Posted on December 28th, 2021
Welp, you know what time it is... my annual wrap-up of my favorite films of the year! Or, to be more accurate, my favorite films that I actually saw. Which is not as many as usual, thanks to COVID, but here we are.
Interesting to note that my Number One is not a Marvel Studios movie. Last year it couldn't be because Marvel didn't release any movies... but I'm pretty sure that there's been one of their films in the Top Spot for the previous decade I've been doing this! Shocking, I know!
THE TWELVE BEST...
These are my favorite movies from this year that I actually saw.
#1 Dune (Warner Brothers)
I'm one of those rare people who actually liked the David Lynch Dune effort in 1984. No, it wasn't "Real Dune" but how could it be? For what it was, it was entertaining and visually interesting, and that was enough for me. Then along comes Denis Villeneuve with his version of Dune and I was hopeful. He split the impossibly complicated novel it into two parts, which seems like it gave him a great start. Then I saw it. And saw it again and again and again. Because I was in disbelief that he actually pulled it off. And the way he pulled it off was to do something I never thought that I'd endorse... he cut out a lot of stuff that seems critical... but was actually not so critical after all. By streamlining the story, he let the parts he kept truly shine. And it was the most important parts, which is what makes this adaption so bloody brilliant. Cannot wait for the second part. And the third, if we get so lucky.
#2 Spider-Man No Way Home (Sony & Marvel Studios)
I fully admit that I was expecting to not like this movie. I thought the appearance of the alternate universe villains would overwhelm the story and take the focus off Spider-Man all in the name of fan service. Well, this movie was all about fan service. One could argue that this was the only thing it was about. Much to my surprise, it actually worked. The villains were an accessory to Peter Parker's story, as they should have been. And getting Doctor Strange to appear was icing on the cake. I could have watched Spider-Man battle Doctor Strange for hours. So clever. So well-constructed. So very, very comic book! In fact, this is probably one of the most "comic booky" of the Marvel Studios films so far. And it's for that reason that it's landed in the #2 spot for 2021. Even though I can't even touch on much of what really makes it so good out of fear of spoiling stuff. Suffice to say that every single person who appears in this movie is beyond exceptional in their roles. If you saw it, you know. If you don't know, you should know. What's truly exciting is what comes next. We're left at a very interesting place for Peter Parker in his next trilogy of movies.
#3 Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Marvel Studios)
What can I say? They utterly and totally nailed it. That's not surprising. What is surprising is that two movies edged out Shang-Chi on my list! The film provides super-heroic thrills in a way that Marvel excels at... but gives us something new by steeping it in Asian culture and Chinese traditions. The result is magic (and it doesn't hurt that Michelle Yeoh is in it!). Simu Liu and Awkwafina are unassuming valets at a hotel who get dragged into a mystery (with plenty of action) once Shang-Chi's immortal father comes calling. From there we get epic battles with fantastic special effects that run the gamut. One minute we're getting Jackie Chan style kung-fu... the next minute mystical action that is beautifully realized. But the flawless action is tempered with some very nice quieter moments that make you completely forget that this is yet another origin story. Instead it's a really good story that's executed very well. And Michelle Yeoh is in it!
#4 Black Widow (Marvel Studios)
What bothers me so much about this film is that it feels as though Natasha Romanov is a supporting character in her own film. She's not... not really... but it feels that way. Taking place prior to her death in Avengers: Endgame (Spoiler Alert!) but after her turn in Captain America: Civil War, this is pretty much a set-up for her sister Yelena Belova to take her place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe of today. Which is most certainly not a bad thing. Yelena is actually a truly great character who was flawless in the Hawkeye Disney+ series... but was it too much to hope that we'd get a little more Black Widow in her first (and likely last) solo film? There's so much going on... Yelena, Red Guardian, Dreykov, Melina Vostok, The Widows, and a weird adaptation of the villainous Taskmaster from the comics... when it would have been nice to just get more Natasha out of it all. We did get a peek at her past (and finally get some questions answered about Budapest and Dreykov's daughter) which was nice though. Ultimately this was an entertaining film that had some terrific action and introduced some memorable characters. But as a send-off for Black Widow it was merely adequate.
#5 CODA (Apple TV+)
I don't know that the story synopsis grabbed me (the sole hearing member of a deaf family tries to live her own life while still trying to live up to the expectations and obligations of her family)... but the fact that Marlee Matlin and Eugenio Derbez star in it certainly made me take notice. And then I watched it. At which point I wondered for a millionth time how many gems like this are buried or go unnoticed by me every year. Because if not for Apple picking it up and promoting it heavily during episodes of Ted Lasso, I likely would have never knew it existed (which reminds me of last year's #3 film, Uncle Frank). The title, CODA, means Children Of Deaf Adults, and this coming-of-age tale stuck with me long after the credits rolled. There's just so many wonderful moments that are sublimely acted, and it's almost too good to be true that the film ever came together in the first place. Because that's all you really all you get... wonderful moments that are sublimely acted... which, in this case anyway, is more than enough. No fights or explosions. No hokey plot devices that seem tacked-on. No absurdly over-the-top dramatic moments. No yelling passed off as drama. No badly-shoe-horned plot devices. It's just a story that neatly sidesteps all the things I usually hate about movies like this. Just a story. But a really, really good one.
#6 Free Guy (20th Century Studios, now Disney)
This movie shouldn't have been as good as it is. It really shouldn't. A regular, every-day, boring guy discovers that he's actually a character in a video game? Who watched Tron and decided to reimagine that? Well, much to my surprise, the result is darn funny and has some seriously good action beats. Ryan Reynolds is the least "Ryan-Reynold-sy" he's been in a while, seamlessly meshing into a role that seems a bad fit... but one that he manages to pull off exceptionally well. And I'm most grateful that he got the chance. This film merges pop culture with video game culture to give us something special in a way that Ready Player One failed miserably at achieving (though I still enjoyed the book quite a bit). And just when you think that the movie has peaked... you're proven wrong. And you'll be happy to keep being wrong as everything piles up to a satisfying conclusion that makes you happy to have invested time in "just another video game movie."
#7 Luca (Disney Animation)
This film would be amazing even if the story was lacking because it just looks so incredible. Animation so beautifully realized that I couldn't take my eyes off of it, and ended up watching three times in two days because I wanted to pore over every scene. The story takes place in the Italian Rivera, and the animators put the time in to capture it flawlessly. And, oh yeah, this story of a sea monster wanting to live a life outside of the water is wholly wonderful, combining heartwarming story beats with genuinely funny moments in a way that almost seems to have a Hayao Miyazaki Studio Ghibli feel to it instead of a Disney Animation feel. I can't possibly offer more praise than that.
#8 The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (Amazon Prime Streaming)
So there I was blazing through the streaming services I subscribe to looking for a movie to watch while I work. Amazon Prime recommended this film. And because Prime has an uncanny ability to recommend films I like, I decided to give it a shot. And was rewarded with this wonderful story that so totally absorbed me. Which was great from a movie standpoint... but truly terrible from a productivity standpoint since I didn't manage to get a lick of work done while I'm watching it. Twice. And what's so surprising is that this is yet another attempt at Groundhog Day where people are caught in a repeating time loop. But, like Palm Spring before it (my #7 film of 2020), they actually brought something new to the table and had something to say. The story is fun and sweet. The performances are all brilliant. And the way it comes together at the end really made me feel something. A treat that took me by surprise and was a total treat from start to finish.
#9 Pig (Al-Film)
Nicholas Cage in a masterful performance that's as challenging as it is beautiful. So much so that no movie surprised me more than Pig this year. Throw your preconceived notions out the door, go into it with an open mind and heart, and prepare yourself for something great. This is a thinking person's action flick in all the best ways, and the less I say about it before you indulge the better.
#10 The Suicide Squad (DC & Warner Brothers)
With James Gunn involved, I was hoping for the best. And that's pretty much what we got. This sequel/reboot of the franchise was a bloody good time and actually fought to live up to the title. Super bad guys get recruited to save the world on a "suicide mission" that will probably kill them, but will reduce their prison time if they survive. If there's a fault for me, it's that the character I most wanted to survive did not, and the character I most wanted to die did not. But, oddly enough, this probably made me like the film better because of it? It's tough to know. It's difficult for me to discuss the story in a way that doesn't spoil it all... but suffice to say that it's got some hilarious beats over some amazing action that made it worth my valuable time to watch.
#11 Eternals (Marvel Studios)
It's not that this movie is bad. It's just that it could have been so much better than what we got. It's tough to lay all of this on director Chloé Zhao's doorstep... she was offered a story entirely stuffed with too many characters trying to do too much and had to run with it. And because it's Chloé Zhao, everything certainly looks fantastic. But it's just not enough. These ancient beings who have been hidden amongst us humans finally realize their true purpose when the earth and all of humanity is threatened. Eternals Assemble. Or something. I guess. What's so sad is that they could have streamlined the character list, dropped the unnecessary diversions, and ended up with a movie that would have seriously kicked ass. But alas... we end up with unnecessary set-ups regarding The Black Knight. Characters who were superfluous and there for representation or death fodder only. And characters that I fucking hated so hard that they very nearly sabotaged the movie entirely (I'm looking at you, "Sprite"). But even so... Gemma Chan's Sersi, Mukail Nanjiani's Kingo, Brian Tyree Henry's Phastos, Don Lee's Gilgamesh, and most of all... Angelina Jolie's Thena... were enough to carry the film for me. Had we just focused on them and jettisoned the rest as the padding they were, we might have gotten yet another Marvel Studios classic. Instead it was a minor disappointment and the first true stumble to come out of Marvel.
#12 No Time to Die (MGM Studios)
This film barely makes my list. And it does so when, in my heart, I know that other movies from my Honorable Mentions list should probably he here instead. And yet... it's a Daniel Craig James Bond film, which guarantees a certain level of entertainment that's tough to dismiss. The problem is that this film is ultimately... boring. Truly shocking is that Rami Malek, an actor I adore, was woefully underutilized as the villain. Had they truly invested in him, we could have gotten all kinds of devious scenery-chewing scenes. But instead he's kinda boring as well. In the end I can't say that this is a bad film (because it's not) but I will say that it's a huge missed opportunity given that Daniel Craig is retiring from the role.
DIDN'T SEE, MIGHT HAVE MADE MY LIST...
OVERRATED BUT STILL GOOD...
TOTALLY SHIT THE BED...
Posted on August 11th, 2021
When I first started reading comics in the late 1970's it was nothing serious. Just some old issues that ended up and my grandparents' house (probably from my grandfather's barber shop). It wasn't until 1979 that I actually started buying them and collecting them. In the beginning, it was mostly DC Comics... Batman, Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. I did pick up an occasional issues of Spider-Man though. Which is how I became familiar with Marvel's What If...? series. The issue that got me? What If... Spider-Man Had Rescued Gwen Stacy? (as opposed to what actually happened in the comics... Spider-Man's girlfriend dying)...
Hosted by Uatu the Watcher, What If...? speculates on how the entire Marvel Universe might be be changed if one thing were to happen differently. What if Loki had found the hammer of Thor? and What if Dr. Strange had not become Master of the Mystic Arts? and What if Doctor Doom had become a hero? and so-on.
The quality of the stories varied wildly, so I was only a sporadic reader... usually only picking up issues when they were about a character I liked.
Fast-forward to today, and What If...? has come to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the form of an animated feature on Disney+. It feels authentic, because so many of the characters are voiced by the original live-action actors. In the first episode, What If... Captain Carter Were The First Avenger?, Peggy Carter becomes Captain Carter because she chooses to stay in the room where Steve Rogers was being infused with the super-soldier serum instead of leaving. This one event cascades until we don't end up with Captain America... but Captain Carter instead...
Captain Carter is voiced by the original actor Hailey Atwell. Along for the ride is other original actors Stanley Tucci (Dr. Erskine), Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark), Neal McDonough (Dum Dum Dugan), Toby Jones (Zola), and Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes). Which is incredible, when you think about it. But then there's Steve Rogers, who is not Chris Evans, but instead some other guy. Not so incredible. Having Ross Marquand as The Red Skull is half-way cool, because he did play Red Skull in Avengers: Endgame... but it was Hugo Weaving who originated the character in Captain America.
In any event, the voice cast is exceptional, as you'd expect.
The animation is beautiful. It's quality stuff that looks gorgeous in every scene. Alas, they're using some kind of "flow-motion" to "tween" the frames (in order to make things appear smoother) which causes some weird voice-sync issues when viewed in close-up, but is otherwise fantastic. Money was spent...
It's positively thrilling to see Chadwick Boseman's voice coming out of T'Challa (one last time, alas) and Chris Hemsworth's voice coming out of Thor. And more than a little of a let-down when character voices are recast. I understand scheduling conflicts and such... but come on. They can literally set up a recording booth anywhere so an actor can take an hour out of their day to do lines. So why wouldn't they get all the originals? Unless people like Chris Evans didn't want to do it, which is even more inexplicable. I mean, Steve Rogers wasn't a huge part of this first episode. He probably could have knocked his lines out in 20 minutes and donated the money to charity. But... it is what it is, I guess.
Judging by this first episode, I'm going to enjoy the heck out of this series. Just like the comics, it's fun to see "what might have been" had one little thing happened differently.
Next episode is What If... T'Challa Had Become Star-Lord? And who wouldn't want to see that?
Posted on July 14th, 2021
And so the final episode of Loki was unleashed upon an unworthy world.
I have been enjoying the series up until this point, but wasn't necessarily blown away by anything. The idea of variant Loki's being the only characters to survive in multiple versions... or at least the only characters we've seen survive in multiple version... is kinda laughable. But, it did give us Loki Gator, and it's tough to be mad about that...
Needless to say, anything I say after this point is going to be riddled with spoilers. If you haven't seen all of Loki yet, you should probably get on that before proceeding.→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
Posted on June 3rd, 2021
Marvel Studios dropped a new trailer for Black Widow today. As one would expect, it looks glorious. Since the character doesn't have super-powers or massive custom gear (like a Batmobile) or setting (like a Batcave) it would have been so very easy for the studio to cheap out and give Black Widow a budget movie... but they didn't do that. Wisely, they stuck to formula by investing the money to give her a spectacular action flick that looks every bit as awesome as the movies other Marvel characters have been getting...
And bravo to that, because Black Widow has been carrying other movies all this time without complaint, and she frickin' deserves to have a movie of her own that will measure up.
Fortunately, the film will be available to Disney+ subscribers upon release for a "premium access fee" so I don't have to go to a theater to see it... because I'm not quite ready for that. I will happily pay an early fee to see the movie in the safety of my own home. It would be nice if the early access fee included a digital copy of the movie when it eventually gets released for sale... but that doesn't seem to be the way it works, so I'll undoubtedly be buying it on iTunes as well.
Money well-spent if I watch it even half as many times as I've watched all my other Marvel Studio movies.
The next movie on Marvel's slate is Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings... another flick I'm dying to see (seriously, the cast is to die for). I don't think that this one will have simultaneous releases for home video and theaters like Black Widow. So I guess we'll find out come September 3 if I'm dying enough to go to a movie theater. If not then, maybe for Eternals in November or Spider-Man: No Way Home in December? It's tough to say. Personally, I'd love to never have to step into a movie theater ever again. As I've said many times now, I detest the experience of it all because people are shitty. But I know that movie studios have to recoup their investment somehow. These are not cheap movies to make.
In other Marvel Studio news... genius filmmaker Taika Waititi announced that Thor: Love and Thunder has wrapped filming and will now go into post-production for special effects and stuff. Which apparently takes a minute, because it's not due to be released until May 6, 2022! If any movie is going to get me back in theaters kicking-and-screaming, it would be this one. Thor: Ragnarok is easily in the running to be my favorite Marvel movie, so seeing it immediately regardless or where and how is a no-brainer.
Even if they did miss the opportunity to title it Thor 4: More Thor.
Posted on March 28th, 2021
Feeling a little less than heroic today? Then I've got you covered... because a Very Special All-Comic-Book Edition Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Comic-Con? Welp. Comic-Con International just announced that the new date for Comic-Con San Diego is... Thanksgiving Weekend?!? It seems weird to think that a day reserved for giving thanks with your family would be commandeered after a year of pandemic that's kept families apart, but okay. Maybe that's the point though? They new attendance would be down over a holiday, which is what they need to keep crowds low just as everybody is getting vaccinated? I dunno. Still seems a weird... and borderline heartless... thing to do. "Sorry, grandma, we've got Comic-Con that weekend! Hope you can make it until next year!"
• Invincible. Amazon Prime Streaming has just released the first three episodes of their occasionally-violent-and-gory adaptation of the Invincible comic book...
I was pleasantly surprised that they didn't drag everything out so they could have one of the most shocking twists in comic book history saved for the second season. Nope. They've got it right up front.
• The Suicide Squad. It's interesting to see how Zack Snyder was given millions upon millions of dollars to release his "director's cut" of Justice League, but the same courtesy is not being extended to David Ayer for his Suicide Squad film, which was apprently taken far away from his intended story by the studio. Truth to tell, I would rather Ayer have been given the cash, because the stuff he originally shot sounds far more interesting. I mean, sure, his version of the Joker was shit, but a lot of other things were pretty well done. The reason he's probably not being given the opportunity is that DC doesn't want to overshadow the upcoming The Suicide Squad movie by James Gunn (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame). An R-rated trailer, of which, was just released...
Promising! SO many characters from the comics! The whole idea behind the Squad is that members die because the missions they take on are so dangerous. Apparently James Gunn is taking this to heart, because his entire motto for the film is "Don't Get Attached." How can you say no to that?
• New Cap. Steve Rogers, Captain America, has lost his shield! In a new series called The United States of Captain America, he embarks on a road trip across the country to find it... teaming up with other "Captain Americas" from over the years. Along the way he finds other people who have taken up his mantle, including a gay teenager named Aaron Fischer...
So naturally people are losing their fucking minds. Which is just the most bizarre phenomenon to me. It's comic book characters. The original Captain America is still here. Nothing is being taken away. But the idea that a gay American can't be Captain America when so many other Americans have been Captain America over the years is just bonkers. Gay people exist. Representation matters. Get the fuck over it.
• Old Cap. I had written up my thoughts on the second episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, but then decided to hold onto them because I worry that anybody who hasn't read the comics driving this story will get the series spoiled for them. I will say that I am absolutely fascinated that they mined Truth: Red, White, and Black for this installment. The story of the actual first "Captain America" was pretty groundbreaking... even though it was published in 2003. It was here that we learned that 300 Black men were used as test subjects for the "Super Soldier Serum" before it was given to Steve Rogers. Of the 300, only Isaiah Bradley survived, and we got to meet him on Friday...
After serving his country with honor, he was imprisoned for his trouble. Now he's trying to live a quiet life of seclusion, as explained by his grandson, Eli Bradley. If you read the comics, Eli ends up being the hero Patriot...
Could it be that we're assembling the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Because the Young Avengers are almost all accounted for now! Eli Bradley as Patriot, Kate Bishop as Hawkeye (from the upcoming Hawkeye series), Billy and Tommy as Wiccan and Speed (from WandaVision), Cassie Lang as Stature (from the Ant-Man movies), and America Chavez as Miss America (from the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness). And if they want to toss in Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel (from the upcoming Ms. Marvel series), and Riri Williams as Ironheart (from the upcoming Ironheart series)... PLUS debut Hulkling out of the upcoming Secret Invasion series... well... there you have it. It would seem that Marvel Studios is intent on keeping the current MCU moving forward as opposed to rebooting everything with new actors in the existing roles. Which is pretty smart. Because until the gravy train stops rolling, they might as well, right?
• The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. But back to the second episode... the Captain America comic books are at their best when they are saying something. When they tackle the big issues that face this country. And that's the niche that the source material takes quite often in modern times. It's only right that the Disney+ series spin-off follow suit. So when Sam Wilson was not able to get a bank loan last episode, on the surface it was because Thanos snapped him out of existence for 5 years. But you quickly got the idea that him being a Black man was definitely a factor. Didn't matter that he's one of the most famous people on the planet, no consideration was offered. And then in this episode, an argument with Bucky in public results in the police showing up to ask Bucky "if this man was bothering him"...
So kudos to Marvel Studios for making this series actually try to say something... in-between some great action sequences. It's exactly what Cap would want to see happen.
Stay frosty, True Believer!
Posted on February 26th, 2021
It's almost 1:00am. I watched the latest episode of WandaVision (discussed below) then picked up around the house before collapsing in bed to write this blog entry. An entry which won't be posted until morning because I'm sure there are going to be a hundred mistakes that I'm too tired to catch right now.
Yesterday was uneventful. The most interesting thing to happen was when I decided to make a "Barbecue Pineapple Flatbread Pizza" from HelloFresh... then just couldn't do it. I ordered it because meal services often have things that sound disgusting but end up delicious. But when it came time to marinate the pineapple in barbecue sauce so I could slap it on the pizza?
There's no way that could ever be considered "delicious" so I put the ingredients away... slapped some Contadina Pizza Sauce on the flatbreads... added mozzarella, parmesan, and feta... then baked them until I had cheese pizzas. They were fine.
As I was pawing through my stack of drawers to find a pizza cutter, I reached in and ended up slicing my finger on a serrated knife. Took a nice chunk of skin off my finger, but didn't bleed. Lucky me. I can't wait for Spring so I can finish my kitchen remodel, because it's tough living like this. Tough on my fingers, that is.
My thoughts on the latest episode of WandaVision are in an extended entry...→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
Posted on January 29th, 2021
Boy, losing Cloris Leachmen and Cicely Tyson in the same week? That's a sobering way to close out January after closing out the shit year that was 2020.
Last night I blew all my energy dishing up Jake and Jenny's wet food, leaving me no energy to cook for myself. I had eaten a veggie burger early in the day while running errands, so it wasn't a big deal. I ended up eating some Cheez-It's and drinking a Coke Zero then calling it good.
Which of course meant that I woke up hungry in the middle of the night.
Which resulted in my eating another handful of Cheez-It's, but I digree.
The problem with waking up in the middle of the night is that it also wakes my cats up. They are perfectly happy to let me sleep and rarely bother me when I'm lost in slumberland, but all bets are off if I wake them up. First Jenny wanted pets. Then Jake wanted pets. Then Jenny came back again for more pets. According to my Apple Watch, I finally fell asleep again after 2:30am. Was that handful of Cheez-It's worth it? Probably not.
Four-and-a-half hours later when I was awakened by Alexa so I could feed them breakfast, I noticed that THEY weren't the least bit tired. I guess when you spend the entire day sleeping, you always have surplus energy.
In other news... I stayed up 'til midnight so I could watch the latest episode of WandaVision, where things are finally starting to happen. It only took four episodes, but okay. It wasn't necessarily great, but it does hint that great things are coming. If you've already seen it and are interested in my spoiler-filled thoughts, you can find them in an extended entry...→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
Posted on December 13th, 2020
I'm set adrift on memory bliss... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Star Wars on Disney+! There were loads of announcements at Disney’s Investor Day 2020 event, and there was a lot of gold to be found for pop culture geeks like me. So let's dig in, shall we?
• Star Wars Movies! While there were some parts of the sequel trilogy that were okay, the movies as a whole were disappointing. A mediocre rehashing of far better stories that had already been told. And nobody was sadder about that than me. Then The Mandalorian came along and suddenly I was thinking that perhaps Disney+ was the best future for Star Wars. Until... Taika Waititi was brought onboard to create a new movie and I was excited again. No details have been released on that, but we did find out that Patty Jenkins (of Wonder Woman fame) is developing Rogue Squadron about the best of the best X-Wing fighter pilots, and I am understandably intrigued by the possibilities...
"The greatest fighter pilot movie of all time?" Um, yeah. Sign me up!
• Marvel Studios on Disney+! Boy oh boy were there a smorgasbord of tidbits dropped about upcoming Marvel shows on Disney+... and announcements of entirely new shows we hadn't heard of before...
• Marvel Studios Movies! Now that we're a year behind where we are supposed to be thanks to the pandemic, there's future news to be had to tide us over, I guess...
• Disney-Pixar! New movies Raya and the Last Dragon, Encanto, Iwaju, Luca, Lightyear, and Turning Red. New series for Disney+ built around Zootopia, Baymax, Tiana, Moana, and Cars. But the only news I really cared about was Dug Days, which looks fantastic...
• Alien! In one of the bigger surprises, Noah Hawley is creating an Alien series for Hulu?
All we know is that it will be set here on earth, and is supposed to be scary. Good enough for me.
• Kiss! Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair recreated their kiss from Cruel Intentions for the 2020 MTV Movie Awards...
Just makes me want to watch the movie all over again.
• Rook! My dad taught me how to play chess when I was fairly young. It wasn't really a game I was interested in, so I never played it much. In high school I'd play an occasional game for something to do, but I didn't really care enough to study so I was never terribly good. During my gap year I had a new found interest in the game and started playing via the internet. I got fairly good, read a few books on chess theory, and could hold my own by the time I started college. I haven't played a game since. It was for this reason I had decided to skip The Queen's Gambit when it debuted on Netflix. But the reviews were so stellar that I ended up watching it the following week...
It's a really good series. The acting is excellent and the way they communicate the strategy and energy of the game is terrific. But the best part is the production values. They are exceptional. They've recreated the 1960's right down to the last detail, and I ended up watching parts of it again last night just to look at the appliances, automobiles, dishware, music, clothing, and all the other things which made it such an experience to watch. If you've got a Netflix subscription and haven't seen it, I'd recommend giving it a look.
• Interview! I was Leah's guest on her podcast Finding Favorites where I talk about travel (my favorite thing) and you can listen to it right here. I really need to get a better microphone for things like this.
And that's an end to my bullets, Sunday.
Posted on November 12th, 2019
And so Disney+ is finally here.
Unlike Apple TV+, the content you get is staggering. Tons of shows and movies from the Disney archives (some of them having been buried for a long time) plus shows and movies from Disney affiliates (every episode of The Simpsons is right here). And of course the new shows and movies they have been promoting from the very start which will leverage their Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and National Geographic properties. I got in on a pre-purchase deal that dropped the cost to less than $4 a month, and at that price this is a bargain and a half for what you get.
Granted, the Marvel shows that I'm really looking forward to are a ways off yet, but I'd pay $4 a month for The Mandalorian alone, so it's all kinda a no-brainer.
And now, just as I did with Apple TV+ content, I am dropping my thoughts on what Disney+ originals bring to the table, from my favorite to least favorite...
The Mandalorian. The entire reason to get Disney+ from the get-go is right here. And, with the exception of Rogue One, it's better than most of the Star Wars stuff that's been released in the past 20 years. Mostly because Jon Favreau and Co. just didn't care about anything but taking all the cool stuff from Star Wars and doing something truly new with it. Between the mysterious nature of Pedro Pascal's namesake Mandalorian... and a freakin' fantastic appearance by a droid from the IG-88 series (IG-11). If you have even the smallest, most basic interest in Star Wars, here's your show. And reason enough to climb onboard the Disney+ train.
The Imagineering Story. The first of six episodes looking behind the scenes of creating the Disney parks. It's fantastic, featuring archive footage and modern interviews to explain how Disneyland (and everything that followed) came to be. Really cool stuff here... like a look at the incomparable Mary Blair at work. I'd pay the $7 price of admission just to watch this series.
Marvel: Expanding the Universe. A quick 12 minute sneak peak of all the stuff I am dying to watch on Disney+ (AKA the entire reason I subscribed). There's precious little new information here, but it definitely gets you excited for what's to come.
SparkShorts. These independent Pixar shorts are, well, everything you expect from Pixar. The first three (Purl, Smash and Grab, and Kitbull) were excellent, so there was no reason to expect anything less from Float. And it doesn't disappoint. Gorgeous animation about a dad trying to deal with a kid who can... float. It's sweet, heartfelt, and amazing. Interesting to note that Disney+ has added other amazing Pixar shorts like Bao and Piper to the service as well.
The World According to Jeff Goldblum I am not quite sure what this is supposed to be. It's essentially just Jeff Goldblum being Jeff Goldblum at his Jeff Goldblummiest while looking into a subject through the lens of Jeff Goldblum. The result is pretty great, but not exactly groundbreaking. Other shows have done this kind of thing better. But none of them had Jeff Goldblum, and that's the point isn't it? In the premiere, Jeff gets into the inexplicably cutthroat world of sneakers and the jaw-dropping price that people are willing to pay to get collectible pairs. Along the way we get mini-lessons about where vulcanized rubber came from, how companies like Adidas create sneakers, and other tangents. No mention of sweat shops in Indonesia paying children $1 a day to make the sneakers though. I guess you could call this superficially educational... superficial edutainment? Though Jeff slaps back against flat-earthers and dinosaur deniers, so there's that. Definitely watching this one.
Lady and The Tramp. The live-action remakes from Disney have been a mixed bag. Some of them are amazing (Jungle Book was fantastic), some of them are okay (Christopher Robin has great elements, but kinda flails) and some are just bad (Dumbo was sincerely lacking). The animated Lady and the Tramp was beautiful to look at, but not a favorite. I didn't expect the live-action remake to change my mind. But they pulled out all the stops to create a good film. No, it's not a cinematic masterpiece (and is not as good as the original), but the rescue dog stars they got were great. The casting was perfect (Sam Elliott as Trusty? Come on!). And the CGI talking effects were well-done. This is kinda a perfect example of what Disney+ should be. A place for movies not quite reaching the quality of a feature-film release, but deserving of more than some $9.99 direct-to-video dump.
Marvel Hero Project. If there's a promise for Disney+ outside of the obvious, shows like this are it. Inspiring, true-life stories that find heroes in humanity and showcase how they are changing our world... THEN, ZOMG, MADE INTO A MARVEL COMIC BOOK! The first issue has Jordan, a girl with limb differences, working to make the world more accessible for everyone. There's an awful lot to like about this show... even without the Marvel element... but made oh so much better because of the Marvel element. I mean, yeah, fashioning a "glitter arm" and shooting sparkly glitter at people may seem like a silly idea to build an episode around, but when you see the show you "get it." It will be interesting to see what future episodes will bring.
Noelle. Given my predilection for Hallmark Christmas movies, I thought this would be right up my alley. Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader? Oh my garland! Sign me up! And yet... it's not that at all. Instead it's more like a remake of Elf but not really nailing it. Sure it's cute, clever, brimming with Christmas charm, and has the eternal optimism you expect from Disney... but it's all kinda meh despite incredible production values and a great cast. Santa has retired and his son doesn't have the confidence, skills, or desire to take over, so it falls to his daughter Noelle. Given the date of the Disney+ debut, I suppose there had to be a Christmas movie. And this wasn't bad. Though I wonder if kids will be able to get into it? My guess is not.
Encore! Kristen Bell attempts to revive old productions of amateur high school musical theater... with the original cast! The first episode is Annie with the cast of a 1996 Santana High School production. I don't like musicals, at all, but was fascinated by the concept. And Kristen Bell. They start with a catchup of where all the cast is today... police officers, teachers, stay-at-home moms, and such. Then gather them together with a professional director, music director, and choreographer to stage a modern take on the original. And along the way you get to see them come together and rehash the past and discuss what's been happening in their lives. The result was okay... but ultimately not my thing. Not the personal drama nor the musical theater. And yet... I might keep tuning in on occasion? It's an interesting idea for reality television for sure.
Ask Forky a Question. Cute to see Forky and Ham again, but this first short (What is Money?) was pretty uneventful. Just Forky being Forky and nothing really happening.
Pixar in Real Life. A godawful attempt to bring Pixar into the real world. This first one brings in the control panel from Inside Out to the real world where passerby can control the emotions of two actors. Pointless and not the least bit entertaining. It's five minutes long. I made it to a minute-and-a-half before bailing.
Disney Family Sundays This is some kind of weird-ass crafting show for kids. But a horrifically bad one. In the first episode they make Dumbo's circus tent. The supplies include A PRE-MADE CANOPY TENT?!? WTF? Who has that laying around? Can you even buy that? Then you essentially hot-glue-gun a bunch of garish crap to the pre-made canopy. This is what passes for "crafting" now-a-days? Pathetic. And I just don't get it. First you have to watch the show, then you have to make a massive laundry-list of supplies to go buy (or try to find to buy), then you have to watch the show again as a step-by-step. Lame. I guess I should have expected some cheap "filler" shows to fill in the gaps, but this?!?
High School Musical: The Series No. Won't do it. This is where I draw the line.
And that's it.
Well, not really. Tons of Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars content await. Including some stuff from my childhood that I didn't expect to ever see again... like The Love Bug series (including Herbie Rides Again with Helen Hayes) and The Cat from Outer Space. And stuff I don't own that I'd definitely like to revisit (including Saving Mr. Banks and Hannah Montana).
I've read about people having connection problems with Disney+ but haven't had any major problems. Once or twice I've had an error pop up...
...but after I dismiss and restart the program everything works just fine. And, much to my surprise, the program picks up right where the problem occurred. Nice!
The Apple TV interface is fairly good. The web interface is pretty bad. No navigation within the site... you have to use your browser's back button. But, in both cases, the content played just fine so I can't really complain.
Disney+ is off to a good start. But it's what's to come that has me excited to be a subscriber.
Posted on November 6th, 2019
Well that was fun.
I flew to Minneapolis for one day because I am a Marvel Studios completist and just HAD to do Avengers: Damage Control at The Void (thanks to Kyle for being a good sport and doing it with me!). It's an immersive VR experience that's part game, part virtual world. You strap on a backpack filled with tech, don a VR helmet, then walk through a physical "studio" which has been remapped in your goggles with an entirely new reality. Along the way you fight Ultron robots and stuff...
So far as the technology goes... it’s pretty glitchy. You're in the "experience" with three other people and move from area to area with them. But the physical representations of the other "players" is not entirely stable or accurately mapped. Sometimes you'll look over at somebody and they will be walking in place oddly or randomly switch directions. The hybrid Black Panther /slash/ Iron Man suits you get mapped on you are pretty cool though...
The mapping of your real hands to your virtual hands is... okay-ish. But many times my hands would disappear or jump to a wildly different spot. Kyle has tattoos on his arms and hands which made it so one of his virtual "hands" rarely functioned at all. And it’s a little tough to “get into the action” when your hands keep disappearing! So... helpful hint, I guess... if you have arm/hand tattoos, maybe you need to wear white lycra sleeves and gloves or something?
That being said... the coolest part of the experience is not the "game" part. It's being able to look around at the world they created, which is absurdly cool. I almost wanted to go back through again so I could ignore the battle and just see all the stuff going on in your environment that's 360° around you. You go from Shuri's training center to Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum to a full-on battle with Ultra-Ultron on a New York City rooftop. And along the way you meet a goodly selection of Avengers...
The major characters in Damage Control are Shuri, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, and The Wasp. And they actually got Letitia Wright to act in it, plus Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Rudd, and Evangeline Lilly to voice their CGI characters (which is why it was worth my flying to Minneapolis to see it all, since it's the real deal and not some imitation video game. Though all the other characters who speak were imitation, but done pretty well. I guess they ran out of budget to get all the stars?
Seattle doesn't have a The Void location. And not all locations have Avengers: Damage Control. I just picked the cheapest to get to, which was the Mall of America in Minneapolis (surprisingly, it would have taken more miles to get to Las Vegas or a South-California location, which is weird because they're closer). The price of admission is $40. I don't know that it's worth that to somebody who isn't a fan of Marvel movies... and felt a little overpriced even for somebody like me who is. Apparently the Avengers experience is a limited-time engagement through the 15th, so if this is something you absolutely must try, then you might want to get some tickets and get on that.
Right now, things are still a bit glitchy, and those glitches do take away from the experience. I'd imagine within another five years you'll just put on some VR specs and be able to do this kind of stuff in your living room perfectly. Until then, you can invest in an Oculus VR headset and have a non-walk-through experience at home, or go to a VR space like The Void and take what you can get.
And what I need to get is some sleep, because I have to be up at 4am to head home.