Dear Mr. Watterson

“The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us,” Bill Watterson once quipped.  How appropriate that quote seems, coming from the creator of Calvin and his alter ego Spaceman Spiff.  After years of enjoying random Calvin and Hobbes collections that my brothers owned, I was surprised and delighted to learn how much more there is to both the comics and their creator.

Dear Mr. Watterson portraitI encountered Dear Mr. Watterson while scrolling through movie suggestions online.  Intrigued to see that this was a documentary, I read the film’s description and decided to give it a chance  Now those of you who are true Watterson fans probably know that he is a recluse and values his privacy.  So you may be wondering how this documentary handles Watterson’s personal story and whether it invades his life in any way.  I know when I saw the documentary called Dear Mr. Watterson on my computer screen, my first thought was that it would be about Bill Watterson and might cross a line by prying into his personal life.  Despite initial misgivings on this point, though, I decided to find out what it was really about.  I’m glad that I did because the film is not what I had expected and is surprisingly good.  Rather than divulging Watterson’s “secrets” in some sort of scandalous fashion, the film tactfully avoids Watterson’s life for the most part and focuses more on his work, his influences, his legacy, and why Calvin and Hobbes is so popular worldwide.

Dear Mr. Watterson is charming and fun.  The music is cheerful and accompanies the comic exploration perfectly.  Most of the documentary consists of interviews, and I enjoyed hearing other comic artists share their thoughts on Watterson and his work.  Putting faces and voices with the names of all these famous comic artists was especially neat.  I never thought I would listen to an interview with Bill Amend or other artists whose work I have perused in the Sunday funnies.  Watterson has left an impressive legacy behind him, having inspired and influenced many modern comic artists in their work.  Additional interviewees include cartoon museum curators, syndicate administrators, and other people involved or interested in the comic world.

Calvin and Hobbes first strip

Calvin and Hobbes debut in their first comic strip.

In addition to appreciating the new perspectives the film provides on Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes, I especially enjoyed the beautiful colors and the animated renditions of Watterson’s watercolors, which would begin as sketches and then fill with pools of color in a very artistic fashion.  One of the challenges in documentaries is supplementing interviews with footage that shows the story instead of telling it, and I think the animations of Watterson’s art are a tasteful solution that keeps the documentary visually interesting.  Often, these colorful displays of Calvin and Hobbes art accompany Watterson’s witty quotes, which gave me new insight into his personality and perspectives and often left me with a smile or a laugh.

That ability to bring joy to his audience is key to Watterson’s success, I think.  Through Calvin and Hobbes, Watterson found a way to touch people in a surprising way as they shared in the characters’ emotions, humor, and adventuresome spirit.  Calvin and his tiger friend remind their audience of many things, from the preciousness of friendship to the fun of imagination, and I think that touchstone with readers is what has made these characters so timeless.

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Review: Captain Marvel

Drumming up an original introduction to yet another Marvel movie review requires more effort with each review. What original words can be said about this one that have not already been said in some combination regarding the myriad of predecessors? Has the franchise passed its prime? That is the question I concern myself with, probably too often. Is there an original thread to be plucked, or thought to be explored that hasn’t been already?

This is popcorn fare. Designed to bring crowds to the theater, satisfy the faithful comic-book readers as well as those who casually keep up with the films. Glitz, glamour, extensive action set pieces. It’s practically rote for Marvel films at this point.

And speaking of Marvel, Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel. Through a series of flashbacks, Carol’s story is revealed. It’s a sad, happy tale that includes a not-so-ordinary cat named Goose and a younger Nick Fury, who still has two functioning eyes. This film marks the first time a woman has taken a leading role in a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film. This feels less significant in the film than it does on paper, because the movie doesn’t highlight the gender of the main character. I think this is appropriate–the film seeks to tell a good story, free of politicization.

While the story was not bad, I am sad to admit that, other than some well-placed bits of belly-laugh-inducing humor, this movie failed to excite me in a visceral, lasting way. But regardless, it’s a fun popcorn flick. Will I watch it over and over as the years go by? Unlikely. But like the recent glut of Marvel films, if you like seeing movies at the theater, this is another one that feels hand-crafted to pair best with a big screen, a massive sound system, soda, and a bag of popcorn.

A Marvel Movie Trio

In the midst of a busy summer, I have managed to explore some new (to me) Marvel cinematic creations.  Here are some of my impressions.

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor-ragnarok-920x518I had wanted to watch Thor: Ragnarok ever since it came out but only just saw it for the first time earlier this summer.  After hearing so many positive recommendations of this movie from friends, you might think my expectations would have been disappointed, but I found Thor: Ragnarok to be as much good fun as I had hoped.  From the opening to the closing shot, the movie is packed with hilarity and adventure.  I think the tone of Ragnarok is reminiscent of the first Thor movie with its comedic flair, in contrast to the more serious Dark World.  Plus, the rock music soundtrack perfectly complements the film and adds to the action sequences and overall humor of the movie.  If you haven’t already, be sure to look up the lyrics to the Led Zeppelin “Immigrant Song” that the movie features as it is surprisingly suited to the characters and story.

Black Panther

Black Panther poster

Black Panther is another movie I had been meaning to watch and had heard positive comments about.  When I finally saw it for myself, I did like it, but I found the character development a bit lacking.  The movie spends too much time on Wakanda’s flashy technology at the expense of the characters and even the plot.  While I admit Wakandan culture and futuristic gadgets are interesting and worth exploring, I feel like focusing on these takes too much time and attention away from more important elements of the story.  Also, I think T’Challa’s antagonist could have been much more compelling; he has a lot of potential but fails to live up to it.  All that said, though, I do like Black Panther as a superhero and think he and Wakanda are a valuable addition to the Marvel cinematic universe.  I especially like the Wakandan “special forces” the Dora Milaje, and I enjoy how the movie pays homage to African culture and traditions.

X-Men: Apocalypse

https_blogs-images.forbes.comscottmendelsonfiles201605X-Men-Apocalypse-launch-quad-poster-1200x903Any movie with an ancient Egyptian villain automatically tempts me to laugh, but ancient mutant En Sabah Nur aside, I enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse.  As always, the exploration of X-Men characters’ backstories is intriguing, and I appreciate the depth the latest film series has given characters like Raven (Mystique) and Erik (Magneto).  My favorite installations of the latest movies are still First Class and Days of Future Past (in that order), but I think this film shares some of the same worthwhile elements as the first two.  If you can endure the somewhat laughable villain, Apocalypse is another enjoyable and interesting addition to the latest X-Men series.


All in all, my Marvel movie summer has been fun, and I’m glad to have finally caught up on these three films.  Now, I’m ready to jump into the next one I have heard so much about:  Avengers: Infinity War (Bone’s review of this is available here).

Happy viewing!

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Avengers: Infinity War

Call me jaded – but the thought of another two-and-a-half hour film filled with superheroic antics did not have me excited. As I mused a long time ago in our Thor: The Dark World review, it’s difficult to create compelling drama when franchise deals guarantee characters’ survival to appear in future films. Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of all the drama escaping as the film deflates.

This problem is still present in Avengers: Infinity War, directed by duo Anthony and Joe Russo (the Brothers Russo as I shall refer to them): we know that Spiderman will be appearing in an unnamed Spiderman sequel, and we know that the Guardians of the Galaxy will be getting a part 3. So what could really happen?

A lot, as it turns out.

The Brothers Russo seem to be aware of the dramatic pitfalls of serialized adventures and have taken steps to heighten the stakes. Which isn’t to say this film is perfect; but boy, does it deliver on the expectations built up over 10 years, all the way back from the first post-credits scene in Ironman, when Nick Fury tells Tony about the Avengers Initiative.

Well, the Avengers have grown up, and if Infinity War’s principal villain, Thanos (played by Josh Brolin), gets his way and manages to destroy half the population of the universe, the Avengers might have quite a lot to avenge by the time this 2 part movie arc reaches its conclusion.

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*** Mild Spoilers Ahead ***

Infinity War kicks off at the bitter conclusion of a battle between Thanos, aided by his children, and the Asgardians – Thor, Heimdall, Loki, and the rest. The Asgardian ship is half-destroyed, and most everyone dead. In a last-ditch effort, Heimdall teleports the Hulk off the ship, back to earth to warn the Avengers of Thanos’s impending arrival.

This film builds compellingly towards its climax; more the story of Thanos, the destroyer of worlds, than any one other one hero, the film also manages to fit in some interesting character arcs for Star Lord and Scarlet Witch; while there’s only time for minimal development of most of the cast, none of the characters feel shallow or weak as a result. Maybe that’s a result of all the previous films; we only get one scene with Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, but that’s all that the film needs – the audience knows the characters.

The film’s ending is the most surprising part of this superheroic outing, and for me the best part of the film: bold, kinetic, unexpected, utterly devastating while also supremely hopeful. It’s the ultimate cliffhanger, where the filmmakers not only take the heroes to the cliff, but actually throw them off the cliff as well.

The Brothers Russo have rustled up something fresh from the superhero milieu that has been suffocating itself. For this, I applaud them. Is the superhero genre getting long in the tooth? Sure. Might it soon go the way of the Westerns? Probably. But for now, Marvel Studios has once again proved that they still know what makes a good story, and how to tell it in an unexpected way.

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Two Charlie Brown Christmas Movies

This year, I discovered two Charlie Brown Christmas movies I had never seen before.  Part of me was excited, but I also wondered how the more modern short films would compare to A Charlie Brown Christmas, the 1965 short I’ve grown up watching.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales

Charlie Brown's Christmas TalesCharlie Brown’s Christmas Tales is an extremely brief film at only eighteen minutes in length.  One at a time, the short film focuses on each of the main Peanuts characters, depicting brief scenes of the protagonists and highlighting their personalities.  Each section of the film is like a Christmas postcard about the main characters, and the movie lacks a major storyline.  Interestingly, Christmas Tales introduces a new character to me, Lucy and Linus’ little brother Rerun.  At first I thought Rerun was Linus, but I eventually figured out who he was as I began watching the next short film.

I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown

Rerun and Snoopy

Rerun and Snoopy

A much more substantial forty-three minutes, I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown stars Rerun and Snoopy.  The main storyline follows Rerun’s attempts to get a dog of his own.  Rerun pesters Charlie Brown about playing with, and even buying, Snoopy and is constantly inventing new tactics for acquiring the dog he longs for.  Like Linus, Rerun is very serious but is still convincingly the youngest child because he is more whiney and less well-read than his older brother.

Conclusion

While I still prefer the 1965 Christmas short film, Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales and I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown are enjoyable too.  I like the new storylines involving Snoopy in I Want a Dog, and Rerun is a fun new character.  Both films are humorous and have the jazzy Peanuts music I love, including some additional tunes.  And although neither film has messages as deep as in A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charles Schulz still includes some thought-provoking moments.

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Anime Wizards and Blue Cats

Fiore is a land of wizardry and magic, and Fairy Tail is one of its many wizard guilds.  In addition to its unusual name, Fairy Tail has a reputation for leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, for its good-intentioned wizards are often reckless when fulfilling quests to help the people of Fiore.  The first season of the anime show Fairy Tail features a hilarious cast of characters, a story full of adventure and magic, and themes of loyalty, courage, and friendship.

Fairy Tail characters

Left to right, top to bottom: Natsu, Lucy, Happy, Gray, and Erza

Natsu, Happy, and Lucy form the core trio of Fairy Tail characters.  When the story begins, Lucy joins Fairy Tail as its newest member, and viewers get to know the guild and its members along with Lucy.  Lucy often feels intimidated among Fairy Tail’s powerful wizards but manages to hold her own with her special brand of celestial wizard magic—where she uses magical keys to summon spirits to help her.  Despite a sweet disposition, Lucy can be feisty, especially when Natsu, Happy, and Gray annoy her.  Raised by a dragon, Natsu fights with fire magic and a temper to match.  Impetuous, cocky, and stubborn, Natsu’s character qualities may seem negative but end up endearing him to his friends and the audience.  These traits also make him a formidable opponent when fighting evil wizards because hard-headed persistence can be an effective strategy.  Natsu’s best friend is the talking cat Happy, who stands out for being blue, able to fly, and one of the sweetest characters in the show.  Gray and Erza are two other main characters.  Ice wizard Gray is taciturn and reclusive, and he and Natsu get along about as well as ice and fire because Natsu’s competitive spirit keeps the two of them fighting all the time.  Fairy Tail is often like a big, dysfunctional family with constant competition and squabbles, and Erza would be the mother figure, except that she often joins in the bickering herself.  An intimidating warrioress who’s most comfortable in a suit of medieval armor, Erza scares enemies and friends alike.  Erza wields magical weapons and outfits that she can exchange whenever she wants (leading to one caveat I have about the show, which is that some of Erza’s and other wizards’ outfits are immodest).  Because of her powerful abilities and serious personality, Erza is about the only person who can stop Gray and Natsu from fighting and keep them—and everyone else in Fairy Tail—in line.

Natsu and Happy

Happy and Natsu

Much of Fairy Tail’s plot revolves around its characters, developing their personalities and pasts.  As Fairy Tail proceeds through the first season, the audience learns each protagonist’s backstory and meets more members of Fairy Tail and other light and dark guilds in Fiore.  The story follows Lucy, Natsu, Happy, Gray, and Erza on their many adventures as they answer job requests, help citizens of Fiore, and compete with each other and their fellow guild members.  While elements of the plot are very episodic, Fairy Tail also has larger story arcs that tie the show together.  In fact, as I watched season two, story threads from season one came back into play within the new plot.

In addition to endearing characters and a fun story, Fairy Tail also contains wholesome themes.  Forced to work as a team on quests, the five main characters gradually become friends, learning to trust, fight with, and make sacrifices for each other.  Each of them has lost family but finds a new family in Fairy Tail and its members.  Thanks to the support of their friends, the wizards are able to forgive grievances, and even the most faint-hearted wizards discover loyalty and courage within themselves.  Hidden beneath a reputation for destruction, brawling, and partying, Fairy Tail has true heart that makes it strong.  When times are hard, Fairy Tail bands together, supporting and looking after its members and everyone who needs its help.

HappyHappy sums up a lot about Fairy Tail and why I like it.  Like Happy’s colorful appearance, unique abilities, and amicable personality, Fairy Tail has a literally and figuratively colorful cast of characters.  Each character is unique, and even the serious and reserved ones add to the show’s upbeat tone.  Combined with a story and themes to match these characters, Fairy Tail is a fun anime show to watch.

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Redefining Wonder Woman

WW posterPrior to this spring, my image of Wonder Woman consisted of a woman with poufy hair wearing starry spandex, spouting cardboard dialogue, and wielding a laughable “Lasso of Truth.”  This year’s movie adaptation of the comic book heroine, however, paints a different picture.  Now, Diana Prince displays dignity and strength and is simultaneously a warrior and a woman.  Together, all the elements of the movie combine to reflect the change of tone.

Wonder Woman’s plot focuses on Diana Prince’s Amazonian backstory, including a comic book version of the Greek myths.  While DC’s retelling of Greek myths is at times a bit cheesy, the other aspects of the Amazonian world are very captivating, and as Diana enters the chaos and modernity of WWI, the scriptwriters keep the audience wondering whether Diana’s Amazonian stories have any bearing on the modern world.  Particularly, viewers question Diana’s claim that Ares is the cause of the war.  Although the plot can be predictable, the characters and dialogue carry the story well.  American pilot Steve Trevor and the other members of Diana’s ragtag team back Diana up with skill and plenty of humor.  Most importantly, Gal Gadot fills her role as Diana Prince amazingly, bringing character to a caricature.  With her smiles and seriousness, Gadot transforms Diana Prince into a real person.

Gal Gadot

Diana’s reaction to her first taste of ice cream and her first encounter with a revolving door are hilariously believable thanks to Gadot’s acting, and the new character of Diana Prince brings with it freshness and vitality.  Another interesting sign of the movie’s novel approach to Wonder Woman is that throughout the movie Diana Prince is known by her personal name, not by her title “Wonder Woman.”

In keeping with the movie’s plot and tone, the costumes and music blend with the times and cultures the movie represents.  When fighting, Diana dons Greek-style armor, not tights, and the outfits she wears while “fitting in” with London and German society are pretty much historically accurate (although no woman would be able to wear a sword down the back of her dress without anyone noticing).  Both the costumes and music capture elements of the ancient Greek and WWI eras, and I especially like the theme song’s Eastern air.  Composer Rupert Gregson-Williams expertly crafts a score that complements and represents the film’s titular character.  Like Diana Prince, the music is an exotic blend of cultures and is impressive, beautiful, and inspiring with its swelling themes and incorporation of brass, strings, choir, and percussion.

Wonder Woman photoMore surprising than the production quality, acting, or story, though, are the themes that the movie incorporates.  Diana Prince has an attachment to truth that goes beyond her golden lasso, and she demonstrates this in her blunt honesty, questions, and actions.  Throughout the movie, she is searching for truth and the difference between right and wrong.  When she faces the enemy, she refuses to believe his twisted representations of the truth.  Yet, she is willing to change her beliefs when she discovers she is wrong.  From the opening to the closing lines, Diana reveals her struggle with the truth that humans don’t deserve to be rescued, for they have created their own problems and wickedness.  Mankind is not basically good, and no matter what enemies she defeats, she will never be able to change that.  Men don’t deserve to be saved—a truth that Diana reluctantly admits.  This truth is evident, even in the banter of three of the main character soldiers, who joke, “May we get what we want…and may we get what we need…But may we never get what we deserve” (“Quotes”).  Diana doesn’t end there, though, for she realizes another, greater truth:  love is the reason to fight to save mankind.

Surprisingly, though imperfectly, Wonder Woman points to realities about love, mercy, truth, and man’s condition which I would never have expected to find in a pagan superhero movie.  While Wonder Woman lacks the ultimate answer to man’s problems, I think its discussion of these themes is valuable.  If more people understood what Diana learns in this fictional story, history and the world would be drastically different, for all too often, people assume that mankind is essentially good and blame every problem on the government, greedy businesses, or a few particularly evil people.

Diana Prince

Wonder Woman’s themes create a thoughtful movie that impacts viewers with more than just jokes or exciting action scenes.  In the midst of recent antihero movies, Wonder Woman stands out with its heroine and themes.  Diana Prince has honesty and heart.  In her actions, she uses her principles as much as her weapons, and throughout the story she emanates a dignity, strength, and compassion which give her title “Wonder Woman” a whole new meaning.


Works Cited

Wonder Woman (2017) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2017.  Internet Movie Database.  30 Aug. 2017, imdb.com/title/tt0451279/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu.

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