Yes, Another Infinity Wars Take

Hey there.

Been a hell of a couple of months, hasn’t it? I’ve kept busy, watched some movies, dealt with depression. That I wasn’t writing anything about those movies fed into that depression. So let’s at least kick that frustration to the curb, shall we?

And then I’ll turn right around and invalidate this return to the digital page by merely adding to the noise about the latest Marvel movie, Avengers: Infinity War. Better, more prolific writers than myself have already written thoughtful pieces about it (for instance, check out Rob Dean’s defense of the utter necessity of that downer ending on Daily Grindhouse). You know me: when it comes to cinema, I’m pretty much an autodidact. I don’t have any classes or degrees to back up what I think about movies, I just have personal data to fall back on – so I guess that’s the tack I’m going to take. I’ll try to stay as spoiler-free as possible, especially since my pal Diane won’t get to see it for another couple of weeks and she will murder me. (The “downer ending” referenced above is such a part of the cultural ripples racing out from the movie that I think I’m safe there. Just don’t click on that link, Di)

One of the most surprising things – to me – is that my wife, Lisa, is a big fan of the MCU movies. I have to immediately qualify that, because she hasn’t made it a point to see ALL of them, but she’s been willing to see most. It started when we took my son, Max, to see Iron Man all those years ago, where we taught him the value of sitting through the end credits. She’s expanded her nerd creds a bit past that – my proper schoolmarm wifey laughed out loud many times at the vulgarities of Deadpool and going to see Pacific Rim: Uprising was her idea. (She also enjoyed Wonder Woman, but let’s leave the DCU out of this) As we entered Theater #9 to watch Infinity War, she said, “I’m really looking forward to this.”

Max will be finishing up his sophomore college year next week and coming home, and he’s going to want to see Infinity War. Lisa has informed me that it will be my job to take him, because, unlike Black Panther, she does not want to see it again. Her dismay at the ending was not helped by my explanation of that post-credits scene, either. “Who?”

The conversation after the movie (well, after a trip to the restroom, where there was a line, unusual for the men’s side: if nothing else, Infinity War keeps your butt in that seat for two and a half hours) led to me saying, “You know, this movie and the next were originally called Infinity War Part One and Part Two.” “So they crammed it all into one movie?” (fair assumption. The flick is packed) “No. I think they just changed the titles.”

The tweets I had read comparing it to The Empire Strikes Back were quite appropriate. I was there for that, and the feelings leaving the theater were the same. (At least we don’t have to wait three years for this rendition of Return of the Jedi.) I’ve also seen comparisons to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, but I haven’t seen any of the Potter movies since the first, so I can’t attest to that (yes, I have a box set and will get around to them eventually, don’t @ me).

Maybe read a few thousand of these, eh

I find myself wondering how many people on that record-breaking weekend had my wife’s experience, though: coming to Infinity War with only the past movies to rely on, and without a lifetime being steeped in comics lore and culture. Infinity War is the closest thing to a cinematic realization of a major crossover comics event that we have ever seen, and it probably would have helped to have a few of those under your belt before watching it. The breaking up of the heroes into different teams of disparate characters was done fairly organically, as opposed to Batman making battlefield assignments (so much for keeping DC out of this). The pitched battles against bad guys that can’t have any real victories, because it would cut the major story arc too short, and dispel the dramatic tension. And, of course, the fact that the heroes must be driven into their darkest hour of defeat before they ultimately triumph. That usually takes about twelve issues. In movie terms, about five hours, it seems.

Doing something like that in a movie is outlandishly expensive. Which is good, says I, because the constant crossover events are what eventually led me to drop comics for the umpteenth time (well, that and poverty). I think it was Fear Itself, after Civil War, The Secret Invasion and Dark Reign that finally broke me. I doubt a similar glut will happen in the MCU. It’s just not financially feasible.

So Avengers 4 -whatever title it may take – is likely to be similarly cataclysmic (though, of necessity, with a smaller cast of characters) and then we’re probably going to return to comparatively smaller movies like Ant-Man and the Wasp. More diversity is something to wished for, and I doubt the lesson of Black Panther’s success will be ignored. We seem to be on track to finally getting a Black Widow movie – good, I can only watch Atomic Blonde so many times and pretend Charlize is a redhead – and somebody needs to construct a story that brings together Natasha, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Mantis and Valkyrie. Shuri for tech. Maria Hill as liaison. I’ll volunteer, if need be.

Was it, like, a year or two ago I was whining that the only people that seemed capable of making immersive spectacle movies taking advantage of new technology anymore were the Chinese and the Wachowski sisters? I can’t say that anymore, and that makes me happy. Infinity War had some amazingly sweet mocap performances. Josh Brolin showing through Thanos was exceptional, but The Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw) were literally comic book characters come to life, and I’m looking forward to my inevitable blu-ray purchase so I can see more of them. There were also some sadly questionable effects… then I remember also those glaringly visible matte lines in the first theatrical run of Empire. 

This may mean I am the one with the problem here, and if so, I will own it. I love the spectacle of these peak visual movies. I was fairly obsessed with League of Gods and Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons for a few months. Jupiter Ascending was a pleasant surprise. But those are balanced out by many others that have no soul to give their fantasies flight: 47 Ronin, Immortals, Seventh Son, Gods of Egypt, the live-action Ghost in the Shell. Artistry untempered by humanity simply does not last.

If I want to end on a more upbeat note, I should point out that Lisa is still pumped to see Deadpool 2, and willing to be talked into Ant-Man and the Wasp, so maybe her nerding wasn’t truncated by disappointment after all.

So… you miss me?

 

 

 

Movie Catchup, June Edition

A very busy week, made suddenly very complicated by a sudden call to complete a long-delayed dental procedure. That is why I haven’t been around.

Monday, Tuesday: city meetings, where I run audio. Wednesday: story for June video magazine due. Also work all evening doing slide slow for my wife’s graduating class this Saturday. It was urgent I get the damn thing done because it is now Thursday morning, we just finished shooting the stand-ups for the magazine, and in three hours I’m going to be in a dental chair getting four or five damaged, increasingly worthless teeth extracted and an immediate denture slapped in. This is something I have never experienced, and I have no idea what sort of condition I will be in tonight. Soup is almost certainly on the menu.

I have the freaking order of the slideshow done, but was frustrated from roughly 10pm to midnight last night because I could not get any sort of music file to play in it. I’ve been using Open Office for the last couple of years because I couldn’t afford Microsoft Office. Last year I managed this trick just fine in OpenOff’s version of Power Point, Impress. This year I’m suddenly being told that any file format – even the ones specifically mentioned in the Open File dialog – are “not supported”. Surfing around forums proves no help. Turns out if I just tell it to embed, save it to a Power Point show and then use Microsoft’s free Power Point viewer the music plays just fine. A bulky, cumbersome workaround, which means I’m timing blind, and still not finished, so hopefully I won’t be too wrecked tonight. Graduation is Saturday morning.

But yeah, I still managed to watch some movies, somewhere in there. Mainly because my landline shorted out and I was without the Net for three days.

I saw Avengers again, this time with my family. Still amazing, still flawless entertainment. I’m still embittered that every bit that would have made me go woohoo had been spoiled for me by the time I actually saw it – where are the Internet outages when you really need them? – but I got to see my wife and son react to them, so that was cool. Had to spend most of the end credits explaining to my son who… that guy at the end was (I still tread carefully for you, dear reader), and I wonder how many nerds had to explain that to non-nerd companions. I checked, and in my copy ofThe Marvel Encyclopedia, he only gets one-sixth of a page.

In any case, my wife is the very definition of a non-comics nerd, and she thought the movie was amazing. Which it is.

My other movies were at the other end of the scale, budget and amazing-wise. Saturday morning I was up at a Godforsaken hour because that’s what your body does to you, and I watched While the City Sleeps, a Fritz Lang-directed piece of newspaper noir from 1956. Lang is always worth watching, and the layered story here is pretty good. First off, a news media magnate kicks off after insisting that his various outlets sensationalize a murder where the killer left the message “Ask Mother” scrawled in lipstick on a wall. Then, his son (Vincent Price!) arrives to take over, without much of any experience in the trade. He creates a new position, Executive Director, and tells the heads of the three branches: Wire Service, Newspaper, and Photos – that whoever solves the case of the Lipstick Killer gets the job.

The cast is great: George Sanders as the Wire honcho, Ida Lupino as a conniving society columnist, Dana Andrews starring as a Pulitzer-winning TV news analyst who used to work the crime beat, and slowly finds himself sucked into the investigation. Toss in Howard Duff as the detective in charge of the case, and you got your very solid detective thriller cast. Andrews finally tucks into the case with glee, eventually putting his girlfriend in danger; it’s pretty amazing to see so many of the threads of the unsub-killer genres being used at this early date, as Andrews and Duff begin profiling the killer. And even if detective stories with a dollop of soap opera aren’t your thing, who could possibly pass up a chance to see Vincent Price in Bermuda shorts?

I also have to say that seeing a story involving journalistic integrity made me absolutely wistful. Man, fuck NewsCorp.

My viewing of While the City Sleeps was also movie number 15 on The List, so goal achieved on watching half of them before Summer hit. Huzzah.

The other movie seen during the outage was chosen at random, something I’d had for a while: You’ll Find Out, which is a parody of Old Dark House movies starring Kay Kyser (and his College of Musical Knowledge), and three guys named Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Peter Lorre.

Kyser is sort of a blip on the landscape these days, but he was pretty darn successful in his day, famous enough that he and Moe-bedecked comedian Ish Kabibble crop up in Looney Tunes. His radio show, a combination variety and game show, was quite popular. It’s unsurprising that he’d make the crossover to movies. It’s also a little unfortunate.

Admittedly, You’ll Find Out is his first movie. Maybe he got more confident, Ish Kabibble less annoying. But I doubt it.

Okay, so Kyser and his band are playing at the 21st birthday party of his manager’s fiancee. Of course, she lives with her eccentric aunt at a creepy old house accessible only by a single bridge, which will mysteriously blow up in the course of the movie. Somebody’s been trying to kill the fiancee, possibly Boris as the old family friend, Bela as the psychic who’s been getting lots of money from the superstitious aunt, or Lorre as a psychic-busting scientist. Or, given that it’s Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre, it’s probably all three. Oh, sorry. Spoiler.

When I was a kid, I was always pissed off that You”ll Find Out kept getting scheduled in the late night horror movie slot. I thought that perhaps now, as an old-timer, I could better appreciate it. Well, nottttttttt really, it turns out. It’s not dreadful, but it’s not a forgotten gem, either. Our big three bad guys act like they’re in a different picture entirely, and I kinda wish I had been watching that movie. The musical numbers are good, but achingly white. I dearly wished Cab Calloway could have dropped by for at least one number. And as I pointed out on Twitter, the final number employs a device used by Lugosi for ghostly voices to make it appear Kyser’s vocalist is singing through the band’s instruments, making it the first instance of auto-tuning, in the year 1940.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get my jaw ripped out.