A double-bill of “Amelie” and “City Of God” immediately cemented it as his dream profession, then over the next decade he made films with friends while growing up in San Francisco and West Marin. Eventually, Firpo enrolled in the film program at the renowned Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and entered the world of commercial directing, overseeing some of Tinder and Snapchats first commercials.
But, in 2015, as he shot a credit card commercial on a beach in Hawaii, Kaz became disillusioned. “It was during the refugee crisis in Europe. We were seeing footage of kids washing up on shores. I was in Hawaii. It was just wrong,” recalls Kaz. “So I said to the crew, ‘Let’s go make a film that matters.’ We spent a month in Greece making a documentary called ‘Refuge.’ And thats where everything changed.”
Six years later, Kaz and his cousin Ryan Firpo are now celebrating the release of “Eternals,” the 26th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which they co-wrote together. With an ensemble cast including Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie and Kit Harington, the film follows a team of immortal aliens who have been hiding in plain sight on Earth for 7,000 years, then re-emerge after the events of “Avengers: Endgame” to protect the world from the Deviants (which are essentially the evil immortal aliens).
Whereas Kaz’s filmmaking journey was inspired by international cinema, Ryan’s path to Hollywood screenwriter stemmed from an interest in skateboarding.
“I was born in Berkeley,” says Ryan. “Grew up in this little town called Benicia. It had a pretty strong artistic presence. I was mostly a skate rat, so I would spend a lot of time in San Francisco because San Francisco is basically just like the best skatepark in the whole world.”
Director Spike Jonze’s skating videos inspired Ryan to pick up a camera. “I started enjoying the filmmaking aspects even more than skateboarding,” says Ryan. “All the stuff were doing now is us chasing that feeling of making little videos with our friends. Thats what we want to capture. Just on a bigger scale.”
Ryan took a less academic route to working as a writer and director than Kaz. After one semester at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, Ryan dropped out. He then used the $5,000 in returned tuition to make his first project. “That was really my film school,” says Ryan.
His follow-up was “Bet Raise Fold,” a 2013 documentary on the rise of online poker.
“That was my first experience of making a movie, getting it out into the world and actually having strangers seeing it,” adds Ryan.
Ryan spent a few years making commercials for the gaming industry until Kaz — fresh off of filming documentaries in international locations like Syria and Jamaica — asked Ryan to be his writing partner. “I basically begged the best writer that I knew, who I happened to be related to, to write a movie with me,” says Kaz.
‘Eternals’: The ponderous jibber-jabber and pointless battles seem like they’ll never end
In case you don’t know the deal with the Eternals, they’re a diverse group of humanoid entities from the planet Olympia who have been on Earth for thousands of years and possess the usual amazing abilities such as super strength, levitation, teleportation and shooting deadly laser beams from their eyes and hands. Oh, and they’re on the right side of history, as they’ve been charged by their creator, Arishem, with protecting humanity from the monstrous Deviants.
The Eternals live in the same Marvel Cinematic Universe as the Avengers. We even hear references in this movie to the likes of Iron Man and Captain America — which leads to the question of why the Eternals were nowhere in sight and didn’t lift a single, supercharged finger when Thanos snapped his fingers and wiped out half the population of the Earth (and the rest of the known universe).
Glad you asked, says the screenplay. Turns out Arishem has decreed the Eternals should never get directly involved with the course of human events, and never intervene in any type of conflict or threat, unless that threat comes from the Deviants. Got it?
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Fine, but when the stuff hits the fan in “Eternals” and the very future of the planet is at stake, why don’t the Avengers show up to lend a hand? Are they going to address that in a future “Avengers” movie? COME ON, MAN!
Sorry. It’s just that we get so much exposition in the ambitious, occasionally entertaining but bloated (the running time is 2 hours and 37 minutes), underwhelming, rambling, forgettable and average “Eternals,” it’s maddening a big question is unanswered. As it is, there are so many moments when the action grinds to a half so we can get further explanation of the history of these characters (they’re basically nearly immortal takes on the Greek gods) and why this one is doing this thing and that one is doing that thing. Not that the action scenes are particularly memorable, either; despite the promising presence of the brilliant Chloé Zhao (Oscar winner for “Nomadland”) behind the camera and some breathtaking location shots, the big battle sequences in “Eternals” have the same “light,” obviously CGI look we’ve seen in countless big-budget superhero movies. All these beings and creatures zip about, causing great destruction and zapping and biting and wrestling with one another, and it all feels so weightless and low stakes, even though the future of the planet is at stake and blah blah blah.
Based on the comic-book series introduced by Jack Kirby in 1976, “Eternals” hops back and forth through the centuries to ancient civilizations such as Babylon, Mesopotamia and the Gupta Empire, as we learn how the Eternals are on Earth to protect humanity from the rainbow-colored, winged, snarling, voraciously violent Deviants. After the Deviants have seemingly been extinguished, the Eternals scattered to all corners of the globe and have been living quiet, anonymous lives — but when the Deviants emerge again in present day with more powerful capabilities than ever and start targeting the Eternals by taking down one of their key members, the band has to get back together, which means old rivalries and potential romances will rekindle. It’s like “Big Chill,” only without the Temptations and the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack (though there is a fantastic use of “Time” by Pink Floyd).
Oh, and Madden’s fellow “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harrington is along for the ride as the obligatory Mortal Love Interest for Sersi (like Cersai!), who might be concealing a secret or two of his own. There are lot of players to keep track of in “Eternals,” and we haven’t even discussed the ridiculously overblown Arishem (voiced by David Kaye), who sounds like something out of a bad B-movie with his booming Voice of God pronouncements.
It’s a shame “Eternals” devolves into such a run-of-the-mill superhero movie, given it features some groundbreaking and/or relatively unusual elements, including a deaf character, an openly gay character and an actual lovemaking scene between two otherworldly entities (although it’s tamer than what you’d see in a 1950s romance). Regrettably, that’s not nearly enough to overcome the usual mix of sitcom bantering about cell phones and respective personality quirks alternating with ponderous debates about free will and genocide and the simultaneous blessing/curse of living for centuries — especially if you happen to fall in love with a mere mortal.