One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 42
By Laurence Lerman
I’ve seen the three-hour-plus Avengers: Endgame multiple times since its premiere in 2019 and it’s probably my favorite film in the Marvel Comics Universe canon. But during the lockdown, I wasn’t as interested at sinking into it in toto again as much as wanting to check out a few of my favorite moments. (Most of them can be found on YouTube, as like-minded hopscotchers are well aware).
The scene to which I most regularly return comes near the end, when Earth’s vanished population has returned and the titular super squad engages in a climactic showdown against Thanos and his hordes. It is during this scrape that Wanda Maximoff, aka The Scarlett Witch, confronts Thanos on the battlefield. Having lost both her brother (Quicksilver) and her lover (Vision) at the hands of the interstellar warlord during an earlier skirmish, Wanda, her eyes turning a murderous crimson as she trembles with suppressed rage, balefully eyes the alien tyrant. “You took everything from me,” she seethes—right before ripping the gargantuan invader a new one.
That glower, that glare. Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda, she had a look, a stare—a staredown of her hated enemy that grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. It even blew away anything I’d seen Olsen do on Disney+’s WandaVision, and that includes her face-off with Kathryn Hahn’s Agatha Harkness. I’ve watched that moment more than a dozen times since and, for me, it’s the highlight of Endgame’s extended final battle, maybe the whole movie.
So, here’s to staredowns—those fleeting instances when a performer turns his gaze on another performer (usually out of frame) and creates a provocative and memorable and empowering moment with not much more than the eyes alone. The story, the lighting, the costumes and the environment play second fiddle at these times—truly, it’s all about the eyes. Oh, it’s not that it doesn’t happen frequently; this is what actors do, and good actors do it well. But when the moment sticks, it’s worth watching for, well, more than a dozen times.
Here are ten of those moments that I’ve found particularly effective during the past year of random streaming of movies that you’ve all heard of. They’re in no particular order because they don’t have to be!
A Droog named Alex (Malcolm McDowell) sets the tone in the spectacularly confrontational opening shot of Stanley Kubrick’s masterful 1972 adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s dark and violent satire A Clockwork Orange.
Even the simple act of checking into a Hampton Inn provides an opportunity for a confrontation (with a desk clerk, in this case) for Charlize Theron’s emotionally stunted YA author in Jason Reitman’s Young Adult (2011), written by the dynamic Diabo Cody.
“I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next,” vows Russell Crowe’s titular combatant following his unmasking in front of the evil Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) in 2000’s Gladiator, Ridley Scott’s magnificent sword-and-sandal saga.
Uma Thurman is at her murderous best when she raises a samurai sword against one-eyed assassin Daryl Hannah in Quentin Tarantino’s 2004 Kill Bill 2, the second part of his martial arts revenge epic Kill Bill (2003). The first part found Uma taking down more than 100 elite henchmen with said saber.
When his island is invaded by a fortune-hunting Hercules in the beloved Greek mythological fantasy Jason and the Argonauts (1963), the giant bronze statue Talos comes to life to take a terrifying stare at the intruder, courtesy of stop motion effects master Ray Harryhausen.
Sigourney Weaver. The Alien Queen. “Get away from her, you bitch!”
“Cooler King” Steve McQueen is at his coolest when he returns to a P.O.W. camp following his latest capture and stares down his latest commandant to let him know just what he’s in store for in the 1962 WWII spectacular The Great Escape.
Directed by Jonathan Demme to play straight into the camera, Jodie Foster’s FBI agent Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins’ genius cannibalistic murderer Hannibal Lecter offers numerous piercing glances (at each other and at us!) in Demme’s 1991 serial killer classic The Silence of the Lambs.
The look of countless thwarted Hollywood dreams and the encroaching darkness and darkness that follow can all be seen in the eyes of failed actress Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr.., David Lynch’s surreal 2001 Tinsel Town takedown.
In the hands of Stanley Kubrick (again!) and the U.S. Marine Corps, soft, slow recruit Vincent D’Onofrio is transformed into a psychotic and suicidal killing machine who talks to his rifle in the 1987 Vietnam tale Full Metal Jacket.
Looking ahead, the latest installments in the long-running Mission: Impossible and James Bond franchises, starring Tom Cruise and Daniel Craig, respectively, are teeing up for release this fall. Also arriving next season is another wave of Marvel Comics Universe entries, including Eternals, featuring Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek as two of a group of immortal heroes forced out of the shadows to reunite against mankind’s oldest enemy, known as The Deviants.
The trailers for the film are circulating and the countdown buzz for potential critical and box office success are beginning. Are we looking at the possibility of a quartet of superstar staredowns that could generate some substantial heat during the chill of autumn?
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.