The too reverential Ms. Marvel fan movie

I’m not sure I’m going to write about this Ms. Marvel fan movie. I have nice things to say but it’s not… I wouldn’t recommend it to a general audience. A Ms. Marvel fan? Yes.

The production values are good, the camera work is a little too shaky, but the acting is all pretty strong. Arshad Aslam’s really good at directing the cast. Though someone thought the scene with Bruno (Jonathan David) at the convenience store should have a Clerks feel and someone else didn’t. Like, either David did it or Aslam did it. It’s just for a second and doesn’t fit the rest of the scene. Or maybe there’s just something about scenes in convenience stores they have to go that Clerks-y way?

Sanchita Malik is an awesome lead. She makes the movie work. So the ending is really problematic. Aslam does a very literal adaptation of the source material, for better and worse (usually the worse involves the editing), so it’s “comics faithful,” it’s just a good way to do the movie. There’s such a thing as being too reverential of the source material.

Especially when it gets in the way of your movie, which has this great lead performance and the story ends up dissing her.

They’d never do it but Feige ought to at least screen-test Sanchita Malik for a legit production.

Dear Seth MacFarlene: Louder.

I’m going to be writing at length about “The Orville” someday. No idea when. Not soon. But someday. No space between the words. I’ve yet to write at length about any television show on here. But someday.

This week’s episode directly ties in to the Season One episode where the show steps up to the next level and plants its feet, no longer worried about how Seth MacFarlene can’t carry a show and instead is going to be a loud social commentary show. Louder than “TOS” or “TNG.” And, of course, homaging both those shows.

Seth MacFarlene’s face is this show. But his voice is “Family Guy,” “American Dad,” Ted. MacFarlene pioneered the “liberal white guy makes racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist/who knows what else jokes ironically but it’s okay because he doesn’t really mean them and he’s really cool and he also goes after bad guys” thing. And he hasn’t just been far from woke, he’s been throwing Marky Mark-shaped objects at it.

But then there’s “Orville.” And “Orville” is the best work most of the people involved will ever do. Including guys like Jonathan Frakes, who directed two good Star Trek action/adventure movies, but has never done anything like “Orville.”

It’s a special show.

But it’s not MacFarlene Prime. He’s not reaching the (mostly white) guys (and girls) he’s been targeting for years. “Family Guy” would mock “Orville.” It’d probably be funny. “American Dad” would have one good Roger joke about it, a misfired Klaus one, and some terrible Stan ones. But Stewie and Brian could roast it, sure.

I noticed somewhere earlier this season, when MacFarlene went in hard on a social justice episode, it was completely clear he knew where he went wrong with those other shows. He knew it was damaging, harmful material.

“Orville” can’t make up for it. And it’s not all harmful material. Fuck Nazis. Buck Fush. You might not feel good about yourself but you’ll laugh. Because they’re good jokes. MacFarlene can write a good joke. He can run a show with well-executed jokes.

He can also run a show with so much more.

But the… “everybody’s Human” humanity he’s found and loudly promotes on “Orville?” He needs to put up or shut up with the Voice.

Mad About You – les six premiers

We started watching “Mad About You” a few days ago. Season one, from the beginning, fall 1992. So the world before Jurassic Park after it decided Batman couldn’t be too dark. I watched the show pretty regular starting in season two or three, whenever the bathroom episode aired. So I haven’t seem much of the first season. I didn’t remember the annoying deadbeat WASP friend of Paul’s (played by Tommy Hinkley, who plays it like Richard Jordan slumming but without being Richard Jordan).

What’s most interesting so far—six episodes in—is how casually and seemingly unintentionally but still harshly misogynist it gets. Paul Reiser is a selfish, thoughtless dick. The show acknowledges he’s selfish and thoughtless, but rewards him for it (as Reiser created the show) while going so far as to position Helen Hunt as a dweeb for falling for him. And worse for not putting up with his whining shtick.

It’s very strange to see how even “good” sitcoms have some exceptionally lazy characterizations.

Other weird things? It takes forever to see Reiser’s studio, which also might be the first time he’s given a profession. He’s a documentary filmmaker who couldn’t possibly afford a studio and Helen Hunt’s a PR exec who’s probably paying his rent. Of course, the pilot didn’t even have the dog in it so clearly things were shuffling in these early days. It mentioned the dog, it just didn’t have the actual dog.

We don’t get to see Helen Hunt’s office or workspace. She’s mean to her underlings? Though Hunt’s able to sell the bad writing on it. She’s also way better at comedic timing than Reiser, sometimes having to wait for him to catch up with her, which is probably a metaphor for the show at this point.

It’s like a waiting game for Richard Kind to get better material—some of it’s been good—and for John Pankow to show up.

Though it’s nice to see Art Evans as Paul’s editor who name drops constantly. And Kerri Green is around for a second. Kerri Green from The Goonies, who seems very much like she’s doing a less annoying Jami Gertz in “Mad About You.”

But, six in, lots more cringing than I was expecting. Lots more. Husbands are thoughtless dicks, the show. Woop de doo.

Catch your shut eyes

Room

Room; A24; 2015; 118m; on home video.

Room is the story of a woman (Brie Larson) and her son (Jacob Tremblay) who, after seven years in captivity by rapist Sean Bridgers (Tremblay being born as a result of one of those rapes), escape and have to adjust to the outside world. The film is from Tremblay’s perspective, with some occasional narration. Though never when the film actually needs narration. Screenwriter Emma Donoghue adapted her own novel, which kind of explains why the perspective is so unchanging, even when it’s not working on film. There are these scenes with Tremblay without narration where his behavior begs explanation. Instead, Donoghue and director Abrahamson just let the audience ponder. Abrahamson actually ignores the presence of the narration because he’s concentrating on Larson. Room wants to be both through Tremblay’s perspective but really be Larson’s movie.

It doesn’t work out in either department. Larson gets this amazing character and character arc, but then when the movie needs her to go away, she’s gone. Only the movie then sticks with Tremblay, which makes sense if it’s a first person novel, but not the movie because just because child Tremblay doesn’t understand what’s going on, the audience does. It’s a dodge. But then the film doesn’t really go deep on Tremblay, instead it just shifts that perspective to Joan Allen and William H. Macy as the grandparents. Of the two, Allen gets the better part but Macy gets the better scenes. There’s never enough with Larson and either of them, since it’s all got to be tethered to Tremblay.

However, outside its problems with perspective—both in the direction and on a fundamental level with the screenwriting–Room is outstanding. Abrahamson and editor Nathan Nugent work up this harrowing pace for the captivity sequence. Again, there are the nitpicky perspective things, but the film effectively and immediately drops the audience into this extraordinarily confined existence with Larson and Tremblay. The opening present action isn’t too long. The film starts on or just before Tremblay’s fifth birthday. The rest of the action plays out in the next week. For that section. The second half’s present action appears to take months but doesn’t really matter once Larson’s no longer narratively relevant.

So while Abrahamson never wows for thriller sequences or sublime ones, he also never tries for a wow only to miss. His direction is confident and deliberate, which the film does need. Room has so many ways it could go wrong and can’t really afford any missteps because they’d mess up the momentum of Larson’s performance. Because even though Tremblay has the bigger adjustment—she been telling him the real world was just something on the TV until the middle of the first act—Larson’s got a lot more repercussions. Though, again, both Larson and Tremblay get cheated out of dealing with those repercussions on screen.

Basically there needs to be a dramatic stylistic shift somewhere in the second half and there isn’t. Abrahamson never gives the impression of guiding the film. He’s always sticking to the script and doing well directing it, getting some amazing moments from his entire cast, but Room never quite feels organic. It feels raw—though the occasionally too smooth digital video hurts that impression rather than helping it. Oh. And the wide Panavision aspect ratio, which… just… no.

Larson’s performance is spectacular. She’s got a lot of big, dramatic moments and she nails them all. Even when the script doesn’t stick with her. In fact, Larson sort of sums of the problem with Room. Abrahamson knows the movie needs to be all about Larson’s performance and how her character arc affects Tremblay. Meanwhile, Room is actually from the perspective of Tremblay. The script doesn’t care what Abrahamson or Larson come up with.

But the script’s also excellent. It’s just… got a perspective problem.

Tremblay’s quite good. It’s impossible to imagine Room without Tremblay, but it’s also impossible to imagine a Room where Tremblay’s the protagonist and not the erstwhile subject of the picture. Because it’s not his movie, his part has nowhere near the possibility of Larson’s.

Allen’s good, Macy’s good. Tom McCamus is good. Bridgers is terrifying. Amanda Brugel has a great scene as a cop (with Joe Pingue as her “holy shit, men are useless” partner).

Stephen Rennicks’s music is effective.

Room’s story is bold. Not ostentatious, just bold. It’s a bold story, with a bold performance from Larson. It’s just not a bold film. It’s not a boldly produced film. It’s safe. It’s quite good, often spectacular, but it’s way too safe.

Ripley fille

Alien: Isolation; IGN; seven episodes, approx. 10 minutes ea.; 2019; streaming on YouTube.

The original video game cover art.

Anything I write about “Alien: Isolation: The Digital Series” is going to have some bit of explanation for why I would subject myself to such a viewing experience. So I might as well just get it out of the way now.

I’m an Alien sucker. Always have been. The franchise is like 2001 just with action. Sort of. You get grandiose space visuals, you get sci-fi action, you get slimy monsters. And “Isolation” is a curiosity. Ostensibly a low time investment one. It’s not a comic book, it’s not a mobile game, it’s a video game’s cutscenes assembled not into a movie but into a series of ten minute episodes. Seven of them.

The story to “Isolation”—the game and series—is Sigourney Weaver’s daughter who we only ever saw in a photograph as an old lady in Aliens, possibly holding a cat but maybe not, goes on an adventure when she’s a hot young video game lead to find the Nostromo’s flight recorder. Because it can’t mess up continuity. Though, who really cares since they didn’t get Sigourney Weaver to do a voiceover in the game and instead replaced her with some generic person. Weaver did return to do a voice for some of the game’s DLC, so… clearly she was willing to cash the video game check. But whatever.

I watched the whole series. Even if it did take about a week because I lost interest in it after the first two episodes. See, the animation is crap on a bunch of it. Alien: Isolation, the video game, is first person so they added a model of—the daughter’s name is Amanda, who is mediocrely (at best) voiced by Andrea Deck.

It says on IMDb Sigourney Weaver did the voice of Ripley Ripley in the game, so the guys who made the “Digital Series” mustn’t have wanted to pay her again.

Wow.

Cheap on so many levels.

(Unless it is Sigourney Weaver and her voiceover work is that bad, in which case she should retire immediately).

Anyway, some of the animation is fine. Some of it is crap. See the examples.

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The direction—credited to Fabien Dubois—is lousy, ditto the editing from Romain Rioult, and whatever writing Jeff Juhasz does. They added new material, which is probably whenever the cutscene stuff runs out and there’s just lousy animation with bad detail, bad dubbing, and awful walking animation.

When I first read about “The Digital Series,” I was vaguely intrigued. There’s a lot of cutscene content out there. If you rendered it special, could you easily turn video games into streaming shows?

Not if “Isolation” is any example, but it’s so lazy it’s almost like the question is still open.

I’d also heard Isolation is a good game. Wasting the brain cells watching the series, I know not to bother playing it. As time goes on—it’s the fortieth anniversary of Alien so there are various cash-in attempts (including a so far so good comic book adaptation of Gibson’s Alien 3 script)—but as we get further away from Alien (mostly Aliens) the clearer it’s becoming anything after Aliens was a mistake. Every effort since has been, if not half-assed, at least compromised.

Or just plain crappy.

Though I do suppose “Isolation”’s godawful alien movement—the actual movement of the creature—could lead to some funny GIFs.

Goose attack

Captain Marvel; Marvel Studios (Walt Disney Pictures); 2019; 124m; in theaters.

Poster illustration by Matt Ferguson

Captain Marvel is difficult to incapsulate. Its successes are many, some of its achievements truly singular (the CG-de-aging of Sam Jackson, combined with Jackson’s “youthful” performance, is spectacular), and there’s always something else. Even when you get past all the major things—first female Marvel superhero movie, franchise prequel, “period piece,” inverted character arcs, big plot twists—there’s something else you can find in the plotting or how directors Boden and Fleck stick with a joke. If they make a joke work, they don’t let up on it. Ever. They turn it into character development. Even when it ought to be absurd, they make it work.

But most of all there’s lead Brie Larson, who gets some big moments in the film—sometimes through the grandiose handling, direction-wise, but also sometimes in her performance. Marvel is a fast movie—once Larson crash-lands on Earth, the present action is around a day. And Larson’s got a lot to do in those twenty-four hours. The film doesn’t start on Earth, it starts off on a highly advanced alien planet, where Larson is living and working for Jude Law in a kind of space special forces unit. Larson’s from somewhere else (Earth) but doesn’t remember it (Earth). Larson’s aliens are warring with a different species of alien; this other alien species can shape-shift, which is a problem because they invade planets and take them over and they’ve just followed Larson to Earth.

Poster design by Art Machine

Where she fairly quickly realizes she’s from Earth, sending on her a quest to find herself, with sidekick Jackson in tow. Jackson’s simultaneously the comic relief and the audience’s view into the action, but only for tying in the latter (sorry, earlier) Marvel movies. Who knows what he actually looked like when acting the scenes, but Jackson’s performance is awesome. He does great with the “aliens are real” thing, he does great as the sidekick. He and Larson are wonderful together, even though it’s mostly just for the smiles and laughs. Boden and Fleck take all the smiles they can get. Not every laugh, but definitely all the smiles. Captain Marvel, even with its harshness, is fun.

Often that fun comes from Larson’s wiseass lead, who might not remember anything about her life on Earth but still remembers how to be a good Earth movie wiseass. The wiseass stuff is never to deflect from the emotion either. It informs the character and performance; there’s no avoidance, not even when the film could get away with it thanks to the amnesia angle. Marvel takes the right parts of itself seriously.

Poster design by Art Machine

Like the friendship between Larson and Lashana Lynch. There’s a lot left unsaid in the film, which is fine as it’s an action-packed superhero movie with warring aliens and not a character drama, but Larson and Lynch quickly work up a great onscreen rapport. It’s not as fun as Larson’s interactions with Jackson, but it’s part of where the film finds its emotional sincerity. Captain Marvel never leverages the emotional sincerity; for example, when there’s danger, Boden and Fleck will defuse it (quickly) with a laugh instead. The defusing doesn’t get rid of the emotional sincerity either, though some of that emotional sincerity is the only way the filmmakers can get away with the plot twists. It helps Larson is, you know, a seemingly indestructible superhero.

Lynch has a daughter, Akira Akbar, who used to know Larson too. Lynch and Akbar come into the film in the middle, so it’s a surprise how much influence Akbar’s going to have on Larson’s character arc (and performance). Because until the big interstellar finale, there’s a lot of focus on Larson’s reaction to recent events. Often for laughs, sometimes for narrative, but her character is fairly static. Sure, she’s on a quest for information but she’s got no idea the relevance of that information. Just it has something to do with Annette Bening.

Bening is—for the most part—just the personification of this alien A.I. god when it communicates with Larson. Everyone sees something different when synced with the A.I. god. Larson sees a Bening avatar and eventually tracks down the real Bening. Bening is both clue and solution to Larson’s puzzle. Larson doesn’t have all the pieces or the box to guide her putting them together—and the puzzle’s fairly simple (again, it’s an action-packed superhero movie with space aliens) but Larson brings more than enough in the performance department. Pretty much everyone brings the necessary gravitas then takes it up a notch.

Poster design by Art Machine

Marvel is always an effective film, in no small part thanks to its cast and the direction of that cast. Bening and Law are quite good (though Bening’s far better with even less “character” than Law), Lynch and Akbar are good, Ben Mendelsohn is awesome as the leader of the bad aliens (the shape-shifters). His performance—despite constant special effects and makeup—is understated, reserved. Even with the constant element of surprise—he’s a shape-shifter, after all—Mendelsohn’s performance is tight. Plus he gets some laughs, usually at Jackson’s expense.

Larson’s really good. Plot-wise, nothing Marvel throws at her slows her down. Larson’s able to find the sincerity in the broad dramatic strokes. Like the books, sincere performances… they do a lot. Larson’s particularly great with both Lynch and Akbar, implying a forgotten familiarity counter to her overt behaviors in a moment.

And the supporting cast of ragtag aliens and Men in Black (including a de-aged Clark Gregg in a fine shoe-in) is all effective. They don’t need to do much. Larson, Jackson, Mendelsohn, Lynch… they’ve got it covered.

Poster design by LA

Technically, the film’s just as strong. The CG is all excellent, the photography (from Ben Davis) is good, ditto Debbie Berman and Elliot Graham’s editing. Andy Nicholson’s production design—of nineties Earth in particular—is good. Basically everything except Pinar Toprak’s score, which often feels too small for such a big film. It’s not bad music, sometimes it’s really effective, but it’s also yet another indistinct Marvel superhero movie score. It’s all about accompanying the action, not guiding it, which is a whole other discussion. Occasionally it’s really spot on, but mostly it’s just there.

Kind of like the nineties pop music. It sort of works—having grunge-y songs for the 1994-set act—but it seems like a big miss Boden and Fleck never explore, you know, what kind of music Larson would’ve liked when she was on Earth and not just whatever is time-period appropriate.

Doesn’t Marvel czar and Marvel producer Kevin Feige like music?

Anyway.

Captain Marvel. It sets out to do a lot of things and succeeds in all of them. The film puts the galaxy on Larson’s shoulders; she deadlifts with it. Boden and Fleck have a wonderful way of making it fun for the audience when they take a moment to check a requisite plot point box. They—Larson, Boden, and Fleck–and the hundred animators who made Samuel L. Jackson, well, Sam Jackson again—do something special with Captain Marvel.

Poster design by LA