday, The Great Wall, TFIOS), Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr.Derek JacobiMarwan Kenzari (The Mummy, The Promise, Ben-Hur), Olivia Colman (The Lobster + she is taking over the role of the queen on The Crown), Lucy Boynton (Sing Street), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven), Sergei Polunin (he is a ballet dancer, so the count’s jumping kicks were legit), and Tom Bateman all starred in the roles, ranging from small to tiny, but the limited size of their roles did not limit the quality of their performances.

In short, Murder on the Orient Express was quite an enjoyable old-school thriller.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Murder on the Orient Express trailer

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Movie review: Thor: Ragnarok

Movie reviews

Hello!

What a time to be a nerd! A new Marvel movie is in theatres every 4 months! Is this heaven or what? Without further ado, let’s discuss Thor: Ragnarok!

IMDb summary: Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.

If it wasn’t obvious from my intro, I’m a huge MCU fan and have reviewed quite a few films of the franchise, thus, I’m linking the said reviews here: Captain America 1+2, Ant-Man, Guardians 1 and Guardians 2, Avengers 2, Civil War, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

This review is SPOILER FREE. The discussion involving SPOILERS is located at the end of the page.

Writing

Thor: Ragnarok was written by Eric Pearson (writer of a few MCU one-shots (I wish they were still making them) and writer on Agent Carter), Craig Kyle (comic book writer, producer the first two Thorfilms and of some of Marvel’s direct-to-video animated pictures), and Christopher Yost (longtime collaborator of Kyle, writer of Thor: The Dark World). I loved the writing for this film.

To begin with, I appreciated how dense the narrative was. So much happened in this picture and every second of that 2-hour runtime was packed with plot. It felt like this movie consisted of a couple of films, which was exactly the case. Thor: Ragnarok contained the first third of a Hulk solo movie – the middle part and the ending will probably be folded into Avengers 3and 4. I was a bit worried that the Hulk sideline will feel tacked-on but it didn’t – Bruce Banner and his green friend fit into this picture organically. I loved the fact that we got to see more of Hulk and find out about his own separate personality.

In general, the majority of the main characters had very satisfying character arcs. First of all, Thor went on a journey on finding his path again, while Valkyrie also had to re-find her purpose in life (I loved how she was both badass and had her flaws). Loki attempted to redeem himself in the most questionable and Loki-appropriate way possible and Heimdall got to do something meaningful for once in these films. Skurge’s questioning of morality was great, while Grandmaster’s hijinks were hilarious.

Speaking of the comedy in the film – it was just wonderful. The situational relatable humor, the reactions, the call-backs, the references, and the jabs at the previous MCU events were extremely funny. However, the film also had some heart to it. One particularly touching moment occurred in Norway at the beginning of the film. That scene’s location – Norway – was also a neat nod to the Norse mythology roots of these characters.

MCU films have been notorious for their lack of great villains. I didn’t think that Hela followed this trend. She was both memorable and menacing. I also loved how she had a family connection to the protagonist, and, thus, how the film got an opportunity to explore the notions of family and home. I also enjoyed seeing her be actually threatening, setting the stakes high and having a lasting impact on both Thor and Asgard (physical and emotional).

Directing

Thor: Ragnarok was directed by the incredible filmmaker from New Zealand – Taika Waititi. I was only introduced to his work last year with the awards’ nominated delightful and heartfelt comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Before going to see Ragnarok, I also watched his brilliant vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. Needless to say, my expectations were high and I’m so glad to say that Waititi delivered on them 100%! Thor: Ragnarok had the heartwarming feeling of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the jokes of Guardians of the Galaxy, and the trippy visuals of Doctor Strange. Nevertheless, it wasn’t just a rehashing of elements from other films, but a refreshing, unique, and immensely entertaining take on them.

The color palette of Thor 3 was just so gorgeous and super vibrant. The location and the character designs have never looked better in a Thor film (the looks reminded me of a mixture of Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and just 1980s style). The action was just so dynamic and energetic. It was also varied: we got to see a couple of one-on-one fights as well as some epic scale battles and a few spaceship chases. One of my favorite action pieces was the short opening fight between Thor/Loki/Hela in the rainbow bridge. Not on it, but in its stream. The music (by Mark Mothersbaugh) was also nicely incorporated into the film. I’m gonna listen to that Led Zeppelin song every day at the gym now.

Acting

  • Chris Hemsworth (Ghostbusters, The Huntsman, In the Heart of the Sea) had his 5th and best outing as Thor. We already knew that he was great a the role of a hero, but here he also displayed all his comedic chops!
  • Tom Hiddleston (High-Rise, Kong) was sly and charismatic as Loki again (I love the character, so I’ll never complain about seeing him).
  • Cate Blanchett (Carol, Cinderella) had a snake-like quality to her performance of Hela. At the beginning, I thought that she was bordering on being too cartoonish a too bit much but I think she quickly found her footing.
  • Idris Elba (The Mountain Between Us, The Dark Tower, Star Trek Beyond, Bastille Day, Beasts of No Nation) returned as Heimdall and got a chance to do something more in the film than just stand in one room!
  • Jeff Goldblum (ID2) was perfect as Grandmaster. He was doing his Jeff Goldblum thing (I can’t explain it) and that fit the character so well! He, in my mind, had the leeway to go cartoonish and I’m glad he went there at least a bit.
  • Tessa Thompson (Creed) was wonderful as Valkyrie. I loved how Thompson portrayed her character’s flaws, regrets, and determination.
  • Karl Urban (Pete’s Dragon, Star Trek Beyond) as Skurge. I hope that Urban’s involvement with a new comic book property means that he might go back to one of his old ones – the role of Dredd. Nonetheless, I loved seeing him here.
  • Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight, Now You See Me 2) delivered a short but sweet performance as Bruce Banner / Hulk. Immense props to him for his comedic timing too!
  • Anthony Hopkins (Transformers 5) only appeared briefly as Odin but he was responsible for the most touching and the most emotionally-challenging scene of the film, as a dramatic actor of his caliber should be.

In short, Thor: Ragnarok was without a doubt the best Thor film but it also might be one of the best MCU solo films ever! Not only worthy of watching once, but repeated viewing is recommended!

Rate: 4.8/5

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SPOILER-Y PART: 

Since I saw the movie super early (thanks, UK release schedule), I didn’t want to talk about spoiler stuff in the main part of the review, so I’ll just unpack some ideas in more detail here:

  1. Thor: Ragnarok had a great cameo by Doctor Strange. Those, who saw Doctor Strange and waited for the post-credit scene of that film, knew that Sorcerer Supreme will be showing up in Thor 3. It was wonderful to see the character appear on film as being closer to his comic book counterpart – way more advanced in his skill and more in control of his powers than he was when we last saw him.
  2. Matt Damon, of all actors, had a super funny cameo as an Asgardian actor playing Loki. It’s always nice to see a great actor doing some bad acting and Damon nailed his. Stan Lee also had an amazing cameo as the hairdresser. I’m glad that he was the one who supposedly got a chance to change Thor’s look. I feel like, since that change came from Lee, it is somehow automatically canon.
  3. Hela was turned into Thor’s and Loki’s sister for the film (she is the daughter of Loki in the comics). I liked the change because it allowed the movie to explore the differences between Odin’s relationships with each of his kids. Also, the fiction vs truth idea came into play in the movie because of that change.
  4. Some of my favorite jokes, which I didn’t want to spoil were: the Sakar’s infomercial sequence; Loki’s reaction to Hulk throwing Thor around like a ragdoll – Loki experienced the same fate in Avengers; Thor’s attempt to calm Hulk down with Black Widow’s lullaby; and the jabs at Tony Stark. Even if RDJ is not in the film, his presence is always felt. Another delightful comedic part was Taika Waititi’s motion capture and vocal performance as Korg. Waititi is a great comedic actor and I’m glad he got to showcase that here in addition to directing.
  5. Lastly, Thor: Ragnarok had two end-credits scenes. The mid-credits scene was a very vague tease for Avengers: Infinity War, while the post-credits scene was just a fun nod to this particular film.