Ready For Endgame: Iron Man 2 

Man, Iron Man 2 is bad. I shouldn’t say that, it’s not terrible, really, it’s just so aggressively mediocre, and overstuffed and such a disappointment after the first one.

But, for all of it’s flaws we get some good things here, we get the introduction of The Avenger’s initiative, we get Natasha Romanoff, we get some great Nick Fury moments and my favorite MCU tweak, Don Cheadle replacing Terrance Howard (though I understand that the circumstances around the recasting had, uh, issues.) (I think racism is bad! But Don Cheadle is good!)

Iron Man 2 is worth revisiting for these things, as well as for once again, Robert Downey Jr.’s performance. He is so in sync with this character at all moments, and I’m dumbfounded by it. Especially having watching Infinity War over the past week, Tony’s come so far and yet feels of a piece with what Downey is doing here, it’s exceptional.

And, there’s something else that Iron Man 2 gives us, and that’s Howard Stark. I mean, the Howard Stark who’s shadow looms over the rest of the enterprise. He’s mentioned in Iron Man, Tony wanting to sure up his father’s legacy, and the arc reactor are both big points, but it’s here, in John Slattery’s quick performance that we get the outline that Dominic Cooper will later work off of, and Slattery will play again for Ant-Man and Civil War. 

Granted, I am always always happy to see Slattery, or pretty much anyone from Sterling Cooper pop up in my media.  (Except Vincent Cartheiser, which isn’t his fault. He’s a very good actor, I just really hate Pete Campbell.)

Now, onto Cheadle. Rhodey is stealth my favorite MCU character. I don’t know when it happened or how, but I always think, “Oh, yay! Rhodey’s in this one!” whenever he pops up. Terrance Howard did a good job with the character, but Don Cheadle explodes with him. Part of it is the chemistry with RDJ, but part of it is also just, buying him as an authority more. He’s in control of a room the minute he walks in.

And then there’s Natasha. Wonderful, wonderful, Natasha Romanoff. She doesn’t get a lot to do here, but she does get a “hallway fight,” which of course later became a staple of Marvel/Netflix. (It’s not a one take, but it still smells like one. It’s the fritatta to the hallway fight’s omelette.)

But the most important parts of Iron Man 2, are the things that the MCU takes a lot of heat for in it’s later installments, is that this one doesn’t really work as a movie on it’s own, just a piece of the bigger whole. (Age of Ultron also gets bogged down in this.)

Next week we’ll talk about Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, I’ll think about graduating college a whole bunch, and Phase I nearly completes.

 

Don’t Be Robin, Be Someone Else

I’m the first to admit that my hype for Titans went from, “THIS IS GOING TO BE GREAT,” to “Oh no,” to “people are saying it’s pretty good and I’m getting DC Universe for Young Justice: Outsiders anyway, so I’ll get around to it.”

Look, that “Fuck Batman,” trailer was rough, no way around it. And I’m still not sold on the designs for Starfire and Beast Boy. And that Donna Troy never suits up is kind of a bummer. (Spoilers, sorry…)

But, Internet Nerds, we have greatly misjudged this show. It’s pretty wonderful. As an adaptation of Teen Titans, it’s only OK, but as a genre show in it’s own right, a version and riff on the concept, it’s good. It’s full of game performances, excellent character work, and a steady build up of suspenseful writing leading to a hell of a cliff hanger.

I’m not going to say it’s the best first season of a live action superhero show. Daredevil season 1 exists after all, but it’s damn sure of it’s self and super entertaining all the way through, which is more than I can say for any other DC TV project from the past 10 years. (I loved the first seasons of The Flash and Supergirl but they still had their bumpy finding their feet moments.)

And it has it’s problems. The costume designs really are awful. Minka Kelly’s wig as Dove is one for the DCTV bad wig hall of fame. Geoff Johns seems a little too happy to drop the F-bomb. It’s refreshing that the young heroes actually talk like young people, but it’s also, you know, kind of heavy handed at times. The FX are laughably bad at points. The violence is a lot, but not unexamined. I was mostly concerned about this from the perspective of Dick.

Kori and Rachel (Raven) being more violent is consistent. Starfire, being an alien and all, has different values about life than humans do. Raven’s powers are all about darkness and containing bursts of violence. Titans examines both of these perspectives, Rachel desperately trying to contain her power, and Kori accepting it as a part of herself.

Dick though, it’s handled masterfully. The show begins by showing it’s been a year since he walked away from being Batman’s partner, because he felt himself losing control. But he’s basically addicted to the violence, and he’s not happy about it. The entire season and his entire arc (and the show really does belong the Brenton Thwaites) is him grappling with this side of himself. He knows he can’t really be Robin anymore, but he doesn’t know how to deal with this any other way.

This all really hits home in two episodes, which are easily my favorites, episode 6, “Jason Todd,” and Episode 8, “Donna Troy.” Jason, a year into his tenure as Robin is eager and excited to spend time with his predecessor. Dick is mostly annoyed by Jason’s, well, Jason-ness (Seriously, he’s perfect.), Bruce’s seeming trust of his new partner, (“You’re allowed to drive the Batmobile?”) and most especially, the kid’s sanity and safety. I burst into tears when Dick warned Jason, “the cost is too great.” THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW  THE COST YET! Even in Dick’s “darkest timeline,” created in his mind by Trigon in the finale, Jason is paralyzed, not brutally murdered, then resurrected and insane. (This show is uniquely well set up to do Red Hood as a storyline though.)

“Donna Troy,” meanwhile, just made me gloriously happy as a Dick Grayson fan. Donna’s retired from being Wonder Girl, but she’s still doing her part, and working as a photographer. Dick goes to see her, they talk a lot, there’s a really good flashback to when they were kids where she gives him a pep talk and there’s also a scene where they go to a party and Dick babbles like an idiot to some unsuspecting friends of hers. He says things like, “my dad used to work with her mom sometimes.” (STAHP! MY FANGIRL INSIDES CANNOT HANDLE IT) She says things like, “Wonder Woman was created to protect the innocent, Batman to punish the guilty.” They giggle and do backflips, they track down some big game poachers. They drink beers and confide. This is a very good depiction of friendship between superheroes.

Also, Donna continues to be awesome throughout her run on the show.

So, to recap, things that Titans isn’t great on

  • Design – It’s an ugly show. That can be improved as we move forward though. I also did like Jason’s Robin suit.
  • Effects – They’re groan worthy in places, but again, now that it’s a hit (apparently? Streaming’s weird that way) maybe they’ll get a budget increase to help with that.
  • Tone – Scale back on the angst a bit, it worked but tipped too far a few times

Things that are good

  • Characters & Writing – Everything’s consistent and well thought out.
  • Violence – It’s a violent show, but it actually grapples with that violence. Which is a nice change of pace.
  • Dick Grayson – Seriously, this is a very good version of this character. Who I love. Kind of a lot. 

60 Books In 2019 #2: Dumplin’ By Julie Murphy

There’s a lot to unpack about Dumplin’, which I picked up after years of avoiding it. (I have this thing about contemporary YA. I’m trying to break myself of that though.) I watched the Netflix movie and was charmed and decided to give the book a shot.

I really, really enjoyed the book. Dumplin’ is the story of a plus size girl who decides to enter the beauty pageant her mother runs, in an attempt to make a statement about, something? Conformity? Beauty standards? One of the best parts about Dumplin’ though, is that even Willowdean, it’s protagonist and narrator isn’t exactly sure what statement she’s making here.

Throughout the couple of month’s surrounding the pageant,  Willowdean has a massive fight with her best friend, gets caught between two boys, (TEAM MITCH! To anyone who’s read the book this will be not even remotely surprising. The sweetheart who’s nice to the protagonist and then cast aside in the end for the more conventional choice? When have I EVER rooted for that?) makes a group of new friends and makes peace with the death of a relative.

Dumplin’ packs a lot into it’s 350 or so pages, and it’s all really good. Willowdean is a great narrator as YA narrator’s go. One of my favorite things about this genre, is the way it let’s it’s protagonists be sort of assholes. Because teenagers, for all of their magic and joy and fun, can, well, kind of be assholes.

Also, Dumplin’ shares with Eleanor And Park a detail that I like. Willowdean’s size is never specified. She’s big, we know she can’t fit into the junior’s size clothes at the store where her best friend works, but beyond that, we’re left to our own devices to picture her. As a bigger girl, who’s body type is not often represented even in stories about that kind of thing, (Tall, curvy, wide waist and hips. I’ve always said seeing Sara Ramirez on Broadway was my big “I’m seen” body rep moment) I’ve always appreciated this.

Anyway, Dumplin’ is worth the read. It’s frothy, funny, and full of heart. I found the movie a little bit more emotional, with a little less edge but other than that, it’s a pretty good adaptation too.

Up next is Crisis On Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez…I’m getting back into superheroes, like actively. I’ve missed them.

Movie Season 2018 Wrap Up

Movie season was quiet this year. I missed a lot of stuff. I considered extending a week to catch up, but frankly, it’s just not in the cards.

I am going to be going to the movies a lot more though, I think, in the coming months, and I’ll be doing a fair share of reviewing, just not ranking of those films. I considered ending Movie Season all together after this year, and may still cap it at 2019, since my focus in consumption has changed quite a bit, but frankly the year of Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: Episode IX makes for a more compelling finale to this feature than “the year I was too tired/broke to hit the multiplex much.”

So we push on in 2019. But for now, let’s talk about 2018, and the bajillion Superhero movies that I reviewed. (With a few others in between)

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

It’s been a week and I’m still blown away by it. And it won the Golden Globe for best animated film! Hooray! But seriously, this is a great movie, that deserves every single plaudit that it’s getting. As a coming out party for Miles it was more than amazing, and just as a movie on it’s own.

Aquaman

I’ve been giggling a lot just thinking about this movie. I was feeling a little bit burnt out on superheroes before this and Spider-Verse, if I’m feeling honest. In the week since, I’ve rewatched Young Justice, (and started the new season) read Crisis On Infinite Earths, watched Titans and started Runaways. Seriously, these two very fun superhero movies have got my interest peaked again and I’m thrilled about it.

The Incredibles 2

It feels like I saw this a really long time ago, but I loved it so much in the moment. Again, with the superhero burnout, I haven’t wanted to watch it a second time, but maybe I will.

Bohemian Rhapsody

SO MANY TISSUES. Also, congrats to Rami Malek! He was very very good in this movie

A Star Is Born

I’m psyched for Gaga, really. And I love these songs, I really love them. I think there’s something powerful in retelling stories, and clearly this is one that people really like.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Again with the giggling. I seriously enjoyed this, and I can’t wait until it hits Netflix and I can watch it again. I actually have seen it a second time (thanks Redbox!)

Creed 2

I’ve declared Dolph Lundgren this movie season’s MVP.  He was great here and super fun in Aquaman, and it’s pretty great.

Mary Poppins Returns

I admire this movie more than I actually like it. I think it pulled off it’s balancing act really well. Has some strong performances, and good songs. It just didn’t stick to my ribs the way I was hoping that it would.

Deadpool 2

I am among the few who preferred this to the original I think? I thought the story was stronger, even if it wasn’t as funny. Either way, I do not fear for us getting more Deadpool. If anyone can survive the current climate of things at Marvel, it’s the guy who was never going to get a movie in the first place.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!

This movie is so wonderful, and I can’t wait to watch it when summer comes, and there’s rose flowing and my friends and I are dancing around a room.

Ocean’s 8

I kind of forgot I saw this. But I remember really liking it.

Infinity War

This is very far down the list. I watched it again last week. It’s quite good.

Ant-Man And The Wasp

Dude, another one that I kind of completely forgot, but again, when I think about it, I liked a lot, but gets knocked down for sheer, ya know, forgetability.

Venom

Wow, this was a bad but fun movie. Seriously, so fun, though.

So that was Movie Season 2018. 2019 begins the last weekend in April, with Endgame. I’m rewatching the MCU in preparation now, and I’ll spend the summer and fall on Star Wars as well as whatever else is going on, movie land wise..(Including Clone Wars, Rebels and Resistance.) 

 

Ready for Endgame: Iron Man & The Incedible Hulk

OK, so, I know we tried this last year and we didn’t get anywhere with it. But this time I have a schedule and a plan, and I’m determined. I am rewatching the MCU and I am writing about it! (HOORAY!)

So, we’re starting at the beginning, whenever possible I’m going to do 2 movies per post with each Avengers movie getting their own post. A few, just by virtue of timing will be getting solo posts.

First up! That first year. Let’s go back shall we? It was the summer of 2008. People were curious about a little film called, Iron Man, and very excited about a movie called The Incredible Hulk. 

Then they came out. It does feel hard to believe that everyone was way more psyched about Hulk, but to be fair, it was the big flashy one, with the movie star lead, not the washed up former addict.

But then you started hearing about it, and that sentence, “Stay until after the credits.” People forget that wasn’t really a thing you did before. I mean, sometimes, there would be cute jokes or teasers after a movie, but nothing you know, essential. But then Nick Fury stepped out of the shadows, and we all knew, something was beginning.

But that wasn’t the only thing about Iron Man, everytime I watch that movie I’m thrilled by how it holds up. It’s funny, and smart, and the performances are universally excellent. The final fight is simple and a bit crude looking in retrospect, but still a fun watch, and really, truly and honestly, Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic. I’ve read complaints a few times that The MCU as a whole leans too hard on Tony Stark, but really, watching the first few movies again, I can see why they went that way. It’s such a committed and lovely performance.

The Incredible Hulk, on the other hand, is simply nowhere near as strong. Edward Norton’s performance as Bruce Banner lacks conviction, Liv Tyler is, well, I mean, Liv Tyler. The CGI is sloppy, the final fight is still fun, but feels oddly low stakes, and it’s just not a good movie. It sets up some intersting concepts that remain constants (pointing the Hulk, Banner trying to control the time of transformation, General Ross)

But then it happens, that amazing moment where Tony Stark walks into that bar, declaring that “the super soldier program was put on ice for a reason,” and it’s a moment of clarity. We aren’t in Kansas anymore, this is something new, something exciting.

It would two years before we got more, and another year after that before the clarity of vision comes into place, but the picture began to form, the big experience was starting, the game had begun, and it all hinged on the one guy. It was about Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, it was about charisma, and strong casting and fitting the guy to the suit, not compromising on what makes a hero a hero.

We’ll get into that more next week, when Iron Man 2, easily my least favorite movie in the whole series (like The MCU, not just the Iron Man series,) gets a solo week, because of how this is all working out.

 

60 Books in 2019 #1: Taltos By Anne Rice

Um, so I’ve never fallen so deeply out of love with a series that I loved so much to begin with. I named The Witching Hour as my favorite book I read in 2018. I noted that Lasher suffered by answering questions that were best left creepy and mysterious.

Taltos is just dull. It’s really boring, from the introduction of yet another Taltos, and quickly dispatched Talamasca conspiracy and next to no actual action with the Mayfair family, it was just a slog.

It doesn’t even have the weird sex stuff the other two do. There’s some sex, but nothing as fun and twisted as Lasher psychically bringing Rowan to climax, or Julien’s victrola sending Michael and Mona (ick) into an erotic craze. Nah, just some standard, Taltos like to have lots of sex stuff.

I’m still invested in getting through Anne Rice’s full bibliography. But this has made me a bit more wary of the direction things are going to be going. At least moving forward I still have Lestat and his personality to sustain the fun. Even when he’s drenched in ennui and thoughts of the immortal soul, Lestat’s fun. Rowan Mayfair, though powerful and somewhat interesting, was kind of a blank slate after she surrendered her agency to a ghost or whatever, and Michael Curry was even worse, once he was all, “welp, I fucked a 13 year old, but that’s how things are.”

Anyway, Taltos isn’t a good book. Not even like Lasher which was at least a good book, even if unsatisfying to me.

Up next is Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy because I need me some adorable YA action. Plus I thought the movie was a damn delight. Also, now that we’re into 2019, remember the project is 52 books by women or people of color, only 8 by white men. (4 of those 8 are already earmarked, btw. But if I get up to the 60 quickly, which given a 10 day family vacation in February is not unlikely, I’ll reevaluate).

Grown Ups Always Forget

Mary Poppins Returns

There are moments during Mary Poppins Returns where it feels like the whole precarious exercise is about to go off the rails and Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda pull it back from the brink with sheer charm.

Like the very large shoes the pair are stepping into, Blunt and Miranda are just so damn likable, you find yourself fully tapped in to this movie, even when it maybe doesn’t all hang together cleanly.

There are genuine joys in this movie. “Imagine That,” Mary Poppins’s first number with the new generation of Banks children is a technical wonder and Blunt delivers it beautifully. A few of the songs get the music box style quality of The Sherman Brother’s on point, though I’m perhaps a little bit too familiar with Mark Shaiman’s style to not see the seams there.(Hairspray! And also Smash….but mostly Hairspray…) “The Cover Is Not The Book,” uses it’s music hall styling to organically allow Miranda to rap. (I mean, they hired the man, they had to find a way to work it in, right?)

I didn’t quite connect to grown up Michael’s story, which involved losing his wife and giving up his artistic dreams to go to work at Fiduciary Fidelity Bank in order to support his young children. (And taking out a loan on the house. Michael had a lot going on.) But I adored Jane’s story, which has her picking up her mother’s social justice causes (Mrs. Banks was a sufragette you may recall) as a union organizer,  and resuming what must have been a lovely teenage flirtation with Miranda’s Jack.

The new kids, John, Annabelle and Georgie are sweethearts, forced to grow up before their time due to the family’s financial difficulties. Colin Firth is the villainous banker trying to foreclose on the Banks house which is a perfectly fine use of him, I guess. A few other cameos do the hard work of selling that this is the same world, that’s just moved on a bit. Even if it’s very clear that Angela Lansbury’s balloon lady was clearly written with Julie Andrews in mind.

Rankings:

  1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
  2. Aquaman
  3. The Incredibles 2
  4. Bohemian Rhapsody
  5. A Star Is Born
  6. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  7. Creed 2
  8. Mary Poppins Returns
  9. Deadpool 2
  10. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
  11. Ocean’s 8
  12. Infinity War
  13. Ant-Man And The Wasp
  14. Venom

Trailers:

Many the same as Spider-Verse, but also The Lion King! Which, I will see. Whether I like it or not is a different conversation, but I’ll see it.

Nerd Homework: Cowboy Bebop

See You Around Space Cowboy…

In my everlasting quest to watch more anime, (which has always been more theoretical than actual, if we’re honest) Cowboy Bebop has come up a few times. I just haven’t felt like it. I knew the basics of the show, and was pretty sure I’d even seen a few episodes. “It’s basically anime Firefly right?” (Y’all know how I feel about Firefly and how vastly overrated it is right?)

But I decided to settle in this long weekend and watch the show, and you guys, I get it now. This is a really fun, very good show. Spike is a great protagonist. Jet, Faye and Ed are excellent supporting characters with flushed out inner lives of their own.  Firefly literally stole all of this. The music on this show, the things the show does with the concept of music and just, HOLY SHIT.

Lots of people have combined western and sci-fi tropes, but throwing noir in really makes the whole thing something special. I really, really like noir flavored stuff. So yeah, I really enjoyed the show and will likely watch it again. I often laughed, I cried a few times, and I’m starting to really get into the rhythms of the medium here. I doubt I’ll ever go full Otaku, but I’m never going to say, “anime isn’t really my thing,” anymore.

Which was always the point right? To demystify this particular branch of media so that I wouldn’t be so hesitant to jump in. I’m still determined to watch more anime, and I’m excited about it. (Frankly, I’d have dove right into something when I finished Bebop but I had my Aquaman tickets, so, I had to go.)

This Is Gonna Be Fun

Aquaman_poster.jpg

I think DC has finally figured out how to stand out, and it’s magic and myth.

Marvel’s got the whole team up thing on lockdown. While I’d love to see everyone cross paths again some day, the only times, since Nolan gave up the reigns on Batman, that WB’s superhero movies have worked have been when they leaned hard into mysticism and magic.

Aquaman is a superhero movie, sure, but it’s much more of a fantasy quest film. The King returning to the throne that was denied him. The lesser prince, desparately grabbing at something that was never supposed to be his to begin with. The Goddesses guiding the path of the hero. And it’s lifted up by some really game performances that are tuned to exactly what they need to be. Nicole Kidman, Amber Heard (despite her truly terrible, terrible wig), Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren (the stealth MVP of this year’s movie season!) and Jason Momoa all commit and run with every goofy curve ball thrown at them.

But this movie had one huge highlight for me.

I once noted that Patrick Wilson has been banging his head against the mainstream door for so long, it’s gotten sad. He could have been one of the Broadway greats, but ceded that throne to others (Christian Borle, Norbert Leo Butz both better than him btw) chasing a segment of the industry that didn’t know how to use him. But my God, his performance here as, Orm, Sea Master (SQUEE!) is a sight to behold, and the perfect foil to Jason Momoa’s flinty bro version of Arthur Curry. He’s ice cold patrician aristocracy, merciless and unbending, which, of course becomes his undoing. It’s my favorite villain performance in a super film in quite a long time. Maybe since Loki’s turn in The Avengers. (It’s not quite that good, but it’s very good.) Yahya Abdul-Mateen II turns in a good B-line villain performance as Black Manta as well.

The action is great, the script is well constructed, if a little too quick to laugh it’s self and it’s well performed. It’s not a game changer, but not everything needs to be. Somethings simply are what they are.

Rankings:

  1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
  2. Aquaman
  3. The Incredibles 2
  4. Bohemian Rhapsody
  5. A Star Is Born
  6. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  7. Creed 2
  8. Deadpool 2
  9. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
  10. Ocean’s 8
  11. Infinity War
  12. Ant-Man And The Wasp
  13. Venom

Trailers:

Avengers: Endgame: Oh wow, you guys, I am going to weep at this one. Like a baby. I know it.

Shazam!: I can’t wait for this truly, and I think leans into my theory about DC and magic and myths. Wonder Woman is the daughter of gods and Aquaman is a prophesied king and Captain Marvel/Shazam is given his powers by a wizard.

Still no Captain Marvel trailer. BOOOO.