SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME Saves The MCU

This review contains full spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home as well as Avengers Endgame.

We have to get a couple of things out of the way here. First: Tom Holland is the definitive Peter Parker; if the character gets retired from the movies in favor of Miles Morales after this particular run, that will be a good thing, as the idea of someone trying to compete with what Holland has accomplished in his five (!) outings at Peter is impossible to imagine. Second: Spider-Man: Far From Home is a miracle beginning to end, tasked with being the epilogue to Avengers: Endgame as well as a satisfying Spidey movie, and it pulls both off with absolute finesse.

I’ll be honest with you: Captain Marvel and Endgame had me kind of bummed about the MCU. CM was just not that good (is it okay to say that now?), and it became the first Marvel movie I didn’t see twice in theaters (yes, I saw Thor: The Dark World twice in theaters, like a crazy person). But it wasn’t the last! I still haven’t seen Endgame a second time, despite the rerelease. It’s not that Endgame is bad, it’s just that it’s not really a movie; maybe when I can watch Infinity War and Endgame back to back I’ll feel like I’m getting a full experience, but Endgame is mostly a series of callbacks in search of a narrative, and it’s full of Marvel superheroes behaving in ways I fundamentally dislike.

It seemed that perhaps, at 45, I had finally aged out of these spandex punch-ups. Maybe I had finally ascended to real adulthood, where my three jobs and my bills were more important than the minutiae of decades worth of comic book lore. Had I become a real adult?

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On Patreon: Recommendation: YEARS AND YEARS (TV Show)

Every week subscribers at the $5 and above level on my Patreon get a new recommendation. Sometimes it’s a movie, sometimes a book, sometimes a song, sometimes a self-help technique. Each week I not only recommend something, I write about it with some depth. This week I’m recommending the show Years and Years, now playing on HBO. This is a peek at the piece; to read the entire thing, which is much longer, become a $5 or above subscriber at Patreon!

Have you ever, in these past three years of the Trump administration, said to yourself “I wouldn’t believe this if it were in a movie/book/TV show!”? Russell T Davies has taken that up as a challenge with his limited series Years and Years, the scifi TV show so absolutely relevant and believable that it has given me a number of anxiety-related stomach aches in just three episodes.

The premise: we follow a British family over the course of 15 years, starting in 2019, as the world continues on its current path. Each episode fast-forwards through a year, replicating the breakneck sense of our current society hurtling out of control. And holy shit, does Davies think we’re going to dark places.

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1776 And The Imperfection Of America

How to celebrate the birthday of America when the nation has become its worst self in the past three years, when the southern border is a nightmare that looks to educated eyes like the precursor to the worst European atrocities of the 1930s and 40s, when there is a kleptocrat wannabe martinet in office rolling out tanks in front of the Lincoln Memorial, when the ongoing reality of a sexist white supremacist system has become impossible to ignore? How do we look at the Fourth of July and feel good about any of this?

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I Don’t Believe In YESTERDAY

When Jack Malik wakes up from head trauma to discover nobody else remembers The Beatles he runs to his record collection to double check whether the band ever existed. Flipping through vinyl albums, he starts yanking out records in the “B” section. One of the albums that falls to the floor is a David Bowie LP.

This moment solidifies the sheer, shitty laziness of Yesterday when it comes to its central conceit. The idea that hundreds of people got together to make a movie that centers on the question of “what if the Beatles never existed” and yet they allowed a Bowie record – out of all the artists they could have referenced here – to be in the movie shows how little they care.

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Resist The Algorithms

You don’t have free will. One of the grand questions of philosophy is being answered today in laboratories as we come to better understand genes and the workings of the brain, and it’s becoming very clear that we actually do not have free will.

Sure, we get to make choices, but they’re incredibly constrained. It’s like in a video game RPG, where you’re given an onscreen prompt that allows you to make three different choices – yes, the choice is yours but is this really free will? In real life those choices are dictated by things like genetics (my love of sweets is likely handed down to me over the generations), time and place of birth (all of your woke beliefs wouldn’t exist if you had been born in Alabama in 1835, for instance), your biochemistry (people with toxoplasmosis, a parasite related to cats, have higher risk-taking behaviors and die in car accidents more often), and your upbringing. Yes, you get to pick from three options, but the entire world of options is never, ever available to you. That’s before we even get to physical, legal and economic constraints.

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TOY STORY 4 Renounces God, Gives Woody Closure

This contains spoilers for Toy Story 4.

That Toy Story 4 is a mess, narratively, is undeniable. It’s probably the worst of the franchise from a storytelling point of view, and the finality of its ending feels like a kindness – let these characters rest, or rather live forever in parks and toys but never again in a movie.

And yet there’s something impossibly charming about the film, and even though the story is a Frankenstein-ed together disaster of disparate setpieces and unserviced characters, there’s a lot of wisdom and beauty to be found within the film. As a critic I see Toy Story 4 as a big old wreck, albeit an often delightful one, but as somebody looking for something deeper in my entertainment I see Toy Story 4 as a wellspring of great ideas about healing, boundaries, change and acceptance. 

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ROCKETMAN Finds Ecstatic Truth In Movie Musical Falseness

The music biopic is dead, a rotten bloating corpse that stinks up the joint. Yes, the Queen movie made towards a billion dollars, but we all know that success is no measure of quality. The very form itself is rancid, unsalvageable. We all know this, and yet Rocketman has the audacity to be released into theaters, giving us an exhilarating jukebox musical-style take on the genre, and in doing so presenting a beautiful, raw and honest portrayal of pain and healing… even if it is largely full of shit. 

This is the fascinating dichotomy at the heart of Rocketman, one that mirrors a myriad of dichotomies in subject Elton John’s life. The movie is factually inaccurate, and yet it is undeniably true. John himself was surrounded by people and love, and yet was alone and unloved. He was shy and reserved, and yet he took to the stage in increasingly silly outfits. He sang someone else’s lyrics and yet his songs were incredibly personal and honest. 

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Why We Must Ensure The DUNE Sequels Get Made

My Dune-mania is in high gear. Having read, and loved, the script for Denis Villeneueve’s upcoming adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal and defining work of science fiction (or at least one half of an adaptation; the movie coming out next year will only get so far as Paul Atreides coming to Sietch Tabor, becoming Fremen and falling in love with Chani), I dove back into the original books. Herbert’s Dune series, six novels in all, is unlike any other science fiction epic and is, to my thinking, almost unadaptable in a modern landscape. Which, I believe, is why they must be adapted.

Spoilers for Dune to follow, but minor ones – ie, stuff you’d assume happens in a story like this.

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Sober Up For DOCTOR SLEEP

Quick note up front: this site is currently being swarmed by trolls sent from anti-SJW/GamerGate type site, so all comments are being pre-moderated. Sorry for the temporary inconvenience.

Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix is a masterpiece. Wildly divergent from the book on which it’s based, Flanagan’s show is a brilliant examination of trauma, especially generational trauma, and how people react differently to it. Each of the adult Crain children represent a different method of coping – or in some cases, denial – with trauma. Plus, it’s really creepy and cool and fucked up. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s scary, a word I too rarely use when describing horror films.

So with that under his belt I give Mike Flanagan the benefit of the doubt… even when it comes to Doctor Sleep. In fact, Hill House might be the thing that makes me believe Flanagan is the actual best director for this film.
Trailer after the jump.

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Now On Patreon: Love Beyond Death: STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK

This blog (and my ability to pay rent) is supported by my Patreon, where subscribers get exclusive content. This is an excerpt of a much (much much) longer article that is available on the Patreon to subscribers at the $10 and above level. To read the whole thing, support Cinema Sangha at Patreon.com/cinemasangha.

Everybody knows that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the best in the franchise. And everybody loves the fun and silly vibe of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. But Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, released 35 years ago this week, is stuck in this terrible underappreciated place, the movie that paved the way for the concept “the odd numbered ones are bad,” and is almost totally dismissed. But it shouldn’t be! Search for Spock is great, if flawed, and it works remarkably well as a reaction to the darkness that defines Khan

One part heist film, one part men-on-a-mission movie, one part sweeping epic romance, Search for Spock is the most intimate Star Trek movie ever made. The scale of these films kept reducing; Star Trek: The Motion Picture includes a 2001-riffing journey through psychedelic imagery, while Khan brings the story down to a beef between two old enemies centered around a planet-destroying superweapon. But Search for Spock goes even smaller, because there are only personal stakes here. In TMP V’ger threatened Earth, while in Khanthe Genesis Device was a threat to all life in the galaxy. But by the time we get to Spock, we learn the Genesis Device doesn’t really work. Yes, it’s a powerful destructive force, but in the world of Trek it’s not clear how important that is or isn’t (couldn’t the Klingons destroy a planet from orbit anyway if they wanted to?). No, what’s at stake in Spock is Spock himself, and he doesn’t hold some key to stopping a threat or the answer to a riddle that must be solved; he is being saved simply because he is Spock, and he is loved.

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