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Creed

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Like most people, I expected this to be a documentary about the rock band Creed.

Part of me wants to just leave that as the entire review.

****

You didn’t tell me your uncle was Rocky Balboa.

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Instead I will say that this was a solid movie that gets you behind the main character. Creed is about Adonis Johnson, the son Apollo Creed never knew he had. Creed, of course, died fighting Ivan Drago in Rocky IV after preventing Rocky from throwing in the towel. So there is that layer of guilt built into their relationship when Adonis moves across the country to get Rocky to train him.

The love interest in the movie is Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson. Bianca has a hearing disability, but that wasn’t her whole character; she mostly just happened to be that way. Our introduction to her is that she listens to music very loudly. Then we learn she is a hearing impaired musician so she had to listen to music very loudly, which led Adonis to knocking on her door. While she consistently has her disability it does not come up again as a plot device.

Wholly unrelated to the plot is the fact that the director, Ryan Coogler, and the top three billed actors were in MCU movies. Coogler directed Black Panther while Michael B. Jordan played Killmonger in that movie—and yes they worked together first on Fruitvale Station. Tessa Thompson was Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok and even Sylvester Stallone was a Ravager in Guardians 2. I did not recognize Thompson as being the same actress, so that was cool to learn.

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Moana

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***

If you wear a dress, and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.

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This pretty movie does a good job of not casting famous people for the voices, except Dwayne Johnson, whose casting I will never complain of. The oddest casting goes to Villager #1 – Troy Polamalu. You may know him from the Pittsburgh Steelers, or perhaps from his work as NFL player in a Head and Shoulders Commercial with long curly hair. I think that the overall diversity in the casting was a good call.

What I determined the message of the film was that we are our own worst enemies, and all deeply flawed. Still the movie is bright, colorful and the characters succeed, or fail, but each character seems to epitomize some tragic flaw. I found this to be cute, but  underwhelming. Still it is a movie for kids and it turns this flaw premise into a good message by showing how the heroes overcomes their flaws to prevail. It also posits that cultures must move forward, but that they should also return to their roots. This is done in a positive and not in a hateful white suprematist way that old man Walt Disney might have wanted.

Doctor Strange

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***½

The bill comes due. Don’t you see? Her transgressions led to the Zealots to Dormammu. Kaecilius… was her fault! And here we are… in the consequence of her deception. A world on fire.

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It just dawned on me that Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch, who play Marvel’s mystic arts students who become masters, were in a movie together before this one—12 Years a Slave. Can you think of two less similar movies? In that movie Ejiofor plays the hero and Cumberbatch the villain who does not know he is a villain because he is less evil of a slaveowner than some others. The reverse is done in Doctor Strange, where Ejiofor’s Mordo goes from valiant champion for good to feeling betrayed by the Ancient One—Tilda Swinton. While on its surface Doctor Strange was the eponymous hero’s origin story, which served to reveal an infinity stone, it is simultaneously Mordo’s origin as a villain, for Doctor Strange 2. I find that alone to be more interesting than the actual superficial movie itself.

Doctor Strange’s origin is far less famous than most superheros, but since I was familiar with it, I felt like I was just paying my dues for the first 30-40 minutes. At least the opening action scene was cool and Inception-esque. Plus Mads Mikkelsen—Le Chiffre in Casino Royale—is always a treat and really delivers as the villain in this. When he unlocks Dormammu I was surprised, since Dormammu is like Doctor Strange’s strongest foe. So how Strange manages to save the day is really ingenious, and I appreciated that.

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I cannot end my review without tackling the controversy surrounding the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. In the comics the The Ancient One is a very old Asian man, not a bald white woman. The director, Scott Derrickson, thought he was moving in the right direction by casting a woman into a movie that otherwise had no powered female characters. He did not realize how removing an Asian character to have a white actor take the role would be a step backwards. Apparently now he does, so we will see what his next MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) movie does with its casting choices.

N.B. – Since I write these and schedule them, instead of just posting them, I started to re-review this movie. This caused a false memory that lead to me to start my re-review with a letter to you:

Dear Reader,

You may have noticed how I review almost every movie I watch. Be it in theaters, on Netflix, on DVD, Blu-Ray, TV with commercials, DVR, On Demand, or DivX, if I watched it to completion for the first time since May 24, 2004, then I rated it, and sometimes reviewed it. Then starting on August 27, 2010 I began reviewing every movie under those rules. The first one was Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse. I bring this to your attention because I wanted to piggyback on the work I had done for the 2007 animated Dr. Strange movie. This was going to be useful because the MCU came out of the mid-2000s animated Marvel movies’ success, which in turn came from the success of the Heroes Reborn comic books. Or not. But it makes sense to me this way. Yet somehow when I watched that DVD somewhere around the summer of 2010 or 2011, in either Toledo or at my grandparents’ house in Buffalo on my laptop, no review was made or no score given. This is a long way of saying I have to do more work than I want to do. Also, that I want to credit this as a double review since I’m giving both movies…

And at that point my search revealed my folly.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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***½

I met one in Sudan three months ago. There used to be more of them, but they still exist. Before wizards went underground when we were still being hunted by Muggles, young wizards and witches sometimes tried to suppress their magic to avoid persecution. Instead of learning to harness or control their powers, they developed what was called an Obscurus.

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I enjoyed all of the Harry Potter movies, but accepted with resignation that their story was over, much as I had for my whole conscious life known that there would be no Star Wars sequels or prequels. I, and many others, were amazingly psyched for the (Star Wars) prequels. Whereas the brief wait, and thus corresponding lack of excitement, over the adaptation of this picture book was underwhelming. What did excite me was that David Yates would be directing this and he did a very good job with Harry Potters 5 through 7B. J.K. Rowling doing the script sounded like a good idea too, in lieu of having substantive source material from her to adapt.

The look of the film was top notch. Hitherto the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ has been extremely British, so getting to see New York was a nice change, although this was New York of the past, so the transition was less jarring than had it been 2016 New York City. The invisible Obscurus character was interesting, as a villain, even if it was just a distraction of sorts. The one performance that really struck me was tied to that character, Ezra Miller’s Credence Barebone. His interaction was Colin Farrell’s Graves was the most interesting, and the darkest.

Indeed it was the not the darkness, but the light in this film that bothered me. I came to like and root for Jacob Kowalski–Dan Fogler–but found him childish as first. The same is true for Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander and Alison Sudol’s Queenie. In the end they both won me over, though. This film took a Ghostbusters-esque premise and turned it into the launching point for a series of films. A series I now plan to watch. Let’s just hope The Crimes of Grindelwald is no Ghostbusters 2.

Five Minutes, Mr. Welles

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***

Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.

I listened to an excellent podcast called “I Was There Too” by Matt Gourley and his guest was the phenomenal Maurice LaMarche—most famous for voicing The Brain on “Pinky and the Brain”. LaMarche does an amazing Orson Welles impression. Such a good one that in the Oscar nominated biopic Ed Wood he was brought in to provide the voice for Vincent D’Onofrio’s Orson Welles. Apparently D’Onofrio felt he had unfinished business and eleven years later made this movie himself. Well, his Orson Welles is extremely accurate. This point in his life was pretty depressing, and that is clearly shown, while his charm remained.

Janine Theriault does the other heavy lifting by playing Welles’s assistant Katherine. She gets some good fire moments and does some excellent listening acting. Maybe she even gets to help as his muse. Her humanity and how grounded she is really helps show how out there Welles was. I was shocked to see she had not been in anything else I have seen, since she had almost an Eva Green quality to her.

On the whole, this is worth it just to hear D’Onofrio create the Harry Lime ferris wheel speech out of his own frustration. If that means nothing to you, then this short film will probably mean nothing to you too.

Thor: Ragnarok

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****

Are you Thor, the god of hammers?

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That line is simultaneously badass and hilarious. For me this movie walked that line so well. Making me care, while also being the 1970s camp it was. It was kind of like the original Star Wars. One way it differed from Star Wars, while simultaneously being similar to the Star Wars Saga, was the level of prior story and knowledge that this movie used. Dr. Strange barely gets introduced, but he is necessary. Hela is brand new, so she gets a lot of backstory, while Loki and Thor are expected to be known quantities—hell this is their fifth movie. Hela has some Darth Vader qualities about her. She looks super cool and is a superficially soulless killing machine whose power can seem unmatched. But she has feelings too and wants those feelings validated, like any child of Odin would. She was such a badass I did not immediately recognize that she was Cate Blanchett. She has great range as an actress, but as a physical force, I did not think so until this. This made me believe she could take Chris Hemsworth in a fight. Or at least that Hela could realistically slaughter hundreds of Asgardians. I was disappointed when the Warriors Three (plus Lady Sif) were vanquished so easily, but it did continue to sell just what a threat she was.

Thus act one, in this approximately seventeenth installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”), has the greatest character of the MCU humbled and broken. Is there an image more fitting for breaking his spirit than that of Hela crushing his hammer, Mjolnir? The hammer has a name for Pete’s sake. To quote the wonderful Korg, “It sounds like you had a pretty special and intimate relationship with this hammer and that losing it was almost comparable to losing a loved one.” It both sums up the emotional heft of that moment and its comic absurdity.  The things that make it great, might also prevent it from attaining true greatness. As I have said about Hot Fuzz being only ****, but one of my all-time favorite movies, perfection does not necessarily make something fun, or my favorite. Right now though I could see this being the second best MCU movie of them all. If only it did not lead straight into Avengers: Infinity War. *Sigh*

Midnight Cowboy

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Here is what I knew about Midnight Cowboy going into watching it:

  • This is the only X rated film to win an Oscar for Best Picture.
  • This was released in 1969.
  • Jon Voight is famous for starring in this.
  • So is Dustin Hoffman, who is walking here!
  • Voight plays a giggolo.

Here is what I have learned since that movie started:

  • John Schlesinger directed it, and won an Oscar for doing so.
  • The cuts between scenes are a bit jumpy and wipey.
  • Gigolo only has 2 Gs, not 3.
  • The level of sex and violence, and language, needed to earn an X was surprisingly little.
  • Voight’s Joe Buck’s life is super messed up.
  • Hoffman’s Rizzo leads a really depressing life.
  • Rizzo gets credited as Ratso in the credits, which seems mean, since he did not like that name.

I like the way I look. Makes me feel good, it does. And women like me, goddammit. Hell, the only one thing I ever been good for is lovin’. Women go crazy for me, that’s a really true fact! Ratso, hell! Crazy Annie they had to send her away!

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As the theme song, Everybody’s Talkin’ plays at the end, I felt emotionally drained and saddened by the movie as a whole. Watching Rizzo and Joe Buck struggle for that long to finally make it to Florida only for Rizzo to die like that, really sucked. Both of the performances were great, fully deserving of their Oscar nominations for Best Actor. This was an opus on friendship and suffering. It had quite a bit to say about masculinity and male vulnerability. In honor of the film’s abrupt, sad ending, I will leave it at that.

****

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