Little Fish, Large Emotions

Little Fish is a new romantic film relevant to our times with sci-fi elements has just come out in video on demand and a few select theaters which will please sci-fi fans and their dates while offering genuine emotions to all viewers.

Little Fish takes place during a pandemic where people from all walks of life are randomly infected with a debilitating disease that robs them of their memories. The disease, neuro-inflammatory affliction (NIA), can be easily compared to Alzheimer’s disease but young people contract the disease, as well. Little Fish devotes its screentime on how NIA affects a young newlywed couple, Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell), as the disease eats away at their treasured memories of their relationship.

Elevated by strong performances and haunting and scintillating cinematography, Little Fish hits the appropriate emotional beats as it explores the couple’s love for each other as they grapple with NIA. At the start of the film, the couple see firsthand how devastating the disease is when their mutual friend Ben (Raul Castillo), a musician, struggles to remember how to play his guitar and then his relationship with his partner, Samantha (Soko). It is not long before she becomes a complete stranger to him, who he sees as an actual threat to him.

Emma and Jude go about their lives; she is a veterinarian who is forced to euthanize dogs after their owners forget them, while Jude is a photographer who begins to forget certain little things like his wedding photography assignment or a recent conversation he had with Emma. Now that Jude has contracted NIA, the couple is desperate to find at least some kind of treatment. Throughout the film, we see other NIA sufferers and the impact on society. These include, roving and constant police patrols searching for missing persons who forgot their addresses or who they are; people who have their personal information tattooed onto themselves; throngs of desperate people rioting as they try to get treated for NIA. Then there are the quacks and conspiracy nutjobs flooding social media and the internet with supposed cures.

Director Chad Hartigan knows enough not to let the film’s focus drift away too much into the outside world. Instead, the attention is kept on Emma and Jude. Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell have a pleasant and easygoing chemistry with each other, which makes Jude’s descent into amnesia all the more disheartening. There are many insightful moments when we witness how his memories become faulty. In one scene, we are shown how people in the memory of his wedding become little more than fuzzy silhouettes. Many of their moments are poignant as Emma and Jude clutch onto the small moments in their past that drew them to each other. There are times, the film potentially becomes treacly, but Hartigan has enough restraint to reel in such emotional hazards and keeps the feelings in check.

Little Fish is an emotionally satsifying indie film that leaves you pondering and treasuring your own memories. It is the kind of film that will please romantics without being overly sentimental since it is quite honest with its story and the journey of its characters.

Quicksilver: We Didn’t See That Coming!

Spoiler Alert: If anyone reading this has not seen the latest episode of WandaVision and do not want to be spoiled then click away!

With that out of the way, it’s time to go over the latest WTF moment in the Disney+ TV show WandaVision, which is the kickoff to Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The show stars Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as the Avengers Wanda Maximoff and Vision. Unlike previous MCU incarnations the show was in a sitcom format but recent developments have revealed WandaVision to be much more than a comedy.

Apparently, Wanda has experienced some kind of emotional breakdown and used her powers to create an alternate reality in a New Jersey town called Westview where she lives a sitcom existence with her husband, Vision, complete with a laugh track. However, cracks have manifested in her reality as we are fed clues as to what is actually happening. Each question answered led to new questions including the shock reveal at the end of episode five of WandaVision called “On a Very Special Episode…”, which was a true head spinner.

In the MCU, Wanda’s superpowered brother Pietro aka Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) died during Avengers: Age of Ultron and Wanda is still mourning his death. But at the end of the episode Quicksilver shows up in her front door as her long-lost brother (complete with audience cheers at the revelation of the special guest star). The true shocker was that Quicksilver was not portrayed by Taylor-Johnson but by Evan Peters who played the same character in the Fox X-Men films, a completely different film universe unrelated to the MCU.

Needless to say, fans online are geeking out over Peters’ reprisal of Quicksilver because it now creates a link between the two film universes and is just a taste of what is to come with the MCU films. The next Spider-Man film will bring back several actors from the Sony Spider-Man films to reprise their roles and the sequel to Doctor Strange tells us that the sorcerer will be up to his ears with alternate realities by the sequel’s title, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. However, the crossing over of film universes actually began in the most recent Spider-Man film (Spider-Man: Far From Home), which showed J.K. Simmons reprising his role of J. Jonah Jameson from the Sony Spider-Man films.

Quicksilver’s appearance in WandaVision raised many questions such as is that actually the Quicksilver from the Fox X-Men films? He acted differently than the speedster featured in the last X-Men films. Or is that his personality has been supplanted by Wanda’s powers? In “On a Very Special Episode…” it was revealed that the townspeople in Westview had their true personalities supplanted by fictional characters to serve the comedic hijinks in Wanda’s sitcom reality.

Also, if this is the Fox X-Men Quicksilver then he is replacing the MCU version of Quicksilver because he is dead and Wanda clearly makes a point in the episode five that she cannot resurrect the dead. That contradicts the fact that Vision is alive in the Westview reality and she is aware that her husband is dead in the MCU. then again Vision is an artificial being so she may have been able to bring him back to “life” with her powers. Also, since the episode takes place in the 1980s, Quicksilver in the Fox X-Men films was alive during this time period and it would have been easier to transport him to the 80s setting of the Westview reality.

The special guest appearance of Quicksilver gives us hope that other Fox X-Men characters portrayed by the original actors may appear in the MCU. Olsen has said WandaVision will feature a surprise cameo on the level of Luke Skywalker/Mark Hamill appearing in The Mandalorian. Who could that be? Patrick Stewart as Professor X? Hugh Jackman as Wolverine? There were reports a year or so ago that those actors met with Marvel Studios for undisclosed reasons. Maybe it was to negotiate them returning? On the other hand, both actors made it clear they were done with their roles. Perhaps Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) will be the surprise. His breaking of the fourth wall would fit in well with the meta nature of WandaVision, if one thinks about it.

Of course, there could be another explanation and Quicksilver could be Mephisto in disguise or another hapless townsperson whose personality was altered to becoming Pietro, but not his appearance. In other words, Peters is playing a Westview resident forced to assume the Quicksilver personna and the fact that Peters is playing the person is just a nod and wink to viewers and fans. Still, the casting was a bonafide treat not just for MCU fans but for those fans of the Fox X-Men films who can take heart that those films have not been forgotten.

Memo To Marvel Studios: Release Your Films!

OK, the title of this post does come off a might hyperbolic, but the feeling is justified among many fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) who have been without any new MCU films in over a year and a half.

Of course, this is not the fault of Marvel Studios or even Disney since the COVID-19 pandemic has been so disruptive in our society. Disney cannot do any widescale release of films in theaters because most of them are closed for safety reasons. Who wants to go to a crowded movie theater during the middle of a pandemic? Even if Disney was inclined to release a film widescale now they would lose money. Just look what happened last year when Warner Bros. released Tenet in the summer.

Last month, Disney and Marvel Studios announced a release schedule for their films for this year with Black Widow due on May 7th. This announcement was done with the understanding that the pandemic would be under control. However, at this point it will take some more time, with the latest estimates of widescale vaccine distribution happening during the late spring, summer and early fall. This jeopardizes the release schedule of the MCU films with Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (due on July 9th) and even Eternals (November 5th).

The problem with the MCU films, and one of its strengths, is their interconnected nature. To fully appreciate the films they have to be watched in order as certain scenes connect with the other films. For example the post-credits scene in Captain Marvel deliberately led into the next MCU film Avengers: Endgame. Another example can be seen with the Infinity Stones. The Reality Stone was the main macguffin in Thor: The Dark World and was seen been placed in a specific spot for safe keeping at the end of that film. But in Avengers: Infinity War, the main villain traveled to that spot and obtained the Reality Stone.

A new wrinkle is that are the new MCU TV shows on Disney+ are certainly part of the MCU, and what happens in those shows will be referenced in upcoming films.

Rumor had it that even though Black Widow was a prequel film, it set up future events in the MCU from the introduction of the Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers to Black Widow’s sister, Yelena Belova, becoming the new Black Widow. Yelena has already been confirmed to appear in the Disney+ show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. So this is a strong reason why Marvel Studios wants Black Widow to be the first MCU film out of the gate and not launch the cinematic part of the MCU’s Phase Four with Shang-Chi or Eternals.

But the problem is that pushing back Black Widow pushes back other slated MCU films. Some of us are eager to see the next Doctor Strange film, which was already delayed to next year, as an example. What would be the reaction if it got bumped to 2023? Would this imperil other announced films in pre-production to the point of them being cancelled?

The delay also could jeopardize the release of the Disney+ shows and in fact already has. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was supposed to be the first Disney+ TV show to stream followed by WandaVision. Now that has been reversed with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier coming out this March as WandaVision is currently streaming. But who knows how more film delays would affect the future Disney+ shows?

Something has to be done. At this point it would be best if Black Widow and even Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings were released on Disney+ this year. This would satisfy fans who are eager for new film content (though many are pleased with WandaVision), entice more subscribers to the streaming service, free up the backlog of films piling up now, and maintain the viewing order of both films and TV shows. Also consider this, is there a great demand to see Black Widow knowing the character’s fate or Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which features a character who was last popular during the 1970s?

Yes, this will hurt Disney financially but the company is already losing money and are going all in with their streaming platform. Releasing the films on their app would generate revenue so it would not be a complete loss. Of course, this endangers the filmgoing experience later on but this is inevitable. No matter what Marvel Studios and Disney decides, this situation cannot continue, but we’ll know soon what they decide. 

It could have been worse. Take comfort that at least we got to see Avengers: Endgame in theaters before all this started.

The Eve Of Marvel’s Phase Four

MCU Phase 4

It is hard to believe that the last official offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was well over a year ago (Spider-Man: Far From Home). We fans underwent a severe drought thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic which left most theaters closed and films delayed. Thanks to the pandemic there weren’t any offerings from the MCU last year unless the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is counted, and there are valid arguments that the show is no longer part of the MCU. However, all this will change later this week with the debut of WandaVision on the streaming app, Disney+.

It feels a bit strange that the MCU event that will kick off its Phase Four will be a TV show instead of a film, but that was inevitable given COVID-19. Black Widow was supposed to launch Phase Four last year followed by the show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but many delays killed that plan. Many believed Disney would air Black Widow during the holidays on Disney+ but that never happened. Instead Marvel Studios and its head Kevin Feige were determined that the cinematic start of the MCU’s fourth phase would happen with Black Widow, which is currently scheduled to premiere on May 7. Of course, this is not guaranteed given the nature of the pandemic. Sure, there are vaccines available but the distribution has been awful and unless it ramps up, at this rate our society will not be protected enough by spring. However, if efforts to speed up vaccinations follow through as promised by President-elect Biden and others then it could be safe for a significant portion of the population to go back to theaters by the late spring or summer. Let’s hope so because there already is a scheduling casualty this year.

Sony announced that its Marvel film Morbius, originally scheduled to be released last fall and moved to this March, will be moved again to October 8 now. This is not a severe delay and will be a better fit given the time of the year and the fact that Morbius stars a vampiric anti-hero. But this is concerning. Does this mean other films will be shuffled again? So far, the MCU films slated for this year (Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Eternals) are still on schedule. What helps is that after Black Widow, the other two MCU films will premiere in the second half of 2021, The pandemic better be winding down by then. If it isn’t, then Disney may not have a choice but to release Black Widow and maybe the other two films on Disney+ to avoid creating a backlog with 2022’s scheduled releases and causing more delays.

With that said, Marvel Studios has quite a trove of MCU fare for waiting fans. Except for the third MCU Spider-Man film from Sony, the MCU films slated for this year may not be eagerly anticipated like Thor: Love and Thunder, but the TV shows coming out this year will more than make up for that until 2022. The 2021 shows will feature beloved MCU heroes and villains played by the same actors and boasting movie-quality production values and effects. However, many of the shows promise to be quite…unique. The trailers for WandaVision have shown that it will be as unconventional and bizarre as Legion or Doom Patrol, which will be a creative boost for the MCU. Although the MCU films are revered worldwide, they can be faulted for following a familiar formula and look. WandaVision, Loki and What If…? should push the envelope and take chances as promised by Feige and Marvel Studios. 

Meanwhile for the more conventional shows, it is rumored that mutants will make their MCU debut in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Some have observed from BTS set photos that part of the show seems to take place in Madripoor, a country heavily featured in the Wolverine comics. The enemy mutant Omega Red is supposedly appearing either in this show or in the Shang-Chi movie. The final TV shows scheduled for late 2021, Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel will debut more modern and popular heroes, such as Kate Bishop and Kamala Khan. 

hawkeye kate bishop and pizza dog

 

Disney+ will premiere new TV shows next year starring other popular Marvel heroes making their live-action debuts. These are Moon Knight (with Oscar Isaac playing the psychotic title hero), She-Hulk (supposedly a legal comedy…the jury is out if this is the case, pun intended), Ironheart (perhaps this will have Robert Downey, Jr. coming back as an AI mentor this time?) and the event series based on important storylines from the Marvel comics Secret Invasion and Armor Wars. One other TV special will be mentioned below.

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Top Ten Films & TV Shows Of 2020

2020 has certainly been a strange and troubling year with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the entertainment industry.

As the film studios and theaters suffered greatly from the mass closures for public safety, the television arm of the entertainment industry saw a boon since they had literal captive audiences eager for any new content.

Films

Even though many films scheduled for 2020 were postponed for the year, there were many other films that either had limited theatrical releases or managed to come out in the early months of the year before COVID-19 created the lockdowns. Hopefully as the now-availalbe vaccines are administered throughout the population, 2021 will see more of a return to normalcy as theaters will be able to safely re-open.

Please note many films that were released solely digitally or through streaming platforms were not considered for this list; a film had to have some kind of theatrical release even if it debuted in few theaters at the same time they were released digitally. Here are the ten best theatrical films of 2020.

10. Onward

Pixar’s other animated cinematic offering for 2020 was an uplifting and fun adventure that took place in a world where mythical and magical beings and creatures exist today. In the film, two elf brothers set out on a road trip across the country to temporarily resurrect their deceased father. As with most Pixar films, the characters and their emotions took center stage as the two realized their brotherly love for one another. 

9. The New Mutants

The sole Marvel film of 2020 turned out to be the coda of the Fox X-Men films, which was a surprise given it has been delayed so many times. Fortunately, The New Mutants turned out to be a decent superhero film about teenagers coming to grips with their superpowers and life as the film was tinged with chilling horror elements.

alone at the midnight sky

8. The Midnight Sky

George Clooney directed and starred in this introspective sci-fi film based on a book by Lily Brooks-Dalton. Clooney played a lone scientist in an arctic outpost who tries to warn the crew of a returning spacecraft not to come to Earth because it has undergone an extinction-level event. The film was a quiet and captivating character study of the scientist and the spacecraft crew as they struggled to survive in their hostile environments.

7. Underwater

Director William Eubanks is perhaps the most underrated director of sci-fi films today and his latest film continued to demonstrate this. Underwater may be filled with the usual tropes of a crew in an underwater research station being hunted by unknown, Lovecraftian creatures, but it was well crafted, claustrophobic and had the right amount of jump scares and unexpected character studies which elevated this film. 

6. Greenland

Gerard Butler starred in a surprisingly effective disaster film that smartly focused on a single family when cometary fragments crashed into the Earth. By staying with the family as they tried to make their way to safety, Greenland was able to directly show how the catastrophic event affected the family as they grappled with fear, uncertainty and confusion. 

5. Sonic the Hedgehog

Who would have thought that 2020 would have given us a winning film based on a popular video game character? It is more remarkable given the negative reaction to the first trailer which led to Sonic being radically re-designed more to fans’ liking. The effort paid off as Sonic the Hedgehog was a fun and endearing road trip/buddy film that delighted many viewers and not just fans. The road trip/buddy aspect of the film may be familiar but it worked as Sonic, the cartoonish alien, experiences life on Earth for the first time. 

4. #Alive

This South Korean film took a tired zombie/survival trope and reinvigorated it. In the film a young adult gamer is trapped in his apartment during a zombie apocalypse and as he undergoes bouts of loneliness and struggles to keep his sanity, he learns about survival and finding one’s inner strength. This character study made the film very engaging as we found ourselves rooting for the young gamer.

 

3. Color Out of Space

Nicolas Cage was in rare form in this macabre adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story. This horror/sci-fi yarn was quite unsettling in its first half which told the story of a crashed meteor’s unearthly physical effect in a nearby farm. By the second half, Color Out of Space metamorphized into a vivid and disturbing body-horror ordeal that was literally mind bending and shattering as the meteor’s alien influence transformed all life surrounding it, including the hapless farmer and his family. 

love and monsters dog

2. Love and Monsters

This exciting and more light-hearted post-apocalyptic film was a actually a coming-of-age story about a young man who learned to believe in himself as he set out across the ruined landscape of the U.S. to find his supposed true love. Sometimes it is compared to Zombieland, though that is not entirely accurate. In truth, Love and Monsters focused less on laughs and more on its endearing characters and imaginative, giant mutated animals that the film’s hero and his companion dog had to face during his difficult journey.

1. Soul

Two big films were released on streaming platforms (and had very limited theatrical releases), even though one of them (Wonder Woman 1984) had much more buzz and attention, Soul was not only the better of the two films but the best film of the year. The underlying themes may go over the heads of the younger viewers, though they and everyone else will be delighted by the film’s plot of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), as a struggling musician who dies and refuses to go to heaven. From there, he sets off on a spiritual and metaphysical quest to return to life filled with solid characters and relationships. 

Not only is Soul perfectly animated and chock full of visual delights, but like the best of Pixar, it examines the larger questions in life and its script is unexpected. At its heart, Soul is about…life and what one makes of it. However, it also forces the viewer to contemplate and appreciate the simpler and most relevant aspects of life, and in this tumultous year, this may be the most important message of all. 

Honorable Mentions:

Bill & Ted Face the Music, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), The Invisible Man, Peninsula, Possessor, Vivarium

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