Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Trip to Omaha Film Festival

I've just returned from a trip to the 14-year old Omaha Film Festival in Nebraska, where, to my surprise, there was two feet of snow piled everywhere.  Despite this, the film fans were everywhere and my two appearances had large and enthusiastic crowds.  In fact, for my evening event, I needed to get in early to set up for my show, but the waiting crowd would not let me through.  Of course, they didn't know what Bill Plympton looked like (animation directors rarely get recognized).

When I arrived from the Omaha airport, my driver took me on a tour of the city - we drove past Warren Buffett's modest home and we saw a very large number of churches.  My driver remarked how Omaha citizens are very religious and very friendly - they call it "Nebraska Nice".  But when I tried to get through the crowd and enter my show early, the "Nebraska Nice" had disappeared.  As hard as I pushed, I couldn't get through them.  If they were so determined to get into my show, then screw "Nebraska Nice", I guess.  Of course, once they realized I was Bill Plympton (and I wasn't going to steal a seat from them) they apologized profusely and we all laughed at it.

Between my shows, I had some free time to play - there was too much snow to really walk around and explore the city, so I decided to catch up on my movie viewing.  I'm a big fan of the "How to Train Your Dragon" franchise, so decided to watch the new (and final) release in the trilogy, subtitled "The Hidden World", directed by Dean DeBlois.  In this sequel, Hiccup and Toothless are grown up and taking care of the village.  The story is very emotional and exciting - the only boring part was the scene where Toothless (the Black Dragon) romances the white female dragon.  It was too long and didn't really use the humor and sensitivity available from the situation.

Still, the visuals were just overwhelmingly beautiful!  I often found myself swooning at the gorgeous imagery and design.  A lot of the style and the look of the film was advised by the famous cinematographer Roger Deakins.  What eye-popping visuals!  I give the film an "A".

The other film I wanted to see was "Captain Marvel", from the Marvel comic franchise, starring the great Brie Larson, who was also in "The Room" (one of my favorite films).  I saw it in the same cinema where I saw "How to Train Your Dragon" but the difference was literally night and day.  "Dragon" was alive, sparkling, and colorful, while "Captain Marvel" was brown, muddy, dark and difficult to watch, and that feeling followed through to the story.

I could not get excited about the story, in fact I fell asleep twice.  All the scenes took place in two boring locations that had no visual excitement.  I must confess I don't have a lot of background with Marvel Comics or Captain Marvel, but the character seemed very bland and I never was able to understand exactly what super powers she had, and why sometimes she used them and sometimes she didn't.   I give "Captain Marvel" a "C-".

But my office manager, John Holderried, who's a big Marvel Comics fan, also saw the "Captain Marvel" movie this week, and I've asked him to chime in here with a dissenting opinion.  So, take it away, John:


Well, unlike Bill, I do read Marvel Comics, but I don't usually read the "Captain Marvel" series.  I only know of the character because of her on-and-off history as an Avenger, and her appearances in the company-wide crossover books like "Civil War" and "Infinity Wars".  She's been around since the 1970's, only she was formerly known as Ms. Marvel, the girlfriend of the original "Captain Marvel", who died of cancer.  (In fact, Marvel has had EIGHT characters that have gone by this superhero name, Carol Danvers is the most recent, but also one of the most successful.)  Later Ms. Marvel lost her powers and memory, but gained new powers and called herself Binary, then when she got her old life back she went by the name Warbird, then finally landed on Captain Marvel when the name was free, and the editors could stop the writers from creating new characters calling themselves that.

There was a push in the 1970's by Marvel to create new female characters, but usually they just ended up being female versions of the already-popular heroes.  So, after Spider-Man took off, they created Spider-Woman.  Do the fans like Hulk?  Then, they'll love She-Hulk!  More recently, Thor's ex-girlfriend Jane Foster became Lady Thor for a few years (as if that's not a contradiction) and then they created a female Hawkeye (also stupidly called Hawkeye) and now an Iron Man female knock-off called Ironheart, among others.  Yes, it's silly, cheap and a blatant attempt to double profits and market share, but it not only reaches the female comic-book fans (yes, they're out there) but works to redress the traditional unfairness that's been around since the early days of comic books.  It's very rare when an original non-knockoff female character becomes a hit, like Black Widow or Squirrel Girl.

You see, back in the early days of Marvel, only 20% of the original Avengers and X-Men were women, and only the Fantastic Four fared better statistically at 25%.  Things improved slightly during the 1970's and 80's, especially among the X-Men, with the introductions of Storm, Kitty Pryde, Dazzler, Rogue, Psylocke and many of the New Mutants, but the top-respected teams like the Avengers and Fantastic Four remained mostly a boy's club.  In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they fell into the same trap, with only one female member on the "Avengers" team at the start. (see also "Guardians of the Galaxy")  When nearly 50% of the movie audience is female, why should women be only 16% or 20% of the heroes?

But finally, there's a game-changing Marvel super-heroine movie, following, of course, on the heels of DC's smash "Wonder Woman", and Disney/Lucasfilm making the lead role in the latest "Star Wars" trilogy female, and isn't it about damn time?  I expect "Captain Marvel" to do for women heroes what "Black Panther" did for African-American ones.  And if you want to be ready for "Avengers: Endgame" then you simply MUST see this movie if you want to start to get an idea about how the Marvel heroes are going to ultimately manage to defeat Thanos.

I'm not sure exactly why Bill found the movie so boring - maybe because most of it took place back in the 1990's, and there were no Avengers or other super-villains yet, and in fact there was no internet or smart-phones or Sony Playstations, so maybe the world was a little more boring back then.  Nick Fury wasn't a cynical renegade agent who breaks the rules, he was just a regular old government guy who followed orders.  If anything, he and Phil Coulson reminded me of the leads from "Men in Black", especially since they were suddenly forced to deal with not one but TWO races of aliens invading the Earth.

And when "Veers" (the Kree soldier with the mysterious past) finds herself on Earth, and starts finding evidence that she might in fact BE an earthling named Carol Danvers, she's got to piece together what happened in her past to figure out what's so important on Earth that both the Kree and their enemy, the Skrulls, both want it.  Usually I hate films that are this flash-backy, but here it sort of works, because the audience learns Captain Marvel's origin at the same time she does.  Perhaps everything that she's been told about herself, the Skrulls and the whole Kree Empire is a mountain of lies.

And that's where "Captain Marvel" becomes relevant for today's audience, even though it's set in the 1990's, and also was clearly developed before the 2016 election, which I think somebody assumed would go the other way. (Why else would the Supreme Intelligence appear to Carol Danvers as an older woman with blond hair, wearing a pants-suit?  JK...)  And it turns out that her Kree handler has been training her NOT to use her powers, just to keep her in check - plus they've been torturing her with memories of every time that she's failed or fell short at something during her entire life.  (Bill, this is why she didn't always use her powers, the Kree Patriarchy was keeping her down...)

So, really, what we've got here isn't just the first Marvel solo superheroine, she's the first #metoo superheroine.  Both the Earth society AND the Kree society have been telling her all her life that she shouldn't play sports, shouldn't become a pilot, shouldn't use her powers.  She's been lied to, marginalized and manipulated for years, and finally she determines, rightfully so, that she's had just about enough of that, the gloves are coming off and the power she has is there to be used.  So if I were you, I'd get out of her way.

While this isn't a perfect film - I'd rate it a "7" where I gave "Black Panther" an "8" - if it connects with an audience, male or female or both, I predict it will be a similar success.   --John H.


Well, there you go.  Now here's a new gag cartoon for you - see you next time!

--Bill P.

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