The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966) Written by William Rose Directed by Norman Jewison
In the 1960s, the Cold War was at a wild peak. Just three years before this film, the United States & Cuba went through a terrifying week of possible nuclear war. In the 1940s & 50s, dozens of Hollywood screenwriters, actors, and other people in the industry were labeled as communists or sympathizers to the Soviet Union. Jewison never really hid his left-leaning political views but knew to reveal them slowly as he became a more prominent director in Hollywood. For The Cincinnati Kid, he worked with blacklist screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. on the script. Going even further was this film, a comedy that reveals Americans’ twisted ideology during this manic period. Jewison still finds empathy for these people and seeks to find a place of mutual understanding.
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The Cincinnati Kid (1965) Written by Ring Lardner Jr. and Terry Southern Directed by Norman Jewison
Norman Jewison was not the first director to work on this production. Edward G. Robinson wasn’t the first choice for the main antagonist either. But through a series of circumstances & disagreements during filming, the film changed and became something else. Sam Peckinpah was the first director in charge of The Cincinnati Kid. Apparently, the producers believe Peckinpah “vulgarized” the film and fired him after a few days of shooting. Spencer Tracey had pulled out due to poor health, and Robinson stepped in. Peckinpah had planned to shoot the picture in black & white due to its Depression setting. That was changed to color when Jewison was brought on board. Would the Peckinpah version have been better? We’ll never really know but what we did end up with was a very enjoyable movie about poker.
It’s hard to believe the first quarter of 2021 is already over. It felt like those three months zoomed right by us. Tomorrow, my wife and I will be getting our second COVID vaccine shot. We’re both ready to brace for what might be a rough ride for the following couple of days. But that’s fine if it means our chances of having severe symptoms are significantly reduced. From what my research on the vaccine has been, it’s not that it keeps you from contracting or even spreading COVID (though newer research is showing that may be happening), but it will make the symptoms markedly less severe if you do acquire it. Since the pandemic started, I’ve never been someone who balked at wearing masks. I plan on continuing to wear them even after they tell us the pandemic has passed. I didn’t get sick once this last winter, and neither did my wife. We attribute this to both continuing to shelter in place 90% of the time and wearing masks when we went out. Honestly, I get sort of annoyed with people who go on and on about not getting to see strangers’ smiles. No stranger owes you a smile, weirdo.
The Falcon and Winter Soldier Episode 3 (Disney+) Written by Derek Kolstad Directed by Kari Skogland
I overwhelmingly disliked this third entry of the series for a multitude of reasons and I’ve been reflecting on some of the race issues brought up by the first two episodes. We’ve reached the halfway point in The Falcon and Winter Soldier, so now we have an idea of what this is shaping into and I have to say it is not looking great. This episode especially felt like a mess in every possible aspect from dialogue to characterization to the plot.
Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) Written by Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein, Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields Directed by Adam Wingard
No one ever thought the Godzilla films had great human stories, even going back to the original Toho productions. I’m not kidding myself that we ever had some person on the ground that delivered a compelling character arc. However, I feel like we are at a point where you could do that? But this movie certainly doesn’t achieve that, and I would be hard-pressed to recall a single name of any human character in this movie. Below I will include them when I summarize the plot, but that will only be after googling the cast list because they leave no impression whatsoever and probably should have just been deleted from the final cut.
Superman: The Man of Steel Volume 2 (2021) Reprints Superman v2 #5-11, Action Comics #588-593, Adventures of Superman #429-435, and Legion of Super-Heroes v2 #37-38 Written by John Byrne, Marv Wolfman, & Paul Levitz Art by John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Erik Larsen, and Terry Austin
One of the things that were always a bit confusing during this era of Superman was how much the character remembered the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Crisis had been DC’s way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the company and was used to condense the elements of the Multiverse into one cohesive reality. Part of that was John Byrne’s reboot of Superman, erasing certain sillier Silver Age elements from the characters and reducing his powers. A significant piece of Superman’s backstory that was axed was his early days in Smallville as Superboy. Under Byrne’s version, Clark Kent’s powers developed slowly, and only when he was an adult did he have them all. His costume wasn’t made until then, so Superboy never existed.
Send Me No Flowers (1964) Written Julius J. Epstein Directed by Norman Jewison
Norman Jewison isn’t a name you hear listed among the great film auteurs, and for the most part, he was fairly a journeyman filmmaker. A studio paid him, and he made the movie. But in doing that, he still managed to make each picture feel special. You could never tie him into a single genre or style. Jewison just made good movies. He was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1926, and despite his last name, his family is not of Jewish descent. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. After being discharged, he wandered through the American South, where he witnessed acts of segregation that would impact film projects he chose later in his career. Back in Toronto, Jewison got his bachelor’s degree and worked on a variety of theatrical productions. He eventually became part of the crew that launched CBC Television, working as an assistant director.
Violence Voyager (2019) Written & Directed by Ujicha
Gekimation. A new word for me and one I won’t soon forget. It describes the very unique style of animation seen in the work of Japanese filmmaker Ujicha. Characters are paper cutouts moved & posed in real-time against paper backgrounds. There’s no stop-motion animation here. It’s hard to compare this to any other animated works because it is so unlike anything else. There are hints of early South Park with the DIY-paper aesthetic. Storywise we’re in Junji Ito/David Cronenberg territory, a very retro body horror atmosphere. But Violence Voyager will be a shock to your senses no matter how many things you know inspired it.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers Directed by Jon Watts
For a little while there, it looked like this movie might be made by Sony and take place outside of the MCU. Thankfully Marvel and Sony talked, and so we get this Spider-Man and one more appearance in another property before they go back to the negotiating table again. Marvel cleverly weaves Spider-Man even deeper into the MCU lore with this picture almost as a failsafe to keep the IP integrated. I think you’ll agree there has never been such a cameo-heavy MCU film to date, and it’s almost to the point of frustration. So many characters show up for a scene but then don’t feel integrated into the overall story.