I’ve been analyzing Infinity War. Not in depth, not in detail. Mostly, I’ve been looking at how it successfully manages this huge cast of characters, basically folding several ensembles together and having it all run smooth. (At least I thought it ran smooth.)

Here’s what I’ve got:

As you can see, this is bare bones and not too pretty. I’m not so much interested in plot details as I am in how the characters get from point A to point B, until every single one of them ends up in one of two places, Titan or Wakanda.

The answer is, the characters almost all move in clusters. Captain America never appears by himself, Iron Man never appears by himself. The characters who do move independently — Thor, Gamora, Bruce/Hulk, Thanos — are the glue that holds everything else together. They’re the linking components.

I’m setting the end of Act 1 as when Bruce calls Steve/Cap, and the end of Act 2 when Gamora dies and Thanos acquires the Soul Stone.  If you want to arrange it so that this movie is only two acts, and the third act is the whole of Endgame (I’ll know more about that after Thursday), then the end of Act 1 is Gamora’s death, and the end of Act 2 is the Snap.

The film has two major settings:  Space and Earth.

Act 1 Space:  All about scattering Thor and Hulk to their various next steps. Thor stays in space, Hulk gets to Earth.

Act 1 Earth:  All about getting Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Dr. Strange into the cluster that leaves Earth.

Act 2 Space: The Guardians of the Galaxy meet Thor. They split up:  Thor, Rocket and Groot head to Nidaveller, the rest to Knowhere. After Nidaveller, Team Thor heads to Earth. Team Quill splits again: Thanos takes Gamora, Team Quill heads to Titan. (Nebula is a wild card here and I kind of love her. She’s super important I think — Gamora basically hands over the Soul Stone to save her life. But she also isn’t part of any group — yet. She heads to Titan to join Quill & Co.)  Team Iron Man arrives at Titan.

Act 2 Earth: Begins with Vision and Wanda, which is appropriate since the whole climactic moment of the movie begins with them as well. They’re joined by Cap, Black Widow, and Falcon, who move as a unit through the entire film. Next up they’re joined by Bruce and Rhodey. As a group, they head to Wakanda, where the climactic confrontation takes place. There, they’re joined by Black Panther and the entire Wakanda contingent, and Bucky Barnes.  (They’re like this amoeba of Avengers, gathering up characters as they travel through the film until they’re one big giant team.)

Act 3:  So, at the start of Act 3, everybody has arrived (or is about to arrive) either at Titan or Wakanda.  Team Iron Man and Team Quill + Nebula are all in one place. Team Thor joins Team Cap at Wakanda. The stage is set for the final battles. Thanos clears out the good guys on Titan, then heads to Earth.

It’s weirdly simple when you break it all down. SNAP, as they say.

In a sense, all the Avengers movies are about bringing disparate characters together. Moving them around in these clusters guarantees the interaction and character moments that so defines the MCU. These aren’t movies about lone wolves.

Taking Infinity War and Endgame as one sequence, we’re at the start of Act 3. Our heroes have been moving as teams through the whole series, until now, when they’ve been completely destroyed in ways that are nigh incomprehensible. I think in Endgame we’re going to see them building new teams as best they can, and incorporating the big new player on the stage. It may be that, in the bigger picture, the end of Act 2 is the Snap. But the start of Act 3 is going to be the arrival of Captain Marvel. And she will change everything.

 

Advertisements

A new Terry Gilliam film is always cause for celebration in my world. This one is famous because Gilliam has been trying to make it for going on thirty years. How strange, to finally have it exist, to finally have seen it. I thought it was beautiful and very sad (like a good number of his recent films) and very Gilliam.

All of Gilliam’s movies are about the collision of reality, imagination, and madness, and I love his films because no one tackles that topic quite like he does. Don Quixote, which is also about reality, imagination, and madness, should be the ideal story for him to adapt. The difficulties around it seem so laughably, ironically on point.  Art mirrors life mirrors art mirrors life and it never ends. (Maddeningly, the film’s lack of a wide release, or any release, appears due to legal wrangling with a former maybe/maybe not producer. I kept wondering why this wasn’t on Netflix or the like, even if there wasn’t theatrical distribution. I saw it on a one-night-only Fathom Events showing, and am apparently lucky our showing went through – scuttlebutt says other showings were cancelled at the last minute. And we wonder why Gilliam is so cynical about Hollywood.)

This is the story of Toby, a filmmaker who’s kind of a douchey sell-out and the walking embodiment of everything wrong with Hollywood. A decade ago he came to Spain to make a student film (and honestly, that early version of himself was also kind of a douche and a walking embodiment of everything wrong with film school pretension), an artistic black and white retelling of Don Quixote using local villagers in the roles. He’s back in Spain now filming a commercial, it’s going badly — and then he finds a local peddler selling DVD’s of his student film. He decides to return to the village where he filmed — Los Sueños, the Dreams — and discovers that the elderly shoemaker he cast as Don Quixote really believes that he is Don Quixote. And Don Quixote believes that Toby is Sancho Panza.

Reality starts to disintegrate for Toby in the most Gilliam-esque ways you can imagine. This is what Gilliam does best, the depiction of reality and fantasy bleeding into each other in ways that are terrifying and heartbreakingly beautiful.

Adam Driver plays Toby and Jonathan Pryce is stunningly perfect as Don Quixote, and I might be forgiven for being grateful that the film was delayed and stymied so many times so that we could get these two playing these parts, and the version of this story we have instead of the one that might have been.

This is not a perfect movie — it’s long, weirdly paced, dark and even ugly in places — but it is a Gilliam movie, and since no one makes movies like he does, and no one puts the kinds of images on screen that he does, I am still grateful to have seen it.

I keep waiting for something as full of joy and wonder as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and that’s not at all fair. But part of what makes me sad is how Munchausen was so full of joy, and some of these more recent Gilliam films, particularly The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Don Quixote, seem to be saying that that joy and optimism is impossible. After this film’s long, long journey to actual public release it’s hard not to see both Toby and Don Quixote as somewhat biographical, somewhat bitter, and awfully cynical. But then that’s also very much part of Don Quixote’s story.

 

 

Happy Wednesday?

April 3, 2019

This week I’m waiting for emails. For people to get back to me about various things. I hate this part.

Meanwhile, the nice thing about being self-employed and waiting is I can very easily be the person who sits online for 3+ hours to get Avengers: Endgame opening-night tickets for all my friends. I’ll be your guy in the chair!

I’ve been working on a structural analysis of Avengers: Infinity War, mostly to try to work out, on a sheer mechanical level, how the film juggled that many characters. I’ve figured it out, I just need to find a pretty way to post about it.  I was hoping for diagrams, but that may not happen. But also…what clues are we missing? What can I predict about the second half of the story? Captain Marvel added a ton of clues. Well, maybe not a ton, but one big one that I think is going to be pivotal. In short, I think there’s some pretty savvy misdirection going on about how this is all going to work out, and we’re all going to look back and wonder how we missed it. I’ve been debating about whether to do a Big Post of Avengers Predictions, just to have some record I can point to and brag that I was right. Assuming I’m right. I may very well be wrong (except I want to point out that I did predict what happened to Coulson in Avengers based simply on Whedon’s fetish for impaling people). But I also don’t want to think TOO much about it ahead of time. Will ponder.

Argh, I can’t wait!

Reminder:  I’m posting some of my older, harder-to-find stories at Curious Fictions, along with posts about why and how I wrote them. Check it out, and if you feel like buying me a coffee or something, subscribe, or drop something in the tip jar! Thank you!

 

I’ve posted a story at Curious Fictions:  “Just Another Word” is about the time Janis Joplin met the Queen of Faerie. It originally appeared in Realms of Fantasy in 2010. Almost ten years ago. Sheesh. Don’t forget to subscribe to my page if you want to keep up with my stuff there, or if you feel like buying me a coffee, put a couple bucks in the tip jar. Or I might get a cup of tea. You get the idea. Thank you for reading!

My longish review of Mortal Engines is up on Lightspeed.  In a perfect world this would have been the giant beautiful steampunk epic we’ve all been waiting for, but it had a few too many problems and came just a few years too late to really hit. Also, it should have been a 10 episode series, probably.

There’s so much amazing new TV that everyone is talking about incessantly, and I just keep going back and watching 20 year old mystery series. I’m on Brother Cadfael, starring Derek Jacobi right now.  I’m not sure what it says about current events that I’m finding so much comfort in submerging myself in Norman England over these last couple of weeks.

Update!  One more link for you, just to remind you that Kitty/KNOB swag like t-shirts and coffee mugs exists and you can have some for your very own. Click on the link!

 

Captain Marvel

March 10, 2019

I’m not going to lie, the movie starts off rough. It’s weirdly structured, and drops us in the middle of a standard military SF jaunt — the small commando unit, the untried rookie’s first outing that goes horribly wrong. It’s a familiar formula but the context leaves us at sea. Who are these people? What’s going on? Why do we care?

The next bit jams a bunch of disparate tropes into one sequence. We spend about five minutes in an alien-on-Earth/fish-out-of-water story, then five minutes in a straight-up chase scene, ten minutes in a buddy caper, and so on. Meanwhile, the film seems to be attempting some kind of throw-back mid-1990’s action-movie cinematography to go with the setting — think Terminator 2 — and I’m not sure it quite works.

When the movie really finds its feet is when our hero, who until now has been kind of brusque and unpleasant and predictably standard, starts uncovering secrets. Deep, dark, world and personality-shattering secrets. Discovering that there even are secrets. When she stops doing what she thinks she’s supposed to and starts fighting for herself — that’s when the movie straps on rockets and hits the stratosphere. It’s fantastic. Carol has a compact, powerful, tough-as-nails physicality that I really loved. She’s great to watch.

The other thing I found amazing about the film is I didn’t know the MCU was missing a prequel. Like, I thought we knew everything? I thought we had all the information in the right sequence?  Prequels are so notoriously bad about shoe-horning in unnecessary details and forcing a retconning of what we thought we knew. Captain Marvel doesn’t do that, and it’s great. This answers questions I didn’t know I had and fires guns that have been on the mantle the whole time only I didn’t realize they were there. It fits in so well they must have planned this all along, right?

And the first post-credits scene is a masterpiece in tying it all together. Thirty seconds of film worth the price of admission all by itself.

Next up, Avengers: Endgame.  I know back with the first Avengers movie we said it had all been leading up to this. But now, here — it’s all been leading up to this. Higher, further, faster …

 

The Kid Who Would be King

February 4, 2019

We were all intensely charmed by the trailers for this one — clever British school children, Arthurian legend, Patrick Stewart in PJ’s as Merlin, what’s not to love?

Well, this is one of those movies where pretty much all the best bits are in the trailers. It also runs long — four acts, and I knew it was going to be four acts because we got to the big confrontation in the third act and we still hadn’t seen some of the scenes covered in the trailers so I knew there was going to be another big battle. And this is the point where I realize I may possibly have become too jaded and cynical for this kind of movie.

It’s not a bad movie. It’s earnest. It’s full of all the expected tropes. The ideal audience is age 10, and my friends were able to access their inner ten-year olds enough to have a good time. I didn’t quite. I think it ran long, and I’m very worried about whether the riding instructor in Cornwall got her horses back. And SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER I think there’s some very weird gender politics going on with Morgana, but then there always are, aren’t there? Like, she turns into a really cool harpy monster. But then, she pretty much has to turn into a monster so we don’t feel weird about the 12 year old boy hacking her to pieces with a sword when, really, the woman has some legitimate beefs with the patriarchy so it kind of feels weird anyway.

I may be overthinking this.

 

The Favourite

January 14, 2019

This is about the court of Queen Anne in the early 1700’s which is a period of English history I know relatively little about because so much of the literature is so very pedantic I skipped over it as much as I could in school. Anyway, the movie is about two women vying for royal favor, particularly Abigail and how much of her principles she’s willing to undermine to secure her own well-being.

It’s really good, and not just because of the absolutely luscious costumes and settings that these historical dramas always have. Well-drawn, in depth characters. At some point everyone is horrible, and everyone is also sympathetic — they have good reasons for doing what they’re doing. The film’s edgy and got some quirks, but it’s all well thought out. An amazing cast. Yes, that is Nicholas Hoult under that GIGANTIC wig.

We did that thing driving home where we immediately looked up Queen Anne to see how much of this actually happened, and I believe this may be one of those cases where the truth might have been even stranger. In some ways, court politics of a couple of hundred years ago might as well be an alien planet.

Queen Anne is a tragic figure, and Olivia Colman is already winning awards for her performance here. Good. She deserves them all.