Joanne’s Picks

This page is just for fun and ever-changing (with the exception of the late Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin who has been archived here). I’m Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse. I like books (and you might like mine), I like music, I like movies, I like TV. So, I’m just sharing some of what I like. Keep checking back as I’m always keeping things fresh.

Time now for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I remember watching the first Iron Man in Deluxe Cinema (a Christmas lime) with my sister and all the then nieces and nephews (including the boo-boo who just started secondary school in 2019 and was a literal baby then, which I’ll admit I was nervous about because nobody wants to be the person in the theatre with the screaming baby); but thankfully there was no screaming and just the other day he acknowledged that he remembered it was his first movie theatre experience. Mine was Jaws.

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My most recent MCU film was the oh-so-controversial Captain Marvel which I caught on a long flight, twice. And I have one question, why all the controversy? There is absolutely nothing wrong with this film that isn’t wrong with any of the rest of them – it’s not perfect but it’s not only not the worst thing ever, it’s plenty enjoyable. But fanboys gotta fanboy, I guess. Because Captain Marvel is on my list. Find out where it lands and what else lands where.

I haven’t watched some (The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Spider-Man: Far from Home), some I couldn’t get in to (Thor, Iron Man 3, Thor: the Dark World), some were just okay (Ant-Man, Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2), and some were aiiight (Captain America: the First Avenger, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Spider-Man: Homecoming) but as for the rest (bottom to top), my rankings are:

Captain America: Civil War – a bit rushed but introduced a couple of key (and charismatic) characters, attempted a layered plot and a plot that moved beyond pure action to warring political philosophies, and a final punch out that was as much about friendship and betrayal as it was a brutal display of force. Plus a couple of the magical scenes that comic book fans live for.

Captain Marvel – this is freshest in my mind and I liked the setting (90s), the character chemistry (Bree and Samuel L.- though for the record I’d almost always prefer they cast younger than do that creepy de-aging and/or resurrecting thing), the story arc (we hate heroes’ arcs now?), the pacing (no it didn’t feel rushed), the humour (dry and sardonic, my best type), Rambeau and Rambeau Jr. (not just the best friend Black side-kick and her generically spunky kid), the Skrulls (the chief Skrull especially), the flying (Top Gun has nothing on them), even the flerken (which is a lot with me being a non-cat person). I thought Bree did a good job and even the flat vocal affect in her delivery was, I thought, deliberate and worked for the character (if you’ve seen Room you already know she can act, so don’t act like she can’t). And that montage at the end about falling down but getting up, was cheesy (sure) but also effective. Finally, I loved the music cues not just because I love the 90s and this is taking me back but because its use worked in the film – e.g. programming the music in the big fight scene counter to the type of music you’d usually get for a scene of that type. Call me silly (silly) but I like that Captain Marvel, the first female-centred MCU film leaned in to the estrogen (because there’s nothing wrong with estrogen) and that the female protagonist stepped in to the male-dominated space of super hero films like she had every right to be there. But mainly, it was an entertaining film; job done.

Iron Man – honestly I have never been an Iron Man stan and I mostly like this for the memory of our family outing and give it props for being the first of a universe that would change cinema… I didn’t like that they re-cast Terrence Howard (the original Rhodey) because I thought he was perfect in his only outing in the role and, frankly, at the time he was more of a draw for me than Robert Downey Jr. (who was, and has always been very talented, but was still somewhere in the early phase of trying to turn his life around after a series of second chances). I’m not a Howard stan either by far, it’s just the fairness angle. Since Howard reportedly went to bat for Downey for the role, the fact that Howard was reportedly pushed out never sat well with me – though clearly the studio deciding to bet on (i.e. throw all the money) at Downey worked in its favour.

Thor: Ragnarok – the first Thor in which Thor was interesting (and funny). Battle won. Credit to whomever let Taika (director) let his quirk flag fly because this sharp (lighter) turn was clearly his aesthetic. Introduction of Valkryie. Another win. I also like that the bruised and embattled hero arc that finds Thor stripped of everything and everyone that begins here continues in Infinity War and Endgame.

Guardians of the Galaxy – this is a fun unlikely (decidedly mixed) group in a fun, unlikely (decidedly mixed) film. Plot wise it’s about the alliance forming for future adventures to come and it yada yada yadas some of the rules re infinity stones (rules applied unevenly in future films in the universe). This is my favourite Bradley Cooper performance…and my favourite Zoe Saldana performance… and my favourite Chris Pratt… let’s just say this decidedly cartoonish comic book film is the sweet spot for these actors’ particular talents. With the exception of Michael Rooker who has been turning in great performances Mississippi Burning to The Walking Dead to the Guardian series (becoming, as it happened, the best part of the Guardian sequel which is worth watching, even if not a personal fave).

Captain America: the Winter Soldier- when people (*cough* Scorcese) dismiss the MCU films as all being like a Coney island ride – no real story, tension, heft, no stakes, no emotional heft etc. – formulaic or whatever. I come back to this one for being the MCU film that drew me back in, reinforcing for me that these were filmmakers with different aesthetics, working within the universe but not colouring by numbers. Because here you have a man de-iced after 70 years, emerging in to a world that’s passed him by, trying to find his centre in systems he can no longer trust, alone and lonely but trying to re-connect, watching his great love slip away, finding out that the friend he’d thought dead was not dead but not quite the friend he knew – there is a lot of emotional turmoil amidst the action, but also because the hero is unsure whom he can trust even as he tries to connect the dots, it has the pace and feel of a spy thriller. One of my favourite elements is the platonic friendship that develops between Cap and Natasha because how often does Hollywood resist the urge to pair up two objectively good looking people just because they happen to be in proximity to each other. So one of my weaker elements was the romance they shoe-horned in with the grandchild of his great love (ew) but since they didn’t belabor it, I’ll give them a pass (in deference to the best elevator fight scene on record).

Marvel’s The Avengers – that moment when the Avengers assembled for the first time in that circular heroes pose as the chitari bore down and all of New York was chaos, I may have been an aunt having a movie night with my nephew but I was fangirling out in a way that was all about me and my relationship with the fantasy adventure genre – the kind of moment I hope my favourite comic series (X-Men will give me and it hasn’t yet).

Avengers: Infinity War & Avengers: End Game – two chapters of the same book in a series made all the more impactful with the awareness that it was all coming to an end. Impressive balance of characters and emotional throughlines considering how much the story had to accomplish and how many individual storylines there were to wrap up. It spent more time on some things and not enough on others but combined the films did the job overall and delivered the humour, the action, and the moments (bring me Thanos!). Speaking of the mad titan it flipped the script by giving him, the villain, the hero’s arc before attempting to re-set the world after completely decimating it. The key characters were not always who you expected them to be and by making certain key deaths stick, it raised the stakes and rung some genuine elation and whatever the opposite of elation is from its viewers. Great films individually, greater combined – and the year-long break in between was actually a good thing and not just a cynical cash grab. Couldn’t have asked for more.

Black Panther – First, Wakanda Forever! Ryan Coogler is an auteur, a director with his own particular vision and that was even more obvious on this than the sinfully underrated Fruitvale Station and Creed, the film that revived the Rocky series. With this he created an afro-futurist vision from a re-worked history (that imagined what would become of a country on the continent that was independently wealthy and had never been colonized or enslaved) that resonated with Africans and people of African descent from all parts of the globe (as some kind of dream that both saddened and delighted us, even as it raised real questions vis-à-vis the tension between those who knew home intimately and those who had been thrown away and abandoned by it). But here was a film in which we weren’t just our pain and our lack but in which the pendulum swung dramatically toward abundance and opportunity and celebration of us, albeit a fantasized version of us. The rich colours, languages, and landscapes of the continent on full display (that first entry in to Wakanda) was spirit filling for those of us for whom on some level, however generations removed, it is home. Coogler did all of this in a Marvel film, and it worked; it worked so well it picked up costume, score,  and production design Oscars and was believably in the running for best picture and other awards. Come on now. It worked so well after seeing it with my nephew and sis I went back to watch it with a friend (and watch-agains are rare for me). I almost don’t want them to do the sequel because how do you top this?