In Praise of Marisa Tomei

I recently saw “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and while a lot of the movie is very good, my first comment walking out of the theater was, “Man, I wish Aunt May [Marisa Tomei] was in it more.” And it’s not the only time that Tomei has had a (small) part in a movie, done a lot with it, and left the audience wanting more. In fact, let’s take a look at her IMDB page. You may be like me and forget in just how many roles she’s been really excellent.

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MCU Films, Ranked (Updated December 2017)

This post is updated as I’ve now seen the second “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie, aka “Baby Groot and Drax Variety Hour.” I wanted to give my quick thoughts as to what the best Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) movies are. Please note that the list below is in worst-to-first order. Sorry, Thor. Feel free to disagree or tell me how wrong I am in the comments! Continue reading

Best of 2015

In many ways, 2015 was pre-ordained to be a massive year. After a down year at the box office in 2014, pundits predicted 2015 would be huge, given the releases of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the final “Hunger Games” movie, and “Jurassic World.” And (for those that have been released), those movies delivered well at the box office (including “World” setting an opening weekend record, and then, you know, “Star Wars” demolishing it.). But there were a number of pleasant surprises that pundits didn’t see coming, and that’s what made 2015 quite an impressive year for entertainment. These are my favorite pieces of entertainment from 2015, presented in no particular order, but, for sake of readability, I’ve broken my list down by categories. Let me know what I missed, or what you enjoyed, in the comments. And, as always, thank you for reading this blog – and I hope you’ll stay with me in 2016. Continue reading

Why I’m Worried About Ant-Man

rudd-antman

I’m an unabashed fan of the Marvel movies, or what’s commonly known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I loved the original “Iron Man,” and I remember sitting in the theater in 2008 being captivated by Robert Downey Jr.’s total and complete embodiment of Tony Stark. While I was less taken with “The Incredible Hulk” and “Thor,” I thought “Captain America” was fantastic, and when I heard that Marvel was planning on bringing all of those heroes together for “The Avengers,” I was thrilled. Marvel took characters that were not household names the way Superman, Batman or Wolverine were, and made them into global megastars. When “The Avengers” set the box-office record for biggest opening weekend ever, it was a referendum both on the success of Marvel’s insight and its marketing machine.

“The Avengers” marked the end of Marvel’s “Phase One,” and its “Phase Two” slate, on the whole, has performed well, both critically and at the box-office*. “Iron Man 3” might be the best entry of the series, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the best Marvel movie they’ve made, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” took Chris Pratt and a talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and made an entertaining, profitable movie out of them.

*The less said about “Thor: The Dark World,” the better.

Marvel’s movies, to date, have an astounding box-office performance. The worst performing movie, “The Incredible Hulk,” made $134 million in 2008, and since the release of “The Avengers,” no Marvel movie has grossed less than $200 million, with “Guardians” bringing in over $330 million, “Iron Man 3″‘s total haul nearing $410 million and this summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” approaching $445 million. (Note: these are just domestic totals.) The average Marvel movie makes $309 million, and while that number is substantially aided by both “Avengers” films, that speaks to Marvel’s ability to deliver what mass audiences want to see.

Which leads me to my concerns with “Ant-Man,” the first movie of Marvel’s “Phase Three.”  While I said that I was an unabashed fan of Marvel, I’m an even bigger fan of Paul Rudd. I loved him in “Clueless,” think he’s the best part of the very funny “Wet Hot American Summer,” and has been invigorated by his frequent collaborations with both Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) and David Wain (“Wet Hot,” “Wanderlust,” “Role Models,” “They Came Together.”) Here are just a few of my favorite Paul Rudd scenes, but believe me, there could have been dozens more added:

(This next one’s not safe for work…don’t watch, Mom and Dad!)

It’s impossible not to like Paul Rudd. It is. If I could watch one roving reporter all day, it’d be Brian Fantana. If I could choose one heir to a candy fortune to hang out with, it’d be Bobby Newport. But you know who may not like Paul Rudd as much as I do (and I hate to even say this)? Moviegoers.

Look at Paul Rudd’s box office resume. His highest-grossing movie is “Monsters Vs. Aliens,” a forgettable animated movie where he played the fifth lead. After that is “Knocked Up,” (third at best on the call sheet), “Anchorman 2” (arguably second banana), “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (again, arguably second banana), and “Anchorman” (ditto). The highest-grossing movie of his career where you could call Rudd the lead is “Dinner for Schmucks,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the sentences, “You know what movie I loved? ‘Dinner for Schmucks.'” said out loud. “Dinner for Schmucks,” “I Love You, Man,” “Role Models,” and “This is 40” all grossed between $67 million and $73 million; that seems to be the range of a typical, Paul Rudd-led vehicle, at its best. I love Paul Rudd. Everyone I talk to seems to love Paul Rudd. But so far, moviegoing audiences don’t love Paul Rudd. I imagine this is how I might deal with various movies of mine underperforming at the box office:

Now, of course, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and even Robert Downey Jr. weren’t all box-office kings before the Marvel machine got ahold of them. And Chris Pratt, who has just had the best 16+ months ever, as far as box office is concerned, wasn’t printing money for studios before “The Lego Movie,” “Guardians” and “Jurassic World.” But Paul Rudd’s been around for twenty years now; if he were going to be a huge box office success story, wouldn’t it have already happened?

The other, major concern that I have for “Ant-Man” is the fact that it’s had the most troubled production of any of the major Marvel movies. Usually, a director is hired, Marvel OKs the script (to make sure that there are no inconsistencies, and to make sure that each movie intertwines with the rest of the cinematic universe to build to future movies), and months or years later, a gigantic blockbuster is released. This has been a proven formula, even with material as quirky as “Guardians.” But “Ant-Man”? “Ant-Man” has been in trouble for a while now. This Vulture article spells it out pretty well, but the most important thing is to realize is that this is the first Marvel movie where the director (who also wrote the script) was fired off the project. And this is after the movie languished for the better part of eight years in development hell.

So…what does it all mean? Not much, although I wouldn’t be shocked if Ant-Man is the first Marvel movie not to cross $100 million (which I think the studio would see as a major disappointment). You have a star who people seem to love, but who don’t rush to see his movies. You have a movie that’s been rewritten on the fly, with a troubled production for years. And there also may be a sense of superhero fatigue. This summer already had an “Avengers” movie; there will be a new “Fantastic Four” in August, then “Batman vs. Superman” next year and “Captain America 3: Civil War” soon to follow.

And yet…if there’s one studio that can pull a rabbit out of its hat, defying conventional wisdom, it’s Marvel. And I think if there’s one actor who has the temerity to prove me wrong, while at the same time not caring whatsoever about his prior box office fortunes, it’s Paul Rudd. After all, when life hands you lemons…

Spider-Man falls into Marvel’s Web of Heroes

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I was really excited at the news that Captain America 3 was going to be loosely based on the Civil War storyline, given that I like the idea of these larger-than-life superheroes getting into conflict. I thought Captain America 2 was fantastic, especially for its ability to be a taut spy thriller. (It’s the most “Three Days of the Condor” of a movie that Marvel has ever made.) The idea that Captain America 3 will involve Iron Man and Captain America disagreeing about domestic registration of superheroes (and potentially come to blows over this disagreement) makes me psyched – it’s the friction of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, but with stakes other than “We have to save the world by capturing this MacGuffin.”

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So today’s news, that Spider-Man is officially joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, warms my heart. I love Spidey. Even the terrible movies (Sam Raimi’s third, the second Marc Webb effort from last summer) have always had some redeeming qualities (Topher Grace’s Venom or Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, for instance). And the good one’s (especially 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”) transitioned the character from the comics to the screen in a way I didn’t think would be possible. So I am thrilled at the chance for Spidey to rub shoulders with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and maybe even Groot.

I’m also very happy that this means Sony may abandon plans for the Sinister Six movies they had discussed. We didn’t need six stand-alone movies about Spider-Man taking on various villians. We didn’t need an Aunt May spin-off. We didn’t need any more than the five Spider-Man movies that we’ve already gotten. And we certainly don’t need to see Peter witness Uncle Ben’s death for a third time (on screen). No, a Spider-Man who’s been doing his job (fighting crime, swinging on webs, doing whatever a spider can, etc.) rather than another iteration of the petulant and angst-ridden Peter Parker would be a nice change of a pace: a fully-formed, adult Spider-Man, capable of trading barbs with the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

While I do feel bad for Andrew Garfield (I think he did an admirable job given the sub-par scripts he was handed), some fresh blood in a franchise that, as of last summer, had lost serious momentum is a cause for celebration. Although, Marvel, I do hope that you heed the words of Uncle Ben: with great power comes great responsibility. You have stoked fans’ hopes: please don’t disappoint.

Now if only Marvel could also get back the rights to Wolverine…

Fall TV 2014

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I know we’re still a little ways away from the beginning of the fall TV season, but I figured it’s as good a time as any to write about what I’ll be watching this upcoming season. While some of last year’s picks ultimately ended up being disappointing (I’m looking at you, “Mom” and “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,”) here’s my best effort at predicting what I’ll be watching live, what I’ll be DVR-ing, and, most importantly, what will be entertaining me for the 2014-2015 TV season. One other note: this is just for broadcast (i.e. traditional network) shows. That’s why, say, “True Detective” season two or stand-bys like “The Soup” or “Last Week with John Oliver” or “The Daily Show” won’t make the list.

Sunday

What I’ll Watch Live: Once Upon a Time, NFL Football

What I’ll DVR: The Simpsons, Mulaney, Family Guy, Brooklyn 99

I am an admitted “Once Upon a Time” fan. Last season, the show had two half-season story arcs: a journey to Neverland to battle the evil Peter Pan, and the Storybrooke crew fighting The Wicked Witch. While the show is never going to mean as much to me (or be as well-written or well-executed) as LOST, it’s still a show I enjoy week-in, week-out, that rewards longtime viewers. As for FOX’s Sunday comedy block, Brooklyn 99 was my favorite new comedy last year; it’s a show that really clicked early on, and gained momentum as the season went on. Besides Andy Samberg’s Jake Peralta, the rest of the cast shines, but especially Andre Braugher and Chelsea Peretti.

As for “Mulaney,” having seen him do stand-up and with the knowledge that he created Stefon, he’s earned a season pass on the DVR, even if that first trailer looked rough. Besides, anybody who can write this Girl Scout Cookies monologue has my undying admiration:

https://screen.yahoo.com/weekend-john-mulaney-girl-scout-000000179.html

And “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”? They’ve been on the air, what, a combined seventy-five years? (Approx.) And still deliver laughs. Sundays are going to be great for comedy.

Monday

What I’ll Watch Live: Gotham, Monday Night Football

What I’ll DVR: Big Bang Theory [until it moves to Thursdays at the end of October]

Wow, Mondays do not look promising. I know many people will watch “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Blacklist,” “The Voice,” and “Sleepy Hollow,” but…yikes. Not for me. Instead, I’m really looking forward to “Gotham.” Let’s be honest: when you are looking to make a TV show, and toss in Ben McKenzie, Gotham City, and multiple origin stories? Yeah, I’m there.

“Big Bang Theory” is the TV equivalent of comfort food, but I always enjoy it, and to have a few saved on the DVR makes for perfect Saturday-afternoon TV viewing.

Tuesday

What I’ll Watch Live: Selfie, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

What I’ll DVR: Marry Me, New Girl, Mindy Project

I really loved Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s last few episodes, especially they way they tied into the events happening in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (after Captain America 2). Bill Paxton as The Clairvoyant, Agent Ward as a HYDRA spy, the uncertainty surrounding Nick Fury and Fitz and Simmons…all much more enjoyable plot threads than the first few episodes, which were spent dodging the question of whether or not Coulson was a Life Model Decoy. Anyway, a show that, now that it’s entering its second season, I know what it will provide week-in and week-out. As for “Selfie,” I watched the pilot and, while I didn’t live it, the show’s creator Emily Kapnek was the showrunner on “Suburgatory,” a show I loved. Plus, John Cho. “Marry Me” has Casey Wilson, who I loved on “Happy Endings,” and Ken Marino, who I thought was contractually bound to always work with David Wain. The show is from the showrunner of “Happy Endings” (who is engaged to Wilson in real life). Should be funny.

I loved “New Girl” in its first two seasons, but last year was rough, to say the least. With “Mindy Project”, I have high hopes for it, but the show has to stop shuffling cast members and guest stars and figure out what show it wants to be. Both will still be in heavy rotation on my DVR, but I’d like to see both be more consistently funny.

Wednesday

Literally nothing.

No, seriously. Take a look at this schedule:Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 10.01.51 PM

The best show might be “Black-ish.” You could talk me into “Red Band Society,” possibly. And that “Mysteries of Laura” show? Oof. Here’s the trailer. Never have I not wanted to watch something more. It looks like a bad SNL sketch:

By the way, here’s where I remind you that NBC cancelled “Awake,” one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen, and greenlights things like “Mysteries of Laura.”

Thursday

What I’ll Watch Live: NFL Football

What I’ll DVR: Grey’s Anatomy, A to Z, How to Get Away with Murder

Grey’s is also just comfort food at this point – I don’t really like many of the characters, it’s sometimes too soapy for words, and there’s rarely a plot twist I haven’t seen coming hundreds of miles away. That said, it too makes for fine viewing on a cold Saturday when I don’t feel like leaving my couch. “How to Get Away with Murder” looks like one of the more promising new shows, with star Viola Davis as a law professor with a potential dark side.

As for “A to Z,” I watched the pilot and found it incredibly charming (I’ve embedded it below). It’s got a lot in common with “(500) Days of Summer,” especially given the close-ended nature of the central relationship. But I’m going to give it a shot. However, if the showrunners kill off Cristin Milioti like “How I Met Your Mother” did, I will be very upset.

http://www.nbc.com/a-to-z/video/a-to-z-pilot/2804273

Also, let me just bemoan the fact that “Parks and Rec” won’t be airing until winter 2015. I’m going to miss that show.

Friday

What I’ll Watch Live: Masterchef Junior

Kidding. Made the same joke last year. Will hopefully have social plans. Nothing worth DVRing on this night anyway.

Saturday

What I’ll DVR: Saturday Night Live

Even after a down season, this show still provides laughs in its best sketches. And I have high hopes for last year’s breakout stars Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett.

https://screen.yahoo.com/beer-pong-090000354.html

Other Notables:

Whenever “Community” premieres on Yahoo; “The Cosmopolitans” on Amazon, assuming it gets picked up (because any show with Adam Brody deserves my full attention).

https://screen.yahoo.com/community-sizzle-reel-203225340.html

Any shows you think I missed? Shows that I just shouldn’t be watching? Be sure to leave a comment.

The Magnificent Seven

The_Lego_Movie_poster

I was texting with my friend Kevin last night, and he asked me what my favorite movie of 2014 was. Not best movie, mind you, but my favorite. And the sad thing is, after a summer filled with some real promise, there haven’t been that many entertaining movies (and I think the ledger tilts in favor of comedy, at least so far). So, without further ado, let’s talk about my seven favorite movies of 2014. Please feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments below. Continue reading