Category Archives: The Hitlist

The Pictures: ‘Avengers’ Dissemble, Pt. 2

Yesterday, in Pt. 1 of this piece, I talked about a few reasons why I wasn’t, in fact, among the many blown away by ‘The Avengers,” in the hope of turning some of the roar around the film ito a conversation; before I proceed, though, I will note that in yesterday’s piece, I used the phrase “drinking the kool-aid,” which made Twitter user @KKRMalro to note “I’m fine James didn’t like it, but (his) ‘kool-aid drinking’ dismissal of those that enjoyed it is kind of insulting.” And in fact, Mr. Marlo, I  want you to know that that was not the point at all — and while ‘kool-aid drinking’ is a convenient metaphor, it’s not a kind one, and I’m sorry if it was taken as a slight — this was intended to be a conversation, again, and not an insult to the film’s many fans.

But, with that said, numbers 3) and 4) on my questions about “The Avengers are below …

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The Pictures: ‘Avengers’ Dissemble, Pt. 1


Now that Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” is busy making all the money, I feel a little odd about it — while, to name but two other, similar, films, it’s “Citizen Kane” compared to “Fantastic Four” or “Green Lantern,” I still feel a little underwhelmed, especially hearing of people who’ve gone to see it five, six, seven times. A highly-placed friend in the industry — no names — mailed me from their desk to state that while they couldn’t ask this publically, was I the only person in the small-ish circle of film writers who found it unsatisfying and mediocre?  

No, I noted — Amy Nicholson of Box Office Magazine, Karina Longworth of the L.A. Weekly, A.O. Scott of the Times and Andrew O’Heir of Salon, among others, also weren’t “Avengers”-mad as every other film critic seems to be, but, you know. My friend was relieved to know that not everyone was drinking the kool-aid.

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Interview: Chris Hemsworth of ‘The Avengers’

With his blonde hair, enchanted hammer and sci-fi/Wagnerian hybrid clothing, the mighty Thor is one of The Avengers; speaking to MSN Movies in L.A., Australian Chris Hemsworth is more mellow and more relaxed than his on-screen character. We spoke with Hemsworth about his anxieties in taking on the role, about whether the hair or the hammer makes the superhero, and playing make-believe with a $200-million budget. 

MSN Movies: When it comes to those moments where you have to get into character as Thor, what helps more: The hair or the hammer?

Chris Hemsworth: The hammer. It feels right. I feel naked without the hammer. There were scenes where he doesn’t have (it), and I don’t even know where to put my hands.

You get a little fidgety, as a thunder god, without your hammer?

You do.

“Thor” had that big cosmic epic scope, that mix of science and Shakespeare. When you look around this, and you’re standing in a flying aircraft carrier and fighting alien monsters, how do you wrap your head around the muchness of it?

It’s all make-believe, whether you’re in another realm in the middle of Asgard in some sort of ethereal chamber, or some helicarrier, like in this. To be honest, right there whomever you’re acting with, that becomes your focus. A lot of that is green screen anyway so you can’t even see it. It becomes about the script, and about the interactions with the characters, and trying to find what’s the truth in that moment, and then you just step by step, and hopefully it all falls into place.

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Interview: Samuel L. Jackson of ‘The Avengers’

First seen in the Marvel movie-verse as a post-credit moment in “Iron Man,” Samuel L. Jackson’s eyepatch-wearing, glowering super-super-secret agent Nick Fury has become a common thread in the later films — and steps up to the front in “The Avengers.” We spoke with Jackson in L.A. if he knew all of this was going to happen, the best part of working with writer-director Joss Whedon and if he is, as his co-stars suggest, scarier before lunch than after …

MSN Movies: This character has gone from this little post-credit “Yes!” moment to being this huge presence in these films and in this shared universe. Did you know it was going to be like that from the jump?

Samuel L. Jackson: I didn’t know it, but I kind of felt something positive was going to happen through all this after the great response we got to the little tag ending of “Iron Man,” and all of a sudden I pop up in the next one with Natasha, who enhances my presence. Hopefully being the ligament that ties all these different films kind of mentioning “The Avengers” initiative all the time. Mentioning and hinting at kicking somebody out of “The Avengers” initiative wasn’t even in at a certain point, so people kind of go, “What’s he talking about?” Finally you get to a place where you see what Nick Fury has been trying to do.

You have this film where you have CGI, huge green people throwing cars around …

He’s not real?

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Interview: Clark Gregg and Cobie Smulders of ‘The Avengers’

As S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Coulson and Hill, actors Clark Gregg and Cobie Smulders add a welcome touch of working-class humanity to the heroics going on around them in “The Avengers.” Gregg’s been part of the Marvel Comics films going back to “Iron Man,” although his previous resume includes work with talents like Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet; Smulders, best-known for the small-screen “How I Met Your Mother,” joins the Marvel films for the first time with this film. We spoke with the two in L.A. about the human touch, costumes and gender roles, having Samuel L. Jackson as an on-screen boss and action-figure envy …

MSN Movies: How nice is it to be able to give the human touch to all this mythic special effects stuff going on?

Clark Gregg: It’s pretty darn nice, I’ve got to say. It’s been one kind of amazing ultimate surprise after another from the first “Iron Man” — kind of showing up being a guy just pestering Tony Stark. Then gradually revealing that the “Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division is S.H.I.E.L.D. And kind of finding out on the one hand this guy knows all kinds of secrets and is involved in stuff you can’t even imagine, and at the same time, in this movie we get to learn he grew up loving the comics and is a huge fan of Captain America, and can barely contain his schoolgirl giggles when Captain America is there …

You, Ms. Smulders have to wear this sort of action leotard (as Maria Hill), and Mr. Coulson just wears a really great suit. Do we need to talk to S.H.I.E.L.D. about gender roles and the workplace dress code?

Gregg: Well, they put me in the unitard with codpiece, but it wasn’t good for anyone involved so they quickly put me back in the suit …

Cobie Smulders: … And they also felt that Coulson is on the field a lot, and he’ll draw too much attention if he goes out in his leotard. Those who stay on the Helicarrier can put the uniform on. Maybe if I was in his role I’d get a female power suit, or something like that.

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Interview: Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson of ‘The Avengers’

As the two most human members of The Avengers – super-spy Black Widow and master marksman Hawkeye – Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner play some of the more relatable characters on-screen among the super-soldiers and techno-titans and space-gods making up the rest of the team. We spoke with the two in Los Angeles about jumping to blockbuster territory, occasional confusion induced by the vastness of it all and what super-cool jobs they’d like to play on-screen next.

I and a lot of the audience have had a chance to know you from great indie films like “Lost in Translation” or “Girl with the Pearl Earring” or “Twelve and Holding” and “The Hurt Locker,” but now you’re in all of this muchness. What’s that like? How’s it different, and how is it the same?

Jeremy Renner: People go see this.

Scarlett Johansson: Yeah, essentially it’s the box office draw. Kids can see this movie. I think it’s funny. You think you’re a part of something, and you read the script and you’re like, “Whoa, this is massive.” Actually, when we’re on set and we’re shooting, other than the sets, it doesn’t feel really huge, unless you’re doing a scene where all of us are together and we’re there in the scene all against Loki. All of sudden you notice that everyone from Marvel is there, and they brought their kids, and the set is full of people. Everyone just has this excitement on set, and that’s when you’re like “Whoa, this is big.” You can kind of feel the weight of it.

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Interview: Mark Ruffalo of ‘The Avengers’

Relaxed and serene, Mark Ruffalo is kinda-sorta living through his character’s arc in “The Avengers,” a mild-mannered actor finally unleashing the blockbuster scene-stealer within. Playing Bruce Banner – and Banner’s jade-green superheroic alter-ego, The Hulk – Ruffalo is, in the eyes of many reviewers, the best thing in “The Avengers,” striking a great balance between the human and the heroic. We spoke with Ruffalo in Los Angeles about the jump to widescreen action, the joy of CGI muscles and the total commitment required when you have to roar and rage as the basis for a computer-generated comic book icon.

MSN Movies: I’m familiar with you from great independent films throughout the years, “You Can Count on Me,” “Margaret,” things like that, but now you’re in all of this. I’m curious about how is that different and how is that the same?

Mark Ruffalo: Good question. Everything is just much much bigger. It takes a lot longer to do anything. The craft service table is much nicer than most of the lunches of the smaller movies. Ultimately, you’re still hoping you’re still playing your character, listening and responding, and doing some fairly decent moment-to-moment acting.

I’m also curious: Mr. Hemsworth, Mr. Evans, they have to look all muscle-y in this; Ms. Johansson and Mr. Renner have to fit into their killer outfits … but your muscles are all CGI. Was that an attractive part of taking the part?

(Laughs)  I’ve never looked so good with doing so little

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Interview: Director Joss Whedon of ‘The Avengers’

Haggard, hoarse, pallid and yet still talking – the directorial equivalent of “bloody but unbowed” – writer-director Joss Whedon is willing to talk about his new Marvel Comics mega-film, bringing a group of the company’s heroes together into one film, but the flesh is a little weakened. Whedon’s made his career on big ensemble pieces with snap, crackle and pop-culture fun, but this is the biggest budget and biggest canvas he’s ever worked on -– coupled with the fact that unlike “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly” and some of his other projects, these aren’t his characters. We spoke with Whedon in L.A. about team dynamics, the paradox of special effects, and what he needs to do before even thinking of signing on board for a sequel.

MSN Movies: Looking at your career in a line going from “Buffy” to “Firefly” to this, did you just think of becoming a group dynamics therapist? Would that be easier, or would that just not pay as well?

Joss Whedon: Family counseling? No. Yes? I think certainly I’m not very good at it, because these characters argue all the time.

Tolstoy reminds us that all happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unique in its own way.

That’s true.

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Interview: Director Nicholas Stoller and Producer Judd Apatow of ‘The Five-Year Engagement’

Confronting the press like a well-timed comedy double-act — which, in many ways, they are — director Nicholas Stoller and producer Judd Apatow spoke with MSN Movies (among other reporters) about their new film, “The Five-Year Engagement,” which depicts the loves and challenges of Jason Segel’s Tom and Emily Blunt’s Violet, a couple madly in love but still confronted by very real problems. Director Stoller spent most of last year celebrating the success of “The Muppets,” which he co-wrote with Segel; Apatow, of course, has done more to define comedy on film in the past 10 years than perhaps any other director or producer.

The films made under your name, Mr. Apatow, they’re like these really well-marbled steaks — the fat is the flavor and there’s really no clear place to cut. How hard is it when you’ve got all these talented people, working on this very smart script, given room to play, to make the final assembly cut? How much of that is you in some advisory role going, “No, you have to make it tinier” or “No, no. Leave that in …”?

Apatow: That sounds really good. I want a steak now. I’m always going, “Keep it longer.” I’m the worst person for that. I try to just save a fresh clear head for whoever I’m working with, so hopefully its helpful that there’s someone who doesn’t have to sit in the editing room twelve hours a day and who’s blinded by the massive footage and options that they have. So that when Nick is happy with a cut, and I see it at the previews, I’ve just been at the tanning salon all day, fresh as a daisy.

Stoller: He’s very tan when he comes to the first take.

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Interview: John Cusack of ‘The Raven’

Ushered — no pun intended — into a hotel room to meet John Cusack to talk about his work playing Edgar Allan Poe in the thriller “The Raven,” the actor’s scribbling a list, frantically; music inspired by Poe, for a promotional bit of business. The Chicago-born actor may be aging — as are we all — but the familiar mannerisms from a career stretching back to the 80′s are there: The hesitancy, the hand-thru-the-hair, the muted explosions of real enthusiasm. We spoke with Cusack in L.A. about playing Poe, why he so often plays writers, and his view of the late author as ‘a badass …’

MSN Movies: When you find out you’re going to be playing Poe, to what degree do you roll up your puffy sleeves and just dive into the life and work?

John Cusack: Right away.

There’s stuff we think we know, and then actually learning more about it. What were you most surprised to learn?

Well, I think, what I hope everybody does is maybe takes the time just to read him again. When you read him again, you see how prescient he was, how many genres he invented, how many styles he was capable of. You see him as a satirist, someone who’s taken the ludicrous and heightened it to grotesque. You see him as a first person narrative, as a precursor to Truman Capote and Hunter Thompson and Norman Mailer, all these writers who write for themselves. You see so much there when you read him again. I think because he’s iconic, he somehow becomes two-dimensional over time. When you reread him, you see, “My God, he started all this stuff. He started everything.”

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