By Marc S. Sanders

Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania is a fun frolic through the Quantum Realm, another dimension that was uncovered in previous chapters within the Ant-Man series of films.  I’m not watching a potential Best Picture nominee for 2023.  I’m watching a glorious kaleidoscope of colors and visual effects with likable characters, and the setup of a new big bad villain for upcoming installments for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It’s not a perfect movie.  It’s corny and hokey at times, but I was with the picture the whole way.

I do believe these sci fi superhero franchise films are getting way too diluted.  I think there are more Marvel films now, all working within a shared universe, then there are episodes of single seasons of television shows.  A lot of these films do not stand apart any longer and hinge on events or hanging threads that occur in prior installments.  It makes for a lot of homework and time spent on the consumer to keep track of everything, and where everyone was last left off.  With Disney + adding in multiple Marvel streaming series to watch as well, I’m sorry but my days feel like they need to be extended beyond the standard 24 hours.  The economic term known as “The Law Of Diminishing Marginal Utility” hearkens back to me at this point, all these years later after we first met Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man in 2008.  Are viewers getting tired of the superhero phenomenon?  Superhero movies rule the box office these days.  Westerns did it four or five generations ago.  How many new westerns do you now see each year?

The blessing of Quantumania is that it does not rely abundantly on other material in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) reintroduces himself in a very adoring Paul Rudd-like way with a voiceover and thereafter, he is unexpectedly sucked into the Quantum Realm, along with his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), his current partner Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), aka The Wasp, and his mentors Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne (Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer).  The gang must primarily depend on Janet to navigate them through this world of inconsistency and oddball inhabitants where no two characters seem to look alike.  Janet was marooned in the Quantum Realm for thirty years before finally being rescued.  What concerns her the most is one who is first referred to as “The Conqueror,” and later identified as the frightening superman known as Kang (Jonathan Majors), who was mysteriously exiled to this place.  As Janet describes, Kang has made the prison of the Quantum Realm his empire and now he wants to use the technology that our heroes possess to break free of this dimension and cause all kinds of chaos in the real world and other parallel universes.

The best assets to the film are the scenes between Jonathan Majors and Michelle Pfeiffer.  Granted, their dialogue could apply to any other kind of movie.  A lot of ping pong arguments between the villain and hero, which if I remember correctly go something like “You don’t understand.” and “I’ll never let that happen.”  This verbiage could also be suitable in a Meryl Streep tearjerker or a courtroom drama.  It’s pretty standard.  We’ve seen discussions like this a million times before.  Fortunately, my state of mind was not demanding of thought-provoking conversation.  The magnetism of their acting in front of the expansive CGI environment kept me hooked.   Jonathan Majors simply looks like a very frightening threat.  He’s calm at one point and later raging like a lunatic.  The man has levels.  If he were reciting the ingredients of chocolate chip cookies, I’d be on pins and needles. 

I do not think Quantumania is going to wow most audiences.  In fact, it’ll be a divisive film.  It’ll go half and half.  Though I really do not like to rank films any longer because it feels so pointless, I got into a debate with my wife and daughter about which one was better.  Quantumania or Wakanda Forever.  Both films have their merits, but I left the latest Black Panther film feeling a little depressed and exhausted.  That was a long time to feel morose for a superhero film.  The ladies, however, appreciated the story of that film over this one.  (I wanted to see the Black Panther suit a lot sooner.  I wanted a handful of people to be cut from the film, and I thought the Namor character was very boring.  Look for my review on this site.)

With Quantumania, audiences are either going to like the weirdness that is splashed all over the screen.  Splashed is not a strong enough word.  Try SPLATTERED!!!! Everywhere you look there is something abnormal to see from one corner to the next.  On the other hand, viewers will think the Quantum Realm and its inhabitants are just too bizarre, and the Marvel filmmakers are scraping the bottom of the barrel in imagination.  Sorry, but I got a kick out of the tall stilt guy with a spot light lamp for a head.  I thought the pink goo guy was cute.  I also giggled at the fat head henchman, with scrawny arms and legs, known as M.O.D.O.K. (with Corey Stall, making an MCU return).  The functionality of this character is deliberately lacking and comes off like Looney Tunes cutting room material, but that’s also why he is here.  If there was anything looking remotely normal in the Quantum Realm, well then it isn’t the Quantum Realm, I guess.  Bill Murray even shows up, but if you need a bathroom break, this is when you should go.  All of this looks way too stupid, yes!  Then again, stupid can be entertaining and stupid is often taken with subjectivity. So, I’m just one guy’s opinion. 

Quantumania is maybe the most unsophisticated of all the Marvel films.  More so than the Guardians movies, or the most recent Thor installment.  With a happy go lucky Paul Rudd, an army of ants and some of the most bizarre CGI extras found anywhere it proudly stands tall on that pedestal of ultra, ultra, ULTRA weird.  I think director Peyton Reed accomplished what he set out to do with this film.  The question is will the film win majority of approval within the nerd land of keyboard warriors like myself, who share their perspectives on the internet.  Well, the movie gets my vote at least.


By Marc S. Sanders

I have finally righted a serious wrong and watched Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, and what a pleasurable experience it has been.  Reader, if this movie lover who gets hopped up on science fiction gobbley gook with laser swords and spaceships can watch an old black and white movie feeling sorrow for its main characters, and elation when the film finishes, then it’s easy to understand how timeless and impressionable Capra’s classic film truly is.

I recall when I had finally seen It Happened One Night, originally released in 1934 and arguably the pioneer of the romantic comedy genre.  I could not help but connect certain moments and pieces of dialogue to the films released while I was growing up, like When Harry Met Sally… and Bull Durham.  Those films took inspiration from Capra’s comedy with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.  Capra pioneered storytelling once again with It’s A Wonderful Life.  As my wife and I watched the movie late last night until nearly two in the morning, I said to her this is like Back To The Future.  My wife said A Christmas Carol.  Both true statements.  So perhaps while Capra was revolutionary with his own storytelling, he might have been adopting some inspiration from what came before as well.  Regardless, I applaud his approach.  Frank Capra is a tremendous gift to the cinematic medium.  If there was a Mount Rushmore for filmmakers, Capra would most certainly be sculpted alongside the likes of Hitchcock, Chaplin and Disney.

George Bailey (James Stewart) has big dreams of leaving his sleepy little town of Bedford Falls and building grand designs of skyscrapers while also exploring the world, beginning with Europe and Alaska and whatever else needs discovering.  Like any of us, our yearning for adventure and the destinies we wish for get interrupted. Before you know it, we ask ourselves if life has passed us by.  It takes a guardian angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) to remind George that life has been with him all along; maybe not the life he envisaged, but certainly a life of purpose and significance beyond just himself.

George watches as his high school chums go on to grand accomplishments that pay off in enormous amounts of wealth.  His younger brother Harry (Todd Karns) goes to college, gets married and becomes a celebrated war hero.  However, George remains in Bedford Falls offering loans to his fellow townsfolk that he can’t afford to honor with a business he inherited from his father.  To lend and support comes involuntary to George.  He’s just a good man. 

On the other end of the spectrum is the mean, wealthy miser Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore).  Barrymore plays Potter like one of the worst villains in the history of cinema.  An unforgiving, jealous wretch of a man.  His cruelty is long and unmatched, even if he is relegated to a wheelchair.  He knows how destitute George is, despite his unending generosity, but Potter won’t tolerate the admiration George receives.  To squash George’s stature, he’ll buy out his business.  He’ll make every effort to silence George Bailey’s influence.  Potter will even try to take George under his wing where he can maintain complete authority as a big fish in the small pond of Bedford Falls.  Yet, Potter’s never-ending wealth cannot crush the love for George’s humbleness and giving nature.

A favorite device of mine in movies is when the filmmaker can turn the story’s setting into a character all its own.  Examples of this are shown in pieces like Spielberg’s Schindler’s List where the use of thousands of extras and piles of rubble bring testimony to the atrocities of the Holocaust.  In James Cameron’s Avatar (which I just watched as a refresher for the just released sequel), an imaginary neon glowing planet awakens our senses, and we learn that its inhabitants form a symbiont circle with the plant life and animals that dwell there.  In many films, the time and place speak to the viewer.  Bedford Falls is a main character to the story.  Capra makes wonderful use of the Main Street where each business building quickly becomes very familiar as if we have walked into these small town structures a hundred times.  It hearkened me back to my time in Fair Lawn, New Jersey where I would accompany my grandmother on her daily errands to the bank, the kosher deli and the Woolworth’s.  Wherever she went, everyone knew Helen.  In Bedford Falls, the pharmacy with the soda jerk doesn’t look new to me.  It appears like I’d seen it a hundred times before.  Martini’s, the bar, felt like I knew every hob knobber in the joint.  I could smell the ink and feel the creak of the wooden floors in Bailey Building and Loan. 

The townsfolk are also assembled wisely by Capra.  An old man sitting on his porch at night takes in the flirtations that George and soon to be wife Mary (Donna Reed) exchange with one another.  This man represents Bedford Falls taking stock in what’s to come next for our protagonist.  The people in this town have a rhythm to their gatherings.  Capra offers a magnificent shot where the camera is overhead behind George, wearing his overcoat and hat, and the townspeople are facing him at the other end of the sidewalk.  They expect of George, but does George have anything left to give?  I can only see the back of Jimmy Stewart, but I know all too well the expression he’s sending to the people opposite him.  Look at the scene where they march over to George Bailey’s business demanding their monies back.  How one delivers a line followed by another is perfectly timed to James Stewart’s despair.  The ending is beautifully cut as these same folks come into George’s home to offer their sense of giving during a desperate hour of need for George. 

I always knew the story of It’s A Wonderful Life.   Years ago, I saw a stage production where Miguel portrayed George opposite his girlfriend in the role of Mary.  Yet, I was not familiar enough with the surprises that Capra’s film offers.  I just didn’t realize how much fantasy is embedded in the movie as Clarence is meant to be a naïve angel who has yet to earn his wings.  Seems a little too childlike for me on the surface.  I’ll admit I didn’t take to the angels represented as blinking stars early in the picture.  That’s hokey!  However, when Clarence is personified in the latter half of the film, Henry Travers brings a sense of clarity to the purpose of life when he forces George and maybe anyone watching the movie to imagine what things would be like had they never been born.  Reader, I think I’ve seen story adaptations like this on episodes of Family Ties and The Golden Girls.  In this movie, it becomes frightening as we realize the actions we take carry impacts with them.  Had George not rescued his brother Harry from a skating accident, what would have happened to a squadron of soldiers during the war?  Had George not had the nerve to dance with Mary at his high school dance, what would have happened to her?  Had George not existed, then he wouldn’t be available to lend monies to people and what would have happened to a beautiful collection of new homes that would never be erected?  These questions are incorporated into roughly a thirty-minute last act that remind you to appreciate all that you saw earlier in the film.  I want to say its cheesy, but Travers and Stewart really don’t make it that way.  The sequence comes through with forthright honesty from Travers, never going big or outlandish, and genuine anguish from Stewart who convincingly appears like he’s lost everything when earlier he felt like he had nothing. 

I read that Jimmy Stewart did this film shortly after returning from serving in World War II.  He was suffering from PTSD and much of the torment and agony that George exhibits was coming through naturally on film.  This has to be one of the all-time greatest performances on screen.  Jimmy Stewart’s timing in practically every scene of the picture is perfection.  He’s a wide eyed optimist with big enthusiasm to get his life going.  Then he transcends into a teasing flirt with the girl he was not expected to hook up with.  When George tells Mary he wants to throw a lasso around the moon and give it to her, I really believe he could do it.  We have Jimmy Stewart to thank for that.  Later, he’s unexpectedly frightening as he is on the verge of being charged with fraud and penniless.  Stewart is uncompromising in front of Donna Reed and the young actors playing his children.  When he kicks over the table with the train set and gifts, on Christmas Eve, it’s terribly shocking.  Sadly, it’s relatable.  A film from 1946 presents personal problems and struggles that exist today.  That is why It’s A Wonderful Life is such an important piece.  We struggle to live with our struggles.

Frank Capra’s film is necessary to remind each of us to never give up, no matter how hard it gets.  We have value.  We have importance to ourselves and to others.  We are loved.  Yes, it’s only a movie and it conveniently solves itself in its made-up fantasy.  However, those that enrich and occupy space in our daily lives are real and they are folks who depend on us for their fulfillment and happiness.  We are necessary to making their lives better and sustainable.  Reciprocally speaking, they are just as important to mine and your satisfactions.  It might be drippy to claim that Frank Capra’s film is a “feel good movie,” but I prefer to believe that the writer/director, along with Stewart, Reed, Travers and the rest of the company served a higher purpose. They demonstrate that we have all been blessed with an enormous gift filled with the riches of love and friendship that life absorbs and treasures. 

Happy Holidays!!


By Marc S. Sanders

What I hearken back to most when I watch The Little Mermaid is my junior year of high school in 1989.  If you were around at that time, then maybe you realized how much of an impact the characters of Ariel, Sebastian, Flounder, Scuttle and Ursula The Sea Witch had on kids, but teen pop culture as well.  Batman was big that year.  Disney’s underwater, romantic, musical adventure was at least as large.  Driving home from school, everyone I knew were singing along to celebrated numbers like Kiss The Girl, Les Poisson, Under The Sea and Part Of Your World.  My drama class couldn’t get enough of Poor Unfortunate Souls.  Oh, how overdramatic we would get in Mr. Locklair’s class while emulating Pat Carroll.  I still harmonize Ariel surrendering her voice.  Yes!  I can hold the tune!!!!  There is no denying The Little Mermaid cast a spell over the student body at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida.

The Little Mermaid is an important entry in the Disney lexicon.  Disney films were considered substandard, tired and stale before this release.  However, the adored fable based upon a story from Hans Christian Anderson awakened something that still carries on.  The music within the film from beloved writers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were delivered like Broadway showstoppers.  The quality of the songs was elevated with gorgeous calypso and reggae harmonies, and vocal characterizations as colorful as the underwater life depicted on screen.

Ariel (Jodi Benson) is the title character who dreams of what life is like above the surface.  Her father, King Triton, strictly forbids her from going above the water.  In his eyes, humans are ghastly.  That’s a problem because his daughter is enamored with handsome Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes).  Like a sixteen-year-old who sneaks out of the house through a bedroom window, Ariel visits the nefarious and alluring sea witch, Ursula (a rapturous Pat Carroll in one of the best fantasy villain roles to ever appear in the movies).  The deal is Ursula will turn Ariel into a human for three days.  In exchange the little mermaid must surrender her gorgeous singing voice.  If Eric does not give Ariel a kiss of true love by the time the sun sets on the third day, then her soul belongs to Ursula for all eternity. Ariel gets some help from Sebastian the crab (also a sea-life orchestral conductor), innocent Flounder, and a zany seagull named Scuttle (Buddy Hackett).

The animators at Disney use everything at their disposal to burst wondrous color within the film.  There’s life brought to the sea life within the backgrounds from a blowfish who BLOWS, to the Octopus and the shrimp and swordfish.  Even the random bubbles that float around are marvelous to look at. Nothing is off limits and life under the sea seems so much more enticing compared to the ho hum activities that we humans endure each day with traffic jams and junk mail.

Other Disney productions like Alaadin and Beauty And The Beast that followed, offer some life lessons for the protagonists to consider.  The Little Mermaid doesn’t actually.  It rests upon wishes and dreams for Ariel.  I’m thankful for that.  It’s such a glorious picture that I coast through on the fantasy of it all.  Ariel takes me on adventures to explore shipwrecks and her grotto where her human collectibles are stashed.  I get to carefully approach the dark imagery of Ursula’s caverns where countless, slimy, pitiful souls suffer, while the tentacled monster delights in her vanity with Pat Carroll’s gleeful voiceover.  It’s just enough for me.  Disney doesn’t always have to preach, and I think it’s why The Little Mermaid is my favorite of all of their films. 

Every moment is beautifully drawn in shape and color.  Still for a film that came six years before the Pixar evolution, the expressions of the characters come off so naturally.  Look at Sebastian’s fear and frustration as he tries to keep up with an independent Ariel.  Pay attention to Ariel’s nervous reaction when she encounters Eric on the beach after she’s become human.  She’s animated to try and straighten her hair and grin her teeth because its as if the popular kid in school is walking across a disco lit gymnasium to ask her for a dance.  The animation is purely inspired by natural, human behavior that we are all too familiar with.  When drawn like this, we can’t help but be impressed.

The songs are the highlights though.  The compositions are so lively and easy to pick up and sing along to, like we all did in high school.  The lyrics are equally impressive like the most brilliant of dialogue.  When Ursula makes her campaign for why this trade would be advantageous for Ariel (Poor Unfortunate Souls), I can’t help but believe her.  She’ll have her looks and pretty face.  It’s only her voice!  You got a point there Ursula.  The best villains always have the most sound reasonings behind their motivations.

Sebastian (Samuel E Wright) makes a strong argument for why life Under The Sea is so much better than living on land.  His enthusiasm in song is completely convincing.  Life under the sea is nothing but a party.  Let’s go.

Jodi Benson gives a strong voiceover performance as Ariel.  I’m hearing a firm and independent young woman who stands her ground and will defy any orders to go after what she desires.  Her rendition of Part Of Your World is one of Disney’s most treasured and celebrated moments in film history when accompanied with the setting of Ariel’s towering grotto of props that we humans take for granted like fish hooks and dining utensils, especially a dinglehopper…you know…a fork!  This is what a kid dreams of becoming when alone in her room with no one there to judge her true feelings and desires.  It’s truly glorious.

The one scene that does give me pause is the dramatic discovery King Triton has of Ariel’s secret vault of collectibles.  By the end of the moment, his temper has grown so big, that he unleashes the power of his trident to destroy everything she’s treasured.  I’ve always said this looks brutally familiar to how a father might take a baseball bat to a kid and her room, teetering on domestic violence.  The scene is memorable but unnerving all the same.  Still, I have to remind myself that this is a fantasy, and this is only a movie. 

Nonetheless, The Little Mermaid is a timeless film filled with magic and whimsy and daring escapes and big laughs that are not just relegated for eight-year-olds.  As adults, we remember those butterfly feelings of our first crush and what held us back from pursuing it further.  We can relate to what the characters do for, and towards each other.  Again, everyone from the deliciously wicked villain down to the defiantly brave protagonist and her sidekicks have a point and very human understandings for why they exist and what they want out of life.  Being a mermaid or a crab or a sea monster doesn’t make any of these people any less human. 


By Marc S. Sanders

David Fincher’s Fight Club is a deliberately ugly and dreary film. It has to be to evoke the insomnia its narrator (Edward Norton) suffers from, as well as his lonely depression that offers no answers for his purpose to exist or to be loved by another person.

To alleviate his need for something fulfilling, the narrator resorts to attending support groups for men suffering from illnesses and debilitating diseases like testicular cancer. There he meets a former body builder named Bob (the singer Meat Loaf) who has developed floppy breasts after going through hormone therapy. Bob follows the processes of the self help group and embraces on to Norton’s character as a means of support; stuffing his face into Bob’s breasts. The narrator eventually becomes accustomed to this maternal practice and the ritual of attending these meetings as a regular process. However, he feels he is getting upstaged by Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), a punk looking girl with dark eyeliner and wild jet-black hair.

Even though Marla and the narrator negotiate who attends what meetings and on what night, Norton meets another punk like reckless character known as Tyler Durdin (memorably played by Brad Pitt) who manufactures and sells soap but also edits film reels, sneakily inserting penis images into family films. Tyler also works as a waiter at a high-end restaurant where he proudly adds a little of “himself” to all the courses that are served.

The narrator only works at a boring desk job where his boss uses any opportunity to look down upon him and chastise him on his performance or appearance, but never recognizing anything further within his nature. The boss could care less about him. Naturally, the narrator becomes in awe of Tyler’s behavior. Tyler is a rebel and offers much more beyond Bob’s comfort. Tyler serves a purpose for the narrator to pursue.

When Tyler challenges the narrator to hit him as hard as he can it eventually leads to a new kind of gathering for both of them, a support group known as Fight Club. Men from all over soon gather underground to partake of letting out their aggressions with bare knuckle fists and wrestling. Anyone attending gets a therapeutic vibe from bleeding and bruising themselves upon one another. The narrator certainly feels better.

Going a step further leads Tyler and the narrator to fight back against a system of order and capitalism. Their philosophy picks up traction and soon a form of revolution is taking place across the entire country. Somehow, the narrator is taken off guard by this new belief system.

There’s a lot to consider and question in Fight Club, though I’m not sure I care for the film as a whole to debate its message. Sometimes it feels like it’s not moving anywhere. Norton’s character learns things about his own consciousness and need to falsely subject himself as a cancer survivor or as an underground brawler because he has nothing else really going for him. I get that, but why should I care or like it?

Tyler Durdin resides in a broken down house on the other end of the city that is leaking from every pipe and it’s electricity could ignite another fire that maybe this decrepit dwelling survived once before. Tyler is happy with his home and happy to share it with the narrator as well as Marla whom he has endless sex with. Tyler doesn’t want the fancy trappings. It’s revolting to even possess such materialism and suck off the tit of a capitalist regime. With the narrator at his side, he encourages a fight against the power of commercialism and wealth. Find a way to destroy the structures of what the country has built itself into, perhaps.

That’s the message of Fight Club. I just can’t lay claim that I cared for the execution of the revolt. I’m supposed to laugh at Tyler’s antics at times like when he steals the gross liquid fat from liposuction patients to manufacture the soap he sells. Yes, we get a moment where the bags of fat leak and splatter all over the place. It was just never amusing for me. I found no symbolism in this passage. It’s just absolutely disgusting. When Tyler happily pisses in someone’s soup, I don’t think it’s funny either. I don’t like Tyler. I don’t envy him or want to be him. I don’t find anything to cheer for with him. I’ve got more admiration for John Bender in The Breakfast Club than I do for Tyler Durdin. I might respect what he stands for to a degree as we are a culture brainwashed by advertising and commercialism. I just don’t care for the actions taken by this so-called martyr on behalf of the self-described unfortunates like Norton’s narrator.

I also find it ironic and quite hypocritical that Fincher’s film is a call to stand up to materialism and commercialism and yet the cast is headlined by Brad Pitt, arguably one of the biggest box office stars of the last 30 years, complete with his name above the title and his image front and center ahead of Edward Norton’s on the film posters that promote the film. Pitt is also the guy you see first, last and all over the middle of any of the film’s trailers and advertisements.

Now tell me, is that not a contradiction in terms?


By Marc S. Sanders

Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love And Thunder doesn’t just operate as a standard Marvel Super Hero movie.  I think it encapsulates what moviegoers treasure when watching a film, and that consists of a gamut of emotions with the opportunity to absorb the best in sight and sound.  Even if we are watching a guy fly through the skies with a cape that’ll be marketed into a million toys and t-shirts, sight and sound are nothing without brains behind a script.  It’s fortunate that a director like Waititi always works with that in mind.  Marvel overseer Kevin Feige knows how to recruit talent behind the camera and you just can’t go wrong with the architect of a spoof on the surface, yet an all too horrifyingly real film underneath, like the widely acclaimed Jo Jo Rabbit.

I’ve always laid claim to the fact that movies largely recognized as “tear jerkers” like Steel Magnolias and Terms Of Endearment are actually comedies first, and then dramatic sob stories second.  I’m serious about that observation.  Why?  Because if a film is going to go to great lengths to risk the outcome of one of its main characters, then it must get its audience to embrace and deeply love that person first.  The best avenue to that approach is to outrageously laugh and cheer that character on ahead of what’s to come.  Taika Waititi’s second film to center on the God of Thunder does just that.  The best reward I got from Thor: Love And Thunder is that I laughed quite often (as the trailers imply), but I also teetered on tears as well.  Good fantasy storytelling will incorporate an all too real conflict with its protagonists and then introduce the strange and unusual as an escape.  The best example may be The Wizard Of Oz, and the simple set up of Dorothy and the risk of her perishing with her dog Toto in a threating tornado.  More recently, I also think about Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth centering on a young girl in early twentieth century war torn Europe.  Again, Waititi’s coming of age during Nazi occupation opus, Jo Jo Rabbit, follows this formula as well.  Without spoiling too much from Thor’s latest adventure, Waititi presents an all too real and unforgiving circumstance for one of the film’s characters and then segues into his delightfully and never too weird assortment of settings and characters.

It’d be easy to think that by what may be the sixth or seventh time we’ve seen Chris Hemsworth in the garb of this character that anything inventive would have been exhausted by now.  Not so.  A new dimension in storytelling arrives midway through the film that presents a different crisis for the proud God.  Hemsworth really approaches it beautifully.  It was reminiscent of Christopher Reeve in the original Superman, actually.

A supporting cast of return players work well together, particularly Natalie Portman, who is given a much more fleshed out and well considered character arc than her two previous Thor films. (Early on, Marvel Studios was notorious for not writing good female characters in any of their pictures.  They were just presented as glamorous damsels in distress. Thankfully, that’s well behind them by now.)  Portman returns as the on again/off again love interest, Dr. Jane Foster, for Thor.  Even better though, Jane actually becomes Thor!!!!! (No spoiler there.  Just look at the trailer or marketing poster.)  There’s great on-screen interaction with Portman and Hemsworth, even when it’s a montage of past dating episodes like in ridiculous Halloween costumes or having a domestic squabble as any typical married couple might have.  Hollywood should reunite these two for a romantic comedy in the vein of Rob Reiner/Nora Ephron material.  Chris Hemsworth is a much better partner than Ashton Kutcher ever was in a past Natalie Portman film.  Put Chris Hemsworth together with Natalie Portman again and they could become as adoring as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan did.

By the time the fourth movie comes, does it really matter who the villain is played by?  Well, when you are writing a smart script amid ridiculous visuals like Taika Waititi is known for, the answer is yes.  This film surprisingly opens on a downer prologue that necessitates good dramatic acting amid silly CGI and garishly loud costumes.  It’s fortunate that Christian Bale, who regularly performs on a method level comparable to Daniel Day Lewis, was available to portray the scrawny, pale and scarred Gorr The God Butcher.  Bale puts all his talents into what could’ve been a throwaway role like, say a Ghostbusters bad guy.  (Can anyone tell me who actually played Gozar in the 1984 film????)  This is another notch in Bale’s repertoire of outstanding credits that should not be overlooked.  You can sympathize with Gorr, as well as be frightened of him.  There’s much range in this character on the same level as the Thanos villain from earlier Marvel films.

Russell Crowe has a fun appearance as the God known as Zeus.  He looks over the top ridiculous and he works in antics that seem like they came out of episodes of Who’s Line Is It Anyway?  Put it this way, I haven’t forgotten how Crowe walks down a staircase yet.  If Russell Crowe is anything of an educated performance artist, then when he was getting sized up in wardrobe, I’m sure the wheels were turning and he was considering what tics could work for that of a God drowning proudly in his own vanity.

Tessa Thompson and Taika Waititi are thankfully back, respectively as Valkyrie, King of the fishing/tourist destination New Asgard, and the simply innocent rock guy buddy, Korg.  The Guardians Of The Galaxy are here too.  It’s a fun bit of material they have to play with.

In another director/screenwriter’s hands, any Thor film would likely get boring with its standard formal Shakespearean like vocabulary and artificial CGI.  Isn’t that an ongoing problem with CGI anyway?  So often it looks to fake.  Because Taika Waititi opts for bright colors and odd shapes and sizes of setting and background characters, nothing could look artificial, because the fantasy is always acknowledged as over the top by the very characters occupying the space.  A glass castle of pinks and purples that resembles gigantic glass Mary Jane bongs or science lab beakers is accepted in a Thor film, just as much as munchkin size, owl like creatures with small beaks are a terrorizing army in flying jet skis with mounted laser guns.  Mix in a blaring rock soundtrack and Waititi hits the notes where it’s okay to laugh at the silliness of it all. In other moments, he’ll invite his audience back in from recess to take in what’s hard and difficult to live with and endure.  Again, Waititi pleasantly surprised me with the balancing act of outrageous comedy against crushing drama when he made Jo Jo Rabbit.  The blend works so well here in not so typical Marvel fashion.

Thor: Love And Thunder left me thinking that it is the best of the superhero’s four films.  It’s measure of laughs and choked up drama kept engaged and I appreciated the experience.  Remember, I recalled Steel Magnolias and Terms Of Endearment in this write up.  If you don’t take that comparison lightly, then hopefully you’ll have the same experience I did with this installment of the Marvel franchise.

PS: Hats off to the trailers for not incorporating everything the film has to offer.  Within the first fifteen minutes of the movie, I was actually taken aback by an element I never considered or expected.  It only enhanced my perspective of the film.

PSS: Anyone that knows me, knows that I love Guns N Roses.  Consider me a born-again fan.  Particularly Sweet Child O’ Mine will always be one of my most favorite songs.  This film reminded me that it was the first song my daughter heard the day after she was born, when I sang it to her in the hospital room. 


By Marc S. Sanders

The wagon train of live action adaptations of Disney animated classics reached its pinnacle with 2014’s Maleficent. Much credit going towards Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of the title character. However, the visuals cannot be dismissed either. It’s a gorgeous film directed by Robert Stromberg.

Stromberg brings his wealth of experience in visual effects (Avatar and Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World) to his directorial debut. The fantasy world of Maleficent’s forest, as well as the looming castle on its outskirts are dressed in gorgeous colors and vast dimension of pathways and caverns. The magical spells wafting in greens, golds, blues and reds, wielded by the characters, including the three protective fairies (led by a strong Imelda Staunton) is hypnotic and blends beautifully with the live actors’ performances. It’s as bold in the visual department as anything cropped up by Peter Jackson or James Cameron.

What makes this brisk 90 minute film special is a different point of view from the classic film Sleeping Beauty. Is there justification to a villain’s actions? Stromberg and Jolie certainly make a case for it. It’s a reminder that there are two sides to every story. Anyone ever consider that maybe Maleficent might have been betrayed at one point? I’ll be damned. At least that’s what I thought, after watching this film.

No one in life is born evil. I like to think people are made evil or perceived as evil. This film is a great example of that, much like the musical Wicked or the recent hit film Joker.

Jolie offers up the frightening aspects of the fairy dressed in black that we’ve been familiar with all these years. However, she’s fortunate that the capable script from Linda Woolverton offers up opportune moments to consider her soft, sensitive side. There are moments of no dialogue as Maleficent observes Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) grow, and she develops a reluctant (it’s hard to resist calling her “Beasty”) affection for the child. Maleficent will even participate in a playful mud fight. There are more than just evil machinations going on here.

Unlike the other Disney live action iterations, Maleficent shows something new and unexpected. It harbors my appreciation for the film whereas Beauty And The Beast or Aladdin did not because they just churned out the same old thing.

If Stromberg’s film suffers from one weakness I’d say it could have used a stronger performance from Sharlto Copley (The A Team film adaptation) as the antagonist, Aurora’s father and Maleficent’s first love; the eventual king. There was not much threat from this guy. He was no match in character much less performance against Jolie.

Still, Maleficent is a great character film with lots of fun, whimsical visuals to explore.


By Marc S. Sanders

The Wizard Of Oz will always be one of the greatest films ever made.

It’s a visually spectacular marvel of filmmaking and creativity. The accomplishments it achieves in performance, fantasy and musical tones work on any generation who has seen it since its debut on August 15, 1939.

Victor Fleming directed the adaptation from L Frank Baum’s successful series of books. Wisely, the picture opens in black and white where we meet Dorothy, one of the best cast roles in film history with the legendary Judy Garland. She lives on her Kansas farm with her dog Toto and her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, along with some friendly farmhands called Huck, Hickory & Zeke. Following an unexpected twister, Dorothy and Toto are sent into the heavens while in their farmhouse. When the house finally lands, Fleming has Dorothy open the door to a kaleidoscope of wondrous color. Dorothy has arrived in Munchkin land located in the Land of Oz. The adventure begins.

Nearly any film of fantasy and adventure can be traced back to The Wizard Of Oz. It features the thoughtful mentor with Glinda The Good Witch, and the lovable sidekicks that Dorothy encounters known as the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the Tin Man (Jack Haley) and the Lion (Bert Lahr). It also has one of the greatest on screen villains of all time, The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton). The story pursues objects (ruby slippers, a brain, a heart, courage and a broomstick) for the heroes to acquire, years later to be identified by Alfred Hitchcock as “MacGuffins.”

Victor Fleming with Baum’s ingenuity inspired great storytellers of a future in movies yet to come. Authors like JK Rowling and JRR Tolkien or CS Lewis absorbed the will to compose never before conceived imagination thanks to The Wizard Of Oz. So many moments throughout the land far away from Kansas are so inventive. There’s endless the candy colored scenery of Munchkin land, along with a dark forest where trees come alive to argue and throw apples at you. The Witch’s foreboding castle with the crystal ball is ominous and frightening. The Emerald City where the great and powerful Oz resides is spectacular in life and cheerfulness. I still look in awe at the scenic design of the film questioning how it was all done. Matte paintings of endless depth for background give off the vastness of the land as the famous Yellow Brick Road stretches infinitely over rolling hills behind Dorothy and her friends as their journey continues.

The Wizard Of Oz is also an inspiration for the movie musical. Every song is unforgettable. Is there a greater song in film history than “Somewhere Over The Rainbow?” Dance sequences are totally engaging. Try not to love the ease of watching Dorothy skip along the road to “We’re Off To See The Wizard.” Ray Bolger’s rubber legged straw man clumsiness during his first scene with “If I Only Had A Brain,” seems to defy the limits of what a human body can do. Bert Lahr’s “If I Were King Of The Forest” is comedically inspired; the number that pauses the story for a moment as an escape among the characters’ adventure. As a kid I loved to roll my tongue on the word “forrrrrrrrrest.”

Margaret Hamilton’s green skinned wicked witch dressed in black with the pointed hat set a standard in villainy. It instilled some of the first fears many children ever experience to this day. Hamilton’s evil cackle with her determination to obtain Dorothy’s ruby slippers never leaves your mind once you see the performance. The Witch inspired any kind of horror film, and terrible villains we love to hate like Darth Vader, Maleficent, Hannibal Lector or Lord Voldemort. Evil queens and bad guys from the Disney vault only began from the seeds that Hamilton laid out.

So many of the greatest achievements in film history are contained in The Wizard Of Oz. It’s an outstanding musical, an incredible adventure and a brilliant fantasy. It’s beautifully cast and so creative on every technical level necessary for its flights of fancy.

More than any other film ever made, every person should see The Wizard Of Oz at least once in their lifetime.


By Marc S. Sanders

Why can’t Disney adapt a good book anymore? They massacred A Wrinkle In Time. Now they’ve taken a hatchet to Artemis Fowl, a Disney + byproduct that was shamelessly shelled out during the height of the pandemic.

There had to have been a more fleshed out, extended film here. Scenes are taped together with no bridge. All I can imagine is some suit insisted on cutting the guts out of director Kenneth Branagh’s film to ensure that its target kid audience would sit still, at least for 95 minutes. The same line of thinking had to have been applied to Ava Duvernay’s A Wrinkle In Time. Both films introduce characters that serve no purpose or make no sense. One character here shows up just to shout “Artemis!”

Speaking of the title character, what is he really? We are told by the narrator known as Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) that Artemis Jr (an uninteresting kid actor named Ferdia Shaw who must’ve gotten the part cuz he looks good with sunglasses) is one of the greatest twelve-year-old geniuses of all time. He literally has an answer for any question that comes his way. So we’re told! Fact is, all this kid does is shoot a laser gun and wear a black Tarantino suit and tie. Never once in this film did I see Artemis Fowl demonstrate any of his genius, mind bending abilities. He surfs in the ocean outside his Ireland mansion. Does that merit the aptitude of a genius?

Artemis Sr (Colin Farrell) is apparently believed to be a thief of rare, priceless collectibles. After telling his son about some tale involving fairies that live in an underworld, he is soon kidnapped. It is now up to Junior with his trusty butler (Nonso Anosi) to rescue him. This butler doesn’t measure up to Batman’s Alfred. All this butler does is introduce young Artemis to a basement he was never aware of. Mulch also explains that if you call him Butler, he’ll snap you in two. Too bad we never got to see that. (Why tell us, dammit????) Then….AND I AM GOING TO SPOIL THIS SURPRISE….he dies. Tears must flow of course, but all I ever thought of was that gee, I hardly knew this guy.

Artemis Jr must recover a MacGuffin called the “Auculus.” How many times must I hear the word Auculus in a span of an hour and a half? The Auculus. The Auculus. THE AUCULUS!!!!!! Enough already. The filmmakers must believe that the more you say it, well then the more important the Auculus must be. My question: WHAT IN THE HELL DOES THIS AUCULUS EVEN DO?????

Judi Dench is here but only for the purpose of wearing a green leather trench coat that appears to weigh her down and doing what I think is likely a terrible enunciation of an elderly Irish lady’s accent. She plays the General of the fairy army. Dench is awful in this role and appears as lost in the effects as I was. Half the time I didn’t know what was going on. All of the time Judi Dench didn’t know what was going on.

The one main fairy is Holly Short (Lara McDonald) sent on a mission to go to Artemis’ mansion. Once she gets there, I truly lost track of why she was there to begin with. However, she seemed to have more activities to do than the title character is ever given. Once again, the super genius Artemis just shoots a gun. Holly at least gets to fly around with her motorized wings; yes, this is a fairy with an engine to activate her wings.

Artemis Fowl is a gorgeous looking picture. The special CGI effects are truly dazzling to look at with incredible color, but only if I’m watching a fireworks display at Magic Kingdom. Within a story, I have no clue what purpose any of the visuals serve or what possible results could come of anything. Nothing is explained here; much like this Auculus I talked about earlier.

The culture of the film is a failure as well. We are shown that this story is rooted out of Ireland. Where’s the Irish inspiration though? There’s no sense of inspiring traditions to learn from or appreciate. The soundtrack is hardly Celtic. Truly criminal is casting a Jewish Josh Gad and an English Judi Dench. For authencity’s sake, couldn’t actual Irish talent have been used instead of terrible dialects from marquee names?

There had to be a better film here. I’m talking a 2 1/2 hour film with solid, interesting exposition with mystery and questions like the first Harry Potter film. Nothing is of any consequence or comprehension here. How could I be so lost with this film?

This is a pattern for Disney of late. They acquire the rights to some wonderful children’s stories and then just mix some kind of slop in a slow cooker. A Wrinkle In Time, John Carter, and now this dreck. I don’t understand though. If the studio is so committed to packing so much into Avengers and Star Wars movies then why can’t they do the same with its other properties? I promise that kids will sit engaged with a longer film if it’s constructed with care. I know it.

Artemis Fowl is a squandered opportunity. They had the beloved novel by Eoin Colfer to springboard off of, and I know, without even reading the book, that they disregarded almost everything that made this story so special. It couldn’t be more apparent.

Artemis Fowl is a textbook example of when Hollywood does a complete disservice to its author as well as its target audience. It’s a criminal adaptation. It’s a betrayal of the intelligence that kids really come equipped with. It’s a terrible violation of culture and it’s an awful, awful, awful film.


By Marc S. Sanders

The first MCU movie that makes the biggest departure from any of the other installments in the franchise.

Doctor Strange operates on a level beyond punchy powers as Avengers director Joss Whedon noted. The film explores a very far, very fictional belief in the mystical arts and magic. So much so that sometimes characters like The Ancient One and Mordo speak in an English that is so foreign and so confusing. Still, I’m not complaining.

I enjoyed this film immensely. Benedict Cumberbatch is so right in the role of Stephen Strange. His character’s arrogance is not over the top, but necessary and evident. I really liked his transition from expert surgeon to a permanently damaged physical person and then onto The Sorcerer Supreme complete with the Cloak of Levitation, a better and more deserving way to describe it than just another cape.

The morphing of city landscapes and neighborhoods into arced and flipped and reverse mazes are really fun and change shape with crisp sound editing and music.

Good supporting work is also on display from Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor and especially Tilda Swinton. My one wish is that the villain played by the very capable Mads Mikkellsen was fleshed out more. He’s an actor who can handle heavy roles. Regretfully, I don’t think the script gives him enough to do here.

This Marvel chapter stands on its own with little reliance on the other films. However, the green infinity stone at play here is easier to understand now that I’ve seen Avengers: Infinity War. I’m talking about The Time Stone, of course!

Doctor Strange is a solid film; one that I would love to watch again a year from now and likely feel just as entertained.

NOTE: stay away from the 3D Blu Ray discs. Watch it in 2D. Having seen the 3D in theatres the first time, I clearly remember not enjoying the film very much. It was blurry and dark. At times the picture didn’t look crisp. The 3D effort was a nuisance and a terrible distraction. Less is more. Stick with 2D.


By Marc S. Sanders

Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie is one of the best biographical films of a fictional character ever made.  Yes.  It absolutely is a biography.  How can you call it anything but?  The visitor from the planet Krypton is embedded so deeply within the lexicon of worldwide pop culture and historical significance that he rests within all of our subconsciousness.   When we think of ongoing problems in the world from natural disasters to destructive wars or famines and disease, or to even kittens stuck in trees, for a split second we all consider how simple we could go on with our lives if only Superman were here to rescue us. 

By 1978, forty years after Joel Siegel and Joe Shuster created the character, visual effects were at a more than adequate level to convince us that a man could fly. Thus, the man with the red cape was ready to appear on the big screen.  With creative input from writer Mario Puzo, Donner’s film goes through various stages of life from when the extra terrestrial is a new born baby, to a toddler, then a teenager and on to a thirty something adult.  While living on the planet Earth, his powers may make him virtually invincible, but he’s far from godlike.  He cannot prevent the unforgiving nature of death.  He can’t be everywhere all at once.  He can’t even perform on the same level as his colleagues or friends, who are skillfully beneath him.  It would be unfair to have Clark Kent on your football team.

To watch Superman is to see a mini-series over a span of nearly two and a half hours.  We begin on the white crystal planet of Krypton featuring one of the greatest actors of the twentieth century, Marlon Brando, cast as the father of the superhero to be.  Brando is Jor-El.  He serves the planet as a prosecutor and a political leader with an expertise in science.  He’s championed for his knowledge, but he’s also challenged by his peers when he is certain of his planet’s demise. Thus, he must release his newborn son, known as Kal-El, into the far reaches of space to survive.  The script here takes an almost Shakespearian approach in debates of facing inevitability.  Brando’s authoritative screen presence is perfect here. 

Kal-El moves on to Earth, particularly Smallville, Kansas, and the nature of the film changes personality.  1950s Americana becomes our main character’s environment with endless plains of crop fields and farm land as Kal-El becomes identified as Clark Kent, the teenager who develops a crush on the high school cheerleader and gets bullied in the process while he must deliberately withhold all that he’s capable of by influence from his adoptive parents (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter).  Life for any of us is never complete until we experience the death of a loved one and Donner showcases that here to demonstrate that Kal-El/Clark can not prevent what’s meant to happen when biologically our bodies shut down.  Not even a super man can save us. 

Clark reaches age 18, usually perceived by most as a turning point into adulthood and through a means of Krytonian process he’s educated until his thirtieth birthday upon the rules and boundaries he must function within while on Earth.  He learns of his ancestry and then Donner changes the setting of his film once again into the furthest extreme from quaint Smallville. 

We have transitioned to sprawling Metropolis where Clark works as a mild-mannered reporter at The Daily Planet.  Christopher Reeve plays Clark/Superman and there was no one who could have filled the role better.  Physically, Reeve is the example by which all super human character portrayals still look towards.  Yet, the Julliard trained actor performs the dual personality so well.  When he dons Clark’s glasses you feel as if you are looking at another actor from when he’s dressed in the blue and red costume of Superman.  His posture and voice inflections are so distant from each character he’s playing.  Christopher Reeve was a stellar actor of versatility. 

In Metropolis, we are also introduced to an impure villain, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman, who never got enough praise for this role) focused on greed and individual power for him to consume at the expense of everyone else on Earth. 

As well, just as life must bring us towards the experience of loss, it also must introduce us to love in the form of Lois Lane. Margot Kidder does a magnificent job of the hustle and bustle career woman with a sense of romance and need for ongoing adventure.  A reporter’s life will only give you that some of the time.  Superman will let you live that every day.  In life, we all start with valuing one person in our lives beyond our immediate family, and Lois serves that purpose to Clark’s perspective. 

Donner takes advantage of comedy and slapstick when Metropolis comes into play.  It’s not as polished as Krypton.  Nor is it as calm and reserved as Smallville.  Again, the personality changes.  Reeve plays Clark as a persona of the inept and gullible newcomer nerd to hide his powerful alter ego.  Hackman’s Lex is accompanied by Ned Beatty as a bumbling sidekick to play off of. (This same actor was a frighteningly powerful and intimidating corporate CEO in Network just a few years prior!) Valerie Perrine holds her own against Hackman as Lex’ alluring dame to have a tete a tete of sarcasm with. Kidder is the leader of Metropolis’ populace always on the go so much that she’s not even aware of her insensitivity to poor Clark.  A great gag is that as a good as a reporter as she is, Lois has terrible skills in spelling.  (There’s only one p in ‘rapist’.)

Maybe you’ve never seen Superman from 1978, or maybe it’s been too long since you last took it in.  It remains a watch that’s worthwhile.  Donner’s film covers so much of this one individual’s life that also includes two separate ancestries.  I get hot and cold on biographical films, sometimes.  It’s a tough scale to measure.  Sometimes filmmakers don’t show you enough.  I thought the film Ray, ended too suddenly on its depiction of Ray Charles.  Sometimes, it’s an overabundance of material.  The Last Emperor and Chariots Of Fire seemed to never end, and became mired in long, drawn-out, sleep-inducing pieces of dialogue.  Superman allows just the right amount of time to live within these different parts of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman’s life that you get familiar with who the main character encounters and how he responds to those around him. You also witness how these environments respond back to him.  You get a sense of what he stands for and where he feels insufficient and where feels strong and secure, as well as valued by others. 

It might be crazy to believe, but biographical writers and filmmakers should turn towards Richard Donner’s film for an outline that perfectly establishes every scene and moment that’s cut into its mold.  Superman: The Movie?  When I want to tell the life story of Golda Meir, or Barack Obama or Joseph Stalin or Jesus Christ?  Yes, Superman.  If we are crazy enough to follow the exploits of a man who wears a cape and flies through the sky, then why can’t we believe he can provide the answers to the great mysteries of life better than any of us?