Friday, May 24, 2019

Avenger's EndGame (2019)

Okay you've heard by now this movie is doing fantastic business.  The studio has passed the two billion mark worldwide, and it's still growing.

I'm also sure you've heard all the spoilers now.  Amazing now that we have to contend with "spoiler" alerts now.  I mean what would Hitchcock of done with "Psycho"?  I remember the campaign back then had people NOT to tell the ending to the people coming out of the theater.  Now you're a tweet away from making that happen.

But I digress.  So how is the film?  One word "FUN!"

If you're a fan of Marvel, and you've seen most if not all the movies you'll love this film.  I can only imagine the box-set coming out for this.  It would be huge. 

Now if you're not a fan then this is not the movie for you.  Clocking in over a little over 3 hours long it certainly does not feel like 3 hours, and that's a good thing.  The filmmakers Anthony Russo, and Joe Russo do an extraordinary job at putting all the pieces together for this epic movie.  I mean epic in the sense that the film is not only a part 2 to "Avengers: Infinity War", but it a culmination of 12 films which all started with the movie "Ironman" way back in 2008.

So if you watch all the films since that time "Avengers: Endgame" is the sum of all these films.  In the other films we are introduced to the characters that eventually play a part in the film.  Each of the films had a post credit scene which clues in the audience to what was coming up.  It was sort of a coming attraction of things to come just like the old serials in the 40's and 50's.

It is that type of filmmaking that makes Endgame so fascinating and so unique.  Also the movie becomes an event.  It started selling out even before the movie was out through pre-sales.  Marvel Studios and now Disney did something unique, yet so very familiar and that was give us a throw-back to those days of serials. 

Back in the day those serials were made cheap and as long as they contained action and adventure it's audience never cared about continuity or even script plot holes, but nowadays  visuals need to astound us, hence the unbelievable images through special effects and CGI.

All in all it's a good film, and if you've seen the other films you'll be doubly pleased.  My son kept on leaning into me and telling me about the references to other films he and I have seen.

See it with the family.  If you have younger ones all the better.  It's great seeing their reaction to what's happening on the screen.

The last film of this phase in the Marvel universe will be ending when "Spiderman: Homecoming" comes out.  I am told it tells us more about after the movie Endgame.  So there is one more film that needs to come out before the box-set comes out, but I'm sure Marvel & Disney are working on that as you read this.

Fun all the way around, and a great achievement for the filmmakers to complete.  Go see it and as my favorite writer Stan Lee would say "Nuff Said".

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Shazam (2019)

Went to see the latest superhero movie, and was pleasantly surprised.  The mix of drama and comedy works for this film.  It works because our superhero is a 14 year old boy in a hulking big body.  That is the charm of the movie, and it's theme is family, which isn't a bad theme to have.  Shot in Toronto filling in for Philadelphia the filmmakers create a good illusion of the city.  The filmmakers made sure they capture all the iconic Philadelphia landmarks and used them in their process shots.  I'm very skeptical when it comes to substituting cities with other cities because the filmmakers got a better deal in the city they were shooting in, but here it doesn't detract from the fun.

Though I would really like if Pennsylvania get's its act together and offer bigger tax credit to studios and filmmakers.  Don't they know for every dollar spent in the city or town they get like 3 or 4 dollars back?  But I digress.

The film is a fun origin story about a superhero created by magic.  It even references the other DC comic universe such as Badman, and Superman, yet the film stands on its own and you don't have to see the other DC films to enjoy the film.

The filmmakers even poke fun at comic book dramatics such as when the villain gives his speech and out superhero can't hear it because their far away from each other.  Pretty funny and you can see the filmmakers we're having fun.

But what the film hammers home is that the core to ones strength is family.  A family that you create.  A un-traditional family made up of people you care and love, but may not be related.  That's a pretty cool message to say especially in these times where we're all so divisive.  It's like a breath of fresh air, and I have to say that all the actors in this film do a great job in their performances.  Zachary Levi does a remarkable job as Shazam, and he looks and behaves like a 14 year old boy would if he were inside a big mans body.  The results are hilarious.

I ill not talk about the plot.  I hate spoilers, so I just suggest you go see the film and enjoy the moments.  It's a fun film, and one that you can take your family to.  All in all good film, and very entertaining.  Oh! and stay for the credits all the way through.  There are two clips one that sets up a sequel, and the other is a nudge to other superhero movies (wink~wink~nudge~nudge).

And to the filmmakers.  Please film here in Philadelphia when it comes time for the sequel.  It will look so much better I promise.  Let's just hope Pennsylvania gets its act together and pass a tax credit for filmmakers and studios.  Even though it did not detract from the movie it would have been so much cooler and better to see Philadelphia and it's citizens up on screen.  There is a tribute to even Rocky in the film, but being there and showing it in a process shot are two different things.  It's like the film "Moonlight" with Cher.  Shot in Toronto but takes place in New York.  Never works for me and really hurts the film.  Could have been such a better film.

So filmmakers think about that when you make your next film and set it someplace iconic.  Film the story where the story takes place.  Please!

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Mama Mia!: Here We Go Again (2018)

So Universal Studios decided to cash in on the original Mama Mia! and try a second go at it with a sequel of sorts.  I really liked the first one.  In fact my entire family loves the film.  We find ourselves singing along to the film, and enjoy watching the film unfold, so why does the sequel partially fail when the original kicks butt every time you watch it?  Easy.  The second film is nothing but a rehash of the first with other people singing the songs.  There are a few new songs in the film, but a lot of the first songs are rehashed and when they are sung it feels like the filmmakers are just trying to elicit emotions you had for the first movie.  It all feels forced.

Now don't get me wrong.  I did succumb to some emotions, but only because that was towards the end of the film.  The death of Meryl Streep's character is handled very emotionally towards the end when Amanda  Seyfried and Meryl Streep's sing a duet together "My Love, My life". The scene will have you misty eyed it did me, so in a way the movie works in eliciting some strong emotions, but what I found as its weakness was that it did not introduce us to what befell Meryl Streep's character.  Her struggle, and the grief that befell Sam (Pierce Brosnan) her husband at the end of the the first film.  Of course that would make the movie a completely different film, but I think it would be a stronger one then the one they have.

We already know how the young Donna met her three paramours, and that she decided that her baby (Sophie) was more important to her then her career.  We all have heard this and yet the sequel plays it all out.  The movie is about loss, and family no matter if they are biologic or not.  Families come in all shapes and sizes, and it is the love for one another that makes each family special.  The duet together cements that feeling.  Daughter (Sophie) honoring her mother by having her child, and building a new family.

Sure it is fun seeing the young Donna played by Lily James.  The young Rosie and Tanya (Alexa Davis, and Jessica Keenan Wynn) are also fantastic, but what if we saw why young Donna decided to give it all up.  Why was she so conflicted.  She was a free spirit, but when confronted with pregnancy she embraces her destiny to have Sophie and leave show business.

There is so much the filmmakers could have done to make this better then the original and give the sequel some meat, but instead it feels like it was crafted by committee.  The studio had the rights to some ABBA songs already so they used them, and added a few more.  It feels repetitive, and almost like you're watching a bad copy of the original.  That's the problem with the film.  Only at the end do we feel how much the loss of Donna is felt, and that Sophie and Donna share similar fates, but are drawn closer by the experience.  For me its too late.  I wanted to see more of the mother and daughter relationship, and how the loss of one affects the other, and yet in the end Sophie comes out triumphant.

Like I said in the end the film turns itself around, and I don't know anyone who won't be touched by the ending.  I just feel that there were moments lost in the film where it could have been more profound then the original . Maybe it would be more of a tear jerker but it would more powerful then the original, and when making a sequel one shoots high because you have a higher mark to reach with your audience.  Here it feels the filmmakers punted the ball.

Cher is fantastic, and her song "Fernando" is a greatest set piece, but the one thing my wife pointed out was that in the first film Meryl Streep's Character Donna tells everyone that her grandmother died, so why does she visit her at the end.  Is it just an excuse to introduce Cher?   Probably so.  Aside from that Cher kills it, and does a great rendition of the ABBA classic.  If nothing go see it for that even though it makes no sense that she appears at the end.  The film could have been so much better, and there are some elements in it where we can see that, but the filmmakers didn't follow through.  The movie is just a shallow copy of the first, and not worth seeing, yet what could have been would be a lot more interesting.  Unfortunately this is not that movie... 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Captain Marvel (2019)

I was excited to go see the latest Marvel movie for a number of reasons.  One is that I always thought Captain Marvel would make a great film.  It is especially powerful since our protagonist is a women.  The one thing the Marvel universe has skipped over was having a women superhero, and that's pretty strange since the Marvel comic universe is littered with powerful and assertive women.  From the She Hulk to Sue Storm from the Fantastic Four, to Valkyrie of the Defenders.  There have been a number of lady super hero's that have rocked the comic book world.  It was about time that Marvel make one.

To be fair Marvel movies have had women in their films such as Black Widow in the Avengers, and Storm in the X-men franchise.  With the success of Wonder women from DC Marvel had to introduce one of their own women super hero's, and all I can say is about time.

Brie Larson does a great job as Mar-vel a noble hero warrior from the Kree home-world, or so we think in the beginning.  I will give no spoilers away but needless to say there is a twist that really works in this movie, and it sets up the up-coming film "The Avengers: Endgame".  All I'll say is stay for the credits and you won't be disappointed.

Now on to the review of this film.  First off I have to confess I am a fan and have been a fan of Marvel since I was 6 years old.  My gateway superhero was Spiderman, and the Fantastic Four.  From there it was Captain America, The Hulk, the X-men, and the Defenders who were my personal favorite because they were so odd, and cool.  Marvel Studios has been releasing their films to fuel the Marvel universe.  Each film advances the story and the universe.  New hero's, villains, and a more storylines are introduced in every film.

Captain Marvel introduces us to Mar-vel a "noble warrior hero" from the planet Kree.  As the story advances things are turned upside down, and what you thought was one thing is actually something else.  This film is a sort of prequel to the Marvel universe.  We are introduced to Mar-vel or Carol Danvers, and we are given her origin story.  Origin stories are lengthy, and hard to do well.  You have to assume that a lot of the audience doesn't know how Captain Marvel started, so the movie goes onto flesh out it's characters.  By doing this we become more vested in the character.  We have to care and when we find out why things are happening to our character we become more invested in the outcome.

Captain Marvel does this so well.  By the end you want payback, and we are given a show down that we root for our hero.  The effects are outstanding, and the de-aging of Samuel Jackson is amazing.  My son said to me I didn't even realize that it was a younger Sam Jackson.  We just bought it, and that is a compliment to the effects in this film.

Also there is humor in this film, and like all Marvel Studio films they have their light moments where we the audience laughs.  It's that wink-wink nudge, nudge feeling where you know the filmmakers and actors are having fun.

Captain Marvel is also setting up the hype machine for the next Avenger movie scheduled to release in late April.  Marvel Studios always does this well.  Last year it was Ant man and the Wasp.  This year it's Captain Marvel.  By April everyone will be primed to see "Endgame", and in the end it's all about selling tickets and creating that hype.  That shared experience among its audience and its fans.

Seeing it with my own boys makes it very special, and I feel Marvel Studios knows this.  It's like a handoff to another generation.  There's a special sentiment when seeing it through younger eyes.  That excitement of when you got the latest issue off the newsstand is palpable here.  Instead of it being in the printed form it's now a movie.  That excitement, and joy transcends generations, and it is what makes "Captain Marvel" such a fun filled adventure for the whole family.

If your not a fan the film also works as well.  The film is an origin story and if you know nothing about the Marvel Universe that is alright too.  It does help, but it's not necessary.  The story works either way, and at the end we are promised more adventures to rival the ones that we've already seen. What better way to leave a movie theater then waiting for the next story to unfurl.  It's like the serials back in the 50's that were played before the movie.  Every child wanted to know what happens next, and Marvel is in a way following the same formula, but on a much bigger scale.  Anyway you shake it you'll enjoy yourself.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

So I finally saw the film "Bohemian Rhapsody" about the band Queen and Freddy Mercury.  I have to say it was enjoyable to hear the music again, and see how the band actually formed.  But something was missing, and at first I could not put my finger on it.  Halfway through the film my son looked at me and said is this the "cliff notes" of Queen's origin.  He had a point.  It seemed to the story went too quickly.  The story evolved quickly and seems to not dwell on the earlier years of Queen's origin.  I thought so as well, but still was interested in hearing the music and seeing how some songs came about.   What I really wanted to know was more about Freddy Mercury, and though towards the end of the film I did feel I learned a bit more about Freddy, yet I only feel I got a small glimpse into the man's life because if anything the movie shows me how really complex Freddy Mercury really was.

When the movie starts we see Queen perform at the Live Aid concert, and then we flashback to the beginning.  What I was interested in was how Mercury became so proficient in writing the bands song.  In the end I got that Queen was NOT just one particular person, but a group of men who created unusual music that hit a popular chord.  We see Mercury struggling with his sexuality, but don't realize why he does not identify as bisexual or gay.  The performance of Rami Malek as Freddy is amazing and the Oscar he got is richly deserved because it is through his nuanced performance that we get to know Mercury better.  Malek shows the anguish and the pain in his performance as Freddy, but the movie never goes in depth of why or how Freddy became the way he is.

In the movie Malek says as Freddy "that I am the person I want to be", and if that is true why the conflict.  Their is mention of his relationship to his family and in particular his father, but it is never examined or looked at in depth.

Of course this is NOT a documentary, and the film is quite entertaining.  We the audience feel Mercury's pain of being "different".  Maybe that's the movies main objective.  Mercury was "different" and what made him tick was the band.  It was through Queen that he became prolific in his writing and lyrics.

I believe that the film is based on conversations from his family, and his bandmates as well as his immediate close friends.  What is lacking is Mercury himself.  I'm not sure if there is a definitive biography of Mercury, but the movie certainly makes an argument for one.  Freddy Mercury was a complex man who was creative and yet destructive.  It seems he was always at odds with his sexuality until the end, but I don't know if this is true.  The movie is an interpretation of the origin of the band Queen.

I highly recommend the film.  Especially if you're a fan of the music.  Watching the movie made me keenly aware how much of Queens music had on a generation, and still does.  They were unique and special and like as Freddy says in the film when asked to define what and who Queen is he goes on to say: "We're four misfits who don't belong together, playing for other misfits and the outcasts right in back of the room; I'm pretty sure they don't belong together either; we belong to them".
That saying is what makes Queen as a band special and this movie as well.  Malek's performance rings true, and it's because of this that makes the film worth watching.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

So I finally got to see the documentary "Won't You Ne My Neighbor?" directed by Morgan Neville.  I had heard a lot of good things about the film, so I was excited to finally see it.  What I can say is that it is an emotional piece about a man who literally helped many children understand about growing up.   Roger's became an advocate for children and fought for good educational programming that would help children through the perils of growing up.  In the film we learn when and how "Mister Roger's Neighborhood" came into existence, and how Fred Rogers developed the concept.  It is quite moving to see how Roger's comes up with the concept of "Mister Roger's Neighborhood".  I can say that I was one of the kids "Mister Roger's neighborhood" was preaching to.  I remember vividly sitting down and watching Fred Roger's go through his day and learning new things.  All before I even set foot into a classroom.   Roger's was our guide into growing up, and he tackled problem like death, anger management, and how to not be scared of the world around us.  I am reminded now today how civility and just plain caring has gone out of fashion.  Mister Roger's Neighborhood taught us that someone cared for us, and that we were all special.  The documentary tells me a lot of things about the program but not about the man.

What I was disappointed in was that I really did not get to know who Fred Roger's was?  Why did he do the things he did?  I am given an individual who is well meaning, and very civil, but I do not know anything about him.  We are told that he grew up a privileged child, and that he may have been bullied due to his size, but I did not hear why he did what he did.  I understand he was in divinity school where he was training to become a priest.  That's about all I know, and I'm afraid that's all we get to know.  I understand that Rogers had passed away, and that the documentary is about him through the eyes of others, but because of this I get a picture of only one side of the man.

I would think that the filmmaker could have gotten a more detailed picture of Fred Rogers through other people.  Classmates, friends, and or teachers could have shed more of a light on the character of Fred Roger's. 

Sure it seems as though "Mister Roger's Neighborhood" is a program out of time, and that such a program would not work in today's society with social media, and commercialism of children's TV.  But Fred Roger's was the linchpin of the show and that speaks to the power of Roger's character.  Roger's made the show a success because of his communication with children.  He had an uncanny act of understanding what children were feeling and what they wanted.  That's what I was interested in, and what makes Roger's such a unique individual.

I wanted to know more about him, and why he did the things he did.  Roger's character seemed to be framed by the question of "was he always that nice"?   That questions seems to define the character of Fred Roger's, yet it does nothing to really tell us anything about him.  We see Roger's wife, and his two son's but they do not say anything about him that would give us a definitive look into the man's character and his motives. 

At one point in the documentary we're told of Roger's anger at programming for children, but we are not given anything to tell us why.  Instead we are given clips of Saturday morning cartoons, and other shows like the "Banana Splits, or "The Soupy Sales show" which were successful kids shows that were unlike "Mister Roger's Neighborhood".  No critics, no teachers, no professors on media are given a chance to talk about children's programming, and what Fred Roger's was doing.

There isn't enough on Fred Roger's to make me care. We're told he did not see doctors, and that he had stomach ailments, and he eventually got sick and passed away.  There is footage of Roger's early on when he begins "Mister Roger's Neighborhood", but again there is no really definitive interview of him.

It's as though we want to create a mythic figure of Fred Roger's when in fact he was a human being like al the rest of us who had challenges.  It is those challenges that I would like to see.   Instead Roger's himself is glanced over superficially and it hurts the film.

I did find Roger's life interesting, and wanted to know more.  But more the personal Roger's then the public figure.  Maybe that will come out in the biography that Hollywood is doing of him starring Tom Hanks, but I still feel that I'm being forced feed this image of Roger's that may not be all too true.  I still think that the most definitive film about the man is yet to be made, and I hope to see it someday because the man is worth more exploration then this film gives him.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Sopranos: 20 years Later

This week marks the 20th anniversary since the television show"The Sopranos" debuted on HBO, and with all the celebrations going on this week I wanted to put in my two cents about the series.

It feels like only yesterday that we were all talking about the show.  Every Sunday night HBO would air the show, and by Monday we were all talking about it.  the show seemed to capture our imagination, and we were always drawn back to it no matter what happened each week.

The Sopranos was about a family in New Jersey that happened to be in the mob.  Tony Soprano was the head of this family and it was his character that drew us in every Sunday night.  Of course James Gandolfini had a lot to do with us coming back to the show each week.  Along with the cast of Edie Falco James Gandolfini and Falco turned a unusual drama into a weekly viewing ritual.  I am of course not listing the others such as Steven Van ZandtTony Sirico, Michael Imperioli, and Lorraine Bracco and many more who contributed to the series and it's unusual trajectory.   

The Sopranos was a ensemble piece.  Each character contributed to the complex storyline that was the Sopranos.  It's been 20 years since HBO aired their last episode "Made in America" to a bit of controversy when the screen suddenly went to black, and it's sound dropped out.  America at first thought that their cable went out.  It's all that everyone talks about.  What did it mean, and why?

But I'm not going to talk about that.  It ended as it should have, and that was it's creators decision.  David Chase who created the series created a fascinating world of mob life with a twist.  The main character Tony Soprano played by Gandolfini is prone to panic attacks , and decides to go into therapy for it.  It is this idea tat turns the series upside down.  

In the past we have had many films that deal with the gangster element, but none like what the Sopranos did.  Why did we come back week after week wanting to find out what happens to our beloved characters.  It was through Gandolfini's portrayal that we gained sympathy for his character, and the characters around him.  Chase showed us the mundane as well as the brutality of mob life.  It was a contradiction to what we had seen before.

In the movies we've seen before we see sociopaths that have no morality.  They kill because of vengeance, or profit, or betrayal.  We never got a working picture of who these guys were.  not even in the Godfather do we know why Sonny joins the business.  We assume it's because he joins out of loyalty of his family.  Sonny seems to want retribution, and because of his family being threatened we have sympathy for him.  What David Chase does in the Sopranos is that he gets us to like Tony Soprano through his weaknesses.  We identify with Tony in a certain way even though he is a sociopath with violent tendencies.   We se him interact with his family and find a little of us in all of them.  That's "the Soprano's secret.  The performances are all stellar, and that's what really brings home these characters.  

We have Tony's mom played by Nancy Marchand who gives a stellar performance as a manipulative mother who has shaped Gandolfini's character Tony.  The family dynamic is layered, and through each episode we find out why things are the way that they are.  We even have two families.  One is Tony Soprano's immediate family.  There is his son A.J ( Robert Iler), Medow (Jamie Lyn Sigler), Carmela (Edie Falco), and Corrado "Junior" (Dominic Chianese).  Then there is his other family.  Tony's gang.  We have Christopher (Michael Imperioli), Silvio (Steven Van Zandt), Paulie (Tony Sirico, and Sal (Vincent Pastore).  Both families are close and both interact with each other.  It's this that keeps us tuning in each week.  The audience wants to know why and how our cast of characters gets out of their predicaments each week.  Their dysfunction is a reflection of us too.  No one is perfect, and seeing this crazy dysfunctional family makes us feel better.

Also the series is entertaining.  The show gives us love, lust, betrayal, loyalty, passion, and vengeance.   All at 55minute increments.  

When the show premiered there was no show like this.  In today's age where the proverbial cliffhanger seems almost a mandatory plot device "the Sopranos" never did that.  The series was the continuous exploits of "the family".  Each episode delivered shocks, and surprises and it sometimes horrified us.  In the episode "University" we are suddenly aghast to witness Ralphie's (Joe Pantoliano) sudden brutal killing of one of the dancers of the club that Tony owns.  The violence comes out of nowhere and takes us into a different realm of reality.  These guys which we are viewing and are interested in are brutal sociopaths with no regard to life.   Of course this is not the first violent act in the show, but one of many.  But it's suddenness is what made "the Sopranos" a series to watch.  The audience never knew what would happen, and though not every episode contained such violence when the violence did happen it made an impact.  It was a cold slap to its audience.  Why do we care about these characters, are we just as morally bankrupt in watching the violence unfold.   Maybe I delve too deep, but the show had an impact, and the show got people talking.

The show was and is entertaining.  The old bread and circus applied.  We tuned in to see who would be left standing each week, and the actors along with the writing made it a must watch for its day.  Today watching the show it still works on many levels and it plays well, but as a one time viewer when it originally played on HBO the show does not have the same impact that it once did.  Maybe it's because I already know the characters and I know what is going to happen.  What I am always look at are the performances of each actor.  I've been watching some episodes of late on HBO, and have concluded that the show works well because of these performances.  The performances are stunning, and the writing is as good as it can get.  David Chase really hit a home run with the series, and you can understand why if you see his earlier work.  Such shows as "the Rockford files", and "Northern Exposure" are examples of good writing.  Chase has an ear for dialogue and he creates complex characters that interact with each other well.  Just that alone makes the series re-watchable, and if you're a fan it's like visiting old friends.

Chase never thought that after completing the first season that the series would be as popular as it was, but the audience connected and  as they say the rest is history.  The cinematic feel of the series was what also contributed to it's popularity.  Chase is a lover of the cinema, and you can see that through each episode of the show.  It plays very well in a the 16:9 format which is what all TV's are now.  In that way David Chase knew that the wider format would enhance the show and give it a "bigger" feel.

50 years from now people will still watch the series, and it will speak to another generation.  The shows ideas and it's portrayal of an American dream turned into a nightmare is something that will resonate with future audiences.  Yet for me the show is a good example of a well produced, well written show with depth.  The Sopranos will always have an audience, and it will always be memorialized as a show that broke a lot of barriers for TV.  Scholars and critics will forever talk about the Sopranos as a show that broke ground on so many different levels, and that makes the show one for the ages.