Avengers: Infinity War… finally.

avengers-infinity-war-2
Spoiler alert: this scene isn’t in the movie.

Hey guys,

I’ve finally gotten around to putting down my thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War. Without further adieu…

It’s almost impossible to discuss Avengers: Infinity War in depth without spoilers.  One of the most talked about aspects of the movie is the ending. So, if you haven’t seen the movie, my apologies for the spoiler-ish caption above.  Now go away and return after you’ve seen the film.  And see it you should.  It’s not without its flaws, but it’s certainly worth seeing on the big screen.

Okay, now…

Say what you will about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s undeniable they’ve created something both extraordinary and unique in its execution. Avengers: Infinity War is the 19th film in a shared film universe. Think about that for a second, 19 films (Stanley Kubrick only directed 11 feature films in his lifetime) all with overlapping storylines, heroes and villains, but with different writers, different directors, and an impressively long list of some of the best actors you could ask for across the board. What’s even more remarkable is how entertaining all these movies are.  Even the turkeys are, at the very least, diverting.  I didn’t like Avengers: Age of Ultron or either of the first two Thor movies, but I didn’t think they were boring.  And although it’s a shitty metric to judge a film by, they all made a hell of a lot of money.  And when you then expand into the network tv shows and series on Netflix, I mean, holy shit.  The fact that it works at all is a minor miracle.  And Avengers: Infinity War is the ultimate culmination of all that storytelling, all that character development, all that world-building.

So how is it?  Well, it’s pretty good.  I didn’t like it as much as the first Avengers, but I liked it better than Age of Ultron. 

Everything before the 3rd act finale in Wakanda works best. The whole time I was watching the first half, I kept thinking, “Holy shit, they’re pulling it off.” It was so well-balanced, the storytelling constructed in such a way that warranted all these different characters reacting to unfolding events in different locations, in different ways. I’m a sucker for a great character entrance. Obviously, Harrison Ford stepping out of the shadows after bull-whipping the gun out of the guide’s hand in Raiders of the Lost Ark is a cinema classic. Michael Keaton’s, “I’m Batman.” The first appearance of the chest-buster xenomorph popping his way out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien. And yet when I think of great character entrances, I find myself returning to Danny McBride’s character introduction in This is the End. Within the context of the film, it’s note perfect and hilarious. My favorite moment in Avengers: Infinity War occurs in the first act, when Rubberband Man by the Spinners kicks in, we see a shot of distant stars and a large bold title pops on screen that reads simply, SPACE.  And we’re introduced to The Guardians of the Galaxy as they sing along to Rubberband Man on their mission to investigate a distress call coming from, what turns out to be the Asgardian ship featured at the end of Thor: Ragnarok. It’s a great character reveal and it put a huge smile on my face.

[Side note: listen closely and see if you can’t hear the beginning of Flash, by Queen in the opening of Rubberband Man.]

I going to assume if you’ve read this far then you’ve already seen the movie, so I won’t bore you with a beat by beat breakdown of the entire plot.  I’ll just say that everything was working great for me right up until the main action moves to Wakanda. I enjoyed the crosscut scene on Thanos’ homeworld as Iron Man, Spider-man, Dr. Strange and most of the Guardians of the Galaxy fight a small scale battle against Thanos as they attempt to separate the Infinity Guantlet from Thanos’ hand.  It’s a nice set-piece almost ruined by the single most bone-headed act by any movie character, ever, when Peter Quill inadvertently sabotages the entire endeavor. I hated his reaction to learning of Gamora’s death at the hands of Thanos. He huffs and puffs and then punches Thanos in the face. While Mantis is desperately trying to control one of the most powerful characters in the entire MCU and Spider-man and Ironman nearly have the glove off, Starlord punches him in the face. Ugh. Nobody is that stupid, not even Peter Quill. If I had never seen a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, that moment would have instantly cemented Starlord as my least favorite Marvel character.  Otherwise, it’s a great scene, all these heroes working together, each employing their specific talents in concert to take down an adversary greater than any one of them.  It’s why we watch Avengers movies in the first place.  But, back in Wakanda, stupidity abounds I’m afraid.

There’s so much about the Wakanda scenes that just don’t work, it’s hard to decide where to start.  First, the obvious.  Both Captain America and Black Panther are criminally underused in this film.  After a pretty kickass character entrance in his own right, the rest of Steve Rogers’ scenes are all in Wakanda, as are all of Black Panther’s.  And neither has more than a couple lines of dialogue, none of which contribute significantly to the story.  Nothing they do in Wakanda has any impact on the plot.  The worst part is that Black Panther spent an entire film telling the audience that Wakanda is far more technologically advanced than the rest of the world, and yet when an alien horde attacks, they’re out there with spears, punching the invaders.  Punching them.  Captain America, Black Panther, Black Widow are out there engaging in hand to hand combat, virtually weapon-free.  Imagine if allied forces stormed the beaches in Normandy on D-Day with baseball bats, punching Nazis in the face. I have a sneaking suspicion World War II would have ended quite differently. It’s like the action movie adage that goes, “isn’t it convenient how all the evil henchmen attack the hero one at a time.” Only 100 times worse. I know, I know, Bucky, Rhodes and the Falcon are all out there shooting up the joint, but my point is, how about some frickin’ lazer beams? They have an energy shield that was working pretty well, then what? Nothing. A pretty odd choice for the most technologically advanced country on the planet.

By the time Thanos shows up in Wakanda for the Time Stone, the legs had been totally cut off the film for me.  We already bore witness to a pretty good battle on Thanos’ homeworld.  Now there’s another fight with Thanos? Captain America holds his own, punching up a storm with the best of them, but by then Thanos has all but one of the Infinity Stones.  The tension and excitement, unfortunately, gets split in half along with the two separate Thanos battles.  One bright spot, speaking of excellent character entrances, is when Thor returns with Stormbreaker and almost kills Thanos. After an entire film taking a back seat, we are reminded why Thor is considered a God.  It was a pretty bad ass moment.  That being said, the title of the film is Infinity War.  But really they should have called it Avengers: Infinity Skirmishes.  We saw a series of smaller battles, but we never had a climactic, all hands on deck showdown with Thanos.  I don’t mind admitting I was disappointed as hell.

Which brings us to the much talked about ending in which half the universe, and therefore half the Avengers “die” at the snap of Thanos’ fingers.  I put die in quotes because we all know most, if not all will be coming back.  It’s an unfortunate fact of life that movies no longer occur as isolated experiences in a theater.  The internet, in large part, has ruined that aspect for the movie going audience.  We already know a Tom Holland Spider-man sequel is in the works.  We know Black Panther is getting a sequel.  We know Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 is on the horizon.  That knowledge makes the ending of Infinity War feel dishonest and as a result, cheap.  Other than Spider-man’s emotional plea to a helpless Ironman as he disintegrates, the impact of their deaths carries little weight. Incidentally, Tom Holland is a goddamn perfect Peter Parker and a goddamn perfect Spider-man.  Such great casting.

Speaking of Thanos, my only problem with him as an antagonist is that his goal is pretty stupid. The movie spends a surprising amount of time developing him as a well-rounded, nearly sympathetic character who approaches his villainous obligation with an air of reticence. The problem is that that goal doesn’t make any sense.  In a nutshell, Thanos believes the universe cannot sustain the spread of life and the wasteful consumption of resources that comes with it. He seeks balance, as he puts it.  Apparently the only way to balance the universe is to murder half of the population of it.  But with the power of a god can’t he just make more resources, more planets, more of whatever is needed? How about a moratorium on procreation for a few years allowing the death rate to exceed the birth rate for awhile? Not great, but also not genocide.  His whole “balance” theory of the universe is reductive to such a ridiculous degree nobody could possibly take it seriously.  It’s just silly and not in a Lex Luthor’s evil plot from Donner’s Superman kinda way, which is, I have to admit, gleefully bananas. One of my favorite super-villain plans of all time. I just wish the filmmakers would have addressed the fact that Thanos’ plan is ludicrous. Ego’s plan in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 was ludicrous and also murderous on a universal scale, but I bought it.  I bought it because at every turn James Gunn was reminding us how goddamn insane a plan it was.  In Avengers: Infinity War everyone just seems to shrug, yeah okay, we better get on that. It bothered me a great deal.

[Side note: Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is not particularly good.  Akin to Age of Ultron and Thor 1 & 2. First Guardians is a much much better film.]

I had a few other, more minor quibbles with the film.  I didn’t like that the Hulk refused to come out to play, as it were. I get what they were going for, that perhaps this enormous rage machine was frightened by Thanos, thereby cementing Thanos’ place as the more powerful character in the MCU, but I didn’t buy it.  Remember the caption under the pic above? Yeah, fuck you too, Marvel. I don’t like trailers that lie to you. And then showing the Hulkbuster armor in the trailers was another red herring I didn’t care for. You already know, I’m sure, but that’s a Hulk-free Bruce Banner in there, not Tony Stark.

One other detail kept pestering me early on, during the scene in Scotland when Midnight and Glaive attack Scarlet Witch and Vision.  They’re fighting, duking it out, Vision is down and Wanda seems keenly aware she is unequipped to handle these two adversaries on her own.  And yet, Vision and Scarlet Witch can both fly.  So why didn’t they? When trouble rears its ugly head and the fight begins to go sideways, why didn’t they just fly away? Kinda like Neo in The Matrix Reloaded. What the hell was he waiting for? YOU CAN FLY! One saving grace of the scene – when Steve Rogers shows up and catches that thrown spear (man, what’s with all the spears in this movie?) like a boss, the look on Wanda’s face, the look of utter relief that Captain America is there to save the day, is totally priceless. With a single look, we’re reminded that Elizabeth Olsen is, in fact, a fine actress.

Post credits scene. For those of you who aren’t booger-eating nerds or haven’t looked up its meaning yet, the logo that appeared on Nick Fury’s communicator device was for Captain Marvel.  Carol Danvers, played by Brie Larson, has her own movie coming out soon.  I’m sure it’s safe to assume that Captain Marvel will have a significant role in Avengers 4. Similarly, I suspect Ant-man and Hawkeye were both kept out of Avengers: Infinity War because they will be front and center in Avengers 4.  If I had to guess I’d say Ant-man and Hawkeye (or maybe just Ant-man) somehow travel back in time to try and undo the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Will we get a Back to the Future 2 type situation? I’d be lying if I said the idea doesn’t intrigue the hell out of me.  And you know that at some point someone other than Thanos is going to wield the Infinity Gauntlet and it probably isn’t going to end well for them.  My money is on Ironman.

The Russo Brothers have teased that Avengers 4 will introduce some pretty drastic changes to the MCU. I hope they’re not blowing smoke up our ass. So far, Avengers: Infinity War feels more like the first act of a 6 hour movie. I hope the next one delivers on the promise set forth by the Infinity War title because I don’t really feel like this one did. That being said, I will admit I’m looking forward to finding out how this all plays out.

-cohan

p.s. Stay tuned for a Solo review.  Seeing it tomorrow.

 

Ready Player One

READY PLAYER ONE

Hey guys,

Looks like I’m avoiding an Avengers: Infinity War review again. Oh well. Moving on…

Steven Spielberg has a handful of book adaptations under his belt where his movie surpassed its source material.  Three come to mind.  Jurassic Park, Minority Report and JawsJurassic Park was an okay-fine book by Michael Crichton that couldn’t possibly match the awe and glee with which movie audiences were treated to some of the best meld of CGI and practical effects the world had ever seen. Holy shit, dinosaurs! Minority Report was an insightful, thematically rich, not to mention fun as hell, glimpse into the not-too-distant future. Say what you will about Tom Cruise, but he doesn’t phone it in, ever.  Minority Report was an adaptation of a Phillip K. Dick short story of the same name whose plotting was a bit convoluted, as PKD stories tend to be, with a big bummer of an ending.  Spielberg’s film streamlines the primary story elements to create a slick, fast moving crime drama in a sci fi environment.  And then, of course there’s Jaws.  The original blockbuster.  The movie that launched Spielberg’s career.  And it’s based on a pretty shitty book.  Jaws by Peter Benchley is a dull, clunky book.  So much so, that I never read another book by Benchley after it.  Plenty of books have been written about Jaws, so I’m not going to waste your time getting into here. It’s great, we all know it.

So, where does that leave Ready Player One?

Ready Player One is not a particularly well written book. Ernest Cline wrote a somewhat awkward story with very little focus on character development and only the scantest interest in exploring the ramifications of a life lived almost entirely in a virtual world.  But it is one great big love letter to the popular culture of the 1980’s and I am a child of the 80’s. As such, I loved reading Ready Player One. I couldn’t help myself.  For all its flaws, I couldn’t resist the nostalgic pull of its central premise: a programmer in love with the 1980’s creates a virtual world based entirely on the popular culture of that decade.  Slap a kid at the center of an adventure to save that world and I’m happier ‘n a mangeek at a Goonies convention.

My experience with the film was similar, but for different reasons.  Spielberg has crafted a lightning-paced adventure filled with action and excitement and just enough character development to keep us emotionally invested (but absolutely no more than that).  It gets off to a bit of a rocky start, as the main character’s narration explains the background behind the OASIS as we, the viewer are whisked through the OASIS as if flying through a never-ending CGI spiderweb that just keeps going and going.  It’s a bit much and almost turned me off from the movie entirely right at the start.  But after that somewhat frenetic intro and an over-the-top vehicular race in a digital New York City, the story kicks in and the rest of the film, for the most part is executed with a bit more restraint. But only a bit. One thing Ready Player One has going for it is that the OASIS isn’t supposed to be a photo-realistic environment, so whenever the CGI gets a bit cartoony, it’s okay. It doesn’t matter.  The audience is in the middle of a video game, for lack of a better word. Normally I would think of that as a bad thing. But here, somehow Spielberg makes it work.  He’s a smart enough filmmaker to know a constant onslaught of CGI is going to turn off even the most forgiving movie-going audience.  So he wisely cross-cuts between the OASIS and the real world, in which there are additional sub-plots going on.  Added to which, within the OASIS itself, he finds moments and scenes to slow down the action and either develop the character relationships or progress the plot more cerebrally.  One particular scene comes to mind, when the players suddenly find themselves in an entirely real-world looking Overlook Hotel.  It’s a great scene, particularly when one character who hates horror movies and hasn’t seen The Shining starts wandering naively through the hotel, curious as to why these two little twin girls are beckoning him onward. It’s a fun scene, marred only by an idea that keeps nagging at me.  Or rather a question, which is why did they choose The Shining? It’s the only time in the movie they focus so long on a specific bit of 80’s pop culture (other than an old Atari game, Adventure) and yet, how many of us think of The Shining as a quintessential 80’s movie? Sure, it qualifies having been released in 1980, but within our collective zeitgeist (that’s right, I just used that word) I can think of a dozen other movies that seem far more representative of that particular decade.  What’s that, you want me to list a few? Okay.  How about Ghostbusters?  Or The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, The Karate Kid, Aliens, The Princess Bride, Back to the Future (the main character already drives a DeLorean throughout the film) or how about Spielberg’s own E.T.? Poltergeist? Or how about one of the greatest adventure films of all time, also a Spielberg joint: Raiders of the Lost Ark? In the book, Blade Runner plays a significant role and I’ve read that Spielberg couldn’t use it because Blade Runner 2049 was in production at the same time.  But choosing The Shining seems more like professional nepotism than serving the story.

Which brings me to my chief complaint about Ready Player One the movie vs. Ready Player One the book.  As I’ve already written above, the book is a 385 page tribute to the 1980’s.  But the movie reels that aspect in a great deal, instead conveying that idea through seemingly random imagery and Easter Eggs.  The movie never really comes out and says that James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS, based his entire creation on his obsession with 80’s pop culture (at least to my recollection).  Instead, that concept is more or less alluded to by its design and usage by the characters.  In the movie, the main character who calls himself, Parzival (an Arthurian hero on a never-ending quest for the Holy Grail) succeeds where others have failed because of his encyclopedic knowledge of the life and times of James Halliday.  In the book, Parzival is triumphant because he too is obsessed with the 1980’s.  His character knows more about that decade’s pop culture than any other character save Halliday himself. The main plot, which I’ve been remiss in omitting until now, revolves around a contest to find three keys hidden within the OASIS by James Halliday before his death.  Find the three keys and gain control of the OASIS. He also left behind a series of clues, all cloaked in 80’s nostalgia. Parzival discovers the first key, bands together with a small group of like-minded Gunters (egg hunters) and sets about discovering the other two keys before the big bad Innovative Online Industries (IOI) corporation gets them first and turns the OASIS into a nightmare of capitalist excess. In the book, the hunt for the keys is needlessly complicated. Finding a key unlocks a path to a challenge that you must then overcome to receive a clue to the next key.  Spielberg was wise in streamlining the concept for the film, having each key a prize unto itself.  Find a key, receive a clue to the next key.  Had they made Ready Player One a limited run series on HBO or Netflix, the books conceit could’ve worked, but for a feature film, trimming the fat makes sense.

So, is Ready Player One the movie better than Ready Player One the book?  I think i’m going to say no.  Only because they’re different.  Each is successful in different ways, much like how The Shining, actually, is successful both as a Kubrick film and as Stephen King originally wrote it.  Both are very different in their approaches and both work wonderfully.  And no, I’m not saying Ready Player One is as good as The Shining. Come on now, let’s be real.  Ready Player One is a popcorn film.  So is the book, if that makes any sense.  I enjoyed them both.  Now…

Let’s all enjoy a truffle shuffle together.

-cohan

p.s. Steven Spielberg has a long history of adapting books of various quality into excellent films.  Schindler’s List, War of the Worlds, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun and Amistad all come to mind.  War Horse, Lincoln, Catch Me if You Can and Munich are all adaptations of books.  And one could argue all day long about which version of each story is better.  But my point was that he has three distinct examples where an excellent movie is a clear improvement over a lackluster book (or short story). Somewhere in there, is Ready Player One.

p.p.s. It is neither here nor there, but I’m going to mention anyway that there are only two Spielberg movies I actively hate.  1941 and Hook.  Regarding Hook, Spielberg was once quoted as saying, “I wanna see Hook again because I so don’t like that movie, and I’m hoping someday I’ll see it again and perhaps like some of it.” But still, two turds in a sea of goddamn masterpieces is a pretty impressive track record.

Deadpool 2: Deadpoolier

Deadpool-2-Cable-banner
Michelangelo’s masterpiece, Finger Bang Bang

Hey guys,

Looks like I’m back on superhero movies.  We recently saw both Deadpool 2 and  Avengers: Infinity War, but Deadpool 2, I think, is a bit easier to write about, so I’m doing that one first.

Let me warn you now, there be spoilers in this review.  If you haven’t seen it, then here’s your one sentence spoiler-free review:  If you liked Deadpool 1, you’ll like how Deadpool 2 is even more Deadpoolier than Deadpool 1.  To clarify, everything Deadpool 1 did right, Deadpool 2 does right, again, and better.  But it also gets some similar bits wrong.  Look, if you liked Deadpool and felt like it was money well-spent, then you’ll enjoy Deadpool 2 and it will, again be money well-spent.  It’s hilarious and it’s fun.  There.

Now, buckle up, this train is entering Spoilerville.

Deadpool 2 is a hell of a lot of fun and I laughed a lot… probably as much as I laughed in Thor: Ragnorak, which as my 2017 Movie Roundup post mentioned, was the funniest movie of 2017.  There are also some excellent action sequences and a vehicle convoy set-piece that kicked all kinds of ass.  This should come as a surprise to nobody who has seen John Wick, since the two films share a director in David Leitch (who also directed the largely overlooked, Atomic Blonde).  Ok, some clarification, David Leitch was an uncredited co-director on John Wick, but still generally accepted as one of the two directors of John Wick.  Interesting side note, he was also Brad Pitt’s stunt double on several films, which explains a lightning fast Vanisher cameo in a particularly amusing sequence in which most of Deadpool’s X-Force team meet untimely ends.

I will say that the climactic showdown at the end, in my mind did not qualify as an ass-kicking set-piece mostly because it takes place outside a rather pedestrian looking boys home.  Nothing as visually interesting and impressive as Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and certainly nothing as dynamic as a broken-down and abandoned Helacarrier the climax of the first film took place on.  It looked almost like a post office.  Yay, a post office.  Woo!  Of course, eagle-eyed easter egg gathering viewers will have taken note that that boys home was called The Essex House for Mutant Rehabilitation, most certainly a reference to Nathaniel Essex, aka, Mister Sinister.  But whether that was a one off reference for fans, or a genuine allusion of Deadpool plots to come remains to be seen.

Okay, now let’s talk about Cable.  Cable is a pretty interesting character in the comics with a complicated backstory and mercurial motivations that has made him a fan favorite over the years.  Unfortunately, Deadpool 2 chose to streamline that all into an extraordinarily bland, villain murder’s dude’s family, dude goes back in time to save them by killing bad dude when he’s a kid story trope.  We’ve seen this before, of course.  He’s a tough-as-nails, no nonsense, stoic anti-hero played perfectly by Josh Brolin, and is a perfect foil for Deadpool’s buffoonery.  They have great chemistry, whether they’re fighting/annoying each other, or working together/annoying each other.  But that transition from one to the other felt a bit cheap.  And part of the problem is that the movie doesn’t really have a clear cut villain.  There’s a villain in the future Cable has traveled back in time to stop, but in the present he’s just a mixed up kid that we the audience feel genuine sympathy for.  He’s had it bad and sometimes a bad situation creates a bad person.  Deadpool thinks he can prevent him from going full-bore supervillain and Cable doesn’t.  It’s kinda boring.  For a superhero movie, even one that takes pride in subverting expectations, it’s bland stuff.  Compared to Magneto, The Winter Soldier, Killmonger, and Thanos, Russell fucking Collins is kinda a letdownHell, he calls himself Firefist and that’s not much better than Russell.  Towards the end they pair him up with Juggernaut, but by then its too little too late.  It feels shoehorned in and the stakes don’t feel raised in the slightest.  Which is yet another problem.  Cable’s backstory is only briefly touched upon so we don’t really understand what it is that’s at stake.  We know his wife and child were killed, but we don’t really know why.  We know Cable is a soldier from the future but we don’t know any more than that.  A soldier in what army?  Why does he have a time travel device?  How does that even work?  Is he the only one that has one and if so, why?  Has he traveled in time before?  If so, when?  Why?  And again, who the fuck is Russell fucking Collins in the future?  We don’t really know.  It’s frustrating.  On a character level, it’s frustrating, but on a larger scale its representative of Deadpool 2’s (and the first film to a certain extent) biggest problem.  That problem is thin, clunky plotting.  What’s the point of satirizing comic book movies if you don’t have a solid movie to satirize with? At one point, Deadpool quips about lazy writing, but that joke ultimately doesn’t work because it’s all lazy writing.  If just that scene had a been a loosie-goosie hack-written moment within a razor-sharp script, it would have carried far more weight.  But as it stands Deadpool 2’s lazy and simplistic plot isn’t capable of sustaining the subversion of comicbook movie standards they’re going for.  His jokes are funny, but they’re surface level.  Ultimately, they end up being slapstick instead of satire.  The filmmakers have substituted gags for wit.  And it’s a pitiable near-miss.  Imagine if they took all the Deadpool sensibilities and applied it to the tightly-plotted 70’s style political thriller we got in Captain America: The Winter Soldier?  That’s a Deadpool movie I’m dying to see.

Deadpool is funny.  Don’t get me wrong, I laughed a lot.  And the action, for the most part is top-notch. I just wish they spent a little more time orchestrating a storyline worthy of lampooning, if that makes any sense.

I’d like to make one last observation, a missed opportunity, if you will.  Wade Wilson’s girlfriend, again is relegated to a mere damsel in distress in this one, much as she was in Deadpool 1.  Only in part 2, they kill her off in the opening scene.  At least in part 1 we understand why Wade falls in love with her.  She’s developed as a character rather than as a lazy catalyst for an even lazier story.  What I would have loved to have seen was a subverted approach to a damsel in distress.  Why shouldn’t Vanessa be able to handle herself in a fight?  She’s not a superhero, but she’s dating one.  Wouldn’t it stand to reason that Wade would have taught his girlfriend to defend herself?  She’s had a hard life, we know that, and she’s come out of relatively unscathed.  She’s a person with life experience, courage in the face of adversity.  I would have loved to have seen her kick a little ass in that opening seen.  Let’s see Vanessa fight for what she loves.  Let the expected damsel in distress turn out to be the hero, if only in one scene.  Then kill her off.  At least then, it defies some expectation, even if just a little bit.

I enjoyed Deadpool 2.  I just wish it was as smart as it thinks it is.

– cohan

p.s. I didn’t touch upon Domino, the one surviving member of Deadpool’s team he assembles to take down Cable early in the film.  Her superpower is that she’s lucky.  Deadpool himself says it doesn’t sound like a superpower and that it’s not very cinematic, but the filmmakers have a lot of fun with her.  I look forward to more Domino in the upcoming X-Force movie, which I think has been pretty plainly setup by Deadpool 2.

p.p.s.  Peter W., I don’t have superpowers I just thought the ad sounded fun, is an extended gag that really works.  Part of me hopes we see Peter in X-Force, part of me hopes he stays perfectly executed as he was in Deadpool 2, never to be seen again.  Until Deadpool 5 or 6.

p.p.p.s  Last thought… I’m already tired of the X-Men tie-ins to Deadpool.  They had a very clever group cameo in Deadpool 2 and I hope they leave it at that.  Let X-Men be X-Men, let Deadpool be Deadpool.  They don’t have to constantly intersect and hopefully an X-Force movie is a step in that direction.

p.p.p.p.s.  Okay, last post-script.  The mid-credits scene at the end of Deadpool 2 is fucking great.  If you’ve read this far, then you know what I mean.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet and have read this far, what the hell is wrong with you?

 

 

 

A Quiet Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey guys,

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, how could a man of such juvenile sensibilities refrain from headlining this review, Silent But Deadly.  Well guys, let me tell you, it was a struggle.  But alas, maybe leading with a fart joke is (finally) a thing of the past.

A Quiet Place is not the directorial debut of John (Is That The Guy From The Office) Krasinksi, but it is his directorial debut of a film anybody has seen.  Krasinski also stars alongside real life wife, Emily Blunt.  A Quiet Place is an excellent little horror film focused entirely on a family living in silence on a farm in upstate New York.  The basic premise is that humanity has been all but wiped out by sightless monsters who hunt based on sound.  The Abbott family has survived in large part because one of their children is deaf and they all speak sign language.

The film opens with one of the most effective horror movie hooks I’ve seen in a very long time.  It reminded me of a quieter (ha ha), smaller version of the Final Destination film openers.  After that opening scene, we jump ahead one year as we’re introduced to the nuts and bolts of how this family has survived.  Sand paths, clever lighting, surveillance, lines of defense, basic daily protocols, all the details that really sell a small scope story like this whose effectiveness relies almost entirely on the audience accepting the basic premise.

At this point I’d like to point out that eating popcorn while watching this movie is like standing on stage in your underwear.  It seems like all the attention is on you. So you chew long and slow, as quiet as you possibly can.  It’s pretty futile.  Thankfully, I got half the bowl down before the movie even started.

Anyway…

I would be remiss if I did not point out that there are some things about the middle of the film that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  The A-number 1 thing being, where are they getting power from?  It’s a big one.  They can’t use generators, which are loud as hell and would quickly serve as a dinner bell.  They make no mention of solar panels or wind turbines.  It’s a serious detail that requires addressing, but yet is ignored.

Otherwise, the 2nd act may prove a little slow for some, but it’s filled with nice character work by all the actors, including the young actress who plays their deaf daughter who is also deaf in real life.  Her story is fairly central to the film.  She feels responsible for a tragic turn of events early on and thinks her father doesn’t love her anymore as a result.  It’s handled subtly, believably and with confidence, a testament to her performance and Krasinski’s directorial skills.  There’s another parallel familial storyline going on concurrently that I am hesitant to specify.  It definitely brings this review into spoiler territory and I’d rather not ruin anything for you.  I’m going to skip over it… you’ll either buy it or you won’t.  I bought it, but wanted it to be fleshed out a bit more.  That’s all I’ll say.

As the second act winds down, the third act kicks off with a character accidentally injuring themselves in a way we can all relate to, which would serve as more of a nuisance than anything in the real world.  And from then on, A Quiet Place is a quiet freight train, moving forward with thrilling intensity.  There are some effective jump scares, but it’s the slow burn tension and restrained filmmaking techniques in the 3rd act that elevates the film beyond b-movie shlock.  It’s as exciting a game of cat and mouse as I’ve seen in recent memory, whose climax is as terrifying as it is moving.

There are several hints to a larger cinematic world within the running time of the film.  The most interesting of which is the innuendo that the Abbott family members are not the only survivors in the area.  Seems like fodder for a sequel to me.  A sequel I’d happily pay to see.  Quiet, confident and cerebral horror movies seem to be on the rise again after many years of found footage, torture porn and jump scares.  It’s a welcome re-evolution of the genre.

– cohan

p.s. If you have a movie theater in your area known for loud, chatty audiences, don’t see A Quiet Place there.  Inconsiderate theater douches are a tough obstacle to enjoying any movie, but for this one, they’re deadly.  Deadly Douches.  Sounds like a movie I’d also pay to see.  Actually, it sounds like a movie I’d make.  Ha, there’s hope for me yet.

My Star Wars Saga

Hey guys,

So here it is, as promised, my first non-movie review posting.  I can’t exactly say it isn’t movie-related given the title of the post.  But it is more movie licensing related.  Allow me to explain…

Last Christmas, my family gave me a Death Star popcorn popper for Christmas.   It was awesome as hell, but it didn’t work very well.  So, naturally I got in touch with the manufacturer.  I wrote them this:

—————————-

Hello Uncanny Brands,

I recently received a Death Star Popcorn Maker as a Christmas gift.  I’m a Star Wars nut so I welcome all gifts from a galaxy far far away.  As long as they work.  And I’m sad to say this popcorn maker does not work correctly.  At all.  It spits out tons of unpopped kernels.  Little bastards fly all over the kitchen counter… some of them pop after they’ve been expelled and if those late popping kernels land in the bowl first, the pop shoots popcorn all over, not only the counter, but the floor too.  It’s makes a huge mess and leaves roughly 20% of the kernels unpopped.  I want to love this product, but frankly, it kinda sucks.  Too bad.  I guess I’ll go back to popping popcorn in oil on the stove top.

 But what I’d really like to know is if I can somehow get a refund for this turkey.  It’s in perfect condition having only been used once.  As I mentioned, I received it as a gift so I do not have a receipt and I do not know where it was purchased.  Which is why i’m contacting you.

 Any info you can provide would be appreciated.

Thank you.

Cohan (Star Wars super-fan, popcorn enthusiast, sad Death Star Popcorn Maker owner)

—————————-
I didn’t really expect a response, but 24 hours later, I received this reply:
—————————-

Cohen- [sic]

Thanks for your email. And thanks for supporting our product. You review is greatly appreciated.

In general, most air-pop popcorn makers leave un-popped kernels. Its the one drawback of an air-pop machine versus a kettle machine that pops with oil. Your opinion is noted; however, Im surprised. This popcorn maker was our #1 selling SKU in 2017…with an extremely low return & defective rate.
Since you did not purchase the product directly from us I cant issue you a refund. What I would like to do — since you are a Star Wars nut — is send you some additional product in exchange for your honest review. Is that fair?
Please send me your address and I can send you some goodies.
Thanks Cohen [sic]
Uuncanny Brands [sic]
—————————-
My response to this email was, of course, something along the lines of, “HELL. YES.”  And then a couple months went by and I forgot all about the exchange, until one day I came home from work to find a very large box left outside my front door.  A package whose arrival was not something I was expecting.  I had no idea what it was.  When I brought it in and opened it up, I discovered this:

IMG-0828

Uncanny Brands had totally come through.  They had sent me Light Saber Salt & Pepper mills, a R2D2 toaster, a Stormtrooper toaster, a Stormtrooper waffle iron, and a Lightsaber Immersion Blender.  Holy shit.  I was shocked.  Of course, since they followed through and sent me all this schwag, I felt a certain responsibility to hold up my end of the deal.  So I did.  I used all the items and wrote reviews for each one.  See my follow up posts for reviews of each product.
c

My Star Wars Saga: Lightsaber Salt & Pepper Mills Review

Hi [REDACTED],

I wanted to let you know I had a chance to try out a couple of the Star Wars items you sent me.  Luckily, it addition to being a full-fledged booger-eating Star Wars nerd, I like to cook.  I like to think one offsets the other, which is why, I’m sure, I’m still married.  So, I’m going to start with the best thing I’ve tried so far…

Lightsaber Salt & Pepper Grinders

I love these two little gadgets.  I’m using the hell out of these.  I love that they’re electric, which is something I never realized I wanted until I tried these.  Like I said, I cook a lot, which means seasoning often at every stage.  Twisting the manual grinders became such an annoyance to me that I started buying the pre-ground sea salt and black pepper and keeping them in little cellars next to my stove.  The only drawback to that really is that you sacrifice a fuller flavor by using pre-ground.  Salt and pepper (especially pepper) are a lot like coffee in that regard.

Side note:  When in the hell are you guys gonna make a Darth Vader coffee maker?  Seems like a no-brainer to me.

[NOTE: WHEN I WROTE THIS REVIEW I HAD NO IDEA THEY ALREADY HAD A DARTH VADER STOVETOP KETTLE]

Back to the grinders.  They have a nice solid heft to them.  I don’t feel like they’re gonna break every time I use them.  I like the caps on the ends so you don’t spill salt and pepper all over when not in use, I like the size and the way they look on the countertop (like I said, big time nerd).  The buttons on top are great, easy to press with either your thumb or finger.  It grinds nice and fast, although I wouldn’t mind if the salt were a little slower, but I think it’s because I couldn’t find the right kind of true rock salt and had to settle for coarse sea salt, which might already be a little too small for the grinder.   Oh, and I almost forgot my favorite part… I must have used these guys 4 or 5 times before I realized there are lights on the end.  THAT. RULES.  Especially with salt, it can be difficult to see how much you’re really applying.  It’s the one way cellars win out over grinders, control.  But having those lights, hot damn, it’s so much easier to see how much seasoning your dumping into your dish.  So a great idea that had never occurred to me.

Now, after all that gushing, I have 3 minor complaints and/or suggestions:

1. Man oh man would i love to ditch the AA batteries in favor of a charger of some kind.  Like a cell phone cable, or even some sort of dock.  I’ve seen those electric corkscrews that rest on an always plugged in dock on your countertop and I dig.  Something like that would really be a bonus.  Then if you want to get crazy, you have a model with one or two USB ports so you can charge your phone while you’re cooking dinner.  Maybe have a version where the dock is also a bluetooth speaker.  The possibilities are endless.

2. When you have the grinder taken apart to change the batteries or add more salt and pepper, the battery compartment just sort of rests on the salt/pepper reservoir in an awkward, unbalanced way.  Until you put the main piece back on and give it a twist to lock, it seems really unstable.  This is a minor quibble, by the way.

3.  For the size of these grinders, the compartments for the pre-ground salt and pepper seem awfully small.  If you guys could lose the batteries in favor of a charging system there’d be more space for a larger quantity of salt and pepper.  I know I go through a lot of both and the less times I have to refill, the better.

Like I said, so far this is my favorite item you’ve sent me.  That being said, I’ve only tried these, the storm trooper waffle iron and the storm trooper toaster.  Those reviews will be coming in separate emails.  I’ll be trying out the R2D2 toaster and lightsaber immersion blender soon.

One more suggestion:  a Sarlacc Pit meat grinder.

– Cohan

p.s.  okay, last suggestion:  Admiral Ackbar’s “It’s a mouse trap!”

My Star Wars Saga: Stormtrooper Waffle Iron Review

Hi [REDACTED],

I had a chance to use the Stormtrooper Waffle Maker and I’m happy to report it works pretty well.  Not great, which I’ll get into, but it certainly made competent waffles that absolutely look like a stormtrooper head.

I’m going to hit this one as a stream-of-consciousness list of thoughts as they occur to me in the moment, starting with:

1. I like the relatively small footprint of the unit, but also it only makes one waffle at a time, which is totally normal of course, but I would love a dual side by side version that makes two simultaneously.  Say an imperial stormtrooper head (current) next to a First Order Stormtrooper.  Anyway, the good thing about this waffle iron is that the waffles themselves are pretty good size.  I made one for me and one for my wife, and along with some sliced apple and hard-boiled egg, made for a good-sized breakfast.  If you’re making waffles for the whole family, you better get up pretty early… or maybe start the night before… because you are in it for the long haul.

2. Which brings me to the length of time it takes to make a waffle.  Instructions say 3-4 minutes.  Nah, double it.  If you use a whole cup of batter, rather than 3/4, definitely double that.  Even then, the inside was a little less than fully cooked.  But I let one sit in there for like 12 minutes and it was nicely browned and cooked through.

3. Oh, also I had the temperature setting turned up to MAX the whole time.  That dial is kinda useless.  I can’t imagine having it set lower at all, ever.  Unless you’re making little thin 1/4 cup waffle-ettes, little baby stormtrooper heads… stormtoddlers.

4.  Speaking of controls, the indicator light that goes off when the iron is hot works great.  That same green light is supposed to go off when the waffle is done.  Nope.  Not even close.  Like I said, double it.  I ignored that light while making waffles.

5.  Are they really waffles?  Seems to me really they’re stormtrooper head pancakes.  I don’t know, what’s the difference really?  Are the square divots we think of as unique to waffles the only thing separating them from pancakes?  I have no idea, it seems akin to the difference between a violin and a fiddle (it’s the same instrument – the difference is in how they’re played).  This is a deeply profound philosophical discussion best conducted over several glasses of fine whiskey and really has no impact on my review of your waffle iron.  On that note, let us continue.

6.  No batter stuck to the iron, top or bottom.  This, to me, is the number one positive aspect of the waffle maker.  I sprayed some Pam on beforehand, as the instructions suggested and sure enough, those would-be waffles popped right out with a silicone spatula.  Excellent.

7.  Cleaning it was pretty much a breeze.  I wiped it down with a slightly damp paper towel.  There was some hard to get oil pools around the ridges of the stormtrooper’s head and inside some nooks and crannies, but I would imagine these occurrences would be far worse in an traditional waffle iron with all those little squares. I used a q-tip to get those little daps of oil.  Is that OCD?

8.  The lid hinge seemed a bit loose to me.  Which would make sense actually if it were designed to include a bit bulkier items like:

9.  Wouldn’t it be great if this thing doubled as a panini style press?  just add a lock to the lid so you can ‘close and clamp it’ (do I hear a Ronco “set and forget it” tag line being coined?) and you have yourself a sandwich press.  In fact, I’m definitely going to try this at some point.  I think it’ll work nicely.  After all:

10. the waffle maker looks just like a george foreman grill.  is this a good thing or a bad thing?  hell, I don’t know… depends on your personal predilections for, or against, mr. foreman.

Overall, I’m quite content with the stormtrooper waffle maker.  It makes waffles.  Makes them pretty well actually.  I even added some pomegranate seeds to the batter and it handled that a-okay.  this weekend I might even go wild with some fresh blueberries.  I think it’ll do just fine.  Even though it takes longer than suggested to make the waffles and the indicator light goes off way too early, I think this waffle maker is a fine addition to anyone’s array of kitchen gadgets.  I’m going to definitely hang on to this thing… I’ve never owned a waffle iron before.

– Cohan

p.s. I am a little surprised there isn’t a matching Darth Vader syrup dispenser.

p.p.s.  I just realized the reason the waffles take so long to cook in this thing is exactly because there are no square divots.  With those things on the top and bottom, the batter is spread over a larger surface, a hot surface cooking it.  Without it, you’ve got what are essentially pancakes, which always take longer to cook than waffles.  It’s the divots.  Is that right word, divots?  I don’t know.  Do you guys make a death star waffle maker?  i’ve seen them, but don’t know if that’s you.  Regardless, I bet with the sort of grid like nature of the design, it makes waffles faster.