“Downton Abbey: A New Era”: Travels, Talkies, and Other Traumas

Downton Abbey A New Era!

One of our local theaters showed this in Dolby Cinema with perfect picture and volume-17 sound. Oh, how the Dowager Countess would judge them.

They’re back! Lord and Lady Grantham! The Dowager Countess! Lady Mary! Edith! Cousin Isobel! Tom Branson! Mr. and Mrs. Carson! Mr. and Mrs. Bates! Thomas! Mrs. Patmore! Daisy! Andy! Mr. Molesley! Miss Baxter! Mrs. Denker! Bertie! Lord Merton! Lucy! Sybbie! George! Marigold! Lady Rosamund! Mr. Mason! Dr. Clarkson! Mr. Murray! Dolores Umbridge! The ol’ gang’s back together again for Downton Abbey: A New Era, the latest chapter in Julian Fellowes’ beloved historical drama about waning British affluence, surviving well past the six-seasons-and-a-movie threshold for true pop culture immortality.

That’s 29 characters whose original actors returned for this shindig. And yes, I double-checked: three of their tiny offspring have indeed been played by the same moppets since season 5. Triple bonus points if you recognize all 29 without cheating — as I did to peg Lady Violet’s lawyer — but then you’re docked half those points if we catch you complaining that the MCU has gotten just too darn huge to keep track of.

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Yes, There Are Scenes During and After the “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” End Credits

Dr, Strange 2 IMAX Poster!

We don’t always pay extra for Marvel movie upgrades, but this time…eh, why not.

A coworker of mine was invited to see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on opening weekend despite the fact that she’d never watched a single Marvel product in her life. While I chuckled for a few minutes and mentally judged the invitee for his selfish chutzpah, another coworker generally on the same pop-culture page as me graciously tried to recap both the first Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: No Way Home in hopes that it might give her the slightest help before being dragged into the 28th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s kind to show someone how to dog-paddle at least a little before they’re shoved into the deep end of the pool by some dude eagerly looking forward to giving her swimming lessons while she’s drowning. Oh, the gleeful countdown he probably kept in his head for days until that heroic moment when he could point at Benedict Cumberbatch onscreen and proudly, loudly whisper to her, “That’s Doctor Strange!”

Meanwhile, I’m unhelpfully daydreaming how this exchange might’ve been twice as entertaining, but only half as helpful, if at all helpful, if coworker #2 had delivered the recap in the style of Ant-Man’s pal Luis. I am arguably an enabler of the problem here.

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“The Northman” Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Monster

Alexander Skarsgard IS The Northman!

“My name is Amleth War-Raven. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

It’s just the Dolby Cinema sensory overload talking (ten days later, even), but my favorite thing about The Northman is it may be the closest I ever get to Skyrim: The Motion Picture. Granted, in his painstaking simulation of a savage tenth-century Scandinavia, co-writer/director Robert Eggers has omitted dragons, magic, nonhuman races, skill leveling, heavy armor, and evil demon gods. Such is the movie biz, where compromise is inevitable and was definitely not a Viking invention.

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The Bearable Lightness of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”

Unbearable Weight!

…and yet, not a single shout-out to 8MM.

Not counting animated gigs (ranked by quality and in reverse release order: Spider-Verse, The Croods, Astro Boy) the last time I paid to see Nicolas Cage’s distorted face live on a theater screen was 2009’s Knowing, which I’d forgotten existed till just now. I suspect I’m not alone in having given up on Cage’s career after he descended from the ranks of Oscar-winning A-listers to join the Redbox human-running-gag lineup as the easiest possible means to solve his gargantuan tax and debt issues. Once upon a time it would’ve been the second-easiest means, right after “do an A-list film for an A-list paycheck”.

Now that he’s officially announced himself debt-free, the next obvious step is a comeback tour. For me that journey began last year with Pig, such a lovely little heartbreaker of a film that I wish I’d seen it sooner so I could’ve ranked it highly in one of my year-in-review lists. That apparently wasn’t enough to win back the hearts of millions of forsakers, though. Perhaps its sincerity and low violence quotient frightened and confused younger Cage fans who simply assumed he too was battling elder abuse and aphasia. Hence the comeback tour’s Plan B: whimsical self-deprecation.

Thus the face of the dude who might be the new Hardest-Working Man in Showbiz returns to theaters in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent courtesy of writer/director Tom Gormican (a creator of the short-lived Adam Scott/Craig Robinson misfire Ghosted) and co-writer Kevin Etten (Comedy Central’s Workaholics). Rather than stand aloof while the internet mocks him with every new release, why not lean into the mockery and subvert it from within? Then perhaps we can all laugh together, do some healing, forgive at least twenty of his last three dozen films, and start a useless change.org petition to get National Treasure 3 greenlit.

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“Everything Everywhere All at Once”: Into the Yeoh-Verse

Everything Everywhere All at Once!

Trust me, it makes way more sense in context.

It’s 2022 and the multiverse is in!

Comics and science fiction fans are well acquainted with the essentially fictional theory that infinite Earths exist in infinite universes, one for each possibility at every crossroads in every human life ever. All across the space-time continuum(s) there’s hypothetically one version of you for every major decision that you personally have ever had to make. Sometimes you chose well; sometimes you chose poorly and ruined everything. Either way, whatever choices you didn’t make, there’s a you for those. Of course that isn’t counting the timelines where you didn’t even exist because your parents or your ancestors chose poorly, or someone killed them too soon, or Earth was prematurely destroyed, or our planet survived but the dominant lifeform was amoebae, dinosaurs, or orcs.

Alt-timeline hi-jinks are plentiful in pop culture, in which characters bounce back and forth between their Earth and one (1) radically different Earth, compare and contrast What Might Have Been with What Is, and learn what George Bailey should’ve taught them when they were kids. But now, thanks to the success and awesomeness of Into the Spider-Verse, two measly Earths in a single story is no longer enough. Next month’s Doctor Strange sequel threatens to capitalize on its ingenuity, expand on the foundation laid in Avengers: Endgame and TV’s Loki, and overwhelm viewers with potentially more universes than Spider-Verse had, each with its own Benedict Cumberbatch, all of whom have to split a single paycheck. DC Comics, the very first publisher to give us Earth-vs.-Earth conflict in funnybook history, remains hard at work on riding Marvel’s multiversal coattails with their long-gestating Flash movie, which, given its current production pace and behind-the-scenes embarrassments, may give Marvel some stiff competition when it’s ready for release in the year 2525.

But why should superheroes have all the fun? If we take the multiverse as a given, then it stands to reason that there are in fact realities where multiversal mayhem occurs but isn’t centered on costumed do-gooders because they don’t exist. Enter writer-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man), who took a small cast, a modest budget (about the same as a single Loki episode) and who knows how many substances, and together concocted the madcap psycho-farcical Everything Everywhere All at Once.

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Yes, There Are Scenes During the “Morbius” End Credits

Morbius!

The Matrix Resurrections skewered the whole “bullet-time” fad, yet here we go again.

I thought Morbius the Living Vampire was scary when I was 6 or 7 and he showed up in a 1977 comic I picked up at the toy store. In a time when the Comics Code Authority was still touchy about allowing comics to show the undead because they might turn young readers into rampaging juvenile delinquents, Morbius exploited a loophole with an origin that revealed him as not an actual vampire, but as a scientist who conducted questionable experiments to cure his own rare blood disease, which went awry and turned him into a science vampire, with many vampiric powers and few-if-any vampiric weaknesses. He was a forerunner of the irritating horror sub-subgenre Vampires Who Ignore Vampire Rules and Who Therefore Aren’t Vampires by Definition So Maybe the Writer Should’ve Made Up Their Own Monster Instead of Misusing the Word “Vampire”.

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96 Tears and One Punch: The Oscars 2022 Season Finale

Oscars 2022!

Purple, the color of bruises.

If you count the one-hour unaired portion of the 94th Academy Awards that began at 7 p.m. EDT, this year’s return to the Dolby Theatre technically came in at a staggering 272 minutes when the usual legal disclaimers rolled at 11:42 p.m., beating the year A Beautiful Mind won by nine minutes. We already knew going into this evening that it couldn’t possibly beat the Shortest Oscars Ever record of 100 minutes, achieved in 1959 when an angry Jerry Lewis gave all the Oscars to The Geisha Boy, read his 90-minute doctoral thesis about muscular dystrophy, and called it a night. Just the same, these Oscars were a lot, even before the cruel insult and the on-stage assault.

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The Oscar Quest ’22 Grand Finale: All the Other Nominees I Could Catch

tick tick BOOM!

Vanessa Hudgens and Andrew Garfield in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tick, tick…BOOM! on Netflix. To those who swear Garfield’s best performance of 2021 was in No Way Home, I am BEGGING you to watch a second movie.

It’s that time again! Longtime MCC readers know this time of year is my annual Oscar Quest, during which I venture out to see all Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, regardless of whether I think I’ll like them or not, whether their politics and beliefs agree with mine or not, whether they’re good or bad for me, and whether or not my friends and family have ever heard of them. I’ve watched every Best Picture winner ever (some more closely than others) and as of this writing I’ve seen every Best Picture nominee released since 1987 (some in better-quality formats than others). Nobody I know cares, but it’s been my thing for years.

Thanks to pandemic restlessness and our current streaming media bonanza, starting last year I expanded the boundaries of Oscar Quest to see how many nominees I could watch in any category whatsoever, period. This is equally unimpressive to everyone I know, but now it’s like a game for me, and a far livelier one than solitaire.

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The MCC 2022 Oscar-Nominated Short Film Revue

Robin Robin!

“One of these things is not like the other” describes both the robin in this group hug and its status as the only family-friendly Animated Short Film nominee.

Each year since 2009 (except for 2021’s pandemic lockdown marathon) I’ve paid visits to Keystone Art Cinema, the oldest surviving art-film theater in Indianapolis, to view the big-screen releases of the Academy Award nominees for Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film. Results vary each time and aren’t always for all audiences, but I appreciate the opportunities to sample such works and see what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences deemed worthy of celebrating, whether I agree with their collective opinions or not. Since 2019 I’ve also assigned myself the extra-credit activity of catching as many nominees for Best Documentary Short Film as possible, depending on their availability online. The good folks at Shorts.TV, who package the theatrical releases each year, are supposed to be releasing them for home rental sometime soon, which will be a nice way to save yourself some gas money.

First up: my rankings of this year’s five Best Animated Short Film nominees, which were the most mixed of mixed bags that I’ve seen in years, not to mention the edgiest and incontrovertibly NSFW-iest. Four are available online; one was exclusive to the Shorts.tv program.

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“Parallel Mothers” and Fraught Intersections

Parallel Mothers!

When you’re up for Best International Feature but critics won’t shut up about Drive My Car.

Indulging in the Academy Awards season is easier than ever if you have the free time and all the accesses. The proliferation of streaming services has opened new doorways for any wannabe cineaste to create their own little film festival at home, with a panoply of options from across every category. However, some nominees still stubbornly observed the time-honored tradition of refusing a wide release until after their nominations were secured, and have therefore been exclusive to theaters this past month. Thankfully this year has been easier than ever for me to catch up to Real Critics — as of today Indianapolis has expanded from one tiny theater to four whole theaters willing to show films of all sizes, not just blockbusters, as we did ten years ago. It’s almost like we’re this close to becoming a real Big City.

One hope for my expanded Oscar Quest ’22 was fulfilled: fascinating new experiences I might not have otherwise prioritized. When the nominations were announced, our town’s new indie theater was still showing Parallel Mothers, the latest feature from the continually acclaimed Pedro Almodovar. I’ve read about many of his films for over half my life, but never actually watched one all the way through before. The first time I ran across him, I was a college-bound youngster who found Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! one night while channel-flipping, but didn’t stick around for the whole thing. I also faintly remember frequent commercials on the same channel for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which likely fit well into their niche programming. Till now, that’s been it for me. Read about these fleeting moments and more in my forthcoming memoir I Was an Unsupervised Teen with Cinemax.

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