207-Word Review of “Harriet”

Powerful drama, beautifully executed. And Cynthia Erivo is a true star. But…..What kind of genre movie would you call a film where a hero has powers and accomplishes a heaping of derring-do, is deeply connected to her villain, has a secret identity (that the villain finds out during the climax), has a secret-ish headquarters, has an ally/adviser, gains a young sidekick, has to deal with a loved one getting killed and has the hero make a big speech in front of the villain before not killing him? Exactly. Is this proper for a world-historic figure? Did Kasi Lemmings hedge her bets about a 21st century, post-modern audience, or is this origin story the proper tribute to an abolitionist who was by all accounts a true wonder woman? I have my own opinion about the appropriateness of this (let’s just say the irritated historian ate the geek along with the popcorn and Welsh’s Fruit Snacks), but I’ll let the reader/moviegoer decide this one. I hope other films on Tubman put her in the historical context she and other abolitionists deserve–her spy days, the full scene of her Civil War battle, her relationship with other abolitionists. If alladat feels like school in comparison, then so be it.

 

139-Word Review of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” [SPOILER-FREE]

“Spider-Man 2” from 2004 (the powerfully ballooned version of “Spider-Man,” vol. 1, no. 50, “Spider-Man No More”) is this writer’s gold standard of “Spider-Man” films. Although “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was extremely effective, it didn’t reach that mark. It got real close, though. Then came the first post-credit sequence. That mere two minutes blew theater-goers’ minds and blew “Home” into “Spider-Man 2” territory. It was so shocking that the film’s second post-credit sequence, a somewhat surprising one to a Marvel (Comics) Zombie and completely perplexing if one is just a Marvel movie fan, almost fell flat. Which is quite an accomplishment for Marvel, a studio that, before this film, was criticized for making movies with plots that don’t move characters forward, action without real stakes and filled with heroes who face no consequences. No more, indeed. Wow, wow, wow.

256-Word Review of “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” [SPOILERS]

How do you mess up the same story twice? How do you make arguably the best X-Men story ever into mediocre entertainment 13 years after the same producers/writers/directors did it the first time? Simple: throw the comicbook story away because, like Batman-movie-killer Joel T. Schumacher or, even better, Zack Snyder, who seemingly thought every DC movie was some sort of “Watchmen” prequel, you think your vision is more important. There’s a reason this film has been correctly savaged: after almost 20 years, critics and fans are tired of this version of the X-Men, and they are waiting for Kevin Feige to take over. Because when he does, Cyclops, Storm and Jean will stop being supporting characters to J-Law (why even bother calling her Mystique when she does nothing? To be honest, I almost cheered when Jean killed her; she should have died at least one movie ago), Michael Fassbender (Dude, change your mind about James Bond, and do one film!), and James McAvoy. The “Dark Phoenix” story is simple to adapt, as either of these X-Men animated series can show you: Jean goes out of control, and each individual X-Man(/Woman) has to search his or her conscience how to handle it. But that would require each X-Man to be a fully developed character we would actually care about. (Quiz: Who plays Storm? You don’t know, right? See??? 🙂 ) And so one of the classic 20th century superhero stories will never get its proper due.  So when does “Spider-Man: Far From Home” come out again?

71-Word Review of “Avengers: Endgame”

This epic is many things, among them a meditation of how powerful love, honor, duty and friendship can be, if among the right group of people. An extraordinary end–and make no mistake, it is an ending! Deserves its place among the greatest superhero films ever made, even if detractors will correctly point out that it’s the sequel to 21 films, one that mined all its predecessors to create a perfect-hits collection.