The Spider-Man Drama: Disney/Marvel vs. Sony Pictures

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By now anyone who is even remotely interested in the lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe has heard the news. As of now (and that’s an extremely important phrase) Spider-Man will no longer be a part of the MCU. For the benefit of those living under the proverbial rock (don’t worry, it’s often the best place to be), negotiations between Disney/Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures to extend their unique Spider-Man partnership has broken off meaning the immensely popular webslinger is no longer part of the MCU.

A little history, Sony bought the film rights to Spider-Man and his unique universe back in 1999 for a reported $7 million. At that time there was never a thought of a huge Marvel-inspired interconnected cinematic universe. But in 2015 Disney/Marvel and Sony came to an unprecedented agreement to bring Spider-Man to the then blooming MCU. It was essentially a co-production deal that saw Sony keeping the rights to the character and Disney/Marvel getting full creative control.

Even more interesting is that no money changed hands at the time of the deal. That would come later. For Sony it was a good move considering how inconsistent their last three Spidey films had been. Plus Sony Pictures was suffering from some severe financial strain and they desperately needed a big money-maker to go alongside their James Bond films.

For Disney/Marvel the benefits were even more obvious. Aside from having full creative control, Marvel Studios could finally bring arguably their most popular character into their sprawling MCU. Better yet, Sony would only get money from solo Spider-Man films. His appearances in “Captain America: Civil War”, “Infinity War”, and “Endgame” – Sony didn’t get a dime. To top it off, it’s reported that in the deal Disney/Marvel receives all merchandising revenue.

So what has caused the sudden split and who is to blame? Many people were quick to put the blame on Sony Pictures which isn’t surprising. After all, as people we tend to defend what we love. But is that really fair? Is Disney/Marvel simply a victim of Sony’s greed? Should we as fans point fingers at Sony for taking Spidey away from the MCU. Well, maybe not.

It seems the biggest sticking point in negotiations centers around Disney/Marvel’s cut of the profits strictly from the solo Spider-Man films. In the previous agreement Disney/Marvel received 5% of the first-dollar box office gross (again in addition to all merchandising and 100% of the money for appearances in other MCU films). Disney/Marvel is now demanding 50% which Sony promptly (and understandably) declined. It seems Disney/Marvel then picked up their ball and went to (of all places) the media.

So what are we to make of all the drama. First, I still firmly believe a deal will indeed be reached. A lot of this is posturing by Disney/Marvel as well as them wielding the enormous power they have right now. And how better to do it than by provoking a public outcry. This looks to be a powerplay by Disney/Marvel and one of several concerning trends in their current business model.

On the other side Sony would be nuts to end negotiations (and trust me, both sides are still negotiating). They have made a lot of much-needed money by aligning their prized Spider-Man property with the MCU. And it’s all but certain to continue with an extended deal. At the same time it would be crazy for Sony to expect Disney/Marvel to stick to the original 5% considering their two solo MCU Spidey films grossed nearly $2 billion combined.

So, should Sony agree to Disney/Marvel’s 50% demands? Nope. Should Disney/Marvel be content with the current deal’s 5%? Probably not. So it all comes down to a willingness to meet in the middle and use some common sense. Both Sony and Disney/Marvel stand to win by continuing this fascinating partnership and lose by seeing its demise. Personally I applaud Sony for standing up to Disney who has been a bit bullish in getting its way. At the same time, if Sony isn’t willing to offer a bigger piece of the pie to Disney/Marvel it’s hard to see them as the victim.

But don’t worry MCU fans, I’m calling it here – a deal will get done. When it comes down to it, neither Sony Pictures or Disney/Marvel are dumb enough to turn down this kind of money this partnership generates.

Keith Garlington (@KeithandMovies on Twitter)

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REVIEW: “Always Be My Maybe”

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“Crazy Rich Asians” opened up a much-needed window into the Asian-American experience. It was also charming and surprisingly funnier that I expected. I was anxious to see what films would follow in its footsteps to broaden the field and offer up new perspectives.

One such film is “Always Be My Maybe”, a Netflix romantic comedy and directorial debut of Nahnatchka Khan. The film follows Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) who as children grew up as best friends and next-door neighbors in San Francisco. An argument during their late teen years pushed them apart and (As many kids do) they went their separate ways.

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Sixteen years later Sasha is a celebrity chef and rising star in the culinary world. She’s engaged to hunky but narcissistic Brandon (Daniel Dae Kim) and is about to open her new restaurant in the Bay Area. Marcus is still in San Francisco, content living with and working for his widowed father and spending his spare time smoking weed and playing with his neighborhood band.

Their lives have went in dramatically different directions, but when they unexpectedly cross paths again it’s clear that deep down they are still the same people who once had such a tight-knit bond. Now they will have to navigate through sixteen years of baggage and their own stubbornness to see if things can finally work out between them.

“Always Be My Maybe” stands or falls or the chemistry of its two leads. The entire story is dependent on it which is both good and bad. It’s good simply because Wong and Park are great together. Their conversations and needling banter flows naturally and (much like with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in The Before trilogy) you can sense their contributions to the writing process. But it’s bad in that many of the film’s weaker scenes are when they are apart.

You could also argue that the comedy itself is too uneven. Most of the time it’s simply amusing relying heavily on the playful back-and-forths between Sasha and Marcus. But when a certain red-hot entertainment phenomenon appears, the comedy takes a different form, moving from amusing to laugh-out-loud hilarious. Yes, Keanu Reeves pops up for a short time and unquestionably steals the show. And once he’s gone we downshift from hilarious back to amusing. Hardly a huge issue, but it sure leaves you itching for the Keanu-level humor to come back.

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Several other nagging issues hold the film back. As most of these films tend to be, “ABMM” is utterly predictable almost from the start and you can see it checking off numerous socially hip boxes. We also get the outspoken best friend character which must be a modern rom-com necessity. Michelle Buteau gives a good performance and she has a handful of good lines, but it’s the same old character we’ve seen a billion times and who is only there to fill a role.

But back to Wong and Park. They may not be able to fully cover all of the movie’s issues, but they make “ABMM” worth your time. Their easy-going chemistry works great with the film’s relaxed rhythms. But that’s about all the movie has to offer. If you’re hungry for anything deeper or more original you’re probably not going to leave satisfied.

VERDICT – 2.5 STARS

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First Glance: “Underwater”

You can’t watch the new trailer for “Underwater” and not see the bevy of movie influences. Right out of the gate William Eubank’s new undersea thriller looks like what you’d get if you crossed “The Abyss” with “Aliens”. Movies like this have always attracted my attention but they can also run the risk of being too conventional and by-the-books.

The trailer for “Underwater” leaves a strong first impression. The plot seems pretty familiar – a team of researchers man a station seven miles below the ocean’s surface. Their experiments (gasp) unearth something horrifying from the deep and the movie’s tense and claustrophobic horror elements take over. Kristen Stewart leads an otherwise okay cast that I hope give us more than cookie-cutter characters. If they get that right this movie could be a real treat.

“Underwater” is currently set to release January 10, 2020 (gulp). Check out the trailer below and let me know if you will be seeing it or taking a pass.

REVIEW: “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”

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Over a year ago I was at a very special event that featured a Q&A with none other than Richard Linklater. It was a great evening listening to a favorite filmmaker of mine talk about making movies. Close to the end of his session he hinted at his most recent project, a movie starring Oscar winner Cate Blanchett. That’s all he said, but it was enough to spark my interest.

It turns out the movie was “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”, an adaptation of the 2012 best-selling novel by Maria Semple. In it Blanchett plays disillusioned misanthrope Bernadette Fox. She pretty much hates everyone save her daughter Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson) and her husband Elgin (Billy Crudup). In fact her general negativity and social anxiety leads her one friend and mentor (Laurence Fishburn) to label her a “menace to society”.

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Bernadette is a character perfectly tuned for Cate Blanchett. She’s smart, neurotic, and a ticking emotional time bomb. These are characteristics Blanchett can convey in her sleep. It’s a vibrant, even dominating performance that may be a little too big for some tastes. I found her to be captivating and an essential reason the movie works as a whole.

At first the trajectory of the story is a little confusing and there are early moments when it’s tough to figure out what kind of movie Linklater wants to make (he co-wrote the script with Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr.). But I realized I had made the mistake of approaching the film as a straight comedy when it really isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly get dashes of humor scattered throughout. Some of it lands well, some of it not so much. But this was far more dramatic than I expected and once I had a grasp of that the movie began to speak a much more satisfying language.

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Bernadette is an intriguing character from the start and a hard nut to crack (absolutely no pun intended). Her struggles stem from a wide range of personal issues. She was once a famous architect known for her aggressively modern vision and willingness to trust her creative instincts. But when she and Elgin moved to Seattle from LA, his career took off while her fire to create was all but extinguished.

But Bernadette’s descent into cynicism and melancholy isn’t one-dimensional. There are numerous influences and conflicts, both internal and external, that are revealed and play roles in her sometimes fragile state of mind. It all adds a welcomed complexity to the character and keeps Bernadette from becoming some by-the-books stereotype that we often see in movies exploring this same territory.

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Bernadette’s many layers show most through her relationships. This includes her tepid marriage to Elgin, the devoted mother/daughter dynamic with Bee, the testy back-and-forths with her next door neighbor (Kristen Wiig), even her one-sided rants with her online secretary and virtual confidant. But when it all begins to overwhelm her, Bernadette sneaks off on a journey of rediscovery. I’m oversimplifying it for the sake of spoilers, but she vanishes leading Elgin and Bee to pop the question asked in the movie’s title.

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is a unique and quirky thing that won’t be for everyone. Then again Linklater movies never score big at the box office. And considering it goes up against a brand new animated film, a shameless publicity-hounding raunchy comedy, and a big-budget blockbuster holdover that trend should continue. But I liked a lot about “Bernadette” – Blanchett’s performance, Emma Nelson’s debut, the film’s big heart. I even liked its messiness. That may be a weird compliment, but this is a weird movie, and I guess I like that about it too.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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First Glance: “Parasite”

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At first glance (see what I did there) you might be tempted to dismiss the new Bong Joon-ho film as simply a film auteur flexing his weirdness muscle. The early parts of the recently released U.S. trailer for “Parasite” lends to that idea. But the near universal enthusiasm and the heaps of critical praise should indicate that the 2019 Palm d’Or winner at Cannes has much more up its multi-faceted sleeve.

The new trailer shows that Bong Joon-ho has tons more on his mind that being ‘weird’. In fact the trailer alone shows “Parasite” to be a genre-hopping socially conscience experience. And there are so many striking images that stand out from the small slice we’re given. Is it horror, a comedy, or a thriller? Can Bong Joon-ho keep it all corralled? Does his social commentary smother out the drama? Will it get a good-sized American release? I don’t know, but I’m so excited to find out.

“Parasite” is set to release in the U.S. on October 11th. Check out the trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or taking a pass.

REVIEW: “Kill Bill: Vol. 2”

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I doubt Quentin Tarantino would seriously object to his Kill Bill films being reviewed as two separate movies, but apparently there is a fairly long-running debate among a handful fans. Is Kill Bill one single movie or two? In a recent interview with CinemaBlend the acclaimed yet always controversial filmmaker threw in his two cents – “I made it as one movie and I wrote it as one movie.” Fair enough, but it still feels like a film that justifies its two parts.

Rewatching the first movie I was reminded of why Kill Bill is easily among my favorite Tarantino pictures. I’m so often at odds with his obsessions and excesses to the point of seeing some of his films as exercises in unbridled self-indulgence. Sure, “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” could also be considered very excessive and self-indulgent. In many ways it is. But for the most part it feels much more compact and focused. It’s fully committed to its influences and the excesses are very much a part of the genre he’s most interested in celebrating.

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Volume 2 begins at Chapter Six with what may be the movie’s best sequence. It’s a flashback dripping in Sergio Leone influence that digs into the events which sparked the Bride’s quest for revenge. She and a handful of others have gathered for a wedding rehearsal in a little chapel outside of El Paso, Texas. Volume 1 tells us how things turn out and Tarantino uses that knowledge to add a very effective layer of tension to the scene. The opening 15 minutes mixes together some of the film’s sharpest dialogue and savviest camerawork.

In his signature non-linear fashion, Tarantino bounces forward to the Bride (Uma Thurman) and her continued bloodlust for those who killed her unborn baby and left her for dead. Her top target is Bill (David Carradine), the head of the disbanded Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. But first she must hunt down and cut through each of his four former assassins. Two were handled in Volume 1. That leaves Bud (Michael Madsen) and Elle (Darryl Hannah).

Once again this is very much a direct continuation of the first film and both were shot at the same time. Yet despite the clear cohesion, Volume 2 uniquely stands out as its own thing. It surprisingly digs deeper into its characters, something the first film mostly skimmed over but for good table-setting reasons. And you could say Volume 2 comes across as less spectacular and more driven by Tarantino’s signature savory dialogue.

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It also stands apart in how much ground it explores. Volume 1 saw Tarantino exquisitely and violently indulging his adoration for the grindhouse martial arts movies of his childhood. This time around his cinematic focus is considerably broader, pulling influence from a wider catalog and experimenting with a number of different techniques and style choices. And all through storytelling that moves to a much different rhythm than the first film.

Tarantino is also known for reintroducing forgotten actors/actresses who have (for one reason or another) fallen off the map. Just think about it, Pam Grier (“Jackie Brown”), Kurt Russell (“Death Proof”, “The Hateful Eight”), Don Johnson (“Django Unchained“), and of course John Travolta (“Pulp Fiction”). This time it’s Carradine and Hannah who get the treatment. Both are great. Tarantino makes perfect use of Carradine’s gravelly, mellow deliveries and Hannah’s sultry ferocity.

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“Kill Bill: Vol. 1″ set some lofty expectations and Volume 2 meets them while taking a dramatically different approach to storytelling. But the marvel of it all is in how well both films gel together. It makes sense that Tarantino would consider them one movie despite each having their own uniqueness.

And as with most of his films, Kill Bill is a celebration of cinema. But with Volume 2 he adds layers of humanity and pathos that makes this more than a filmmaker indulging his inner cinephile. There’s actual heart among the grit and the violence along with a dynamic Uma Thurman who fully commits to every line, every emotion, and every swing of her lethal Hattori Hanzō blade.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

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