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Joe Arcieri Songs: 3 Mod Not So Medley 2

Joe Arcieri is a friend of mine who I worked with for many years during my ten years working for Acme Markets.  Joe, when not stocking milk or saving lives as a nurse, is an excellent guitar player.  I have had the privilege, from time to time, of (badly) plunking my bass guitar with Joe as he melts a face or two with a great solo.

As great musicians do, Joe has written some of his own songs and keeps a soundcloud site to post them.  When I have opportunity, I will post his music here as well.

Here is his composition called “3 Mod Not So Medley 2” which you can find here.

Here are the links to the previously posted songs by Joe:

 

Joe Arcieri Songs: Black Magic Mix

Joe Arcieri is a friend of mine who I worked with for many years during my ten years working for Acme Markets.  Joe, when not stocking milk or saving lives as a nurse, is an excellent guitar player.  I have had the privilege, from time to time, of (badly) plunking my bass guitar with Joe as he melts a face or two with a great solo.

As great musicians do, Joe has written some of his own songs and keeps a soundcloud site to post them.  When I have opportunity, I will post his music here as well.

Here is his composition called “Black Magic Mix,” which you can find here.

 

Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

I recently saw the movie X-Men: Apocalypse and here are my thoughts.  As my readers know, I am a big comic book fan and I try not to miss these films.  The X-Men, of course, are characters from Marvel Comics who deal with the implication of being born with genetic mutations which manifest as what people would call superpowers.  This film is the sixth in the X-Men series (the third in the latest run) and ninth in the franchise.

The second X trilogy has turned out to be much superior to the first; however, as they are technically within the same franchise, the continuity is a disaster.  While seeing the previous films is, obviously, helpful to understanding what is happening and why in the latest movie, one cannot look too deeply into those past films as the continuity and consistency is so lacking.

This film finds Professor X’s mutant school to be thriving, Mystique to be in hiding, and Magneto living out an ordinary life with an assumed identity.  There seems to be a relative détente between mutants and humans at this time.  Unfortunately for mutant kind, the ancient (and possibly first) mutant, Apocalypse, has found a way to revive after millennia of hibernation.  While not clearly explained, Apocalypse seems to have the ability to absorb the abilities of other mutants, but also employs an unexplained technology that was even available to him in ancient Egypt.  Apocalypse appears to be a god to the ancient Egyptians, but he is betrayed and trapped, buried under a collapsed pyramid until, in the 1980s, Moria McTaggart observes people trying to recreate the ancient technology to revive him.

Apocalypse, once revived, resumes what was left undone in ancient Egypt, and recruits four mutants (Magneto, Psylocke, Storm, and Angel (turned Archangel)) to be his “Horsemen” to accomplish his goals.  Of course, Apocalypse’s advance puts him into conflict with the X-Men and, as mutants are the source of the unrest, the government as well.

This movie had a lot of potential, especially since the last two X films were pretty good.  Unfortunately, insufficient thought went into the movie and it resulted in a pretty generic goodguy/badguy conflict with practically no explanation.

The motives and purposes of Apocalypse are never really explained.  I guess he feels mutants are superior to humans and, therefore, he should rule them, but that does not seem much different from Magneto’s inner-conflict over the past five films.  I am guessing, of course, as Apocalypse’s lines are pretty succinct and little is known about him, where he came from, and what he wants to accomplish, aside from simply dominating the world.  How he acquired his various powers, and what they are exactly, is also never explained.  The same goes for the Horsemen.  Aside from Magneto, who has a long history in the films, the Horsemen had few lines and little exposition is dedicated to revealing who they are and what their interests are or even what their powers are.

The carnage also is ramped up far beyond any prior film.  As the extent of Apocalypse’s powers is not shown, they, at least, seem to be sufficient to cause worldwide destruction.  The destruction is just ridiculous and the total lack of involvement of anyone else in the world aside from the X-Men to stop it is totally unrealistic.  Although I understand high stakes is supposed to make the conflict important and compelling, I think having lower stakes and more personal conflicts a welcome change and often make for better stories; Ant-Man and Marvel’s Netflix series are a testament to this.

I have to say the performances in the movie are very good and the character development of the main cast (Magneto and those on the X-Men side) is well done.

Just as an aside, why can practically every super hero, or super hero group, find happiness, levity, and fun, while the X-Men, and other mutants, are constantly dour, persecuted, and sullen?  Weird.

In sum, this movie has a lot of great elements and a lot of potential, but it is diminished by a lack of development of the villains.  It is a fun and entertaining film if you just do not think too much about it.

Three post-scripts: Olivia Munn’s casting as Psylocke is genius.  She looked exactly like her comic book counterpart.  Also, Hugh Jackman, as Wolverine, makes his obligatory (albeit brief) appearance in an X movie (as he apparently must in every X movie), this time in a critical (and violent) scene in his Weapon X persona.  Finally, Quicksilver has yet more well done, and funny, scenes moving at high speeds as everyone else seems stationary from his perspective.

Movie Review: Deadpool

I recently saw the movie Deadpool, and these are my thoughts about it (this review contains some spoilers).  It should be noted that I am a big fan of comic books, and Marvel Comics in particular, and have been so since I was at least five years old.  I am sure that fandom biases my review in some way.

Unlike the other Marvel movies I have reviewed on this blog (like Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ulton and Guardians of the Galaxy), this film is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but is part of the X-Men Film Franchise which is owned by 20th Century Fox.  Although all of the characters in both franchises are Marvel Comics characters, the film rights to those characters are distributed among different companies.

This film is Rated “R”, and it bears that rating for very good reasons.  It has a lot of graphic violence, some brief (non-genital) nudity, a somewhat explicit sex scene, profanity, and a lot of crass jokes.  Indeed, this film is crass to say the least.  So, if such things are not one’s taste, then this film is not for you.  I am typically not a fan of such things myself – I usually avoid such films – but sometimes, as in this film, I do not mind them as they are presented in such a way that makes them tolerable.  I admit that, if this were not a superhero film (a genre I enjoy), I likely would not be as accepting of these elements of the film, nor would I have been as interested to see it.

For those not “in the know,” Deadpool is mercenary whose superpower is the ability to heal superhumanly quickly from virtually any injury.  He also suffers from some form of schizophrenia.

What makes this film so good is the fact that it is a superhero movie done as a comedy with action sequences done in the slick and stylized and well choreographed style of Quentin Tarentino.  So, needless to say, everything in the film is over-the-top and exaggerated and wrung out for comedic effect.  Unlike most other superhero films, the world is not ending and there is no great moral tragedy in the narrative.  Instead, it is just a guy out for revenge, and the tone is nearly always light and bouncy, as it seems the film is out for laughs as much as it is for action thrills.

This film takes nothing seriously and that is what makes it such a good film.

The violence – though bloody and graphic – is, strangely enough, done in a very comedic way.  I realize that sounds perverse – as killing and maiming are not funny – but if one steps back and accepts the unbelievably of it all, one can see the humor in the presentation.  Of course, I could be simply contributing to the dulling of my own senses, so that is something to consider.  I guess one could say that the violence in the film is sort of like slapstick on steroids and that makes it funny despite the gore.

Deadpool appears to suffer from some form of schizophrenia which allows him to break the fourth wall at will without undermining the structure or presentation of the film.  Deadpool is also, as a character, a guy with a razor sharp quick wit (albeit often crass), and is always joking around and talking a lot.  As a result, he delivers a ton of lines in a manic fast-talking machine gun like fashion throughout the film. Deadpool’s lines are hilarious and clever and his constant stream of funny lines help serve to lighten what would otherwise be pretty violent action sequences.  If you combine his wit with his schizophrenia, the film becomes even funnier.  His schizophrenia allows him to be unintentionally self-aware.  So, for example, Deadpool (who is played by Ryan Reynolds) makes fun of Reynolds from time-to-time.  Or, as another example, Deadpool observes that only two other X-Men are in the film yet they live in a giant mansion which could house dozens.  This causes Deadpool to wonder aloud as to whether the budget for the movie could afford more X-Men.  My favorite self-aware jokes were the digs Deadpool had on the Green Lantern movie which also started Reynolds as the titular superhero.  Not even the opening credits were safe as the characters were introduced as “hot chick” or “bad guy” instead of their actual names.

So, I have to say that I truly enjoyed this film.  Yes it is violent.  Yes it is crass.  But, if those things are not instant turnoffs, I think one will see how well this film handles those elements of the film.  As my readers know, I love superhero movies, but I especially love unique and/or interesting takes on the superhero film genre, and this film certainly qualifies as that.  This, perhaps even more than Ant-Man, is as much comedy as it is superhero film.  Needless to say, I, and the gentlemen with whom I saw this movie, laughed the entire way through, and probably enjoyed this film more as a comedy than as a cool action film with well choreographed action sequences.

Movie Review: Captain America: Civil war

I recently saw the movie Captain America: Civil War, and these are my thoughts about it (this review contains some spoilers).  It should be noted that I am a big fan of comic books, and Marvel Comics in particular, and have been so since I was at least five years old.  I am sure that fandom biases my review in some way.

By way of introduction for the uninitiated, Civil War is a movie based on Marvel comic books that falls at the beginning of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  This movie is the thirteenth in the film series, which also includes three seasons of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (a television series), two seasons of Agent Carter (also a television series), Daredevil and Jessica Jones (Netflix series), and five Marvel One-Shot films.  Needless to say, this film is deeply entrenched in a clearly established, long running, and sprawling interconnected media universe.

I thought the prior Captain America film, called Winter Soldier was the best of the Marvel movies thus far, but I think Civil War is just as good, if not better still.  If the viewer is a comic book fan and/or Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, this movie hits all the right spots.  This movie is nearly top to bottom action and almost all of it is really well done.

When I first heard about the full cast in this movie, which more or less includes almost every major movie superhero thus far (Hulk, Thor, and a couple of others are noticeably absent), namely Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Agent Carter, Scarlett Witch, Vision, Falcon, War Machine, Ant-Man, Winter Soldier, Thunderbolt Ross, and Agent 13, as well as two new (for the franchise) superheros, Black Panther and Spider-Man, not to mention the villains (Crossbones and Baron Zemo), I got concerned that this film would fall prey to what afflicted Spider-Man 3 and the later Batman films in Burton series, which was way too many characters crammed into a film.  My concerns were unfounded.  Marvel has done an astonishing job juggling its characters over all of its films and, as a result, they have been able to include a boat load of characters in their films very successfully.  I think that is because, despite the long list of characters, they do not weigh the film down as there is no imminent need to flesh them all out in this film in particular as Marvel is confident future films will do the job.  Merely plugging them in where needed, and adding in those puzzle pieces for the purposes of advancing the story of this particular film suffices for the moment; they will be fleshed out elsewhere (or have been fleshed out elsewhere already).  This reflects the new reality of serialized film making and I like it.

As with the other Captain America films, this film relies just as much on the emotional relationships between the characters as it does the action sequences, which is refreshing because, although fans of these movies really look forward to the action, the character development is really what drives these movies, makes them interesting, and keeps them popular.  The relationship between Captain America and Iron Man is, obviously, a main focus of the film, but there is also the relationship between the Vision and Scarlett Witch (hints of a romantic relationship just like in the comics), Hawkeye and Black Widow, the Black Panther and his father and the Winter Solider, and Captain America and the Winter Soldier that are highlighted.

The dispute that arises – which causes all of these relationships to strain – centers on whether the Avengers – and other superhumans – need to register with the United Nations, as the world has determined them to be too powerful to be left unchecked.  Iron Man supports registration while Captain America supports affording the Avengers the freedom and liberty to act as they need and when they need.  While the world pursues registration and the Avengers debate its merits – due to the various disasters in which the Avengers were involved – Baron Zemo (who, in this iteration, is not a Nazi, but someone who lost his family due to the events in Avengers 2) simultaneously incites a conflict between the Avengers in the context of the registration by framing the Winter Soldier for the assassination of the Black Panther’s father and discovering how to trigger the Winter Soldier’s Hydra/Soviet mind programming.  Of course, the lines are dawn between the Avengers, which results in a conflict and a fantastic battle scene among them that is, at the end of the film, left fairly unresolved.  I like the idea that the conflict is not wrapped up in a tidy bow at the end of the film.  There are still a lot of issues to address in future films, which, in my mind, makes them even more interesting to anticipate.  There has been a lot of criticism leveled at this movie that no one of significance died or was killed, but I am not sure how significant that is in light of the fact that the characters are disunited, the relationships between all of the characters is strained, and the dispute of the film is unresolved in significant ways; these aspects give the story weight and significance (and death is not the only means to that end).  It is also worth noting that the fights were between friends, so it would not not be surprising that they pulled their punches in order to not significantly hurt one another; that may explain why no one died as a result of the battles.

In addition to a clear and compelling story with actual significance, this movie also featured the patented Marvel comic relief.  As much as I appreciate more “serious” comic book movies (like B v S), I always love how Marvel can work in some light moments.  This film is arguably the “darkest” of the Marvel movies, yet even in this film, the occasional humorous moment is appreciated and always well placed.

With the exception of the primary antagonists (Captain America and Iron Man), the standout characters, to me, were Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Ant-Man.  I went into this movie expecting Black Panther to be just another character and, possibly, a little lame (I am not a big fan of his in the comics).  I can honestly say that I was completely wrong.  The Black Panther is one of the characters who drives the story and he, to put it simply, is just so cool.  His fight scenes were absolutely fantastic – my favorite of the film – especially his fights with the Winter Solider.  Those fight scenes were some of the best and expertly choreographed that I have ever seen.  The Panther’s fighting style is light and exciting, but his impact is heavy and quite serious.  His suit is not lame in the least (as I expected) and leaves some mystery as to how it works (it is vibranium).  Furthermore, his role is not merely as a superhero, but as the head-of-state for Wakanda (his superhero persona is the embodiment of Wakanda), so that makes his approach and perspective a lot more interesting than mere superhero.  Also, and refreshingly, he is a noble character who introduces the concept of forgiveness to the mix.

Spider-Man is my favorite comic character.  He only made a cameo appearance in this film, in order to introduce him for his upcoming solo film, but what he did do was, to turn a phrase, amazing.  I am so happy that it seems movie makers finally got Spidey right: a young, skinny, teen-aged boy, with a squeaky voice, little money, absolutely no idea what he is doing, and a constant flow of words which are generally pretty funny.  Spider-Man, appropriately and needless to say, was the source of a lot of humor in the movie.  Quite honestly, the movie did not need Spider-Man at all, and his scenes were clearly inserted a a way to introduce the character as opposed to advance the plot of Civil War.  In that way, I imagine one could criticize his insertion into the film as unnecessary, superfluous, and somewhat shameless in promoting another Marvel movie.  If I were not a Spider-Man fan – and did not absolutely love how he was presented in the film – that criticism may have had traction with me; however, as I love Spidey and what they did with him, I loved it.

The same goes largely goes for Ant-Man as it does for Spider-Man.  Now, Ant-Man was previously introduced in his own film, so Civil War did not serve quite the same purpose for Ant-Man as it did for Spider-Man.  In saying that, however, Ant-Man is a sort of minor character and the film did help push him into the greater story in a way his own film really was not able to do.  In addition, Ant-Man, in addition to Spidey, was another source of humor in the film.  It seems Paul Rudd (the actor playing Ant-Man) can’t help but be funny.  So, with Spider-Man on Iron Man’s “side,” Ant-Man was on Captain America’s “side” that side’s bug-themed superhero providing comic relief.  Without giving too much away, Ant-Man revealed a secret that made his presence a lot of fun and added another, and unexpected, element to the battle scene.

Finally, it is worth reiterating again that the fight scenes in this film were fantastic.  They are probably my favorite of the Marvel movies so far.  I think it helped that the battles were mainly between friends who really did not want to hurt each other, which allowed some humor (mainly via Spidey and Ant-Man) to get into the mix.

As a final word, allow me to say that I was a little jarred at the casting of Marisa Tomei as Aunt May.  Her role will obviously be fleshed out more in the upcoming Spider-Man film, but, as a purist, I was a little disappointed that Aunt May was not an older woman as she is in the comics.  In saying that, I guess it does not make much sense that a 15 year old’s mother’s sister is elderly, which probably explains the younger casting.  Also, I absolutely loved how, as a nod to the comics, the Falcon controlled a small bird-like drone.  His ability, in the comics, to communicate with a bird is, quite frankly, lame, so I am glad they made it cool in the movie.

In sum, I highly recommend this film.  It has a good plot, some fun humor, fantastic fight scenes, good characters, and a real impact on how the franchise will play out in the upcoming films.

Movie Review: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

I recently saw the movie Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (“BvS”) and these are my thoughts about it (this review contains some spoilers).  It should be noted that I am a big fan of comic books and have been so since I was at least five years old.  I am sure that fandom biases my review in some way. This movie is based on the D.C. comic books and characters.

Introduction:

This movie is the second installment in the DC Extended Universe, DC’s serialized motion picture series, which began with the Superman origin film, Man of Steel.

Man of Steel introduced the character of Superman and many of his traditional supporting characters. The film concluded with an epic battle between Superman and his similarly powered fellow Kryptonian General Zod, which destroyed a large portion of the city of Metropolis, killing thousands of people in the process.

BvS is set about a year-and-a-half after the events of Man of Steel, and finds the world trying to come to terms with what it means to have a being like Superman in its midst. I do appreciate the realism of this aspect of the DC films thus far. The naïve and unquestioning acceptance of an incredibly powerful and invulnerable being as being nothing more than a completely selfless hero – as is traditionally the case in Superman stories – is simply incredible. So, I like the idea that the world wrestles with the implication of the arrival of the Superman.

Batman, who is introduced for the first time in the DC Extended Universe by way of this film, has the basics of his origin story told through the opening credits (i.e.: the murder of his parents and falling into a bat cave).  Aside from being referred to as a vigilante in Gotham City, the film offers no explanation as to who Batman is, what his motivations are, how and why he has his fighting skills and technology, or really much of anything else for that matter. Thankfully, Batman is a near universally known character who has appeared in film many times over the course of decades, so the near total lack of description had little effect on the film.  It almost seems like the screenwriters decided to take a short cut on an already long film because, if Batman were a new character, I do not think they could have gotten away with such thin development for him.  I do hope that, at some point, some further development is offered in the Extended Universe as, otherwise, it would leave it fairly incomplete in terms of its internal story and cogency.

Plot Summary:

A building owned by Bruce Wayne (i.e.: Batman’s true identity) is destroyed between the battle between Superman and Zod (referred to above).  Batman recognizes that Superman may be “good” today, but one day that may not be the case and no one has the ability to stop him.  Seeing the sheer power of Superman, and its effect on the world, Batman instantly thinks that Superman is too great of a threat to be allowed to go unopposed and resolves to kill him.

Concurrent with Batman’s agenda, Lex Luthor sees Superman as similarly threatening and, through LexCorp, seeks government permission via government contracts to weaponize recently found kryptonite.  Lex Luthor manipulates the government and public opinion (through shrewd tactics and terrorist attacks) to become suspicious of Superman.  Eventually, for some reason, Luthor captures Superman’s mother Martha and agrees to allow Martha to live if Superman kills Batman.

Based on the above, the battle between the heroes inevitably occurs.  Batman gains the upper hand and intends to kill Superman until Superman cries out that “Martha” will die.  By coincidence, Bruce Wayne’s murdered mother is named “Martha,” and the threat to Superman’s mother (along with the memories of his own mother Martha) gives Batman sufficient pause to stop his assault on Superman and save Martha Kent while Superman can dedicate his time to another threat which has arisen during his battle with Batman.

Lex Luthor, having been given access to Zod’s scout ship by the government, is able to create a Kryptonian monster called Doomsday who wrecks havoc across Metropolis.  As a result, the kryptonite weapons Batman created to defeat Superman now need to be used on the greater threat Doomsday.

Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (who, as Diana Prince, has been pursing her own designs through the film) team up to defeat Doomsday.  After the ensuing battle, Bruce Wayne intends to contact other people who are cropping up that appear to be metahuman.

My Thoughts:

I went into this movie with cautious optimism and, I think, that turned out to be the right decision.  I really enjoyed this movie, and it was great fun seeing these two titans of comic books finally encounter one another in a blockbuster movie and, perhaps more importantly, see the foundation of a budding movie franchise.

The action sequences are fantastic.  The look of the characters is near perfect (except Luther, see below).  The battle scenes were well choreographed.  The characters were introduced well.  I loved seeing what was basically two famous DC comics story lines come to life (i.e.: Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman story lines).  The story had a nice build up and did a good job in presenting why people are leery of Superman, and why Batman finds it necessary to oppose him.  It was a great experience for a comic book fan.

In saying all this, I did say my optimism was cautious.  The makers of this movie, like many others in this genre, felt the need to extend its running time to nearly two-and-a-half hours.  Now, as this was a big epic story, I expected it to be long.  What I did not expect was a really good two hour movie with another twenty to thirty minutes hastily appended to it.

The story should have been about the origin, build up, and resolution of a conflict between Batman and Superman (as the title suggests).  Indeed, it seems that was what the movie was going to be until it appeared that the resolution of the conflict between the heroes would be the death of one of them at the hands of the other.  Not wanting that to happen, the writers threw in Doomsday as a plot device to unite the heroes.

The Doomsday portion seemingly came out of nowhere in the last thirty minutes of the movie, and introduced new elements of the film completely absent from the rest of it.  For example, Luthor’s motivation throughout the film is to gain government contracts and access to Kryptonian technology.  Batman barely registers on his radar.  For no reason necessary to the rest of the story, Luthor suddenly provokes a conflict between Superman and Batman.  It isn’t necessary as the story already built up Batman’s own motivation to engage Superman.  Furthermore, upon gaining access to the scout ship, Luthor suddenly has facility with advanced alien technology and, somehow, has learned how to create a creature, and not just a creature, but one containing his own DNA (why his DNA is needed is never explained).  Capturing Martha Kent to motivate Superman to fight Batman was completely contrived, and highlighting the fact that both of their mothers have the same Christian name was obviously a contrived plot device.  Why in the world would someone use his mother’s first name when talking about her if it were not a lame attempt to call Bruce Wayne’s mother to Batman’s mind?  In addition, it is not entirely clear why this would give Batman pause in his fight with Superman anyway.  Batman has grave concerns over a being with nearly unstoppable power.  Why the commonality of mothers’ names would suddenly distract and/or change Batman’s mind about the potential danger of Superman is never explained and, quite frankly, makes little sense in light of the rest of the film.

Speaking of bad plot devices, Batman uses a kryptonite spear to battle Superman.  Batman, who is extremely diligent and always has a well thought out plan, simply and randomly drops the spear and walks away without any thought of the implication of doing so (which could mean losing his opportunity to kill Superman), which is entirely out-of-character for Batman.  Dropping the spear for no good reason becomes a problem later in the film to merely add to the drama in an unrealistic way and to give Lois Lane a role and purpose in helping to save the day instead being a perpetual damsel in distress.

The concern over Superman’s power makes sense.  What does not make sense is for Luthor to unleash a similarly powerful but totally mindless beast in order to fight Superman.  At least Superman is rational and helps people.  Doomsday is just a destructive monster (who is a far greater threat than Superman), and there was no plan developed by Luthor as to how to stop it despite his concerns about Superman.  In short, Doomsday’s creation makes absolutely no sense both in terms of the story and Luthor’s motivations throughout the film.  Finally, perhaps as a way to make the battle with Doomsday even more epic, after Superman battles Doomsday for about 5 minutes (literally), and tries to fly him into space, the United States government, in that incredibly short period of time, suddenly and out of nowhere decides to fire a nuclear rocket at Doomsday in the atmosphere above Metropolis (oh, and, of course, no fall out from this decision is noticed in the film). What a hasty decision!

I also felt that, perhaps to distract away from the nonsensical Doomsday portion of the film, the score suddenly becomes extremely melodramatic and hokey.  The music during the big battle with the three heroes and Doomsday was loud rock(ish) music that tried to send the viewer the message that this battle was cool, awesome, and, perhaps, totally epic.  It was so obvious and transparent.  Similarly, the swooning and melodramatic music at the climax of the battle just seemed so over the top.  Subtly is, apparently, not a superpower.

Criticisms Made by Others:

Some people have concerns over the characterization of the characters.  Some seem legitimate while others less so.  I like the tentative Superman who is still working out his heroism and role in the world (and, so far, has always ultimately chosen the heroic path).  I am not at all keen on how this movie series has presented the Kents.  Instead of a good wholesome couple who teaches their son selflessness, heroism, and righteousness, they, instead, tend to be rather apathetic about the needs of others, sometimes discourage Superman from being heroic, tell Superman to think of himself over others, and, overall, are not the rather virtuous couple they are traditionally presented as being.  I loved this version of Batman, and Ben Affleck’s performance as Batman is my favorite thus far.  This movie even explains why Batman has a growly voice!  Affleck looks like enough of playboy to be a convincing Bruce Wayne, but he also looks sufficiently grizzled to accurately represent the character.  Perry White was a fun character (and it is now impossible for me to see Laurence Fishburne without thinking of his character on Blackish), however I thought that, in this movie, he was a sort of J. Jonah Jameson light as opposed to a character in his own right.  Lex Luthor was not presented well in light of the comics.  Taken independently of the comics, this Lex Luthor is a really interesting and compelling character.  In light of the comics, however, he is presented as a young, sort of skittish, almost Joker-like character instead of the cold and calculating middle-aged man he is usually presented as being. As in Superman, he has hair throughout the film until the end when he assumes his traditional bald look.

There has also been a lot of negative talk about the tone of the movie being serious or even dour.  I am not sure why this is a negative.  This only seems like a negative because people are comparing it to the wildly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, which tends to be fairly light-hearted even at its heaviest, instead of looking at the film in its own right.  I found the tone to be perfectly fine and completely appropriate for its subject matter.  The fact that people have a hard time viewing comic book movies as “serious” ought not to be a negative reflection on the movie but, rather, on the viewer who insists on a narrow view of comic book movies.

Another common criticism I have seen of this movie is that it is sequel baiting.  I find this criticism completely out-of-place and, quite honestly, not describing anything I would say is a negative.  The movie, as noted above, gives extremely limited background on Batman.  I imagine this will all be fleshed out in future Batman films and/or future DC Extended Universe films.  There are also cameo appearances of the Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman.  Wonder Woman, while not a main character, has more than a mere cameo appearance.  She, as Diana Prince, appears here and there throughout the film, and as Wonder Woman in the big fight scene at the end.  Aside from her direct role in the plot, there is precious little revealed about her (or her alter ego) at all.  Again, I assume this will all be fleshed out in her own film.  Finally, although probably only noticeable to a hardcore comics fan like me, there are at least three references to Darkseid in the movie (Batman’s weird dream sequence in the desert, the large omega symbol in the sand, and Luthor’s crazy ramblings at the end of the movie (as an aside, if Luthor’s motive and ability to create Doomsday is later revealed to be the result of Darkseid’s influence, then some of my criticisms of this movie will be somewhat tempered)).  Some say all of this is evidence of poor writing and exposition.  I disagree.  We now live in an age of serialized movie making and world building.  These movies presume sequels and greater exposition in those sequels.  The era of a self-contained superhero movie is nearly gone.  This movie revealed as much as required for the story to be told.  All of the other references here and there will be explained in later movies.  When the future movies are made, and all viewed together as a cohesive story, the gaps described above will presumably be filled, and there will no longer be a lack of information.  If they are not filled, then the criticisms of poor writing and exposition will have a lot more merit.  I simply think the criticisms about sequel baiting seem to simply ignore the new reality that modern superhero movies are serialized and go through progressive world building.

Finally, DC’s approach seems to be the opposite of Marvel.  Marvel presented a series of solo movies first, slowly developing each character and revealing their interrelationships, until it climaxed in the big cross over movie The Avengers, and the franchise has continued since then in a similar pattern.  This way of world building was really satisfying and helped develop really good characters.  DC seems to have the opposite approach with the big cross over movie released very early in the franchise with the hopes that it will be a spring board into other movies (especially solo movies) where the characters can develop.  Although DC’s approach did not have well developed characters in its first crossover movie, their approach may still pay off just as well as Marvel’s has.  I think it is too early, at this point, to determine whether Marvel or DC has the better approach.  I think that question should be revisited in a year or two when DC has had opportunity to release a few more movies.

Conclusion:

I would highly recommend this movie, especially to a fan of comics and superheroes.  I am very excited to see where this franchise goes, and I think this movie is a very good start as long as DC does not blow the opportunities it now has in movies.

SCOTUS Weighs in on Police Shooting

By now almost everyone knows about the police shooting that is the subject of controversy in Ferguson, Missouri. By coincidence, the Supreme Court of the United States has recently weighed in on a different police shooting in the matter of Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861 (2014).

In Tolan, a police officer patrolling a neighborhood decided to look up a particular car’s license plate number in the state’s database to determine whether it was stolen. At the time the car was being driven by Plaintiff. The officer accidentally entered the wrong license plate number when he searched the database by mistyping a single number. The incorrect number happened to be that of an actual stolen car, which the officer therefore mistakenly believed was the car being driven by Plaintiff. As a result, the police officer pursued Plaintiff to his destination.

Plaintiff was going home, where he lived with his parents, to spend time with his cousin who was also in the car. Plaintiff and his cousin were sitting on the porch of his house when the police officer approached them with his gun drawn. Plaintiff complied with the officer’s commands. Not long after, Plaintiff’s mother and father exited the house because of all of the commotion outside and were also commanded to take a specific posture by the police officer at gunpoint. At all times all of the parties denied stealing the car.

During their interaction with the police officer, Plaintiff and his mother claimed that the officer grabbed the mother’s arm and slammed her against the garage door and caused her to fall. The officer denies having done this. Due to the officer’s alleged interaction with his mother, Plaintiff said “[g]et your [f—ing] hands off my mom” and rose from the ground, contrary to the commands given to him by the officer (Plaintiff claims he rose to his knees while the officer claims he got to his feet). Plaintiff’s rising led to the officer, without a verbal warning, shooting Plaintiff in his lung and liver from a distance of about 15 to 20 feet away.

Aside from those mentioned above, there were some facts in dispute between the parties, including whether the garage was dimly lit, the exact volume and tenor of the mother’s words to the officer, whether Plaintiff shouted at and/or threatened the officer, and whether Plaintiff approached the officer when the officer engaged with the mother.

Plaintiff brought suit against the officer for violating his Fourth Amendment rights on the basis that the officer used excessive force when he shot Plaintiff. The District Court ruled against Plaintiff and granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision. Plaintiff appealed the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the United States Supreme Court.

The legal issue presented for the Court’s review is the appropriate standard for summary judgment. The long established standard for summary judgment is to view all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, in this case the Plaintiff. It is not the judge’s role, when ruling upon a motion for summary judgment, to weigh the evidence available or determine its truth, just to determine whether a reading of the facts presented, viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, could result in a ruling in favor of Plaintiff.

The Court determined that the Fifth Circuit did not appropriately view the facts in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, but, instead, made factual determinations as to lighting, the words stated by the parties, and the actions taken by the parties, among other things, that were not in a light most favorable to Plaintiff. Instead, the Fifth Circuit specifically determined these facts to weigh against Plaintiff. As a result, the Court remanded the motion for summary judgment back to the Fifth Circuit in order for it to render a decision using the appropriate legal standard.

Through this case, the Supreme Court of the United States has reaffirmed the importance of using the required evaluation standard when courts rule on motions, and, perhaps more importantly, is sending the message that it is willing to enforce those standards where appropriate.

Originally published in Upon Further Review on December 16, 2014 and can be found here.

Movie Review: Ant-Man

I recently saw the movie Ant-Man and these are my thoughts about it (this review contains some spoilers).  It should be noted that I am a big fan of comic books, and Marvel Comics in particular, and have been so since I was at least five years old.  I am sure that fandom biases my review in some way.

By way of introduction for the uninitiated, Ant-Man is a movie based on Marvel comic books that falls at the end of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  This movie is the twelfth in the film series, which also includes nearly two-and-a-half seasons of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (a television series), one season of Agent Carter (also a television series), Daredevil and Jessica Jones (Netflix series), and five Marvel One-Shot films.  Needless to say, this film is deeply entrenched in a clearly established, long running, and sprawling interconnected media universe.

In the comic books, Ant-Man is among the first Marvel characters introduced in the 1960s (an era which included the introduction of most of “classic” Marvel characters everyone knows and loves), but in the movie universe he is somewhat late in the game.  As a result, the movie places Hank Pym, who is the original Ant-Man (played by Michael Douglas), into the Cinematic Universe’s past, and makes him a similarly aged contemporary with Agent Peggy Carter (who appears in the film in a flashback with Pym) and Howard Stark (who also appears in flashback).  As one may expect, the movie surrounds “Pym Particles” (the technology Pym invents to change his size) and the interests S.H.I.E.L.D. has in them.  Of course, things go south which causes Pym to discontinue using and developing his technology, which he then suppresses for fear of the danger that it could wreak.  Fast forward to the present day, and the man who becomes the villain Yellowjacket relentlessly pursues Pym’s shrinking technology seeking to weaponize it, which, once he perfects his own (albeit somewhat flawed) version, he does, and that creates the primary conflict of the film.  Pym, as an older man now, seeks out, and recruits, Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd), a young guy with a chequered past but good heart who needs to redeem himself, who adopts the Ant-Man mantle to accomplish that.   Over the course of Pym and Lang’s relationship, he encounters Hope Van Dyne (Pym’s daughter) which, of course, goes down a romantic path, and the whereabouts of the Wasp (Pym’s wife and Hope’s mother) is explored.

As I stated above, this movie is the twelfth entry into a huge movie series which has proven itself capable of easily making fun, fast paced, well put together comic book movies, and Ant-Man is a worthy addition to that series.  This movie, obviously, is not a serious drama or artistic cinema.  Instead, it is fun action movie that holds up well with spunky dialogue, well choreographed action scenes, and surprisingly decent acting.

Unfortunately, Marvel has gotten into a routine with its movies where it presents a character’s origin, creates a conflict with a character with very similar powers (albeit with ill intent), and then resolves that conflict after it appears the hero is dead (or nearly dead), all the while meeting a love interest along the way.  Almost all of the Marvel movies play out in this way, and Ant-Man seems the most cookie cutter of them all, which does not bode well for the Phase Three slate of origin films.

Marvel appears to be cognizant of its tendency to be formulaic, so it has made each of its films a different genre into which its formula is placed to make for variety and interest.  So, for Ant-Man, the genre appears to be a funny heist type movie (as opposed to a straight up action movie) along the lines of Oceans Eleven, which, to my mind, works very well.  Other examples being the Captain America movies being political thrillers, the Thor movies being fantasy, the Hulk movie being a “monster movie,” and the upcoming Spider-Man movie being a movie in the style of John Hughes, and so on.  In addition to genre adaptation, Marvel also leverages the natural personality of its actors, which works very well for them as Marvel, so far, has had a real knack for really effective casting.  In this movie, Rudd is very much himself through this movie, and Douglas is too, and that sort of natural approach makes the characters both humorous but also very relatable.

As a comic book fan, this movie was very obviously self-referential to its placement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  For example, there is an entire scene of dialogue placed into the movie simply to engender anticipation for the introduction of Spider-Man into this universe (the entire scene was unnecessary for this movie).  The Falcon plays a brief role in the movie in order to solidly put Ant-Man onto the Avengers‘ radar.  I imagine that Marvel chose the Falcon as the Avenger to insert into the film because he is known and integrated, and not “new” to the team (e.g.: Vision and Scarlett Witch), but is not a character so big that he would steal the movie, and, quite honestly, is also played by an actor who is relatively inexpensive.  Ant-Man also explores “another dimension” when he becomes impossibly small, which must be setting the stage for the upcoming Doctor StrangeFinally, this movie has two post-credits scene, one which sets up the Ant-Man sequel and one which sets up the thirteenth movie in the Marvel movie franchise.

Finally, I have to mention the last climatic fight scene between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket.  First of all, it is mercifully short.  It eschews this tendency of late to make the climatic fight scene an endlessly long slug fest which, at some point, becomes boring and, ironically, anti-climactic as one wonders how the combatants could possibly take all that punishment instead of rooting for the good guy.  Instead, this scene in Ant-Man is fun and well choreographed and interesting due to the fact that the characters constantly shrink and enlarge in size throughout the fight, which is a new element to these scenes.  Marvel did a really good job making the scene fun and, in fact, funny.  Two insect-sized guys are duking it out and, from their perspective, it is all very intense and powerful but, with well placed comic timing, the scene would pan out to reveal them fighting on a Thomas-the-Tank-Engine table, and the apparently huge items being tossed and the carnage being wrought is really just some toys harmlessly being flung about.  I will not spoil it here, but the coup de grace on the bad guys – caused in one place by Lang and another by Pym – are pretty hilarious for comic book movie standards.

So, this movie is great for fans and very entertaining for non-fans.  Do not expect great cinema but do expect a well done comic book movie that both honors the formula but also tries to make it interesting in its setting and approach.  If you are invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you will want to see this film; if you are a comic book fan, you will enjoy and appreciate the film; and, if you are a non-comic-book-fan, while you will not find it necessary to specifically seek out and watch the movie, you will nonetheless enjoy it if you watch it when it happens to be on the television in your vicinity.

Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

I recently saw the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron and these are my thoughts about it (this review contains some spoilers).  It should be noted that I am a big fan of comic books, and Marvel Comics in particular, and have been so since I was at least five years old.  I am sure that fandom biases my review in some way.

By way of introduction for the uninitiated, Ultron is a movie based on Marvel comic books that falls at the end of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  This movie is the eleventh in the film series, which also includes nearly two seasons of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (a television series), one season of Agent Carter (also a television series), Daredevil (a Netflix series), and five Marvel One-Shot films.  Needless to say, this film is deeply entrenched in a clearly established, long running, and sprawling interconnected media universe.  I point this out at the outset as I think a lot of the criticism this movie has received forgets this fact.

Now, like anything else, a review of a movie really depends on what one expects from it.  This movie is not deep, complex, or profound cinema.  It does not have remarkable acting.  This is a science-fiction action movie based on comics books and should be measured accordingly.

This movie is really good in that it does not fall victim to a lot movies of this type, which includes bad acting (saying it does not have bad acting is not the same thing as saying it has remarkable acting), an incomprehensible and/or non-existent plot (the plot is pleasingly straight forward), terrible dialogue (the dialogue is actually very good as it continues the fun, light hearted and quippy dialogue from the first Avengers movie), and scenes which engage in way too much expository.

If the viewer is a comic book fan and/or Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, this movie hits all the right spots.  This movie is nearly top to bottom action and almost all of it is really well done.  One of my friends said that after this movie one may feel like he needs a nap because there is just so much happening.

This film finds the team united and fighting missions together and opens with a great action sequence showing the team in action.  So, unlike the previous film which had to spend most of the film showing how the team gathered together, this film opens with them already being a well oiled machine.  As a result, one sees a lot of the action sequences and team work hoped for by the end of the previous film, as well as their team camaraderie.  Therefore, this film also dispenses with any explanations as to the team members’ powers, motives, and history, as all of those things have already been established in prior films.

As this film is part of a larger and ongoing series of movies, not only does it fail to explain a lot of the past (as noted above) it does not take a lot of time to flesh out various brief references to things as Marvel is confident those things will be fleshed out in future films or television shows.  So, for example, there are passing references to the Infinity Gems without explanation, but the viewer is presumed to know what they are (from prior movies and television shows) and to have confidence more information will come in future films and television shows.  Another example is the 5 minute (or so) scene featuring Ulysses Klaw.  You learn a little about him here but his scenes really do not add anything significant to the film.  For the uninitiated, his scenes seem superfluous in an already full movie, but for those “in the know” his scenes are an obvious set up for the upcoming Black Panther movie and possibly others (like Captain America: Civil War).  Also, when I first heard about the full cast in this movie which, in addition to the Avengers line up from the previous film and Ultron (the bad guy), also includes three new superheros (Quicksilver, Scarlett Witch, and the Vision), Helen Cho, the Falcon, War Machine, and Agent Hill (and others), I got concerned that this film would fall prey to what afflicted Spider-Man 3 and the later Batman films in Burton series, which was way too many characters crammed into a film.  Fortunately, despite the long list of characters, they do not weigh the film down as there is no imminent need to flesh them all out in this film in particular as Marvel is confident future films will do the job.  Merely adding in those puzzle pieces for the purposes of advancing the story of this particular film suffices for the moment.

After seeing this movie, the fact that this movie is part of a huge serialized movie franchise really hit home and why some of the criticism leveled at it is unfair.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe is, I think, a new way of movie/television entertainment that, as far as I know, has never been done before.  Some of the criticism I have seen complains that there is not enough character development for some characters (e.g.: Baron Strucker), not enough for others to do (e.g.: War Machine), random superfluous scenes (e.g.: the Klaw scenes), and too many characters (e.g.: introducing the Vision).  What I think these critics forget is that this movie is not a stand alone film; those “missing” features will be developed in future films or television shows.  It is not even a “middle film” in a trilogy.  It is just a cog (albeit a larger one) in a huge wheel of movies, television shows, and characters.  It does not need to meet all of the needs noted above because other films or television shows will do it or have done it already and to expect those things from this movie is to expect something it was never designed to deliver.  This new way of movie making really, I think, ought to be viewed as if it was a really large, well produced, and enormously budgeted television series.  One would not make the criticisms like the ones above for a middle-season episode of a television show.  So, I see no reason why they should be made for a serialized film of this nature.

Is this film perfect?  No.  I have to say that at some point “saving the world” becomes just another day at the office, and that, I think, really takes the wind out of the sales of this movie in terms of suspense or impact.  We all know the world is not going to end and all of the characters have future movies to appear in so nothing too terrible will happen.  Perhaps that is why the threats in the individual movies, though smaller in scale, are a little more compelling as they seem to have real consequences.  When everything is world ending it gets a little tiresome and trite.  It may be a minor thing, but I am disappointed Ultron does not look like his comic book counterpart.  I never envisioned him with lips and speaking like a human, much less having the smarmy, sarcastic, and snarky demeanor of James Spader, complete with a series of one-liners.  I would also like to point out that the trailers for this movie have features (and even scenes) which are not in this movie, which is annoying.  Also, Ultron’s army of robots was rather silly.  When you see their sheer numbers it may seem to be challenge for our intrepid heroes to defeat them all, but when you realize that they all crumple like soda cans, you realize that maybe Ultron should have spent a little more time on R & D before be created them.  Of course, where Ultron gets the time, energy, and resources needed to create himself, much less his huge army of robots, is never really explained, which is a little annoying to me.  Also, despite all the buildup about Strucker in the SHIELD television show (and the mid-credits scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), I was rather disappointed to see how little he was in the movie.  Finally, although I acknowledge the serialized nature of this movie franchise above, I was under the impression that the individual movies would all serve as plot and character development which would each culminate in an Avengers movie which would in turn break out into further development in individual films and return to culminate those developments again into the next Avengers movie and so on.  This movie did not do that.  This movie seems just “there” in that it does not seem to be the culmination of the Phase Two movies like the first Avengers movie was the culmination of the Phase One movies.  I guess this movie serves to introduce some important new characters and formally establish the mind gem and set up the events for future films, but any Marvel movie could do that.  I really had greater expectations for an Avengers movie than just serving to advance the story.  I expected it to be the next turning point in the story like the first one was.

All-in-all Marvel has another winner on its hands even though the events in the movie were not quite as pivotal as I was hoping them to be.  It is worth seeing if only for the sheer spectacle and, if one is a fan of these characters and/or the movie series, it is a lot of fun and really enjoyable.

Comic Books, Geek Life, and Trademark & Copyright Law Pod Cast

Anthony Verna, Esquire, a reputable copyright lawyer in New York, is the host of a podcast called The Law and Business Podcast (you can find it here).  He recently had me on as a guest on his podcast to talk about the various intellectual property issues surrounding comic books and movies based in comic books.  This seems especially relevant as the enormous blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron is about to be released in theaters this coming weekend.  I get the feeling that I was asked onto this podcast because I am such a huge comic book nerd as opposed to any legal expertise, but be that as it may I really enjoyed my time and I think we covered a lot of interesting topics, both legal and nerdy!

You can listen to (and hopefully enjoy!) the podcast here.

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