Inspired by Avengers: Endgame, the 182-minute grand finale of the Marvel cinematic saga, I crunched some numbers and examined how blockbusters—especially ones not encumbered by Endgame’s hefty narrative obligations, with so many characters and storylines to pay off—are expanding at a much faster rate than is the human lifespan. I am solely responsible for the math in the piece, and the jokes.
We didn’t think I’d actually get to interview everyone I had on my to-interview wish list. That never happens. Only this time it did, which is how I came to have five different voices in my four-and-a-half-minute All Things Considered piece on the animation in Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, a movie I cannot wait to see again.
All of them—producer Chris Miller, producer/co-screenwriter Phil Lord, co-screenwriter/co-director Rodney Rothman, co-director Peter Ramsey, and finally, Eisner Award-winning comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis, who (with artist Sara Pichelli), created Miles Morales, the primary hero of Spider-Verse—had smart, illuminating things to say. I spoke to Bendis solo and Lord & Miller and Rothman & Ramsey in pairs, and pretty soon I had something like 75 minutes of good tape for a story that could accommodate mmmmaybe two-and-a-half minutes of that.
It was an epic job of cutting, followed by more frantic cutting, and then more surgical cutting. My editor, Nina Gregory, and news assistant Milton Guevara, showed me how radio pros get things done on deadline. Bob Mondello, who’d suggested the piece in the first place, gave me some vocal coaching in the booth.
I wish we could’ve used more of what all those smart, imaginative people had to say. I wish we could’ve made the segment 15 minutes long. But I’m very happy with what we managed to pack into about 240 seconds.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the first good Spider-Man movie in, uh, 18 months! But it’s more than that: A fun, warm, visually astonishing omnibus of Spider-lore that elegantly rebukes reactionary fans whose minds are stuck in 1963. I rarely get worked up over animated films—a blind spot I can neither defend nor explain—but I loved this. Here’s my NPR review.
I saw a review headline earlier today proclaiming Ant-Man and The Wasp “the perfect summer movie.” I could easily name 20 perfect movies released during the summergoing back to Jaws, released the summer before I was, but the phrase “a perfect summer” movie almost invariably refers to movies that aren’t very good.
Ant-Man and The Wasp isn’t Not Good. It is, as my pal and editor and occasional (today!) Pop Culture Happy Hour panel-mate Glen Weldon observed in his review, fine.
Most of Black Panther is set in the imaginary African nation of Wakanda, a technological utopia whose monarchs have for centuries observed a strict policy of isolationism, keeping would-be colonizers at bay by hiding their nation’s wealth and scientific advancement from the outside world. We’re told in the movie’s very first minute that Wakanda’s prosperity derives from its abundance of Vibranium, and that this bounty was delivered via meteorite long before humans walked the Earth.
And for a resource they’re trying to keep secret, the Wakandans sure talk about it a lot.
Even more than the characters in Avatar (Remember Avatar? Nominated for nine Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for my boy James Cameron? Still the highest-grossing movie in the history of movies?) speak the much-derided name of that movie’s extraterrestrial miracle metal, Unobtanium.
Thor: Ragnarok is the best Thor movie by an Asgardian mile, but don’t let that backhanded compliment stop you. With dual villains played by Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum plus a Mark Mothersbaugh score, it’s a stealth The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou reunion. Lo, here’s my NPR review.
My review of Kathleen Akerley’s latest opus, Whipping, or The Football Hamlet, is in today’s Washington City Paper, along with a few paragraphs about another show that has regrettably already closed: Crystal Skillman & Fred Van Lente’sKing Kirby, a bio-play about legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby and his lifelong struggle to be fairly compensated for the dozens of Marvel Comics characters he created—or co-created with Stan Lee. They don’t agree on who did what, and therein lies the tale.
I know I’m supposed to be sick to death of superhero movies, but I don’t think we’ve ever had three as strong as Logan, Wonder Woman, and the new Spider-Man: Homecoming arrive in such rapid succession. Here’s Homecoming, for NPR. Continue reading →
I’m looking forward to the argument we’re going to have over beers, you and I, about whether Logan is the best comic book movie since The Dark Knight or the best Western since No Country for Old Men.
Here’s my NPR review, where I ran out of space to cite all the things I loved about this movie (Eriq La Salle! Autotrucks!), or to warn you that if you know you will recoil from the sight of an 11-year-old girl defending her life with lethal force, you should skip it. And it would probably be more correct to call it the Rocky Balboa of Rocky movies than the Creed of Rocky movies, but sometimes clarity is more important than pinpoint accuracy.
Something new for me: Reviewing movies on the radio. Here’s my Weekend Edition Sundayassessment of Doctor Strange, wherein Marvel hands the role of brilliant, arrogant, goateed rich-guy Avenger from Robert Downey, Jr., the most recent movie Sherlock Holmes, to Benedict Cumberbatch to the most recent TV Sherlock Holmes.
For NPR: The 13th Marvel movie/third Captain America movie/third Avengers movie/fourth Iron Man movie/exciting Spider-Man & Black Panther teaser trailer is as good as you’ve heard. The first reviews went up after this screened a month ago (not in DC, for some reason), so all I could do was try to write the Blade II of Marvel movie reviews. Continue reading →
Because it comes from a promising young filmmaker and features a strong cast, the third attempt to turn Marvel’s proto-super-team The Fantastic Four into a hit movie franchise turns out to be the most disappointing yet. My NPR review is here.
The same weekend I saw both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Raid 2 — prompting this piece for NPR Monkey See — my pal Glen Weldon showed me the mostly-animated G.I. Joe episode of Community. The show got a lot of mileage out of the fact that nobody ever got killed in that war cartoon, wherein an elite American military unit fought a uniformed army of terrorists to a stalemate every 21 minutes using ray guns. Continue reading →