The End Of An Era

I have, complicated, opinions on Quentin Tarantino. The man is a certified piece of crap, racist and sexist in the most insidious, “did that really happen?” ways. Not to mention the way he’s got that successful young white dude thing where his personality and work kind of atrophied after his biggest success.

I haven’t loved a Tarantino movie since Inglorious Basterds (which is still my favorite of his) at least until this one came along.  Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is a melancholy love letter to the kind of movies that Tarantino loves, the sordid blood soaked B-list flicks of yesteryear.

It’s also his way of saying goodbye. He’s mentioned he was thinking of retiring after this, so we’ll see.

Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood weaves the fictional story of TV Cowboy Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best friend/stuntman Cliff (Brad Pitt) together with the creepy and tragic tale of real life starlet Sharon Tate and The Manson Family.

Tarantino uses the ticking clock of the Tate’s murder beautifully, and the ending is cathartic and elegiac and stunningly Tarantino.

*Spoilers From Here On Out*

 

 

 

As four of Manson’s followers park in front of Tate and Polanski’s mansion (Rick lives next door and one of the kids played by Maya Hawke in a bit of generational symmetry) Rick comes out drunk and furious to berate them, telling them to go loiter elsewhere. Furious, the three remaining change their mind and go to attack Rick instead of Sharon. They’re met by Cliff, who then beats them to death.

There’s so much blood in this scene, if it were any other director. But this is Tarantino and the finale is downright restrained by his standards and all the more glorious because of it.

We need to talk about Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate though. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood casts Tate as a kind of bright light, a flip side flower child to the glassy eyed and shadowy Manson kids, who are presented from jump as feral and creepy and off. (Margaret Qualley plays Pussycat, the one we get to know best and she’s great.) Robbie is a star. I’ve never not enjoyed her presence in a movie and she imbues Sharon with a sort of gorgeous unbound joy. She’s dancing in every frame. She’s smiling and laughing and exuding sunshine. Some hay has been made of her lack of lines, but her silence speaks here. It’s warmth and light and an incredible performance.

I mentioned Tarantino’s use of dramatic irony here. Anyone who knows their Hollywood history knows about Tate’s fate. It’s tragic and awful and pointless. Tarantino, who rewrote World War II to have a bunch of Jewish-Americans burn Hitler to death, here saves some people from pointless violent death at the hands of monsters. This is being dissected, but it’s also part of what gives the movie it’s melancholy. “Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if things could have gone this way? If this young woman and her child could have lived and fulfilled their potential? If her friends could have had theirs?”

The movie isn’t perfect but it’s wonderful.

Rankings:

  1. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  2. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  3. Avengers: Endgame
  4. Rocketman
  5. Detective Pikachu
  6. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters

 

Trailers: 

JoJo Rabbit: I think I need to read this book to get a sense of what I’m getting into. I trust Taika Waititi but this seems like pretty blunt satire, even for me.

Good Boys: I had high hopes for this, because I thinking letting a movie about middle schoolers have an R rating would allow for conversation that actually matched middle schooolers, but this looks like it’s leaning into an adult view of “haha the kids say swears and don’t understand sex talk, isn’t that weird?” which is not what I wanted.

 

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The Original Gods

I’m in the minority of people who actually really enjoyed Gareth Edward’s Godzilla, it’s not a good movie, but it’s a watchable one and the Godzilla parts are great. The human parts are terrible. Just terrible.

That trend continues in it’s sequel, the deeply silly compulsively fun Godzilla: King Of The Monsters.

Since Godzilla emerged from the sea in 2014, Monarch, the secret military group, has been hunting other “titans,” in hopes of studying and controlling them. Vera Farmiga plays their top scientist who has invented a doohickey that emits sonic freqeuncies that calm the beasts. She’s married to Kyle Chandler who is also a Godzilla scientist. Their son was killed in the 2014 attack and their daughter, Millie Bobby Brown, now follows her mom around learning all about Kaiju.

Charles Dance plays an eco terrorist who wants to destroy human kind with Kaiju, I think? Vera Farmiga’s team is made up of Ken Wattanabe, Bradley Witford, Thomas Middleditch and Zhang Zhiyi. Their military arm includes O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Anthony Ramos. Senator CCH Pounder wants to shut them down.

I am obsessed with this cast and they were in way too much of this movie. This is a movie about Godzilla and King Ghedera fighting. And also Mothra and Rodan fighting. I really don’t care about Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga’s marital problems when there is monster fighting to see.

The monster fighting is glorious. It’s also hella dumb. But in the best way. I haven’t watched Kong: Skull Island, but I understand it’s in the same vein.

Just, like, Americans are bad the people part of Godzilla, maybe we should stop trying and just watch the monsters fight now.

Rankings:

  1. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  2. Avengers: Endgame
  3. Rocketman
  4. Detective Pikachu
  5. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters

Trailers:

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: God, it looks good, I’m really really looking forward to it.

The Kitchen: *exhale* I hope they ALL GET ALL THE NOMINATIONS for that movie, it looks spectacular. (And I have every intention of reading the GN)

 

Your Pikachu Is Very Unusual

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Detective Pikachu is exactly the live action Pokémon movie I wanted when I was twelve.

Ok, back then I thought the Pokémon should be Muppets but otherwise, yeah.

Silly, interesting and surprisingly emotional, with clever use of the characters abilities, the movie really delivers. The character design alone gets this one pushed towards the top of the heap.

But luckily everything is clicking on this movie. The cast is wonderful. Justice Smith is adorable as Tim Goodman, a young man who has to find his missing father in the sprawling experimental Ryme City. (Where humans and Pokemon live together.)

He meets up with Lucy, played by Kathryn Newton, who is a spunky reporter who speaks really fast and has big blue eyes, and blonde high pony and wears rocking blazers. She basically stepped right out of an anime, and I adore her.

The main event though is Detective Pikachu himself, who is voiced delightfully by Ryan Reynolds. The damn thing is just so cute, and Reynolds tempers his usual style a bit to feel into that, and it’s something pretty special.

The mystery of Tim’s missing father is very fun and twisty in a family friendly way, and without spoilers turns out in the most Pokemon way possible. (THE POWER OF LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP IS VERY IMPORTANT TO THIS MOVIE.)

Truly good family movies are really rare and even more appreciated when they actually show up. This is a truly great family movie, and that’s saying something, this early in the season.

Rankings:

  1. Avengers: Endgame
  2. Detective Pikachu

Trailers:

Blinded By The Light – Hooo, boy, that’s a movie that’s going to make me weep like crazy. I know I’d be pressing my luck trying to get my mother to the movies three times this year. (We’re trying for Rocket Man, I know I’ll get her to Downton Abbey and I think she’ll like this.) But I do think I need to push her on this one.

Angry Birds 2: NOOOOPPPE

Sonic The Hedgehog: I didn’t watch the trailer when it dropped a few weeks ago and everyone freaked. It looks, fine? I mean, kinda ugly and weird, but not like awful. I’m not going to see it.

The Addams Family: I want it to be good. I’m obsessed with the new character design for Wednesday.

My Spy: Is it a requirement for all wrestlers turning actors to make a dopey action comedy where they work with children? Like, when they leave the WWE, do the McMahon’s present them with a script saying that if the movie isn’t made within 5 years their souls will be reaped? (I’ve maybe been watching too much Supernatural.)

Godzilla: King Of The Monsters: I mean, I’m sure the Kaiju fights are awesome. And the “Over The Rainbow” trailer is mindblowingly cool. I just, cannot get myself psyched for this movie at all.

Avengers: Endgame: A Watching Experience

There’s a certain magic to the opening weekend of a nerd movie. Those Harry Potter and Star Wars midnight openings, Saturday matinees of The Lord Of The Rings, and pretty much every Marvel movie since The Avengers have always meant the most to me. (Though Friday night Pirates sequels were also fun.)

I saw Endgame twice this weekend, curious how the earlier in the evening local theater audience would be different from the Friday night city crowd I saw it with first. (Plus I was bored and trying not to snack.)

Here’s the thing, the Friday night audience were my people, for the most part. I was with Kristi and Aless, and the group in front of us were also a some late 20’s early 30’s nerds, men and women, queer and head over heels for the movie. The ones who clapped for Carol Danvers’s new haircut. We’re those people.

The Saturday audience was different, a few families, but mostly large groups of teens, which warmed my heart because seeing these types of movies with my friends in high school was really the best. (By “these types” I mean big movies everyone was talking about. Superhero movies weren’t really a thing for us. Batman Begins hit my senior year, and Iron Man not until after.)

Audience reactions though, were largely the same, which is cool, because humans. The collective intake of breath as you realize Lilah Barton was snapped, laughter at the reveal of Thor’s letting himself go, and Banner/Hulk, the collective “Aww,” as Morgan Stark told her father she loved him “3000.” (Oh, I’m sorry, a ninja just popped into my apartment and started chopping up some onions. UNBELIEVABLE.)

But both showings, the applause points. The whooping and uncontainable joy, as Steve Rogers picked up Mjolnir, as Sam Wilson came over the com and said, “On your left,” as the heroes just kept on coming. Also, may you someday be surrounded by a group of nerdy AF black teenage boys seeing Steve Rogers hand his shield over to Sam Wilson. THEY LOST THEIR GODDAMN MINDS and it was wonderful. (I was already a blubbering mess by this point, even more so than round one, but that basically destroyed me. #RepresentationMatters.)

Seriously though I’m so glad to have experienced this movie. It means a lot to me and I’ll probably see it again.

 

Part Of The Journey Is The End

There was an idea…called The Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them to fight the battles we never could. – Nick Fury The Avengers

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The MCU is in incredible piece of pop art. Unlike anything that came before it, and unlikely to ever be duplicated. (Many have tried and failed.) The brainchild of a genius producer, ushered in by some talented directors and held together for good or ill, by the charisma of that group of remarkable people.

Avengers: Endgame is the payoff. When Avengers: Infinity war ended, with Thanos “watching the sun rise over a grateful universe.” (Universe is actually less than grateful but he’s nuts.) breath was held and we waited. How would our team, our guys, all of whom were left behind after this rapture, handle this?

They fight, of course. They save the world. That’s what they do. And then they rest. As a critic, it’s hard to come at a movie that has this much to  get done, gets it done (mostly) and also manages to be a hell of a lot of fun, a showcase for the three men and one woman who were basically holding this whole endeavor on their good looking charismatic backs. (And a few other people who were backing them up.)

Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, are incredible performers who have given Tony Stark, Natasha Romanoff, Steve Rogers and Thor Odinson life and joy and heart, and here they get to pay off ten or so years of work. They are all excellent. (Especially Johansson, Nat’s had a journey y’all.)

Endgame is good. It’s very good. As close to perfect as it could be, from a critical standpoint. And from a fan standpoint, it is perfect.

Rankings:

  1. Avengers: Endgame

Trailers

Aladdin:
Kristi: It’s that soon?
Me: Meh, at least there’s no white people in it.
Aless: That is literally the only thing it has going for it though.

The Long Shot:
I will see it. I’m here for President Charlize.

Gemini Man:
Guys, Will Smith is back. I think we should all be happy about that.

Hobbs & Shaw:
Hot damn, I cannot wait for this. The only thing that upsets me is that it appears Shaw will not be brought to justice for Han’s death. Which is kind of a bummer. But the new trailer does have both Statham and Johnson saying “family” like sixteen times. So you know F&F….

Toy Story 4:
It really does look breathtaking doesn’t it? Even if it feels a little like the plot is a retread of 2. 

And from here on out, beyond that cut, we’re into spoiler land. I AM WARNING YOU.

I’M TOTALLY SERIOUS. SPOILERS HEREEEEEE

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Ready for Endgame: Avengers: Infinity War

My feelings about Infinity War are best summed up in the first ten minutes I spent after the movie ended.

Aless, Kristi and I wandered out of the theater and down an eerily quiet Broadway, mostly just staring front.

“Do you want a drink?” I managed to squeak.

“Yeah,” Aless said, we wandered quietly into PJ Clark’s to decompress. (It was late and past last call, so we never did get that drink.)

On the subsequent rewatchings, it’s never quite felt so visceral, but that’s OK, the sheer surprise at the way everyone is reacting is enough to really, really hit you in the gut emotionally. Of course, there was the inevitable discussion, heartbreak and then dismissal, “well, it’s all going to be undone.”

As if the Endgame (heh) is the only point of a story. There’s so much more to telling a story, to watching a movie, than just how it ends. It’s why I’ve never been particularly spoilerphobic. The destination matters a good deal less to me, and I’m always fascinated by those for whom it is a big deal.

But anyway, this movie. This is a good movie. I’m less irritated by Doctor Strange, Thor’s well won intensity is a great match for the more loose Guardians, and my god, Peter Parker and Tony Stark bounce well off of each other. I do sometimes wish we’d gotten Captain America and Okoye making a battle plan together, but this movie is already  ridiculously long.

The thing is, unlike my screams about Aquaman and Doctor Strange, and even Spider-Man: Homecoming and their length, Avengers: Infinity War has about 10 main characters that need to be showcased, it’s length is pretty organic. I have a feeling that the 3 hour long Endgame will also earn it’s length.

But Infinity War, was pretty special. It presented the kind of inescapable status quo, like Winter Soldier, we knew the next two movies were going to have to address it.

Infinity War also ended a tradition. Aless and I had long ago begun saving a few handfuls of popcorn to chuck at the screen as post credit sequences popped up without reference to Captain Marvel. Of course, the last second of Infinity War and Nick Fury uses his two way pager to let Carol know she’s needed back on Earth. But more on that in a few week.

Next week we cleanse our pallets and get quantum with Ant-Man And The Wasp. (Also, sorry this is a day late!)

Ready For Endgame: Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy

A very strong case can be made that 2014 was the best year for the MCU. (I’d say only 2018 can give it a real go…) It was the year that gave us my personal pick for the greatest superhero film of all time, and expanded the universe we’d all fallen in love with beyond even what Thor had shown us.

Let’s start with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I think deserves much more serious consideration in the genre than it gets. It deals more elegantly with the themes of the surveillance state than everyone’s beloved The Dark Knight, presents a grappling with the reality of turning humans into symbols and going past your expiration date, like Logan and manages to fit into the Marvel formula perfectly and wring some killer performances out of Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson.

Not to mention, you could remove Captain America from the proceedings entirely and you’d still have a political thriller where a badass spy played by Samuel L. Jackson has to deal with being betrayed by the politician that he protected his entire career played by Robert Redford. Which would also be an incredible movie. What do you get if you take Batman and The Joker out of The Dark Knight? Huh? A slightly crazy DA loses his fiance to the mob and a police captain fakes his death? OK, that would also be a pretty good movie, but not as good.

My point is that The Winter Soldier rules. Chris Evans is perfect in it, it gives Natasha Romanoff real stakes, something she was surely and deeply missing in her previous appearances. It brings back Bucky Barnes, setting up Cap’s stakes for the rest of the series, and introduces us to Sam Wilson, The Falcon, the second best sidekick in the series. (The best is Rhodey.)

It’s action scenes are tight, it’s mystery well thought out and it’s twists well executed. And it’s funny, you guys, and it has Robert Redford. It’s amazing. It’s the greatest superhero movie ever.

Also, it sparked one of my all time favorite “Wait, what?” fangirl conversations that Aless and I ever had over pancakes after watching a Marvel movie (Margaritas before, pancakes after.) “Is…is Captain America a virgin?” (We concluded that, no, no he is not. We don’t think…but he might be? He definitely never got to have sex with Peggy, which is very sad for both of them.) (The rest of the pancake session was spent guessing which Agents characters might be HYDRA. We did not consider Grant Ward, like even a little. What a well executed twist that was. You didn’t see it coming but in retrospect it made perfect sense.)

Guardians Of The Galaxy, is not the best superhero movie ever, but it’s a very, very good one. Few superhero and sci fi properties embrace fun and dorkiness with such aplomb, (I’d say Legends Of Tomorrow might be the only other one I can think of that really hits the balance just right.) And Guardians is so confident in what it’s doing. While it starts with a scene that’s so maudlin it might be heavy handed, young Peter Quill at his mother’s bedside, the air is almost immediately taken out, when our would be swashbuckling hero hits play on his walkman and dances to his destination.

Guardians is full of moments like that, setting up moments that we should know by heart and just undercutting them enough that they work on their own but feel different because of the humor, the characters and my god that soundtrack.

The strength of both of these movies really does seal up 2014 as the best year. (Again, 2018, with three super strong entries is a close close second.)

Next week, we get into the movie that may have broken a legend, but did give us a controversial ship, and some good jokes. We give Avengers: Age Of Ultron another go. I don’t think my opinion on it will change much, which is basically that it’s a glorious mess. And it may have broken Joss Whedon’s brain. We can’t be sure.