Here is the latest version of “Mothra’s Song,” from the fun new film GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. This is a beautiful, haunting little orchestral piece, in veneration to an exquisite deific creature Mothra (“Mosura” in Japanese). The flute and drums create a perfect harmony here, as if sky and earth are uniting through dance and song, evoked by the graceful flight of a giant, shimmering moth.
Road rage in Massachusetts is out of control, as I imagine it is in a lot of other states throughout the U.S. Earlier, I was driving down a main thoroughfare when a burly white guy from off a side street pushed his car into oncoming traffic, in front of me, to my left. I shook my head at him as I drove on by. Shortly, he sped up from behind, turned into a store parking lot (to my right) and barreled along there while making it a point to flip me the bird– instead of watch where he was going.
Toxic masculinity is a real thing, be it on the road or anywhere else. This problematic phenomenon admittedly irritates me when I’m faced with it head on. It’s all such an obnoxious exhibition of childish entitlement, lack of empathy, and poor sense of boundaries. Very un-evolved. Breathe and enter a peaceful place, I try to remind myself, time and again. This behavior from some men is troublesome and, ultimately, rather sad. Toxic masculine men deeply challenge my human compassion capacity. Therein lays the reason why they continue to be teachers of sorts for me. Live and learn, then wake up another day to keep living and learning, while also taking no shit.
The new movie SHAFT, which is the third produced screenplay with that same title, and the second to star veteran actor Samuel L. Jackson, was fun and interesting. The generational tension between Millennial actor Jessie T. Usher as J.J. Shaft and Baby Boomer actor Jackson as his father John Shaft was intriguingly expressed via cleverly written repartee between them throughout the narrative.
The implications of changes in inner city African American culture through generational and economic shifts are adeptly packed into this entertaining comedy-action movie. Kudos to writers Kenya Barris (creator of the TV show BLACK-ISH) and Alex Barnow.
Jessie T. Usher is able to hold a lot of nuances or layers in his character as an MIT educated, rookie FBI data analyst– nuance of having a natural sensitivity to women as equals to men, the value of healthy eating, the embracing of multiculturalism, and a reluctance to glorify guns as a means to power and domination– to name a few that come to mind. And all this while coming across as emotionally expressive and caring, strong in convictions, and downright adorable. He is someone I could imagine talking with over coffee or a drink, very approachable and relatable.
Jackson portrays the less evolved old guard, “kill or be killed” inner city Black, tough guy private detective, unapologetically coarse and sexist, making both a comic yet thought-provoking foil to the younger, warmer Shaft (Usher). He holds the primal force, including (but not only) rage, for the film, balancing out his son J.J. Shaft’s comparative softness and tendency to think more deeply. Their dialogue had me laughing often– that and the interweaving of old, Motown R&B songs into the musical score, including within some action sequences, particularly a few done in slow motion as if to imply dancing. This was bizarre, clever, disturbing, and funny all at once, leaving me to think of Kabuki theater somehow merging with old action films from the 1960s and 70s. This movie makes fun of itself often, including humorously yet gracefully glorifying people’s nostalgia for earlier, seemingly “simpler” times, namely the 1970s and 1980s. The result is a form of high camp within both a visual and musical theatricality that I eat up like rare, fine truffles. Granted, such treats are not to everyone’s liking.
The one matter I took some issue with is the blatant homophobia expressed via John Shaft’s hyper concern about his son J.J.’s sexuality. To the older, traditionally hyper-masculine Shaft, the younger man’s sensitivity, non-macho presentation, and non-aggressive, respectful approach to women is confusing and anxiety-inducing, with the father asking his son if he likes “pussy.” John later circles back to this matter, listing off possible sexual orientations, including “metrosexual” and “fluid,” for J.J. to choose from before the younger man clarifies that he is indeed straight. However, the fact that John knows these latest terms and states them matter-of-factly while caringly putting his very drunk son to bed for the night suggests to me that a part of the older man is wrestling with his discomfort and more likely than not to ultimately accept J.J. regardless of his sexual proclivities. And it is realistic to portray a middle-aged inner city African American man and other men around him as rigid believers in compulsory heterosexuality being bound up with achieving true manhood. The movie does not push the envelope nearly enough here to my satisfaction, which it would, say, if J.J. Shaft’s orientation were left vague, not so defined, hinted at as possibly bisexual or fluid. Well, homophobia and heterosexism in mainstream media are very slow to fade, this production only confirming that point, sadly. More open-mindedness and acceptance to happen all in good time, I suppose– so long as the good fight for queer visibility and equality continues.
The actual storyline concerning taking down a powerful drug smuggling and dealing ring is secondary to the strong, sympathetic, ever-evolving characters of SHAFT, namely the father-son duo. However, these two are well-supported by Maya Babanikos (Regina Hall), John Shaft’s long-lost girlfriend and mother of his son J.J., and Sasha Arias (Alexandra Shipp), the close friend and love interest of said son. I would have liked each of these smart, independent, likable women to be given more to do in the action sequences other than act freaked out and helpless. But, perhaps that switch up of roles will be forthcoming in a sequel. After all, it is the young woman Sasha, herself a physician, who carries a gun and lends it to J.J. in a time of need. Clearly, her full abilities are not put to use here. Hopefully, they will be in any future Shaft productions. As for Maya, she is the one who raised J.J. Shaft to be the well-rounded person that he is, leaving his long absent father to return and mix a healthy bit of grit into him for good measure. Fortunately, Maya and Sasha survive to flesh out a true family, anchored by three generations of Shaft men, with the elder actor Richard Roundtree (the original John Shaft in three early 1970s movies starring that character) showing up to improve the odds in a final face-off against the arch villain and his henchmen. And those three Shafts aim for laughs with us viewers while packing heat and going for broke.
I had no qualms with seeing white people portrayed unflatteringly at every turn in SHAFT, be they as secondary villains, suspicious cops, or establishment assholes (i.e., J.J. Shaft’s uptight boss in the FBI). We all need to laugh at ourselves, regardless of what ethnicity and socio-economic class/status we happen to belong. We white folks especially need to be brought down some pegs and onto the ground with everyone else, there to roll about in the dirt and laugh at the theatricality, often absurdity, and ever-changing wonder of life. The movie SHAFT clearly, amusingly reminds us viewers to do just that.
First of all, I need to make clear that I have watched all of the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU)/Disney franchise films, minus maybe one or two (SUICIDE SQUAD and possibly one other), and usually in short order after each movie’s release. Hence, I’ve been able to stay in the flow of the multiple interweaved narratives in the MCU. If you are someone who hasn’t done this, you will not necessarily enjoy the 2018 installment, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, one of the few most chock-full Marvel productions to date, with the exception of its more recent sequel that wraps it all up: AVENGERS: ENDGAME. This is not a movie to see if you haven’t kept up with the Marvel Studios of Disney cycle. You may feel lost and often confused, possibly even indifferent.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this second to final film in the Avengers series. I had girded myself for an over-crowded, spread-thin production where only the villain had enough consistent footage and gravitas. Fortunately, that was not the case.
What impressed me throughout the movie was its pacing and clever balance of humor and serious drama. The story is indeed action packed, but threaded together well to prevent a sense of gratuitousness or pointless shock value from developing. The acting and material given to each actor to work with were both of a solid caliber. It can be argued, and already has been elsewhere, that certain characters were short-shrifted in time and development. Be that as it may, I bear in mind that this is often inevitable with any large ensemble cast in a multiple episode narrative, be it on film/screen digital, TV, or in a book series. Some characters are chosen to be at the core of a saga while others remain more supporting, off to the side, in order to keep plot-lines tight enough to follow and the audience’s sense of connection to the players strong. However, this core can shift and evolve with time the longer a universe is continuously created. For one thing, the core or primary circle of characters gradually enlarges. This appeared to be the case with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Scenes with each superhero were pertinent for us viewers to witness, highlighting each individual’s dilemmas, motivations, and primary emotions.
One such scene around the middle of the film comes to mind. Thor (Christopher Hemsworth) has just been rescued in outer space by the Guardians of the Galaxy team after humorously banging up against their ship’s front window, as if he were a bird hitting a car windshield. Later, during a rare moment of calm and personal exchange, Thor sits and reflects aloud on his numerous losses of family members and friends. His attentive, listening witness is a wonderful choice: Rocket Raccoon (a CGI voiced by Bradley Cooper), a sarcastic, hard-talking anthropomorphized raccoon. He clearly has taken a quick liking to and admiration of the Prince of Asgard, someone Rocket views as both “angel and pirate.” We the audience join Rocket in watching Thor open his heart for a bit, with the former asking a few questions to help the latter man (and demigod) open up. Not only does this previously loud and obnoxious Raccoon begin to soften somewhat inside as a character, i.e., evolve towards being more human, but we see a vulnerable Thor relay one of the main purposes– if not the main one– to the entire story. He basically states, while tearing up, that all of his rage, anguish, and sadness is a good motivator to push on and do what needs to be done. In other words, use your feelings as the pure energy that they are to keep on going in life and accomplish what’s necessary and more. Thor then tightens his lips and moves his chin in such a way as to relay some levity about the situation in which he finds himself, adding another layer of feeling and good perspective to the obvious sadness filling him up inside. He relays such wisdom here, that union of knowledge from life experience with compassion, including for oneself. The warrior has clearly matured, which all true warriors (as opposed to soldiers) do. Each of us face adversities all the time, so often small and easily manageable but also some that are periodically large and daunting. If Thor can carry on and do what’s right and good, so can we, for we too are warriors in this thing called life. Such high drama with Christopher Hemsworth rising to the occasion and delivering.
There is family drama a-plenty in the film, which keeps things interesting and very human. Thanos, the villain, is on a mission to destroy half of life in the known universe in order to save worlds from the bane of overpopulation, while consolidating omniscient power for himself via his quest to possess all six of the Infinity Stones. His adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the green humanoid (Zen-Whoberis) woman who is part of the Guardians of the Galaxy team, appeals to any hope of humanity in him. Their on-screen tension is acutely felt. Continuing from a dynamic of rivalry and favoritism set up in the two GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, Thanos continues to find ways to torture his weaker adopted daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan) while favoring the stronger Gamora. The last existing Zen-Whoberis– her people destroyed by Thanos– has evolved into a more compassionate being, thanks to her membership on a pirate-like team traveling through space while she enjoys a budding romance with the Guardians’ leader Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt). Also, she and Nebula have reached a sort of truce with each other after duking it out in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2. All of this is to say why Thanos capitalizes on Gamora’s relatively new-found compassion by torturing Nebula in front of her to force her hand in revealing to him the location of one of the Infinity Stones. This family triangle is one of the most compelling interpersonal dynamics in the whole movie, because of its complexity, emotional intensity, and believability.
I did find one character to be disappointing yet watchable and sympathetic nonetheless: Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland). I have previously written a review of 2017’s MCU movie SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. (See my review of it, posted August 18, 2017.) In there, I discussed the issues I have around the changes made on this superhero for his latest movie incarnations. Again, his outfit was over-the-top, this time with added robotic spider legs that quickly appear and disappear from out of his suit whenever needed. It can be argued that Spidey indeed required such high tech. to more effectively fight such powerful adversaries while in a spaceship and then on another planet. I eventually came around to this understanding but the origins of Spider-Man’s upgraded tights does not sit well with me. The mentor-mentee relationship between Tony Stark/Ironman and Peter Parker/Spiderman is heart-felt and touching, however.
I was excited to see how Black Panther and his wonderful associates arrive in the storyline, even though he and they do not have as much screen time as I’d have preferred.
This movie does justice to the overall arc of the Marvel Avengers series, delivering immersive, dramatic spectacle entertainment one comes to expect with this big screen franchise. My inner boy who became captivated with the images of Marvel’s Avengers decades ago was duly thrilled and impressed.
Sadly, for me, AVENGERS: ENDGAME, the final installment to this long, somewhat uneven, but mostly good Marvel-Disney series did not maintain the momentum and proper pacing that INFINITY WAR did. (But, more on that another time, perhaps.)
I enjoyed the movie DARK PHOENIX, the latest X-Men franchise installment from Marvel-Disney. Jessica Chastain made an effective, creepy alien villainess, tromping around in high heels with a vacant stare and pale smooth skin, looking like a well-dressed zombie or animated mannequin. The absence of Wolverine, without even a verbal mention of him, felt like a gaping hole at times for me. But, overall, it was a fun film of action and special effects with mutant superheroes doing what they do best: kicking ass and wrecking stuff along the way.
I and my hubby very much enjoyed the movie ROCKETMAN. Unlike BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, the sexual subject matter in this film about talented gay performer and icon Elton John is not so sanitized.
The film is crafted in such a way as to tell a touching narrative, interwoven with imaginative musical numbers, about a musically gifted gay man born into a working class English family where the father is cold and unable to show love. This was likely in part due to the father’s being traumatized during WW II, though the movie only hints at this. The mother presents as self-absorbed and immature. Only the live-in grandmother provides Reginald Dwight (Elton’s actual birth name) with some nurturance and acceptance of him and his musical genius.
Actor Taron Egerton, star of the 2014 block buster KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, earns his stripes here as a truly mature, competent actor in the title role. As gay men, my husband and I found ourselves relating to the main character, especially in his childhood years. The life themes of running away from who one truly is and what one actually feels are presented colorfully and insightfully in ROCKETMAN. In Mr. John’s case, classic avoidance strategies of heavy substance abuse and being hyper-sexual are creatively explored, with the latter of the two showcased in a long, orgiastic dream-like sequence inside a big discotheque setting. To my recollection, no full nudity is shown, but the power of the action and message was not diminished for me. I was prepared for the one intimate sex scene between Elton and his first male long-term partner to be cut down to nothing but, say, a few heavy kisses in a darkened room. It was pleasantly surprising to see that was not the case. Having read some months back that a sex scene was going to be cut from the movie, I’m left wondering just how much filmed footage was deleted. Regardless, at least skin-to-skin passion is effectively, tastefully conveyed within the action that remains in the final product. It is likely that Elton John himself, acting as executive director, ensured this to be the case.
What moved me to tears is how the movie both artfully and psychologically conveys Elton John ultimately accepting himself, this, of course, being at the very core of his recovery from substance dependence and sexual addiction. In a clever interweaving of the past and present, the narrative makes use of an effective psychotherapy approach I myself utilize called Internal Family Systems (IFS). Other therapies employ similar techniques, but I credit writer Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher for integrating these inner healing steps so naturally and believably in the film. And all done with Elton John’s blessing.
The quest to find and accept one’s true self as a means of achieving full mental, emotional, and spiritual maturity or health is a timeless story, told in many ways over and over again. ROCKETMAN does well by this ancient narrative, keeping it fresh, creative, and imaginative yet rooted in reality all at once– no small feat. This is a fun, sometimes painful to watch, but ultimately uplifting movie.
The live-action, semi-musical movie ALADDIN was a lot of fun, with some songs that fell flat. However, much beautiful spectacle, filled with beautiful costumes and settings, and visual effects were effectively delivered. Will Smith made a cute, entertaining Genie. Given that “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” is my favorite fairy tale and I’ve always really dug genies/djinns, I had to see this film. It resembles very little of the original story from 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS. Still, I’m one to enjoy a big cinematic, colorful show and that’s what this Disney production was. Its overall look often harkened back to fantastical Hollywood movies from the 1920s through the 1940s– well, that and some Bollywood influence in the big dance numbers. Generally, this was an example of great visual cinema with the script writing being predictable and comforting, unsophisticated. I was glad to see the requisite empowerment of the princess, even though there are plenty of feminist scholars/learned folks out there who I imagine would readily deconstruct such a presentation as lacking/still wanting. And they would be right, though I appreciate any signs of progress wherever I see them nonetheless.
I did enjoy the cross dressing gender play that Will Smith’s character briefly did in a particularly theatrical, festive scene. Male to female crossdressing is an element of ancient theater in Britain and Japan (to name just a few countries/cultures), so it was nice to see a nod to this in a Disney film. Also, a bit of genderqueer being visible– however brief– in such a big mainstream production points to a societal acknowledgement of the realness and validity of the non-binary, even though the ethos of the movie is otherwise heterosexual and gender binary. Genies, being otherworldly beings that they are, can leave such boundaries of convention while the human social order is left predictably “intact.” Will Smith’s Genie seemed sexually “fluid” at first, pleasantly ambiguous for his initial few scenes during some flirtatious moments with Aladdin, but then the writers (and probably the actor) played it safe by reeling him back in, soon providing him with a female love interest. Hmm, a powerful genie/djinn with a love interest? News to me. Heterosexuality as the ultimately correct way to be in the world is affirmed yet again. Ah, well. Yawn. Please pass the popcorn.
I saw possibilities where even more stretches of the imagination could occur, but Disney always plays it safe, incorporating more diversity and options (though still limited), finally, only after enough on-the-ground people in the general culture have pushed the envelope further for a good while. For me, that company’s productions are like springboards or doorways toward or into more exquisiteness that my own and other viewers’ minds can then envision. And that’s okay. So, ALADDIN, with all its color, sparkle, and pizazz stayed within the confines of a conventional, pleasant, family film, without stretching forth into being a more expansive in vision, truly great film.