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Comics Movies

Rest in Peace, Stan Lee

I think most of us know that Stan Lee’s legacy at Marvel for comics is fraught.  Who truly created what, who deserves credit.  That’s covered elsewhere, like the obituary/profile linked above.  I’d like to talk about Stan’s place in my life, as a budding geek who wasn’t sure of his place in the world.

Millenials, for the most part, only know Stan Lee as the kindly Grandpa who pops up in the movies to chew a bit of scenery.  For those of us around in the early 80s through the 90s, Stan was EVERYWHERE that Marvel characters were.  Stan Lee moved to California to hustle them into TV and movies, and he gave it his whole heart.  Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends?  Stan Lee opened every episode.  The Incredible Hulk?  He’s there too.  Every entertainment TV show, late night, daytime, game show, he was always putting Marvel out there.  The consummate showman.

Stan Lee always wore his heart on his sleeve, and his enthusiasm for comics as an art form was infectious.  You knew he was selling you, but he was so darn earnest about it you couldn’t help but grin along.  It helped that he seemed like a genuine good person, trying his best to push, in his own way, for civil rights and equality.  The world would be better than it is now if more people had gotten his message.  Excelsior, Stan.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Venom

I actually saw Venom not long after it came out, and I’m a bit amused at how well it’s done.  It is a deeply weird movie. At times feels like half of it is missing.  Why does the symbiote decide to “help” Eddie Brock save the Earth?  It must not matter, because they don’t tell us!

One thing I have trouble getting past is having Venom with no connection to Spider-Man.  I get that Sony wants desperately to have a whole movie franchise, but this still feels like the wrong play.  But here we are, so is it any good?  NO!  That doesn’t mean there’s not fun to be had.  Tom Hardy has a sort of goofy charm as Eddie Brock when he’s not mumbling his lines.  Riz Ahmed is obviously having fun as the over-the-top Elon Muskish villain.  Michelle Williams has the thankless task of love interest/lawyer Anne Weying, who dumps Eddie after he steals info from her on the villainous Carlton Drake.

Eddddieeeeeeeee

The strangest character in the movie is, of course, the Venom symbiote.  Not because he’s a terrible man-eating monster (as seen on the right), but because he’s kind of a wise-cracking partner for Eddie.  The folks that listed Venom as a buddy cop movie weren’t far off.  It’s almost funny enough that you’d forget that the only way Venom doesn’t kill Eddie’s body is if Brock lets him eat people once in a while!

Look, I wasn’t expecting high art, and I was entertained.  I laughed a lot, but only half of it was probably supposed to be funny.  I *CANNOT* wait for Rifftrax to get a hold of this.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The first Jurassic Park is a classic. Plenty of tension, action, humor.  When we have fond memories of this franchise, that’s the movie we’re all thinking of.  As you move forward, they decline rapidly in quality.  Most of the good feelings you have for The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 are due to Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill.  The hugeness of Jurassic World’s success came as a bit of a shock, so despite the actual plot of THAT movie being pretty dumb there was no way a franchise-hungry production company wasn’t going to follow it up.  Which means we get stuck with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  Spoilers from here on out.

“No, you’re making all new ones”

Your mistakes will always come back to haunt you.  It’s been a cornerstone of this series.  Hammond and many others make tons of mistakes, mostly out of hubris.  Why not bring dinosaurs back, what could go wrong?  What happens if the computers fail?  Or the power goes out?  Every subsequent movie compounds this, because the mistakes just get worse every time.  “Let’s bring a T-Rex to San Diego!”  “You know, that ten ton engine of murder wasn’t nearly dangerous enough, let’s genetically engineer something worse!”

That Fallen Kingdom

That brings us to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  After yet another park fails catastrophically, we find Claire…wait, nobody’s in jail?  I know Masrani was killed, but were there NO CONSEQUENCES?  Hundreds of rich white people got trampled and eaten!  We’re expected to believe that Claire somehow cares deeply for dinosaurs?  Before this, she was a business woman, and seemed to regard the dinosaurs as attractions, no different than amusement park rides.  Then they very nearly eat her AND her nephews.  Yeah, not their fault but where in there did she become an animal rights advocate?  Oy.

A previously-unmentioned volcano threatens to destroy the dinos on the island, and Claire wants to rescue them.  Luckily for her, Hammond had a previously-unmentioned partner in the past who wants to save them too!

Everything goes wrong

Except they double-cross Claire (and Owen, who wants to go back and save Blue, the best character in these two movies) and take the dinosaurs to sell to what amounts to a bunch of supervillains.  Seriously, Arnim Zola from the Captain America movies is there and everything.  Owen and Claire (with the required cute kid sidekick) manage to thwart the bad guy (Eli Mills, who killed Hammond’s partner earlier in the movie and looks like an uncanny valley copy of Ryan Reynolds) but in doing so, they release a few dozen dinosaurs into the wild.  Of the United States.

That right there has the potential to be a complete ecological disaster.  It’s not clear if there are breeding pairs, but we’ve already seen nature “find a way” previously.  You only have to look at Australia to see what could happen.  Maybe the final movie in the Jurassic World trilogy will deal with that?  Not sure if that would have enough big dinosaur fighting action for the studio though.

Owen!

It’s not all bad, as Chris Pratt is still charming, and the cinematography is fine.  They show too much of the dinosaurs though, which has been an issue since the The Lost World.  Bryce Dallas Howard no longer wears high heels in the jungle.  Jeff Goldblum’s extended cameo, most of which you saw or heard in the trailers, is great, and is well-used.

If you can see it cheap (Moviepass, matinee) it would be fine.  If you need to refresh your memory on Jurassic World first, rent it at Amazon.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Black Panther

Just when you think Marvel’s formula is getting stale, they shatter your expectations.  Their last movie was a family drama-buddy-action-comedy, Thor: Ragnarok.  There were a few truly serious moments when you stopped to think, but you didn’t have long as you’d be laughing your ass off 30 seconds later.  It’s a big contrast to Black Panther.  Not to spoil too much, at it’s core Black Panther is also filled with family drama, but also powerful political statements.  From the drop this movie has something to say to you about the inequality that drives our modern world.

Sympathetic Villainy

Note:  from here on out, there are spoilers.

The first time we meet Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, we don’t even realize it.  He’s being told the story of Wakanda’s origin by his father, N’Jobu.  N’Jobu is undercover in Oakland, but is disturbed by what he sees happening to people of African descent across the country and world.  N’Jobu assists Ulysses Klaue (last seen in Age of Ultron) in stealing some vibranium, in order to arm oppressed African.  It’s a stark contrast to Wakanda’s isolationist ways, and brings him into conflict with T’Chaka, his brother.  T’Chaka is forced to kill N’Jobu.  Erik is left behind, and the seeds for his rage are sown.  It’s not hard to feel something for Killmonger when you see the tragedy.  Especially later in the film where you get the full picture of just what happened.

Black Panther(s)

I thought Black Panther did a great job of balancing the mystical aspects of the Black Panther mythos with the high-tech.  This far into the MCU, you don’t need to explain the mystical, it can just exist.  We’ve met gods (small G, son) and sorcerers.  It’s okay for T’Challa to go on a spiritual journey and see his ancestors.  It was a fantastic way to keep John Kani’s T’Chaka relevant for one more movie.

Killer Cast

One of Marvel’s biggest advantages has been their casting.  Black Panther might be the best example of this.  We already knew Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, as well as Martin Freeman as Everett Ross and Andy Serkis as Klaue.  Add to that the delightful Letitia Wright as Shuri, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, it’s amazing.  Michael B. Jordan OWNS the Killmonger role, to the point where it’s difficult to look away when he’s on screen.

If you missed Black Panther in theaters (it’s still in many of the larger ones, at least as of now), you owe it to yourself to check it out.  Especially if you haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War yet.  The digital copy unlocks May 8th.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Death Note (Netflix)

Oof, where to begin?  I come to Netflix’s adaptation of the Death Note manga not from any sort of fandom.  It’s one I was dimly aware of, but haven’t read or watched any of the anime.  I was interested mostly because of the “Willem Dafoe voicing a death god” angle.  Having watched it now, I don’t feel it was a complete waste of time but it wasn’t exactly a paragon of entertainment.

The elephant in the room

This movie is based on the Japanese manga of the same name, and when you take media from another culture and adapt it, you’ve got to be extra careful.  I’m not against adaptations like that, some great material has come about from doing just that.  However, there has to be a reason you made that move.  There’s a great example in the Hollywood Reporter story about Death Note by Rebecca Sun.  The Departed may be a remake of Infernal Affairs, but the cultural differences are a tool used in the story.  It’s different because of who it’s about.  Here, they made Light white but it doesn’t matter to the story.  Beyond seeing the Space Needle, there’s no way to tell this is even an American city, let alone Seattle.  If you’re going to change the culture the movie is steeped in, make it matter.

The rest of the story

For the movie itself, there were a few good performances mixed with some not-so-good.  I liked Lakeith Stanfield as L, and Shea Whigham fills the cop-dad role well.  And yeah, Willem Dafoe, awesome.  Unfortunately, Nat Wolff and Margaret Qualley as Light and Mia fail to carry the movie.  Uneven performances combined with odd directing choices (see below) means you end up laughing at a scene that was not supposed to be funny a few too many times.

Yikes.  Light is supposed to be a genius, but beyond a little cleverness with the ending, it’s mostly lip service.  Mia is annoying as heck, and I definitely don’t see why this guy would want her to stick around.

Is it the worst thing on Netflix?  No, they keep letting Adam Sandler make movies.  But I’d have to get pretty far down the my list to think about re-watching, which is not a good sign (I re-watch stuff all the time despite the list).  Maybe just read the manga or watch the anime instead (which you can currently see on Netflix also).

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Spider-Man: Homecoming

*some spoilers, but seriously I’m like the last person to see this*

I really loved Spider-Man: Homecoming, though I can see why there were a few people who didn’t.  It’s not what you expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not exactly.  Sure, it’s a superhero story, there’s Iron Man flying around, supervillains with crazy weapons, the usual.  But it is counter-balanced by teen drama (and comedy) which is a bit of a shift compared to the rest of the MCU.  I thought it was a solid balance, and very entertaining, even if it won’t supplant my top MCU movies (which are, in no particular order, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Winter Soldier, and Civil War).

The other thing which bothers a certain subset of fans is changes from the source.  Whether it’s Ned basically being Ganke, or hot Aunt May, or “MJ”, they’ll find something to complain about.  I’ve said it before, an adaptation HAS TO change things to be interesting.  Sure, there’s a balancing act where if you go too far, you don’t recognize how one connects to the other but we’re nowhere near that line here.  Peter still got bit by a radioactive spider, he lost Uncle Ben, he’s got the ol’ Parker luck.  The words may not have been said directly in this or Civil War but Peter is absolutely living by “With Great Power comes Great Responsibility”.  Tony Stark was quite different from RDJr, but it worked out for everyone.  Peter Quill didn’t stand out at all until they ported in James Gunn’s version to the comics.

Okay, to the rest of the movie.  I loved Michael Keaton as Toomes/The Vulture.  I found myself both feeling sorry for him (seriously, Tony Stark fucks up EVERYTHING), and recoiling from a legitimately scary villain.  The scene when Peter goes to pick Liz up for the prom, and the car ride was tense.  I can hear Zendaya’s MJ calling Parker ‘Tiger’, easily.  I love Marisa Tomei, and you can’t help but laugh at the mom jeans and ugly glasses they try to use to make her seem old and unattractive.  Laura Harrier, Jacob Batalon, and the other “kids” did a solid job as well.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is great if you like your MCU mixed up with a coming-of-age tale.  There’s superheroics, teen angst, marriage proposals, and goofy public service announcements.  And Peter, maybe learn to lock your door.

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Comics Movies Review

Movie Review – Wonder Woman

We saw an early screening, and I’m happy to report director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is everything DC should be doing in all of their movies.  It’s epic in scope, as befitting one of DC’s trinity of heroes.  It’s does something interesting with Diana’s origin, managing to homage both her classic origin and the more recent takes.  It has a great deal of heart, something DC’s other EU movies have so far lacked.  It’s genuinely funny, and not in the “this is a joke, please laugh” way that Bruce delivers that “I’m rich” line in the Justice League trailer.  Gal Gadot embodies Diana admirably, whether it’s handling her business on the battlefield or delighting in her first experience with snow.

The cast of characters surrounding Diana are great, with Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen leading the way on Themyscira.  Chris Pine’s is sneaky good as Steve Trevor, a man capable of being rescued and upstaged by a powerful woman.  The baby-men still railing against all-women showings of the movie could learn something from him.  Their romance never feels forced.  I wish we had more of Etta Candy as Lucy Davis’s reaction faces are great.  I was also surprised with how well Wonder Woman handled the particular horrors of World War 1 – since it wasn’t the focus of the movie it would’ve been easy to gloss over what trench warfare was doing to people, but they didn’t.

Any downsides are fairly minor.  The villain is a bit undercooked, taking a page from Marvel’s book, once you get past the surprise reveal regarding him.  The last third of the movie is a bit of a tone-shift from the first two thirds, but you just know they had to have a big battle scene to end things on.  The slow-motion, 300-esque bits with Diana fighting was overused but I’ll allow it.

Wonder Woman was the first DC movie since The Dark Knight where I found myself leaning in, hanging on the action and the character building bits.  Take your kids (not just your daughters) and enjoy the ride.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Sing

Illumination’s latest movie, Sing, is a song and dance you’ve seen before.  Heck, the Muppets have done it twice at least.  Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey as a Koala) grew up loving the theater, and eventually (with financial help from his blue-collar dad) he buys a theater.  Buster’s not very good at running it, though, so it’s in pretty dire straits with the koala dodging the bank and having trouble paying his employees.  He’s got one last chance to save the theater, with an American Idol-ish singing competition.  Hijinks, of course, ensue.

The animation is fine, with some decent visual gags, and of course, the music works fine (it better, considering).  The one thing they needed to do is trim the cast.  There’s too many characters we are supposed to care about packed into too little movie to actually build them up.  They could easily drop the wannabe gangster mouse so we could flesh out the other characters a bit more.  This is fine for kids, probably, but adults will see through it as they rely on the fact we’ve seen these stories before to fill in the blanks.  At least the music is entertaining.  The voice cast does a perfectly fine job but nobody leaps out, except maybe Taron Egerton as the young gorilla Johnny.  Uh, no pun intended.

Sing is worth a matinee showing if your kids are clamoring to see it.  It’s cute.  Exactly what you expect happens right when it should.  Just don’t expect to think about it or remember much about it a few days later.  I’m still thinking about Kubo.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Doctor Strange

I saw the Scott Derrickson-directed Doctor Strange over the weekend, and enjoyed it a lot.  It’s not going to unseat any of my favorite MCU movies (currently Iron Man, Winter Soldier, Guardians and Civil War) but it was a fun if familiar tale.  I’ll get all the non-spoiler notes out of the way first:  the effects are as amazing as advertised, and I can’t wait to go back and see it in 3D.  The cast (for all the difficulties with casting a movie from a source so steeped in racial stereotypes) are great as a Marvel movie’s cast usually is, with Benedict Cumberbatch filling Strange’s robes admirably as the arrogant surgeon/distracted driving consequences example.  I really liked Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, he’s got such a great delivery of his lines.  It’s no surprise why he got to say most of the artifact names.

The visuals are simply jaw-dropping.  For those who scoffed at the early clips and trailers that mostly showed the city bending as “psh, Inception” that barely scratches the surface.  Basically take the visuals of the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man, add a bunch of psychedelic color, and jam the accelerator to the floor.  So cool.

<spoilers from here on out>

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Kubo and the Two Strings

We saw Kubo and the Two Strings a while ago, but I’m just gathering my thoughts on it now.  It’s quite possibly my favorite Laika movie, and that’s saying something as Coraline gets a ton of play, especially this time of year.  Kubo deals with complex feelings with mind-numbingly gorgeous visuals.  It’s the sort of movie (like When Marnie Was There) where you are tearing up at the end and you’re not sure if you are happy or sad or both.

It’s funny, if I try to explain the plot, it sounds really convoluted.  I think my wife (who didn’t go see it with us) is still confused.  Watching the movie, though, everything is crystal clear, and it kept me so emotionally invested that I never saw the twists coming, even if I should have.  That’s a sign to me of a great movie.  Travis Knight is the director, having been a lead animator on many of Laika’s previous works, and does a fantastic job.  While you may scratch your head a bit at Matthew McConaughey as a beetle-Samurai, the voice cast does great work, with Art Parkinson (GoT’s Rickon Stark), Rooney Mara, George Takei, and Ralph Fiennes all pulling their weight.  There are scary parts, and creepy parts, so keep your younger/more sensitive kids close.

Really, just go see this movie.  You complain about everything being a sequel or franchise movie, nothing original?  SEE THIS.  On the biggest screen you can.  Bring a few tissues, and a child young enough that they’ll let you hug them afterwards.

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Books Comics Movies TV

Happy Birthday Star Trek

50 years ago today yesterday, the first episode of Star Trek (now known as ‘The Original Series’) aired.  Sci-fi fandom hasn’t been the same since.  Hundreds of episodes of TV across five decades, scores of books and comics, big budget movies, video games, copycats and parodies, Trek holds a special place in our pop culture.  Star Wars may have the cool laser swords and planet-exploding superweapons, Star Trek – for all the added fistfights – made you a better person.

The Original Series was the first show I ever watched that dealt with real social issues which despite the show’s 1960’s roots, were still relevant.  Star Trek made you think about the consequences of the action, even as they had to shoehorn in a ridiculous fight with papier-mâché rocks to try and stay on the air.  Sure, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” may have been heavy handed, but for ten year old me this was the first show that dealt with racism in a way I understood.  I came for the Frank Gorshin, but left asking my parents why those two men thought they were so different.

But the best part of Star Trek was how it brought my family together.  My dad, I think, was the driving force, he loved TOS due to the “Wagon Train to the stars” aspect.  I can still remember us gathering to watch Encounter at Farpoint together.  Looking back, it wasn’t the greatest premiere episode, but it still had a sense of wonder about it that captured my attention.  It didn’t hurt that it had John de Lancie mugging for the camera as Q.  Most likely I hit The Next Generation at exactly the right time – young enough to forgive the inconsistency of the first few seasons, but then maturing with the show as it truly hit its stride a few years in.  That led into Deep Space Nine, which remains one of my all-time favorite shows, and the one that best continued the Trek legacy of examining real-world issues through a sci-fi lens.

I am looking forward to the new Star Trek: Discovery show, as it looks like it may be a return to form for Star Trek after the uneven, action-oriented ‘Kelvin-verse’ movies.  And if it doesn’t, there’s always “The Squire of Gothos”, “The Trouble with Tribbles”, “Inner Light”, “The Visitor”, “In The Pale Moonlight”…

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Storks

We saw Storks at a preview screening, and it had some really cute parts and fun actiony bits.  However, I think they just had no idea how to start the movie to get to those bits and just decided to use the “I’m giving you the company as long as you don’t screw up this one final task” trope.  Throughout the movie characters keep asking Junior (the star that’s a stork, voiced by Andy Samberg) why he wants to be the boss, and he doesn’t know.  I don’t think the filmmakers did either.

Once they get past that part, the movie is fun.  Basically, storks used to deliver babies made in a magical device, but now people get their babies some other way.  Yeah, it’s strange.  Now storks deliver packages for an Amazon clone.  Tulip is the one human on Stork Mountain, a failed delivery after the stork assigned to her ‘fell in love’ with the cute little baby and refused to fulfill his duty.  She’s a free spirit, but doesn’t fit in despite her best efforts.  Tulip accidentally makes a new baby after getting a letter from a kid who really wants a baby brother (who has a whole subplot about busy parents reconnecting with him), and Junior and Tulip go on an adventure to get the baby to her family.

I normally wouldn’t have been that detailed about the plot but I feel like the commercials and early trailers didn’t really give you any idea what the movie was about.  I enjoyed it, all of the principal cast did a solid job with the voices, including Key and Peele as a pair of wolves that want to take the baby to raise as their own.  But there is one character so bad that it came way too close to ruining the movie – Stephen Glickman’s “Pigeon Toady”.  He speaks with an extremely annoying ‘Dude, braaaaah’ affectation that I don’t think one person found funny.  I never understand how a character that poorly made gets past everyone that sees the movie before release.

Storks has some funny bits and some heartwarming bits, but wasn’t a home run.  If your kids want to see it, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon, but it’s not required viewing.  If you do go, plug your ears whenever the pigeon is talking.