WandaVision — Unpacking Marvel’s New DisneyPlus Series

Posted on January 24, 2021 at 9:56 pm

Copyright 2021 Marvel

Have you taken a look at WandaVision? I’ve watched the first two episodes and I’m very intrigued. I am a fan of comics and superhero movies but I do not know much about the Wanda and Vision characters beyond what’s in the Avengers movies.

Here’s the series trailer.

And here, for those of us who are not fully immersed in the MCU, here is a deep dive into the meaning of the references in the first episode.

My friend and fellow critic Sherin Nicole wrote about Wandavision for Idobi. An exerpt:

A lot of what is most intriguing about the first three episodes of the new Disney+ series WandaVision, from Marvel Studios, is indicative of a lot of what’s wrong in America. WandaVision carries the veneer of classic TV, when everything was perfect and perfectly funny and yet we know those times weren’t great for everybody. There was something sinister beneath the surface. In that way, we suspect things aren’t so great for Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) either.

Something is very wrong in the idyllic new town they’ve moved to—we can tell because the series starts off in a The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961) world and it’s funny and it’s cute and it’s also a little bit creepy. Moments hitch, things go strangely askew, and red is the only spot of color (like a warning light or a bloody cut). The show purposefully uses one of the brightest TV shows ever made to contrast the suppurating ideology that gives “make America great again” power. And that’s what begins to make you uncomfortable—laugh track and all.

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The Prom

Posted on December 10, 2020 at 5:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive/sexual references, and language
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, homophobia
Date Released to Theaters: December 11, 2020

Copyright Netflix 2020
Irving Berlin was right. There’s no people like show people. And no one knows and loves show people as much as other show people, which is why “The Prom” is 20 percent sly satire and 80 percent love letter to the craziness that goes into entertaining audiences.

“The Prom” was a mildly successful Broadway musical about Broadway stars who want to restore their reputations after their new show has a disastrous opening night (a musical about Franklin and Eleonor Roosevelt). They see an injustice on Twitter. A small Indiana high school has cancelled its prom rather than allow a student to bring a same-sex date. And so, not even sure where Indiana is or what it is, they get on a bus, sure that their Broadway luster and can-do spirit will teach those people in flyover country about respect and inclusion. “This will be the biggest thing that’s happened in Indiana since..whatever the last big thing that happened in Indiana was,” one declares.

As you might guess, the Hoosiers are not impressed, even when Broadway leading lady Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) pulls out her two Tony Awards, which she apparently has on hand at all times, in case someone does not who Who She Is. The high school student at the center of the fuss is Emma (a star-making turn from Jo Ellen Pellman) has a bigger problem than the prom; the girl who would be her date is the daughter of the woman fighting to prevent same-sex couples from attending (Kerry Washington as Mrs. Greene). Caught in the middle is the high school principal, Tom Hawkins, who happens to be a fan of Broadway musicals, especially those featuring Dee Dee (Keegan-Michael Key).

The story adds some unexpected sweetness and reconciliation but really the entire production is just a change to have some fun with some inside theater humor and put on a big, colorful, splashy show with a bunch of Tony and Oscar-winners. Streep has a blast as a larger-than-life personality who is only at home on stage. After letting down someone who genuinely cares for her, the only way she can apologize is to reprise one of her career’s signature numbers. Andrew Rannells (a Tony Award winner for “Book of Mormon”) has a huge musical number with local kids in a shopping mall. Nicole Kidman plays the kind of chorus line hoofer who goes from show to show but never makes it into a lead role, and James Corden is a gay man who sees Emma’s problems in very personal terms because his parents rejected him after he came out.

You don’t have to understand the relative status of a Tony vs. a Drama Desk award or remember which musical had the most performances before “Cats” to sit back and enjoy the good-hearted fun, clever lyrics (by Chad Beguelin), and the jubilant dance numbers choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. It most important message is not inclusion but about the power of art itself, especially big, splashy, energetic, colorful musical, to bring us together and heal what hurts.

Parents should know that the theme of this movie is homophobia and inclusion. It includes some sexual humor and some sexual references, some alcohol, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What would you say to Mrs. Greene? What’s your favorite musical?

If you like this, try: “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Footloose,” “Hairspray,” and “High School Musical”

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A New Documentary Channel from PBS

Posted on July 29, 2020 at 10:53 am

Copyright PBS 2018

For 50 years, PBS has been America’s trusted home for documentaries. The PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel is another way for curious viewers to access PBS content outside the PBS Video App.

The PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel will include a robust library of critically acclaimed, thought-provoking programs including the entire Ken Burns collection as well as films from NOVA, FRONTLINE, AMERICAN MASTERS, NATURE, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, INDEPENDENT LENS, POV and many independent producers. Subscribers will be able to explore various topics or take an in-depth look at the people, traditions and events that mold our world—all carefully curated for “viewers like you” by America’s most trusted home of documentaries: PBS

“PBS is the leader of high-quality, compelling nonfiction entertainment, and the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel is a natural addition to our current streaming offering on Prime Video Channels—PBS MASTERPIECE, PBS LIVING AND PBS KIDS.  This channel will not only help bring engaging stories about life in all corners of our country to a new audience, it will provide needed revenues to sustain public broadcasting’s public-private partnership model for the benefit of all stations and the communities they serve,” says Andrea Downing, Co-President of PBS Distribution.

Copyright PBS 2018
“We had long hoped to be able to have all of our films available in one place so the public would have access to the body of work,” says Ken Burns. “We’re thrilled that this is now possible thanks to the efforts of PBS Distribution and Amazon to launch the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel and also through PBS’s Passport initiative that allows viewers to support their public television stations. Both will also contribute to the larger mission of PBS.”

“FRONTLINE was founded on the belief that longform documentaries could inform, educate and inspire public television’s audiences — and during these historic times, deeply reported and easily accessible journalism is invaluable,” says FRONTLINE Executive Producer Raney Aronson-Rath. “Through this new Channel, we’re excited to see our documentaries reach new and existing streaming audiences.”

At launch, the channel will feature nearly 1,000 hours of award-winning programming for subscribers to enjoy, including Ken Burns’s landmark series THE CIVIL WAR and COUNTRY MUSIC, Stanley Nelson’s THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION, and Academy Award-Nominated films like FRONTLINE “For Sama” and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE “Last Days in Vietnam.”

Copyright PBS 2019

Stanley Nelson comments, “I’m thrilled to see that my work will find a new home on this channel. PBS has become a premier destination for documentary programming in the U.S. and has been hugely invested in giving films by diverse storytellers and emerging filmmakers much-needed national exposure. I’m so glad that my film on the Black Panther Party, which can inform communities in our current historical moment, will be able to reach different audiences on this new service.”

The subscription rate for the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel is $3.99/month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription via Prime Video Channels and is available in the US only. Every purchase helps support public television for all.

The entire Ken Burns collection will also be available via PBS Passport, a member benefit available within the PBS Video App that gives viewers extended access to high-quality content. The PBS Passport library is also full of public television’s acclaimed drama, arts, science, history and lifestyle programs (contact your local PBS station for details).

The PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel is a subscription video on demand channel exclusive to Amazon launching August 2020. This new streaming channel will feature nearly 900 hours of the highest quality factual programming, including the full catalog of films from Ken Burns and award-winning documentaries from NOVA, FRONTLINE, AMERICAN MASTERS, NATURE and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, in addition to programming from other independent producers.

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Radioactive

Posted on July 23, 2020 at 5:58 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, brief nudity and a scene of sensuality
Profanity: Mild language and sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: WWI battle scenes,
Date Released to Theaters: July 24, 2020
Copyright 2020 Amazon Studios

Biopics, even the most sincere, even about the most fascinating real-life characters, even made by directors who are willing to break with the traditional structure, still two things are true. First, the only thing that really matters is the lead performance. Second, there is really no way to get around the basic structure that all lives follow and all biopics follow except those like “Jobs” that focus one or just a few incidents. We see crucial early experiences that either reveal the subject’s special talent or some life-forming experience or both. We see struggle. We see people who foolishly do not believe our subject can succeed. We see our subject succeed.There’s usually a setback or special mid-point challenge. And then we see how it ends.

Marie Curie certainly had a fascinating life and Rosamund Pike gives her considerable best. She is never less than mesmerizing. I particularly enjoyed watching her in the first half of the movie, as we see her struggling to be taken seriously as a scientist when she knows she is better than the men who look down at her because she is a woman, because she is Polish, and because she is not shy about letting them know she is better than they are. It’s almost a proto-“Big Bang Theory,” the way that the same determination, single-mindedness, unstoppable curiosity, and relentless quest for truth that makes her a scientist is what makes it difficult for her to get along with anyone well enough to get her the resources she needs to do her experiments.

And that is when she meets Pierre Curie. He tells her he has read her work and it is brilliant. She tells him she has read his and it is very good. He offers her a space in his lab. Her insight and his ideas about how to prove her theories like two covalent bonds or a double helix. A lot happens very fast as the brilliance of her discoveries is evident when she just 32 when her paper on radium was published. But the movie stops for a dinner party so that Marie can explain her research to a non-scientist friend, and to us.

It then hurtles along, trying to cram in every crisis faced by Marie, from continued gender discrimination to being accused of adultery after Pierre’s death, when her letters to her married lover were made public by his wife. Most interesting, and worth an entire movie of its own, is her service during WWI, when she developed portable X-ray machines that saved thousands of lives and prevented needless surgery. Like the man for whom the most important scientific award in the world is named, Alfred Nobel, Marie Curie’s great achievement was responsible for incalculable benefits (we see an early cancer patient treated with radiation) and unthinkable tragedy (we see a Hiroshima resident looking up to see the Enola Gay, and the ravages of Chernobyl. This makes things a bit muddled, but Pike’s stirring performance makes us believe we get a sense of Marie Curie’s fierce intelligence and even may make us wonder about what discoveries we can make.

Parents should know that this film includes WWI battle scenes and characters who have been wounded, characters who are ill and dying and references to deaths of family members, brief rear nudity, non-explicit sexual situation, and references to adultery.

Family discussion: What do we learn from Marie’s reaction to the death of her mother? Why does this film include glimpses of events long after Marie’s death? What can we do to make sure that what we learn about and invent is used to benefit humankind and not for wars and violence?

If you like this, try: the glow-in-the-dark graphic novel the film is based on and another film about scientists and inventors, The Current War.

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