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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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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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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PTSDeep Space Nine (Ode to Aron Eisenberg)

Earlier this year I went to see a screening of What We Left Behind, a documentary about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The crowd was what you would expect – dorks, geeks, nerds, freaks. You know, Trekkies. I was at home. Waiting in the long line to get into the movie I heard a commotion up ahead, felt ripples of excitement echoing down the line.

It turned out that Aron Eisenberg, who played Nog on Deep Space Nine, was working the line. A little guy in a knit cap, Eisenberg bounded up and down the line of expectant Trekkies with a big smile on his face, laughing and joking with just about everybody. But what was most amazing was seeing Eisenberg recognize fans he had met at conventions, hearing him ask follow-up questions about things they had discussed at Star Trek Las Vegas or some other meet n’ greet. 

Eisenberg was in his element, truly vibing with the people, feeding on their excitement and love and reflecting it back tenfold. The people in that line felt included and appreciated in the way that fans hope to feel included and appreciated, the way they hope to be acknowledged and warmly welcomes by their favorite stars. It was really something else, and after the screening Eisenberg hung around (with some of his co-stars) and did a Q&A that went on so long that I bounced after an hour. His energy, at the time, seemed endless.

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Is JJ Abrams Coming to Rescue the DC Movieverse?

Today’s big news is that JJ Abrams and his Bad Robot will be leaving Paramount to set up shop at Warner Media in a very lucrative deal that will see JJ producing movies, TV and games for WB. It’s a big move, and it’s part of WB’s recent signings intended to try and safeguard some talent from being tied up at Disney forever and ever.

The word is that Warner Bros wants JJ to create original, new franchises, and that’s admirable, but I’m not sure he’s the guy. Let’s put it this way: he’s never done that. He’s created/produced some successful TV series, and I think he’ll probably do more of that with Warner, but he’s not launched a new movie franchise yet.

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The Radical Optimism Of Richard Linklater’s MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

James Stockdale was shot down over North Vietnam in 1965. He spent seven and a half years in the hellish Hỏa Lò Prison (aka the Hanoi Hilton), where he was tortured and abused. Stockdale made it out – you might remember him from the 1992 Vice Presidential debates, where he infamously began with “Who am I? Why am I here?,” reinforcing his image as a doddering, confused old man – but many other men didn’t. Years later, when asked what kind of man didn’t survive the Hanoi Hilton, Stockdale said:

Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.

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