Back in MFA school, I was watching a lot of movies over again. Sea of Love, Sling Blade, Gone in Sixty Seconds are the main examples just because Stop Button still has the posts. I remember talking in class about how it didn’t seem like Billy Bob Thornton actually realized what he did with Sling Blade and so it screwed up the film, which got into whether or not a creative could not realize what they were doing with their creation.
The mid-aughts were a weird time for indie film breaking out. If you missed it in the nineties, you were still able to catch up. Most of the people who made excellent films then were still making movies, even if they were Broken Flowers and not Ghost Dog. So I got some push back from classmates but then agreement from the instructor. You can make a thing and have no idea what you made.
So seeing Endgame co-writer Christopher Markus disagree on how time travel works in the movie? Not a surprise. What else would you expect from the guy who wrote Dark World? But it also shows just how smoothly Kevin Feige keeps the trains running; on a Feige production, you can apparently fundamentally disagree with your other creatives with no negative result to the end product.
Basically Feige is the guy J.J. Abrams always wanted to be but couldn’t.
Avengers: Endgame’s Directors and Writers Disagree on the Ending
Until Batman, I was a Marvel kid. Much to my father’s dismay. I had all the Spider-Man books, I got Captain America (because he was “The Captain” because Reagan had pissed him off or something and even at ten I knew fuck Ronald Reagan), but I don’t know what else. Not X-Men. Maybe Hulk? I probably got Hulk.
So in winter 1988/1989 when Avengers #300 came out, I was pretty excited. It was an all-new Avengers team, The Captain, Thor, Mister Fantastic and Invisible Woman, and Gilgamesh. I don’t know why Gilgamesh. Because someone at Marvel who moonlighted at the Strand secretly knew there were some dumb kids out there who’d buy a used copy of Gilgamesh just because of a comic.
I mean, give me a better reason.
I did the Marvel summer crossovers when I was a kid; Secret Wars—especially it being sold in toy stores—trained me. But I didn’t make it to Marvel’s 1989 crossover. Summer 1989 happened and I became a Batman reader and then just a DC reader.
But one of the things about Avengers over the years was the book could support some wacky teams. Scott Mendelson talks about how Avengers 5 could conceivably team-up Brie Larson, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Rudd, and Evangeline Lilly. Plus maybe Tessa Thompson or Anthony Mackie. Presumably Mark Ruffalo will be in it because he’s given up on range. It’s a good post from Mendelson, who remains the only box office guru person I read.
Mendelson says three years from now for Avengers 5. Okay. So what about the one six years from now. Disney seems to appreciate Kevin Feige; he’s peerless in what he does. So there will be an Avengers 6, right?
Presumably Fantastic Four will have hit by then, Chris Evans might be ready to come out of whatever “retirement” he’s done (he’ll probably follow Chris Pine to TV but maybe streaming), Chris Hemsworth will have bombed out on his third franchise attempt. But who could play Gilgamesh?
What if it’s the Rock. What if Justice League 2 starring all the popular heroes versus the Rock bombs and the Rock goes to Marvel.
I mean. He was really good in Moana so why not bring that character over into the MCU. If Disney/MCU is that far along, I mean.
My favorite vampire movie is probably Innocent Blood. I haven’t watched Nosferatu lately so Blood is also my de facto pick for best vampire movie. I’m not sure why I don’t like the genre or why it fails me so often; I was never a big Bela Lugosi Dracula fan, I liked Bram Stoker’s in the theater because I was fourteen and fourteen year-olds are going to like bad things too. I wrote an essay for a class getting my MFA in Creative Writing about not liking vampire movies. Or books. Dracula is bad.
I did have a vampire period, however. 1992 or thereabouts. I read all the Fred Saberhagen Dracula novels, which are their own post someday (or not). But once I got out of the vampire thing–probably starting when I tried watching Bram Stoker’s on video and it was bad–I never looked back.
So I didn’t notice when What We Do in the Shadows came out. I didn’t watch “Flight of the Conchords.” People who liked it liked some good TV, some bad TV, not in the right proportions for me to trust them. Then I didn’t like Thor 3 so I didn’t go back and see more Waititi.
I chose poorly there. Should’ve seen What We Do in the Shadows. It’s great.
With Avengers: Endgame, Marvel/Paramount’s/Universal’s/Disney’s “The Infinity Saga” has come to its end. Even though producer Kevin Feige now says the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home is the actual end of “Phase Three,” which started back in 2016 with Captain America: Civil War, or: The Avengers 2.5, Endgame is the right place to stop. (No spoilers, but on so many levels it’s the place to stop).
Oh, hey, I realized “Phase Three” is the post-Perlmutter era of Marvel.
Anyway, I’ve only seen the first two Marvel movies twice and the second time on Hulk was the fan-extended version. So I’m not comfortable giving a numbered list; instead tiers.
Click the links for my full posts.
Or: The Disneyfication of Superhero Movies Is a Good, Actually
Notice they’re all from well into “Phase Three?” I’m fairly sure Feige didn’t really come into bloom as a producer of these pictures until after Perlmutter was gone and he started getting positive reinforcement from the Disney fellows. “Phase Three” is also when Feige got to stop listening to the creative committee.
Of the four films, I’d say I’m most impressed with Infinity War just because there’s so much to it. Homecoming is probably my favorite? Though Black Panther’s the best made overall. Captain Marvel… might be better than Homecoming. With these four films, Feige does exceptionally well. Panther had the most impressive cast of a Marvel movie ever, Homecoming proved Spider-Man works, and Captain Marvel has the first strong lead in a Marvel movie since Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 3. Good stuff. And all of them are better than proof of concept for the Marvel-style movie, they’re successful Marvel movies.
The second tier of Marvel movies is the “almost there” tier. The ones where, at some point during the film, it seems like they’re going to bring it all together. They’ve got all the right pieces. The Iron Man sequels have great Robert Downey Jr. performances, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth, real supporting actors—Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall. But then something just doesn’t work. They can’t quite make it; the Marvel house style hasn’t been perfected.
Captain America is a little different of a situation, though it’s from Feige and Marvel’s attempt to play the second two productions “straight.” For Captain America, they got Joe Johnston (beloved for The Rocketeer, forgiven for all else) to direct. Chris Evans got the title role even though he had the Fantastic Four strike against him and, frankly, not much existing breakout potential, even though he’d been quite good in quite a few things. And they spent on the supporting cast enough—aughts standard villain Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones—and it worked. Almost.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is a totally different situation. It’s a successful proof-of-concept, which the first film didn’t provide. Marvel movies come off so finished—and, frankly, the “Phase Two” material is so weak for the most part—it’s gotten to the point it doesn’t seem they can improve in the sequel. But Wasp does, without the advantages the Iron Man sequels or Captain America had.
Then Endgame is a fine conclusion to the “Infinity Saga” but a crappy sequel to Infinity War.
Thor is also from when Marvel tried to play it straight-face and hired Kenneth Branagh to make Asgard Shakespearian but not. It’s pretty good, especially considering how absurd the whole idea of a Thor movie seemed back then. Just getting to the end credits without the theater breaking out in laughter at some of the silly… well, Branagh and company did it.
Let’s talk about the two Captain America sequels which owe it all to Ed Brubaker and Mark Millar. They’re overwrought in a lot of ways, maybe because no one can figure out how to give Chris Evans a character to play. But there’s a lot of good in each of them, though I remember Winter Soldier never quite getting as close to succeeding as Civil War. Winter Soldier was a S.H.I.E.L.D. movie for Scarlett Johansson and Sam Jackson more than an Evans vehicle. Then Civil War brought in Robert Downey Jr. and all but two of the Avengers so it just felt like an Avengers movie. Again, nothing for Evans to do.
And the first Ant-Man was all right. Fun. Aimed very much at the tween audience. Paul Rudd. He’s usually reliable. Of course, the big story with Ant-Man is it was meant to be a mainstream auteur project for Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim). He walked. Presumably he got paid for some of the extensive pre-production work he’d done.
The first two MCU movies are about on par with one another. Iron Man has a better budget, but Hulk has a better director. Both have great leads. Both have kind of crappy villains. Only Iron Man doesn’t go full CGI for the last third or whatever and, even though the CGI’s fine, it’s still just a very budgeted brawl. Hulk had more sequel promise though. Shame it didn’t get one. Also a shame the extended version never got a release, instead just fans piecing it together from the DVD.
Or: Sure, Fine, But I Never Ever Want to See It Again
Yes, Thor 3. Though it’s definitely the one I’d watch again if I had to watch once of them again. Then maybe Ultron just because Scarlet Witch is cool and Vision is awesome. After that I’d probably watch Doctor Strange before Dark World or Guardians. I know Avengers 1 is last because the first half of the movie is so boring, but Thor 2 or Guardians would depend on runtime. Less wins. And Dark World does almost have that wonderful finish. Just like the Raimi Spider-Man missed the boat on Ultimate Spider-Man, Thor 1 and 2 really could’ve leveraged Thor: The Mighty Avenger and basically given the MCU the best Superman since 1978.
Or: To the last I grapple with thee; from Hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee
A friend of mine watched the three Predator movies–skipping the vs. Aliens franchise tangent–in preparation for The Predator, then didn’t see the new one because everyone said skip it. Everyone was very, very right; skip it. Shane Black is not some mainstream indie filmmaker who makes great genre pictures. Iron Man 3 was apparently a fluke, because Predator 4 is real bad. Real bad.
The first Predator is an exceptionally sturdy action movie with some sci-fi. The second one is extremely well-made. The third one is well-made too. Plus Fox at least seemed to think they were making a prestige sequel. Nope.
Though it is exactly the kind of movie John Carpenter would’ve been able to make good, against all odds, back in the late nineties or something. The Predator is what happens when Ghosts of Mars isn’t good.
I sort of have my fingers crossed the movie’s co-writer, Fred Dekker, will send me some hate mail. In the fifteen years I’ve been writing movie responses, Dekker is still the biggest name to send me hate mail (for movie responses, comics are a different story). The first time was about me not liking homophobic slurs in Monster Squad. The second one was a profanity-laden rant about me dogging Robocop 3 years after it came out. I wonder if I still have them saved in Gmail. I moderated the Robo one away because it was back when I had tons of teen readers for Speak. Ah, the olden days, when I got so much traffic I didn’t know what to do with it.
Anyway. Predator 4 stinks. Read all about it stinking at The Stop Button. If you’re so inclined.
When I first came across the “One That Started It All Blogathon,” I avoided it. If you look at the left sidebar at Stop Button, you can see I don’t avoid many blogathons. I only don’t do a blogathon (these days) if the blogger running it is problematic or if there’s just no way I’m going to write in the format. I post movie responses. Single movie responses. But, very slowly, I’ve been branching out.
And this year I’m apparently going to do a bunch of different things, including look at Star Trek II’s music (just the music) and talk about Josh Hartnett in O. 2019 is the year of not giving a shit when it comes to blog subjects.
I dwelt on doing the “One That Started It All” blogathon because it seems like I should be able to identify the film most influential to me. Even if I’m going to say something like Wild River, which I didn’t see until I was about twenty. Or Play Time. Play Time would be a good one. Grand Illusion. Kane’s not unthinkable.
So I kicked it around in my head, even toying with the idea of doing Ben-Hur because it was a movie I heard about as a kid (from my mom) but have no memory of seeing in its entirety.
Then I got to Kong and it was perfect and so I set about writing the post. After signing up for the blogathon.
I wrote four and a quarter drafts of the Kong post. On incredibly rare occasions, I’ll write two drafts of a movie post. I’ve never pitched a longer essay—well, wait, I rewrote the Superman franchise post, but those changes were about form—and there was some file-saving disaster the first time I tried doing the Carpenter retrospect. But going back and rewriting from scratch for Stop Button. Not my thing. But I found myself working out the post through writing it.
And now I’ve got a bunch of variations on the post, written over a two week period; I’m curious how they’re different, from a statistical standpoint.
Besides the obvious length-related differences—the post is about twice as long as any of the previous drafts, which all clocked in around 1,200 words—apparently my writing is about the same. Thirteen to fifteen words per sentence, eighty-five percent monosyllabic words. The first two drafts were, according to the Automated Readability Index, sixth grade level; the third draft and the posted one are fifth. For students from 1967.
Dale Chall says it’s an 11th to 12th grade level, which is higher than I’d like. Flesh-Kincaid says you could read it at twelve. I was twelve in 1990. I’m not sure I would’ve cared about someone’s summarized King Kong memoir. I think the Dale Chall is comprehension, but all those tests are going on syllables and word length and whatnot.
I used to freak out about not writing at a high enough grade level and then I ran some Hemingway through the readability calculators and stopped worrying.
An almost ten page King Kong ’33 piece. I’m all right with how it turned out, which is good. I really didn’t think I would be so pleased. I hated the second and third drafts. I hoped but didn’t think there’d be some clue as to why in the syllable count or something but no. Can’t readability analyze away writing you’re not happy with.
Chris Evans was, in his youth, a Burton/Keaton Batman fan.
Wow, he’d make a terrible Batman.
Evans was always my outside Steve Rogers dream cast. The Matthew Lillard thing wasn’t going to happen, but should’ve, but anyway, Evans was a good job. By that time, he’d shown a rather good range. Johnny Storm, Sunshine, Street Kings as the straight man, Push as a Steve Rogers prototype, Losers. When you look at his post-Marvel filmography and after bump at the start, he’s slowed to stopped on non-Marvel output. Those initial efforts didn’t really do much (see trajectory of Chris Pine), though it looks like Evans has got a Netflix original movie, which will either be good or crap apparently (I still haven’t seen a Netflix original), and Rian Johnson’s upcoming “modern” Agatha Christie.
Evans has already settled in as the George Clooney of the MCU (though Evans is a lot more vocal with his good politics than Clooney is these days). Though he’s still a little young to start doing his “man-in-his-forties” parts. Of course, who knows where media will be in five years. Evans will be Doug Ross on Steven Spielberg’s six movie series “ER 2.0” on TV+ or some such thing.
I really need to do that Debbie Downer history of the MCU post.
The Criterion Channel announced its inaugural month’s programming. At launch on April 8, they’re doing a spotlight of the day feature. Sometimes a single movie, sometimes a recommended list to pick from. They’re going to have a somewhat static back catalog (probably the stuff Janus has distribution rights on versus the titles Criterion licenses from studios, but it’s probably technically the best stuff they have—it’s the Kurosawa, Bergman, Tati, Fellini—but also some studio licensed stuff). But you’re going to be able to tune on a particular day and get something a little different than the day before, which sounds cool. In some ways, The Criterion Channel solves my big problem with Criterion—they don’t have any great mainstream acquisitions anymore. Criterion was very responsible for Wes Anderson back in the Rushmore days. But they also don’t have interesting genre acquisitions either.
Maybe I’m just angry they bothered with a Magnificent Ambersons instead of using it to spearhead a budget line. Whatever.
I thought it might be fun to pick out highlights in the Criterion Channel program.
First week, April 8 – 13. Columbia Noir spotlight, Y tu mamá también, female Italian filmmaker spotlight (including Bicycle Thieves), David Lynch, John Woo presenting a French musical plus a John Woo, Bugsy Malone on Saturday.
The David Lynch thing is a little too onboard for week one but whatever. I wonder if the Saturday night “kids” programming keeps up.
Second week, April 14 – 20. Julie Taymor guest programming, Fassbinder, Iranian films, Susanne Bier focus, Chinese drama Kaili Blues (sounds freaking awesome), Olivier Shakespeare vs. Lubitsch’s, The Kid for the “Saturday Matinee.”
I just missed the Saturday theme. Whatever. It’s a good mix. I want to see Kaili Blues.
Third week, April 21 – 27. Charles Burnett, Paths of Glory, Wages of Fear, Virgin Suicides, Paul Bartel!, Le samouraï, Mon oncle.
Okay, awesome. Like, Criterion Channel is, by week three, programming something fantastic.
Fourth week, April 28 – 30. Simone Signoret (Diabolique and Army of Shadows and five more), “Observations on Film Art No. 26” (a streaming only series?), then Chantal Akerman.