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Movies: Captain Marvel

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, four cats
Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Screenplay by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Marvel/Disney, 2019
PG-13; 124 minutes
4.75 stars (out of 5)

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First, a little housekeeping: sorry I’ve been absent. I had abdominal surgery last Thursday and am only now to the point where I can sit up for any length of time.

Okay, now this movie. I really didn’t care for the first, oh, twenty minutes or so, though I understand why they were necessary. But I sat through those minutes thinking I’d made a terrible mistake. For me, it really wasn’t until Vers/Carol/Captain Marvel reached Earth that things got interesting.

An overview (no spoilers): During a mission, Kree warrior Vers is captured by the Skrull and ends up on Earth. So do the Skrull, so now she must save the world from them and find a way home. Things get complicated when Nick Fury arrives at the site of Vers’ crash landing.

All this is set in… 1995(?) btw.

I loved, loved, loved seeing Nick Fury get some real screen time, and Jackson and Larson work well together. I also really liked Ben Mendelsohn in this, and I felt the comedy in this movie was well done and balanced the action nicely. Plus, great soundtrack.

One thing that’s really just a personal issue: to me Brie Larson looked a bit like Pam from The Office (Jenna Fischer)? I found that weirdly distracting.

I also didn’t find any of the twists to be very surprising. That + the somewhat dull start to the movie is the reason I shaved a little starlight off my rating. But not much because the rest of the film more than makes up for its shortcomings. That is to say, even with the minor problems, this is better than pretty much every other Marvel movie I’ve seen.

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IWSG: March 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

What am I insecure about these days? Well, I have surgery tomorrow, though I feel oddly calm about it. I think I’m more stressed about our move, which will take place the first week of April. In the meantime, very little writing is getting done, so I’m insecure about that, too—I feel like I’m falling behind on my goals.

Question of the Month: Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

I guess I’ve always written from the protagonist’s point of view, though I’m sure it would be fun to write from the villain’s. But I think I stick with the protagonist because to get inside the villain’s head would be to give too much away. I want the reader to wonder, along with the protagonist, what that villain is up to…

Books: So Anyway. . . by John Cleese

Almost a year ago (late March 2018), my husband and I went to a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail that was followed by a Q&A with Mr. John Cleese, who has always been my favorite of the Pythons. So now you know my bias. After said evening, I stopped at the merch table and picked up a signed copy of this book, his autobiography.

This is a very smooth read, as funny and curious and insightful as one might expect from Mr. Cleese. I could hear his voice in my head as I read it. And though I expected to be impatient to get to the parts about Monty Python, I found that I enjoyed pretty much every bit of the book.

I will say that Cleese skims the Python bits. I suppose he means to be diplomatic, but the book ends with this little dabble of Python, leaving me wanting more. Is there a second book? I want to hear about Fawlty Towers and all Cleese’s marriages, but… I suspect that’s not likely to happen. Serves me right, I think he’d say, for being a nosy little thing.

It’s just that he’s so witty and droll, and he was so much fun to listen to at the Q&A, that I can’t help but want more of that.

In short, this is a fun read if you happen to like John Cleese. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to people who only like Python because there isn’t actually that much about them in the book. Anyway, I’m sure there are plenty of other books that cover all that. Mr. Cleese’s life is much more than Python, and it turns out to be all fairly interesting.

Should Streaming Movies be Oscar Eligible?

When I saw Steven Spielberg was a streaming topic on Twitter, I worried. I’m at that age, after all, when my idols are aging and dying off. But as it turns out, the chatter is just about how Spielberg plans to push an anti-Netflix agenda at the next Academy board meeting.

The question on the table: What should be the basic minimum requirements for a film to be eligible for an Oscar?

To be fair, the rules were originally made when the world of film could not conceive of streaming, and when the distribution channel was one clear tunnel of release in cinemas, then release on video (once video was a thing), then show some edited version on television (until movie channels came along and did not require ADR to mask the curse words). Now movies can be released in cinemas and on streaming simultaneously.

So maybe the deeper question is: What makes a movie a movie?

That may sound weird, but bear with me. We’ve long had a division between film and television. Movies that show on television are called television movies, just to differentiate. And television movies can win Emmys but not Oscars.

So is a movie a movie because it shows in a cinema? What if it only shows once? What if it shows in a cinema and on television at the same time? These are the questions the Academy needs to address.

And a large portion of the argument comes down to politics. Campaign finance to be precise. In this instance, it’s the fact that Netflix has a ton of money to throw into campaigning for films like Roma. Netflix can buy a few cinema screens outside of the usual distribution channels and therefore meet a bare minimum requirement that allows its films to qualify for an Oscar. So… should there be a cap on what can be spent on campaigning?

Another bone of contention is that Roma only spent three weeks in cinemas before moving to Netflix streaming. Should the Academy demand a longer period between theatrical and streaming?

It’s all a matter of opinion and perspective. I haven’t seen Roma, though I’m sure, based on all the enthusiastic feedback, that it is a lovely film. However, I’m inclined to agree that there should be more definitive guidelines regarding what is Oscar eligible. I don’t think of Netflix as a film studio. I don’t think of Amazon as one either. Or Hulu. And maybe I’m old-fashioned in that. I honestly don’t know.

On the other hand, it’s refreshing that Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are bringing out content very different from all the superheroes the studios keep churning out. They’re making quality products. But… Are they movies? Or television movies?

Used to be, movies were either made to be shown in cinemas or made to be shown on television. The processes themselves were different. The quality of the film, the aspect ratios—different. Now people have televisions that are almost as large as movie screens. Now the quality of what’s being made for television is as good or better than what’s being made for cinemas. Everything is blurred.

There’s a certain amount of snobbery involved, too, of course. We can accept that FOX studios decided to have a television channel. We have a harder time thinking of Netflix, or Amazon, or Hulu—all of which started out showing second-hand content on television—as a legitimate film studio. I mean, if HBO produced a movie and sent it to cinemas for a couple weeks then aired it on their own channel… Would it be up for Oscars or Emmys? Both?

It’s a knotty problem and one I don’t have an answer to. While I’m inclined to agree with Steven Spielberg, the bottom line is the Academy has to lay out some very clear criteria. A lot of it will look and feel arbitrary because it pretty much is. But without lines and guardrails on these roads, the situation is headed for a crash.

Once in a Lifetime?

We had an extra ticket to Hamilton, so we invited my 13-year-old son’s best friend to come with us because we knew she really loved the musical (well, its soundtrack anyway). She took pictures of the theater, the cast list, and said to me, “I’m taking pictures of everything because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! I’ll never get to see a Broadway play again.” To which I replied, “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. You never know.”

It got me thinking about the first time I had the treat of seeing a touring Broadway production. It was My Fair Lady with Richard Chamberlain as Henry Higgins. I’d always loved the movie and was so excited to see the play. And I guess I had the same feeling as my son’s friend—that this would not necessarily become a regular event in my life. (Though I also got to see Camelot with Robert Goulet as Arthur that same year.)

My son and his friend came out of Hamilton very happy and talking about how they’d like to do drama in high school. I’m so glad we were able to give them this experience, but I’m also a bit sad that for many people it really is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, if that. Sure, some people aren’t at all interested in theater (their loss, in my opinion). But for those who might be, it can be inaccessible. It was to me for the longest time. I was fortunate that my school took us to the symphony, the planetarium, and other amazing places. But with schools trimming arts programs to the bare minimum, these outings are less and less common as well.

I understand why theater is expensive. The work that goes into it: sets, wardrobe, tech, acting, directing, choreography… And a lot more. Even the community theater productions I used to help with were quite involved, so something on the scale of a Broadway show? Yeah. And I know many shows have student discounts, or even special showings for schools or other groups. I just… I think this girl’s remark surprised me. I think people (like me) who go to the theater regularly begin to take it for granted. And that’s a shame.

So what’s the point of this post? 1. To observe that, for some people, going to the theater is a dream and/or rare experience. And that’s too bad, but I don’t actually have any suggestions to change that. 2. To also observe that, for those who do go to the theater often, it’s nice to remember the value of that. And even nicer to take along someone who doesn’t get to go, or has never been. Because their joy is infectious. And will be a fantastic reminder of all the reasons you’re lucky you get to go.

Movies: Searching

Here is a little film that I’m so glad I stumbled across. John Cho plays David Kim, a single father forced to delve into his teen daughter’s social media life when she goes missing. This is a movie for the digital, short-attention-span era. It mimics our online lives by making it all so familiar: text messaging, logging into things, checking email. That may make this sound dull, but it’s not at all. It’s the unraveling of a mystery as the audience nods in agreement: Yes, that’s what I’d do, too.

One must ignore some of the obvious issues, such as the fact a police detective would not leave it to a family member to search for clues and reach out to people. However, if you’re able to overlook these weaknesses, the overall experience is a good one. The film moves quickly, with many blind turns to keep it interesting.

I learned about Searching from Lessons From the Screenplay, which covers the way the writers had to create new formats for writing all the digital content. If you’re interested, the video is here. You may want to watch the movie first, though, if you don’t want a few things spoiled. (Though having watched Lessons first did not ruin the movie for me at all.)

This is a film I can wholly recommend. Well worth the time.

Movies: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Melissa McCarthy is an actress I feel I would enjoy as a person, and as an actress in general, except that she tends to star in the kinds of movies I don’t like at all, by which I mean raunchy comedies. I’m not a bathroom humor kind of girl. I did see that Ghostbusters remake, however. It wasn’t anything special in my book, but it wasn’t as terrible as everyone made it out to be (in my opinion, though perhaps my nearly nil expectations made it easy for the movie to surpass them).

I say all this as preface to the fact that I think McCarthy does a very fine job here in a dark dramedy. In CYEFM, she portrays Lee Israel, an author-turned-forger. This is based on a true story, mind. Israel had been a biographer who, in the 90s, couldn’t seem to keep up with trends. In desperation, she turned to creating fake letters supposedly written by famous people. After being caught, she went on to write the book this film is based on.

Did I enjoy this movie? Actually, it incited quite a bit of anxiety in me, mostly because there is a pet cat being semi-neglected. What’s remarkable, though, and worth admiring is the way McCarthy makes Israel both unlikable and still sympathetic. I know the writing and directing have something to do with that, too, but the result inhabits that very tenuous space, which is a requirement to pull the movie off at all.

Likewise, Richard E. Grant as Israel’s partner in crime Jack is equally spot on.

CYEFM is well done. I don’t know if I’d say it’s a “good” movie because that would depend upon your personal criteria, but it is well written, well directed, and well acted. It’s a movie that will probably stay with me longer than the typical popcorn flick. If you count any of those things as “good,” then this fits the bill.

Fairy Tales Await!

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February 26th is National Tell A Fairy Tale Day. Who knew? But Faebourne is a perfect read for such an event! As are all these other great fantasies, each discounted through February 28th. So grab one—or several—and curl up with a good book!

Meanwhile, also enjoy this preview of Faebourne and other Elite Review titles from InD’Tale Magazine: