Good Watch: #Limitless

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Limitless was released in 2011. I was mildly intrigued but apparently not enough to actually watch it. Flash forward to last week, and I read an article referring to it as the best movie you need to watch before it leaves Netflix on May 15. Unfortunately, I have a backlog of blog posts, so by the time you’re reading this, nothing I say will matter.

Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. I’m sure you can stream it somewhere, or at least rent it on YouTube, etc.

Like the movie Lucy, it operates off of the ridiculous premise that we use “only 20% of our brains.” That’s annoying. Otherwise, as the article said (paraphrased, because it’s been lost to the interwebs), the basic premise is a really good hook. Cooper plays an underachieving writer living a lowly life. He’s given a drug that <sigh> allows him to access his entire brain, which completely changes his life. Of course, the first thing he does is get laid (his landlord’s wife), and then he turns $12,000 into $2,000,000. This is what everyone wants, right? Be careful what you wish for. It wouldn’t be drama if things didn’t go to shit by act two (at the latest).

It’s an interesting take on addiction and obsession with a sci-fi twist. One interesting but subtle device they used were memory skips. An episode of Brain Games on National Geographic covered those. My guess is that they consulted a neuroscientist to get the details right, then took a few liberties for the sake of drama. They do that in other areas. It seems impossible for a criminal to chase someone in broad daylight on the busy streets of New York City without attracting attention from the cops, but there it is. Twice.

Despite all of these criticisms, it was reasonably enjoyable and a nice change of pace from my recent fare.

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Travelling through the #MCU: Phase 2 @GeorgesStPierre @realmichaelpena @kesseljunkie #IronMan #Thor #WinterSoldier #GotG #Avengers #AntMan

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In an earlier post, I pointed out a few things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) that I really enjoyed. Since that post, I’ve started to watch the entire MCU in movie-chronological order: Captain America, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, etc., and will continue through the entire MCU that’s on Disney+ or otherwise available to me. This probably excludes the Spider Man movies and the Incredible Hulk.

There’s been so much ink on these topics that it’s rather pointless to try to leave an impression. These will be short observations of the things that either I liked the most about them or suspect many people didn’t really notice. I’m going to avoid most of my major dislikes. There’s no sense in raining on anyone’s parade (including my own). In case you have the time, I found it fun watching these movies knowing where these characters wound up.

Iron Man 3

This was a weird superhero movie. I remember reading an article stating that Tony was in the Iron Man suit for only 15 (or whatever) out of 120 minutes of movie time. This never bothered me because I didn’t notice. This movie was about Tony Stark’s emotional issues, not Iron Man, and somehow it worked for me. Besides, one of the best action sequences in the MCU was the Mandarin’s attack on Tony’s home (10880 Malibu Pt., Malibu, CA 90625).

According to various sources, Chattanooga gets 2 inches of snow per year. According to Iron Man 3, it all comes on one night, and that happens to be the night Tony arrived. That’s a hell of a coincidence. 🙂

Holy crap! Iron Man 3 is a Christmas movie!

Thor: The Dark World

I know this is the bottom of the MCU barrel for many people, but as I’ve stated before, Thor is my favorite MCU character. There’s no way I’m going to hate a half-decent Thor movie. Loki’s stubborn insecurity, Frigga’s death (funeral music!), its impact on Loki, and Sif’s feelings for Thor are reflections of what exists in ourselves. Being able to connect with the characters is the heart of drama. This movie had a few such moments.

The stakes were high, with the entire universe at risk, and that was the opening needed to introduce the third infinity stone to the MCU. It also served as a reminder how powerful Thor is, though he clearly hasn’t reached his full potential yet.

Question #1: How would you like it if your car was sent to another world?
No need to answer.

Question #2: Malikith’s ship. How does that thing stay standing?
I know; I know. Drama.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This is easily my favorite MCU movie. It may have dragged at times, but it’s the only MCU film whose message is both important and relatable: liberty v. security. In my opinion the movie came down on the right side of that argument. Sure, we all want to be secure, but giving too much control to the government is inherently insecure. We all need to accept the fact that there’s only so much security we can have in the modern world. Life will always include risk, with the difference being who’s generating the risk. At some point more liberty becomes the only option.

George St. Pierre. MMA has taken over popular culture whether you realize it or not.

At one point, Nick Fury says, “Last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye.” The implication in context was that the loss of the eye sprang directly from that trust. So, is Captain Marvel responsible for his lost eye? I don’t think so. Captain Marvel didn’t know that the cat was really a Flerken, so it’s not as if she could’ve warned him. So, is the Flerken to blame? As far as I can tell, it’s not an intelligent creature, and trust wasn’t a part of the scene in which the Flerken scratched Fury, so that doesn’t work. The MCU is a complicated weave of plotlines and references, so I hardly blame them for messing up. I just wish they had worked trust into that scene, which would have been easy to do. They clearly just forgot.

I always wondered how, in Civil War, Steve knew that the Winter Soldier killed Stark’s parents. I never noticed that he learned that in Winter Soldier. It was a quick shot while the digital Arnim Zola was showing Steve Hydra’s manipulation of world affairs.

“Who’s this guy?”

Ezekiel 25:17.

The one thing I didn’t like: Steve’s list of things to do included an entry for Star Wars and Star Trek. Star Wars was crossed out, but Star Trek wasn’t, which means he watched Star Wars first. Bullshit. Star Trek should be at the top of your list. For anything. He received some bad intel on that one.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 1

Funny thing about the scene immediately following the title card. It shows a picture of space, and then you get text that indicates the current year of 26 years later. I did some quick math in my head from when the opening scene took place (1988) and realized we were seeing 2014, but there was a spaceship.  On my first viewing, because I had just seen a realistic opening scene from 1988, for just a moment, my brain farted and thought, “There aren’t spaceships in 2014.” In fairness to me, at the time I was suffering from a severe B12 deficiency.

This movie was the best one to watch looking backwards from Endgame. For example, on Morag, I kept looking for Nebula and War Machine in the background. 🙂

Great soundtrack, which matched the fact that this was a different sort of MCU movie than we’d seen to date.

“They got my dick message!”

A dance off to save the universe. 🙂

Dancing Baby Groot!

I guess I should admit this as well. I was very critical of Marvel for choosing the Guardians of the Galaxy for a movie. I had never heard of them, and movies need to appeal to more than just the base (i.e., comic book readers). I thought there was no way they were going to do well with an obscure and ridiculous group. A talking racoon? A tree that can say only “I am Groot”? But it wasn’t just good. It wasn’t just commercially successful. It was a great idea in the grand scheme of things. As I said, it was a different sort of MCU movie, and it represented a welcome break from all the heavy-handedness of the other movies. Despite being so comedic, it still introduced an infinity stone in the context of a severe threat to the galaxy. Mea culpa, and bravo, Marvel.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2

“You expect me to fight this interdimensional creature with a sword?”

[Proceeds to strike the killing blow against the interdimensional creature with a sword.]

I already discussed Nebula’s transformation and how it led to my favorite bit of acting in the entire MCU. That began near the end of this movie, but the movie sure didn’t start that way. (Actually, it begins rather subtly when Quill, Gamora, and Drax are boarding Ego’s ship.) This is why I infer what I do from Nebula’s admission at the end of GotG2.

As I’m watching this, I’m beginning to think that these are the best acted movies of the bunch. Really. Maybe it’s just because I like that it’s more comedic than the others.

I really relate to Drax. I need to learn to lie effectively, but in many cases, the thought of lying doesn’t even occur to me. Worst. Lawyer. Ever. I also really relate to the importance given to the family you choose.

Sovereign.png

“It’s not ripe.”

Rocket gets mad that Quill calls him a raccoon, but that’s so much more accurate than “fox,” “rat,” “rabbit,” or “triangle-faced monkey.” He shouldn’t be so offended.

Thor remains my favorite MCU character, so I’m good with the fact that we’ll see Love and Thunder before Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, but I really want to see them both ASAP. Personally, I prefer movies where there’s a small set of primary characters. This is why I prefer Star Trek’s Original Series to all the others. That said, I think the Guardians series pulled off ensemble movies better than I’ve ever seen, in no small part because the characters believably showed more emotional and moral growth than any other characters in the MCU. That required sold writing and acting, and all parties delivered.

Good lord, the music!

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Why would an ordinary human try to fist-fight Thor? Just give up.

Is Sokovia an English-speaking nation? Google says no, so why is the Iron Legion telling everyone to leave in English.

“It was a good talk.”
“No, it wasn’t.”

I love that this was Hawkeye’s movie. The family was a great touch. Also, he had some great lines. For example,

“The city is flying and we’re fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. Nothing makes sense.”

“Nobody would know. Nobody. ‘The last I saw him, Ultron was sitting on him. Uh… yeah, he’ll be missed. That quick little bastard. I miss him already…’”

I loved Vision’s “birth.” He was as confused as Ultron was at his own birth but got over it much faster. And of course, there’s also this.

VisionMjolnir.png

Some foreshadowing. Vision saves Wanda, and by Endgame, they’re romantically coupled. Despite how pissed Hawkeye was with the Scarlet Witch, those two characters formed a minor bond by the end of this movie. One of the final scenes in Endgame was Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye consoling each other. In the penultimate scene, Tony mentions building a farm for Pepper, which is what he does by Endgame. I love the connections. You can’t build such strong connections within the context of a single movie without it seeming rushed (see, e.g., Anakin and Padme’s relationship in Attack of the Clones).

There always must be a death in order to raise the stakes, but I wish Quicksilver had lived to be in other movies. Rumor has it that WandaVision will have Wanda bringing back the Vision. Maybe she’ll bring back Quicksilver as well.

Another favorite moment of mine from the MCU occurs in this movie. “Oh, for God’s sake!” James Spader stole this show.

“But if you put the hammer in an elevator….”
“Elevator’s not worthy.”

Ant-Man

This certainly cleansed the palate. Like both Guardians of the Galaxy volumes, this was the occasional higher-comedy movie that keeps things from getting too heavy-handed. Who better than Paul Rudd to play Scott Lang?

I’ve always loved Garrett Morris. I’m always happy to see him in a movie or TV show, even if it’s just a cameo.

Michael Pena should face a long jail sentence. He stole this movie.

At one point, Hank Pym criticizes the Avengers for “dropping a city out of the sky,” referencing the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. This is a familiar trope that I absolutely hate: Criticizing the good guys for not saving the world in the most convenient way possible. Anyone with an IQ over 40 knows that Ultron tried to drop a city out of the sky, not the Avengers. Ultron was a fairly competent enemy, so it was able to do a lot of damage before the Avengers could save the world. It makes no sense to blame the Avengers for that. (Maybe just Stark and Banner.)

Side Note

It’s easy to blow off the MCU as just a bunch of action movies or, even worse, superhero movies, but that’s enormously unfair. Marvel has done something remarkable, the likes of which I’ve never seen. It’s probably best to express my current thought by example, so consider Iron Man 2. Taken in isolation, it’s my least favorite Marvel movie. Also, Pepper Potts is my least favorite protagonist. Your mileage may vary; not the point. I nevertheless enjoyed Iron Man 2. It was important in the grand scheme of things, and it’s impossible for me to watch Tony and Pepper’s relationship start without gaining an appreciation for how much was lost near the end of Endgame. It’s all connected in a way that, as I said, I’ve never seen before. Moreover, any one of these films could stand on its own. You absolutely can’t say that with Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit Series, or Star Wars. Only the first Star Wars (A New Hope) could truly stand on its own, but even so, you’re still left wondering what happened to Vader? The bad guy shouldn’t survive unless there’s a sequel, right? Marvel did something incredible with the MCU, and I look forward to what’s next.

And then there’s those moments of acting and story that are remarkable, which makes it even better. I don’t understand Scorsese’s, Coppola’s, or @KesselJunkie’s 🙂 hate. It’s been a lot of fun re-watching these.

What’s Next?

Phase 3 is up (less Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 and Captain Marvel, which have already been discussed).

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Revisiting the #MCU @Marvel @RobertDowneyJr @karengillan @DaveBautista #Avengers #MCU

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I haven’t spent as much time on Disney+ as I was hoping, but last weekend I took the time to watch Thor: Ragnarök, Infinity War, and Endgame over the course of two days. For reasons that will become apparent, I really wish I had watched Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 (”GotG2”) before Thor: Ragnarök, but I’m remedying that as I type this.

When I first saw these movies, I really enjoyed them (despite never being a comic book reader), but that was an honest, emotional reaction devoid of any intellectual analysis. I just liked them; it was that simple. However, upon second viewings, I have more time to think about them, and they’re getting better and better. There are a few specific scenes that represent what I find surprisingly good about these movies, all of which demonstrate character evolution, but one of which in a way that’s a bit backwards. I’m not an authority on any of these aspects of movie-making, so your mileage may vary. Perhaps wildly. Moreover, I’m a firm believer that art is in the eye of the beholder, so much of this is what I choose to infer from what I hear and see. The Russo brothers and the actors in question may also disagree with me.

Tony Stark’s Funeral

This one was easy for me. I always pay attention to how the music interacts with the movie.

Side note: The DC movies have taken some serious hits among nerd circles, but I imagine that if you pay attention to how that music interacts with those movies, you liked them more than you would otherwise. Music matters.

It was immediately apparent to me that the music in this scene was thematically very similar to the Captain America’s music when he went into the ice. I don’t remember hearing those themes in any other scenes in the MCU unless they related directly to Steve. In Endgame, Steve proved he was worthy to wield Mjolnir. That was his evolution, though according to the Russo’s he had reached that point by Age of Ultron. Stark made a similar jump. He started as a self-absorbed, spoiled brat. Not only did he change into someone we could consider “good” but also sought to make up for his past sins. It wasn’t enough for him not to place the world in danger personally; he wanted to eliminate any danger others created as well (e.g., seeking to place a protective shield around the world).

That said, old habits die hard (as you’ll also see in my second example). Tony never lost his edge, and he made a lot of mistakes because his methods didn’t evolve as quickly as his sensibilities. All he had to work with was his methods from a lifetime of preparing our country for war. Nevertheless, when all was said and done in Endgame, Tony finally completed his evolution. He made the sacrifice play, laid down on a wire, and let the other guy crawl over him. I thought it quite fitting that the music played at his funeral was originally from Steve’s sacrifice.

Tony and Nebula in Space

I think Gillan’s acting in these scenes was the best I saw in the entire MCU. Is she a better actor than Robert Downey, Jr.? I’m not qualified to say — that guy killed it throughout the entire MCU — but it doesn’t matter. She acted circles around him in these scenes, and I doubt many paid close attention to that. Downey’s mission in those scenes was relatively simple: Convey someone facing death while thinking about what was most important to him. Did he do a good job? Of course. He’s great, and by design, everyone was focused on both Downey as an actor and Stark as a character. These were as much RDJ’s movies and Stark’s stories as anyone else’s, but that means some of us (including me) missed Gillan’s brilliance the first time through. If you did, re-watch it focusing on her.

First, some context. Starting with GotG2, Nebula disclosed to Gamora that all she ever wanted was for them to have a normal, sisterly relationship. I choose to believe that Nebula didn’t realize that until she said it out loud. Later, she was given a quick lesson by Drax on what family means, and then she had to cooperate with former enemies to take down multiple threats. This was all new to her. Every relationship she had had to this point was familial and severely dysfunctional (more than any of us can imagine) or predator-to-prey. She was a horrible person doing horrible things in a social environment giving her no opportunity to even question her behavior, let alone escape it. Now that she was beginning to turn the corner, her next mission in Infinity War was, well, to murder her father. Sure, we can all sort of forgive that under the circumstances, but again, this must have been tough for her to process.

Moving forward to Endgame, it’s clear that Nebula is trying to deal with all these new feelings and philosophies. But now she’s stuck on a ship with Tony, and there’s even more to process. She’s making a friend, which is something she’s never had. The act of shaking hands was alien to her even though it’s a custom clearly not exclusive to Earth in the MCU. She’s playing a game, which is probably something she’s never done. After all, her instinct was to ignore the rules of the game. Win at all costs through aggression. When Tony asked her if it was fun, she had to think about whether it was. What’s “fun”? Again, that’s a foreign concept. Apparently, she figured out all of this, eventually taking the role of a caretaker, giving Tony the remaining food and making him as comfortable as possible while on his deathbed . . . chair. Whatever.

How much of this was intended by Gillan or the Russos? I don’t know, but again, this is what I choose to infer, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I hear this in her voice and see it in her face, and that’s my point. For her to convey so much, with so few lines (2 lines with 9 words and 3 grunts), in so few scenes, and burdened with so much toaster oven make up is simply remarkable. I could see even myself pulling off (poorly) a guy facing his impending death. As for what she did, I wouldn’t know where to start. Gems like this are hidden in plain sight throughout the MCU.

Drax and Mantis

In the scene in which Drax tells Mantis she’s “hideous,” he relays a memory of an outing with his daughter. Mantis makes an empathic connection with him and is overwhelmed by his grief, but the entire time, Drax’s face is deadpan. He’s barely showing his emotion. Drax very quickly picked up on human idiosyncrasies, including laughter, frustration, and anger, but this scene showed that the instincts of his species were still strong in him. It changes the way I interpret any of his scenes. He may not be expressing emotion, but I’m encouraged to infer them from the context, and they can be powerful. It allows me to make the movie my own. Again, art is in the eye of the beholder.

The actual reason I mention this scene, though, is so that I can say that Dave Bautista was the actor that impressed me the most. He’s no Al Pacino, but I didn’t expect him to be any good at all. Most pro wrestlers that jumped into acting have been far less than impressive — Dwayne Johnson is a notable exception — but he brought it in every single scene he shot. He was given great lines and made the most of them. “Why is Gamora?” was actually improvised. That’s all him.

These aren’t very detailed analyses, and these scenes only scratch the surface of the MCU’s magnificence. There were many other connections drawn with the music, there are plenty of actors that acted their asses off playing secondary characters, and there were several actors new to me that were surprisingly good. However, considering the length of my last few posts on copyright, I suspect you’re all happy with the relative brevity. Besides, my views aren’t to be taken too seriously. I’m not an actor or filmmaker, so what do I know?

I just know what I like.

When you watch them again, maybe you’ll see some things you didn’t see before. I have a lot more to watch.

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