Monday, January 3, 2022

Movie Reviews: "Spider Bond"

After our original New Year's plans fell through, we decided to spend the New Year's weekend at the movies, watching two films that provided equally unexpected surprises. One pleasant and one not so pleasant. Let's start with the pleasant.

***SPOILER ALERT!  If you haven't seen either of the movies below and plan to, you probably won't want to continue reading, as much of the plot, and both surprises, will be revealed!***

Spider-Man: No Way Home

For the first time in years, we decided to go to the drive-in, where we saw "No Way Home" on New Year's Day, the third Spider-Man film featuring Tom Holland as the web-slinger. He is also the third actor to portray Spidey this century, the first being Tobey Maguire back in 2002 when he also starred in three films. In between the two, Andrew Garfield took the helm for two movies. In his three films, Maguire battled the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and the Sandman. Garfield in his two outings fought The Lizard and Electro. 

Why do I mention this? You'll find out.

This film starts off sometime after "The Avengers: Endgame" and the death of Ironman, and not long after the last Spiderman film, "Far From Home" where Spiderman defeated and killed Mysterio, and was labeled by some as a villain for doing so. This resulted in the press revealing to the world that Peter Parker was Spiderman. Goodbye secret identity. This sentiment carried over to "No Way Home", where the film started with everyone out to get Spiderman/Peter Parker. Things got so bad for our arthropod hero that he asked fellow Avenger Dr. Strange to whip up a spell that would make everyone forget that Peter Parker was Spiderman. 

Unfortunately, as Dr. Strange was implementing the spell, Parker, who was easily the most annoying, juvenile bozo of the three Spiderman portrayals, decided at the last minute that several close people should be excluded from this spell. Needless to say, this messed up the spell to the point where it opened a chasm to what is known as the "Marvel Cinematic Universe", and dangerous foes from other worlds begin to enter and appear. These foes, coincidently, were the aforementioned Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, Sandman, The Lizard and Electro. 

Strangely, however, Spiderman didn't know who these villains were, nor did any of them recognize him as Spiderman, even though they fought each other in recent years. Huh?  Dr. Strange would soon reappear and announce that he would be sending the villains back to their respective universes via another spell. However, some of them had died in their original battle with Spiderman, which meant they would again die when they returned. How they they were resurrected in the first place was never revealed. Parker decided that wasn't fair, and instead wanted to try come up with a formula to cure these thugs and revert them to their pre-villain state. Which, of course, this Spiderman didn't know what that was since he didn't even know who they were. To attempt this, Spiderman again had to booby-trap Dr. Strange's spell, which he did.  

My first reaction to all of this was, "Argh", what is this twit doing? These are really bad guys. You're a crime fighter. Just send them back! I fortunately had watched the previous Maguire/Garfield Spiderman movies and was aware of their back stories. And as I thought about it more, I began to remember that each of these villains didn't begin as villains. Nor were their intentions to be villains. They all were victims of unfortunate circumstances or events that turned them into what they now were. So maybe they did deserve a chance of being cured? My thinking began to change. 

Soon after, another multi-universe window was opened to help locate Spiderman, who had disappeared due to a personal tragedy that he was partly responsible for.. Instead, in walked the two biggest surprises of the entire movie:  Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Yes, Spiderman 1 and 2. As it turns out, there weren't three actors playing Spiderman all of these years, but each ARE Spiderman, but from a different Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kind of clever. So when the Toby Maguire Spiderman confronted the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus and Sandman, they instantly recognized each other. Same with Garfield and Electro and The Lizard. Before long, all three Spidermen joined forces to complete the original goal: cure the five villains. Things didn't start well, which prompted the Garfield Spiderman to respond with one of the funniest lines in the movie:  "I don't know how to work as a team!" After a quick huddle, they figured it out, and you can probably guess what happened. It was a nice touch seeing the Maguire/Garfield Spidermen confront their respective villains once again, but in a post-villain state. 

I have to say that seeing all three Spiderman actors together was really odd. Mostly because it took me by surprise. One can't help wonder what it took to convince Maguire and Garfield to put on their tights again. Not only that, the villains were also portrayed by the original actors. All-in-all, the movie was very fun to watch, despite the confusing multi-universe concept, and the Holland Spiderman acting like a 10 year-old half the time. I know that Spiderman in the comics is a happy-go-lucky high schooler, but the whiny Holland is over the top and pretty annoying most of the time. At least to me. I've been pretty critical of past Marvel movie storylines, but this one deserves some credit. An enjoyable experience and well worth the price of a ticket. 

I had read somewhere that many thought that Maguire was the best Spiderman, Garfield the best Peter Parker, and Holland the best of the two combined. Can't say I agree with that. When you see all three actors together, you can clearly see how Holland isn't in the same league as Maguire or Garfield in acting ability. Personally, I think Garfield was the best all-around Spiderman/Peter Parker, but Maguire was my favorite. He's such a great actor (check out "Cider House Rules" sometime).

To fully enjoy the experience of watching "No Way Home", the movie makers pretty much require viewers to have watched the five Maguire/Garfield movies. Those who don't will miss many of the references to these movies, character backstories, and won't understand the relationships between the villains and their corresponding Spiderman. And as a result probably won't enjoy the movie as much as they could have. With how well "No Way Home" is doing at the box office, I'm guessing the film has jump started the sales and rentals of the original five movies tenfold. Which may have been one of the intentions of the movie makers choosing this storyline. I wouldn't put it past them! 

No Time to Die

We rented and watched this latest James Bond venture as part of our pre-midnight New Year's Eve entertainment. Going into it, I knew it was the fifth and final portrayal of Daniel Craig as 007, with the first being "Casino Royale" in 2006.  I won't review this one in as much detail as "No Way Home", as it's a pretty typical Daniel Craig Bond vehicle: lots of action, implausible, super human Bond escapes, dark, and little to no "Bond" humor. That's one of the biggest differences between Craig's Bond and the one Sean Connery and Roger Moore portrayed: they aren't as fun. No tongue-in-cheek moments. But this movie overall was actually pretty entertaining for what it was. Until the end, which is where the big surprise came. Again, like with "No Way Home", it really took me by surprise. But this one wasn't quite as pleasant.

So what's the surprise? Well, let's just say that Bond did have time to die. Because that's what he did. At the end of the movie an injured James Bond, unable to escape a factory that was about to be destroyed by missile fire, stood atop the building and watched with us as the missiles made impact, blowing 007 to smithereens. Kabluwee. Just like that, James Bond was gone, and a successful, long running franchise ended. Or was it?  

As a secondary surprise, it was also revealed that James Bond very likely had a daughter. The movie started five years in the past where Bond meets and falls in love with Madeleine, who, as a child, was almost killed by Lyutsifer Safin, who would re-surface in her adulthood and be the film's primary villain. Bond helps her escape Safin a second time, but are then separated for five years. When they accidently reunite, we learn that Madeleine now has a five year old daughter named Mathilde who she tells Bond isn't his. But hints throughout the rest of the film indicate otherwise. 

So could it be that the next Bond movie will feature a female lead, Mathilde Bond? It wouldn't surprise me in the least, seeing that todays movie studios continue to move into the direction of political correctness. Having another strong female character would fit right in. Not there's anything wrong with it. I'm all for it. I love characters like Black Widow and Wonder Woman!  But in the past five years or so, we're suddenly been inundated with women kicking the butts of men, relationships of mixed color, people with different sexual preferences, etc. in nearly every movie we see. Compared to movies released just 10 or so years ago, it's so obvious what Hollywood is doing now. Why? Two words: societal pressure. 

Not that there aren't people in this industry that have always supported issues like gender, sexual preferences, and minority oppression, but the studios of today don't want to be accused of being intolerant to anyone, and subsequently criticized for it, which would likely end up resulting in a hit at the box office. Or, in todays terms, being "cancelled". So what Hollywood is doing now isn't the issue, it should have been done years ago, but their motivation is what's troubling. Many are being "politically correct", and so obviously, not because they want to, but because they have to. Else we would have seen these type of characters in the volume we are now 15 years ago.

Phew, my speech is over! In short, I'd recommend seeing both movies when you have the opportunity. 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Covid Comparsion: 2020 and 2021

Now that we're nearing the end of 2021, I thought it would interesting to compare the Covid numbers worldwide, in the US, California and Santa County (where I live) on December 1, 2020 and December 1, 2021. Something I haven't done in a while. What I discovered kind of surprised me.

As a refresher, early December 2020 was in the midst of the largest "surge" to date. Vaccinations were at the end of their testing phase, and wouldn't begin to be administered for another month. So 2020 was basically a vaccine-free year. And for at least the first half of the year, most indoor functions were closed. 

Going into doing this update, I was definitely prepared for a couple of things. The confirmation rate was certainly going to rise as the number of confirmed cases increase. But with the vaccine being distributed since late winter 2021 and over 60% of the country and state being vaccinated (over 75% in Santa Clara County), I thought the increase would be relatively minimal. And for the same reason, the death rate lower. And all of that happened. But not to the degree I had thought.

So let's start local and work our way up to global. On December 1, 2020, Santa Clara County, with a population of 1,948,407, had 35,945 confirmed cases going back to roughly late February, or nine months. That's a confirmation rate of 1.8%, so less than 2% of the counties population had contracted the virus by then end of 2020. With 487 deaths reported, the death rate was a pretty low 1.3% (1.3 out of every 100 cases resulted in a fatality). 

Fast forward to yesterday, As of December 1, 2021, the number of cases reported was 152,268 and deaths were 1,930. So from December 2, 2020 through November 30, 2021, cases went from nearly 36,000 to just over 152,000 (+ 322%), and deaths from 487 to 1,930 (+ 296%). With the increase of new cases, the confirmation rate not surprisingly rose from 1,8% to 7.8%. Still a pretty low number, considering. The death rate did drop from 1.3 % to 1.2%. 

On the surface, the rate of case increases and deaths were a bit surprising to me, considering that a heavy percentage of the Santa Clara County population was vaccinated during the past six months or so. I guess that goes to show you how bad it could have been had no vaccines been available.

Things were slightly worse for California as a whole, as the confirmation rate went from 3.2% in December 2020 to 12.7% on December 1, 2021 (1,272,041 cases to 5,090,300 - a 300% increase), while deaths rose from 19,440 to 74,781 (+ 284%). The state death rate did drop slightly, from 1.5% to 1.4%. 

Nationwide, cases rose from 13,996,455 to 48,490,805 (+ 246%) or a confirmation rate increase from 4.24% to 14.7%. Deaths rose from 273,490 to 781,556 (+ 185%) with a death rate of 1.6% (down from 1.9%).

So taking a look at all of these numbers, two things in particular caught my eye:
1) The percentage increases/decreases in all three locations where very similar, despite Santa Clara County having a much higher vaccination rate (nearly 80%) than California or the US (both approximately 60%).

2) It's surprisingly clear that 2021 was a worse year for Covid than 2020, despite vaccinations being available since February 2021. 

But that fact that these numbers increased as much as they did despite the vaccine indicates how bad things could have been without them. Even to a catastrophic level. Just over 6% of new cases are people who were vaccinated (known at the positivity rate), compared to over 24% unvaccinated (the last I looked), so the vaccines seem to be working. It's evident that the Delta variant was much worse than expected. Need to consider as well that pretty much everything was opened up in late spring/early summer, including things like movie theaters. Also, for a time, masks weren't required indoors. So I'm sure all of that contributed to higher numbers in 2021.

In case you're interested, worldwide, the number of cases grew from 64,547,851 to 263,536,848 (+ 308%), a confirmation rate increase from 0.8% to 3.3%  (based on a 7.9 billion worldwide population). Deaths rose from 1,493,716 to 5,232,983 (+ 250%), but the death rate dropped from 2.3% to 1.9%..Not including the 3.3% confirmation rate, which was surprising low compared to the US (14.7%), the percentage increases/decreases were similar to those of the Santa Clara County, California and the US.  

So what are the positive takeaways? Percentage-wise, 97% of the worlds population, 84% of the US population, 88% of the California population, and 92% of the Santa Clara County population has not contracted Covid. And of those that have, over 98% survive.  Of course, if you convert those percentages into numbers, it still adds up to a lot of people. Can't forget that.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Movie Review: "Godzilla vs. Kong "

This past January I received my Comcast bill and noticed that it had increased by nearly $20 from the previous month. I also noticed that my last discount "perk" had expired a month earlier, which was a primary reason why. So I did what I usually do when that happens: give Comcast a call and inquire about current deals for existing customers. That usually works, and really paid dividends this time as they dropped my monthly bill $15 lower than what it was before the increase, while doubling my internet speed and throwing in both HBO Max and Showtime for two years. Thank you Comcast!

This allowed me the opportunity to do something I hadn't done in over 1 1/2 years: watch a new theatrically-released movie. In case you weren't aware, HBO Max, at least for the time being, is showing an occasional theatrically-developed movie in conjunction with it being released in the theater. Two such movies this year were "Wonder Woman 1984", which I didn't like and won't waste time writing about, and this one, "Godzilla vs. Kong", which was pleasantly entertaining. And after watching two bad Godzilla movies in 2014 and 2019, and an almost equally bad King Kong move in 2017, I never thought I'd say that!

Sure, "Godzilla vs. Kong" still had some lame storylines, and even lamer characters, but the action and visual effects all but made up for them. The general plot features a race between legitimate scientists and the proverbial nutty professor to find a power source in an unexplored area at the core of the earth. This power source is evidently what empowers the "Titans", or the prehistoric creatures that have appeared in the aforementioned Godzilla and King Kong movies. Including the two star "Titans" themselves.

The film starts out with King Kong discovering that the habitat he was moved to after his 2017 movie is man-made. Concerned that he might escape, his "keepers" decide to move Kong and plot to use him to lead them to this "power source" at the earth's core, and possibly discover Kong's original home. In the meantime, Kong has bonded with a deaf young girl named Jia who, it turns out unbeknownst to everyone, he can communicate with using sign language. On route to the entrance point of the earth's core, which I'm not quite sure how they discovered, Kong's keepers are alerted that Godzilla has sensed the presence of Kong, evidently through his power source, and is tracking him down. Can they get Kong to the core before Godzilla finds them?  That's the million dollar question. Or at least the first one.

In addition to all of this, a wealthy, ambitious, soft spoken, mumbling, hard to understand, borderline good actor business magnate has come up with the brilliant idea to create a mechanical man-controlled "Titan" that will destroy all of the other "Titans" threatening the world. And once he gets wind of this earth's core power source that could empower his creation, he and his loyal band of followers join in on the chase.

What did I tell you about the storylines?

I won't spoil when and where they happen, but Godzilla and Kong do have numerous confrontations (wouldn't be much of a movie if they didn't), including one with the mechanical "Titan", reminiscent of 1974's "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla" movie (sans Kong). And that's where the movie really shined. These confrontations were game changers, cinematically. They were really incredible to watch. Even on a 55" screen!  One of the big reasons why is that they happened during the day!  If you go back and watch the two previous Godzilla movies, practically all of the monster fight scenes were done either at night or during a rainstorm where you could barely see what was happening. The fighting in "Godzilla vs. Kong" was a completely different, satisfactory experience. And even a little funny at times, as I'm willing to bet the movie makers are wrestling fans, as I could have sworn I saw both combatants use one or two WWE moves during their fighting.

Getting back to subplot #2, the wealthy magnate does get to the power source, thanks to a spy within the Kong group, but things don't go as planned when he tries to apply it to his mechanical monster. This all leads up to a pretty tasty conclusion.

Cast-wise, not all of the characters made a whole lot of sense. There was a trio of nitwits that tried to infiltrate the businessman's headquarters for apparently no other reason than to be the comedy relief for the movie. Their roles served no real purpose to the overall plot and were really a distraction for me. I rolled my eyes whenever they appeared, as they take you away from what's really happening. And as I stated earlier, the business magnate, played by actor Demian Bichir, although not bad, was very hard to understand, as the combination of mumbling, speaking softly, and having a thick accent is not ideal for one of the integral stars of a movie. Plus I have tinnitus, which doesn't help!

Overall, though, the movie was fun to watch and enjoyable with a pretty satisfying ending, despite the issues with some of the plot and characters. Ideal "brain candy", if that's what you're looking for. I'd recommend trying to see it in a theater if you can. I'm sure it's pretty spectacular watching it on a 50 foot screen compared to my 55" TV!