An off-year for the Oscars and me

see The Queen Of Basketball and The Long Goodbye

Historically, 1) I would see lots of movies in the theater throughout the year, and 2) I’d try to see whatever movies I’d missed after the Oscars were announced. This year, though, is an off-year for the Oscars and me.

For one thing, I saw far fewer movies in an actual cinema, always my preferred venue. For another, I’d make dates with my wife to watch some films on a streaming service, but the plans would fall through. I DID see a few online by myself, but I just didn’t have the mojo for doing that too often.

What DID I see that were nominated? I linked to my reviews in the BEST PICTURE category, or elsewhere if not nominated there.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
JAVIER BARDEM in Being the Ricardos, which I watched a day ago and requires a full review
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
CIARÁN HINDS in Belfast
TROY KOTSUR in CODA. Based on all of the other awards, I’d think Kotsur is a near lock, which is fine by me.
J.K. SIMMONS in Being the Ricardos

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
PENÉLOPE CRUZ in Parallel Mothers
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
ARIANA DEBOSE in West Side Story                                                                            JUDI DENCH in Belfast. I was pulling for Caitríona Balfe, who played the mom in Belfast, but she wasn’t nominated

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
FLEE – Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen and Charlotte De La Gournerie

CINEMATOGRAPHY
WEST SIDE STORY – Janusz Kaminski
COSTUME DESIGN
WEST SIDE STORY – Paul Tazewell

Auteur

DIRECTING
BELFAST – Kenneth Branagh
DRIVE MY CAR – Ryusuke Hamaguchi
LICORICE PIZZA -Paul Thomas Anderson
WEST SIDE STORY – Steven Spielberg
I saw all except Jane Campion for THE POWER OF THE DOG. Of the four, I’d pick Branagh.

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)
ATTICA – Stanley Nelson and Traci A. Curry. Just saw this. Very thorough but greatly unsettling.
FLEE – Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen and Charlotte De La Gournerie. Has there been an animated film nominated as a doc feature? Powerful. More soon.
SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED) – Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent, and David Dinerstein, which was splendid

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
THE QUEEN OF BASKETBALL – Ben Proudfoot. You can watch it at this link. I didn’t write about this because I expected to see the others in this category. The IMDB description: “an electrifying portrait of Lucy Harris, who scored the first basket in women’s Olympic history and was the first and only woman officially drafted into the N.B.A. Harris has remained largely unknown – until now.” I found it quite informative and touching. Also sad, since Lucy recently died.

FILM EDITING – NONE

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
DRIVE MY CAR (Japan)
THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (Norway) – just saw this; worthwhile. More in days to come.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING – NONE

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
PARALLEL MOTHERS -Alberto Iglesias
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
DOWN TO JOY from Belfast; Music and Lyric by Van Morrison.
I’m rooting for DOS ORUGUITAS from Encanto; Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

The big category

BEST PICTURE
BELFAST – Laura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik and Tamar Thomas, Producers
CODA – Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, and Patrick Wachsberger, Producers
DRIVE MY CAR – Teruhisa Yamamoto, Producer
LICORICE PIZZA – Sara Murphy, Adam Somner and Paul Thomas Anderson, Producers
WEST SIDE STORY – Steven Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger, Producers
Not having seen DON’T LOOK UP, DUNE, KING RICHARD, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, or THE POWER OF THE DOG, I’d pick CODA, though BELFAST would be a fine choice.

PRODUCTION DESIGN
WEST SIDE STORY – Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED) – NONE
SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
THE LONG GOODBYE – Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed A powerful film that you can watch here or here

SOUND
BELFAST -Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather, and Niv Adiri
WEST SIDE STORY – Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson, and Shawn Murphy

VISUAL EFFECTS
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME – Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein and Dan Sudick

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
CODA -Screenplay by Siân Heder
DRIVE MY CAR – Screenplay by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe
WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
BELFAST -Written by Kenneth Branagh
LICORICE PIZZA – Written by Paul Thomas Anderson
THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD – Written by Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier. My favorite of the three.

It’s likely that I’ll get a short-term subscription to Netflix and see tick, tick…BOOM!, THE POWER OF THE DOG, and THE LOST DAUGHTER. Maybe catch some other films somehow.

The Hollywood Reporter: Who Will Win, Who Should Win

Movie review -Spider-Man: No Way Home

multiverse

Is there a point in reviewing a film that has already grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, and in only 12 days? Who knows? Still, I need to discuss the movie Spider-Man: No Way Home.

It has to do with my great affection for Spider-Man, and even more for Peter Parker. I even edited an issue of a magazine about the web-slinger.

In the past few years, I had scurried to see all of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I haven’t, to date, seen any of the ones in this current crop: Black Widow, Shang-Chi, or The Eternals, though I probably will eventually.

It’s not necessary to have seen all of the earlier Spider-Man films to appreciate the new one. Still, in 2020, I watched four I had not viewed before. I do think it enhanced my enjoyment, especially the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

For you non-comics fans, the broad idea of a multiverse is that there are a lot of Spider-Man stories that exist over nearly 60 years. Invariably internal inconsistencies arise. So some stories are about Spider-Man in OTHER universes. If you get that, you can appreciate No Way Home just fine.

Peter Parker is Spider-Man!

The secret of our Peter (Tom Holland) is out, as we learned at the very end of the previous film, Spider-Man: Far From Home. Daily Bugle blowhard J. Jonah Jamison (J.K. Simmons) accuses him of a heinous crime. This puts the people he cares about, girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), best pal Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), in danger. Can Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) cast a spell to erase people knowing that Peter is Spidey? But wait, not everyone…

We end up with villains engaging with Spider-Man. But he’s not THEIR Peter Parker. They can be sent back to their own universes. But don’t they deserve a shot of redemption? If by chance you haven’t seen it, just about everything I could say further would be a spoiler. If you HAVE seen the movie, read how it was shaped by its casting.

I can report that I loved this movie. There’s a scene, reminiscent of a part of another film but with a different outcome that made me a little teary-eyed. (It’s the storyline from Amazing Spider-Man #121, the second issue of the comic I ever purchased.) By the end, the reset button has been hit for our friendly, neighborhood hero, and that is a good thing. And, maybe because it was the season, elements of It’s A Wonderful Life came to mind.

Does it have too much insider humor? A negative review notes: “There’s no attempt to hide that the film is pure fan service, a greatest-hits mashup of Spider-Man’s cinematic legacy.” If it’s a fan service project – and the writers are clearly fans -then it succeeded wildly. But I think the non-initiated can enjoy it too.

I saw No Way Home at Spectrum 8 in Albany, a Landmark Theatre, in the last week of 2021. That was before I realized, per an SNL cold open, that  Joe Biden blamed ‘Spider-Man’ for all of the nation’s problems.

Spider-Verse: 4+ different Spideys

Good thing I don’t suffer from arachnophobia

spider-verseAs I’ve noted, Spider-Man was my favorite character in the Marvel universe. So I decided to watch, in one week in August, four different iterations of the web-slinger, none of which I had seen before. Essentially each is it own Spider-Verse.

Spider-Man 3 (2007): This is the third of the Sam Raimi films. I loved the first two, which I saw back in 2002 and 2004. I’m fond of the players – Tobey Maguire as Peter/Spidey, Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, and James Franco as Harry Osborn. Yet the film felt too overstuffed with villains. Sandman has a backstory that makes him rather sympathetic. Meanwhile, Eddie Brock is pretty unlikable from the beginning.

And Peter was pretty oblivious to the travails of his girlfriend. If she had left him for Harry, it would have been totally understandable. When this black goo appears on earth, why didn’t it trigger Peter’s Spidey sense?

It was about 1.4 good movies. In other words, too much. Yet I didn’t hate it as much as I had feared.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014): This is the second of the Marc Webb films, with Andrew Garfield as Peter and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. But also overstuffed. I never cared that much about this Harry Osborn. The Elektro villain (Jamie Foxx) had a cringeworthy origin and was not terribly interesting. But this is what tipped me off that I didn’t care: the climax of the film I found oddly undramatic.

Swinging younger

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018): Now this was intriguing. Miles Morales is a nerdy teenager who becomes the Spider-Man of his universe. Is he ready? Heck, no. But he gets help from one Peter B. Parker. At this point, it’s a bit of a buddy pic, in a good sense.

Eventually, fellow web slingers also show up, and they’re wonderful in their own unique ways. The visuals are weird and wonderful, including an absurdly large Kingpin with a relatively tiny head. The movie works because of some fine voice actors, starting with Shameik Moore. I haven’t read the comic book in a quarter-century, yet I recognized this film as the love letter to Spider-Man it was intended to be.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). Where I grew tired of the first two Spidey franchises, I’m actually warming up to the Tom Holland character. Part of it is him being totally weirded out when it appears his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) might be expressing romantic interest with each other.

Meanwhile, Peter is going on a class trip to Europe with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his major crush MJ (Zendaya), and the others. Peter ends up doing the superhero gig again, taking on some elementals. Fortunately, he is aided by an alien ally, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal)! Or so it would seem. Very satisfying up through the closing credits. Then the OMG coda.

A franchise?

Rotten Tomatoes considers Spider-Man, in its various iterations, a franchise. And a successful one, at that.
Average Tomatometer Score/Rank: 81.25% (11th)
Average Audience Score/Rank: 77% (15th)
Average Domestic Box Office/Rank: $411,579,893.13 (7th)

Could the new Spider-Man movie bring all the Spider-Men together?

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.

Spider-Man, and other films, non-MCU

ANOTHER iteration?

The_Amazing_Spider-Man_theatrical_posterI started watching the movies in what was eventually labeled the Marvel Cinematic Universe back when it started in in 2008. Now for those of you NOT seeped in these things, not every Marvel character that appeared in a movie this century is an MCU film.

For convoluted aesthetic and licensing reasons, the films with the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Blade, and Deadpool films, among others, are not part of the canon. The Spider-Man films in 2002/2004/2007 and 2012/2014 are not MCU. But the recent ones with Tom Holland, including Captain America: Civil War and the last two Avengers films, ARE MCU. Got that? There will be a test.

Despite having had collected comic books for over a quarter-century, primarily Marvel products – and I still own some Marvel Masterworks books – I hadn’t watched all that many of the films. Before I tackle the MCU, I thought I’d check to see which ones of the other Marvel films I’ve seen.

Howard the Duck (1986) – the movie was previewed in Albany in a movie theater, sponsored by FantaCo, the comic book store where I worked. I related to the “trapped in a world that he never made” description in the comic book, which also transferred to the film. It was roundly panned, and perhaps deservedly so. Yet I had an odd fondness for it.

Fantastic Four (1994 – unreleased) – at some point in the 2010s I saw this, possibly on YouTube. It was not very good. In fact, it was so awful, it was mildly enjoyable.

Friendly, neighborhood…

Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004) . These are the ones starring Tobey Maguire. I saw the first one in a cinema, the second at a resort in the Berkshires. Never saw the third one. I liked the first two enough to get them on DVD.

X2 (2003) – I watched in a hotel in Oneonta on New Year’s Eve many years back. Maybe because I didn’t see the first X-Men film, it didn’t make as much sense as I thought it should.

Fantastic Four (2005) – I thought Michael Chiklis was actually quite good in this. That is high praise since he was all but unrecognizable as The Thing. The rest of the story, as I recall, was pretty pedestrian. That’s necessary, I suppose for an introductory piece, but still… Never saw the follow-up.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – for reasons I’ll explain soon, I have been watching a LOT of MCU movies this summer. So in early July 2020, I needed a palate cleanser before starting on Avengers: Infinity War.

Why did we need ANOTHER iteration of the web-slinger? I say that as someone whose favorite Marvel character is Peter Parker, the awkward young man with a secret.

Maybe we didn’t. But I felt Andrew Garfield was a credible Peter. And since the earlier Sam Raimi stories focused on his relationship with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), it seemed natural that the series deal with his first love, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Her internship with Osgood Corp may have been a bit too coincidental for my taste.

Still, I appreciated their relationship. Her father, the cop (Denis Leary) felt like a real dad, as did Peter’s uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). Aunt May (Sally Field) fretted a lot. If the villain was more tortured soul than actually evil (Rhys Ifans as Curt Connor/the Lizard), that would be in keeping with the comic book narrative.

Ultimately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the films I had seen a decade and a half earlier. Still, it was time well-spent. I’m still warming up to the new Spider-Man. But that’s a story for another time.

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