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When someone says “superhero movie,” you almost certainly think about the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DC Extended Universe. Of course you do – these are the costume-clad films that have completely dominated the entertainment world for coming up on two decades.

But while they are the most popular, they are far from the only superheroic entertainment content we’ve seen on our screens. Indeed, the massive success of those larger entities has led to a proliferation of smaller, less name-brand super offerings. Some are very good, some are very bad, but most are somewhere in the mushy middle.

“Secret Headquarters,” currently streaming on Paramount+, is one such middling offering. That isn’t to say that the film – co-directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost from a script co-written by Christopher L. Yost, Josh Koenigsberg and Joost – is bad; it’s a perfectly nice piece of entertainment. It’s just very much a product of that mushy middle, an average film that doesn’t aspire to be anything more than that – and that’s OK.

It's a kids’ movie. And yes, if you want to argue that all superhero movies are kids’ movies, fine – I don’t agree, but I take your point – but this one centers kids as the protagonists, moving the superhero stuff to the periphery. It is goofy and unapologetic about the goofiness, with an absence of self-seriousness that many of its big-budget brethren might do well to imitate.

Published in Movies

Let’s just get this out of the way off the top - I loved “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” LOVED it.

Now, I was ALWAYS going to love it. I am fully invested in the MCU writ large as blockbuster popcorn entertainment and have been since Day 1. And I carry a deep and abiding affection for and affinity toward the character of Spider-Man, in all his many iterations. From my time as a boy reading assorted Spider-Man comics up to the present day, I ride hard for Spidey. He’s as central a figure in my own personal pop culture history as any. So this is very much a movie for me.

But here’s the thing – it’s probably a movie for you too.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the biggest and boldest MCU entry in a year packed with them – “NWH” marks the fourth film since June – as well as being the best. It is a massive spectacle while also finding room for the smaller moments, loaded and overloaded with everything that makes the character (and the franchise) great.

It also manages not to succumb to the elements of franchise bloat and metanarrative requirements that have undermined some of Marvel’s past efforts. It’s huge but not unwieldy, fan service-y but not exclusive, epic but not crowded.

You’ve got loads of web-swinging, wall-crawling action. You’ve got quips and jokes galore. You’ve got pathos and pain and the ethical dilemmas that those things can cause. You’ve got an absolute cavalcade of familiar faces joining in on the fun.

And at the center of it all, you’ve got a kid forced to once again stand up beneath an unfair burden that circumstances have thrust upon him.

Published in Movies

We’re long past the point where we can talk about individual films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe without also exploring the way they fit into the vast MCU machine, both narratively and commercially. These movies have ceased to exist as autonomous offerings; rather, they are parts of a larger whole even as they try to operate as singular works.

In those terms, I’m not sure how successful “Eternals” is.

However, if we’re talking about the execution of an individual film, one whose ambitions span a dozen new characters and thousands of years, all while simultaneously telling a story of relationships AND a story of potential world-shattering cataclysm, well … I thought it was a pretty damned good effort on the part of Chloe Zhao and company.

“Eternals” is the newest of the slew of MCU movies from the back half of 2021; we’ve already had “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi,” while “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is coming next month. It’s also one of the deepest cuts we’ve seen yet from the MCU, with many viewing it as a sort of reckoning. These are not characters with a great deal of pop cultural cachet, deemed relatively minor Jack Kirby creations even by those devoted to the late artist’s oeuvre, so would this be the film where Kevin Feige and the rest of the Marvel powers that be finally got too far out over their skis?

Yes and no, as it turns out.

Published in Movies

Living as we do in a world where superhero movies have become the primary currency of the cinematic landscape, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the comic book world reflects the relatively clear nature of the MCU.

But Marvel Comics has a LONG history, and not all of it is nearly as straightforward as the movies make it seem. There’s a lot of obscure weirdness hiding in the various nooks and crannies that come from 60 years of building and expansion.

One of the odder characters in Marveldom is M.O.D.O.K. (an acronym for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), created when a man named George Tarleton (born in Bangor, Maine – shout out!) undergoes experiments that turn him into a giant-headed computer-brained supervillain. M.O.D.O.K. would go on to do battle with all the names you know – Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk – as he led his superscience organization Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) toward his overarching goal of world domination.

And now he’s got his own animated TV show coming to Hulu.

“M.O.D.O.K.” – also known as “Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.” – hits the streaming service on May 21 with a 10-episode season. And it is an altogether different experience than any other Marvel property out there. Created by Patton Oswalt (who also voices the titular villain) and Jordan Blum, the show features a dynamite collection of comedic talent in the voice cast and perhaps the most advanced stop-motion animation we’ve seen yet from Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, best known for Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken.”

This is a show that embraces the comic book grotesquerie largely ignored by the MCU machine. It is a gross-out comedy that also takes great pleasure in fan service, tossing out deep cut after deep cut from Marvel’s back catalog. All that, plus a family element that allows for skewering of sitcom tropes as well. It is weird and ridiculous and an absolute delight, the sort of show that might not be for you, but if you dig it, well … you will DIG IT.

Published in Buzz

Everyone knows that superhero movies are big business these days. The MCU and DCEU have both proven to be massive moneymakers, bringing in billions of dollars for the studios. What we sometimes forget, however, is that these films are being built on a foundation of source material that runs decades deep. That depth provides a wealth of ready-made narrative and loads of context.

As you might imagine, these means that creating movies based on more limited or obscure source material can result in varying degrees of success. And when you start talking about wholly original ideas, with no IP serving to shore them up structurally, well – you’ve got a task ahead of you.

Netflix has offered up just such an idea with their new movie “Project Power.” Specifically – what if there was a pill you could take that would give you superpowers for five minutes? But there’s a catch: you won’t know what your power will be until you take the pill … and there’s a chance you might just explode.

“Project Power” is a big-budget action-adventure that, while liberally borrowing from other sources, still manages to be more or less its own thing. Sure, it’s a touch derivative in spots, but it also has a couple of top-tier talents heading the call list (Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and an up-and-coming directing team at the helm (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman). It’s not a wheel reinvention; this movie hits the beats we’ve come to expect from superhero cinema and does so in a familiar way. However, there’s just enough different here to make things interesting not just for the average viewer, but for the hardcore Marvel and DC stans as well.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 19 June 2018 15:22

‘Incredibles 2’ is incredible too

We’ll start with the obvious: like anyone who loves great animated movies (or really, great movies, no qualifiers), I’m in the bag for Pixar. Ever since their initial outing with 1995’s “Toy Story,” the studio has produced an exceptional collection of high-quality fare (and also the “Cars” sequels) – and everybody has their favorites.

For me, while I’ve loved many of the movies that Pixar has given us over the past 15 years – heck, the 2008-2010 run of “WALL-E,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3” is as good a stretch as any studio has ever put up, animation or otherwise – but for me, the best Pixar movie has always been “The Incredibles.”

As you might imagine, my affection for that film meant that I was both excited and apprehensive when I heard about the impending sequel. To think that they were finally revisiting that story, bringing these characters and that world into a moviegoing culture that has not only accepted, but passionately embraced superheroes, well … would it work?

Oh yes. Yes yes yes. A thousand times yes.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 01 May 2018 16:02

Summer movies: 18 for 2018

We begin this annual tradition as we always do, which is with the caveat that it seems a bit silly to be writing a summer movie preview so far in advance of summer.

Still, Hollywood has extended the season, turning the beginning of May into our summer starting point, so if we’re going to catalog the blockbusters, then it has to be from here.

Although if we’re going to be real about it, the biggest movie of the year has already happened – “Avengers: Infinity War” just had the biggest box office opening since, well … ever. And hey – you can check out my review right in this very edition.

But while the biggest may have already landed, there’s still plenty to be excited about.

2018 has plenty of what we’ve come to expect from blockbuster season -  a bunch of sequels and a handful of remake/reboot-type offerings and some superheroes, along with some animated fare and a smattering of comedies. It’s not like we don’t know how it works.

Honestly, there’s a LOT of what we’ve seen before. But hey – familiarity isn’t always a bad thing. Let’s have a look at what the summer of 2018 has to offer.

(Please note: this not a list of the 18 best films, but rather an attempt at a representative sample of what’s coming. There are movies that I expect to love that aren’t here and movies I expect to loathe that are. Still, it looks like there’s something for everyone.)

Published in Cover Story
Wednesday, 22 November 2017 14:01

A ‘League’ of their own

DC’s top team arrives onscreen with “Justice League”

Published in Movies

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