June 30 was the first ComicBook.com quarantine watch party in quite some time. As always, I made a few more Twitter connections through the conversations that came from it. These conversations inspired three posts for my blog, this being the first one.
My posts aren’t about getting clicks. If no one read any of my posts, I wouldn’t really care. Writing them is more about catharsis than fame. Moreover, I’m no film student, psychologist, or sociologist, so I can’t break down the science of movie-making or human behavior. Instead, these posts are about analyzing the themes used within the movies due to my personal connection to their messages (accordingly, YMMV). As a result, my favorite posts have been about Nebula’s Redemption, my comparison of Shazam! and Guardians of the Galaxy, and others dealing with a particular theme. That theme is realizing and accepting that your idealized vision of family is complete nonsense, breaking away from those abusive relationships, and appreciating the family you didn’t realize was in front of you the whole time (though for me personally, the third has been elusive). Not everyone has these experiences, but it’s a recurring theme in superhero movies. I never considered that the first Iron Man movie implicitly raised issues related to this theme.
Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) father died, and then Tony disappeared for a while. This isn’t surprising considering how self-absorbed he is, but when he returned to Stark Industries, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) must have served as a father-figure for him. Before I go forward, I want to mention . . .
— Rob Bodine #QuarantineWatchParty Fiend (@GSLLC) July 1, 2020
Tony didn’t show as much respect for Obadiah as you would want to see from your own child, but Tony didn’t ever show much respect for any authority figure, so it’s still fair to assume Obadiah acted as an adoptive father to him. That is, Obadiah wasn’t merely a coworker, boss, or even family friend. Assuming that, it must have been absolutely devastating for Tony when he realized Obadiah had called for his removal from the company, and even worse, his death. That betrayal would hold back Tony’s growth, which became a slow burn throughout the Infinity War saga. It helps make Tony’s grief over Black Widow’s death as believable as that of any other character despite his never overtly expressing that grief or deep feelings for her. It wasn’t until the first Avengers that Tony showed a willingness to “lay down on a wire” for his allies, but his ego made sure that no one would forget that. Somehow, it was still about him . . . until he started to understand fatherhood in Captain America: Civil War.
I think it's one of the reasons I love the relationship between Tony and Peter Parker so much. Tony learned by examples — and devastating emotional earthquakes — how *not* to parent someone and take the leap of loving them. #IronMan#QuarantineWatchParty
By Avengers: Endgame, he was devastated because he “lost the kid,” but he got a second chance in that film. Tony’s life became about Pepper and their daughter, Morgan. He was reluctant to restore the Vanished because doing so threatened what he had finally found after a lifetime of searching, even if it meant giving up on his filial figure, Peter.
Tony’s progression from self-absorbed brat to the guy who’d “make the sacrifice play” was 22 movies long probably because of Obadiah more than anything else we saw, but Tony made it there, and that wound up saving half the universe.
F Is for Family is the R-rated brainchild of my favorite active comedian, Bill Burr. The fourth season dropped to Netfilx on June 12, 2020. It’s a sitcom about middle-class, suburban America in the 70s, and as I’ve discussed, I relate quite a bit to the show.
In that prior post, I mentioned that the yelling and complaining of the father, Frank, began to grate on me. It was even worse in season 4, so much so that, despite some genuinely funny moments, and a tear-jerker of an ending, I didn’t really enjoy it. I was laughing out loud at several points; it’s just that what stuck with me the most was how annoying Frank had become. A character can’t completely screw up for 9.8 episodes of a 10-episode season, even while specifically trying to fix his issues, without it bring down the viewing experience. The yelling and complaining continued to get less funny and more annoying. Considering he’s the center of the show, that’s not likely going to change. What’s weird is that it didn’t bother me for the first 2-1/2 seasons, and I’m not sure if that’s because it got worse or got old. Either way, I’m afraid the show has jumped the shark, but the ending of the season makes it clear that there’ll be a season 5.
Fortunately for Mr. Burr, fans like me will always watch it because there’s always a chance it will turn into the funniest thing I’ve seen in years.
Regardless of how I feel about it now, the first three seasons were certainly worth my while. As always, YMMV.
Over on Rotten Tomatoes, Priest earned scores of 15 from the critics and 46 from the audience. Not many liked it. I bet some the actors I copied will not be happy I did.
The 2011 movie takes place in a post-apocalyptic Earth in which warrior-priests are the first line of defense against a race of vampires. While there are similarities — fangs, superior senses, vulnerability to sunlight — these vampires are different from what we see in other media. They’re barely even humanoid. The critics criticized the movie as just trying to throw a bunch of pop-culture elements together in a way that hasn’t been done, and it created a mess. You may criticize its execution, but trying to carve a novel path isn’t something deserving of such criticism. I won’t hold that against them. By no means do I like this one as much as many of the other guilty pleasures about which I’ve written, but it’s okay.
This movie is nothing more than a shoot-em-up, and sometimes thats all I want to see.
F Is for Family is the R-rated brainchild of my favorite active comedian, Bill Burr. There are currently three seasons posted on Netfilx, with the fourth set to be released on June 12, 2020. It’s a sitcom about middle-class, suburban America in the 70s.
Mr. Burr isn’t even a month younger than I, so he’s writing a story that I’ve lived as well, and thus is something to which I relate. There are other parallels to my personal life. Half of my family tree is essentially Irish and Scottish, and my nuclear family consists of an eldest son, a middle-child son (me), and a youngest daughter. For about a decade, until my younger brother came along, that was my family’s dynamic. The middle-child in the show is named Bill, leading me to believe that Mr. Burr, like me, is the middle child.
By the start of season 3, the father’s yelling seemed to get more annoying than funny. I’m not sure if that’s because it grew old or if the scripts changed, but that’s the only thing I don’t like about this series.
I don’t know if I like this show because I related to a lot of it, but Bill Burr has a large fan base. If you’re a part of it, you may like it too.
My favorite movie and television property is Star Trek. I wasn’t fond of Star Trek Into Darkness but otherwise am an apologist for the property. However, Star Trek Deep Space Nine wrapped up while I was in law school, so it’s the only series for which I haven’t seen all the episodes. I’m currently remedying that situation by watching seasons 6 and 7. There’s nothing I can say about the series that hasn’t been said before. Instead, I’ll mention a personal anecdote. I’ve been attending the theater since I was 5 years old, so over 4 decades. However, it wasn’t just any theater; it was Arena Stage. Arena is high-quality theater. I can’t tell you how many now-famous actors I’ve seen cut their teeth at Arena, as well as stop by for a visit after getting their big break.
So, when I saw that Casey Biggs had joined the cast of Deep Space Nine as Damar, I was thrilled. Mr. Biggs has a history with Arena. He was the first actor I had ever seen on TV (L.A. Law) that I first saw at Arena. My favorite two roles for him were that of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey and Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew. He appears to be assigned to soap opera hell but consistently gets one-shot roles on prominent TV shows.
He remains an obscure actor, but I’ve paid attention and appreciate what he’s done through these years.
The two Tron movies were the first or second thing (don’t remember) I watched when I subscribed to Disney+. I subscribed for the MCU, NatGeo, and Star Wars; and I was intrigued by Pixar (I had never seen any of those movies), but I watched the Tron movies before any of those.
I’m not sure if Tron: Legacy is actually a guilty pleasure. Rotten Tomatoes reports scores of 51 from the critics (who I don’t care about) and 63 from the audience. The 63 is technically a “fresh” score, but just barely. Still, I suspect it fair to call this a guilty pleasure if for no other reason that the sequel, Tron: Ascension, was scrapped due to a poor box office. That could have been an awesome story of Clu’s invasion of the real world. Besides a really good cast, there are three things I loved about the movie. First, “Radical, man!” “Far out, man,” “We were jammin’,” and the like. Based on the story, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is clearly a man out of time, and everyone he knows from the VR world would similarly be so. Even if new lingo had developed within the VR world, Flynn’s isolation would keep his vocabulary stale. It seemed like almost every sentence Mr. Bridges spoke contained a smattering of 80s lingo. That’s a hell of a way to tug on the heartstrings of a child of the 70s/80s like me.
Second, I like when a movie plays on the notion of the grass being greener on the other side. The idea of plugging ourselves into a virtual reality world is something that intrigues a large percentage of us (if not a majority), but Clu has the exact opposite perspective. He’s in that VR world and is doing everything in his power to get out. What’s more important: Being able to move like Neo in the Matrix or seeing a true sunset? I think the former is more important. We don’t really see sunsets, but rather how our brain interprets sensory data from our eyes and intervening parts. If the brain can be sent signals for a sunset even when the sun isn’t up, it’s no different from the real thing and could actually be programmed to be better. So, in the VR world, you can have both. Regardless of whether you agree, the point is that many of us want VR, but human nature is such that humans who’ve always existed in VR would probably want to see the real world. Everyone wants what the can’t have.
Then there’s the music. I have music from both Tron movies on a playlist I frequently enjoy. I’m a child of the 80s, so I loved the scene when Sam turned on the power at the arcade, and Separate Ways belted out. However, Legacy took place much later, and Daft Punk captured the upgraded feel very well.
If Tron: Ascension were ever made, I’d be there opening weekend.
Legion has Rotten Tomatoes scores of 19 from the critics (who mean nothing to me) and 31 from the audience, which is even worse than Green Lantern. Go figure. Like Green Lantern, the cast was actually pretty good, mixing newcomers with established veterans, and a couple of up-and-coming stars. I’m sure a few of them wouldn’t appreciate me linking them here, but they did a good job with what they had.
I think there are two things that make me like this movie. First, as a mythology fan, I love it when mythology, religion, and legends are turned on their heads. It gives the stories a different take and thus isn’t a bland remake of the same story we’ve seen a million times. In this case, while not evil per se, Gabriel is still the villain. Michael, on the other hand, is the protagonist even though he’s going against the Judeo-Christian-Islamic notion of god. That’s the big difference; there are others. Maybe some of the bad ratings are based on the fact that this offended people. Perhaps just a little bit?
Second, at the time I saw it, I was still playing Dungeons & Dragons and thought it could be the basis of a really interesting campaign. Unfortunately, I never got around to it. Food for thought for the gamer nerds.
Whether you’re an MCU nut like me, or a Pixar nut, there’s actually a lot more on Disney+ than what you subscribed for. Back in March, I watched the Finest Hours.
It starred Chris Pine as Bernard “Bernie” Webber, a real person who led a 1952 rescue of the SS Pendleton during a nor’easter. The opening act focuses on how Bernie met and fell in love with his future wife, Miriam. After that, the action picks up as the rescue gets underway, but the movie still revisits Miriam as she frets over what she sees as a suicide mission for Bernie. Whether you’re looking for action or characters, there’s at least a little bit in there for you.
The movie also stars Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, and Ben Foster, all of whom did a good job.
For what it’s worth, the Finest Hours’ scores on Rotten Tomatoes are 64 from the critics and 66% from the audience.
Last night was the Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 quarantine watch party. The best story arc in the MCU was Nebula’s, and it really came together in this movie thanks to both the writing and acting. No one can topple Thor as my favorite character, but she comes in as a close second. Sure, I’ve beaten this point into the ground but done so across several blog and social media posts that even I, the author, can’t track. Now I’m going to put it all together in one place so I can just point people to this post. Note well that the creators themselves may disagree with my analysis here and there, but art is in the eyes of the beholder. Great art speaks to people regardless of their own biases and perspectives, and I’ve learned recently that many people agree with my analysis of both the actor and the character. I truly hope I do everyone justice in expressing that analysis. To that end, while I’ve been trying to improve my writing by shortening my posts, this one can’t be done quickly. There’s a lot to unpack, so grab a drink and some snacks; you’ll be here for a while.
In GotG Volume 1, Nebula is a one-dimensional character. She’s an assassin crafted by a family with a far different dysfunction than any real human has experienced. Maybe you’ve experienced something as bad or worse, but unless your parent turned you into a cyborg because you didn’t murder well enough, you can’t truly relate. Every relationship Nebula has had is either severe familial dysfunction or predator-to-prey. She’s been trained to be nothing more than a killer; that’s all she is. She’s never laughed, never had a friend, and lacks the social context even to address her issues, let alone resolve them. The only emotions we’ve seen from her are anger and frustration (e.g., “Thanks, dad.”).
In GotG Volume 2, things slowly start to change. Gamora’s time as a Guardian has brought her along her own path of redemption, but she has no confidence in Nebula in that regard. Thus, the movie starts with Nebula feeling no love from her sister. However, when Peter, Drax, and Gamora are leaving with Ego and Mantis, there’s a moment where Nebula senses something inside herself. She gives a quick downward glance, accompanied by a brilliant musical choice making it clear that this scene was as much about Nebula as it was about any of the Guardians.
[C]obbled together by Buckingham at a time when certain people in the band weren’t even speaking to each other . . . “[t]he Chain” is a stark reminder that you’re forever tied to the people you love most, even while they’re betraying you. –Jillian Mapes
My interpretation is that Nebula doesn’t understand these feelings because she’s never had them before now, but they’re clearly triggered by Gamora leaving her and the recognition that if Gamora can have an adoptive family, so can she. Peter and Gamora were further along this path than Nebula, but they were all on the same journey (as was Rocket, but in a different way). Later, Nebula saves Rocket from execution for what she claims to be selfish reasons, but there’s clearly a change going on inside her. The 2014 Nebula wouldn’t have stopped the execution.
Skipping ahead to the planet of Ego, Nebula attacks Gamora. She’s genuinely angry, but not having to look Gamora in the eye is key to her ability to kill her sister. When the battle brings them face to face, she can’t do it. She yells out in frustration because all she knows is killing, and she suddenly can’t. She feels like she’s lost control of herself. Even at this point, my interpretation is that she doesn’t understand why.
And then there’s that moment when at last she gets it. She yells, “You were the one that wanted to win, and I just wanted a sister!” At 3:57, you see for a brief instant a relaxing of her eyes. I wish they had held the shot on her face for another second. She’s as surprised as Gamora. It’s at that point Nebula finally has a basic understanding of what she’s been feeling. She’s still Nebula, and there’s still plenty of road to travel, but you can’t address an issue until you first acknowledge it. She’s finally done that, and that’s why it’s one of my favorite lines in all of cinema.
There are a few more moments that help her along. She can’t understand how the Guardians can be friends because they always fight. Drax explains it to her.
Nebula: “…. You’re not friends.” Drax: “You’re right. We’re family.”
This helps her understand that right and wrong, love and hate, etc. aren’t always defined strictly by actions, but also by intent. Sometimes right and wrong look the same but nevertheless are not. Soon after, she becomes a Guardian by joining their fight to save the universe. She’s not just doing so to help herself; she’s also helping her sister. She’s not just working alongside someone in a morbid contest to kill more victims; she’s learning the notion of truly bonding with others for a common goal. Cooperation rather than competition.
Nebula’s part in the movie ends with an awkward hug, and then Gamora pensively watching Nebula ride away in search of Thanos. On the one hand, it’s a sad moment, but on the other, it’s a moment of hope that’s going to be desperately needed in the MCU within the next couple of movies.
Nebula’s journey to date is longer than the other MCU characters, but it takes on a familiar form. Like most of the MCU characters, as Nebula evolves into a better version of herself, her methods don’t change. For example, Tony Stark is a self-absorbed, playboy and arms dealer, and then becomes a family-oriented peace-lover out to save the world. Either way, his methods are the same: Develop weaponry. It’s all he really knows, so we judge him more by his intent than by his methods (though he often makes mistakes worthy of judgment). Thor is similarly self-absorbed and deemed unworthy, but eventually joins the fight to save half the universe. How? By recklessly plunging into battle, preferring brute force over tactics. He’s still Thor. And do I really have to mention Ant-Man? As discussed in the prior section, Nebula’s still figuring out that the same actions can be considered good or evil based in large part on intent. Sure, some acts are inherently good or evil, but in the movie universe, even that idea can be relaxed for the sake of drama. We can also allow ourselves to forgive a movie character despite an unforgivable past (see, e.g., Darth Vader saying, “My bad,” and then becoming a Force ghost), which would never fly in the real world (where I’m sure you agree that she deserves that maximum penalty you feel the law may morally impose no matter how much she loves her sister). This is because filmmakers have to use these extremes in order to properly convey the message to the audience. Still, there are rules of engagement, which Tony will later explain to her.
Nebula’s first scene in Infinity War has Thanos torturing her. After freeing herself, we next see her on Titan joining the fight to stop Thanos. While wanting to do the right thing but still not appreciating the importance of intent, she must be very confused by her current mission, which is to assassinate her adoptive father. She experiencing the same two defining characteristics of the life she’s trying to leave behind: Family dysfunction and predator killing prey. But this battle helps break those bonds of confusion just a little bit more. She’s doing the right thing despite the nature of her actions.
When it becomes apparent that Thanos has executed the Snap, she appears to show a bit of remorse for the loss of life Thanos just caused. With Gamora already dead, one might not expect her to have anything more to lose, yet she still exhibits renewed sadness — not frustration or anger — about what had occurred. Is this genuine?
This is where we see it all come together, with Guardians music playing. Ms. Gillan acts out the entirety of this journey in the following scene with two lines consisting of nine words in total, as well as three grunts. She uses body language and facial expressions buried in makeup. It’s not Klingon-like make up, but it still represents a barrier to conveying the message. However, even more difficult are the constraints placed upon her by the script. If Ms. Gillan — who I’ve read is a talented piano player — had suggested adding a moment to this scene in which she and Tony were singing and laughing while she was playing the piano, she would have been laughed off the set. Nebula doesn’t play the piano. She doesn’t laugh, and she doesn’t sing. She’s a stoic, distant, guarded cyborg who’s just learning emotions that we all take for granted. Ms. Gillan isn’t permitted to express those emotions fully but must somehow still convey them as they slowly rise to the surface.
And she does a masterful job of it. Here’s the scene:
The first thing we see is a paper football game. Nebula’s instinct is to cheat by blocking Tony’s attempt. To her, this is a competition, and that’s always meant win at all costs. Win for the sake of winning. Tony explains that, while they’re adversaries, she has to follow the rules of engagement. Again, this must be confusing for her, but she’s trying. In fact, she says, “I would like to try again,” which is 2/3 of the words she’s given in the scene. Consciously, she wants to continue to play, but subconsciously she wants to continue to learn.
When Nebula wins, Tony extends his hand as a showing of sportsmanship. He congratulated Nebula for beating him. Nebula understandably pauses. I imagine her thinking, “What’s going on here? Why is he congratulating me? No one’s ever done that before.” Well, of course not; everyone she’s ever beaten is dead. He still wants to be her friend despite just competing against her. “Wait. What’s a friend?” She’s clearly never had one. Then Tony asks whether she had fun. Again, she has to pause to process the question. “What’s ‘fun’? I’ve never had fun.” But she realizes she has had fun and answers in the affirmative. Remember, all of this is being done with little dialogue, obscuring makeup, and severe constraints on the character’s presentation.
But what happens next leaves little doubt that her transformation is genuine. Putting morality aside, the smart thing to do would be to kill Tony as quickly as possible (or at least as soon as he’s finished with his modifications to the ship). He’s in a weakened state due to his injuries, and as a fully biological person, he probably can’t last as long as Nebula without food, water, and perhaps oxygen. The sooner he dies, the less resources he burns in a futile effort to survive before seeing a rescue currently nowhere in sight. Not only does Nebula never consider killing him, but she actually takes steps to maximize his chances of survival, placing herself at greater risk. She provides medical treatment to his wounds and gives him the last bit of food. Even more profound, after Tony drifts off to sleep, Nebula picks him up off the floor and places him in a chair. If he’s destined to die, she wants him to die with dignity. Even if he’s going to die in his sleep, she wants him to be “comfortable.” And she shows genuine sorrow for what seems to be inevitable. All of this is for a guy she just met. Does this seem like something 2014 Nebula would do?
I’d like to write a lot more, but I’m sure you get the point. So, in the interests of finishing up this post, I’ll summarize the next 2 hours and 45 minutes of Endgame by saying it becomes even more obvious that Nebula’s transformation is genuine. During the rest of the film, she continues to display emotional development, seeming more and more “human” as she goes, and she’s legitimately trying to save everyone, not just herself. Her interactions with her 2014 version enforce that position. “You don’t have to do this . . . . You’ve seen what we become. . . . You can change.” Unfortunately, 2014 Nebula isn’t there yet. “He won’t let me.”
But you do see a tear running down 2014 Nebula’s cheek as she dies (blacked out of this clip). Seeing her future self could have been her start if there were only more time.
Sure, the writers had to do their part in setting this course for the character, and I applaud their work, but someone had to actually act it out despite a number of handicaps placed upon her. Ms. Gillan acted circles around Robert Downey Jr. in their shared scene, and I don’t think anyone noticed. The movies were more Mr. Downey’s than anyone else’s, so everyone was focused on him. Nebula’s importance in Endgame proves that the Russo brothers had faith in Ms. Gillan’s talent.
I agree. I feel that Ms. Gillan has the talent to win an Oscar one day. I have a modest track record for predicting such things (e.g., predicting Reese Witherspoon’s eventual Oscar based on her performances in two forgettable movies from the mid- to late-nineties). This comes not from personal talent, but rather from attending the theater since I was in elementary school. I can’t tell you how many now-famous actors I’ve seen perform at Arena Stage at a time when they were first cutting their teeth in the arts. I learned to look for that talent even when a bad script hides it. Whether Ms. Gillan ultimately wins an Oscar will rely on two factors beyond her acting: Being given the right part and script and being willing to go through the expensive campaign to essentially buy the award from the Academy. I cannot predict either of those, but she’s got one out of three already. That’s more than most of us (and dare I say, much of Hollywood) have.
No MCU character had a more significant, personal story arc than Nebula, and at times she was exceptionally well-acted. Am I wrong?
Someone posted a question to Facebook recently: Are we getting baseball soon? This instantly made me think of the scene in Endgame where director Joe Russo played a member of Steve Rogers’ support group. He was recalling a recent date. During the date, one of the topics of conversation was, “How much we miss the Mets.”
My first thought was to write a lighthearted, very short post – a stub, really – about how many of us feel that way. However, the connections between the aftermath of Thanos’s snap and our quarantine have quite a few more similarities. (Don’t worry. This will still be short.) While the reasoning for our predicament, and some of its effects, are very different, there are some effects where I find strong similarities. With 50% of the population suddenly and unexpectedly wiped out, storefronts were emptied and services like professional sports ground to a halt. Everyone missed their friends and family, but for some that loss would be tragically permanent (e.g., whoever was riding in the helicopter that crashed when its pilot was dusted). Does any of this sound familiar?
When the Hulk’s snap was an attempt to return everything to normal, it took only one movie, Spiderman: Far from Home, before we realized that wasn’t entirely so. Then attorneys like me started pointing out all sorts of legal issues that would arise. (My observations, including sports contracts, are buried in my Facebook stream, so enjoy this example article instead.) My understanding is that a serious legal issue will be addressed in Black Panther 2: Is T’Challa still king?
When journalist Joni Balter suggested that, when the state’s stay-at-home order is lifted, many may welcome him and other restaurants back in the Downtown area, Douglas pushed back. “I’m not sure you really get it, Joni,” he said. “You don’t just come back from this. This cost $3 million just to close my businesses down. We are broke … the reality is that it’s going to be tough for 50 percent of our restaurants to come back.”
Staying in the real world, we’re already contemplating (if not seeing) the legal battles that will ensue over missed payments and such. Some of it is being held off by, for example, government moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions, but without forgiveness of debt, we’re just delaying the inevitable.
The streets are empty, friends and family are missing, and things will never quite be the same despite eventually getting our own version of the Hulk Snap. Some of that may be good in ways that don’t synchronize with the Thanos Snap. For example, some people have learned that they can work from their homes, and their bosses will realize how much money that will save them in overhead. Less traffic and lower fuel costs will make the world more efficient and less costly. I’ll have more time to write blog posts. 🙂 But humans are social creatures, and we’re going to lose some of that permanently.