Ragnarok, more MCU, Phase 3 films

save Asgard!

Thor.RagnarokI’ve now gotten to the part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe where the release dates and the chronology of the movies – or most of the films – diverge. And the various TV shows, none of which I ever saw save for a handful of SHIELD eps, fit in there as well. Fortunately, I’m going to mostly ignore those facts. The titles in italics I saw in July 2020.

Captain America: Civil War (2016). When I used to read comic books, the creative teams often developed fights among the superheroes. Sometimes it’d be a brief misunderstanding. Occasionally, it’d be a more elaborate brawl. Too often, though, the motivation seemed sketchy. Not here.

The Hero Registration Act, designed to limit the actions of superheroes, was embraced by Tony Stark/Iron Man, but Steve Rogers/Captain America balks. I found this film surprisingly emotional, especially with the big reveal. Why it’s a Captain America movie, I don’t know, since most of the combatants were Avengers, but whatever.

Doctor Strange (2016 ) -it was an origin that took too long to get going. And it felt formulaic. But I did like the weird dimensional stuff, walking on the sides of buildings.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). Apparently, this takes place before Avengers: Age of Ultron, not that it particularly matters. Odd that despite the massive amount of comic book violence, the story was much more interesting to me than the first Guardians. Part of that is Kurt Russell as Ego, whose presence makes the Star-Lord character feel less of a Han Solo wannabe. I also like Sly Stallone’s appearance and the curious character of Mantis. And Baby Groot is cuter.

Heck, even when the music was too much on the nose – Fathers and Sons by Cat Stevens, really? – I found it touching. Speaking of music, it also featured my favorite Fleetwood Mac song ever, The Chain.

Dorky high school kid

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – There was a movie called The Birdman starring Michael Keaton as an actor pigeon-holed as someone who had played a superhero. I didn’t love it, though it reviewed well. Yet I projected that character onto his playing the Vulture in THIS movie, and it worked, especially his threat to Peter while the young man was on a date.

I’m starting to warm up to Tom Holland as this version of the web-slinger. His classmates are appealing, though incredibly patient with Peter. And while he’s hanging out with Tony Stark, he still feels like your friendly neighborhood dude.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – Despite the serious theme – save Asgard! – this turned out to be a very funny film, with great action to boot. Even Doctor Strange was fun in a cameo. Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is as stubborn as the Thunder God. Hela (Cate Blanchette) appears invincible. The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) is very Goldblumesque. Did I mention the Hulk?

I take it that director Taika Waititi deserves some of the credit. Clearly, the best Thor film.

Black Panther (2018) – I saw it when it came out before I was aware of the events of Captain America: Civil War. This actually makes the accomplishments of this film more impressive. Because the real star of Black Panther is Wakanda itself.

Well, those last two Avengers films and a couple of others will have to wait until next time.

Winter Soldier, other MCU Phase 2 films


Winter SoldierMore Marvel Cinematic Universe movie reviews. The ones marked in italics I’ve seen since the summer solstice 2020 in the northern hemisphere.

Iron Man 3 (2013) – Entertaining enough, I suppose, but a bit of a slog. It does bring us the Black Widow for the first time. I don’t love the theoretical villain. “Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?” Yeah, yeah.

There was this recent article about racist terms. Somehow the author determined that “douchebag” could be a slur towards certain white people. I didn’t quite get the argument. Still, it suggested that Tony Stark was a douchebag and that Steve Rogers, Captain America, most assuredly was not. And that’s the underlying annoyance about Iron Man. He’s that guy named Steve in my library school classes who claimed to know everything.

Thor: The Dark World (2013). I suggested to a friend that IM3 was a slog. “Wait until you watch the next one,” they said. I’m afraid they were right. It was confusing keeping track of the nine realms. Any time you have that many screen overlays to try to let you know where you are, it’s usually problematic. Wormholes that lead to where? What? I did like the fiery farewell to one of the characters. And the final fight was a bit of goofy fun.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). This movie was great! You don’t even need to know the characters well to appreciate this conspiracy-laden story. Who ARE the good guys? Nick Fury of SHIELD (Samuel L. Jackson) doesn’t even know. I was holding my breath quite often, particularly when the title pair collide. And Robert Redford’s character is unfortunately quite credible. The introduction of Sam Wilson, the Falcon.

Hooked on a feeling

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). I may not have seen this in the right setting. It was on a bus tripon the way to Indiana in 2019. The movie seemed disjointed and dark. The ’70s soundtrack, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, was often an affectation and a distraction to me. And yet I later bought the album, mostly for the Bowie, 10cc, Redbone, and Five Stairsteps. I don’t suppose it helped that one of my pastors thought the film was pointlessly violent. I should probably watch it again.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Now you’ve done it, Stark. You’ve helped create an Artificial Intelligence that wants to destroy humanity. Earth’s mightiest heroes need to work together. I’m glad I used to read the comics, as I understood better who the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver were. The movie was occasionally confusing, but I got the gist. An overstuffed film which I nevertheless mostly enjoyed.

Ant-Man (2015). As I noted in my review, my wife, who is not a big comic book fan, and I saw this when it came out. I figure that an origin story could stand alone, and it did. We liked it quite a bit. It’s light and funny when so many of these MCU films seem serious and ponderous.

Thor, Cap, and The Avengers, BTW, I watched in one 28-hour period on July 4 and 5 when my blog was down. Viewing them kept me from looking at my URL and wondering, “Is t working yet? Is it working yet? Why isn’t it working yet?”

The Avengers and more MCU, Phase 1

A wait of eight years

On March 13, just a couple hours before the COVID lockdown in New York State, I ran to the Pine Hills branch of the Albany Public Library and grabbed seven Marvel Comics Universe (MCU) DVDs to check out. Sure enough, the library was closed the very next day. Three months later, they remained totally unwatched.

I then decided that Alan David Doane’s very good idea of rewatching all the films in order was going out of the window. I had plenty of movies to see, and not just the seven. Fortunately, every single one that I did not have I could catch on cable.

MCU, Phase One

I saw all of these within the year of their release, except IM 2 and The Avengers. I’ve not rewatched any of them.

Iron Man (2008). I liked it quite a bit, as I noted.

The Incredible Hulk (2008). I never saw the 2003 movie directed by Ang Lee. My recollection of this film, which starred Edward Norton as the scientist Bruce Banner, was that it was murky. It looked weird, the storyline was confusing, and the behemoth was unimpressive.

Iron Man 2 (2010). It wasn’t as good as the previous one, but I saw it on video, not the big screen. Don Cheadle replaced Terrance Howard as James Rhodes.

Thor (2011). I remember liking it well enough. Yer basic god kicked out of Asgard and set straight.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Now, THIS film I unabashedly liked a LOT. A great telling of the origin story. The Red Skull. Government experimentation. A man out of time. Chris Evans played Johnny Storm in those non-MCU FF movies; this is quite a step up.

Put the brakes on

But then I stopped watching the MCU films. There was a great dispute at the time over the credit that the late Jack Kirby, co-creator of almost all the Marvel characters, should receive for the films. (The general consensus: Jack was owed a LOT, including monetarily.) When the situation was finally settled in 2014, I never got back to see the ones I missed. Until now.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), which I watched in late June 2020. Having all those characters in one film could have been a recipe for disaster. It’s a bit slow as the formation of the group develops. But it turns out to be an entertaining enterprise, filled with action. And it had a REASON to get together and fight as a team, “to stop the mischievous Loki and his alien army from enslaving humanity.”

A lot of its success involves the humor among the disparate characters. It may have been the most fully realized comic book to hit the screen to that time. The action sequence, which must go on for a good half hour I allowed myself to get sucked into.

Video Roundup – July 2012

Garry Marshall noted that on his birthday, he was serenaded by Julie Andrews and Whitney Houston.

First off, a preview:
Here is a link to the trailer for “5 Hour Friends”, a new movie with Tom Sizemore, Musetta Vander, and Kimberlin Brown. “A lifelong womanizer gets a taste of his own medicine.” My niece Rebecca Jade writes: “This is the film I’m in, playing a singer [typecasting!], keep an eye out for it… Final edits should be done in late August and then working to get major distribution and inclusion at Sundance.”

Here are some movies I’ve seen on video recently.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

I was surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed this picture. It told a credible re-imagining of his origin as a scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Pine) who wants to serve his country, even if it means being a guinea pig for a machine that, theoretically, at least, would make him stronger. Those critics who did not find this exciting enough confuse me. It had the pacing not out of place with the dramas I’d seen from the 1940s. When Cap became nothing more than a costume, I found that particularly compelling.

All of this said, there was one glaring thing that I found less than believable. One was selecting a particular baseball game; one would have thought that mistake would not be made by…whomever.

And can someone please explain the Marvel Movie Universe to me? Presumably, the Fantastic Four, featuring the same Chris Pine, is NOT in the universe, and neither are the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films? But what of the new Spidey flick? I suppose I could look it up, but I expect a comic geek out there can explain it to me better.

Sidebar: Thom Wade on Understanding the Value of Power?
Thor (2011)

I found this a bit confusing and muddled. I listened to director Kenneth Branaugh’s discussion of the deleted scenes, and I’ve become convinced that the insertion of one or two, including one featuring the Warrior Three and Sif, would have clarified things somewhat for me, though it might have been at the expense of the pacing.

Still, I found I liked the film more as it went on. Chris Hemsworth was a quite decent Thor, though I think Tom Hiddleston as Loki and even Idris Elba in the relatively small role of Heimdall stole the show. Natalie Portman was fine as Jane Foster, though I kept thinking that the role didn’t need someone of her acting pedigree.
The Princess Diaries (2001)

I saw this originally in the theater and liked it well enough. Anne Hathaway, in her first starring role, was credible as the nerd who would be royalty, and Julie Andrews was perfect as her grandmother, and, not incidentally, the queen of an obscure land. Watching it again with an eight-year-old who believes she’s practically a royal herself – she IS distantly related to the late Princess Diana – I realized what FUN it must be for the target audience.

I spent most of my time watching the extras, which included director Garry Marshall’s recollections of the film, trying to create a fun movie set, celebrating birthdays. He noted that on his birthday, he was serenaded by Julie Andrews and one of the producers, Whitney Houston. Houston and one of her colleagues practically gushed at snagging Andrews for her role. Seeing a happy and confident Whitney was actually a bit sad, given what happened subsequently.
On HBO, watching in a hotel room:

The Big Year (2011)

As the intro says: The characters played by “Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson are at a crossroads — one is experiencing a mid-life crisis, another a late-life crisis, and the third, a far from ordinary no-life crisis…. three friendly rivals who, tired of being ruled by obligations and responsibilities, dedicate a year of their lives to following their dreams.” And the “cross-country journey of wild and life-changing adventures” is…birding.

This is a pleasant enough diversion. Not a lot of big yuks, even though it was billed as a comedy. It isn’t great cinema, but, having dealt with comic book obsessives, I found the players totally in keeping with behavior I’ve seen.
Harrison Ford turned 70 on July 13, and I realize I’ve only seen him in American Graffiti (1973), The Conversation (1974) – fairly recently, Witness (1985) – probably my favorite of his roles, Working Girl (1988), Presumed Innocent (1990), Regarding Henry (1991) – my least favorite, The Fugitive (1993), Sabrina (1995), and Six Days Seven Nights (1998). Nothing since, though he’ll be playing Branch Rickey in 42, a story about Jackie Robinson, so I may watch that. I’ve seen no Jack Ryan roles or Air Force One. I did probably see him in various TV shows early in his career.

OK, I did see him in three Star Wars and two Indiana Jones (1, 3) movies, but that’s pretty much a given.

Ernest Borgnine died on July 8. I’m not sure I really enjoyed watching the early 1960s TV show McHale’s Navy. But there was a character played by Joe Flynn named Captain Binghamton, and since I was FROM Binghamton, NY, I was compelled to watch. I saw him as a guest in LOTS of TV series. The first movie I saw him in was The Dirty Dozen (1967), which I viewed at a drive-in theater (remember those?) The only other theatrical movie of his I saw was The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Need to see Marty and From Here To Eternity, at the bare minimum.

Celeste Holm died on July 15. I know her better for TV shows (Archie Bunker’s Place, especially) than her movies. For instance, she played two different characters on the program Medical Center, a show I watched regularly, which starred Chad Everett, who died on July 17.

Steve Bissette reviews the apparently terrible, new Oliver Stone movie SAVAGES, so I know I don’t have to go. (Language NSFW.)


President Rogers? President Picard?

As far as Star Trek, I assume we’re not going to worry that the candidates are not in fact American.

Chris writes:
Okay, another one:

What comic book hero would make the best US president? Or Star Trek character, your choice.

I ask this one because one of the best political discussions I’ve ever gotten into was “Who from Star Trek would make the best president?” I was utterly shocked at some of the choices!

Sounds silly, right? Ancient Greek philosophers talked about who from Mt. Olympus was fit for office…

Or both. Why not?

I think about Steve Rogers, a/k/a Captain America. I was watching a commercial for the upcoming Avengers movie. Cap says to the Hulk, “Hulk smash.” And the Hulk smashes. This mortal could control this gamma-infused monster. And it has long been thus; Cap’s first appearance in the comic book Avengers #4 filled his teammates with awe. Yet, Cap has had his doubts about America, at least in the 1970s, written by Steve Englehart, when the President was engaged in improper activities.

Other possibilities: Charles Xavier, the leader of culturally disparate X-Men; Reed Richards, head of the Fantastic Four. I’d consider Wonder Woman, depending on which iteration is offered.

As far as Star Trek, I assume we’re not going to worry that the candidates are not in fact American. I must admit that I know the first two series better than the subsequent series, though I did watch them all. I’d always want to look at the captains. Certainly NOT James T. Kirk, but quite possibly Jean Luc Picard, or the others. I wonder if Spock, or Data, would be too distant to lead (probably Obama’s problem), Scott and Chekov, and Worf too hot-headed. Maybe Sulu or Number 1.

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