D&D with Celebrities @ChrisPerkinsDnD @DavidKHarbour @BrandonJRouth @karengillan @PomKlementieff @ #DnD #RPG #DnDLive2020

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Sundays are now lazy days for me. Going forward, I’m just going to re-post other people’s work. Today, its a video from last weekend of several actors playing D&D with Chris Perkins behind the screen.

I still haven’t watched the whole video, but I can tell you that, while all four of them got the hang of building character concepts and role-playing (duh; they’re actors), David Harbour clearly understood how to play these kinds of games. At one point, he spontaneously helped along a confused Pom Klementieff as if he were an experienced DM.

There were some funny moments throughout. Here’s one.

I’m not a fan of watching other people play, but if you are, there were several other celebrity games that weekend, all of which are on the D&D YouTube channel.

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Travelling Through the #DCEU, Part III @GalGadot @modernwest @HarryJLennix @BenAffleck @realamberheard @thedcuniverse #BirdsOfPrey #JusticeLeague #movie

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I really liked the DCEU, so I’ve decided to rewatch all of the DCEU movies in chronological order as I once did with the MCU. Doing so isn’t as important because the DCEU movies aren’t nearly as dependent on each other, but it’s something to do. 🙂 The order of the movies is Wonder Woman, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, Justice League, Aquaman, and Shazam!

Birds of Prey

I had to rent this movie to stream it. Worth it.

That’s not quite the saying, but close enough.

Hyenas are cute. From a distance.

There isn’t a single major character in this movie that isn’t seriously damaged.

You couldn’t pay me enough money to eat that breakfast sandwich.

That’s a bold enough fashion statement even without being involved in a chase.

As always, physics takes a back seat to drama, but this movie doesn’t even bother to justify it with magic, or alien metal, or anything that makes it easy for me to ignore.

The back and forth through the timeline can be hard to follow, but this movie pulled it off.

“Other pocket.” 🙂

Baseball bats and knees don’t go well together. Nor do beards and lighters.

I saw this in the theater with my friend, Erik, and we were the only two in there. At the moment Harley looks into the camera, Erik and I both spontaneously laughed out loud. Sorry, Deadpool, but that’s how you break the fourth wall. Once. Voice overs are fine, but make the break count so it has an impact.

 

Go to 0:40.

Hyenas are feliforms. She should have fed Bruce cat food. 🙂

I love when popular songs are reimagined; in this case, Hit Me with Your Best Shot. And sometimes, using the original works really well too.

A fitting death for Black Mask. Not just in the sense that he deserved it, but also because it was sufficiently hideous considering the tone of the movie.

I enjoyed this movie, but only as a comedy, and I liked the directing. As an action movie, though, it was substandard, and sometimes the characters overacted. Basically, it wasn’t as good as I remembered it, which means — as always — I’m probably overthinking things. This isn’t the kind of movie where you should do that.

Justice League

Believe it or not, this isn’t a guilty pleasure. The audience score is 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. If you’re one of the squeaky wheels that didn’t like this movie, you’re with the critics. That’s not necessarily a bad place to be.

Based on the explosion, that bomb wouldn’t have blown up 4 city blocks.

I can think of several reasons to be pissed at being turned into a cyborg, but the ability to fly isn’t one of them. Nor is the ability to access whatever information I want.

I really didn’t think an arrow would stop Steppenwolf. Why did they? Well, I know the answer. It made for a great fight scene.

“Keep it moving!” Where to? You’re on an island and on horseback. He can go anywhere you can.

I want more Green Lantern. I hope he’s in the Snyder Cut.

“I need . . . friends.” Yet, the Flash is the only member of the Justice League that isn’t constantly brooding.

Bug spray. I hate bugs, too.

Wasn’t Superman in a suit? Where’d his shirt and shoes go? And why hasn’t anyone cleaned up the rubble from the monument yet?

CGI mustache-free lip aside, the fight scene between Superman and the Justice League was great. It established Superman as a bad ass. I especially loved that he threw everyone off, and before they could hit the ground, beat the Flash at his own game. The look on the Flash’s face when he realizes what’s going to happen is priceless.

The cop pointing a gun at Superman is a dipshit.

Again, Diane Lane is the best Martha Kent.

 

Once again, the physics of comics make no sense. If Superman were holding an apartment building like that, he’d produce a tremendous amount of pressure at a single point that would cause the building to split. I know, I know; I thought it was a cool visual and good joke too.

The only reason to keep the main villain alive at the end of a movie is so that he can be a threat in a sequel. My understanding is that Justice League 2 was supposed to start with Darkseid killing Steppenwolf because of his failure. That makes keeping Steppenwolf alive even dumber. There should have been resolution . . . and a threat of what was to come.

As an attorney that was working with REO properties (think foreclosure) at the time I saw this movie, I thought, “Why would Bruce Wayne buy the bank. Just buy Martha Kent’s house at auction (or by simple contract if it was currently REO). My friend, Erik, pointed out, “Because buying his way out of trouble is Bruce Wayne’s solution to everything. It’s just what he does.” Good point.

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Travelling Through the #DCEU, Part II @GalGadot @modernwest @HarryJLennix @BenAffleck @joelkinnaman @JaredLeto @thedcuniverse #Batman #Superman #SuicideSquad #movie

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I really liked the DCEU, so I’ve decided to rewatch all of the DCEU movies in chronological order as I once did with the MCU. Doing so isn’t as important because the DCEU movies aren’t nearly as dependent on each other, but it’s something to do. 🙂 The order of the movies is Wonder Woman, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, Justice League, Aquaman, and Shazam!

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Like everyone else, I was happy we didn’t get yet another Batman origin story. Handling through the credits was a great idea. I loved the music as well.

Around the time this movie was released. there was a video showing the fight scenes between Superman and Zod in both Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice. It showed that both of those scenes were synchronized precisely. I can’t find the video anywhere. All I could find was a 2-second clip. I love that attention to detail.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

A real Superman would exacerbate the already massive polarization in America on both political and religious grounds. Considering it was a side story, the movie did a good job of capturing that tension.

Superman isn’t the only one that kills. Batman kills people. A lot of people. That pisses off people. A lot of people. (Not I. It’s an action movie.)

Did Soledad O’Brien die in the explosion? She must have. Pat Lahey definitely did.

“It did on my world. My world doesn’t exist anymore.” Foreshadowing for a moment I love in this movie when Superman realizes something important.

Okay, I agree. Martha?

How exactly would Lex Luthor be able to control Doomsday if it had killed Superman? The first thing it tried to do was punch Luthor. It failed but would have destroyed the entire world after defeating Superman.

Doomsday at the top of LexCorp tower facing off with Apache choppers reminded me of the finale of King Kong (1976).

“This is my world. You are my world.” This is where Superman realizes something important. The musical piece, This Is My World, captures the scene perfectly.

Lex Luthor isn’t really bald if they simply shaved his head.

Suicide Squad

Solid star power.

In creating the team, they created the threat. That’s a bit odd.

I’m a fan of Adam Beach and was pissed he got only a few words of dialogue and not much of a role. But hey; no small parts, right? At least he served a purpose.

Like several movies in the MCU, I always find myself asking, “What are all the other heroes doing while the world is being threatened?” Then I stop overthinking it.

I hate to be an asshole, but Cara Delevingne really sucks.

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Travelling Through the #DCEU, Part I @GalGadot @russellcrowe @modernwest @HarryJLennix #WonderWoman #Superman #ManOfSteel #movie

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I really liked the DCEU, so I’ve decided to rewatch all of the DCEU movies in chronological order as I once did with the MCU. Doing so isn’t as important because the DCEU movies aren’t nearly as dependent on each other, but it’s something to do. 🙂 The order of the movies is Wonder Woman, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, Justice League, Aquaman, and Shazam!

Wonder Woman

This was a fun movie. Huge stakes, lots of action, and just the right amount of humor strike a proper balance between serious and campy. I liked the way they presented the effects of the Lasso of Hestia on Steve Trevor. Its effect on Aquaman was funnier, of course, but as he wasn’t resisting it, his experience wasn’t strictly inconsistent with Steve Trevor’s.

The premise of the Amazons is flawed. They make a huge deal out of the fact that once Ares is killed, everyone will go back to loving each other. If they only knew that World War II was on the horizon, not to mention everything else that happened after that. Things actually got worse. I wonder (pun intended) whether that will be addressed in the sequel.

I love David Thewlis, but he was miscast here. He’s too old even in the flashback scenes where they use CGI to de-age him. I would have preferred a younger actor.

I like that Diana starts as hopelessly naive. It gives her room to grow, but because of her superpowers, she can sometimes get away with it (e.g., crossing “No man’s land,” which was my favorite scene and music in the movie).

So much for Steve Trevor not wanting to sleep with a woman before marriage.

Diana uses a lot of Capoeira.

For a second, I thought Sameer was going to suggest. “Get help.” 🙂

As to my point above, Steve Trevor and Ares both try to explain away Ares’ responsibility for human evil, but then SPOILER ALERT Diana kills Ares. Was Trevor mistaken? Was Ares lying? Nope. Things continued to get worse after World War I.

All of the telekinesis in the first part of the fight against Ares reminds me of Luke’s first battle against Vader in the Empire Strikes Back. Ares’ creation of swords on the fly reminds me of Hela in Thor: Ragnarok.

I hope they come up with a really good explanation for Steve Trevor’s return in Wonder Woman 1984. Otherwise, it’ll cheapen his moving death scene in this movie. I know that characters always come back to life in comics, but this is a different medium. Death should be final. Otherwise, there are no stakes, and thus no drama.

Wonder Woman 1984

Dammit! I wish I could watch this now.

Man of Steel

I’m a HUGE fan of this soundtrack.

At times, the opening sequence reminds me of the Matrix, Avatar, and Apocalypse Now.

Heresy
noun
Belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine.

It’s heresy to have babies naturally?

Henry Cavill is my favorite Superman. Deal with it. And Diane Lane is my favorite Martha Kent.

I always found weird the theory that Aquaman saved Superman after the oil rig explosion. A natural, terrestrial threat could kill Superman? I have enough trouble accepting that he was knocked unconscious by it, but okay. Drama.

The most heroic thing about Clark Kent that’s obtainable by all of us is a complete lack of pride.

Everyone argues. It doesn’t mean you don’t love each other. If the last thing you say to someone you love is harsh, don’t beat yourself up over it. They understood. Wouldn’t you?

Kevin Costner’s sacrifice was far better than Glen Ford’s heart attack.

I love how Coburn Goss portrays a priest thinking, “Oh, shit!” but somehow keeping his composure.

So Kryptonians are ultra-sensitive to different atmospheres but totally cool with the vacuum of space?

The amount of destruction in this movie is horrifying. It makes sense considering who’s fighting whom, but how could you rebuild that?

It’s so funny to me that this is the same Michael Shannon from Knives Out. Great actor.

“106 Days without an accident.” Oops. The 1 and 6 just got knocked off. Hell of a joke to put in such a scene.

Wait. Why remove your armor, Zod?

Oooooooh, there goes Wayne Tower.

Superman kills! The direction in which he broke Zod’s neck should have killed the people anyway.

“Welcome to the planet.”

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Nebula’s Redemption #MCU #GotGVol2 #QuarantineWatchParty @karengillan @BrandonDavisBD @ComicBook @JamesGunn @prattprattpratt @zoesaldana @DaveBautista @PomKlementieff @seangunn @russburlingame @jumonsmapes

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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.

Nebula’s Start

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.”).

Nebula’s Journey

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

https://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/stevie-nicks-in-33-songs/

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 subconscious 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 3:19, 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.

Infinity War

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?

Endgame

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.

Gillan’s Acting

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?

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No Small Parts: Bereet in Guardians of the Galaxy @Melia_Kreiling @comicbook @BrandonDavisBD @JamesGunn @seangunn #QuarantineWatchParty #GotG #MCU #NoSmallParts

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Tuesday night was the Guardians of the Galaxy quarantine watch party hosted again by Brandon Davis of ComicBook.com. We were joined by director James Gunn and actors Sean Gunn and Melia Kreiling. I love the GotG movies and have spoken about them many times, but with movies this good, there’s always something more to discuss after each viewing.

Melia Kreiling played Bereet in the 18-second clip below.

She had an additional one minute here.

This isn’t much screen time, but during my online interaction with Ms. Kreiling, I played the role of Captain Obvious and pointed out that there’s no such thing as a “small part.”

Actors with quick appearances, even if they have no lines and are relegated to the background, provide necessary color to scenes. I’m sure most actors want lead roles in blockbuster films, but if that isn’t available, their contribution can still be important. Let’s consider the scenes in the videos. Like most of the primary and secondary MCU characters, Peter Quill (you might know him by another name, Star Lord) had a lot of growing to do. He started as an irreverent, silly, narcissistic, selfish criminal, but by the end of Endgame had become an . . .  irreverent, silly, savior of the universe. Old habits die hard, and you can’t fix stupid, but it’s the thought that counts, and his intentions became noble.

But how can you appreciate that growth if you don’t experience its full progression? Bereet provided the necessary context. The first time we got a glimpse into what made Peter tick was his interaction with Bereet. She was, as Ms. Kreiling puts it,

Peter and Bereet had clearly spent a non-negligible amount of time together, most of which we assume was sexual, and he didn’t even remember her being there. How self-absorbed can one get? He then refuses to honor his word by betraying Yondu (admittedly, not the nicest guy either). Bereet provided the means to display that betrayal by unwittingly answering the “phone call,” something Peter would just have ignored without the audience knowing it had happened. This was good acting and good writing, and was as important as any other moment in that movie.

“Small parts” are often critical. Sometimes we just don’t think about the roles they play.

Other posts in this series can be accessed by clicking here.

Side note: As I was pulling up the YouTube videos, this gem auto-played. For your viewing and listening pleasure. Seriously, listen to that music.

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On April Fool’s Day, I enjoyed yet another quarantine watch party. This one was for Shazam, which I love. We were joined by the director, David Sandberg, and the actors that played Billy’s foster parents, Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews. The party was hosted by Brandon Davis of Comicbook.com, and Russ Burlingame joined in as well. We may have been joined by some other people involved in the film, but I wouldn’t know. I was clearly confused. For a moment I though Russ was the producer or something. Awkward.

Anyway, comic book movies are well-loved, but it seems most people love them solely for their action and fantasy elements. I feel that they don’t get the respect they deserve for the acting and screenwriting, which at times is top notch. After all, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) and DC Extended Universe (“DCEU”) have a few former Oscar winners in them. There are several themes that came up in our collective commentary that I wanted to discuss, some of which are shared with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Shazam occupies the same space in the DCEU as GotG. When I initially made that observation, my thoughts were narrow. I was referring to the fact that both were expected to lighten the mood of their respective cinematic universes by focusing a lot more on comedy than the others. All these movies have some comedic one-liners, and both Shazam and GotG were still very much action-oriented, but we all can see that the balance between those two genres were tipped a little further comedy for Shazam and GotG. But there were other reasons to make this connection that I didn’t initially appreciate.

Everyone Was Pretty Selfish

As with most stories, the primary characters in these films were flawed; to-wit: their motivations selfish. In GotG, Peter was a thief, Gamora was an assassin, Rocket and Groot were mercenaries, and Drax was motivated solely by hatred and loss. Each of those attitudes led to risks not only to their own well-beings, but to the well-beings of the entire galaxy. The same selfishness was common among the main characters in Shazam, and not just the villain. These flaws were normal for children their ages, and thus the stakes were initially lower, but when these kids were forced to deal with fantastic circumstances that don’t exist in the real world, they had no choice but to grow up quickly. It didn’t go so well. Billy stole from Freddy, and when they worked together, they willingly took $73 from the mugging “victim” knowing full well that Shazam was scaring her into handing over the money. They stole far more money from an ATM.

Eventually, Billy started to play the role of a hero, but only because his reckless behavior created the danger in the first place. Though he saved the day … well …

Billy’s still all about himself. Freddy had his own problems. He “understood this whole superhero thing” better than anyone, but he quickly broke his own rules.

Family Takes Many Forms

That second tweet isn’t strictly correct. The Vasquez family wasn’t an “adoptive” family; they were a foster family. That’s a slightly different dynamic. I’m not familiar with the details of the process, but in an adoptive family, at least the parents get to choose the children they adopt. In a foster family, that choice is made by the foster care system. Foster familes are forced on one another, and in GotG, that’s true as well. The Guardians were forced on one another by circumstance. This isn’t to say that freewill didn’t play any part; the Vasquez family chose to be a foster family to someone, and the Guardians could have split up as soon as they escaped prison (or at any other time). I’m just saying that there were far more severe limits placed on their respective choices, and that makes their coming together as a family more impressive.

And those families worked. By working together, the characters in desperate need of personal growth became better. They focused on more than just themselves. On the extreme end of the spectrum, Nebula’s realized relationship with Gamora, and then the other Guardians, led to her rhetoric shifting from “I’m killing Thanos because I hate him” to “I’m killing Thanos because he’s going to kill half the universe.” In a similar way, despite all the superpowers he had, Billy was still just a dopey kid who’s sense of family was an unattainable ideal, and like Starlord, that caused him initially to miss the family that was right in front of his face. Billy didn’t really evolve until he accepted his new family, and then he learned not only their importance, but everyone’s importance. The sense of family led to a sense of community.

The Stakes Were Still High

These are still action movies. The Guardians saved a planet from a villain who would eventually become a threat to the entire galaxy. That threat needed to be extreme in order to keep the movie from getting too lighthearted. Shazam was written to be even far more family-friendly, yet the boardroom scene was so dark that it received quite a bit of criticism. I don’t think that’s fair. A movie so lighthearted can cause the viewer to lose sight of the stakes. Doctor Sivana murdered several people, including his brother and father. Sound familiar, Ego? What about you, Thanos?

The Acting Was Solid

I won’t beat the dead horse any more than I must, but here’s a quick summary of my feelings on the actors of GotG. The actors in GotG represented the best acting ensemble in the MCU, and Karen Gillan’s performance was so good in the MCU and elsewhere (for example, no spoilers and spoilers) that I’m convinced that there’s an Oscar in her future if she’s given the right script. Similarly, the cast of Shazam! is probably my favorite ensemble from the DCEU. All the themes above required solid acting to pull off.

Zachary Levi did a fantastic job playing a kid in a man’s body. He had the same insecurities as any kid and tried to hide them by acting as a kid would assume an adult would act. Billy’s lack of a father figure added to the awkwardness, which Levi captured well. A lot of that is scriptwriting, but someone must act it out.

One thing that stood out to me was that Billy never showed a fear of the dark as Tom Hanks’s character in Big did.

This made sense because he had superpowers, but when he met Dr. Sivana, he had that moment of fear. Once he experienced Sivana’s superpowers and intimidating personality, that childish fear rose to the surface. He assumed (inaccurately) that his powers were no match for Sivana’s.

Later in the movie, Meagan Good had a similar but funny moment.

For context, she was an adult actress acting giddy around a guy playing Santa.

Marta and Cooper did a great job as foster parents, which was critical to advancing the main theme of the movie.

Perhaps they showed a little too much patience for Billy’s antics than they should in the real world, but this is a movie, so the script did what it had to do. The point is that foster parents should be patient, and that’s something to which I can relate. When push came to shove, they mixed the right amount of good cop/bad cop in how they dealt with Billy. That gave Billy the push he needed, leading to his catchphrase, “If a superhero can’t save his family, he’s not much of a hero.”

The child actors did a really good job as well. I don’t have much to say about them because they were kids playing kids, so nothing floored me there. However, having a script that takes advantage of a bunch of cute kids is always going to make some people happy.

Conclusion

I’ve never really read comics. I don’t know how faithful this movie was to the comics, and I understand that’s important to some of you, but I just don’t care. I’m taking this movie at face value, and I was impressed with both the acting and script. It was a lot of fun and may be my favorite DCEU film to date (though I really liked Wonder Woman too).

Postscript

There are some people included on my cc: that weren’t involved in the film and (to my knowledge) aren’t professional journalists. They were people that I “met” for the first time through this quarantine watch party, and they’re as important to it as the celebrities. It was a lot of fun. You may want to join us sometime.

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Good Watch: The Ending of All Creatures Here Below Screwed Me Up @karengillan @Dastmalchian @schifflifilms #movie

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The ending of All Creatures Here Below really screwed me up, and it’s been festering in my brain for about a week now. (Technically, I’m already screwed up, and this just raised the issue.) As I mentioned in a prior, spoiler-free post, I rented it, saw it, had to watch it a second time. This movie strikes the precise emotional chords for me. YMMV.

Spoiler Alert!

Before you read further, please note that this is one of those few movies that I’m glad I saw spoiler-free. If you’re at all spoiler-averse, you should stop reading now and watch the movie. If not, you’re robbing yourself of a process that made the movie even better for me. I watched it once, tolerating the typical humdrum character and story development necessary to start any film, was hit with the twist towards the end (which I won’t spoil here), and then was hit with the ending. At that point, I knew I had to watch it again, which completely changed how I saw the start of the movie. It was no longer humdrum; rather, almost every moment became disturbing and/or important.

The Characters

The two main characters, Gensan and Ruby, are bad people. They commit crimes, both minor and heinous, throughout the movie. I should be rooting for their downfall, but as I’ve pointed out, this movie demonstrates how complex issues can get. While I don’t waiver one bit on the position that they should both be in prison, the screenwriting (David Dastmalchian) and directing (Collin Schiffli), and acting (Dastmalchian and Karen Gillan) leave me conflicted. I feel bad for the characters, probably because I know that the emotions they feel are ones with which we all sympathize. They deserve to be in prison because of their actions, but how they emotionally respond to their own actions, as well as how tough their circumstances are, are relatable. Some of you may even share those circumstances.

5 Minutes

Most of us can appreciate the finality of death. Once a person dies, that’s it. Even if you’re religious, it feels like they’re gone forever. This inspires a very common sentiment: “What I wouldn’t give for just five more minutes with [person].” Depending on the relationship, you may want to spend that five minutes kissing, hugging, or just talking to that person, telling them how you feel about them or sitting back and enjoying their wisdom one more time. Regardless of what you need from that five minutes, you need that five minutes.

In the end scene, Gensan is living in what should have been those five minutes. In his twisted mind, he had to kill her but not at that precise moment. Even for a guy who was so emotionally stunted, I think he, like all of us, would appreciate just a few more minutes with her, but he’s the reason he doesn’t have those five minutes.

Moreover, despite Ruby’s mangled corpse being out of view, we all know what Gensan sees before him. However, the director (I think that’s where the credit lies) makes sure we connect emotionally with that scene. Ruby falls to the ground after the initial (brutal) strike. She gets hit again, and we see only her right hand clutching the grass. Then she’s hit a third time, and her hand is limp. On the fourth and final strike, it simply bounces a bit from the impact. We see her death occur without the blood and guts, but we can’t ignore the brutality of it. Gensan is looking directly at the product of his own handiwork knowing that he didn’t have to do it before spending five minutes saying a much-needed goodbye.

Ruby’s Letter

Ruby gets to have those five minutes in a sense, because through her letter to Gensan she tells him how she feels about him. She saw him as her “knight in shining armor,” but he failed her in that regard in the worst way imaginable. Gensan must now be overwhelmed by his own betrayal.

And all of this could have been delayed five minutes.

It May Be Even Worse

As if all of that isn’t bad enough, Gensan may have to relive this pain over again. Let’s say he gets exceptionally lucky and serves only twenty years in prison. Assuming he’s thirty years old, he’s out at fifty, with on average (statistically speaking) twenty-six years left to live. On the day he’s granted parole and knows he’s getting out, something’s going to hit him: If he could have gotten lucky, perhaps Ruby could have as well. She could have also been getting out of prison at some time, so they could have decades of those “five minutes” together if not for his short-sighted actions.

He’s going to have to relive that same pain again, knowing that he robbed himself and her of that time together, as well as everything else that goes along with life. How could you live with that?

Personal Matter

Everyone has their pain, and I’m no exception, but my greatest pain dwarves the rest of it, perhaps defining me. Several movies have occasionally tugged on that particular heart-string, but none struck that particular chord as hard as this movie did. Perhaps that makes me like this movie more than you will, but I still encourage people to watch it. Even if you’ve just spoiled it for yourself, there’s a twist I haven’t spoiled, and the ending should still be a powerful watch for you.

Grade

I give this movie an A+.

America’s Sugar Addiction

There was one other thing that was disturbing about the movie, but in a funny way. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say this: Ruby, c’mon! You’re still watching TV and eating a Baby Ruth? 😊

Depending on how it’s presented, I sometimes don’t handle death in movies particularly well.

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Four More Observations About the #MCU @Renner4Real @RobertDowneyJr @DaveBautista @karengillan

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I just finished watching Infinity War and Endgame again and have four more observations. Yeah, I talk about the MCU a lot, but I think it gets far too little credit for its writing and acting (especially Karen Gillan and Dave Bautista, who were both surprises to me).

Character Growth

As I’ve discussed in several prior posts, the MCU as a whole, like most individual movies, involved a lot of character growth. In the MCU, the common theme was developing a better sense of morality, but using familiar methods to achieve the evolved goals. For example, Tony was a self-absorbed arms dealer. As he evolved to a selfless peace-seeker, he still used the same methods. He used weapons to provide security, because that’s all he really knew. And near the end of Endgame, [spoiler alert] even the “self-absorbed” part came into play: “I am Iron Man.” Of course, as a friend pointed out on Facebook, at the time he was using the most powerful weapon in the universe.

Natasha and Clint

I don’t know if Natasha and Clint’s friendship is the best thing about the MCU, but it’s certainly near the top, and it’s an example of what makes the MCU fantastic. You couldn’t possibly build that relationship over the course of a single film, which means that their scene on Vormir couldn’t possibly have the emotional impact that it did if Infinity War/Endgame were a single film. The MCU is several independent films that collectively is greater than the sum of its parts.

Bucky Knew

After my 100th re-watch of Endgame, I’m certain that Bucky knew that Steve was going to live out his life in the past. I never really noticed that before now.

Cheeseburgers

I hate cheese but still find it adorable that Tony’s daughter wanted cheeseburgers at the end of Endgame. The first thing Tony wanted after returning from captivity in Iron Man was a cheeseburger. I may have already mentioned this in a prior post, but there it is.

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Good Watch: All Creatures Here Below @karengillan @Dastmalchian @jenmorrisonlive @DavidKoechner #movie

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Based on my obsession with the MCU, I’ve become a fan of several of the actors that had never been on my radar scope before. I discovered All Creatures Here Below starring two of them: Karen Gillan and David Dastmalchian. I had never heard of Gillan before the MCU (I have a weird thing against Dr. Who), and had seen Dastmalchian in only a couple of small parts. This is nothing like an MCU movie, of course. It has that indie-movie feel to it. The two play a couple of non-loveable screw ups that can’t seem to make any good decisions and almost constantly piss me off. Gillan’s Ruby doesn’t seem to understand that her actions are evil or stupid (they’re often both), whereas Dastmalchian’s Gensan doesn’t seem to care about anyone else (other than Ruby), so he ignores the consequences to others. Ruby also doesn’t seem to understand the long-term consequences of her actions.

Jennifer Morrison and David Koechner are also in it, though their parts are small, so they aren’t given a chance to shine. That’s a shame because they’re both quite good.

It’s a depressing tale, but once it got started, I was eager to see how it turned out. Then I got hit with a twist in the diner scene, which really made me rethink the entire movie. The world is screwed up, and things can be more complicated than they appear (for better or worse). It’s frustrating, brutal, and the ending was downright painful (perhaps too painful for some), but it was well worth the 90 minutes and $3.99. I enjoyed both the acting and the writing, and I greatly appreciate the talent it takes to do either.

A- (but I’m a generous grader)

EDIT: I’m upgrading this movie to a solid A+ after thinking about it all day. I really didn’t expect a movie like this to make me think so hard, and I appreciate that.

For a spoiler-laden discussion, click here for my other post on this movie.

Other posts in this series can be accessed by clicking here.

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