Tag Archives: General

Fall TV 2019

It’s become a tradition in my house to dive into the new TV season and see what’s there and what we can quickly get rid of. To my surprise, we turned off fewer shows before they’d finished than we have in years. Mostly that was because the writing was consistently better than the last several years. But I’m also looking  to see something new in style or genre. There is plenty available on stream that I don’t need 5 hospital dramas on my list…unless they do something unique with it.

With that criteria, no shows made it to my must see list out of the gate either, which is also a first. There is potential out there, but nothing knocked it out of the park. The biggest concern I have for survivors is whether they can sustain the stories and, in at least a case or two, pull me in with good writing even when the characters just didn’t grab me.

As I moved items to the dumped lists, I did start to notice a trend of what I was bouncing, particularly in comedies. The common issue of interesting survivors was even-ness in the the writing and presentation. With comedies, this is the ability to slip from real to broad and back smoothly. Moments of reality keep even the broadest comedy anchored, but if you are whipsawed between moments without purpose other than to get a laugh, it feels too artificial and silly. If it is all broad or all real, you avoid the whipsaw, but also alienate segments of audience. The main point is to keep the experience smooth. It applies to drama as well. Evil, for instance, mostly worked…until the chaos agent came on screen and the whole tenor of the story shifted into a cliche and silly realm. 

By the end of week three, only one new contender remained. And even that may not survive the full season. With that preamble, here’s how it all broke down…

One and Done

Bluff City Law
Wasn’t awful, but had nothing to grab me that was new.
Carol’s Second Act
Weak writing and directing…got old even in the first episode.
Almost Family
It had moments, and an interesting cast, but just nothing to grab me and keep me around.

A Couple and Out

Bob (Hearts) Abishola
This latest Chuck Lorre is clever, but the King of Queens vibe just isn’t my flavor. After two episodes, despite some great moments, I just didn’t enjoy the broader humor that surrounded them enough to keep coming back.
Evil
OK, surprised me with how well it was acted. Writing was a little uneven, and the main battle was quickly becoming tiresome. Without the Emerson role, I might has stuck around out of curiosity. But there is no where good that plot branch can go for me.
Perfect Harmony
Burned out quickly, but was an amusing start with a lot of clever moments. I’m sure this will find an audience, but I’m not it.
The Unicorn
Actually, this is well written and acted, but I know I’m not their audience. Gave it another opportunity to hook me, but it didn’t. Again, I expect it to do well without my viewership.
Batwoman
OK, it didn’t suck, but I see this going the way of most CW/DC shows, which is to say getting boring really fast. I can only handle that earnestness for so long…and while Ruby Rose (The Meg) is fine, she isn’t bringing anything new to the mythos and Dougray Scott (Hemlock Grove) spends his time just shouting. The one thing they did right was that they didn’t try and stretch out a couple of the big mysteries, exposing the obvious in the first episode and continued to admit big things as they went on. In the end, though, just not enough to keep me coming back.
Nancy Drew
Definitely part of the CW DNA of shows. Interesting start, but with an uncertain path forward to keep me interested. The Veronica Mars meets Scooby Doo (or Supernatural depending on how you interpret the story) just wasn’t for me. A shame as there is some talent in there.

Dubious on Survival Despite Some Positives
(assume these die within the next week or so)

All Rise
Snappy writing has been keeping it around, but I don’t see it lasting for me. How many legal dramas do you really need in your life?
Prodigal Son
Hannibal meets Sherlock is fun, but we’ll see if they can come up with long-term arcs and value. But even if they do, the miscasts of  Bellamy Young (Scandal) and Halston Sage (Orville) make it weaker than it might have been.
Stumptown
Like Prodigal Son, this is an anti-hero tale and fairly dark. The PI drama can work if the writing stays as strong as their first couple episodes. Next to Emergence, it is the most consistently written show so far and Smulders is really selling the character. Unfortunately, it is also veering into the realm of “everyone lies all the time” and larger conspiracies. I just find that exhausting and uninteresting as a show, regardless of any of its pluses.

Getting a Bit More Time

Frankie Drake
The complete reboot of this show that started last season really surprised. Now I want to see if they can sustain. It is silly and somewhat empty, but it has a light charm that has kept me around. And with no Miss Fisher on my horizon with my services, it is the only thing like it around.
Emergence
Some sharp acting and mostly good writing and mystery are intriguing, but so much depends on the underlying truths and the willingness not to just stretch out the obvious. So far, so good.

“Skin in the Game” hits shelves!

My story, “Skin in the Game” appears in the newly released Alternative Truths III: Endgame, the final volume in the best-selling Alternative Truths series from B Cubed Press. Edited by Bob Brown and Jess Faraday. Skin in the Game explores what might happen if our leaders were held a bit more responsible for their decisions, right or wrong, in very permanent ways.

From the publisher:
Endgame features 30 of today’s best writers and political thinkers taking a look forward at possible outcomes of our political decisions.

This collection has visions of a better world as well. In Paula Hammond’s “Fortunate Son,” we explore what kind of man Donald Trump might have become had he answered his country’s call and served alongside his fellow Americans in the Vietnam War.

Most of all Endgame will make you think, with thought-provoking essays by the likes of David Gerrold and Adam-Troy Castro as they seek to share their understanding of how this happened and what do will we do.

A significant portion of the proceeds of this book are donated to the ACLU of Washington to honor and support their unending quest for the freedom of the American people to express themselves.

The book is available from Amazon.com on Kindle Unlimited as well as in Kindle Edition or Print Book.

A quick word about Kindle Unlimited…the authors get paid as long as you “read” at least 10% of the book (more or less). So read a story or two and help authors earn as well as supporting the ACLU!

Oscars 2019 – The Results

This was a tough field to predict this year. In fact, it was my worst showing in years. Honestly, I’m not too embarrassed; where I missed it was usually to the alternatives I called out in previous posts. However, there were a few real surprises, like the strong showing by Black Panther which is a great indicator for genre movies going forward.

Here were my percentage results:

Majors (5 of 9 categories):  56%

Second Tier (3 of 6 categories): 50%

Technical Tier (5 of 9 categories):  56%

No excuses or explanations with the results below, just the data.

THE MAJOR AWARDS

Actress in a Leading Role

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

My prediction: Glen Close
Winner: Olivia Colman

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

My prediction: Rami Malek
Winner:  Rami Malek

Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

My prediction: Mahershala Ali
Winner: Mahershala Ali

Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

My prediction: Regina King
Winner: Regina King

Adapted Screenplay

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
Can You Ever Forgive Me?,  Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins
A Star Is Born, Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters

My prediction: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Winner:
BlacKkKlansman

Original Screenplay

The Favourite, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
First Reformed, Paul Schrader
Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay

My prediction: Green Book
Winner: 
Green Book

Cinematography

Cold War, Lukasz Zal
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique

My prediction: Roma
Winner:
Roma

Directing

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

My prediction: Spike Lee
Winner:
Alfonso Cuarón

Best Picture

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

My prediction: Roma
Winner: 
Green Book

THE NEXT TIER AWARDS

Animated Feature Film

Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

My prediction: Spider-Man
Winner:
Spider-Man

Foreign Language Film

Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

My prediction: Shoplifters
Winner: 
Roma

Documentary Feature

Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

My prediction: RBG
Winner: 
Free Solo

Documentary Short Subject

Black Sheep (The Guardian)
End Game (Netflix)
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden (Field of Vision)
Period. End Of Sentence

My prediction: Period. End Of Sentence.
Winner: 
Period. End Of Sentence.

Animated Short Film

Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

My prediction: Bao 
Winner: 
Bao

Live Action Short Film

Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

My prediction: Marguerite
Winner: 
Skin

THE TECHNICAL AWARDS

Production Design (production; set)

Black Panther, Hannah Beachler; Jay Hart
The Favourite, Fiona Crombie; Alice Felton
First Man, Nathan Crowley; Kathy Lucas
Mary Poppins Returns, John Myhre; Gordon Sim
Roma, Eugenio Caballero; Bárbara Enríquez

My prediction: Mary Poppins Returns
Winner: 
Black Panther

Costume Design

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mary Zophres
Black Panther, Ruth Carter
The Favourite, Sandy Powell
Mary Poppins Returns, Sandy Powell
Mary Queen of Scots, Alexandra Byrne

My prediction: The Favourite
Winner: 
Black Panther

Film Editing

BlacKkKlansman, Barry Alexander Brown
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Ottman
The Favourite, Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Green Book, Patrick J. Don Vito
Vice, Hank Corwin

My prediction: Vice
Winner:
Bohemian Rhapsody

Original Score

Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson
BlacKkKlansman, Terence Blanchard
If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs, Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns, Marc Shaiman

My prediction: Mary Poppins Returns
Winner: 
Black Panther

Original Song

“All The Stars” — Black Panther
“I’ll Fight” — RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” — Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow” — A Star Is Born
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” — The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

My prediction: Shallow
Winner:
Shallow

Visual Effects

Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

My prediction: Avengers: Infinity War
Winner: 
First Man

Makeup and Hairstyling

Border,  Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer
Mary Queen of Scots, Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher and Jessica Brooks
Vice, Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney

My prediction: Vice
Winner: 
Vice

Sound Editing

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

My prediction: Bohemian Rhapsody
Winner: 
Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound Mixing

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

My prediction: Bohemian Rhapsody
Winner: 
Bohemian Rhapsody

Oscars 2019 – Final Call

Well here we are at the end of the awards season rainbow. And since the nominations, there have been a slew of awards given out: The Annies, The Eddies, PGA, Art Directors Guild, ASC, SAG-AFTRA, Directors Guild, Writers GuildBAFTA, CDG, etc.

Normally, these other ceremonies would have given a strong indication of who was likely to win tomorrow night, but this has been an odd year for a number of reasons. First, the talent in competition is all very good and all very different. Second, a lot of the nominees weren’t in direct competition in the same ceremonies and some of the winners weren’t nominated for Oscars. And third, Netflix. There is a love/hate thing going on in Hollywood with the rise of the streaming giant which could help or hurt it.

I think the public is well ahead of the Academy in making its decision about the legitimacy of streaming services and the release window. The viewing public makes little distinction between a theater and their home screen anymore. It is a meaningless distinction because TVs and sounds systems have gotten so much bigger and better and because of the ongoing shift to on-demand entertainment and the quality it offers.

My biggest concern as this continues is how it will affect the studio choices for what ends up on the large screen. A steady diet of action and musicals would not be my favorite result. I like the smaller scope and surprising films. It would have been criminal for BlacKkKlansman, for example, to miss a theatrical release, or The Wife. But neither needs a big screen to succeed, though I saw both in theater, whether or not they are filmed well. The rise of AMC’s A-List and Cinemark’s club, not to mention the dying-in-the-dust MoviePass, are removing that barrier as well. The Academy needs to catch up to the reality or risk simply becoming irrelevant amidst the sea of other awards bodies.

OK, enough banter. On with the predictions…

THE MAJOR AWARDS

Actress in a Leading Role

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

While this has always been between Close and Colman, I had thought Colman had the edge with the voters until recently. I think the number of unsatisfied nominations for Close, not to mention the incredible performance, are likely to take the night. Though, as I  originally said, there isn’t a nomination in this category, including Gaga, who aren’t worthy of the honor.

My choice: Glen Close
Likely win: Glen Close

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Given the options, I really felt this should have gone to Bale, but there is no momentum for him. Given Malek’s number of wins and current societal glow, I’m thinking he’s going to walk away with it. Should he and Bale split the votes, Cooper may come up the middle, but the even money is on Malek.

My choice: Christian Bale
Likely win: Rami Malek

Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

Supporting roles are hard to pin some times. But this year, Ali has swept the awards for his phenomenal performance. Richard E. Grant had a good shot, but he couldn’t even pick up BAFTA this year, so it would be a hard win for him, though it is also a great performance.

My choice: Mahershala Ali
Likely win: Mahershala Ali

Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

I still think Stone and Weisz should have to mud wrestle for the win here. And Weisz should take it. However, King has been consistently snagging the statuettes and has quite the reputation.

My choice: Rachel Weisz
Likely win:  Regina King

Adapted Screenplay

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
Can You Ever Forgive Me?,  Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins
A Star Is Born, Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters

I think the lack of adherence to the absolute facts, regardless of artistic merit or commentary, is going to cost BlacKkKlansman (and Green Book, for that matter, in its category). Beale Street has its own momentum, and I think there is sympathy for that film. But Can You Ever Forgive Me? has always been my choice here and it is a wonderful and tight script. The movie has little other chance to win anything and it’s surprise win at the WGA, with a substantially similar field, certainly gives the possibility of a win some weight.

My choice: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Likely win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Original Screenplay

The Favourite, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
First Reformed, Paul Schrader
Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay

Here, again, the WGA ceremony shifted the possibilities. Outside of the problems around truth and Green Book (some background and info to refute the misinformation) it is a tough field. Favourite had some early momentum, but Roma has been overtaking it. And, depending on how Best Picture swings, this is often a consolation prize. But then the wonderful Eight Grade walked away with the WGA, and it wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Of course, WGA had a significantly different field as well. I’m suspecting a lot of vote splitting here and a likely surprise. Being forced to choose, however, here’s what I’m thinking…

My choice: Green Book
Likely win: Green Book

Cinematography

Cold War, Lukasz Zal
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique

Cold War’s win at the ASC awards put it ahead of the presumed choice, Roma, since it won from a nearly identical field by a lot of the same voters. I loved Cuarón’s use of the camera, both in visuals and as a character. I haven’t had the chance to see Cold War yet, which leaves me at a disadvantage here, though from trailers and samples I can see it is an equally beautifully filmed movie. With the ASC win, this has become a toss-up between the two. Because Cuarón also used the camera as moving eye, incorporating it as part of the action rather than just as a capture device, I’m inclined to keep my choice there and hope that the other voters agree.

My choice: Roma
Likely win: Roma

Directing

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Roma has the momentum going in here. But I think that BlacKkKlansman may just edge it out as Lee has never been nominated in this category before. It’s time he had some recognition and I don’t think he can take Best Picture and I don’t expect him to get best screenplay. Typically the two categories are tied, however, so if the Netflix factor doesn’t shift the vote, Cuarón may pick this up as well.

My choice: Spike Lee
Likely win: Spike Lee

Best Picture

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

I don’t even know what this category means anymore. Is it by what’s popular, what’s fun, what’s brave, what took the most skills? Roma and The Favorite are certainly the big guns with momentum… but that also gives voters more chance to recognize them without having to hand over the Best Picture award. Winners from the other events are all over the place. With the exception of Black Panther (fun and surprising as it is, it just doesn’t hold up on rewatch), any of the nominees could legitimately win for their quality. And Best Pic is a preferential ballot, so Green Book may come up the middle as everyone’s second choice is there isn’t a clear first round winner. So, crap shoot.

My choice: Green Book
Likely win: Roma

THE NEXT TIER AWARDS

Animated Feature Film

Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Nothing in the intervening time between nomination and tonight have changed my opinions. Add to that its near sweep at The Annies and Spider-Man should walk away with this award.

My choice: Spider-Man
Likely win: Spider-Man

Foreign Language Film

Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Shoplifters would have been my early bet here, but Roma is truly a great film and has huge momentum and a ton of noms. And the two cover similar territory in their stories. Those who have no interest in voting for it for Best Pic are likely to balance that by voting for it here. It may well cost Roma as Best Pic ultimately that the safety valve exists. Then again, if it is really aiming at Best Pic, then I don’t think it will get the votes here and Shoplifters could come to the top…which I think is the more likely scenario. But Roma could surprise and win both (or neither).

My Choice: Shoplifters
Likely Win: Shoplifters

Documentary Feature

Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

How Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Three Identical Strangers missed this list, I don’t understand. However, this is the field we have to work with. But I’ll also admit I’ve not seen the majority of the nominees. Given the current state of politics, however, I’m going with our SCOTUS rep even if Free Solo wow’d audiences consistently.

My Choice: RBG
Likely Win:
 RBG

Documentary Short Subject

Black Sheep (The Guardian)
End Game (Netflix)
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden (Field of Vision)
Period. End Of Sentence

Likely Win: Period. End Of Sentence.

Animated Short Film

Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

Likely Win: Bao (cause, Pixar)

Live Action Short Film

Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

Likely Win: Marguerite

THE TECHNICAL AWARDS

Production Design (production; set)

Black Panther, Hannah Beachler; Jay Hart
The Favourite, Fiona Crombie; Alice Felton
First Man, Nathan Crowley; Kathy Lucas
Mary Poppins Returns, John Myhre; Gordon Sim
Roma, Eugenio Caballero; Bárbara Enríquez

An incredibly diverse and difficult field. There are no apples to apples here to choose from, so it is wide open. Black Panther, to my mind, had the most challenging issues and best results. They got to play in the past and future as well. But I’m thinking it will go more traditional. This is where The Favourite could get some consolation prizes or Mary Poppins, which is mostly ignored this year, could get a some love.

My choice: Black Panther
Likely win: Mary Poppins Returns

Costume Design

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mary Zophres
Black Panther, Ruth Carter
The Favourite, Sandy Powell
Mary Poppins Returns, Sandy Powell
Mary Queen of Scots, Alexandra Byrne

With Panther and The Favourite having picked up equal awards from the Costume Designers Guild in different categories, it doesn’t make this category any easier to predict. The Oscars usually go for period pieces, with science fiction being snubbed other than for f/x.

My choice: Black Panther
Likely win: The Favourite (though Mary Poppins could sweep in)

Film Editing

BlacKkKlansman, Barry Alexander Brown
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Ottman
The Favourite, Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Green Book, Patrick J. Don Vito
Vice, Hank Corwin

I’ll say again, all of these films have solid editing, but only one lived and died by its edits: Vice. However. Vice wasn’t even nominated for an Eddie this year, so the fact that Bohemian Rhapsody and The Favourite won there wasn’t much help.  But against those, Vice did pick up the BAFTA. And, of course, this is one of those which could become either part of a sweep for a juggernaut or a consolation prize for a film that may otherwise go unnoticed. But I’m sticking to my guns on this one. From a story-telling point of view, I didn’t think either of the Eddie winners came close the impact editing had for the remaining nominees. And of those, Vice was the only one to use the craft to enhance the story rather than to just shock or move it along. I will admit, every time I’ve thought along these lines, I’ve been wrong, so if Bohemian takes this, I won’t be shocked, I’ll just be disappointed.

My Choice:  Vice
Likely win: Vice

Original Score

Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson
BlacKkKlansman, Terence Blanchard
If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs, Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns, Marc Shaiman

If old-school Hollywood wins out, Mary Poppins will be a runaway. It is certainly one of the more classic and evident scores in the field, and complex while trying to maintain and reflect on the original. Music certainly pushed along the tale in Isle of Dogs in an engaging, if repetitive, way, and the others were more subtly supported.

Likely win: Mary Poppins Returns

Original Song

“All The Stars” — Black Panther
“I’ll Fight” — RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” — Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow” — A Star Is Born
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” — The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

There is only one song here that has any traction to my mind.  It isn’t perfect (and story-wise it shouldn’t be) but just try to get it out of your head.

Likely Win: Shallow

Visual Effects

Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Despite the wealth of blockbusters here, one is infinitely better than the rest in scope and seamlessness…

Likely win: Avengers: Infinity War

Makeup and Hairstyling

Border,  Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer
Mary Queen of Scots, Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher and Jessica Brooks
Vice, Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney

Typically, I’d stay the period piece would get this hands-down, but Vice has magic in its blood with its makeup and hair, completely remaking its actors and capturing the period perfectly.

Likely win: Vice

Sound Editing

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

The MPSE awards certainly confused this category. Roma, Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Quiet Place each walked away with sound editing honors in different categories. For the Oscars, they are all dumped into the same bucket. The momentum and recognition is likely to be with Bohemian Rhapsody, though the surprise hit A Quiet Place might get some love here.

My choice: A Quiet Place
Likely win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound Mixing

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

My choice: Bohemian Rhapsody
Likely win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Oscars 2019 – The Nominations

Below is a recap of the nominations. Generally I fared pretty well at predicting them. I’m afraid I didn’t have time to go on record before they were announced, but I promise I’m being honest in my commentary as to what I had thought.

I will say it is one heck of an open field in a lot of categories, which is exciting. It speaks to a volume of talent. Of course, this also means a lot of people who are really good at what they do will not be going home with statuettes. But that’s the biz.

So here are my preliminary write-ups. I’ll update as I see some of the missing films and, as usual, I’ll post a final call before the awards night. The show itself may not be great this year, but the choices are certainly going to keep me interested.

THE MAJOR AWARDS

Actress in a Leading Role

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

This is one of those rare times where I wouldn’t be upset by any one of these people winning. They were all great performances, and all very different. To my mind, it is between Colman and Close. But McCarthy was also excellent and Aparaicio may have some momentum (and was a wild card for me in terms of getting on the list). And, of course, Gaga. Close has yet to win, so that may get her votes, but Colman’s performance is just so funny and powerful, it may win the day…and her movie was much better received.

My choice: Glen Close
Likely win: Olivia Colman

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

This is by no means a lock for Bale, but he so disappears into his role that it is astonishing. I am not a huge Bale fan, but he had me utterly mesmerized and not even able to see him under all that makeup. In terms of the field, only Dafoe’s name surprised me, though that last slot was somewhat open.

My choice: Christian Bale
Likely win: Christian Bale

Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

Supporting roles are hard to pin some times. These were all good performances, though I think Elliott isn’t necessarily to the same level (and I didn’t expect him on the list over Chalamet), nor was Rockwell’s performance that brilliant, though it did win me over as it went on. But Mahershala Ali was incredibly affecting and Richard Grant, equally so, but with much less screen time. That said, Green Book is hitting headwinds due to aspects unrelated to the movie…but which are likely to affect its chances in any category. And while Driver is excellent, the character just never really got to fully develop for me.

My choice: Mahershala Ali
Likely win: Richard E. Grant

Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

This is a brutal field. Stone and Weisz should have to mud wrestle for the win here and that is likely going to split the vote. Tavira was solid, but it wasn’t break-through and I was surprised to see her here rather than Clare Foy. Adams was also really good, but felt in the background most of the time…even though she really wasn’t.

My choice: Rachel Weisz (but only because I had to pick one)
Likely win:  Regina King

Adapted Screenplay

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
Can You Ever Forgive Me?,  Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins
A Star Is Born, Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters

Again, so much to consider here. BlacKkKlansman was a great movie, but, like Green Book, it remade the facts freely. Which is fine, but that is being used as a wedge against Green Book, so not sure how to parse that effect. Star is Born is a great reinvention of the story, but it isn’t brilliant, however entertaining. I am surprised that Black Panther didn’t make it on, even though I didn’t think it should. I’m still behind on the other two at present, but hope to close that gap…but in the meantime I can make some guesses.

My choice: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Likely win:  If Beale Street Could Talk

Original Screenplay

The Favourite, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
First Reformed, Paul Schrader
Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay

Another interesting field. Green Book was one of the best films I saw this year. It was unexpected and complete. Favourite is hugely popular and darkly funny, but I think flawed. Was expecting Stan & Ollie and Eight Grade over Roma and First Reformed, but that was a tight race. However, of the remaining choices, Roma’s script is just too spare in comparison and Vice a bit too political and nauseating, while First Reformed is just too dark. So…

My choice: Green Book
Likely win:  The Favourite

Cinematography

Cold War, Lukasz Zal
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique

Roma for me. Hands down just a beautifully shot film. The others are nice as well, but Cuarón’s use of the camera was just brilliant and the result gorgeous.

My choice: Roma
Likely win: Roma

Directing

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

I’d have said this was Lanthimos’s to lose if it weren’t for the ending of his latest film. It is a brilliant bit of satire; just not a perfect one for me and some of the movie just doesn’t fit well together. Roma is brilliant on so many levels, but a bit self-indulgent in its direction. Vice is great, but mostly about the editing and script (and some performances). BlacKkKlansman, however, is really all about the performances, keeping you engaged without making you turn away. Lee had the hardest task and executed it well…and it’s been years since he’s had a shot.

My choice: Spike Lee
Likely win: Spike Lee (though it may well go to Lanthimos)

Best Picture

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

I don’t even know what this category means anymore. Is it by what’s popular, what’s fun, what’s brave, what took the most skills? So, crap shoot.

My choice: Green Book
Likely win: Roma

THE NEXT TIER AWARDS

Animated Feature Film

Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I’m a sucker for stop-action animation and Isle of Dogs was a hoot. But it wasn’t a great story, for all its fun. Spider-Man truly surprised me, however. It is pretty to look at, solid in story and script and acting. Overall a great and fun film, beating out its competition by a mile on many levels.

My choice: Spider-Man
Likely win: Spider-Man

Foreign Language Film

Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Shoplifters would have been my early bet here, but Roma is truly a great film and has huge momentum and a ton of noms. Those who have no interest in voting for it for Best Pic are likely to balance that by voting for it here. It may well cost Roma as Best Pic ultimately that the safety valve exists.

Likely Win: Roma

Documentary Feature

Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

Likely Win: RBG

Documentary Short Subject

Black Sheep (The Guardian)
End Game (Netflix)
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden (Field of Vision)
Period. End Of Sentence

Likely Win: no clue yet

Animated Short Film

Animal Behaviour
Bao (Disney)
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

Likely Win: no clue yet

Live Action Short Film

Detainment
Fauve (H264 Distribution)
Marguerite (H264 Distribution)
Mother
Skin

Likely Win: no clue yet

THE TECHNICAL AWARDS

Production Design (production; set)

Black Panther, Hannah Beachler; Jay Hart
The Favourite, Fiona Crombie; Alice Felton
First Man, Nathan Crowley; Kathy Lucas
Mary Poppins Returns, John Myhre; Gordon Sim
Roma, Eugenio Caballero; Bárbara Enríquez

My choice: Black Panther
Likely win: Mary Poppins Returns

Costume Design

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mary Zophres
Black Panther, Ruth Carter
The Favourite, Sandy Powell
Mary Poppins Returns, Sandy Powell
Mary Queen of Scots, Alexandra Byrne

Period pieces abound in this list, but so do some inventive futures.

My choice: Black Panther
Likely win: The Favourite (though Mary Poppins could sweep in)

Film Editing

BlacKkKlansman, Barry Alexander Brown
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Ottman
The Favourite, Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Green Book, Patrick J. Don Vito
Vice, Hank Corwin

All of these films have excellent editing, but only one lives and dies by its edits.

Likely win: Vice

Original Score

Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson
BlacKkKlansman, Terence Blanchard
If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs, Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns, Marc Shaiman

If old-school Hollywood wins out, Mary Poppins will be a runaway. It is certainly one of the more classic and evident scores in the field, and complex while trying to maintain and reflect on the original. Music certainly pushed along the tale in Isle of Dogs in an engaging, if repetitive, way, and the others were more subtly supported.

Likely win: Mary Poppins Returns

Original Song

“All The Stars” — Black Panther
“I’ll Fight” — RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” — Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow” — A Star Is Born
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” — The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

There is only one song here that has any traction to my mind.  It isn’t perfect (and story-wise it shouldn’t be) but just try to get it out of your head.

Likely Win: Shallow

Visual Effects

Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Despite the wealth of blockbusters here, one is infinitely better than the rest in scope and seamlessness…

Likely win: Avengers: Infinity War

Makeup and Hairstyling

Border,  Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer
Mary Queen of Scots, Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher and Jessica Brooks
Vice, Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney

Typically, I’d stay the period piece would get this hands-down, but Vice has magic in its blood with its makeup and hair, completely remaking its actors and capturing the period perfectly.

Likely win: Vice

Sound Editing

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

My choice: A Quiet Place
Likely win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound Mixing

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

My choice: Bohemian Rhapsody
Likely win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Golem

[4.5 stars]

Not long ago, the 1927 Theatre Company recorded and aired their brilliant new take on the Golem tale. It is an astounding piece of stage craft that incorporates live talent and animation with a bit of music and movement thrown in. The story, in this conception, is about the control of media and commerce over humanity. The troop tell the story in a closed loop, spinning around the story of Robert, played  engagingly, and with spare irony, by Philippa Hambly.

Along with four other on-stage performers (Dunne Genevieve, Nathan Gregory, Rowena Lennon, and Felicity Sparks), the troop begin a story that you think you know, but which turns on you even as it makes your eyes and brain dance. The duality of what is happening on stage and how they are keeping you entranced is no accident. It is mesmerizing and pointed.

I have no idea if this will ever stream again or if it will be available on disc, but make time for it if you get the opportunity. Honestly, there are few stage productions that can really blow me away. This one had my jaw dropping constantly at the illusion, the humor, and the message. It’s not perfect, but it is darned close, and it is worth every minute you get to spend with it…and sadly that is ephemeral.

2000 and counting

As you may have surmised, this marks the 2000th post (and approx. the 500,000 word milestone) for this blog, covering well over 2000 movies and shows. When I started it back at the end of 2009, it was for two reasons.

Primarily, I wanted to capture my thoughts and prevent having to repeat myself endlessly to friends who kept asking me, “What should I watch?” As a side benefit, it helped me remember what I’d seen, since I watch around 200-300 films a year. And here’s the scary confession: I write up less than half of what I see (if that) during the year. Most movies make it, most TV and streaming series and presentations do not.

My other main drive was to keep my writing skills and habits lubricated. Basically, I wanted to be writing every day. I’ve continued to write and publish my fiction through all of this. Not as much as I’d like, but still some here and there, and I’ve collected the requisite mountain of rejections in between to prove it. (As a sneek preview, I’ve a new story coming out shortly and will announce that when I have the dates.) My lifetime writing total in words has easily surpassed 1 million, which is daunting even if done in small chunks over a long period. Talk about water wearing away a rock. Not that the effort is ever likely to pay off, if the NYT is to be believed.  (To be fair, there is nothing in that article I couldn’t have told you before reading it based on what I make for stories and the current well-known advances for novels my friends are getting.)

I know that the last couple years have exposed more than my critical thoughts on entertainment…I do try to keep that to a minimum, but it has been challenging. Every once in a while I feel I just have to get the word out or, at least, relieve the pressure in my head. If you don’t agree, that’s fine. I don’t tend to judge other’s beliefs. I’m just not particularly fond of bullies, particularly those who abuse their power and are, to paraphrase Pooh, people of very little brain. Apologies to anyone those posts annoy.

I do want to thank everyone and anyone who has used this site as either entertainment or sign post. If I’m helpful either for what to watch, what to not watch, or even if it is: He likes that? I’d hate it! Cool. That’s the point here, to provide a stable and predictable benchmark that helps you save time and pain as well as discover the new and wonderful.

And now on to 2001 and beyond!

 

Fall 2018 TV – The New Stuff (and what survived)

I’m being very, very picky this season about broadcast TV. Just too much out there to watch streaming to add mediocre or underwhelming shows to my already long committed list. (Updated 23 Nov.)

Keeping

Connors – I was impressed with how they handled the hard pivot into the post-Barr show. The show proved it could still handle hard subjects with a sense of reality and humor. Sure there is a political element keeping me here, but I am also being entertained, so win/win.
Murphy Brown – It doesn’t have the same snap and energy as the original, but it has guts and a great cast. The additions of Jake McDorman and Tyne Daily were inspired, and Nik Dodani is holding his own.

On the Bubble

Manifest – nothing particularly new, but nothing particularly frustrating about it at its launch. Curious enough to give it few more to cement its place in my schedule, but they have to get better writing, especially around police and fed procedure or it will be too painful to continue. And unless the uber-conspiracy vibe abates, it will be tossed like last week’s trash.
Charmed – it is as light as the first go-round, and without any of the charismatic star power of Combs and Milano, but it appears to have enough to survive. It could still fall victim to the axe, but it was one of the more complete pilots put out there this season. However, as the season progresses, it is clear they don’t have the chemistry of the first, and some of the writing and acting is a problem. This may fall even further to being axed.
Single Parents – the kids are great but the writing barely pulls it together by the end of each episode. We shall see.
New Amsterdam – intriguing characters, but a somewhat cookie-cutter formula with very weak research, at times. Whether it survives for me will be whether it can find some new take on the medical venue.

Forget it

I Feel Bad – this came so close, but just doesn’t have the writing to sell it for me. The characters, particularly the gaming programmers, are just absurd.
Hang Ups – the cast is what convinced me to watch…the writing drove me away. It had its moments, but the lack of any sense of reality left it untethered and, ultimately for me, unfunny.
Magnum PI – not bad, but nothing overly compelling. To be fair, the original casts a long shadow and dims this reboot’s hopes.
REL – writing was weak and broad and just not landing for me.
God Friended Me – actually relatively good writing and acting, but I don’t see where this can go that we haven’t been before. Life’s too short to see it all again. Also, I’m not confident the message will be universal enough rather than targeted.
The Neighborhood – just a bit too forced, for all its moments of truth, to work for me for longer than a couple episodes.
Happy Together – despite the potential and the chemistry, just didn’t grab me. Two main issues: lack of credibility and the broad humor.
FBI – While there are a couple of great cast members, neither of those are the leads, who are wooden and the least credible special agents I’ve seen in a while. Add bad procedures, even if with clever plots, and this just isn’t up to the Law & Order level of interest.
Million Little Pieces – This latest This is Us cum 30-Something copy-cat has a good cast and writing with possibility, but was quickly becoming a slog of a soap-opera. Cast and writing or not, just didn’t need that in my weekly lineup.
The Kids are Alright – the writing and cast aren’t bad, but I am definitely not its audience. Too broad, too loud, and too silly.
The Rookie – Really, I’m only here for Nathan Fillion, Melissa O’Neil, and Richard T. Jones. It is possible this survives if it can find something to say without trying so hard, like the pilot did. I didn’t hold out much hope…and I was right.
The Cool Kids – a great cast and silly humor, but executed by a solid cast despite painful scripts at times. I’m gave it more time, but it never figured out how to use what it had to even make it a nice and empty weekly 22 minutes of escape. Just wasn’t worth the time.

MCU: From the Beginning and Before the Ending

In prep for Avengers: Infinity War, I decided to rewatch the entire sequence from its 2008 beginnings. Why? Well, first: Why not? This audacious sequence of films has pulled off something no one has even come close to producing, except Lord of the Rings. During the course of 18 films over 10 years Marvel has woven a story together with the goal of paying it off in film 19. They found great actors to tell great stories about flawed heroes; heroes we recognized ourselves in.

And with the exception of one of those films, they were all solid and well done. And the one that wasn’t so great, well, it still has my respect because unlike Sony’s flailing at the Spidey universe, it woke them up to the fact that they had to produce quality if they wanted to succeed. They never stumbled again, though certainly the movies had differing impacts and approaches. And the clues and nods are just incredible to see when you know everything that is to come. As we get ready to leave the Joss Whedon era, who really set the template for this cycle, you have to wonder if anyone would have the guts and talent to try this again.

If you want to rewatch it all yourself, do it over at least three weeks. I squeezed this into less than two weeks at two or three films a day. Fun, but exhausting.

So here we go, in brief, through the dots that brought us here.

Phase One (though we didn’t know that for sure until Thor)

Iron Man is still a surprisingly effective movie. My original write-up is lost, but I still am amazed at how it subverted the comic genre on screen by being a real movie. We got to know and care about Tony Stark, despite his ego, or perhaps because of it. He was flawed but engaging. The world was believable and intriguing. It had humor and action and, above all, a really good script and acting. This wasn’t done with a nod and a wink, it was done to do it well and it showed, launching the huge franchise we are celebrating this year. Sure, the ending was a bit overblown and the villain a bit too teeth-gnashy, but the series would learn as it went along.

The Incredible Hulk is already a second bite at the apple at this character (third if you include Bixby’s series), but it does an interesting job of not disavowing Ang Lee and Eric Bana’s take by bridging from it to the this new version during the credits. It is substantially more comic book style than Iron Man and still struggles with its villains and finale. However, it is an important piece in the Avengers puzzle. It introduces the Super Soldier program, something lost on me till now, and it provides an important pivot for David Banner. This more morose and pouty Hulk has to leave his past behind and accept who he is to become the Ruffalo version.  Sure that comment is a bit revisionist, but you get to do that when you see it after knowing where it will go. It isn’t a great film, but it continued the character-driven approach Marvel wanted and gave us hope they had some real sense of what they had…the tag with Tony and the General sealed the deal on it.

We all would like to forget that Iron Man 2 existed. It was rushed to screen and just doesn’t have the same polish as what had come before. But it is easy to forget that it also introduced Black Widow, got Pepper and Tony together, shifted Tony’s attitude, queued up Captain America with a couple nods, and continued Phil Coulson’s involvement. Having watched this the day after Rampage, however, I can confidently point out that while it may be just an action flick, it is still better than most of the similar tripe being produced even if it isn’t up to the MCU standards by any stretch. However, it also put the fear of god into Disney/Marvel/Kevin Feige. They never tried for a pure money grab again, knowing that they had to meet the expectations of their audience or risk losing it all. Here we are almost 19 films later because they learned their lesson.

Thor is where the MCU really started to hit its stride, understanding what they had and where they intended to go. It is the first 3D. It is the first to push the comedy throughout. It introduced the first Infinity Stone. And it tagged the end with a mention of The Avengers. Thor was always the one hero that worried me because it was off-realm gods and magic. How do you make that mainstream and believable next to human heroes (even if they’ve been mutated huge and green)? But they did it, and managed to launch Branagh’s career as a director of huge films to boot. They also took an existing god and gave him an origin story by making him mortal-ish for a good part of the film. Its one misstep, though it worked for the story, was Portman’s Jane, who they had to disappear to keep things going in subsequent films.

Captain America: The First Avenger. Hail Hydra! Where Thor had nailed the stride of the humor, Cap nailed the format of the MCU journey. The movie had its own style, reflective of its time period,ss and set up everything that was to come through Civil War (and a couple of TV spin offs as well). Despite the CG of Rogers never looking quite right at the beginning, it was still an effective and smart choice. And the ending manages to give us both action and pathos in a way that made it a great story as well as a solid action flick.

Marvel’s The Avengers redefined the term “big” when it came to films. Its non-stop action and coalescing storyline still amaze. It is full of character and some of the best moments yet to grace the series (then and now: Puny God!). It is the first taste of what Joss and Feige had planned for a much bigger feast and it certainly whet the appetite and proved they could pull off something no one else had even tried. And damn if they didn’t get you to feel the passing(ish) of a minor character with a great scene. Oh, and of course our first glimpse of Thanos.

Phase Two

Pivoting into Phase Two, Iron Man 3 kicked off a sequence that could best be termed: Consequences. Unexpectedly, if sometimes ham-handedly, it took on some serious matters like PTSD. It did so with humor and action, though it went a little off the rails in its blithe quippiness, Christmas theme, and kids. We know this world now, and with IR3 and Phase 2 , we’re getting a new sense of the characters, watching necessary doubt creep in this middle stretch of the sequence. It wasn’t what a lot of folks wanted, but it was fascinating and, again, necessary to build the platform that eventually becomes Ultron and Civil War. And, despite any of its weaknesses, it still is incredibly entertaining and rewatchable.

Thor: The Dark World has an odd flavor of political intrigue, but intrigue that has been in motion for quite a while. It also introduces the next Infinity Stone, but you could blink and miss that aspect if you didn’t know what you were looking for. In retrospect it is clear and sets up the Collector as well, who has his own role to play. It is full of humor and action, and it does advance some of the characters, but it feels a bit outside the Phase in some ways.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes a huge and brave leap for such a big sequence. It irrevocably changes the face and structure of the world, setting up Phase Three as well as impacting the spin-off series. Certainly there is a lot of character work here shimmed in between the action, and new characters who will continue forward. And, if you needed any other sense of how far ahead the crew plan, we also get our first mention of Doctor Strange in a throwaway interrogation…a hint that wouldn’t pay off for another five movies.

And now for something completely different; Guardians of the Galaxy. This romp, while still very much in the MCU, was a welcome break from what we knew and a huge expansion of characters to play with. Yes, it is a bit silly at times, especially how quickly the Guardians all bond, but the humor is fun and the action is great. There really is something for everyone in this branch of the universe, as well as laying out the mysteries to grow on and our first real interaction with an Infinity Stone.

All damaged characters, enter here: Avengers: Age of Ultron. This marked the end of the Joss Whedon era, and perhaps not on quite as high a note as he would have wanted. This story rewatches better than it played initially, though. It is a very psychologically complex tale with a lot of layered construction and cultural nods. It also has the trademark Whedon dialogue throughout, and the brilliant choice of Spader as Ultron. Also, this is the first direct mention of Wakanda and the tee-up for Black Panther. When you realize that this is the culmination of 10 previous films and the setup for the next eight (or 11 if you go through the full Phase Three sequence), the threads Whedon wove, and the guidance to get there, is going to be tough to match. Also, it’s worth noting that they were again willing to take the risk of pivoting to new characters and big changes, with more yet to come to keep it both fresh and, let’s face it, affordable.

Ant-Man gets a little absurd, admittedly, but maintains the connections and thread of the universe. And it’s a universe that can sustain a lot of different styles. That alone is something of note. Each movie, or perhaps better considered, each character has a particular sensibility that shapes the movies they are in. Be it the earnestness of Capt. America or the nuttiness of the Guardians or the comic book silliness of Ant-Man, each style supports the sense of the stories they are in. Ant-Man is fun and amusing, and uses its tech relatively well…at least within the confines of a PG rated film. That said, Ant-Man is the movie that feels the most out of place in the collection so far, even more than Guardians. I think that is because it is such a familiar world, but the action and dialogue are very broad in comparison.

Phase Three

Where Ultron showed the cracks in the friendships and group, in Captain America: Civil War it all goes to hell, launching the third phase through a moment of crisis and uncertainty. This installment is really more like Avengers 3 than a Captain America, but the schism formed here will surely come back to roost in a few films. For now, however, it serves more to break up the gang, redeem Bucky, and launch Black Panther. It is also the first of the films to show real fallout from the carnage that the heroes inflict upon the world trying to save it. The world’s reaction is eerily apropos current politics as well.

Forgetting that the medical scenes in Doctor Strange were just, well, absurd, the rest of it was really pretty fun visually, in action and dialogue. Where else could a cape become a character? And while it feels rather on its own in the universe for most of the tale, other than some throw-away side comments, by the end it is solidly ensconced in the larger tale leaving only a single Infinity Stone unaccounted for.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 tries a bit too hard to be bigger and better than its first iteration. The fact that is has the highest number of tags at the end of the film is symptomatic of that as well. However, some questions get answered, some necessary information was layered in, and the action is huge. Fortunately, the humor continues unabated as well. As romps go, it was a hoot, if not as unexpected now that we’ve seen these characters and have a sense of them. It does cement the Guardians as a self-selected family and has given them a purpose that will aim them squarely at Infinity War, even if some of the moments were a little forced. Also, the two Guardian movies make the best use of 3D in the MCU (at least so far). Or at least make the most conscious use of it. They do have an advantage being in space and all, but really it is more about the director thinking about the presentation from the outset and throughout the story.

Spider-Man: Homecoming was a wonderful surprise entering into the MCU. And with Marvel guiding the Sony franchise, it has been reinvigorated and morphed into something both new and closer to the original material. Whether Sony will respect that input and collaboration and stick with it remains to be seen (and rumors on the street are that they won’t). Still we’ll get at least a couple more appearances of Spidey over the next few years and we’ll get to watch him grow-up in reality and in his role as a superhero.

Meanwhile, back in Asgard… Thor: Ragnarok brings about a few necessary aspects of plot and relationship, but it is generally just a good romp. While it is mostly just a pause before the finale that is coming, it does also take make some radical changes, declared right in the title. How that will play out, other than with some additional fighters to tackle Thanos, we’ll find out soon. But as a film it is a weird, anachronistic, pastiche of Waititi’s humor and the MCU ethos. Great fun, to be sure, but definitely one of the oddest of the films in the sequence in terms of how the bits clash at times.

Black Panther surprised me by not being as good for rewatching as I’d expected. It still is fun, and a great new world to explore, but it is not the action film it feels like the first time through and had even weaker character motivations than I had recalled. And, on seeing it again, it is the political message that rings through it like a gong. Not that it was subtle the first time, but after you know the story, it is that aspect that clearly drives and shapes it all. By the end, though, all the pieces are in place for Thanos and one heck of a showdown. What will be very interesting is seeing where they take Wakanda and the very real issues raised in Panther’s launch.

And now, on to Infinity War… and then probably the longest coda and shift ever conceived (2 years and 3 movies) with Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, and what was originally Infinity War part 2 (as conceived by Whedon). Where MCU goes at that point is a matter of much conjecture and very little information, but these last films should give us a good sense of the direction.