Podcast: OCT31: The Wicker Man

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Join Jurd and I for a micro-review of 1973’s “The Wicker Man!” Bees not included.

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This podcast originally appeared at Skinner.FM on Monday, October 16th, 2017.


Hugh Likes Movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Hugh Likes Movies
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Sony/Columbia Pictures/Marvel Entertainment

Having finally ponied up to see Spider-Man Homecoming, I have some thoughts on Sony’s third launch of the character, and I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised by it.
Spider-Man Homecoming is a fresh take on the character, and it does a lot of things right that the previous movies have avoided.
The most obvious change is that Spider-Man is now firmly hooked into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the previous reboot was an attempt to keep the character walled off, the movie’s open-armed embrace of the setting was surprising, and cleverly done. Having an ongoing narrative to hook into also gives the movie the additional leg up of not having to retell Peter Parker’s origin! Director Jon Watts does everything he can to avoid it, in fact.
We get a short origin of the villains, small-business construction contractors who turned to a life of crime when they were pushed out of the cleanup of New York from the aftermath of “The Avengers.” From there, we have a short sequence of video footage showing his cameo in “Captain America: Civil War” from Peter Parker’s point of view. Not only is this everything the audience needs to be up to speed, it also highlights the other great change about this version. This Peter Parker is a dork.
The previous franchises paid lip-service to the idea, but never fully embraced this aspect. They try very hard to impress a faux-cool onto the character, either through The Amazing Spider-Man’s self-indulgent skateboarding sequences, or the best-forgotten dance sequence in Spider-Man III. Those versions of the character are still hard-luck heroes, but they try and put a gloss of hollywood polish where it simply doesn’t belong.
This character is as young as he was when he first appeared in comics, and at age fifteen, he still makes all the mistakes you would expect. He tumbles awkwardly to a stop at the end of his swings, and he bites off more than he can chew, a constant irritation to his at-arms length mentor, Tony Stark.
Spider-Man Homecoming is the best version of this character by a long shot, but the movie does stumble here and there. The soundtrack is possibly the laziest of its kind that I have heard in a long time. Composer Michael Giacchino even records a cover of the 1960’s cartoon theme song in booming Marvel brass. In a previous movie review, I made a joke about him doing orchestral Ramones covers, but I never thought I’d actually see it happen. There is also a lot of teen drama in this movie, which can drag the film down, but is brightened by co-stars Jacob Batalon and Zendaya, who fill these scenes with teen-like enthusiasm and cynicism respectively. Also, well-done on the casting director for filling Midtown High with actual teenage actors. This is the first one of these movies in a long time that felt like a real place, and the spot-on casting had a lot to do with it.
“Spider-Man Homecoming” is a refreshing swing through new territory that brings the MCU to life in ways that Marvel’s own properties have failed to do. You can catch it in theaters now.

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Podcast: CCR-Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

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JRD, Opopinax, Rich the T. T. and Hugh discuss the 1920 Silent Film “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

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The original episode can be found at Skinner.fm.

Hugh Likes Podcasts: Wham Bam Pow!

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Hosts:  Cameron Esposito, Rhea Butcher, and Ricky Carmona
Presented by the Maximum Fun Network

I really enjoy movie review podcasts.  But the podosphere is clogged with them, and most of them, while fine, often boil down to the same thing:  White dudes arguing about Star Wars.  “Wham, Bam, Pow!” is something a bit different.
Hosted by comedian Cameron Esposito, along with her fiancé Rhea Butcher and Ricky Carmona, it is a movie podcast with nary a dude-bro in sight.  The hosts have a different perspective on ‘dick flicks’ like “Interstellar” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” than your typical podcast.  In addition to being refreshing, insightful and hilarious, the hosts tackle issues like gender and race representation in Hollywood.
In addition to reviewing a film each episode, the trio discusses movie news and includes segments such as movie snack recommendations and making fictional movie pitches, which are great, although not quite as sharp as Disasterpiece Theatre.
Wham Bam Pow is a smart, funny movie review podcast that will change the way you look at movies.  It is a part of the Maximum Fun network, and can be downloaded from iTunes or your preferred podcatcher.

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Gamora Vs. Gwen Stacy

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The other day I rewatched “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and finally feel comfortable discussing it, even if at this point I’m shouting ‘and another thing’ into the void two weeks after everyone else is on to something else.  While I shall do my best to avoid spoilage, there will be some minor spoilers for Guardians, and some major spoilers from earlier summer blockbusters, particularly “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
Let me start off by saying I really liked “Guardians.”  It’s a well-paced, solidly acted space opera with plenty of witty dialog and gorgeous design work.  Let me also say that my opinions are my own, and that if yours differs, that’s totally cool.  The things that cause offense are deeply personal and based on life experience, and the things I find troublesome are different than yours.  We all have our own buttons.
That being stated, I’m gong to dive right in and examine the state of women in Guardians of the Galaxy.  And to that end I took another look at the film with a particular eye towards how the film treated the three female characters with the largest presence:  Gamora, Nebula, and Nova Prime.  Aside from these three, the Galaxy is still mostly populated by dudes.  Nearly all of the Nova Corps dudes.  Likewise the Ravagers are mostly dudes.  The scene with the Collector and his ‘attendant’ is super gross.  The language in this movie is a little sketchy.  But it isn’t overtly gendered or sexualized.
Gamora and Nebula are straight up bad-asses.  And no one ever calls on them to be more feminine or pats them on the back.  There’s never a sense that they need to prove it.  There is never a scene where they are portrayed as emotional or irrational, or trying to keep up with the menfolk.  In fact, it is quite the opposite, as the irrationally emotional scenes end up getting chewed by Drax and Rocket, respectively.
And while the gravity of the plot seems to pull Gamora towards Quill as a romantic partner, and he does put his goofy, space-pirate bro moves on her, It is telling that they are friends, rather than lovers, at the end of the movie.  It is visually implied that they could form a romantic relationship, but they don’t end up kissing, or banging.  There is no high-five from the director of the hero getting his ‘reward’ from the princess.  Much could be made from the scene at the beginning, where Peter Quill’s one night stand is still aboard his ship because he ‘forgot she was there.’  But that is his starting point, and Gamora’s starting point is being the bagman for Ronan, and looking for the way out.  They end with both of them nodding their heads to 70’s pop music.  As a sequel to their scene on Knowhere, it signals that both of them have grown, at least a little.
The other major scene for Gamora is the assault of The Dark Aster.  As their inside man, it is Gamora who plans the assault, Gamora who fights with her cyborg sister Nebula, and Gamora who shuts down the device preventing the rest of the heroes from saving the day.  She’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, not Princess Leia.
But the best context for Gamora as a Female Lead in an action movie is to look at the background radiation of the blockbusters around it.  And here, Gamora is leaps and bounds ahead of her colleagues.  In “Captain America:  The Winter Soldier,” Black Widow is a full on bad-ass spy, but she spends most of the film following in Cap’s heels, trying to set him up on dates and listening to him lecture her about how untrustworthy she is.
In “Amazing Spider-Man 2” Gwen Stacy is a brilliant science student with a bright future and a prestigious opportunity to study overseas.  This is exactly the kind of role model young women should be getting, but the movie focuses solely on how bad this is for Peter, her on again/off again boyfriend who is obsessed with protecting her from harm.  And then (spoiler alert,) she dies at the end of the film so that Spider-Man can have his contractually obligated ‘sobbing in a graveyard’ scene that is in every one of those films.
In “Godzilla” the main character’s wife, both of whom are so bland that I’ve forgotten their names, tells her husband to come home, because she doesn’t know what to do without him.  The frail, beautiful woman shatters under pressure without her man to protect her.  In spite of the fact that she’s a doctor in a city emergency room, married to a bomb disposal tech who literally just got back from a year of duty the day before, raising a five year old.  Somehow, that character should have known how to deal with stress.
And let’s not forget “X-Men:  Days of Future Past,” where the terrible, emotional decisions of woman result in the downfall of civilization and require Hugh Jackman to travel back in time to fix.  While Jennifer Lawrence gives a great performance, there is a lot of troubling things going on with Mystique in the X-Men movies.  She is caught in the middle of the dualistic struggle between Magneto and Xavier, and any notion that she could, or should, have ideas of her own are disregarded.  And of course, because of her shape-shifting powers, she is portrayed nude with blue body paint.  This might seem as just a tiny bit of fan service, but consider the example of the old Disney cartoons.  Pluto and Goofy are both dogs, but the difference between the ‘human’ characters and the dog is that Goofy wears clothes and Pluto wears a collar.  Mystique is naked for the whole movie.
Marvel hasn’t done everything right with Guardians.  Gamora hasn’t necessarily received her due in the marketing, and there have been issues with Director James Gunn downplaying the involvement of original screenwriter Nicole Pearlman.  But Gamora, while not being a final step towards gender equality in action movies, is a hell of a sep in the right direction.  She isn’t a woman in a refrigerator.  She’s Bill “The Refrigerator” Perry.  And that’s pretty heroic in a place as fearful of change as Hollywood.

Bang! Biff! Pow! Justice League: War isn’t just for um, well, actually, who is this movie for? (Review)

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Let me begin by confessing that I have not read a single page of Justice League comics in the DC New 52. So I have no idea how accurate or off base “Justice League: War,” the new animated adaptation of the first arc is. Initial previews and reviews led me to believe that DC’s new direction just wasn’t my thing, and this movie did nothing to convince me to give them a second look.

The plot is rather thin and familiar. A group of well-known superheroes who don’t know each other discover something bad is about to happen. They slowly begin to gather to address the threat and do so just in time for an unstoppable alien army to jump through some portals in an American city. Towards the end of the film, their big bad leader shows up and they gang up on him. They find a way to close the portals and then the threat is suddenly over. The end.

It may not be fair to compare the film to the blockbuster live-action “Avengers,” since the comic “War” is based on appeared close to a year before that film was released, but the similarities are unavoidable. I just wish that “War” had borrowed a little bit of “Avengers” wit and charm.

The movie’s not all bad. The action is well animated, and although it can’t fully carry the ball, there are plenty of neat super-powered displays. I was actually shocked by the level of violence and profanity in this cartoon. The Justice League prevents Darkseid from using his Omega Beams by literally stabbing out his eyes. ‘Just like Oedipus!’ Wonder Woman exclaims when they hatch the plan. It’s the one smart bit of dialogue in a film that portrays these iconic characters as vulgar, petty jerks.

The depiction of characters is where this movie really falls flat. This movie has a cynical edge that it perhaps shares with ‘Man of Steel,’ portraying the public as distrustful ingrates and the heroes as the worst versions of themselves. The writers were going for more extreme, gritty versions, but unheroic, downright stupid, superheroes just leave a bad taste in my mouth. The dialog eschews cleverness for playground vulgarity, but if you really wanted to hear Green Lantern call Batman a douche bag, this is the animated film for you.

The film ends with the characters not having really learned anything, just left a pile of destruction in their wake. It left me with the question of who this adaptation was for? Fans of the New 52, presumably, but with such a high level of violence and vulgarity, it seems inappropriate for younger fans. Older fans like myself will find the thin story and unpleasant characterizations a pale shadow of the Bruce Timm and Dwayne McDuffie eras of DC Animation. I can’t recommend this movie.