Tag Archives: Movies

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel’s my favorite superhero. Well, most of the time; every now and then Iron Man noses his back to first place. But that’s beside the point.

Carol Danvers first showed up on my radar in 2013’s Infinity event where she was one of the Avengers fighting bad guys in space. It all culminates with, of course, the Avengers back on Earth fighting Thanos. Captain Marvel’s one of the hardest hitters, and it’s positively epic to see her, Thor, and Hulk throwing down with Thanos. I promptly got a hold of all of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run and the rest is history.

It stands to reason that I was super psyched when they announced Captain Marvel would be getting a movie of her own. And that movie finally came out last week and folks, let me tell you, Captain Marvel is a wonderful joy of a movie.

Part of what makes Captain Marvel work is how well the filmmakers nailed Carol’s character. Carol’s brash and headstrong, the sort who’ll jump first and think later. She’s also a very warm person, someone who frequently tries to do what’s right. And she’s super powerful, what with the flight, super-strength, and ability to shoot photon-blasts.

Her super-powered nature gives her the same issue as writing Superman: How do you make a foe for someone who’s essentially invincible? Now, Carol has her limits, sure, but the real hook to her character comes from her flaws.

Carol is someone who likes to solve problems by punching things. The natural way to give her pause is to provide her with an opponent who can’t be defeated by just punching things. The Skrulls of the movie are shapeshifters, able to assume the guise of a friend or enemy. Since it’s hard to know who’s really the enemy, fighting isn’t the solution. Instead, Carol sets out to find out why the Skrulls are here of all places, a question that, curiously, seems to be deeply entwined with Carol herself.

It’s hard for me to really hash out just how a lot of this works without getting into the plot and spoilers, which, given how new the movie is, I’d rather avoid. So things might get vague here, my apologies. Suffice to say, this movie doesn’t really have a big bad the way that basically every other Marvel movie does. Sure, there are villains, but there isn’t someone who Carol has to punch into submission to win.

The goal of most arcs is to self-actualize, that is to realize one’s potential. In action-y movies that’s usually beating the bad guy, whose role is to be the shadow of the hero, the question of what they could have been were things different. Tony Stark goes up against Obadiah Stane, a someone who would use Stark’s technology for militarization and power. Captain America fights Red Skull, the result of the super-soldier serum used on the wrong person. Their stories are about getting to the point where they can beat that person. In doing so, the hero proves they aren’t like the villain.

Self-actualization can also come from a more quiet place, one that’s often the mark of internal conflicts. Iron Man 2 sees a Tony Stark who struggles with himself and his own mortality. Though Vanko’s the villain, Tony’s primary conflict is with himself and his self-destructive behavior. It’s only when he overcomes that that he’s able to build the Mark VI and fight the bad guy.

Carol’s arc is similar; as an amnesiac who’s known only her life on Hala as part of the Kree Starforce, Earth holds mysteries for her to uncover. She’s trying to figure out why this place is important to her and, with it, who she is. Her fight is with herself, who she thinks she is, who people say she is, and who she really is. She has to first reconcile all that before she can properly fight the bad guys.

Captain Marvel throws all this at our hero, with enough turns to keep her on an off-foot throughout the film. Her awesome powers are balanced with her very real flaws, and the movie successfully translates that character I love from the comics to the screen. Here’s a movie that makes the most powerful badass in the MCU still interesting and flawed without compromising her character. Cheers to that, go see it.

And I cannot wait to watch Captain Marvel throw down with Thanos.

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Top Nine Movies of 2018

Captain Marvel came out this weekend but I have other engagements and so cannot nerd out intelligently. Instead, please enjoy a curated selection of movies from the past year that I consider exceptional in one way or another.

As always, there are nine because there’s always space for one more.

9. Bumblebee

Look, I’m as surprised as you are. As much as I am a sucker for giant robots, the Transformers movies have hitherto all been cheap thrills with not much else going for them. Bumblebee, however, is a movie where all that’s got a whole lotta heart behind it. Its 80s set plot draws on John Hughes and The Iron Giant creating a surprising, warm, delight of a film.

8. Annihilation

When I watch a movie I want to feel something. Annihilation so throughly envelopes you in this feeling of uneasy sublimity that I left the cinema haunted. It’s a beautiful watch, but the beauty within is not always a pleasant one.

7. If Beale Streets Could Talk

In this film there is nothing more important than the situation its protagonists find themselves in. Gorgeous cinematography and a wonderful score lend themselves to making this specific, tragic  story feel epic and yet personal.

6. Set It Up

I am a sucker for good rom-coms and Set It Up is so charming and so cute it’s hard not to fall in love. I’m sure I could find some intelligent-sounding reason for why this movie is on this list, but screw it, I just really liked it.

5. Crazy Rich Asians

I have a maddeningly complex relationship with this movie, owing to a complex relationship with Singapore and a dislike of the book it’s based on. And yet there’s so much about this movie I really like, from the changes to the book that improve it considerably to its excellent choice of music. So here it is.

4. Black Panther

Dude. This movie is proof of the wonder that happens when we let the underrepresented give us their fantastical vision. Unapologetically afro-futuristic, Black Panther is a tour de force in every department. It feels so fresh and, of course, is super cool.

3. Sorry To Bother You

This movie is weird. Delightfully, freakishly weird. Boots Riley’s movie comments on race, capitalism, and so much more in a surreal world that feels a little too real for comfort. It’s fun, it’s nuts, it’s terrific.

2. Eighth Grade

Coming-of-age movies are usually gentle affairs, kid gets older, learns something about life, so on. Eight Grade is a brutally honest take on all that, telling a story where something that seems so small in hindsight becomes as important as a superhero showdown with Thanos. It’s honest and full of heart, and truly special.

1. Into The Spider-Verse

This movie is a triumph. It’s rare that a movie does something quite this outlandish, incorporating so much of one medium (here: comics) to tell its story. It speaks to a masterful vision that it all comes together so well, creating a story that looks like nothing else. And what a story; Spider-Verse fully embraces the everyman nature of the Spidey mythos and soars.

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Final Bosses

A mainstay staple of video games is the final boss. After a number of levels (or dungeons, chapters, what have you) you finally fight the Biggest Baddest Boss, the defeat of which leads to  winning the game and the ultimate resolution. It’s the climax of the game, both from a gameplay perspective and narrative one: everything has led to this.

It’s important that the Final Boss feels like a Final Boss, though. I love Uncharted 3, but one issue the game has is that it’s final boss, a showdown with Talbot, doesn’t quite land. Talbot hasn’t really been Nate’s nemesis, so the fight, though big, doesn’t really feel like That Big Moment. Comparatively, Rafe in Uncharted 4 spends much of the game as a foil for Nate, so fighting him is not just a culmination of the game, but also feels in many ways like Nate fighting his own inner demons.

The Mega Man games, though a series that varies wildly on narrative quality, is a stellar example of mythic storytelling. This extends to its grasp of the Final Boss. After beating the eight (or so) regular bosses and going through the multiple levels of Wiley’s fortress, Mega Man has to reface the eight (or so) prior bosses one after another before finally fighting Wiley. But because you, the player, have already beaten these guys, you know their patterns and their weaknesses and will have a much easier time beating them than long before. In the lead up to the final fight you can see how much you’ve grown; now that you can beat Heat Man easily you’re definitely ready to take on Wiley. Before facing that Final Boss it’s important to remember all that came before and how now, more than ever before, you’re ready for this culmination.

And guess what! The Final Boss principle applies to stories as much as they do to games. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious, the Final Boss in Empire Strikes Back is Darth Vader, whom Luke must face to complete his arc in that story. That one plays out not too much unlike how it would in a video game: it’s a hero against a villain, the hero hoping his training pays off. But it doesn’t have to be a conflict like that. Hot Rod has a Final Boss, and it’s not Rod finally kicking his step-father’s ass. It’s him attempting that massive jump over the busses: it’s his moment, it’s what the movie has led to, it’s what allows him to self-actualize.

Of course, Final Bosses aren’t always so obviously so; just about any good story should have one. Eighth Grade doesn’t have much in the way of villains for Kayla to fight, but there still is a Final Boss. In a nice touch, Kayla’s Final Boss turns out to not be another girl or even the guy that tried to take advantage of her: it’s herself, from the past. When Kayla opens a time capsule she’d left herself a couple years ago she’s forced to reckon with who she thought she’d be by now. Despite not seeming like a particularly big moment it’s a profound one for Kayla that leads to a quiet resolution with her father and a renewed lease on life. It’s the opponent that Kayla must overcome to succeed. We know it’s her Final Boss because we’ve spent the past hour-plus with her, and we know how much this means to her.

It’s when a Final Boss isn’t particularly clear that a story’s pacing begins to feel wonky. Alita: Battle Angel is a really fun movie that I really enjoyed, but couldn’t help but feel let down by the ending because it turns out I hadn’t realized Alita was fighting the movie’s final boss when she was; something that’s complicated by us not really knowing what it is Alita wants. Luke Skywalker and Mega Man want to defeat Darth Vader and Dr. Wiley, so we know who their bosses are. Rod Kimble wants to be a stuntman, and so accomplishing that is his Final Boss. Kayla struggles with being comfortable as herself, and so she is her own Final Boss.

For Alita it’s not clear if the big motorball game is the titular character’s Final Boss, or if it’s the giant cyborg who’s been plaguing her throughout. Or the guy pulling the cyborg’s strings. Or the guy pulling that guy’s strings. If Alita is a story about identity (and it certainly feels like one) shouldn’t her Final Boss involve her declaring who she is? That the movie’s Final Boss happened without me realizing (and honestly, I’m still not sure who or what it was) leads to a feeling of hanging threads with the story. ‘cuz man, I wanted to see Alita and the Final Boss square off!

Final Bosses and climaxes are similar enough ideas, but I think I like the term Final Boss because it’s clear that that encounter is with the ultimate obstacle. It’s what the hero has to overcome to ‘win,’ to self-actualize. It can be a big fight or a personal reflection, but most importantly, we gotta know what it is when it happens.

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Ahistoricism

I went into The Favourite like I do with many movies: knowing very little and having seen maybe a part of a trailer. I knew it was a period piece (duh) and there was a Queen in it (also: duh). Anyway, after watching the movie I read up on it on Wikipedia and found, to my immense surprise, that it was somewhat based on actual historical fact. It makes sense enough that I thought this movie was fabricated wholesale: there’s a Queen in power, nobles are vying for power, and England is at war with France; it’s the proverbial typical Tuesday. And yet, Queen Anne actually did have a pair of rival handmaidens, and many of the characters had their own Wikipedia articles detailing their real-life stories.

It was all quite fascinating, but, ultimately, also quite irrelevant.

Unlike many historical dramas dealing with heads of state, The Favourite is not terribly concerned with the major political movements of the time. Rather the focus is on Anne and the machinations of Abigail and Sarah that take place behind the scenes. There is some influence on the larger political landscape, but we see very little of life beyond the lush estate the action transpires in. Court life is ruthlessly savaged in this satire, the politicians reduced to overdressed men slathered with makeup in foppish wigs racing ducks.

Now, there is some criticism of The Favourite for playing fast and loose with history. Anne’s husband was still alive at the time all this drama went down, and the idea of there being lesbian liaisons between the Queen and her ladies-in-waiting is dismissed by some historians as nothing more than contemporary slander by the opposition. Despite being about real people and set against real events, The Favourite is an out and out lie.

Which is great, since the movie doesn’t purport to be anything but. There’s no fancy title card letting us know what century we’re in, there’s no real reference to the actual geopolitical situation at the time (let’s face it, England and France are at war in basically every period piece, and there’s always an opposition party). All the temporal trappings of the movie serve its central story and all the schemings therein.

The Favourite’s detachment from historical fact is what makes it all the more scathing. Since the exact time-period is indeterminate to the layperson (ie: me), I’m not gonna get caught up wondering about the exact details about the time and can instead happily get lost in the film. The world of The Favourite is the world the filmmakers want to use to tell their story. It is a world where men are useless and relegated to the background while the women with their plots and aspirations are far more important. We don’t need to care too much how accurate to the contemporary social mores it is, the way things happen is how they happen. It’s fantasy.

That’s the real pleasure of period pieces: they feel like another world with another set of rules and another life that’s very much not that of 2019. There’s a different set of rules, one that’s foreign yet familiar. Though the Queen may rule in The Favourite, some words in her ear from Abigail or Sarah can sway her mind. We go along with it because it makes enough sense not to break our suspicion of disbelief. Consider how most Westerns play fast and loose with reality, or the ersatz 80s-ness of Metal Gear Solid V; it doesn’t matter how accurate things are, so long as they feel real.

And so, despite its lack of historical accuracy, The Favourite really works so well because its world feels right and its characters real. For Anne, Abigail, and Sarah the world is deathly serious, and we buy in and get to enjoy the hijinks as they unfold.

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Spiders

Comics are weird. Especially superhero comics. There are people who come back to death, people with weird powers, people who lose those weird powers but then get them back when they come back to life. Also, y’know, aliens and monsters and crazy science crap.

Like I said, weird.

There are also multiple universes, and so multiple versions of characters. There’s a version of Captain America where she’s the biracial daughter of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and beats up a version of MODOK who looks like a certain American politician. There’s one where Mr. Fantastic is a villain, like, the villain.

And, of course, there is a ridiculous number of variations on Spider-Man. A lot of them are, of course, Peter Parker in one form or another. Spider-UK is a British Spider-Man. The Ultimate universe saw a return to a younger Peter, one who, incidentally, dated Kitty Pryde for a while. And out there somewhere is Spiders-Man, wherein Peter Parker’s consciousness was passed on to a horde of spiders (it’s weird).

The Spider-Verse event from a few years ago saw a whole mess of Spiders teaming up to fight the Inheritors, a group of pseudo-vampires who feed on the essence of spider-powered beings across the multiverse. A variety of new (and old) Spiders were (re)introduced; including Spider-Gwen, from Earth-65, where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider and so got the powers. Spider-Verse saw these Spiders teaming up together, so the Spider-Man from Marvel VS Capcom used fighting moves, and the Spider-Man from an old Japanese show had a giant robot.

Essentially, the Marvel universe has a bunch of different Spider-People, and sometimes they hang out (and one version of Gwen Stacy gets to complain about getting, and I quote, “fridged off a bridge”). It’s definitely pretty outlandish, and also something pretty unique to comics.

And now we have the movie Enter The Spider-Verse. I’m going to forgo talking about how the film’s animation style is a love letter to comics and just focus on the story of it all, namely how multiverses play a huge role and we’ve a bunch of different Spiders.

Quick rundown of the dramatis personae: in addition to Miles, the Spidey-in-training, you’ve Peter Parker, an experienced Spider-Man from his universe; Gwen Stacy, Spider-Gwen who knows what she’s doing; Spider-Man Noir, a hard-boiled guy who’s literally in black and white; Peni Parker, who’s basically from an anime; and Peter Porker, who’s, um, a pig, but also Spider-Man (Spider-Ham, to be exact).

Miles, our protagonist, gets to interact with four alternate versions of Spider-Man, each of whom provide a different take on the character, and, for Miles, a different version of who he could be. Much of Miles’ arc revolves around him learning how to be Spider-Man and what all that means. For a good chunk of the movie, that means he’s trying to emulate a Peter Parker, wearing a knock-off of another Spider-Man’s costume, playacting at being someone else. He is not his own hero yet, rather he is attempting to be someone else. It is no spoiler, then, that Miles’ self-actualization sees him making his own suit; one that is uniquely him. He’s the only one who can really decide what to do with the powers that’s been given to him — and with it the responsibility.

The central tension in so many great Spider-Man stories is that of power and responsibility. How does Peter (or Gwen, or Miles) navigate that space between the two, that fatalistic flaw of needing to use that power to protect, but at the cost of one’s own well-being? The multiversal nature of Spider-Man allows for a multitude of interpretations and interactions, tackling these themes from a host of different angles. Events like Spider-Verse let these characters team-up and has their takes on power and responsibility clash or feed off each other. So then we have Into The Spider-Verse, where Miles sees these different takes on who he could be. It’s up to him to figure out just who that is, what is expected of him and what he will do. By having all these different versions of Spider-Man, Miles is given the space to create his own.

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Top Ten Movie Challenge Thing

There’s been this thing circulating around online challenging people to post a collection of top ten movies. I’m not a huge fan of ranking things, because it’s arbitrary, limited, and tends to change on a dime. Heck, I do a Top Nine every year and more often than not I’ll see something later that I’ll wish I’d added or something else will emerge as being a bit of a dark horse.

In any case, a friend of mine challenged me to do this and, after much consternation, I decided to just take the plunge. I’m loath to call these a Top Ten, as opposed to just ten movies that I really like for a variety of reasons. There are certainly omissions, but screw it. Here are ten movies I really like, with a gorgeous still from each with a little bit of a blurb.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

It’s hard for me to overstate how much I absolutely adore this movie. Yes, there are my beloved giant robots, but it’s a hopeful movie, where the apocalypse can be canceled. The end isn’t the end.

Up

Up

Tied with Wall-E for being the best Pixar film. Magnificent all around.

Police Story

Police Story

Jackie Chan is tragically underrated as a filmmaker. Police Story balances a variety of tones and is a fantastic kung-fu romp.

Empire Strikes Back

ESB

If I had to choose on Star Wars, it might be this one.

Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale

This movie wrecked me.

Captain America: Civil War

Civil War

Pending Captain Marvel, probably my favorite MCU movie (subject to change). Anything that lets us get into Tony’s head.

Lost in Translation

lost in translation

Beautiful meditation on loneliness.

Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim

It’s about self-respect.

The Return of The King

Return of The King

It was hard to pick a shot for this one. But I like this, the hobbits are finally home after an adventure that no one around them could care for.

The Princess Bride

Princess Bride

Everything I love about 80s movies; an unabashed earnestness that knows it could be cynical but chooses not to be.

 

 

 

BONUS: The Last Jedi

Last Jedi

Behold, my favorite shot from one of my favorite movies that absolutely had to be included.

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A Normal Teenager Named Lara Jean

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before really feels like a classic 80s teen romcom, except it was made much more recently. It’s delightfully sweet, and has that uncynical honesty that readily calls back to fare like Sixteen Candles or Can’t Buy Me Love. Honestly, this movie is almost an anachronism, but a delightfully refreshing one at that.

Now here’s the thing, unlike all those 80s teen romcoms, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’s protagonist is Asian-American. Lara Jean Covey, played by Lana Condor, a Vietnamese-American actress, is one of three sisters. Their Dad’s white, their passed-away mother Korean. This isn’t really relevant to the plot, it’s mentioned in passing here and there, and their dad makes a decided effort to blend some Korean culture (namely: cuisine) into everyday life. But beyond that, Lara Jean and her sisters are just typical Americans.

Point is, she’s really pretty normal.

Which is actually pretty unusual. Lara Jean’s narrative has nothing whatsoever to do with her identity. She just happens to find herself in the midst of some romantic comment shenanigans after some love letters that were never meant to be sent got sent.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is based on a book of the same name by author Jenny Han. Apparently, there was a few groups interested in adapting it to a movie, but they all wanted to make a change: make Lara Jean white. Han stuck to her guns and eventually a studio came along that was alright with keeping Lara Jean Asian (as, let me remind you, she is in the books) and so we got the movie.

Let’s focus in on just how ridiculous this is. You’ve a bunch of movie studios game to adapt a book, on the condition that the protagonist be white. Only one of the ones that approached her agreed to keep Lara Jean as an Asian-American. Sure, the story’s got basically nothing to do with her race, but that’s all the more the reason why it’s important for her to be Asian.

If you’ve read this blog for a while you probably know that I am a really big proponent for representation in fiction. So of course I want a character who’s a minority in the source to remain such for the adaptation. Especially when it’s a story where her race doesn’t come into play.

Yes, there’s a time and a place for ‘Asian stories’ and all that, but there’s also a space for stories about people-of-color getting to be normal. Look at all those classic 80s teen romcoms we love so much, everyone’s white. Kevin Bacon in Footloose, Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, John Cusack in Say Anything. There’s the implicit suggestion that those stories are their stories; sure, they’re meant to be everyman, characters who the audience can see themselves in, but there’s still this undercurrent of the everyman usually being a white dude.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with any of its plotting. Yet it’s a delight of a movie, especially coming in an age when we really don’t have much in the way of romcoms anymore (Set It Up, also on Netflix, is wonderful too, by the way). Having an Asian-American woman as the main character, adds a small, cosmetic spin on things and makes these stories just a little more inclusive. So if we’re in the middle of a romcom renaissance, I’d like more of that too, thank you very much.

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