Nearly a decade in the making and fourteen months in the releasing, the next chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is here at long last, two years after Spider-Man: Far From Home capped off Phase III in theaters. Fans had to content themselves with Marvel’s new above-average TV fare on Disney+ (or, I guess, some comics) until the world was ready for Black Widow…or at least a lot of the world. Calling them “most of the world” might be an overstatement considering the pandemic has not yet been called off in numerous countries and states. Alternatively, Disney+ subscribers who can’t wait for the home video release in October can cough up thirty bucks and slightly expand that virtual library of above-average TV fare.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover back in May, when ruminating on our family’s adoption process for new streaming services:
Our family prides itself on not being early adopters of new technology or services. We prefer to let upstart projects and products get up and running, figure out their processes, work out their bugs, set a price point that’s worth the venture, and build up a reputation, preferably a favorable one. Then we might give them the time of day. Maybe. Sometimes. Streaming services are subject to the same vetting procedure. The internet’s Baby Yoda obsession notwithstanding, we have yet to pull the trigger on Disney+…
All that changed Christmas evening. Everyone does the post-Christmas thing where they wait until all gift-giving is finished, then buy themselves a little something to compensate for any oversights or disappointments, right? Mine was springing for an upgrade to our existing Hulu With Five Tedious Commercials Repeated Ad Nauseum subscription. Now we can access the wonder and whimsy of Disney+. One day in the future I can at long last stop worrying about pervasive spoilers for The Mandalorian.
And what better way to test-drive our new channel than with the latest Pixar production? Soul was among the hundreds of major releases relegated to the once-ignominious fate of a direct-to-video release thanks to pandemic pandemonium. Technically it’s cheaper for viewers this way who have the wherewithal to let the fees sink into the morass of their monthly credit card charges, but on the downside, the wildly inventive score by the Oscar-winning duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross made me wish I could’ve seen this in a theater and immersed myself in the splendor of its music, apropos of the film’s own themes. Among other benefits, it might’ve better distracted me from a few things that bugged me as the film played on.
Of all the films to be released in theaters after March 2020, I’ve regretted missing none of them more than I’ve been regretting missing Bill & Ted Face the Music, the long-awaited reunion of Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves as good-natured rockin’ goofballs Bill S. Preston, Esq., and Ted “Theodore” Logan. The first two films were hilarious delights back in their day and, while I was prepared to live the rest of my life without a trilogy realized, years of negotiations with skeptical studios finally came together courtesy of original writers/creators Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, along with director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest). Thus did their dream come true in the worst possible year of this millennium.
From August onward I kept doggedly checking On Demand prices every weekend but was reluctant to pull the trigger on a $15-$20 home viewing experience. Fans of pay-per-view sports may be accustomed to that or far worse, but for that price, if I have to play it on my own inferior equipment, then I insist on physical custody. I was willing to go as high as maybe eight bucks, but they kept holding out on me. This past Tuesday The Powers That Be relented and BTFM finally materialized at Redbox. And for a most non-non-non-heinous price well under eight bucks.
Longtime MCC readers know the rule: every film I see in theaters gets its own entry. That rule hasn’t come up much lately because (previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover) our last theater experience was the first weekend of March. Entries about my home video consumption tend to be a no-fly zone for any kind of inbound traffic, but every so often I’ll ignore my blog stats and go for it anyway. Then again, that’s my approach to 90% of what I post here, so why hold my viewing habits to a tougher standard?
I do miss theaters. To a lesser degree I miss racking my brain for the occasional movie entry. I do go out on a limb for the occasional Netflix Original. And though I’ve only seen six previous Spike Lee films (that really should be higher), it seemed remiss to watch his new joint Da 5 Bloods and then do nothing else to engage with the experience.
I thought Harley Quinn was a pretty nifty addition to the wild world of Batman when she debuted on his animated series way back when I was in college. I was surprised DC Comics took as long as they did to bring her to the printed page. I lost interest in her shortly before she was anointed the Greatest DC Character of the Millennium and had a personal hype machine devoted to her. Some of our separation is my own fault; it’s a peculiar personal phenomenon that I tend to lose interest in an up-‘n’-coming character whenever they start feeling too popular.
I had several reservations about Suicide Squad, but Margot Robbie’s debut as a live-action Harley wasn’t among them. And yet, I wasn’t among the fans chanting “MORE! MORE! MORE! MORE! MORE!” when DC announced she’d return in Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. In my mind she’s in danger of becoming the kind of character that guest-stars in eight comics a month and overstays their welcome. We had a lot of those in the ’90s (Ghost Rider! Wolverine! Punisher! Lobo!) whose ubiquity turned me off. And yet, the Birds of Prey trailers managed to avoid any vibe resembling an Elektra or Catwoman-level failure.
My son and I showed up opening weekend, days before disappointed theater owners apparently banded together and decided it should be called Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey instead. I for one agree with this change, which more accurately reflects the film’s true contents of 90% Harley to 10% Birds. Too bad they couldn’t have made film retitling a standard practice back when Edge of Tomorrow failed to live down its empty soap-opera name.
One of MCC’s steadfast rules is that every film I see in theaters gets its own entry, for better or worse or in between. My wife Anne and I saw Roland Emmerich’s Midway on opening weekend because World War II history is among her greatest proficiencies. Theaters don’t screen as many WWII films as they used to back in ancient times, but when they do, we try to be there. For us they’re good excuses for am afternoon date, even when they’re not a good use of filmmaking funds or resources.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: six years ago Disney’s Frozen made a kajillion dollars, set off a new merchandising phenomenon, and inspired more than a few cosplayers at our favorite conventions. The cooled-down coterie is back for Frozen II, which was rightly deemed good enough for a theatrical release and not immediately consigned to Disney+ like that Lady and the Tramp do-over or the Teenage Kurt Russell Comedy Collection.
The trailer calls it Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood. Some online resources call it Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Others call it simply Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and rip out the ellipsis like the vestigial decoration it is. It’s not as though this site suffers from an ellipsis deficiency, so I’m leaving them out as Quentin Tarantino’s latest period piece has more than enough “period” to go around.
Courtesy warning: spoilers ahead for thoughts after 161 minutes of viewing. Not everything is revealed here, but a few tidbits cry out to be explored, particularly that controversial ending…
The inspired, rambunctious Spider-Man: Far from Home marks Tom Holland’s fifth film as everyone’s favorite put-upon wall-crawler, meaning he’s now done as many Spider-films as Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield combined. While every Spidey has had his high points in my estimation, Far from Home may be the best translation to date of the Spidey-era from my own childhood, roughly 1978-1989 plus Marvel Tales reprints of the first sixty issues of Amazing Spider-Man (the entire Steve Ditko oeuvre plus John Romita’s first two years). It’s a winning coda to the emotional pinnacles and pitfalls of Avengers: Endgame, an encouraging sign of heroism to come and a herald of hopefulness for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Fair warning: this entire film follows the events of Endgame and reverberates from its ramifications. If you’re waiting for Endgame to hit DVD and living in the off-grid wilderness has sheltered you from learning of its major MCU-changing moments, you may want to flee now if you want to maintain your cone of silence. (True story: I know at least one person in this very situation. It is possible. I realize it’s hard to imagine, but not everyone in America is as entrenched in online living as you and I may be.)
On another level, anyone with zero foreknowledge of the antagonist Mysterio and his motifs from old Spidey-comics will want to skip the regular “Meaning or EXPLOSIONS?” section because, frankly, it was kind of boring to ruminate on that aspect spoiler-free. I’m not revealing all his secrets or recapping his scenes shot-for-shot, but…well, there’s stuff that spoke to me.
The Toy Story trilogy remains an unparalleled cinematic achievement in animation with its track record of consistent excellence through every chapter. The original put Pixar on the map and legitimized three-dimensional computer animation as a feature film-making medium. The follow-up was loaded with at least as much humor and heart, and arguably topped the original for some viewers. The grand finale may have been a hairbreadth beneath its predecessors in quality, but it brought the series full circle, gave us fully satisfactory closure on the saga of Andy’s room, and remains the only animated sequel ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. All three remain shining jewels in Pixar’s crown, a fixture in millions of childhoods, and an object lesson for anyone who wants to teach kids what grade-A movies look like so that they can judge the hollow offerings of other Hollywood studios all the more harshly.
It’s therefore with a sigh that we now give a round of polite, lukewarm applause for the arrival of Toy Story 4, the Zeppo of the series. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, mind you.