May 11, 2018

Avengers Infinity War

I wasn't going to see Infinity War. I was bitter that Marvel was going to squeeze us for two admissions by spreading the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe over two movies released a year apart.
The success of the two-part finales of the Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Hobbit franchises has made the two-part finale a mandatory business decision.
By the middle of May, I was leaning towards going to the movie despite its half-done cliffhanger. I hadn't been to the movies in awhile, and I had a Friday free, and my favored neighborhood Belmont Studio Cinema was showing it.
I had really enjoyed the action in Captain America: Civil War two years ago, and this movie's ubiquity had left me feeling out of the cultural loop, so I talked myself into going to the movie. How was it?
  • There are a few terrific action sequences.
  • The CGI Thanos is gorgeous.
  • Near the end of the movie, Thor makes the best superhero entrance of all time.
But I don't remember the last time I regretted going to a movie as much as this.

In every other way the movie was either a disappointment or actively un-entertaining:
My Stub Hubby grade: C.

SPOILERS After the Break...

May 4, 2018

1,200 Post Anniversary!

I'm proud of my movie writing. I am that my friends read my work, and I am proud that I have been prolific too. 1,200 posts over 16 years is 75 posts a year!
I began writing regularly about movies at the turn of the millennium. Friends would ask me if a new movie was any good, and I would crank out a couple hundred words about it just for fun.
Around 2002 I turned this hobby into a blog: my first webhost was the free website provided by my cable internet provider. I did all hand-coded HTML back then, which was never very sophisticated but gave me a basic understanding of HTML code which has always been useful.
Early on I realized I could progress backwards too - I had all my old Nineties movie tickets pasted into scrapbooks. This paper record of almost every single movie I'd seen in the theater, including the date and location of each, makes this blog so thorough. In my free time as an intern 2002-2004, I published hundreds of posts backdated through the Nineties (writing at least a token few words about even the movies I barely remembered) while also reviewing contemporary films.
Fast-forward to 2018: I've written about 500 quality movie reviews over the last 16 years, plus hundreds more about movies in general. Thanks for reading, gang!
FURTHER READING: Moviegoing by The Numbers

May 3, 2018

The Sequelest Sequel Ever

Richard Brody of The New Yorker complains that the new Avengers movie is a sequel:
In "Avengers: Infinity War," characters aren’t introduced; they just show up, and their behavior is entirely defined by the template set for them in other movies.
After much thought I realized his gripes are true, but invalid. In fact, making this complaint about this movie could not be less appropriate. Why is this a dumb complaint?

There are 19 Marvel movies, aka the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" (MCU):
  • Over the course of a decade, the MCU introduced most of the characters featured in Avengers Infinity War. Many characters appeared over and over again. I consider Captain America: Civil War to be a de facto third "Avengers" movie, as it features all of the Avengers, minus Thor and Hulk, plus Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Ant Man.
  • At least five of these 19 movies are pure "origin stories".
  • These 19 movies have been wildly popular: all but one of the MCU feature films were in the Top 15 Domestic Box Office the year they came out (thanks Box Office Mojo)
So the characters that just "show up" in Infinity War have been exhaustively introduced to audiences via 19 movies spanning 10 years that caught the attention of the entire cultural universe. You could argue that these characters need less introduction than any sequel in the history of movies.

April 24, 2018

169 Thumb Jam

1) 'Wild Honey Pie' by The Beatles;
2) 'Desire' by U2;
3) 'Save Me' by k.d. lang; 4) 'Go Home' by Stevie Wonder;
5) 'Happy Hour' by Weezer; 6) 'Live In The Moment' by Portugal. The Man;
7) 'Watching The Detectives', a live recording by Elvis Costello and the Impostors; 8) 'I Can't Explain', a live recording by The Who;
9) 'Stand By My Girl' by Dan Auerbach; 10) 'Flying V' is a short song by They Might Be Giants; 11) 'Poor Poor Pitiful Me' is a Warren Zevon song recorded by Linda Ronstadt; 12) 'Bad Luck' is the new single by Neko Case; 13) 'All That Heaven Will Allow' by Bruce Springsteen; 14) 'Step Inside Love' is a Lennon/McCartney composition recorded by Cilla Black; 15) 'Karma Police' by Radiohead; 16) 'Slow Burn' by Kasey Musgraves; 17) 'The Mother' by Brandi Carlile; 18) 'Sharon' by David Bromberg was sampled by 19) The Beastie Boys recorded 'So What'Cha Want'; 20) 'Looking At The Sun' by Matthew Sweet;
21) 'Every Kinda People' by Robert Palmer; 22) 'La Mer' is a French-language version of 'Beyond The Sea', a live recording by Julio Iglesias.

April 14, 2018

Ready Player One

Steven Spielberg is famous for his childlike wonder, but his three movies set in the future are remarkable for their consistent cynicism for the fate of mankind. In 2001, A.I. Artificial Intelligence felt like a tonal mismatch between Spielberg's optimistic glow and Kubrick's nasty edge, but in retrospect, its nasty, crumbling underbelly of technology fits together neatly with 2002's Minority Report and 2018's Ready Player One: we will develop technology that is meant for good but will be perverted towards our worst craven instincts.
By that standard, Ready Player One is the lightest and most fun of the three. The virtual world was super fun, I liked the three puzzle adventures very much, and, as a Gen Xer, the nostalgia for 1980s movies and music was aimed directly at me, to an uncanny degree. The second puzzle- a voyage into the Overlook Hotel of The Shining, was awesome.
The leads were fine in the virtual world but only OK IRL. I really liked Olivia Cooke as the heroine, and I like Ben Mendelsohn as the villain, even if this role - midlevel villain begins to panic as he loses his grip on power - is identical to his part in Rogue One.

However, the structure reminded me of The Matrix, to a fault. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
A young, untested prodigy holds the key to liberating the virtual universe, but the bad guys in suits are out to destroy him, in the real world or the virtual one. The prodigy meets a battle-hardened young woman who introduces him to the resistance, but refuses to acknowledge her romantic interest. The bad guys imprison the common people in pods where they (virtually) slave for the corporate masters until they drop. The heroes look like ordinary people in the real world, but enjoy cool cars, music, costumes, hair, and makeup in the virtual one.
So it was fun to watch and listen to, the puzzles were fun, but the structure was lame. Also, I was stunned at the corny belabored ending! Spielberg normally avoids clunkers like this. It reminds me of the end of The Goonies (I know he produced not directed it) - where the loose ends are deliberately tied up.
I was also puzzled by the protagonist's voice-over. Why did we need the voice over? Couldn't the (arguably) most talented director of his generation find a deft way to show us everything the voice over explained? The clunky ending, the voice-over, and the overly familiar plot make the movie feel rushed, while the perfect special effects, great music, and 80s nostalgia make up for it. B-minus.

Soundtrack Note: When the hero earns a ton of credits and goes on a shopping spree, what song is playing? Bruce Springsteen's "Stand On It", a Born In The U.S.A. outtake that landed on the movie soundtrack of Ruthless People. It's a weird choice, the song is from the right period but it's hardly an iconic 80s song. It's not even used in Ruthless People for very long! I'm a big fan of Ruthless People- I literally bought the soundtrack CD for this song (and some others).

Stub Hubby History Note: I saw also saw The Matrix in early April - 19 years ago. I still remember the rush of excitement as the movie ended!

April 7, 2018

Moonrise Kingdom

A warm little story of teenage puppy love, nearly smothered by Wes Anderson's airless direction and suffocating style. It's worth the slog through the precious set design and Sgt Pepper-level costumery to witness the fumbling love between two young weirdos. The montage of their love letters, explaining their marginalized, misunderstood lives, is alone worth the price of admission. (on Netflix, recommended by Emily xox)

March 27, 2018

The Living Daylights

Still my favorite Bond car: the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante
I can see why Timothy Dalton earned his reputation as a grouchy Bond. The very few jokes he gets he undersells; the romantic scenes are few and far between. Especially when in the home office, he huffs and puffs and grumbles the whole time.
The second Dalton film, License to Kill, has such a strong American TV show feel, that Living Daylights feels like the last hurrah of the old Bond franchise. The scenes in the Czech Republic look great, the action sequences in the Alpine mountains are amazing! So much natural snow, I don't remember the last time I saw a modern movie with so much real snow. Back in those days, they would spend the money to go shoot on location. In modern movies it feels like they don't ever want to go on location and would prefer to fake the scenery instead. The Tangiers sequences also are just busting out with authenticity.
I don't know why the Bond franchise liked Joe Don Baker so much, he's the villain in this movie and he comes off like a complete dope. He returns as Bond's CIA field contact (a quasi Felix Leiter) in two of the Brosnan Bond films, playing a equally funny folksy American.
P.S. the title music by the group A-Ha, is completely forgettable.

March 26, 2018

Die Another Day

Bad news captain, we're also out of coffee!
When balancing work and parenting brings me stress, I watch old James Bond films. The Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan films are on Amazon Prime again...
I love that the Die Another Day opening sequence ends not with Bond cruising away from a minor victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, but Bond betrayed, captured, drowned, and enduring 14 months of torture in a North Korean prison. The Madonna title song feels sinister and seductive and just the right tone for the bleak imagery.
Halle Berry is a strong co-star, it's perplexing that they never made that Jinx spin-off movie. The only other Bond movie I can think of where one of his companions fights on equal footing as him is when Michelle Yao was a better secret agent than him in...The World Is Not Enough?
I love Rosamund Pike as an actress, but she is not convincing as a bad guy. Bond villains often sneer at Bond for his Western corruption; I'm tired of every Bond rivalry being a referendum on his (lack of) character. Do we have to have every bad guy holding a grudge against Bond for his personality, his womanizing?
Yes, the gadgets are bit over-the-top: I didn't mind the invisible car, but Yao's green Jaguar convertible was bursting with missiles from every panel, beyond the edge of parody.
I liked the idea of Bond parachute-surfing away from the glacier wave, but the 2002 CGI looks terrible today.
I can't get over a massive plot hole: in the opening sequence, Colonel Moon goes over a cliff and supposedly dies; we later learn that even though we saw him accidentally go over a cliff into a river, Moon did not die. Instead, he traveled to an advanced gene therapy clinic where he was physically transformed from a Korean into a snotty English aristocrat? Was his disappearance (after he fell over the cliff, his father thought he was dead) always part of his plan, and Bond's intervention only accelerated it? 14 months later, a "Gustav Graves" is a world-famous billionaire entrepreneur, about to be knighted by the Queen, who's launched a diamond-studded mystery satellite? I don't care about the impossible gene therapy, I care that no one on Earth is at all puzzled that a world-famous billionaire entrepreneur didn't exist a year earlier. Upon further reflection, perhaps Moon was only replacing a real billionaire, just like Blofeld stole the identity of reclusive millionaire Willard Whyte in Diamonds Are Forever? Perhaps they cut out the explanation for time? We'll never know.

March 19, 2018

168 Burning Down The Playlist

My boy and his BFF
Even though Spotify playlists can be as long as you want, I try to limit them to 20 songs or 80 minutes, whichever is less. #168 is 21 songs and 71 minutes, so close enough...
  1. "Wait In The Car" The Breeders new single, just as I remember them.
  2. "Tree By The River" Iron & Wine
  3. "Hope The High Road" Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
  4. "Bob" A Dylan parody, all in palindromes, by "Weird Al" Yankovic
  5. "Divorce Song" [Girly-Sound version] Liz Phair
  6. "Be OK" Ingrid Michaelson
  7. "Baby I Love You" When I heard this on WERS I thought "is this a new Julian Lennon song?" and I bet Ryan Adams would be flattered.
  8. "The Word" features strong Beatles harmonies where I can really pick out John's voice and Paul's voice. Also a great arrangement, especially Paul's bass lines.
  9. "Ask" a gorgeous Smiths song
  10. "Mano a Mano" a terrific John lead vocal from Hall & Oates' Private Eyes LP
  11. "Let's Go To Bed" my wife said "this sounds like the music from a montage in the middle of a 1980s teen comedy" ...from The Cure
  12. "Set It All Free" is Ash the porcupine (Scarlett Johannson's) show closer from the movie SING.
  13. "All My Friends Are Insects" a good-natured (pun intended) power pop classic by Weezer, from Yo Gabba Gabba! Hey!
  14. "Need You Tonight" Bonnie Raitt has always been an adventurous performer of cover songs; I was happily surprised to find her covering this #1 hit single from 1987. 
  15. "Get In Line" love this fast, hard, and catchy Juliana Hatfield song.
  16. "Unbelievers" Vampire Weekend
  17. "The Golden Calf" Prefab Sprout made some brilliant and eccentric Britpop.
  18. "Burning Down The House" [alternate version] Talking Heads; Thank you to Spotify for letting me listen to all sorts of Deluxe Edition bonus tracks without buying CDs all over again.
  19. "Room At The Top" It's a compliment to the late Tom Petty that this original song sounds like a classic from the rock songbook. Eddie Vedder covered this song for the 2018 Oscars In Memoriam montage.
  20. "The Seeker" RUSH released an all-covers album awhile back that included a by-the-numbers cover of this Who single from 1970.
  21. "Pirates" Brazilian Girls; heard on WERS

February 22, 2018

Black Panther

AMC Aviation Plaza Linden with Sara!
The theater eventually filled up.
An excellent movie. Highly recommended.
A action-adventure superhero movie about Africans, made by black filmmakers and black actors, that does not concern itself with the needs and opinions of white folks, is long overdue and refreshing.
I also appreciated all the women in charge in Wakanda. No one even talks about it, they just get shit done. I especially liked Letitia Wright as Shuri, the royal gadget/tech genius - she charmed the whole crowd. She led T'Challa through her lab, demonstrating her future tech, just like Q in the James Bond movies, it was great.
I was expecting more of a globe-trotting Iron Man-style action movie, but Black Panther was mostly a Shakespearean royal intrigue drama as T'Challa struggles with the loss of his father the king, the hard choices necessary to rule, and the secrets uncovered from his father's reign.
Wakanda has thrived over the centuries thanks to its vibranium-fueled technical advantages, but also through its isolation. Many other African peoples have suffered by comparison, indeed, the whole world could benefit from the advances hoarded by Wakandans. At different points in the film, King T'Challa is approached with different proposals:

  • Why not admit Africans refugees into Wakanda,
  • Why not emerge onto the world stage and take an active role in improving world affairs?

T'Challa shares the traditional Wakandan policy - isolation is crucial for Wakandans to thrive - but he discovers over the course of the film the price that has been paid to protect Wakanda at the expense of everyone else.
The movie is not all talky-talky, there is plenty of action - if you're looking for armored super-rhinos on the rampage, and remote-drive Lexuses tearing through Seoul, you're in luck - but Black Panther has a sharp point to make too.

Theater Notes: When Michael B. Jordan took his shirt off, I am pretty sure I heard a dozen women in the theater ovulate simultaneously. I haven't witnessed that level of female smitten-ness since Ryan Gosling charmed his way through Gangster Squad.
Trailer Report:

  • I am sad to see the immensely talented Tom Hardy cast as the new Venom. He deserves better than a C-list villain!
  • The Deadpool - Cable trailer was funny, but the crowd in my theater was completely silent through the whole thing.
  • Another Solo: A Star Wars Story trailer. The guy playing Han Solo looks perfect, and he's, like, nine years younger than Harrison Ford was in 1977. All the buzz has been bad, but then again, in the fall of 1997 everyone thought Titanic was going to be terrible too.