Now That Tony Stark Is Dead, Maybe the MCU Can Get Progressive

Maybe Tony Stark died at the exact right moment. Maybe the spring of 2019 was the last time it was safe out there for a billionaire, and if he had survived into the current Democratic primary, which has made billionaires as much a target as President Trump, he would have come to understand Harvey Dent’s famous quote in The Dark Knight.

It’s almost hard to remember a time when Iron Man was a C-list superhero, but he was. He was essentially a runner-up, a superhero whose best known storyline was the one where he was too much of a drunk to keep being a superhero. But the vagaries of Hollywood are what they are, and Marvel Studios ended up with only the rights to their B and C-list heroes, and so they made an Iron Man movie. The rest, as they say, is history.

But it’s a weird history, one warped by the fact that Tony Stark is the founding member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That doesn’t reflect his status in the comics (or at least it didn’t, until recently) and it has led to a strange and unforeseen – and, I think, largely unacknowledged – imbalance in the MCU. One that, now that Tony is dead, can finally be corrected.

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THE MANDALORIAN Review

Never forget that George Lucas was ripping off a lot of stuff when he made Star Wars. This is vital, and it’s a part of Star Wars’ DNA. It is also, I believe, why the first episode of The Mandalorian works so damn well. 

See, modern Star Wars seems to be interested in aping old Star Wars as opposed to taking a page from the Lucas playbook and ripping off other movies. Star Wars, to borrow a phrase, is a place, and that means you can take other films and genres and easily drop them into a Star Wars milieu, which is exactly what The Mandalorian does. In this case it’s a Spaghetti/revisionist era Western plopped right into a world of blasters and Gonk droids, and it’s the chemical reaction between Star Wars and the genre that creates the beautiful fizz that makes the episode so damned enjoyable. 

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TERMINATOR: DARK FATE Is A Dreadful Deathblow To The Franchise

This review contains spoilers for the opening scene of the movie, which some people might prefer to experience fresh.

This movie made me feel old. Not because the leads of The Terminator have aged into their golden years; this is right and natural and makes me feel good. No, I watched Terminator: Dark Fate and felt old because I’ve been through this ridiculousness again and again and again and again – it’s yet another movie that is trying to cash in on the success and popularity of the first two Terminator films and yet doesn’t seem to have a functional idea of what made those movies work. The movie makes me feel old the same way watching yet another generation think they’re the ones who are going to make polyamory work makes me feel old – I’ve been around, I’ve seen this, I know it doesn’t end well.

Like the three previous failed attempts at restarting the Terminator franchise, Terminator: Dark Fate has no idea what made The Terminator and T2: Judgment Day work. None at all. Like the previous three attempts – yes, there are twice as many efforts to restart this franchise as there are actually good entries in the franchise – this movie thinks that what we like are the robots, or maybe the time travel, and it definitely thinks what we like are big, metal-crashing set pieces. What it doesn’t understand is that The Terminator and T2 work not because of the scifi trappings or the action beats but because of everything in between them – the characters and the emotional story. This is why those two films are eternal, and why you’re possibly trying to remember what the previous three Terminator movies even were, or whether you saw them. 

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Why JOKER May Be The Defining Movie Of 2019

This contains spoilers for Joker.

They told us there would be death. It started with the first trailer, with people saying they weren’t interested in a movie that explained away a white man’s violence by showing him as a victim, and it continued with critics and journalists saying the film would be a beacon to violent incels, that it would spark shootings, that theaters would be dangerous places. The feedback loop of modern internet society was such that the fears of violence mashed up with knee-jerk trolling to create a liminal space where it was so unclear what was real and what was a joke that the FBI and US military issued advisories.

But nobody died. There have been some fights, but I’ll tell you as someone who has worked in movie theaters/movie theater adjacent jobs that this is not out of the ordinary. It’s just the movie itself that makes these fisticuffs newsworthy; I’ve seen people get into it at animated films. 

Instead of people dying, Joker has been a huge success. It’s the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time and it is approaching $1 billion in worldwide box office. It made more in its opening weekend than Justice League, a PG-13 straight down the middle movie, did in its opening weekend. It’s not just a hit, it’s a phenomenon, drawing people to a staircase in the Bronx down which Joker triumphantly dances in the film. 

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Berlanti Triumphant

Today Greg Berlanti’s DC journey has come full circle. The big announcement about HBOMax, Warner Bros’ entry into the overcrowded world of streaming services, included news about another Berlanti DC Comics show – he will be creating a Green Lantern series. That particular property is significant because it’s the one where Berlanti entered the DC Extended Universe… and it was a major failure.

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Kylo Ren vs Cancel Culture

Ben Solo is going to get redeemed. You can count on it, at least if JJ Abrams understands even the smallest thing about the moral universe that George Lucas created in the first six Star Wars films. Redemption is as baked into the DNA of Star Wars as lightsabers and space battles, and to swerve away from that in the supposed final chapter of the Skywalker saga would be far more shocking than killing off all the characters at the end of Rogue One. Whether that redemption involves a love scene with Rey remains to be seen (don’t count on it), but by the end of the film Kylo Ren will have returned to being Ben Solo, and he will have found redemption. 

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The Anti-Cinema Of GEMINI MAN’s High Frame Rate

Cinema is not immersive. Cinema is voyeuristic, not participatory, and that’s part of what defines it. We are looking in through a window at a story, but we are not in the story, we’re not in the room, we don’t feel the heat of the explosion. We can imagine these things – great filmmakers will invoke sensations in us, will make us imagine smells or textures – but we don’t experience them. 

Cinema happens at a remove, and that remove is what allows us to be even more immersed in the storytelling than if it was actually immersive. The gap between what we experience and what we imagine is where magic happens, it’s what makes the moviegoing experience so special. It’s the same kind of magic you get reading a book; there are small places where your mind gets to create connections and those are the alchemical spots, the places where the lead of 24 still images a second is transformed into the gold of a truly moving, life-changing artistic experience.

It’s more real than reality.

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What THE EXORCIST Taught Me About The Trump Administration

I don’t believe in Hell anymore.

Supposedly I didn’t believe in it for decades; I’ve been an atheist and an agnostic since I was a teenager, so you’d think there would be no room for Hell in that worldview. But when you’re raised Catholic – even as lightly Catholic as I was – Hell and Satan are overwhelming concepts that become the cornerstones of your cosmology. It wasn’t that I intellectually believed in Hell but rather that I had an emotional fear about what might happen after I die. 

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Why I’ve Come to Hate HAROLD AND MAUDE’s Harold

Did you know I have a Patreon that helps support me and my writing? Patrons at the $10 and above levels get exclusive writing. This week they got this look at Hal Ashby’s classic Harold and Maude,which I’ve excerpted below. If you want to read the whole thing, become a patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha!

Maude dies badly, and I hate Harold for it.

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Tammy, the T-Rex, and the Question of What Is a Bad Movie

You probably never saw Tammy and the T-Rex. The 1994 film stars an infant Denise Richards and a fetal Paul Walker as high school star-crossed sweethearts; he loves her, she loves him, but her psychotic ex-boyfriend refuses to let anyone get close to her. The ex beats up Paul Walker and dumps him in a wild animal park, where he gets mauled by a lion. While recovering in the hospital, Walker catches the eye of a mad scientist who has a scheme to achieve immortality by putting human brains in robots. His test case, of course: a giant animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex. Poor Paul Walker gets his brain cut out and put into the T-Rex and from there things get even weirder.

If you did see Tammy and the T-Rex you likely saw the PG-13 version, but director Stewart Rafill (of the classic The Ice Pirates) actually shot a hard R movie, which was unseen by American audiences until recently. It has been playing fests and midnight screenings, and it played in Los Angeles at Beyond Fest last night. Having heard much buzz about this super gory version of what was released as a twee PG-13 teen comedy, I had to go check it out. 

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