I haven’t done a lot of blogging this year, but, don’t worry, I’ve still been watching a ton of movies! I’ve even been keeping track of everything I’ve watched or read in a pair of Composition Note Books that I’ve (not so) cleverly dubbed Pop Notes. Thanks to them, I’m pretty confident looking back at the year and piecing together thoughts on some of my fave film-watching experiences (minus horror, which will get a list or two of their own). This one’s pretty long, so hit that jump and get into it!Continue reading My Favorite Film Experiences Of 2018
The Chris Gethard Show
While mainlining Search Party a month or so back, I saw a LOT of ads for The Chris Gethard Show on Tru TV. I knew a bit of the history behind Gethard’s NYC public access show and this latest attempt to bring it to the masses, but hadn’t seen it. First I checked out the Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas episode which was hilarious and now I’m going back and watching everything I can on Hulu. His self-deprecating humor, audience inclusion and clear history with many of his guests mixes together to make a perfect cocktail for my tastes. The show also has its own mythology and characters, which I’m excited to dig into a little bit.
The Go! Team
While watching a recent episode of The Chris Gethard Show I saw just a few moments of The Go! Team performing. I dug the grooves and put them on my mental “to check out” list. A few weeks back, my wife and I took a trip to Baltimore where I found the biggest record story I’ve ever seen, Sound Garden and got a copy of The Go! Team’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike. Since then I’ve also listened to Rolling Backouts and The Scene Between on Amazon Music and have become a big fan of this band. They’ve got this great sound that reminds me of The Budos Band or El Michels Affair, but with less of a retro tinge. These records are my new go-tos for writing or working.
Last week I finally got around to finishing something related to Stephen King’s It! I’ve never watched the 90s adaptation and only got about a hundred pages into the novel about 10 years ago. So, without comparing the Andy Muschietti film from last year to anything else, I really enjoyed the movie! The kids felt real and familiar, Pennywise was terrifying and there were some incredible horror set pieces like the bathroom and garage scenes, not to mention the whole ending. I was fully on board and am down to see what happens to the older versions in the second film. Oh, also, while I would have loved the kids-against-craziness vibe as a child myself, I did find it tough to watch some of the bad things happen to children as an old person with kids myself.
A few weeks back, I started going through all of Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball volumes. My library has these great 3-in-1 volumes that I’ve been able to plow through. I’m most of the way the way through the third one and have absolutely fallen in love with the character of Goku. He’s just so pure and innocent, but also always ready to defend his friends and do the right thing. Having only seen episodes of DBZ before, I’ve been surprised by the more humorous tone, but very much enjoy it. There are definitely problematic elements like the super-pervy Turtle Master and just about every female character being one-note, but for me the good outweighs the bad (at least so far).
I’ve been working on a secret freelance project for a bit now that’s lead to a near total re-watch of the Marvel films. I’ve realized that I like most of them even more than I remembered, but have to say that Chris Evans’ Captain America really shines through. They made some interesting changes to the character’s origin like making him a PR spectacle before a soldier and making the Red Skull the impetus for the Super Soldier program, but overall they really capture the goodness of the character in the script which Evans brings to life on the screen. The first film is so fun and great and I’m glad they made it a period piece. Then you’ve got Winter Soldier and Civil War which both go down pretty dark paths, but I appreciate why and how they got there. Plus those are just darn compelling films that take great advantage of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. A few more quick thoughts: he’s excellent in the fight scenes, his relationship with Peggy Carter a tragic one! I love his friendship with Bucky.
I know it’s in vogue to just automatically dislike any new take on beloved childhood icons, but I don’t have the energy for hating things I haven’t actually experienced. As such, I took the Michael Bay-produced, Jonathan Liebesman-directed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie from a few years back with a grain of salt. I had to cover a lot of the pre-release outrage for Spinoff back when it all happened and yet still decided to give it a watch on On Demand recently. Continue reading We Want Action: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Director and documentarian Jon Schnepp asked the question many of us have been wondering since the 90s: What happened to Tim Burton’s Superman Lives? Back then, word got out that the Batman Returns helmer would put his stamp on the Man of Steel with star Nicolas Cage. Most of us didn’t hear much else aside from the film’s eventual demise, Kevin Smith’s recollection of writing the film’s first draft and later design images that would find their way online. Enter The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened?
As the film got rolling producer Jon Peters hired a slew of people to work on the project. Smith and two other screenwriters worked on the script, Burton invested himself in the story and a variety of costume designers and artists started working on the ever-changing visual elements.
But, even with so many people working hard on the film, it ultimately fell apart. The doc doesn’t necessarily place the blame on any one individual person involved, though its hard not to put Peters’ name up there with some of the chicanery he pulled. Ultimately, though, the answer to the question posed in the title comes down to some simple facts: Burton’s weird vision made the studio nervous. That same vision also would have cost a bunch of money to bring to life and the studio eventually decided to go another direction that lead to Superman Returns.
Even so, this doc isn’t really about why Superman Lives didn’t get made, it’s about all the work that went into it while the creative people involved thought they were making it. Everyone from Peters and Smith to Burton and costume designer Colleen Atwood. It’s fascinating to see how they all attempted to bring each others’ visions to life and maybe a little tragic that it was all for nothing. Except, it’s not really for nothing because this public record of their work now exists. I think that might be the great thing about this era of “why didn’t it get made” documentaries. They take something that a lot of people put a lot of effort into and bring it to your attention, even if it’s not in the originally intended way. With that in mind, I’m even more excited about eventually seeing Doomed and the one about George Miller’s Justice League movie.
For all the effort he put into the film, I give Schnepp huge buckets of kudos. Cage is the only major player who did get interviewed for this thing, but he still shows up thanks to some filmed segments of him trying on the costumes with Atwood and Burton. Those clips really bring the whole thing together because the represent the in-the-moment as opposed to the looking-back. I’m not personally a fan of the animated sequences in the film and think it’s super awkward for the interviewer to be on camera nodding when the subject is answering questions, but altogether I can’t recommend this movie enough for anyone who’s ever been even remotely interested in Superman Lives or the process that goes into making these big, blockbuster superhero films.
A few weekends back we found ourselves in the enviable position of experiencing a light snowfall without much else to do so we decided to scroll through our On Demand options for a family movie. As it turns out we have free Showtime for a bit and The Rocketeer was on there, so we decided to give it a watch.
I don’t remember if I saw this movie in the theaters when it came out, but we did subscribe to Disney Channel back then (long before it was free) so I remember seeing a lot about it and probably caught it on TV.
Set in 1938, it’s about a stunt pilot named Cliff who discovers a rocket pack in his plane, designs a costume and helmet and fights bad guys including local mobsters (lead by Pau Sorvino) and movie star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) all while trying to keep things going with his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelley).
Directed by Joe Johnston who went on to eventually helm Captain America: The First Avenger, the movie not only works as an action-packed superhero film, but also a fun period piece that references a number of classic actors, actresses and other historical figures from the era (including Lost star Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes!). Add to that that real-life elements like potential Hollywood stars working with the Nazis and mobsters refusing to do the same and you have a great film that holds up really well aside from a few clunky special effects scenes here and there.
As a kid, I had no idea who the Rocketeer was before the film hit, but now I know that it was an indie comic book created by Dave Stevens in the 80s during that boom. However, I never got around to reading the actual comics until last year when I got my hands on the IDW-published reprint of Stevens’ entire run, though I was more interested in the pictures. You really don’t need to read the words because the art is just so crisp, clear and expressive. Plus, the colors in that book are just amazing. I don’t know how they compare to the original, but imagine they’re much better given IDW’s reputation for doing super high quality reprints and today’s far better printing techniques.
While scrolling through the options to get to The Rocketeer, I also saw Dick Tracy as an option. I LOVED this movie as a kid and realized that, given the obvious similarities, it would make for an excellent double feature mate with Rocketeer.
Based on the classic comic strip created by Chester Gould in the 1930s, Dick Tracy was directed by and starred Warren Beatty as the yellow-clad copper. He’s joined by Charlie Kormo’s The Kid, Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney, Al Pacino’s Big Boy and a variety of others as Tracy attempts to bring the mob boss down while keeping his relationship with Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly) together and figuring out what to do with his new ward.
The beauty of this movie is that Beatty went full boat when it came to recreating the look and feel of the comic strips on the big screen. The suits and cars are all wildly colorful, matte paintings give the world an ethereal feel and the bag guy make-up brings characters like Little Face, Flat Top and Pruneface fully to life. Add in the idea of a kid trying to constantly get in on grown-up cop action, the pseudo love triangle with Breathless and the mystery of No Face and you’ve got a super fun and compelling movie that doesn’t get enough kudos from the comic-loving crowd.
As I mentioned, I was a huge fan of this flick when it came out. I definitely remember seeing it in the theater and as scenes appeared on my TV I remembered them from that viewing experience as well as moments captured by the trading card set. That feeling has lingered to this day when I basically want an Apple Watch just so I can feel like Dick Tracy (anyone else remember the wrist watch walkie talkies they sold?).
My four year old daughter slept through most of the first film and was looking at Disney princess dresses during the second, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend these for kids her age. Given the presence of mobsters, shooting, concrete and Madonna’s crazy dresses, it might not be appropriate.
That reminds me. I’m not a fan of Madonna’s outside of this movie and A League Of Their Own, but man, she just KILLS it in this movie. I’m sure I was dazzled by her sheer dresses as a kid, but this time around I really found myself feeling bad for her when she was ever so desperately trying to convince Dick Tracy to love her. Her character adds an interesting intensity to this film that just adds to the overall unique nature of a project that could have easily become what all the terrible late 90s comic book movies turned into: exaggerated cartoons with no concept of what made the source material work.
So, while these might not be the best movies to show a couple of kids (like we did), they are a ton of fun and act as a kind of vanguard for quality comic-based films that would come a decade or so later.
As you will see in a post going up on Thursday, I was a huge fan of the whole Dick Tracy experience in 1990. I loved the movie, I picked up some of the toys, I collected the trading cards and I desperately wanted a watch that doubled as a phone.
In this spot, you can see some of those toys and a replica of the famous watch that basically just told time. If memory serves, there was a set of massive wristwatch walkie talkies you could buy as well.
Right off the bat, I’ll admit that I did not actually watch Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man as a true double feature. We probably watched the latter a month ago and just peeped the former yesterday. But, since I didn’t write about the Avengers sequel, it seemed liked a proper time.
I went into Joss Whedon’s Ultron with fairly low expectations. It seemed like a lot of the people I follow on Twitter and actually communicate with weren’t super into it. The general feeling I was picking up on seemed to be that, while it’s got all kinds of spectacle, it didn’t live up to the original.
And that was my experience as well, but then again, this is a different kind of blockbuster super hero movie. The original — which I love — seemed custom built to show that all of these series-leading, mega stars could come together, fight the bad guys and look good doing it. Meanwhile, this film seemed built with a different goal in mind: showing how said group (plus new members) can work together even when times are tough.
It’s also clearly a bigger piece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe puzzle leading up to Captain America: Civil War and the Infinity War movies. To me as a viewer, the first felt like it was worked into the bigger tale while this one was more obviously built to lead to something else. This is something I’m not usually a fan of in comics and even less so in comic films and it all just boils down to a feeling I get while watching.
And yet, I still found myself enjoying this darker take on team superheroics. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision all make interesting additions to not just the team, but the universe at large. Plus, it’s not all dark. I could watch an entire TV series about the Avengers hanging out like they did at that party. I also just adore James Spader (as I mentioned here) so watching and listening to his take on the killer robot Ultron was a treat as he’s basically Blacklist‘s Raymond Reddington but crazy and a robot.
I think that the problem with this movie as related to the first one comes down to this fact: I don’t want to rewatch it a bunch. I probably could have sat through another showing of Whedon’s first Avengers film right after the first one and even stop flipping or pop in for a few minutes every time I see it on TV. I don’t see that happening here. In other words, it’s not nearly as fun as the first one, which it clearly wasn’t supposed to be, but it’s still a bummer.
Ant-Man is far from a bummer, though, which is great. I admit, my feelings towards these movies have been a bit tainted by elements from beyond the movies themselves. I’m not sure how I feel about every single film moving forward painting towards this gigantic epic that will end Phase Three. I love the inter-connectivity between these films, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want them all to be about this one big thing leading forward.
And then I watched Ant-Man and it felt like a nice step away from all that intergalactic craziness to just tell the story of a few people trying their best to not make the world a worse place. I love the approach of using this intelligent thief to wear a potentially fatal suit in an attempt to stop tech from ruining the world. It’s perfectly comic book-y, but also fits in so well with this universe and Paul Rudd just kills it. I also really enjoyed watching Michael Douglas who seemed to break the rule that every old dude in a Marvel Studios movie turns out to be bad. Oh, and how fun is Michael Pena? And how bad ass is Lilly? More of both of them please! Basically, everything came together to give me a beautiful mix of heist and hero that gets a major thumbs up from this guy.
However, all respect to director Peyton Reed who did a great job, but I still wish we would have been able to see Edgar Wright’s version of this film which we reported on all the way back in the days of Wizard and ToyFare. Yes I bet it would have been an amazing movie, but it more so bums me out that a relatively slow filmmaker like Wright spent ALL that time on a movie that just didn’t happen. He’s got such an amazing vision for what he makes that I want him to make all the movies he can and this felt like a major entanglement that resulted in a great vision for Ant-Man, but not a full-on Edgar Wright movie.
And, yes, I still remain a bit nervous about Marvel tying up too many of their films to Infinity War, but then I must remind myself that Guardians Of The Galaxy did a great job of incorporating some of that into its movie and this one basically skips over all of that. Back to what I was saying above, it feels like Ant-Man is its own thing that will get incorporated into the larger goings-on of the MCU instead of the other way around. I like that and as long as that’s the way these things go, I’ll keep enjoying them.
I’ve been pretty tired and/or busy lately. Between work and the kids, the days are pretty full and I get awfully sleepy by the time evenings roll around. This is a bummer for me because I like to stay up and watch movies at night, but that’s been more of a piecemeal process lately. However, I’m still trying to take in new films like this trio of more recent big screen offerings.
Let’s start with Andrew Stanton’s 2012 film John Carter from Disney. This adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ space traveler didn’t do so hot at the box office and I think I know why. First off, the well seemed to be pretty solidly poisoned before the movie even came out. I have no idea why that is, but I was heavily in the movie coverage thing for Spinoff when this film was coming out and there seemed to be a lot of pre-press about how it was going to fail. I don’t know why and this might sound conspiratorial, but it seemed to me like someone didn’t want the movie to do well and then it didn’t.
But, that’s not all. This isn’t an easy film to understand and, for me, that’s not a knock. You’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on and do a little thinking yourself to keep up with this tale. It’s not all laid out at your feet, which I appreciate because too many movies spell everything out so there’s absolutely no place for confusion. I don’t mind working for my entertainment and actually think better of the projects that make me get into that headspace.
This isn’t just a thinking person’s sci-fi action film, though. It looks rad. The aliens are fantastic and the action sequences are on point. I’ve read maybe a quarter or a third of ERB’s A Princess of Mars and it seemed like Stanton and company took what’s a fairly dry, clinical narrative and gave it a bit more heart which I appreciated (I actually stopped reading because that old school style of simply listing everything weird that’s happening gets real old for me real fast). All in all, I give this one a big thumb’s up and hope more people discover it at home. It’s too bad we’re not going to get more of this world…at least for a while.
As I move on to talking about Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, I’m realizing that all three of these movies were adaptations. This one is probably the least well known because it’s a manga (which I haven’t read, for what it’s worth). Basically, aliens are invading earth and humanity uses mech suits to fight them off. Tom Cruise plays a self-serving PR guy who gets unceremoniously recruited to the front lines where he kills one of the creatures which gives him a kind of Groundhog Day-like ability to keep living the same day over and over again. He gets in contact with Blunt’s super soldier character who had a similar experience and starts training like crazy, dying constantly along the way.
The story has a pretty high concept and some specific rules about how you get and lose these powers, but again, I don’t mind learning these fairly outlandish details as they’re presented. I was much more interested in Blunt’s character than all that anyway. She’s such a cool, shrewd character who, in a way, knows what’s going on, but in another is completely in the dark because she has no idea how many times Cruise has come back and tried any number of alternative methods. While he’s falling for her over and over again, she’s basically meeting him for the first time every day (and killing him a number of those times).
So, if you can buy into some bonkers rules and like Tom Cruise evolving from brash douche to war hero, then give Edge Of Tomorrow (or as it was retitled upon home video release KILL. DIE. REPEAT.) a shot.
Finally, let’s talk a bit about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, based on the character seen in Tom Clancy’s novels. This particular story doesn’t come from one of those books, instead giving the CIA operative an updated origin story for the modern era starring Chris Pine. The idea here was to start a new franchise, but apparently the film didn’t do to well and those plans have been put on hold, but I thought this was a gripping thriller that kept my attention the whole time.
Ryan starts off as a finance wiz who joins the military after the events of 9-11. While serving, his helicopter gets blown up, but he survives to meet and fall for Keira Knightley in a hospital. While getting better Kevin Costner appears and offers him a job as a covert financial analyst for the CIA. He soon comes upon Kenneth Branagh, a Russian whose machinations include a massive terrorist attack that will topple the world economy.
As much as I love James Bond movies where our hero is super experienced in all things espionage, I kind of liked seeing someone like Ryan in his early days. He’s got the training and does okay when he gets attacked early on, but Pine also conveys how overwhelming some of these experiences are. It would have been cool to see his version of this character evolve over a series of films.
Of course, Jack Ryan has been in a series of movies like Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum Of All Fears. I don’t think I’ve seen any of those movies, so I wasn’t spending the whole run time comparing Pine to Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford or Ben Affleck which was cool, but I am interested in going back and check them out.
As you can tell, I haven’t been blogging much lately. My days are filled with work, kids and house stuff, so I don’t have as much time to sit back down behind the computer and write out my thoughts on important things like movies and comics, but I’ve been lucky enough to see and read a lot of cool stuff lately and want to remember that.
So, let’s start with the trio of Dwayne Johnson movies I’ve seen recently. A few weeks back, unbeknownst to us we had a free trial of HBO. For a night, I thought we’d had the thing since we moved in six months ago and I’d just missed it, but the disappearance of the channels the next day revealed the truth. Still, I was able to take advantage and watch Justin Lin’s Furious 6.
I’m actually not very up on the Fast & Furious movies. I saw the first in the theaters way back in 2001, but I preferred the previous year’s Gone In 60 Seconds. Since then this series produced a few sequels that kept the motor running until it really kicked into gear in the past few installments. In a lot of ways, these movies have taken on a kind of comic book nature. The last three films have drawn from the previous ones as far as characters go and also, as Paul Scheer said on the episode of How Did This Get Made dedicated to the movie, they’re basically superheroes at this point who can’t die (or mostly can’t die). Continue reading Dwayne Johnson Is Awesome Part 1 (of Infinity)
I was a huge fan of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s Guardians Of The Galaxy series which came out of the Annihilation events, though apparently I never wrote about it here on UM (though I did review a trade collecting the first issues of the original series). The mix of comedy, action and cosmic threats made for a thoroughly entertaining series that seemed perfect for the big screen, even if characters like Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Drax, Gamora, Mantis and Cosmo were completely unknown to a larger audience.
When the actual film version was announced, I was shocked, but excited. I got even more jazzed when Slither director James Gunn was revealed as the captain of this ship. Throw in a stellar cast including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, John C. Reilly, Benicio del Toro, Glenn Close, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin and Michael Rooker. Of course, I rarely see movies in the theaters anymore, so it took until last weekend for me to see the film which everyone loved. I almost never say this — just look at my initial review of Cabin in the Woods — but this is a movie that lived up to the hype.
I won’t bother going into the film’s plot, because I assume you’ve all seen it, are waiting to see it or have no plans to see it. I will say that I was shocked at how little of the film was spoiled for me going in. I realized as we put the film on — yes, I watched this with my wife and 3-year-old daughter who also both loved it — that I knew very little about the actual story. Sure, I knew about the dancing, the team-up element, the adorable mid-credit sequence and the cheer-worthy post-credits sequence (from my daughter and I, at least), but as far as the actual story went? I was in the dark and that was delightful.
A lot of people credit this film for being funny as well as action packed and that’s a dead-on assessment. Even after watching the flick three times in four days (like I said, the kid fell in love), I still found myself laughing at Groot, Drax and Rocket. But this isn’t just a fun adventure. There’s also a lot of heart. That opening scene is ROUGH, especially if you’ve lost someone close to you. And if Rocket’s drunken monolog doesn’t hit you hard, there’s something wrong with you. On top of all that, the film is packed with clever ideas. Introducing the adult version of your hero with a dance number on an alien planet? Awesome. Rocket’s plan for getting out of the prison? Genius. The way these wildly unique characters fight on their own and together? Fantastic.
I do have three complaints about the film, though, but only two of them are valid. First, I really disliked that moment in the beginning where Quill says he forgot about the alien woman. I also don’t like how Drax called Gamora a whore towards the end, which makes very little sense. I was primed to see both of these flaws because of the people I follow on Twitter, but I agree that they didn’t need to be there and could have easily been changed. The third complaint is that it took me a while to get used to the different versions of these characters, specifically Gamora. In the comics I’ve read Gamora is a ruthless warrior with little compassion. In this version she’s a lot more human which works perfectly for this story, but took me some time to get used to.
We had such a fun time watching this film that I feel compelled to buy it and add it to my collection. That hasn’t happened with a new film since…Man Of Steel I think. Going even further, this movie got me excited for what’s going on in the Marvel Studios films leading into both Avengers: Infinity War. The Guardians have to be involved right? They’ve just gotta be!