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Wonder Woman

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****

Really, specs? Suddenly she’s not the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?

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For me the highlight (and lowlight) of this film came when Wonder Woman attacked the Germans within a town. During that scene I felt overjoyed with having a woman be the center of this, thinking, why not a woman? Finally, a comic book movie with a female lead. I had totally disregarded Catwoman and Elektra, because, why would I not? Even as a rare fan of Daredevil, and even of Jennifer Garner therein, I did not bother to watch Elektra. But it is 2017 and why the hell did it take this long to get here? In 1997 when Batman & Robin crapped its way into theaters, why did Hollywood declare comic book films dead? I point to Blade as evidence that comic book movies never went away—just DC Comics films—but even if you say that had been started before the Bat-Nipples flop, X-Men came out in 2000, so we had two years without comic books movie. Why did Hollywood not declare male superhero movies dead? Or white superhero movies dead?

Prejudices and stereotypes are why they did not. This film, directed by Patty Jenkins, and scripted by Allen Heinberg, plays with lots of stereotypes and expectations, stemming from perceptions of villainy, to politics, to fish out of water, and on. The best two surprises of the film were David Thewlis–Professor Lupin–as a very British bureaucrat and Robin Wright–Princess Buttercup–as Niobe, the greatest Amazonian warrior ever. This is a very good film.

Logan

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***½

As I live and breathe, “the Wolverine”.

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Finding a quotation without lots of profanity was difficult. I am not sure why it is so pervasive here, but it certainly is. Maybe just to show this was not the same world, not at all the same world as the other X films. At least it is not thematically the same world. Instead of being meta and satisfying, as many reviewers have proposed, I just found it a bit confusing. It is still a good movie and a fitting swan song for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

The only other thought I have is that this was not an adaptation of “Old Man Logan” as you may have read. The upcoming Thor movie with Thor facing the Hulk seems to have as much in common with that story as this did—at least that has villain Hulk fighting. Tying things up with the Hulk was a fitting idea since Wolverine’s first appearance was in Incredible Hulk #181. Last thought, it is funny to go online and read crybaby rightwingers who think this movie filmed before the 2016 election was an indictment of Trump and Republicans because future US is a corporate garbage state where people have fewer rights than corporations.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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In order to win the girl of his dreams, nay, just simply to survive, Scott Pilgrim must defeat The League of Evil Exes! In said League there are seven evil exes. In honor of that, here are my seven favorite things in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, AKA Evil Ex #2. Part of me wants to believe that his cheesy action hero character helped him land the role of Captain America. This or him as Johnny Storm did it. Hey, they’re both comic book movies! To show the level of detail that went into this film, here is an article about the fake movie posters from Lucas Lee’s career. The glimpses we get are amazing, with lines like, “Now you listen up, bucko. The next click you hear is me hanging up. The one after that…is me pulling the trigger.”

How Anna Kendrick and Kieran Culkin are already talking on the phone about what Scott has said before Scott finishes telling either of them whatever it is that he is saying. It is punchy and funny and Anna Kendrick’s bubbly character, as Scott’s sister, just fits. Sub-thing I like, how Kim Pine would cut off the lead singer of Sex Bob-omb to yell, “We are Sex Bob-Omb!! 1-2-3-4” and just start playing the drums.

The. Bass. Guitar. Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim plays the bass in Sex Bob-Omb—a totally sweet looking Rickenbacker. And it is great. But my favorite bass comes from Brandon Routh’s Todd Ingram, AKA Evil Ex #4(?)

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Michael Cera and Brie Larson as Scott Pilgrim and the way cooler Envy Adams, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, © Universal 2010.

Brie Larson as Envy Adams. Sure she would make a terrible girlfriend but she has an amazing voice, beautiful look and fascinating manner. I felt legitimately bad for her when her boyfriend exploded. On a side note, I hope The Clash At Demonhead re-forms in real life and starts touring.

The end non-fight fight scene. “No. This is something I have to do for myself.” Such a classic cheeseball line! Usually the reasoning behind such a decision is rather poor and is used to even the odds, so to speak, after the hero has overcome a more difficult challenge. Then jumping to the outside where the two women who care for Scott are outside waiting to see if he has lived or died perfectly sets up the nonchalant, wound free exit Scott and Nega-Scott have.

That Edgar Wright directed this masterpiece. I have seen his Hot Fuzz about ten times and I love it very much, but this film—not The World’s End—harnessed every skill Wright had as a director, and screenwriter, and pulled off this unlikely adaptation of an English language manga.1 Going back to Lucas Lee, Wright even shot a clip from the movie within a movie that I quoted above and it was amazing and in a totally different style. Or maybe Brad Allan shot it with the second unit, who knows. The result is the same—the best film of 2010.2 

*****

1 A manga is a Japanese comic book, or a comic book done in the Japanese style, often printed in a small paperback format.
2 2010 was a good year for movies too. It also was apparently forever ago because Winter’s Bone came out that year starring a teenage Jennifer Lawrence in her first starring role. If you ever question her abilities, just go back and (re)watch that movie.

X-Men: Apocalypse

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****

Who the fuck are you?

Michael Fassbender as Magneto/Erik Lensherr in X-Men: Apocalypse, © 2016 Fox.

Michael Fassbender as Magneto/Erik Lensherr in X-Men: Apocalypse, © 2016 Fox.

Just as in X-Men: First Class, the one F-bomb got the biggest laugh. Then it was  Wolverine–Hugh Jackman–saying it to Magneto and Charles Xavier–Michael Fassbender  and James McAvoy, respectively. This time is is Magneto, in tears1, about to slay his human co-workers for exposing him. So how does that line rank amongst the 8 X-Men films? Amongst the 3 back-in-time X-Men movies?2 How do other aspects and actors compare too?

The line itself, along with its delivery, ranks about equal to Wolverine’s. Fassbender’s Magneto is great, as always, and his young Magneto is as good as Ian McKellan’s old one. McAvoy’s Professor X is not as good as Patrick Stewart’s, but it is still very good. McAvoy really inhabits the character well, with his fumbling flirtations operating as a charming inconsistency—why is he less confident now than he was as a college student when he already knows a woman liked him?

As in First Class, Wolverine has one scene, but it’s a much more physical fan service scene than his “Go fuck yourself.” If you are a big enough fan to get the reference, then you will not be surprised when he appears in the film, and in the capacity in which he does so. The X-Men, comprised of Beast, Mystique, Quicksilver and Moira MacTaggert—portrayed by Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters, and Rose Byrne, respectively, have been captured by young William Stryker–Josh Helman, who is no Brian Cox. Stryker takes them to the Weapon X facility in Canada…goose bumps yet? This is recognizable since Wolverine heads there in X2. When we finally see Wolverine he is straight out of Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Weapon X” storyline. He proceeds to, as he did in the comic, butcher his way through every soldier and scientist in the facility. It was much cooler than just one great line. That said, by freeing him Jean Grey—Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner—is at least partially responsible for the murder of dozens and dozens of people. This is not addressed, nor does it appear to affect her, despite being telepathic (and empathic) and not sociopathic.

Sophie Turner as Jean Grey at the Weapon X facility, with Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), © 2016 Marvel & Fox.

X-Men: Apocalypse is clearly set in the 1980s. Sophie Turner in a blazer with shoulder pads as Jean Grey at the Weapon X facility, with Nightcrawler in a jacket designed for Michael Jackson or Eddie Murphy (Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), © 2016 Marvel & Fox.

Beast is still Beast, although Kelsey Grammer’s Beast in X-Men: The Last Stand3 provides a wonderfully cerebral representation that Hoult’s lacks. Also this Angel is as okay as Last Stand’s, but gets better scenes. In East Germany Angel–Ben Hardy–fights Nightcrawler–Kodi Smit-McPhee–in an underground mutant gladiator ring, until Mystique frees them both. Smit-McPhee does a good job as an awkward teen, but he is no Alan Cumming. After freeing Nightcrawler, Mystique brought him to a mysterious mutant named Caliban. I was certain that he was portrayed by Oscar winner Jared Leto. Nope. Tómas Lemarquis plays Caliban in a much more cutthroat way than I have always envisioned the mutant detecting mutant, but he definitely fits into this dark world. He loses his bodyguard, Psylocke–Olivia Munn, to the sway of Apocalypse.

Speaking of Apocalypse and the women of the film, this brings us to an awkward place because Apocalypse is choking Mystique in some of the publicity, which in our culture seems inappropriate because of the violence against women. While ironically the irreverent Deadpool did a better job of dealing with violence against women, this tone deaf approach actually works within the film itself. Apocalypse transcends gender and sex, which can be said at times for Mystique too, thus their shapeshifting violence did not bother me and films should not be judged by their ad campaigns.4

Mystique (Lawrence) losing a battle with Apocalypse (Isaac).

Mystique (Lawrence) losing a battle with Apocalypse (Isaac).

One thing that giant action serial movies can be judged on are their special effects. Firstly, this captured the excellent apocalyptic future of Batman v Superman—Dawn of Justice. While the colors were better than in Batman v Superman, there were a couple of X-Men Origins: Wolverine moments, specifically the flying intermodal shipping containers, and Evan Peter’s amazing Quicksilver trying to get through Magneto’s sphere of metal bits. On the plus side there is literally every other moment of Quicksilver moving at superspeed. Every. Single. Moment.

One way this film is better than First Class and Days of Future Past is by its villain. Oscar Isaac’s En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse comes across like a more powerful Bane (The Dark Knight Rises). I could not foresee the man becoming the force of nature that is En Sabah Nur. Wonderfully the opening in Egypt does not show a giant, or a monster, or even a man in his peak of power. Instead he is covered in armor and a headdress that masks his old, frail body. He was everything that Ultron (Avengers 2) should have been. Isaac’s performance created a surprisingly subtle character, who outdoes both Bane and Ultron. Probably Isaac’s best performance, although I have not watched Inside Llewyn Davis.

In closing5, the end exchange between Fassbender and McAvoy almost finishes verbatim from the end of X-Men! The McKellan/Stewart exchange gave me goosebumps. So this gave me goosebumps and through the power of nostalgia brought a tear to my eye. I leave you with screenwriter David Hayter’s words:

Magneto: Does it ever wake you in the middle of the night? The feeling that one day they will pass that foolish law or one just like it, and come for you? And your children?
Professor Xavier: It does, indeed.
Magneto: What do you do, when you wake up to that?
Professor Xavier: I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul who comes to that school… looking for trouble.

Apocalypse’s screenwriter Simon Kinberg changed the lines, removing “that foolish law”, and turning “that school” into “my school”. He created a similar ending, but in some ways a more hopeful one with Magneto walking away from Xavier’s School For the Gifted and not Xavier wheeling away from Magneto’s plastic prison. Sixteen years apart and they are still making wonderful X-Men movies. How astonishing! How uncanny!

1 I love crying Michael Fassbender as much as the next person, but he shed a lot of silent tears in this movie.
2 Oh, the problems with naming this…series. If I say “the original X-Men” one might think of the original X-Men movies. If I say the First Class X-Men, one might think I was making a qualitative judgment. If I say prequel X-Men, that would ignore the worldchanging ramifications of X-Men: Days of Future Past.
3 Thanks a lot Brett Ratner. I did think that Beast could have been physically more imposing.
4 The exception to this rule is when a movie promises something in previews that does not occur in the actual film. For example, I will never forgive Murder at 1600 for cutting the preview line, “Murder at 1600…an address that changes all the rules.” And I do not know if I approve of the posters with Jennifer Lawrence being choked. I understand the appeal in having your biggest star and the villain together, but it still feels a little funny.
5 I didn’t even get to how good Storm was! Alexandra Shipp was much better than Halle Berry’s Storm. I never even wrote the words “Four Horsemen”! There is just too much here to discuss! 

The Beauty of Film: Batman the Movie

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Batman: The Movie (1966) — Howard Schwartz (cinematographer) & Leslie H. Martinson (director).

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Julie Newmar as Catwoman and Burgess Meredith as The Penguin on his submarine.

Captain America: Civil War

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Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War L to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

Our people’s blood is spilled on foreign soil. Not only because of the actions of criminals, but the indifference of those who pledged to step them. Victory at the expense of an innocent, is no victory at all.

Call it what you want. Captain America 3, Avengers 2.5, Civil War, this movie kicked ass. This has everything that people loved about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and so much more. This has the elements of espionage that people liked in 2, but has action that rivals The Avengers. I use that as the gold standard, but is it? A discussion for a different time. In the moment I thought, “these are the greatest action sequences I have ever seen”. They were well spaced out. All looked perfect. Each action scene served a function and hit its marks. The internal logic of the action was pretty much consistent, which is pretty damn rare. For instance, Captain America is amazing with his shield. He is Minnesota Fats with it.1  But one character2 says to him, “That thing doesn’t obey the laws of Physics at all!”  I like having a cinematic world conscious of this quirk, which allows me to have the pleasure without the guilt.

The best way to describe this film in two words is “ethical dilemmas.” The premise is the world is grateful to the Avengers, but also afraid of them and the collateral damage they cause. They operate without any sovereign authority and thus the Sokovia Accords are created and shall be ratified by the United Nations [UN]. The Avengers would come under the auspices of the UN, which would have the sole authority to dispatch them. Iron Man feels guilty because Ultron was his fault and (Stark) wants to be controlled. Captain America was a pawn for the American government and after the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. from Hydra within it, he does not trust any governments. As Cap says, it comes down to this, “What if this panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go? What if there’s somewhere we need to go and they don’t let us?” This is similar to the question posed by Batman v Superman earlier this year.

This was a much, much better movie than Batman v Superman, however, that does not mean that this movie presented a more interesting question. Because this causes the Avengers to schism there can be no Hulk and no Thor, because their power levels are too high. I guess. I bought that line initially but Scarlet Witch and Vision are 6/7 on the powers scale.3 Batman v Superman has an unpowered, less armored Iron Man facing an amalgam of Thor + Hulk + Vision. Both films did a great job of creating reasons for heroes to fight each other. Batman v. Superman asked, with unlimited power, great collateral damage, and no authority, should there not be some sort of restraint? Batman followed up by posing an even tougher question, “He has the power to wipe out the entire human race, and if we believe there’s even a one percent chance that he is [humanity’s] enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty… and we have to destroy him.” The same could be said of the Avengers. However instead of posing this as a question in the film, the villain, Zemo—Rush‘s Daniel Brühl—tries to destroy the Avengers for personal vengeance.

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Daniel Brühl (the German guy in the beginning of the Bourne Ultimatum whom Jason Bourne tells that he, meaning Bourne, killed in the middle of the last movie) as (not Baron) Zemo, in Captain America & the Winter Soldier 2: Civil War 1, © 2016 Marvel.

The largest criticism of this generally well received film was the villain’s plot. Some people care about the feasibility and logic of plans. People like that reject The Dark Knight because the Joker’s plan was ridiculous on almost every level and every stage. Then there are the majority of people who loved The Dark Knight and only demand enough logic so as to not end the enchantment we call the willing suspension of disbelief. Lastly there are people who like Transformers—a/k/a people who seek a wholly visual and subconscious movie experience. The good news is that this film should please all of those people. Zemo’s elaborate plan was achievable and relies on Bourne levels of espionage. When Martin Freeman with an American accent asks, “So how does it feel? To spend all that time, all that effort, and to see it fail so spectacularly?” Zemo retorts, “Did it?” I get chills just typing that out and that is what makes this film great. Even after all the action, his hypothesis might prove to not only be correct, but to have succeeded where gods have failed.

An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again, but one which crumbles from within? That’s dead… forever.

This might be a record for quotations in one of my reviews, especially since none are super badass. The film is just so well written, so well acted, so well cast, and so well executed. So kudos to the screenwriters—Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely—and to the directors—the Russos. For me, this felt like how Captain America 2 felt to most people.

****½

Mini-review of the Mid-Credits Scene: Well, it serves a purpose to explain why that character will not be back in the future, and gives Chadwick Boseman—Jackie Robinson—another opportunity to sound awesome as T’Challa–the Black Panther.

Mini-review of the End-Credits Scene: Not worth the wait. It is the guy who talks about physics and the shield looking at a ceiling because his watch now has his superhero logo.

1 First, I initially wrote Fats Domino. Second, Minnesota Fats is a real life billiards hall of famer, made more famous by his fictionalized version appearing in the The Hustler. Obviously, he shows an amazing ability to bank shots, just as Captain America can, but with a pool ball, instead of a vibranium shield. Know what vibranium is? It comes up a lot in this film.
2 Trying to avoid a spoiler here, but the last preview gave him away, here’s a hint, in one universe he went by Ben Reilly.
3 According to Marvel’s wiki Thor has the maximum in strength and speed, Hulk has the maximum in strength and endurance, whereas Vision has 6/7 for durability and energy with a 5/7 for strength, and Wanda Maximoff only has 6/7 for energy. But Scarlet Witch did depower almost the entire world’s mutant and created a false reality for the entire world…that is almost limitless power.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

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Umm…this cartoon was actually a good movie. I put this on because I thought that like most DC cartoons I could ingest it easily and get out an easy review because it is hard to watch enough movies to review for my movielog. This is made even easier by having either read the source material, or seen the jumbo Marvel movie version of it.1  A month ago, I would have set the odds of this being better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice at about .2%.2  So now I will try to explain why I think it is actually better, despite the format, budget, and source material.

Her hero; how noble. Oh, wait! You didn’t stop JFK from getting assassinated or make sure Hitler stayed in art school. You saved your mommy. You missed her… And in a supreme act of selfishness shattered history like a rank amateur, turned the world into a living hell moments away from destruction and I’m the villain?

This story comes from a Geoff Johns crossover centering around the Flash’s greatest nemesis, the Reverse-Flash, Eobard Thawne, aka Professor Zoom. I thought that it was an okay comic book series, with an over-powered Aquaman and unethical Wonder Woman. Removing Superman from the equation is generally an appetizing proposition, but then he always seems to come back. The premise is that Flash (Barry Allen) goes back in time to save his mother from being murdered. By doing so he dooms the Earth to apocalyptic war. At least thanks to Zoom it does. So it is still Earth but everything is a little different. The same is true in the movie: Thomas Wayne is Batman (Bruce dies in the alley instead), Flash never got his powers, his enemies are heroes, the Atom becomes a weapon of mass destruction, and Captain Marvel is Captain Thunder and he is the Captain Planet with six kids saying “Shazam” to form him. Basically, Aquaman and Wonder Woman are way more villainous versions of Batman v Superman’s Batman and Superman.

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Prince Orm (Ocean Master) leading the Atlanteans in an attack in Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox, 2011.

The movie’s animation has the same excellent style and quality as in Justice League: War. But there are a couple of things that this movie has that are just more impressive, specifically the water based weapons of the Atlanteans3, and nuclear explosions. There is only about 90 minutes of storyline here, so it fits perfectly into a cinematic timetable. The movie adds an introductory scene where the Justice League foils an attempted attack on The Flash Museum, masterminded by Zoom and with Zoom’s taunt the whole story makes more sense and feels more satisfying than relying on the reader’s appreciation for the status quo in DC. This desire never gets satisfied as a reader because this came out in 2011 in the 52 DC reboot which rebooted the DC universe. Even the voice acting features a who’s who of returning DC cartoon actors, including Kevin Conroy (THE Batman) with Kevin McKidd voicing Thomas Wayne’s Batman, Nathan Fillion (Hal Jordan/Green Lanten), and Steve Blum (Lex Luthor this time, but Darkseid in War). The newcomers also had some good chops, particularly C. Thomas Howell’s Zoom—I loved him as Foyett in “Criminal Minds”, Cary Elwes’ Aquaman—unrecognizable, but best known from The Princess Bride, and Michael B. Jordan’s boy scout version of Cyborg—star of Creed. They must have spent a fortune on the vocal talent, but it paid off. The cast list of the comics are longer, but in a wise choice certain less crucial characters like Enchantress get written out and have their actions performed by the prime time players. Specifically, instead of Enchantress betraying the heroes and killing Captain Thunder, Wonder Woman uses her lasso of truth to force Captain Thunder to transform. It is both more brutal and more effective.

I guess much of the credit should go to veteran animated comic book adaptation filmmaker Jay Oliva. Of the 10 or so Marvel & DC animated movies he has done, this one is the best. After this he did JL: War, so the improvement must not have been permanent. Still, I am glad he did this one.

****

1 I believe that the Cinematic Marvel Universe has greater ties to their “Ultimates” universe than the traditional one. What I call the traditional one is Earth-616. The “Ultimates” were on Earth-1610. See why I said traditional or just Marvel Universe instead of specifying? To be picky, all of the alternative Earths are part of the same gigantic Marvel Universe, which has a potentially infinite number of Earths. Now the big blockbuster Avengers line of movies take place on Earth-199999, which is called the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU for short. And yes, each universe is named for its Earth. I mention this because Marvel’s The Avengers seems closer to Ultimate Avengers: The Movie, than to Earth-616’s Avengers, which I discuss in my “Accuracy in…” for Avengers wave 1 and co. 
2 I watched this before watching Batman v Superman. Yet I am writing this after publishing its review.
3 Aquaman is the king of Atlantis and his subjects are known as Atlanteans.

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