Showing posts with label superheroes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label superheroes. Show all posts

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Adventure Watch: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)



Watched:  06/27/2019
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  4th or 5th
Decade:  1930's

Flat out, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is one of the most influential and best adventure films ever made.

Everything that came before it led up to it, and everything after stands in its shadow.  If you think superhero movies pitting quippy rogues in brightly colored outfits standing up against despotic thugs grasping for power is a new thing, my friend, have I got a movie for you.

Even by modern standards the film is a marvel - maybe especially so.  There's no wires, no wire removal, no CGI versions of Errol Flynn leaping onto a horse with his hands tied behind his back.  That's just dudes in tights doing some crazy stunts for your entertainment.  And it's far from just Flynn - it's an army of actors and performers jumping out of trees, swinging on ropes, and buckling swashes.  The pacing is rapid, especially for 1938, and sets the standard for today's adventure movies, but the dialog is 95% better than most films of its type - intentionally cheesy in many parts, lots of "look, we're pretending to be Ye Olde British People", but - at its heart - the movie will always resonate, as will the story of Robin Hood, of standing up for a nation and all people over the avarice and cruelty of those who would crush others to live with more than they can ever use.

As you can guess, the silent era figured out that you could get in audiences with wild stunts - actions speaking louder than title cards, after all.  Douglas Fairbanks was one the great stars of the era, his Zorro and other characters bouncing all over the screen, jumping off and on horses, swinging from anything that could bear their weight.  It's a hell of a thing to watch, and still absolutely thrilling.  1938 is only a decade into the sound era, and here you can see that the language of sound film has found its form.  Add in the fact this is in technicolor, popping off the screen, and that Flynn is the definition of "handsome fellow", and it's a movie that takes advantage of everything it's got.

One of those things is Olivia deHaviland, who plays the role of the Maid Marian.  This Marian isn't already charmed by the rogue-ish Robin, but is won over by realizing his true loyalty to England, the same which he's inspired in his men, and how he is true to his mission.  He's not just robbing to gather a ransom to free his King, he's also caring for the injured and battered who can't fight alongside him.  She has her moments of action within the confines of the story and era, and while she'll be given a side-eye perhaps by modern audiences, man, for the time, it's a cheeky role.

We also get Claude Rains as Prince John (just perfectly foppish), Basil Rathbone as utter dirtbag Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and the always wonderful Una O'Connor as Bess - Maid Marian's lady in waiting.  And, of course, dozens more. 

If you've never seen the movie, I can't recommend it enough.  It'll genuinely make you wonder why, between this and the Disney version, the past thirty years we've been handed somber, depressing versions of the story.  Part of the joy of the movie is Robin Hood's joy and good humor in the face of danger.  He's not an anti-hero out for vengeance, he's a hero in search of justice.  And Maid Marian.

So get ready for sword battles, archery, skullduggery and men in tights leaping from trees. 

I give it five thumbs up.


Marvel Re-Re-Watch: Captain Marvel (2019)


Watched:  06/28/2019
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  Third
Decade:  2010's

You'd think I'd have less to say on a third viewing of the movie, but I was genuinely surprised how much more I liked this film on a third viewing.  In many ways, I now think the ad campaign for Captain Marvel and my prior knowledge of the character really got in the way of seeing a lot of what the movie does in bringing us along on Carol's journey - frankly, showing the destruction of the Kree ships in the trailer was crazy and shouldn't have happened.

And while I liked and appreciated the messages the movie makes regarding Carol coming into her own and pushing out the voices of those who would contain and control her - this time I also got a much better feel for the step-by-step journey to Carol's always intact sense of justice and the slow transformation to trusting herself as she learns what sort of people/ aliens she should be trusting.

I've made comment before that it's super-fun to have a Superman-level hero in the Marvel movies, it's also a joy to have someone who reflects the core of what's made Superman stand out since the inception of the character: someone with the moral centering to do the right thing who has the power to act on it without compromise or fear for their own skin, and who will not use that power for self-gain.

Anyway - fun to rewatch the movie again (and, I am sure, again and again in the future).

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Marvel Watch: Infinity War (2018)


Watched:  04/19/2019
Viewing:  Third
Format:  Bluray
Decade:  2010's

We re-watched Avengers: Infinity War (2019) not to blog or podcast it, but more as a refresher before heading into Endgame next week.

There's an incredible amount of good stuff in this movie, and as much as others are dumbfounded by Avengers pulling together a superhero team on screen, this is the one that I watch, dumbfounded.  Getting people on the same screen is a matter of money and scheduling  Getting a storyline to work across 20 movies over a decade while being purchased by Disney is... well, you try it.

Unlike most actual comic book superhero cross-overs - Infinity War actually works.  Characters remain in character, everyone's arcs line up and get them here, and even in the small bits we see them, we understand who they are, where they're at, and how they fit in.  If Hickman's Infinity failed to deliver, it was because it felt like a jumbled mess of heroes in costumes in non-descript locales performing meaningless tasks while shouting under fire with no real relation to who was saying what. Somehow, that is not what we have here.  Everything is specific, even new places and characters.

Part of comics reading that, to this date, we never really saw translated to the big screen, is that sometimes our heroes lose, man.  Even when they win the big battles, there's often fallout, sacrifice and calamity to deal with.  Infinity War apparently freaked out a whole lot of people who don't read comics, who expect that reset to the status quo to wrap up the story every movie.  But that's not what cross-overs are for, when done right (which is why every ten years is probably the right frequency for comics cross-overs of epic scale, Big 2 publishers..., not every year.)

Looking forward to Endgame and whatever's to come for the Marvel U


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Marvel Watch: Captain Marvel (2019)



Watched:  03/25/2019
Format:  Alamo Slaughter Lane
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  2010's

(editor's note:  I wrote most of this post and then forgot to post it, so consider this my thoughts from a week ago or so)

Normally I wouldn't do a write-up of a movie about which I've already done a podcast, but I also know a whole bunch of you read posts and don't listen to the Marvel podcasts.  So... hey...  here we go.

Look, I'm not going to come out and say Captain Marvel (2019) is or was the *best* Marvel movie.  We are living immediately in the wake of when Black Panther just showed up at the Academy Awards for Best Picture nominee, and which may have skewed our expectations a tad.  Pretty far cry from being delighted Marvel didn't poop the bed with Iron Man.

What I will say is - I've seen a whole lot of dudes, good dudes, shrugging off Captain Marvel as muddled, not that great. And, my dudes, you don't have to like Captain Marvel, but I am going to suggest that from comments some have made in my general direction - maybe you misread the movie.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Marvel Watch: Thor | Ragnarok (2017)


Watched:  06/13/2018
Format:  BluRay (purchased)
Viewing:  Third
Decade:  2010's

I've already seen (twice) and talked about (once) Thor: Rangarok (2017), so the rest of this post is just me reflecting on what an excellent idea it was to cast Cate Blanchett as Hela.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Black Lightning is Coming to the CW!



I was always a little lukewarm on Black Lightning as a superhero character until, I guess around 2002 or so, someone came up with the idea that Jefferson Pierce was a little older and had daughters who were manifesting powers (and, of course, wanted to be heroes, too).

Not only did it mean Black Lightning was suddenly anchored a lot more as a character - no longer just "that black guy with lightning powers" which he'd become after the early appearances, it gave him a robust supporting cast.

Unfortunately, The New 52 wiped away the take on the Pierce family I'd come to like quite a bit, following the characters across a few DC books.  Needless to say, I'm thrilled this is the angle they're taking on for a new DC show on the CW.  Those writers do family well, and - when given the chance - also do people of multiple generations pretty well.

Looking forward to tuning in and seeing how they pull this off.

Friday, March 17, 2017

X-Watch: Logan (2017)



I'm late to the game on Logan (2017), the third stand-alone movie for Hugh Jackman's portrayal of the X-Men's conflicted brawler, Wolverine.  Most of you who wanted to see it have seen it, so you won't need me pushing you toward the theater.

While the series began strong and is one of the films responsible for the past twenty years' worth of exploding growth in superhero films, more recent entries have been less than required viewing and - to this viewer - disappointing.  Enough so that I never bothered to watch the second Logan/ Wolverine/ James Howlett movie, The Wolverine, and only caught the most recent X-Men movie via a borrowed BluRay.

It's an interesting movie to see on the heels of Kong: Skull Island, both fantasy actioners intended for an audience with pre-awareness of existing tropes.  Both borrowed and nodded to existing media outside their genre.

But Logan remembered that a story is about character first, plot second, and - arguably - you can care about everything going on in this movie whether or not you've seen any X-Men movies before.  And, really, that's not something just superhero movies struggle with, it's something comics struggle with year in and year out.*  And while I'll argue that the Marvel movies, both stand-alone and Avengers group efforts are heavier on character than plot, in exiting the safe confines of a PG-13 rating, Logan is free to explore much about the character that's hinted at but always seems frustratingly, perhaps hypocritically, absent in most portrayals of a man who has lost track of his kill count and whose own body is the weapon which has taken so many lives.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

X-Watch: X-Men - Apocalypse (2016)



In many ways, the entire point of this movie is to show how Charles Xavier lost his hair.  I mean, they had to do it sometime, so why not at the two-hour, ten minute mark of a very, very long movie where nothing really works very well?

I got into superhero comics when I was about 11 or 12, right about the time of the Mutant Massacre storyline in X-Men, X-Factor and New Mutants.  Of the literally 10's of 1000's of comics I've read, the comics I read in that first year or two are pretty well burned into my brain.  Just before I got into comics, the villain Apocalypse made his first appearance in X-Factor, and would show up again to exploit the injured Warren Worthington III, aka: Angel, and make him into the 1980's requisite "Wolverine of the group" when he returned to X-Factor.  I actually really liked those comics.

The movie is set in it's own version of events, but that isn't so much a bug as a feature.  While it's not the worst movie I've ever seen, it's just so weighed down with characters and not-terribly-interesting plot developments and a runtime it doesn't earn, it's hard to get excited about the movie.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Checking in on DCTV: Supergirl and The Flash



Season 2 of Supergirl moved to The CW network, which was already home to DC's Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and iZombie, and the move has been nothing but good for the series, so far as I can tell.  Whatever dictates Season 1 had upon it as a show on a major network, moving to the less-major CW Network has meant the show feels less like it's bucking TV formulas and now it's matching The Flash for melding DC lore with crafting it's own mythology and character arcs.

This season I've enjoyed the shake-up and escape from CatCo, especially if Cat Grant isn't even going to be around and the far more fulfilling role for Win.  And, hey, Kara isn't being defined by which boy she'll pick, which is kind of remarkable on TV.  While Alex's "coming out" storyline felt a bit rushed, crammed in there in-between cyborgs and fiery aliens, alien fight clubs and whatnot, it's interesting to see the show stake it's claim on big-tent "Supergirl is for everyone" and just move forward without turning the show into a melodrama we all have to slog through.

In fact, the CW shows are pretty remarkably good at not doing the things that TV has traditionally done that drove me crazy - namely: have have characters keep secrets from people they otherwise trust when keeping a secret makes literally no sense and drag it out over whole seasons of a show or until they just forget to resolve the storyline.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Marvel Watch: Doctor Strange (2016)



It's safe to say that Doctor Strange as a Marvel character has never been much in my wheelhouse.  As a kid, the comics always held a certain visual appeal, but I felt like the character was all mustache and cape, dealing with, yeah, world-threatening dilemmas, but always in that vague way of magical characters that didn't hold the immediate familiarity of "oh, Joker's going to kill all those people" or "Magneto is up to his old tricks."  I was pretty well into college before I embraced the abstraction of world-ending calamities on a metaphysical scale, mostly by way of Jack Kirby's 70's-era work and Grant Morrison's JLA.  But I still never drifted back to Doctor Strange over at Marvel.  I'd enjoy his guest appearances everywhere from Spider-Man to The Illuminati-type stuff, but didn't think it was something that needed to be in my monthly "buy" pile.

Really, the only Doctor Strange comics I ever purchased were back when the character was double-billing in Strange Tales with Cloak & Dagger, which I was picking up because I dug Cloak and Dagger.  Figuring out what the hell was going on with Stephen Strange, MD, wasn't particularly something I was losing sleep over.

But, the Marvel movies are, for me, an ideal way to engage with the Marvel U in a non-invested sort of way with stuff I was vaguely interested in, but didn't care to get too immersed in.  Starting with Iron Man and including everything from Thor and The Avengers to the current incarnation of Guardians of the Galaxy in the comics, I prefer how these packages are presented in movie-form.*

Doctor Strange (2016) is - yes - another Marvel origin story.  This is both a reality and problem for Marvel as it rolls out it's ever-broadening line of characters in television and film, as the origins of these characters are, in fact, of great importance to establishing the characters and their motivations for films to come.  If not for Iron Man and Captain America as origin stories, how interesting would Civil War have been, really?  Or, hell, Winter Soldier?  DC Entertainment is finding out the hard way via Suicide Squad's terrible story problems that even an ensemble piece needs a bit more fleshing out.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Marvel Watch: Luke Cage (Season 1, 2016)



I want to say that I loved Luke Cage.  Because for a full 6 episodes, I was ready to stand up and say "this is the best Marvel TV series to date, even better than Jessica Jones or Season 1 of Agent Carter".  But, man, the back half of this series feels rough.  It's still watchable, but as early as the beginning of the seventh episode, the wheels start coming off, and it's only in fits and spurts that the show reclaims the excellence of those first six episodes, seems to remember its mission statement, and doesn't feel like it's a throwback to 1990's-era superhero movies.  I have a few hypotheses as to what may have occurred, but that doesn't save the overall project anymore than headcannons or fan theories (neither of which this blogger recommends you indulge in).  What matters is what winds up on the screen.

What does retain it's consistency, as surely as the cells in Luke Cage's body bounce back from a bad day, is the strong character put forth in Luke Cage, the grounded, human force of a man trying every day to do right.  In Luke Cage we get that rarest of characters which are slowly climbing their way back from two decades of think-pieces to the contrary, the good guy who doesn't need to be called an anti-hero to work in a modern context.  For Marvel, and maybe for the mass audiences, up to this point we've relied on our sepia-toned notions and the uncomplicated moral battle of the Allied fight against the Axis to gain access to the point of view of our upright hero in Steve Rogers - AKA: Captain America.  But in Luke Cage we get a modern man who has known the compromise all his life and despite what's past, he's moving forward in a world that broils and churns with moral compromise as the "smart" move, the only way to get things done.  And we have a hero who isn't living in a hypothetical world of cops and robbers, but in a world that reflects a lot of our own, with Trayvon Martins and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Today is, I guess, #nationalsuperheroday

Here are some folks who have been pretty good friends to me over the years. Here's to Superheroes!

All art by the great Alex Ross.



Sunday, April 24, 2016

Raimi Watch: Darkman (1990)


I don't believe anyone in the movie actually calls the main character "Darkman", btw

What to say about Darkman (1990)?

It's hard to categorize as "good", and I think my affection for it is rooted in nostalgia and the electric current I got seeing this very, very strange movie when I was 15.  It came out just shortly after I'd moved to Spring, TX, where I'd live from grades 10-12.  I was vaguely aware of a movie called Evil Dead 2 that you were supposed to see, but I hadn't seen it yet, and I'd never heard of Sam Raimi.  I just took Darkman for what I thought it was and what I'm sure the studio brass also thought they had: a royalty-free superhero movie they could make cheaply and quickly to ride on the coattails of Batman (1989) and America's awakening interest in superhero movies about "dark" heroes.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Oscar Winner Watch: Birdman - Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - 2014

Man.  I really struggled with this one.

Let's make no mistake, Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) is a technical marvel, and the sort of thing you have to give a tip of the hat just for its audacious approach to style and technical function.  It wants to be a melding of cinema and theater (or: theatre), and I'm not one to say that doesn't occur.  It's also a movie that's going to demand repeated viewings, something Pauline Kael refused any movie, and I think she has a point (asking someone to watch your movie over and over to "get it" shouldn't be a point of pride.  But rewarding viewers who catch something new on the second viewing should be a life goal.).  Our actors are all good, all on point, and the performances are not lacking - even when one character is supposed to be a bad actor, he nails his line delivery of line delivery, demonstrating to everyone that this is going to be a disastrous performance.



Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2015, and, of course, it's a movie about Hollywood's self-loathing and a desire to produce something better, something that matters as much as a well-written novel or beautifully produced play, and which isn't about superheroes and celebrity, even when that's exactly what Hollywood is exactly about on a good day.   Hollywood loves nothing so much as movies about itself (see: The Artist and it's Oscar win - and immediate dissolution in cultural memory after the fact - and how Argo made filmmakers into courageous action heroes), and even more so when Hollywood feels like a movie is doing their job for them and baring the artists to the public, as if to say "this is how Hollywood really feels, and what we really want to make if only there weren't so much money in making dumb shit for the flyover states.*"

The movie both criticizes and indulges in pretension in such a rapid fire, alternating current that it's hard to know what's satire and what writer/ director/ producer Alejandro G. Iñárritu actually thinks.  All of which makes a movie nigh-critic proof, because something is going on here, clearly, and if you get it wrong... well.  And, my god, the references and name-dropping.  Didn't you read Borges in undergrad?  No.  Shame on you.  You'd understand this scene and it'd be hilarious.  Otherwise you might mistake this as just a scene from yet another backstage dramedy about yet another at-his-wit's-end actor in crisis going through the motions you've seen before.  But, hey.  Good camera work.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

TL;DR - why, no, I'm not going to see "Fantastic Four". Or "Deadpool".

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we got a comic book-related movie maybe once every year or three.  Marvel had, basically, no feature films at the theater, and even their attempts with The Punisher (1989) and Captain America (1990) went to home video or less.  Superman IV came out in '87, and Batman came out in '89, and as we entered the 90's, it seemed like there was a gradual increase as stuff like The RocketeerThe Phantom and The Shadow got movies as well while the Batman franchise metastasized.  But it wasn't a full genre of tent-pole movies quite yet.



Circa 2000, I remember being shocked not just that someone made an X-Men movie, but that it wasn't absolutely horrible (it's not actually that good, really, but it's very watchable).  Really, that was the expectation.  If you went to see a comic book movie, you were going almost as an investment, not believing it would be good, but that if the movie made enough money, it would pave the way for better superhero movies.  And, in a way, it was a novelty.

People forget, movies like the Affleck Daredevil were way more common even then than a watchable Ant-Man is today.

And then Sam Raimi's Spider-Man demonstrated how you could do this if you really wanted to for the first time since Donner's Superman: The Movie.