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In 2018 the superhero genre is bananas, we all know this. Love it or not, and God knows I do, between 4 major studios pumping out big-name comic book adaptations we can get between 5 and 8 every year from just Marvel and DC properties alone. We need the Incredibles. We need something genuinely different, something wholly unique to cut through it and put things in perspective like The Incredibles did in 2004. I was beyond excited, if there was ever a time for this movie it was now. I was dismayed to discover, however, that The Incredibles 2 is first and foremost a superhero movie. There’s nothing really wrong with it on its own, It’s colorful, it’s got great action setpieces, fun new characters, a handful of solid jokes, and some above average character work. That’s all great, those are the things that made The Avengers such a great time, I have no problem with these things on principle. But where the Incredibles was so contradictory in its storytelling, Incredibles 2 does almost precisely the same thing that superhero cinema has been doing now since 2008.
Okay, let’s back up and talk about the Incredibles.
In 2004 we were in the midst of the first wave of superhero movies. X-Men had been successful for a few years already, Spider-Man broke box office records, and Batman, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Hulk, Hellboy, and the Fantastic Four were all either in theaters or soon going to be. This was before superhero movies were, well, good. The Incredibles was a direct response to this, an
Incredibles 2 had something. There were some ingots of pure gold in this one for sure, but they were so deeply encased in what amounts to standard blockbuster superhero fare that it’s hard to be excited about it. It’s a competently produced, even above-average action movie on its own, but it all but completely fails as a sequel to the Incredibles. If this were Marvel’s new Fantastic Four film I would have loved it, just totally eaten it up, but The Incredibles is about so much more than spectacle and action setpieces and cartoon animal-based slapstick humor and a villain that makes just enough sense to not ruin the movie. As an Incredibles movie, hell, even as just a Pixar movie, it’s missing a core emotional arc and it fills the void with something that looks good and goes down smooth.
Solo is honestly a very odd movie. There’s not a lot being said about it because, well, there’s really not that much to say. In a post-star wars world it’s hard to imagine a Star Wars movie that just falls flat, that doesn’t break box office records and immediately become the only thing anybody wants to talk about. It’s just like… Honestly it would have been unthinkable to me two months ago. I want to blame it mostly on the lack of marketing, it feels like Disney spent so much money basically reshooting the whole movie they decided to pretty much skip that part of production, figuring that Star Wars would market itself. But on top of that it was also just a pretty lackluster movie that told a story that nobody really was asking to hear. It wasn’t too bad though, it didn’t make a splash in a negative way either, so it just kind of came and went, drowned out by this year’s underwhelming summer blockbuster season.
Here’s the thing: it’s really not bad. We all know it could have been worse, we all know it could have been so much worse, so it’s hard to be too disappointed. It’s a charming and well-paced story, and even though it never really does anything too exciting it still goes down pretty smooth. The performances stand out here, the imitative and the original alike. Paul Bettany’s character is a real highlight, he’s got an incredible command of his scenes and every time I started to wander it was him that sucked me back in. Ehrenreich and Glover both do a wonderful job channeling the actors that came before them, and uh, yeah I guess everyone else did okay too.
It’s just like… I don’t even know. It’s hard to even criticize, it’s so completely inoffensive and easy. There’s definitely a weirder, funnier, more exciting movie hidden beneath this easygoing Ron Howard one. Word on the street is that Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s vision didn’t just not mesh with Disney’s vision, but was genuinely not working, and made the production a nightmare, and that’s such a disappointment to me. There are glimpses of a Lord/Miller joint every once in a while, just tiny winks of offbeat individualism in this thoroughly Star Wars movie that make it a little bit bittersweet.
It’s alright. Let’s be real here, it’s hard to complain. We’ve all been through the worst of it, so even a 6/10 movie seems pretty exciting when we know what the alternative feels like.
Marvel comics, whose shit has not been particularly together the last year or so, seems to have finally figured themselves out. Despite the easily criticizable nature of this, their second publishing reboot initiative this year, every new #1 in this relaunch project so far has featured ingenious creative teams and marvelous stories, and I’m absolutely blown away at this sudden and long overdue spike in quality. Here’s a run-down of the first few debuts from the last month or so:
Full disclosure here, Avengers #1 didn’t particularly grab me, it was a combination of #2 and the free comic book day story that really sold me on this series. #1 was a little overlong and not particularly eventful, but set some pieces in motion for some gorgeous things that panned out in the second issue. Not only does this series feature one of the most interesting Avengers line-ups in memory, it also features spectacular (and I mean that word in its purest sense) action sequences and off-beat character interactions that would seem to be completely unique to this book. As far as I know, we’ve never seen Black Panther and Odin, nor Ghost Rider and She-hulk interact in any capacity before, and it’s oodles of fun to see these things play out. I’ve seen some lukewarm reception to Avengers #1 online since its release, and I just gotta say, I was a little disappointed too, but check out the fight between Robbie Reyes and Jennifer Walter in issue 2 before you give up completely, it’s gorgeous.
Without going into too much detail, Ryan Stegman on a Venom title is a match made in heaven. Despite Eddie Brock being, in my opinion, the most uninteresting character in the whole Marvel canon Donny Cates manages to define the story of this series not by Eddie’s black-and-white “I only kill criminals” relationship with morality as many other venom titles have, but by the character of the symbiote itself instead. It deals much with a secret history of not only the Venom symbiote but other symbiotes like him both in the United States and in Asgard of all places in a fascinating juxtaposition. This is a run very much informed by Rick Remender’s run of Venom (read: the best run of Venom), and I’m supremely excited to see where this goes as a lifelong fan.
This is something I’ve already written about, but this semi-fresh team’s debut issue is magic. It’s somehow kinetic, challenging, insightful, and just plain beautiful all at once. It’s economical in its storytelling and cuts right to the point of things without much padding, unlike Coates’ earlier Panther work, and feels like him really leaning into the medium and genre for the first time, and doing it in a frankly masterful way. Definitely my new book favorite so far.
Mark Waid is a writer who is uniquely intentional about his approach to each story he writes. Doctor Strange is a slow burn by design, it’s wordy and narration-heavy, making it take a little bit longer to chew through than a lot of the other books in this post. It’s a fascinating story told almost entirely from the outside, with the writer’s narration being our main inlet to the action, and it somehow combines dramatic old-English wordsmithery with some genuine character moments that make this book especially fascinating. In addition, I wasn’t a huge fan of Saiz’s work on Steve Rogers, but damn if that guy can’t draw some eldritch horrors. Inspired choice of artist.
Al Ewing’s take on Hulk in this series is absolutely brilliant. Hulk is a character that people typically desperately want to see just for the action. He’s exciting, he’s muscley, and he’ll fuck shit up in a way that not many heroes in the Marvel pantheon will, but Ewing makes a decision in this first issue and flips things around. This is the first series in a long while that makes you afraid of the Hulk as a reader, makes you dread Bruce Banner’s transformation, and fear for the safety of the innocent bystanders around him. This is a horror story first and foremost, and you can feel it in Bennett’s art, it’s dark and any action in the issue happens completely off-screen. If you’re a digital comics reader please, please make an exception for this particular issue. I don’t want to shame those people or insinuate that physical stuff is somehow better because digital comics are not only much more affordable, but much more accessible, and I know not everybody can always get out to a store, but Joe Bennett makes incredible use of the comic book medium in some hugely creative ways, and the story just absolutely will not have the same punch in digital format. I don’t want to spoil it for new readers, but there’s a couple of specific pages in this issue that are completely and totally arresting, and I can’t overemphasize how worth it the trip to your comic book store will be.
I’m hoping to post Pt. 2 this same time next week with bits about Ant-Man and the Wasp, Deadpool, Thor, Sentry, and Cloak and Dagger, plus some future entries on some further-out comics at a much later date. I’m hugely excited about all these comics and I you can check them out if you haven’t, these are all top-tier works from top-tier creative professionals, and I’m just blown away by the quality of some of these fresh series.
I never knew much about megaman until I picked up this same legacy collection on a whim for the PS4. I found it on sale, took it home and sat down with it for an hour or so, and while I was very much impressed with it, it just wasn’t the kind of game that held my attention sitting down at a console. It was just too difficult and I found myself getting frustrated after not too long. I played it on and off for a while, and even though I was shocked at how smooth and easy to pick up it was for an NES game, I was never able to make my way through any of the games presented to conclusion. This switch release got me excited because it would be easier to pick up and put down, and maybe with that little bit of distance, I’d be able to keep my cool and muscle through Megaman 2 at least. It turns out I was able to keep my cool for another reason too.
In what is, I’ve gathered, a not un-controversial move, Capcom have added a new feature exclusive to the Switch version wherein you can turn back time and try tricky spots in hard levels as many times as needed to succeed. I’ve got a complicated relationship with this idea.
It raises some very interesting questions about difficulty in video games. How hard is too hard? Where does the line exist between difficult and frustrating? Why do hard games need to be toned down for a modern release?
To me, the key difference is context. In the 80’s when the NES Megaman titles were first being released, the average household had only one video game console and about 3 to 5 video games. There wasn’t much competition for your attention on the gaming front, so games could afford to be esoteric or overly difficult because not only were they aimed and marketed towards kids with oodles of free time, but because there weren’t many, if any, other video games in your house to play. When you’re completely enraptured by the very idea of being in control of this little guy on the TV, what else even matters? It’s not like you’re gonna stop playing video games. So, as a result, you spent hours and hours perfecting the skills necessary to beat your favorite games, finding secrets by sheer chance and brute force and memorizing every nook and cranny. The difference in the modern day is that if you start to get frustrated by a video game you can just play something else, or else just get something done because you’re more likely an adult with responsibilities. Video games in the modern era need to be able to hook you quickly and keep you hooked or else you’ll find something else to do, and a game being too hard or too frustrating is a great way to lose somebody.
It’s almost hard for me to come out as anti-rewind button, because I’ve seen a lot of people thinking that’s a very elitist,“You actually have to be pretty smart to understand Rick and Morty” kind of thing to say, but I stand by it. My problem is not with the decrease in difficulty, in fact I’m all for it. I can’t spend 6 hours playing Megaman every day after I get home from 5th grade, throw me a bone here. I’m against the rewind button because it’s a poorly-implemented and clumsy way to reduce difficulty.
The rewind button doesn’t reduce the difficulty, it practically eliminates it. You can rewind for as long as you want as many times as you want, through game overs and even menu screens. It’s completely unrestricted and playing through a game, even one as fiendishly difficult as Megaman 3, with nigh omnipotence at your fingertips greatly diminishes the experience of a platformer like this. It’s still not exactly breezy, but it still takes absolutely no practice to get through any difficult level. It completely robs you of the feeling of learning and progressing in the game.
“Jackson, you hypocrite douchebag,” you may say, “why not just have some self-control and not use the feature?” Because I think having the rewind button is still better than not having it, but there are other, even simpler solutions that would be much better. The rewind button allows you to experience the wonderful and charming levels and enemies without putting them behind a paywall where the cost is hours and hours of practice. It’s like taking a fun tour of Megaman without actually having to be any good at it. I think even something as simple as giving you unlimited lives would be a more elegant solution to this difficulty problem. You still have to toil through every section of every level in real time but without the threat of a frustrating game over screen. You could have two modes, a standard mode where you have unlimited lives and maybe a slightly more restricted rewind, and a hard mode, which is just the original game. Hell, even just giving you a finite amount of rewind would probably fix the problem pretty well.
In the end these games are charming and creative enough that even when they’re nerfed so thoroughly they’re still wildly enjoyable, but I think a little more finesse and a little more choice in your game experience would go a long way with collections like these. The Legacy Collection is wonderful and the Megaman games are some of the only NES titles that still feel playable and genuinely fun in the modern era, but I can’t help but feel like the rewind function is a half-measure and a missed opportunity.
I was interested in this movie from the first trailer, but then again I always am with movies like this, and I’m usually disappointed. While watching the trailer in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think “yeah okay, but you also wanted to go see The House and Fist Fight last year so…” I’m always hopeful with studio comedies like this, and it’s often misplaced, but when one like this comes along and proves that it’s a category of film that doesn’t have to be based on TV shows from the 80′s in order to be successful, it makes me excited for whatever shitty movie is coming out next month all over again.
Game Night is not perfect, but it’s so refreshing as a comedy that it’s really hard for me to care. The actors all have great chemistry, the jokes feel like they were written by a professional rather than just made up on the spot by the actors, and to me most importantly it was visually interesting and supremely well-directed. Typically the directorial mission statement for comedy movies is “Go to the set and if someone is saying something funny then point the camera at them,” but this movie feels choreographed in the best possible way. It’s planned, the camera is just as important a player in a scene as the actors, and it’s visually dynamic both colorfully and compositionally. That’s the thing that makes this movie feel special more than anything else, is the planning involved, it doesn’t feel slapped together or made up on the spot, it took real, human, premeditated thought to produce.
And on top of all of that it’s damn funny. It straddles the line of not being low-brow and not being too high-brow either very expertly, and the result is a movie that feels guilt-free in a lot of ways. You can tell your friends you really like it without feeling like having to explain yourself. It’s not full of nudity, there’s absolutely no diarrhea content, it’s not weirdly trying to appeal to a stoner demographic in a half-assed way, it’s just witty and fun in the purest possible way.
On the negative side though, just because it’s fun and intelligent and broadly appealing doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Not every joke lands precisely the way it’s meant too, and sometimes the running gags overstay their welcome a little bit. It’s got some character beats that don’t really do anything to enhance the movie, they feel oddly obligatory, and frankly I think we could have just gone without. It’s just slightly clumsy, but it sticks its landings most of the time, and there are plenty of landings to stick so it all works out in its favor in the end.
Game Night is just a breath of fresh air, and very cool surprise in the wholly sub-par year of movies we’ve been having. It’s no masterpiece but it’s a great movie for a night off and wonderfully funny choice for a large group. It’s broadly appealing but never offensive to the viewer, and it’s intelligent and well-put-together even by non-comedy standards.
Marvel’s seemingly constant stream of relaunches and rebranding has been a pretty hot-button issue in Marvel comics’ readership the last few years. I’ve never much minded it, the way I look at it it’s like seasons on a television network. Every fall Marvel goes through and starts some new shit, finishes off some stuff that was coming to an end, and engineers a jumping on point for the things that are continuing as they were. I think it makes comic books more accessible to new readers and discourages writers from padding out their comics with too much fluff. But even I was skeptical when Marvel’s Fresh Start initiative was announced an unprecedented 5 months after the most recent re-launch. It seemed like Marvel’s frenzied attempt at course correction after losing many writers and a lot of readership in the last year or so, and now that we’re in the thick of it I can confirm that that’s precisely the case. There was a twist to my expectations though, which was that it’s actually awesome, and so far all of their relaunched titles seem exciting and creatively unique. Avengers is action-packed and has a refreshing superhero team, Venom is a fascinating re-imagining of the history of the symbiote, and the Free Comic Book Day issues of Nick Spencer’s Amazing Spider-Man and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Captain America look extremely promising.
The one I want to talk about in particular right now though is Ta-Nehisi Coates and Daniel Acuña’s new Black Panther #1, which came out yesterday.
Here’s the premise: In the ancient past a troop of Wakandan citizens set up a colony on the outer edges of the solar system. They were eventually lost in space and cut all ties with the Wakandan motherland. In the following years, unbeknownst to the earthbound citizens, Wakandans set up an intergalactic empire by conquering world after world and building a civilization on the backs of slave laborers.
Black Panther #1 starts in media res, as an enslaved T’challa wrestles his way out of servitude in the mines of the aforementioned empire. There’s a lot of ambiguity and not a lot is very much spelled out in this particular issue, but the message is clear: our Wakanda’s in deep shit. There’s a special kind of dynamicity to the action sequences in this issue coming from Daniel Acuña, an artist I’ve praised on this blog before and probably will again, who worked on Sam Wilson and Uncanny Avengers previously and never ceases to impress me. The story is told so much with action and so little with words that I couldn’t help but associate it with the first issue of Waid and Samnee’s Black Widow, a comic book issue that I personally regard as one of the greatest of all time.
This is a great jumping on point if, like me, you’ve found Coates’ run previously to be a touch dull. typically his story has been marked by a lot of Wakandan politics, a lot of dense dialogue, and while the action sequences are often pretty to look at, they’re sparse. This issue finally feels like Coates shaking off his novelist background and fully embracing the visual nature of a comic book as a storytelling vehicle. It’s just as interesting as anything he’s put out before, it brings up a lot of fascinating questions about imperialism in a really creative way and without being heavy-handed, and it’s viscerally exciting and stunning to look at. It’s really got it all, and I’m so excited to track this story over the next few months.
I watched this movie on Netflix, which honestly, is how this movie was meant to be seen. Moon is maybe the perfect movie for streaming because it’s slightly obscure without being low quality, it’s intellectual without being too challenging, engaging, but you can still check your phone without getting lost, it’s short, it’s got a clickable premise, and it’s all-in-all really a pretty solid movie. It’s the ideal for sitting down after work and putting something on that won’t eat up too much of your evening, and that makes you feel smart while watching it and cool for having seen it afterward. It’s perfectly digestible and recommendable as an “underrated movie,” and that’s all praise from me.
Moon is a movie that’s hard to find fault in, it’s got a great performance from Sam Rockwell, it doesn’t drag hardly at all, it’s got a fun script and a solid set, and it’s got an internal logic that’s consistent and followable. Shooting a whole movie wherein the same actor has to talk to himself and making it feel believable and natural is a huge achievement, especially when there’s such a makeup discrepancy between the two characters, but just due to the law of large numbers there are some slight slip-ups here and there. Every once in a while the two Sam Rockwells will talk over each other in a slightly awkward way, and they try to pass it off as naturalistic dialogue, but really you can tell they probably just fucked up the timing a little bit.
Solid movie. It’s on Netflix, so give it a shot, as I said before it’s easy to watch and perfectly bite-sized as an entertainment experience. Honestly, there’s not much more to say about it. In my opinion it’s a masterpiece in the zeitgeist of casual filmgoing and I think that’s a really commendable achievement. It’s refreshing to see a small-budget movie that’s not trying to convince me of something or teach me a lesson, it’s just a good story that’s worth telling and worth watching.
So I know my blog has been 100% Marvel stuff for the last few weeks, but this should be my last one for the next little bit.
So it’s going to sound like I didn’t like this movie, because I have a lot of critiques to get off my chest, but I really want to stress that I did. It delivered on the promises of irreverent humor, fun characters, and brutal action that the first outing made, and overall made for a whale of a time at the movies, but it’s still mostly forgettable, and ultimately doesn’t live up to the original in a lot of very specific ways.
Deadpool, to me, was a great and refreshing superhero movie for 3 reasons, all of which were absent in the sequel.
First of all, Deadpool 1 was short, simple, and succinct in an era where superhero movies are getting longer, more complicated, and more overcrowded by the year. Deadpool was lean and easy to follow, at the most liberal of estimates it had 8 substantial characters, and the plot was simple and linear with an easy-to-follow structure that didn’t require too much from the viewer. Deadpool 2 is still not as complex as the likes of Infinity War or Days of Future Past, but it’s definitely not as straightforward as its predecessor. It took the original cast and piled on character after character, while also holding onto characters that didn’t necessarily need to make a reappearance. Like let’s be honest, I love NSTW and Blind Al as much as the next guy, but were either of them really crucial to the experience of that movie?
Pulling from the previous idea, Deadpool 1 went out of its way to subvert the tropes of the superhero genre in really quantifiable ways. Superhero movies are long. Deadpool was short. Superhero movies have a lot of characters and feature big names from the comic book source material. Deadpool only included 2 characters I had ever heard of from my own comic book experience, and the rest were either completely original or else deep cuts that you didn’t need to be familiar with going in. Superhero movies like to tackle complicated issues in ham-fisted ways, Deadpool was content with a straightforward revenge story. So really, when you’ve got a Deadpool movie with a stacked superhero cast that uses mutants as a stand-in for an oppressed minority group and clocks in at longer than 2 hours, what’s the difference between that and an X-Men Movie?
Deadpool was a masterclass in blending comedy and tragedy, it juggled serious stakes and emotional weight with a non-stop stream of gags and an irreverent attitude more skillfully than any other movie I’ve ever seen. Deadpool 2 doesn’t pull this off nearly as well. It feels less like a sliding scale and more like an on/off switch. When something intense would happen all jokes would cease and they would play sad music until they decided it was time for funny again. This is more of a quibble of execution than a divergence in the whole spirit of the movie, but it’s still substantial, and it’s one of the biggest things that keeps this movie from really sharing the same real estate as the original.
As well as all that, I was also just excited to have Terry Crews and Bill Skarsgard onboard a Marvel movie. I know that was kind of the gag, to set you up and knock you down like that, but it’s the kind of gag that’s really only funny if it’s not happening to you. Killing their characters so nonchalantly was a weirdly transgressive move on behalf of the movie, as if they wanted to punish me for being excited about well-known actors playing beloved characters. It’s like I was sitting on the floor playing with my toys, having a great time, and then Fox and Ryan Reynolds just came through and kicked them all over and tried to tell me how funny it was that they did that.
At the end of the day though that’s all quibbles because as I said in the beginning, it was just a riot. I could pick it apart all day, and construct logical arguments to explain to anyone who will hear why it wasn’t as good as the original, but it will never change the fact that I was laughing and cheering right along with everyone else in the theater. It’s an absolute blast of a movie as long as you can tolerate the Rick and Morty crowd proving to everyone that they got the references by laughing the loudest.
Usually, when I say I’ve seen a movie multiple times in theaters, it’s more of a gauge of the people around me’s interest in it than my own. Typically it means that the people around me invited me to see it after my initial viewing and I tagged along. I saw Infinity War on opening night with my sister, and I’ve gone back two times since all on my own, not because I wanted to hang out with my friends, not because my family still needed to see it, but because I really just wanted to.
It took me three viewings to really gather my thoughts about this movie, and I’m going to start with the flaws to get it out of the way.
This movie is pretty explicitly designed as a first-viewing experience. Any repeat viewings will never ever live up to the initial event, when the whole movie is an adrenaline ride built on not knowing how things are going to turn out. This could be said for almost all movies I suppose, but this movie especially so, knowing precisely how it turns out ends up kind of draining the blood from some of the earlier fight scenes. When you’re not viscerally afraid for the safety of anyone and everyone you’ve grown so attached to over the last ten years, some of the fights in this one start to feel a little long.
Coming from this though is my greatest compliment for the film: On first viewing Avengers: Infinity War is a completely incomparable movie experience. Not only is it truly the unprecedented crossover event it was advertised as, It’s an unprecedented crossover event that makes you genuinely fear for everything and everyone you loved about the disparate parts that make it up. Killing Loki and Heimdall in the very first scene of this movie is the precise thing that makes it work. It’s the one moment that defines the entire experience because it sends a clear message: “We’re not fucking around.” From that scene forward nothing and no one is safe, and the emotional stakes are suddenly blown sky-high.
A lot of blockbuster movies have problems with this, and it almost always either comes from assuredness that the person in danger will survive or ambivalence as to whether they do or not. If a movie’s called Black Panther, Black Panther’s not going to be killed in the first hour, so really the action stakes are just naturally pretty low. Movies like Black Panther have a lot of ways to work around this though, making lesser characters the butt of attacks more often, or making the consequences of the battle be more than just the well-being of the combatants for example. Infinity War works around this in a lot of ways, much of which is more on behalf of the marketing team that the filmmakers, but it’s just as important. First of all, it has no singular protagonist. There is no one character whose death would completely halt the conflict of this movie, so by nature of the story everyone is in some way expendable without grinding the movie to a halt. In addition to this, the film doesn’t have to set up emotional stakes, we carry them with us into the theater. The heavy lifting has already been done in regards to attachment, so the Russos don’t have to worry about it, they can just hit the ground running. There’s already at least one full movie of character development behind every character in this movie, which is something no other movie or franchise has ever really been able to pull off before, and when you’re already familiar and invested in so many characters just the sheer number of emotional connection points is enough to get your blood pumping in any action sequence. I will never ever forget the fear and anxiety present in that first opening night screening I saw on a Thursday night, people holding their breath when Peter pointed his blaster at Gamora, people cheering when Steve approached from the shadows to save Vision and Wanda, people gasping audibly all around me when Thanos ran a hunk of Tony’s armor through his stomach, so so sure that he was done for.
I want to add as well that I was worried that this movie being set so much in space and juggling so many characters would mean that the Russos would have to tone down their keen eye for action that made Winter Soldier and Civil War so exciting to watch, and this was not the case at all. The Russos’ action is so grounded and kinetic in all three of their Marvel outings and I think it’s just wonderful, and they also seem very committed to long shots that let you see everything that’s happening instead of too many jumpy cuts. It really stood out to me right at the beginning where Thanos and Hulk get into a physical altercation on a ruined spaceship, maybe the ultimate setup for a throwaway, muddy action sequence, but what happened instead was a well-choreographed single shot fist fight that made sense and was easy and fun to follow. I honestly could not be happier with the Russo Brothers and their ability to really hold on to their directorial voice even in a movie like this that could so easily become just like every other blockbuster.
Honestly, I could talk about this movie forever, but I’ll cap it off here. It’s really a triumph of a movie, and I think this is going to be Empire Strikes Back for my generation for a lot of reasons. It’s so tightly constructed, so beautiful to look at, so emotionally effective, so funny, and so balls-to-the-wall spectacular that I just can’t imagine a movie ever feeling like a bigger deal than this. Long live the MCU and long live the Russo Brothers.
Not only does the newest issue of Iron Man commemorates 600 issues of ol’ Shell Head, more importantly it celebrates the incredible eighteen plus year career of Brian Michael Bendis at Marvel.
Yes, this is his finally Marvel Comics story for the foreseeable future and while it would be very easy for me feel sad today, instead what I feel is an incredible sense of awe and pride. For nearly two decades Brian has given Marvel fans his heart, blood and soul and that’s manifested itself in some of the greatest Marvel stories told of this generation.
This of course isn’t the end for Brian as he moves on from us to our distinguished competition, but it does mark the end of an amazing era. That’s why I’d like to ask all of you within the sound of my social footprint, whether you buy Iron Man #600 or not (PLEASE buy Iron Man #600), if you were ever entertained, touched or inspired by any of Brian’s stories, to send a message of thanks his way.
As for me, I’ll leave it at this: putting aside all the great stories, battling together in the trenches or that he made me I look like a much better Editor In Chief than I ever really was, I will always cherish of friendship and how much we accomplished in that time. Thanks for everything Brian from myself, everyone at Marvel and True Believers everywhere!
Love ya brutha!
You can probably tell that I’ve got a favorite era of Marvel comics. Maybe it’s just my own nostalgia since that was when I first started reading comics, but between 2012 and 2015 there was an abundance of incredible things on the shelves. Fraction and Aja on Hawkeye, Waid and Samnee on Daredevil, Slott and Allred on Silver Surfer, Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore on Ghost Rider, I could go on, but it just seemed like there was more worth reading at that time than at any other time in memory. During that time though there was one series that Marvel put front and center, one that pulled from the tumultuous arcs of many of Marvel’s other books, and charted a continuous narrative for the entire Marvel Universe, and that was Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers.
I’ll start by saying that this is not a breezy read. It’s grim, it’s dense, it’s long, and it requires a lot of concentration or it’s easy to get lost since the details become so important as it moves along. All said and done we’re looking at 44 issues of Avengers, 33 issues of New Avengers, 6 issues of Infinity, and 9 issues of Secret Wars for a total of 92 issues of this story, which deserves the description of “sprawling epic” more than any other comic I’ve ever read. It’s the comic that came to mind the most often while watching Infinity War because not only does it juggle a ridiculous amount of characters extremely effectively, but it also deals with impossibly heavy stakes and brutally difficult circumstances in ways that feel almost completely insurmountable. Hickman has a way of cutting to the core of characters by putting them in seemingly no-win scenarios and seeing the decisions they make when the entire universe is on the line.
In this story, the multiverse is dying one reality at a time. In an event called an Incursion two universes collide, with Earth being the point of impact. In these events a second Earth appears in the sky, falling towards our own, and if they collide both universes are completely destroyed. If either Earth is destroyed completely, then the incursion is halted, and both universes survive. The Illuminati, consisting originally of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Stephen Strange, Black Bolt, Namor, and Reed Richards are alone tasked with keeping realities alive. It’s a brutal idea that deals with complicated moral questions in really creative ways, it makes your favorite characters reckon with the question of whether it’s right to destroy billions of lives to save a virtually infinite number.
It’s a great story that does a lot of legwork to re-introduce some cool characters into the Marvel canon that were previously considered outside of it, characters like Starbrand, Nightmask, and Hyperion who were originally exclusive to outside continuities get their own 616 identities in the first issues of this story. He puts the spotlight on some otherwise underrated characters as well, with Sunspot, Cannonball, and Manifold taking center stage from time to time, as well as laying the groundwork for bringing the Inhumans back into the spotlight again in the modern era. It’s an arc with a wonderful cast of rotating artists including Steve Epting, Jerome Opeña, Valerio Schiti, and Esad Ribic just to name a few, and they each bring their own spin on this epic story while keeping the tone and direction consistent, something that is often hard to pull off.
Just a tremendous comic book, it’s one of the most gloriously complex yet tightly written stories ever to come out of Marvel, and it juggles so much so expertly that it’s sometimes hard to believe it was all written by one guy. Avengers is without a doubt a masterwork of modern comics and is a story that has been and I think will be felt in Marvel comics and movies for a long, long time going forward, and I think it’s a great bet for anyone who wants a sneak peek into some things that might start getting adapted on the big screen in the next few years.
So this series of posts is meant to be recommendations based on Infinity War Characters, and that point is arguable with this series, but I’m gonna dive into it anyway because it’s a wonderful series that was one of the comics that got me into Marvel back in high school.
If you ask me a great comic book run doesn’t drag on forever. It’s got a specific character arc in mind that takes place over somewhere between 20 and 50 issues over a couple of years. Dan Slott seems to disagree though since he’s been the sole writer for Amazing Spider-Man for 8 years, and a sporadic contributor for another 2 before that, if there was ever a comic book run that seemed to drag on forever, it’s this one. Dan Slott’s had some hits and some misses in my book, but his best story is this, which manages to insert a tight 20-50 issue character arc within a seemingly never-ending comic book series.
Peter Parker can feel played out sometimes. As of the beginning of this story, there were 700 issues worth of Amazing Spider-man, as well as hundreds more of Spectacular Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Web of Spider-man, Spider-Man Unlimited and just plain ol’ Spider-Man, and I imagine writing a new canon story about Peter Parker must be tremendously daunting. Where can you take it from there? What side of Spider-Man hasn’t already been explored? Dan Slott took an approach on this arc that is pure genius, which is just to fuckin get rid of him.
In the final days of his life, Otto Octavius designs a device capable of switching two people’s minds. In Amazing Spider-Man #700 Peter Parker dies, his mind trapped inside the failing body of Dr. Octopus while Otto lives on in Peter’s body. Superior Spider-Man tells us that we’ve been taking Peter for granted by showing us the disastrous consequences of someone else trying to do what he does. It’s always uniquely satisfying when a series takes a typically flat, one-dimensional, archetypal character, especially a villain, and really puts them under a spotlight. Seeing Otto Octavius try to navigate his way through the life of Peter Parker is fascinating and engrossing to read, it’s a comedy of errors, a surprisingly thoughtful character study, and a wonderful tragic hero story all wrapped into one. Slott somehow manages to take Doctor Octopus, perhaps one of the most ill-conceived of Stan Lee’s late 60′s ramblings, and make you really feel for him, make you start to see him as a real person, someone you deeply understand even if you hope for his downfall.
Dan Slott delivers his truly best work on the Spider-Man franchise in this 31 issue series, and rotating artists Ryan Stegman, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Humberto Ramos make the art as dynamic and exciting as the story is. Often funny, always tragic, and most of all just plain wonderful to read, this is one of the more affecting comic books that I’ve ever read and it’s something I’ll recommend to anyone who will listen.
Next in my Infinity War-inspired comic book recommendations is a series that’s very important to me that I don’t think really got the attention it deserved while it was happening.
Nick Spencer’s run on Captain America was a controversial one for sure, and almost definitely by design. The only comic that got more news coverage in 2015 than his Sam Wilson #1 was his Steve Rogers #1, which kicked off the infamous HydraCap storyline. I’ll spare you all my full-throated defense of that story, which I truly believe to be one of the most intelligent and well-executed political satires in recent history, but whatever whatever I’ll move on. Sam Wilson is my favorite comic book run since Waid’s Daredevil came to a close the previous fall, it’s beautiful, it’s heartfelt, and it’s one of the deeper character studies in recent Marvel memory, and it’s so worth checking out.
One of the most powerful “Life Imitates Art” moment I’ve ever experienced was the month that Sam Wilson #1 hit shelves. In the story, Sam Wilson, still fresh in the Captain America costume, rescues some illegal Mexican immigrants from a predatory cult leader, thus in the eyes of the world taking a partisan political stance. In the context of the story, it results in a media shitstorm, a call for Sam Wilson to give the shield to someone else (someone white?) and stop being so political #notmycaptainamerica. As if on cue, real-world media outlets started covering this comic book, claiming that Captain America’s new supervillain nemesis was conservatives and that politics should stay out of comic books, like the good old days. I think Trevor Noah said it best when he said: “You know Captain America was punching Hitler because of his fascist policies, right?” There’s something so wonderful to me about people opposing a piece of art so strongly and so slipshodly, clearly only hearing about the piece, not actually experiencing it or themselves, that they end up perfectly illustrating the point the piece was meant to make. It’s what makes Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals so fun to follow.
Captain America: Sam Wilson perfectly illustrates the stress and anxiety of trying to do the right thing in a world where nobody can seem to agree on what the right thing is. When some people are telling you that you’re doing great things while others are saying you’re part of the problem who do you listen to? It’s a story about deciding for yourself how to behave in a world where anyone can make their stance on your behavior known, about staying true to yourself in the face of complicated issues and making tough decisions and sticking with them. It’s an inspiring and deeply political story that feels real and captures the experience of existing in the social media era in a strikingly accurate way.
It’s still a Marvel comic at the end of the day though. It’s surprisingly funny when it wants to be and it’s got a great and well-defined cast of characters including Misty Knight, Rage, D-Man, and a new Falcon, a teenage Mexican immigrant named Joaquin Torres who is easily the most underrated new Marvel character in the last decade. It’s got action and some romance, all the fun stuff, but it’s got the real shit all mixed in. It’s a wonderful story that I think is going to stick with me for a long time.
I have to point out the beautiful art as well, Sam Wilson has a great rotating cast of artists including Paul Renaud, Angel Unzueta, and my personal favorite Daniel Acuña, who draws with a warm soft style that gives the series a very distinct vibe. Acuña is taking over artist duties on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther this summer and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
Sam Wilson is a wonderful story for anyone who ever feels lost, confused, and tired of always having to pick a side. It’s beautiful, funny, thought-provoking, and exciting, everything you could ever ask for in a comic book. It’s one of my favorite comic arcs of all time, and I really hope it gets the attention it deserves looking back.
Avengers: Infinity War is a triumph, and as a result, I’ve been thinking about comic books a lot more than usual the last week or so. Inspired by the film, I’ve decided to take a few days on this blog to discuss/recommend some of my favorite comics, especially those featuring the cast of the movie.
Jason Aaron has been writing Thor at Marvel 6 years this October and is soon to be helming his 4th Thor #1 with artist Mike Del Mundo this summer, which I could not be more excited for. It has been and continues to be, a spectacular run involving his Original Sin crossover event with Mike Deodato and the famous Jane Foster saga with Russel Dauterman which tragically ended last Wednesday, but there’s one story, in particular, I want to single out, which is actually his first. Thor: God of Thunder #1-11, the story marketed as “Godbomb.”
This story is a wonderful character study, a grim and brutal fairy tale, and most of all a really nail-biting edge-of-your-seat adventure. It came to mind a few times while watching Infinity War because it captures a very similar sense of dread and futility in the face of a horrible evil, and it does so in a lot of very interesting and creative ways. It works non-linearly, switching between three different time frames. In the earliest, a young Thor, not yet worthy of Mjolnir, is captured and tortured by a sadistic alien god named Gorr, who dreams of a world without Gods. In the present, Gorr begins his attack in earnest on the universe, systematically wiping all-powerful deities from the cosmos, and in the future, Thor, now king of Asgard, is the last God left, waiting for Gorr’s armies to break down the doors to his palace and overwhelm him.
It’s a fascinating story not only in the narrative way that it plays with time but also in the way that it plays with Thor as a character. Showing glimpses of him and his life from three wildly different points in it puts together a sort of tacit arc that isn’t outright explained, but is immediately relevant when reading the story. Seeing a young Thor working only to become the strongest there is and the greatest warrior in a ploy to become worthy of the hammer, and then seeing our Thor wielding the hammer and using it to do good whenever possible speaks volumes.
Outright showing the audience a view of the future where the hero is lost and the world is a ruin is powerful, it’s very classical, almost Shakespearean if it weren’t so macabre, and it gives the reader an abundantly clear sense of the tone of the book moving forward. It’s a wonderful, frightening story with beautifully grim art that captures a sort of dark fantasy vibe that I think Thor was really lacking, and it was one of the first comic books I ever read that just really, truly blew me away.
(Working on an Infinity War post, hoping to get in to see it a second time before I really dig in)
If you’ve seen a Wes Anderson movie you kind of know what you’re going to get when you walk into a new one. You know you’re getting a dry detached sort of humor, a lot of long, square, silent shots, interesting use of color, a minimalist Desplat soundtrack, and of course Bill Murray, Ed Norton, and Jeff Goldblum. This is the baseline. The thing that differentiates them the most when stylistically they tend to be nearly identical to each other are the settings. A whimsical forest. A bright pink hotel. A scout camp. A Japanese island of trash. This is what keeps you interested, the wonderful sets and production design involved, and the fact that every long, square, square, silent shot still feels new and interesting to look at.
Isle of Dogs is quintessential Anderson. It’s got all the aforementioned staples and a breathtaking setting that’s unrelentingly gorgeous and dreary simultaneously. It’s so wonderfully shot and framed that I don’t think there’s a single moment of this film that wouldn’t fit exquisitely framed on my wall. it’s meticulously put together to ensure that every frame is striking and unique, yet simple and easy to take in. It’s without a doubt one of, if not the most visual-focused movies I’ve ever seen, and it pays off tremendously.
My biggest criticism of this movie is the story itself. The film opens being about a pack of five dogs working together to survive, and we spend the first 45 minutes or so getting to know them and growing attached to them as characters. I won’t spoil the rest of the film, because there actually are some pretty fun revelations to be had in it, but in non-specific terms, my point is this: Once the story starts to revolve more heavily around one of the dogs it’s as if the other four just cease to exist. They’re weaned out of the movie completely and not even at the end wrap-up do we get any sort closure on their stories. It’s disappointing because all of their characters and performances are wonderful, and I honestly wanted something more out of them. Even though there is a lot of fun to be had in this third act, I just wanted more from it.
This movie has a very smart way of keeping you engaged though, which is putting captions onscreen in weird unexpected places in font that’s slightly too small for only about a second or less. The mental and visual gymnastics required to seek out and read any words onscreen is slightly exhausting, but also quite fun, and it keeps you on your toes enough that you don’t start to want to check your phone about 2/3rds of the way through it.
It’s a really wonderful movie, it’s a great breezy movie-going experience that doesn’t demand too much of you. If you’re an Anderson fan you’ll get what you want and if you’re not it may convert you.
I was hesitant to take the plunge on Labo. I was very excited about the idea of it, but 70 dollars is still 70 dollars, and was I really going to spend that much on a toy? Would I play with it for more than 20 minutes?
Nintendo labo is the best thing that’s ever happened to this world. I bought the Variety pack on Saturday afternoon and it devoured my whole day, it was just so much fun to play with.
The thing that surprised me the most about this is how easy it was to assemble. From the instant I saw the first trailer I remember thinking that the piano must be a nightmare to put together and that there were going to be a lot of kids who would ruin their cardboard pieces trying to put it together. To my delight though, all of the peripherals seemed to build themselves. It was not only deceptively simple and easy to understand, but it was fast, even the piano only took me a little less than 90 minutes to finish, and every piece was just as fun to build as it was to play with, which was actually quite a lot. Plus the cardboard felt so nice to punch out, and folded so cleanly along the fold lines that I never felt nervous that something would go wrong or break, I could just fully concentrate on following directions without having to be anxious about the materials.
This set of toys is so absolutely fascinating and so dynamic that I still don’t feel like I’ve completely explored their potential. nothing here is a one-trick pony, everything has multiple functions and uses that all work together to create an oddly cohesive play experience across the whole set. Not to mention that the ingenuity involved in creating video games out of cardboard is just staggering, and seeing that ingenuity come to life in your own hands, slowly catching on to the physical mechanics as you build is honestly pretty magical.
My only criticism of labo is that these things really are pretty big. They’re clunky and not in any way collapsible, and finding a place to just put the damn things was a challenge in itself.
Labo is nonetheless wonderful, it’s without a single doubt one of the most creative video games I’ve ever seen or owned, and even as an adult it gave me, and still is giving me, hours and hours of enjoyment. It’s exciting, well-designed, well-executed, and so damn fascinating I can’t help but talk about these toys and how they work to anyone that will listen.
I had very high hopes for this game, I’d been waiting around for it ever since the first E3 trailer. After all, with Zelda and Mario getting HD franchise overhaul masterpieces on the Switch, what reason did I have to think the first Kirby outing on the switch would be any different? The game’s not bad, but it’s certainly not to Kirby what BotW and Odyssey were to Zelda and Mario.
I suppose in this new era of Nintendo games the developers just didn’t particularly think Kirby needed fixing, which I understand. If anything this is a return to form for the franchise, at least on consoles, since there hasn’t been a straight up-and-down platformer game that used the standard Kirby Copy Schtick since, what, the N64? was there a Gamecube one? It’s been a while. Regardless, this game minimalizes gimmicks and just gives you a Kirby game which is as much a Kirby game as any other game has been. So that’s nice, it’s fun to use those same standard controls on the big screen once again, and all the new enemies with new abilities for our hero to copy.
My problem with this game is that the multiplayer is near pointless, and because of that the game feels supremely easy. Not easy in the way that Kirby games usually are, where it’s just sort of breezy and you can beat most things on the first try, but easy in the sense that it requires no effort or thought to just cruise through the game. When playing by yourself you are constantly encouraged to rack up 3 CPU allies to simulate the real 4-player experience, but when you do, it seems that your friends just play the game for you. They take out enemies before you have a chance to take a swing, they solve puzzles before you have the chance to think about them, and they just generally rob you of any responsibility for the progression of the game.
So maybe the game just designed to be played with 3 friends, maybe it’s just a multiplayer experience and playing by yourself isn’t really the way the way it’s meant to be experienced. I figured that must be the case, right?
I played this game co-op 2 different times, once with some friends and once with my family and both times we all got pretty bored a few minutes in. Much like single player, it always felt like someone else was the one that was spearheading the level, and the other 3 players just kind of followed along. After some thinking I realized that this is because the danger in this game is purely enemy based, and if whoever is in the front of the pack takes out all the enemies as they appear- which is sometimes almost hard not to do because they’re so easy to take out- then the rest of the group just hangs out. Even if you were to have a hard time taking one of them out it almost wouldn’t matter because your characters are so durable that damage feels almost irrelevant.
The recent Mario platformers on the Wii and Wii U work so well with 4P co-op because there’ s more dangers in the level than just the enemies, there are pits and spikes and lava, not to mention that if a player up front gets hit by an enemy they don’t get to keep wailing on it, they’re just out. It’s now on the shoulders of the player behind them to either take them out or just avoid them and make it the next player’s problem.
Star Allies just isn’t difficult enough. It’s so cripplingly easy that it’s just boring. It doesn’t matter how pretty your levels are, it doesn’t matter how fun all the power-ups are to explore and play with, it doesn’t matter how much you love the characters and the story, if it doesn’t feel like you’re really playing the game there’s not really any reason to play. There’s a lot to love about this game, but that one critical flaw in its design just trumps everything else.
I honestly don’t have a lot to say about this one? It was a very good movie, and it was pretty much exactly what I expected.
Look, A Quiet Place is precisely the film that you expect it to be, if you’ve seen the trailer then you’re pretty well prepared for the actuality of the experience of this movie. It’s exciting, it’s interesting, it’s very quiet, it’s got phenomenal sound design, and it’s very fun to watch. But it feels like we all kinda suspected it would be all those things already.
I’m not quite sure why I’m having such a hard time writing about this one, to be honest. It’s a very good, very smart film, but it just seems really straightforward to me. It’s got a great gimmick that it utilizes very effectively, it’s smartly written and well-directed, it’s a milestone for deaf representation, and even the child actors in it turn out great performances. It was just a very impressive, all-around high-quality film that I think will continue to have a life outside of its theatrical release, and that’s not something that’s really all that fun to write about.
I gotta say I’m floundering a little bit here, I’m sorry I don’t have more to say, but even when I first came out of the theater I felt like I didn’t really have a take on it. I expected to very much enjoy it, I very much enjoyed it, and I’m thinking of going back to see it again, it was just solid.
I will say though that I saw this movie at an AMC Dolby theater, which was very much worth the extra five bucks, and if there was ever a movie that was elevated by having speakers on the ceiling and subwoofers in the seat it was this one.
Today was a sad day.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl # 31, hilariously the 40th issue of the series including the OGN, hit shelves today, which was artist Erica Henderson’s (@ericafailsatlife) final issue on the series. This took me completely by surprise, I hadn’t been keeping up-to-date enough on the solicits to know ahead of time, so reading Erica’s farewell address at the end of the letters section just about broke my heart. I will mourn her passing, but I’m not gonna spend to much time being sad because I’d rather be happy about how wonderful this absurdly long run on this absurdly good comic has been.
I’ve been a fan of Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics ( @qwantzfeed ) for quite some time. That’s the real reason I hopped on board this series. I was skeptical, not only because I was initially slightly put off by Henderson’s art, but also because I’d found that comic books in general just never seemed to be as, well, comical as they want to be. It’s a hard medium to be funny in, especially when you’re trying to tell a story at the same time, but reading the first issue on my cell phone during a lunch period my Senior year of high school (holy shit by the way) put my doubts about North’s comic writing ability soundly to rest. The art was also not as much of a bother as I had worried it would be. It was actually kinda fun. (this was before I had fallen in love)
Right off the bat, in the first arc of this series our hero Doreen Green fights Galactus. Except she doesn’t fight Galactus, she makes friends with Galactus.
That’s Squirrel Girl’s whole schtick. She doesn’t fight crime with punches (usually), she saves the world by speaking with super villains and figuring out a better way to help them. Not only is this a really genuinely funny satire on the whole genre of super-hero comic books, it’s also genuinely engaging and fascinating to read. Not only does it make you think about issues of morality and violence in a friendly and non-confrontational way, it also just gives Ryan North the opportunity to cram as many jokes into every page as possible. This has always been North’s calling card, in Dinosaur Comics he puts extra jokes in the mouse-over text, the title of the comic, and, no joke, the default subject of the email draft that opens when you press the “contact us” link from any given comic. Ryan, in Squirrel Girl, writes his own solicit synopses and also puts extra lines in tiny font at the bottom of almost every page, making his joke-to-page ratio considerably higher than any other working artist today.
I’d also like to take a moment to appreciate Erica Henderson’s spectacular output. Near the end of 2015, it was revealed that not only was she going to continue to work on Squirrel girl, she was also going to be working on Chip Zdarsky’s new Jughead series. At the same time. I’ve never seen an artist provide art for 2 different ongoing series at the same time, and while it was only for a few issues, it’s still nothing to sneeze at. As well, she also illustrated an entire original Squirrel Girl graphic novel without ever missing an issue of the ongoing series. That’s bonkers.
This series was one of my first true loves in comic books, and I will never forget the creative impact it had on me. It’s a wonderful, exciting, hilarious, beautiful, and intelligent book that’s suitable for anyone of any age to read, and it comes with my absolute highest recommendation. The series will continue without Henderson, and while I’m sure Derek Charm will do a wonderful job, especially since he and North have proven themselves to work very well together on that same Jughead series that Henderson illustrated for, It’s still going to be a tough transition. I’ll miss Erica’s art for a long time I think.
So thanks, @ryannorth and @ericafailsatlife , for putting together this wonderful, wonderful piece of art and for remaining a rock in the turbulent sea of Marvel comics for so many issues. You are both wildly funny and compassionate, and Doreen inspires me to be better in a way that not many characters do.
The illustrator is dead, long live the illustrator, and long live the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
I have watched 4 movies in the last week that I still need to write about, but right at this moment, this movie is the only thing I can think about because I have never entered a theater with a more hostile attitude towards a movie and left with more pleasant surprise than I did today.
Prior to my 5PM Tuesday night showing I thought this was going to be the worst movie ever made. My stance was pretty much “Fuck this movie, fuck Steven Spielberg, fuck Ernest Cline, fuck nostalgia culture, fuck all this 80′s propaganda, fuck gamers and pop culture, just fuck this movie, fuck this whole movie.” I thought it was going to be all about Spielberg jerking off over the whole theater with constant nudges at his own movies. I thought it was going to be about how capital G Gamers will save the world and how girls just don’t understand. I thought it would be about how The Eighties were our cultural renaissance and how nothing modern can ever live up to those greatest of times.
What I didn’t take into account though is that Steven Spielberg really knows how to make a movie.
This movie is fun. It truly is the promised Spielberg return to the blockbuster adventure film, and it wasn’t much at all what the trailers made it out to be. If I was angry at this movie I suppose I could still say it was about most of the things I thought it would be about, but I wasn’t angry at it. This movie is so tight and engaging that it grabbed even me, the most hostile of all hostile audiences, by the scruff of my neck and put me down squarely on its side. If I wanted to I could still say it glorifies the 80′s in an obnoxious and over-done way. If I wanted to I could still say that it’s all about an inherently exclusionary perspective and that it bases character’s merit as characters on their knowledge of movies and video games. If I wanted to I could say that maybe there were a few more Amblin properties in the film than there maybe needed to be. I don’t want to say any of those things though. I really just genuinely enjoyed watching the movie.
My biggest fear was that this movie was going to channel a lot of the toxicity and sexism that the Geek Community is often known for, but it actually does a pretty good job of being conscientious of those kinds of things. The cast is decently diverse, (very diverse by Spielberg standards,) the female lead is competent and intelligent in a way that isn’t heavy-handed or performative, and they really make sure that you know that she’s not the odd one out, that women everywhere are engaged in this video game pop culture war.
This movie is just pure Spielberg magic, there’s no two ways about it. The script and dialogue are tight and snappy, the visuals are gorgeous and creative, and the action is as exciting as anything I’ve seen this year. It takes you places you never quite expect to go, both literally and figuratively, and the lead character who seemed like a pretentious dudebro in the trailers turned out to be, well, still pretty much a pretentious dudebro, but that’s kind of part of his arc, y’know? It’s honestly one of the few movies I’ve seen in theaters in the last year that’s well-paced and well-written enough that I can just genuinely immerse myself in the story start to finish without ever checking my watch or trying to estimate how far we are from the end.
I wanted to hate this movie so bad. There are traces here and there of the monstrosity I thought this film would be- I did physically groan when We’re not Gonna Take It started playing during the big final battle, and the protagonist calling his abusive guardian a noob was maybe the most cringe-worthy line in modern history- but it still won me over, and when I say “won me over” I really mean just that.
A Quiet Place (2018) Dir. John Krasinski
As I worked my way through the Conjuring movies I skipped over the first Annabelle movie. I’d never heard anyone have anything good to say about it, so I figured it’d be a safe miss. I was, however, rabidly curious about the prequel. I worked at a movie theater when it first came out, and when the initial 100% tomatoes score for this movie came out it sent waves through our AMC workforce. How could that be? How could this movie be good when the original was so bad? It took me a while to actually get around to because I wanted to be decently caught up when I saw it, and now that I finally have I gotta say it’s pretty alright.
I gotta say it’s definitely the scariest of the three conjuring movie’s I’ve seen, not nearly the best though. As much as I resisted her B-plot in The Conjuring, I do gotta hand it to them, that doll is creepy as fuck. They really get that sometimes all you really need for a good, scary shot is an interminably long look at Ms. Belle. While the director David F. Sandberg doesn’t like to show off quite as much as James Wan does, this movie has some pretty effective directorial decisions and, at least for most of the film, doesn’t like to take the easy way out which makes it a really pretty intense viewing experience. That along with the aforementioned creepy-as-fuck-ness of the lead actress makes this a really effective horror movie, even if it sometimes falls short in other areas.
There are times when it slips, though. Every once in a while there’s a gag that just feels so predictable and so easy that it just totally falls flat. The ghost of the little girl suddenly flipping around with prosthetic makeup and exclaiming that she wants your soul is a perfect example. It’s just so textbook it’s no longer in any way effective. While earlier scares in this movie are spectacular, near the end they tend to show too much, the real figure of the demon is even less scary than the ghost in the original Conjuring when they decide to show its whole figure.
The thing that I love about the Conjuring movies proper is the intense empathy you build for the characters. Horror is at its most effective when you feel for the characters as opposed to hoping they’re killed, and this one falls a little short on that count. It’s not quite a slasher movie, but still, it feels like by the end of the movie who lives and who dies becomes a point of trivia. It’s not for lack of trying, but it’s still not quite successful in making me empathize with the characters in a real way. But even that’s not what bothered me most about this movie, I think its critical flaw is that it feels directionless. Once the cast becomes convinced that Annabelle is indeed after them it immediately becomes a meandering scare-fest. At this point no character seems to have any plan of action or means of egress, they just try to defend themselves until things happen to work out, which they eventually do.
This movie has some problems, but it’s still a very fun time, and while it’s slightly more slasher-esque than its source material, it’s still an intelligent and well-put together movie.
We’ll see how they do with “The Nun” though.
Annabelle: Creation (2017) Dir. David F. Sandberg
My troubles with television are pretty well-documented on this blog. I could fill a book with the titles of TV shows I’ve thought about watching, or even started watching but never got around to finishing off. It’s just a psychological commitment I’m hardly ever prepared to fulfill, and as a result, I’ve missed out on a lot of cultural tentpoles.
I’ll fuck up a season of this show though, lemme tell you, I finished this motherfucker off in two days.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is something that I loved as a child. Aside from the obligatory Harry Potter, this was the first series of books I really read, rather than just skim through and look at the pictures, as a kid I liked the idea of books a lot more than I actually liked reading them. Something about them really struck me, it was just so different from anything I’d ever seen before. It felt mature and reading it not only made me feel smart but also taught me a lot. Unfortunately, at that time of reading, there were only 10 books, and my 8-year-old attention span couldn’t hold out another three years for the conclusion of the series, so I actually never finished them off until I revisited them in 10th Grade. I was surprised to find that they really held up, even as a quasi-adult it felt really unique and special. These books are really special and dear to me, so I had high standards and hopes for this series, and I gotta say, that worked out pretty well for me for once.
Ambiguity is a pretty mature concept to throw into kid’s book, but Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) pulls it off wonderfully in the original books. he feeds you bit after bit and clue after clue only to end it all with you no closer to figuring out the mysteries (save one, no spoilers) you’d been piecing together all this time, and I was worried that wasn’t going to come across in a TV show. I spent a lot of time being concerned that the show would explain it all way, give us too much and wrap it all up in a nice little bow. I was not disappointed. While there is a lot more material here than in the books, (which are on the whole quite short,) but while it does feel like you’re being given more, it still feels like the things you really want to know are being held just out of reach. It’s like being 150 pieces short of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, and then being given 50 more pieces. It’s something, but it’s just not quite enough. It’s also very fun knowing that Handler is the writer here, the revelations have a certain weight of canon because of it, which adaptions don’t usually have.
If I have an issue with the series so far it’s that the formula of the episodes gets a tad tiring before it is finally broken at the end of the seventh chapter. The old New Guardian, Olaf Disguise, Murder, Escape his Clutches, Repeat Format gets a little tedious in some spots here. I suppose it’s hard to criticize because it is done away with about halfway through the series in order to prevent the very thing I’m talking about, but even before that, it could have used a little bit of freshening up here and there.
It’s hard to really write much about this show because it just feels right. It does the books justice in a very wonderful way, and while not every bit from those books translates losslessly to the screen, it still feels meaningful that they’re at least there. It’s so exciting being able to experience these stories in a new way in their entirety, it’s just fun, it’s a wonderful experience that’s as wryly funny as it is tragic and it’s more than anything something I can finally dedicate 8 hours of my time to.
I really really try to keep a sense of positivity when I write negative reviews on this blog. I strongly believe that there’s some merit to be found in any piece of art, and just putting people down without trying to find it is a toxic and pointless exercise, and I think being completely dismissive of someone’s work is supremely insulting and honestly just kind of a shitty thing to do.
But fuck this album though, seriously.
To explain why I’m so frustrated with this album I’m going to talk about why I love their first album Let Live and Let Ghosts. This was the first album I ever bought on vinyl back in high school, and it’s to me one of the most intelligent, unique, and rawly creative albums ever put together, it’s a sprawling concept album about a Revelations-esque apocalypse. It’s unceasingly existential and oddly frightening, but simultaneously catchy and singable, and to me it’s a supremely unique masterpiece that I’ve still never heard anything quite like.
It feels like Let Live and Let Ghosts and Off to the Races are on opposite ends of a spectrum, and chronologically all of their albums have been moving towards the latter for a very long time. It feels like every release is slightly less frightening and slightly more radio-friendly than the last, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before we reached the Quirky-Outfits-and-Shrugging phase. I want to make it clear for the record that I’m not totally against pop music in general, or even alternative musicians “going pop” for that matter, but what I am against is a genuine dip in quality, which is what this album feels like. Even their previous eponymous album which wasn’t really my thing, still felt well-put-together, fun to listen to, and meaningful, if just a little bit cheesy.
The title track on this album, Jump Started, is incoherent. It has no idea what it wants to be and relies more on a grating falsetto hook than it does on its lyrics or its music. It’s just like. It’s nothing to me. It’s completely unmemorable. This whole album just goes in one ear and out the other. Even their pseudo-philosophical tracks like Time and I just feel like watered down, forced attempts at saying something, anything with their music. If there’s a song I like on this album it’s Fred Astaire, even though it’s similarly vapid and saccharine to the rest, there’s something about the chorus that reminds me of Safe Travels.
I guess what I’m really trying to get at here is that I fell in love with JtG because they were so different from anything I’d ever heard before, and I’ve just heard Off to the Races so many times.
But maybe that’s just what’s making these guys happy. Maybe they’re just changing and I’m getting left behind, since this album has clearly found an audience. As a musician myself it’s hard to criticize (especially since I follow their guitarist on this very website, he does doodles and comics on the road that I very much like) because often times when music changes it’s just to reflect the kind of thing that the creators have become passionate about, and they’re just as excited and passionate about what they’re doing now as they ever have been. I try to be honest about how I feel on this blog, and while tis album left me deeply dissatisfied, from a cursory glance at the Jukebox the Ghost tag, it seems like it means a lot to a lot of people already. So I guess it’s just not for me, it’s for the people who love it. I’d love to hear a rebuttal from any fans reading this.
I am just saying though, a few more songs about the end of the world would fit very nicely in my record collection.
A Series Of Unfortunate Events- The Bad Beginning