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'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,' 'Invasion of Astro-Monster,' 'Some Kind of Heaven'
The Falcon and the Winter Solder: Intended as the kick-off to a whole new world of Marvel television series that all fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier instead follows in the wake of the dynamic and richly imaginative WandaVision, which reset the parameters of what Marvel Television could be.
Although I persisted in hoping that the series would take off somehow and become something other than a higher-budgeted, less-ambitious series revolving around two of the lesser-known associates/members of the Avengers team, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier struggled to establish its own identity throughout its six episodes. Created by Malcolm Spellman, it felt like the series wanted to show the world that superhero stories can be inclusive, and at rare moments, it subsumed its overarching branding to display flashes of racial sensitivity to the issues it raised.
Ultimately, however, the series bowed to the corporate goals that are inherent in every other show that fits snugly on the Disney Plus streaming service. (The direct corollary here is actually to Season 2 of The Mandalorian, which ended up aping some of the more common instincts in the Star Wars Universe and bowing to expected conventions.) Evidently it's OK to suggest something out of the ordinary or boundary-breaking, but take it easy there, fella: we're still talking about a corporation whose giant mouse ears hear everything. They don't want to offend any possible consumers.
Summing up: Good production values, in the service of a story that only made fleeting stabs at non-conformity and ended up preaching to the choir. [Disney Plus]
60s Godzilla: My completist inclination led me to start watching all the original Japanese productions in the Godzilla series, which makes for a lovely start to my Saturday afternoon viewing sessions. Most are available on the Criterion Channel, though the service lacks certain titles, such as Kong vs. Godzilla and the original Mothra, for reasons that are probably too complicated to investigate. (Steaming rights give me a headache, anyway.)
This past Saturday, I jumped back in with Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), which I enjoyed immensely, even though Godzilla is only a supporting player, and followed that by watching Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), which is even better. Both directed by Ishiro Honda, and evidently made under many time and budget constraints, the latter film, especially, shows what good can result from true creativity, even in a series that was/is meant only to showcase 'monsters destroying things.'
The film begins by jettisoning most of what we know about Godzilla, revolving around two astronauts who have been sent to explore the mysterious Planet X. What they discover is an alien race that is besieged by a giant monster … who turns out to be Ghidorah! (Savvy audience members can figure this out already from watching the previous installment of the series, especially once lighting strikes the ground all around the hapless astronauts.) The film then gets even more bent, revealing an alien race that is far more complex than suspected.
Summing up: With its thematic variance from the previous films in the series, Invasion of Astro-Monster is a superior action picture that can stand alone as a weird science-fiction movie. [The Criterion Channel]
Docs About Old People: Recently, I watched The Mole Agent, a deceptively charming film about an elderly gentleman in Chile who is hired to investigate possible elder abuse at a retirement home and instead finds unexpected humanity. (More thoughts at ScreenAnarchy.) That beguiling film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best International Feature, which it did not win.
Watching Some Kind of Heaven, therefore, it became impossible for me not to think of The Mole Agent, as well as the inevitable comparisons between how the world at large treats its elderly citizens, in contrast to what happens in the U.S., and more specifically, what could happen to me. I still have some good years left before I need to change my living situation, and my kind and loving siblings have already let me know that they will be more than willing and happy to help me out further, this in the wake of my stroke a few months ago.
Still, these kind of thoughts come more readily to mind than they did in the past, especially when watching a documentary that specifically addresses concerns that affect all of us. (After all, as I learned, you may thinking that you have years to go before you have to think about end-of-life, quality-of-life issues, only for everything to change overnight.)
Lance Oppenheim's film contextualizes its stories by centering on a retirement community in Florida, where the lead subjects live, play, look for love, and make the most of their remaining years. In the case of one homeless soul, who lives in a van in the parking lot, cadging food and dodging authorities, the search for a partner has become quite desperate.
Marriage is not necessarily the answer, either. A long-married couple face the challenge of togetherness when one of them appears to be sidetracked by a serious case of mental affliction. The film takes off into surprising places, which is one aspect of documentary films that I always enjoy: how does the director handle the assemblage of a compelling storyline when he/she/they has no idea how things will turn out? [Now on DVD and Digital HD]