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‘Avengers: Endgame’ faces impossible challenge after ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

The problem with “Avengers: Infinity War” is the way it ended and what we knew about the next Marvel movies. Basically, Thanos’ snap eliminated the newest half of the Marvel Universe, including most of Ant-Man’s allies, leaving the old heroes to find a way to avenge the snap, which would fit in perfectly with what Tony Stark told Loki in the first Avengers film and serve as a way to tie the franchise together.

However, the upcoming movie slate after Infinity War includes “Spider-Man: Far from Home” (eliminating the emotional impact of his demise in Infinity War), “Black Panther” (which could possibly give rise to a female Black Panther because T’challa was dusted), “Guardians of the Galaxy 3” (though James Gunn departure after a controversy left this in doubt, Kevin Feige says it’s still on; it could team Rocket with the Reavers and/or Nebula) and “Doctor Strange 2” (which at this point I don’t have an observations on, except its Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mysterio looks like he uses magic).

With all of these movies, and the stars whose contracts are expiring – Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) – as well as the apparent good byes and statements that some won’t be returning to the roles, there is no way for the Marvel Universe to continue without a complete reversal of an entire movie. This seems like it has all kinds of potential to go lame though that type of action has happened before – most notably in the last episode of “Twin Peaks” season 3.

One twist for Endgame could turn the Marvel Universe on its head. What if all the characters that died were the ones to survive, and the audience saw the dusting from the characters’ who actually died point of view? This would mean Rocket died, which would make sense because it has already been stated that he doesn’t have a long lifespan as a raccoon. It would also mean that Bruce Banner is dead, but the hulk isn’t necessarily dead. This type of reveal would make it easier to accept the Nick Fury/Spider-Man alliance. It could be interesting to see how the old characters deal with the reality of their demise while the mirror splits back to the new characters who did actually survive.

At this point though, “Avengers: Endgame,” which releases on April 26, 2019, lacks the stakes that Infinity War had during its run. The new characters are going to come back, and no one will be surprised when the old characters die. Marvel has more creative people than me working for it, and just because the general outcome of the movie is known doesn’t mean it won’t be good. But because we already know so much about it beyond the movie itself, it may not be engaging, especially if Peter Parker comes back and is threatened with death again. He’s already got a movie coming out, and it has a trailer. (Check out other movie related posts.)

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‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’; just not as far as you might think

In spite of its implications for “Avengers: Endgame,” Sony has released a “Spider-Man: Far from Home” trailer, which clearly shows that Spider-Man, aka Peter Parker, is alive and well and on Earth, and so is Nick Fury. The “Far from Home” title doesn’t indicate Spider-Man is still in space. Instead, he’s in Europe. Seriously, Europe? That’s far from home after traveling to the planet Titan? Oh, I have so many questions.

The first question is: How does this school have so much money? When I was in school, we had to have permission slips, our parents had to pay, and we barely got to go on a field trip to the park across the strip in elementary school. Flash forward to high school, and I had zero field trips. Nowadays, it seems like it would be even more difficult. With schools cutting budgets for the arts and fun while focusing on the core of reading and arithmetic, how does Spider-Man’s school have enough money to take the kids to Washington, D.C. much less Europe? The cost of insurance alone would be staggering. What school district does Parker go to?

Peter Parker is supposed to be poor, right? Even if his aunt can afford to put him in an upscale school, can she afford all these trips and their associated costs? Is Stark footing the bill? Was the fundraiser at the beginning really for Spider-Man?

How do his classmates not figure out he’s Spider-Man? Kids aren’t that dumb. Spider-Man shows up in Europe at the same time as the class? He was also in D.C. and saved MJ and disappeared from a bus while there was a super fight going on outside. Maybe it’s a case of Clark Kent’s glasses.

“Peter Parker here to pick up a passport, please” tongue twister? How many times did Tom Holland have to say that before he got it right?

Are we going to get a Doctor Strange/Spider-Man crossover? Mysterio seems to be using the same kind of magic as Strange does, and we all know Doctor Strange is coming back from Thanos’ snap, just like Spider-Man and Nick Fury.

Spider-Man is facing off against the elements. All of the monsters have the same form but are made from one of the four elements – fire, earth and water. Only wind is left out. I’m not sure how to phrase that as a question, just more of an observation.

If you have answers or more questions, leave them in the comments below. Check out more of my movie-related commentary. Watch for my “Avengers: Endgame” commentary coming soon!

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“Daddy’s Home 2”: Laughs and Heart

“Daddy’s Home 2” is a sequel that’s better than the original and proves that, in this case, more is better. The premise of old-school, toxic masculinity meeting new-world, kinder, gentler men uses a time-tested winning formula composed of slapstick, the absurd, and a heart-felt change in the characters that makes sense. While the writing sets the film up for success, it’s the casting and the acting that keep the film together.

Brad (Will Ferrell) and Don (John Lithgow) play to type as the uptight, over-emotional dad and granddad. Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) is the tough guy trying to change and adapt to a new reality while his father, Kurt, played by Mel Gibson, is stuck in the 1980s, womanizing and espousing the old values of masculinity that still work for him, but are, at the very least, questionable in the era of #metoo. The confrontation between the two styles of living comes into conflict as Dusty tries to conform to a life his father seemingly disapproves of.

“Daddy’s Home 2” plays to the strengths of its stars. The changes in character are believable, and even in the most absurd cases, the movie is never so far out there as to invoke disbelief, which is odd as a comedy. These qualities make “Daddy’s Home 2” a high-quality movie that isn’t just about getting belly laughs, which it does throughout the film, but it also explores the relationships between family members, especially fathers and their sons. For some, this film may seem like a guilty pleasure, but look closer and you have a film that really finds its meaning in the season. For more about the movies check out my other blog posts.

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Netflix’ ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is a masterpiece

Normally, I would write a review about the brilliantly conceived, written and executed Netflix series “Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events.” I would describe how Patrick Warburton’s deadpan and world-weary delivery sets the stage as he narrates the unfortunate events. I would espouse how Neil Patrick Harris cements his legacy as one of the most versatile and amazing actors of his generation with his portrayal of the nefarious Count Olaf, who inspires fear, loathing and dread while also creating an absurd and funny villain. I would wonder how Lucy Punch, portraying the evil Esme Squalor, gets all of these roles that downplay how beautiful she actually is. I would talk about the big-name guest stars, like Joan Cusack, Sara Rue, Nathan Fillion and Cobie Smulders. I might even say something about the social commentary, incompetent adults, wise children and more…

But, dear reader, a review of Netflix’ “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” would inevitably be spoiler-filled or unfinishable. Instead of writing about this amazing adaptation filled with laughs and tragedies, I will only say – The song’s lyrics tell you to look away, but you won’t be able to. Binge watch this masterpiece of story-telling and enjoy. (You can read a review of the first episode here.)

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Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’ powerful commentary on America today

In BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee delivers another powerful joint. Based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, Colorado Springs first black police officer, and his infiltration of the KKK in 1979 with the help of his white partner Flip Zimmerman, Lee taps into the past to cast light on the present.

The writing revels in knowledge that the characters can’t possibly have, spitting it out as a foreshadowing of America today. It’s easy enough to catch the references to “America First” and making America great again. Those less steeped in politics may fail to realize that the real David Duke, played by Topher Grace, was a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and ran for president as a Democrat in 1988 and a Republican in 1992. Making (movie) Stallworth’s belief that such a thing couldn’t happen all the sadder and more naïve.

Lee’s powerful message is on point and strikes at the heart of his audience. Seamlessly edited cuts race between the KKK ritual David Duke is running and the Black Power meeting where Jerome Turner, played by Harry Belafonte, is describing in detail the torture and death of Jesse Washington, a mentally retarded black teenager in Waco, TX. The tension mounts as Stallworth’s and Zimmerman’s identities are discovered at the KKK meeting. All of the pieces are there to bring about real tragedy, including a bomb and police brutality against one of their own.

BlacKkKlansman, however, stops short of being an indictment against all white people. Instead, it points at those who espouse racist views, those who refuse to stand up to demagogues (in a brilliantly ironic speech given by Duke), those who implement budget cuts for nefarious reasons, and those who passively allow racism to continue unobstructed. If this Lee joint enrages you as being anti-white, maybe you need to take a hard, long look in the mirror and question your beliefs, values, actions and inactions.

For the viewer that isn’t able to keep up with the MAGA and America First references, the ending shows actual news clips to bring the message into focus: Not much has changed in the last 30 years; America is as racist as ever. BlacKkKlansman is clearly a cry to bring America together through the elimination of bigotry and hate. If Stallworth could do it as the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, so can we.

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The Apartment (1960): A Christmas/New Year’s Comedy Classic?

The Apartment” (1960) starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray was nominated for 10 Oscars and won five of them, including an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director for Billy Wilder. It is rated by Rotten Tomatoes as the eighth best Christmas film of all time and by Esquire as the third best New Year’s film. In some ways, it seems like the 1960s version of “Love Actually” (or maybe, it should be the other way around). Whether these rankings indicate a true dearth of good holiday films or something else about the film industry and its rankings, “The Apartment” is no longer a feel-good movie or one with many laughs.

C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) is a young executive looking to advance in his company. As such, he loans out his apartment to the executives above him, so that they can cheat on their wives. This leads to late nights on a park bench for Charlie as well as a poor reputation among his fellow apartment dwellers and landlady. Lemmon schedules each of four executives, gives them deadlines to be out of the apartment (which they fail to meet), purchases alcohol and snacks for them to have while they are entertaining the women.

The boss, Jeff Sheldrake (MacMurray), learns about the apartment and its shenanigans and manipulates Baxter into allowing him to use it for his dates with Elevator Operator Fran Kubelik (MacLaine), with whom Baxter is in love. Baxter doesn’t know the identity of the woman Sheldrake is dating, and with the promise of promotion and the threat of losing his job, he agrees to the arrangement.

Kubelik makes it clear, on multiple occasions, that she likes Baxter but has absolutely no romantic interest in him. Still, she’s nice enough to him in a friendly way that he keeps his hopes alive for a meaningful relationship with her.

Everyone of the main characters has low morals of some sort. Disney staple MacMurray’s Sheldrake is a liar and manipulator, who serially cheats on his wife. MacLaine’s Kubelik knows Sheldrake is married and still goes out with him while lamenting about the type of men she’s attracted to. While she may seem to be the victim, she is complicit in her decision to continue going out with Sheldrake even after she has ostensibly broken off the relationship. The company itself shows its morals at the Christmas party where co-workers make out in every corner and one of the women does a striptease on a desk. All of this can be taken in context of current and past morals. (When Sheldrake confronts Baxter, Baxter says four bad apples are very little in relation to over 32,000 employees; Sheldrake responds with the fact that even four bad apples can ruin a large barrel.)

Lemmon’s Baxter may be the least objectionable morally; he certainly isn’t as bad as he could be. He never resorts to blackmail to get his promotions. Still, he’s an enabler and a liar, and his need to climb the corporate ladder trumps his better judgement.  His character is the only one with a believable arc. At least, the doctor, his wife and presumedly, the landlady are good people.

Lemmon, MacLaine (until her sudden change of mind/heart), and MacMurray are convincing in their roles. They are sympathetic actors even if their characters don’t offer much in the way of sympathy, and as long as cheating on your wife, attempted suicide, and discussion of another attempted suicide make for funny situations in holiday films for you, “The Apartment” is a decent movie. It’s interesting as a cultural study, especially in view of many people who would like to back to the era when men in power could cheat on their wives with impunity. Though this movie includes a woman who would cheat on her husband, who is in jail in Havana, so maybe this is where the sexual revolution began.

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‘Mary Poppins Returns’ with a message the world will needs but will miss.

The original “Mary Poppins” is a ground-breaking cinematic achievement that is as magical today as it was in 1964. There’s no way a sequel could match it, and if this is the reason some people don’t like “Mary Poppins Returns,” they’re missing out on a story that this world, at this time, desperately needs and will probably fail to hear. “Mary Poppins Returns” isn’t about saving the children or saving the father; it’s about saving ourselves.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is similar to the 1964 “Mary Poppins” that it’s a sequel to. There are songs, hand-drawn animation combined with live action, a bunch of working-class men doing dancing in the most preposterous of ways, a female character fighting for a cause, a weird relation who’s facing an impossible affliction and a father whose situation has caused him to forget all of the things he learned as a child when Mary Poppins was his nanny.

From a time before the film was released, it was clear:

  • Emily Blunt is no Julie Andrews.
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda is no Dick Van Dyke.
  • Meryl Streep is no Ed Wynn, but you might not recognize her either.
  • Marc Shaiman is no Sherman Brothers.

I should probably repeat that last statement. There isn’t a tune that I was humming at the end of the movie. “Mary Poppins” gave us “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Feed the Birds,” “Step in Time,” and “Chim-Chim-Cheree,” which won the academy award. “Mary Poppins Returns” gives us…

Whatever you’re doing this Christmas, go see “Mary Poppins Returns.” It’s grown up a little while keeping most of its innocence intact. (The “Book by It’s Cover” Sequence is a bawdy vaudeville style song.)

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The Princesses Save ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’

If you haven’t seen “Wreck-It Ralph 2,” look away now. This review probably contains spoilers. If you’ve seen “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” continue below the trailer.

When Wi-Fi gets plugged in at the arcade and Ralph’s good intentions mess something up, it’s up to Ralph and Vanellope to visit the World Wide Web and find the part that fixes the problem. The fish out of water find a variety of new experiences that they can’t explain. Some of it is as disconnected and strange as the Internet in real life. You might find yourself wondering what you’re actually watching.

However, it isn’t until the Disney Princesses show up that “Wreck-It Ralph 2” finds its groove. The princesses are fun and redeeming, and Disney continues doing what it’s been doing to its princesses since “Frozen” and before.

Fortunately, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” contains more themes than a typical Internet usage day. Identity, friendship, and dreams all take center stage and provide fodder for the movie goer to think about. Of course, if thinking isn’t your thing, there are plenty of “duty”-type jokes to keep you happy. Though no one says you can’t enjoy both. As always, staying until the end delivers a… reward?

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Kubo and the Two Strings: Storytelling is magic.

Kubo and the Two Strings was released in the U.S. in 2016, and according to IMDB, it made about $76 million worldwide with $48 million in the U.S. This is sad and maybe should be left for another day and another discussion about originality and sequels. As it is, if you are among the many who haven’t seen this film, I suggest seeking it out, maybe with this link, and pressing play before you read the rest of this article. It’s okay, just bookmark this article and come back to it. You’ll be glad you did, and if you aren’t you can tell me why in the comments below. This was a long-winded way to say:

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

Kubo goes to the village every day to tell his stories. He brings them to life with origami characters made with the magic of music. The people gather around him and watch intently as he strums and talks his way through the deeds of his father as told by his mother and translated through Kubo’s magic. Storytelling isn’t just something people do around a campfire or to their children at night. The best advertisers, TV shows and sports broadcasts know that story is what keeps people in front of their sets and buying products. Storytelling is a powerful tool anyone can use. Storytelling can improve people’s moods, capture their attention and make them beg for more.

We are the stories others tell about us. As Beetle points out to Monkey, Monkey will live on in Kubo’s stories and through generations of storytellers who pick up Kubo’s thread. She will continue to live, even when her spirit leaves this plane. Kubo’s grandfather forgets who he is and becomes the person in the stories of the villagers. The moment is both profound and dark as he is a microcosm of living up to what others believe about him.

Storytelling is magic. It can bring the dead back to life and create images that never existed. It can be used to enhance a person’s worldview and self-esteem or to destroy that person. Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to keep memories alive, and it’s something people have done since they first gathered together in groups.

Long before there was written language man gathered in the caves of Lascaux and painted pictures on the wall. They used these pictures,that came to life in the flickering firelight and the imagination of the audience to tell their stories – how to hunt, how to survive, and what it meant to be a part of the tribe. People kept their stories alive, so the next generation could learn and grow from them. Keep your story alive, tell it in whatever medium you are comfortable with, and if you don’t know what that medium is, find it. You and the world will be glad you did. Human beings are storytellers. You are a storyteller.