Category Archives: Movies

Avengers: Endgame – Review

avengers_endgame_ver44_xxlgThis is a tricky one to write when many people have still not seen the film, so no worries if you are reading this, there will be no spoilers. Look for the spoilers on The 602 Club podcast next Tuesday. If you listen to my podcasts or have read this blog, you know I am not afraid to be critical of Marvel movies when I feel it is warranted. Case in point, I felt like Infinity War was, “ a mixed bag that has the effect of one being served a gourmet burger and then only being given a minute to eat it. There is so much happening, yet there’s so little pay off, leaving the audience unfulfilled, wanting a better movie and resolution. We all know the conclusion is coming in 2019, so now that the compulsory is over, we wait and wait and wait.” It was frustrating to feel this way, specifically since I just didn’t feel much about the movie, other than ambivalence and this left me trepidatious for Endgame.

So with that preamble, I know you are are all waiting eagerly for my thoughts on the end of the Infinity Stone Saga…. it is satisfying. That’s really what we want after this twenty-one film, eleven year investment, right? We want to be satisfied emotionally and thankfully Endgame is everything Infinity War was not in that department. The movie will capture you from start to finish. Personally I am happy with where my favorite characters are at the end and that is enough.

With the three hour run time and the contrivances to overcome Thanos, there are some issues. The movie does feel a bit long, but it also plays out better than Infinity War. Where that movie left you feeling unable to focus because there were so many characters and not a moments rest, Endgame is able to take its time. This may be it’s greatest strength, that you don’t feel rushed, you’re allowed the opportunity to care about what’s happening because you’re not being whiplashed between stories every other minute. For my book, Endgame is the poignantly satisfying conclusion to this part of the Marvel saga I wanted. It is not the perfect movie but it’s the one we deserve. Endgame is rate 4 out of 5 Cap Shields.

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Shazam! – Review

MV5BMjIyNTkwODY1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUyMTA5NjM@._V1_DC Comics saw its last movie, Aquaman obliterate expectations and it all began with doing early screenings for fans. Now with Shazam!, two weeks away and garnering strong, early buzz, they’re hoping to repeat that success by giving fans the opportunity to see their latest movie. I was lucky enough to see it durning one of these screenings and the question is, ” Is the magic strong with Shazam! or does it fizzle out?”.

Shazam! is bewitching. It feels like the type of superhero movie that Steven Spielberg might have made in the 80s. The movie’s greatest strength is its stars. Asher Angel as the young Billy Batson, Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman and Zachary Levi as Billy/Shazam, make this movie work. They are the heart of the film, in a movie that’s just as much about family, as it is about being a superhero.

Like all good 80s movies, this one does not shy away from the PG-13 label, in fact there are a few moments that it leans into it harder than one might expect, with some truly scary moments that might be too much for an audience that is much younger than the label.

Because the movie is not out till April 5th, this review is brief and vague but don’t let that fool you, DC Comics and Warner Brothers have a hit on their hands. Shazam! charts its own course and while rooted in the DCEU with wonderful references, at the same time, it’s completely its own. David Sandberg knew exactly how to take the source material and bring it to life in a way that feels fresh, fun and yet grounded in heart the whole time. Shazam! is rated 4 out of 5 stars!

Captain Marvel – Review

MV5BMTE0YWFmOTMtYTU2ZS00ZTIxLWE3OTEtYTNiYzBkZjViZThiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODMzMzQ4OTI@._V1_Listen to The 602 Club and Cinema Stories reviews!

In the eleven years since Iron Man hit the big screen to spawning Marvel’s cinematic comic universe, the the call for a female lead movie has increased as its popularity has grown. That time is now, as Marvel introduces Captain Marvel, their most powerful hero, on the brink of Avengers: Endgame.

The movie opens with Vers, a member of the Kree Starforce. She’s plagued by dreams of another life, one that seems familiar, but she cannot place. He mentor Yon-Rogg, continually lectures her about her emotional state and how her emotions and memories are holding back her true power. The Supreme Intelligence (an artificial intelligence for the Kree people that is a collection of all their greatest minds) reminds Vers of this same thing, her power can be taken away, just as it was given, if she does not learn to fall in line, control her emotions and follow orders. On top of all of this, there are the shapeshifting Skrulls, the sworn enemies of the Kree who are seen as terrorists, infiltrating planets clandestinely to turn them against the Kree.

If all of this seems like a lot, it is. The beginning of the movie is disjointed and disorienting. It takes a while to catch everything that is happening, who is who and how it all fits together. It’s also not helped by flashbacks to Veers previous life on Earth. This is the single biggest problem with the movie. The prehistory of Vers (Carol Danvers), is one of immense hardship, a bad family, constantly being told she’s not good enough or will never make it, always being put down. Her past life is struggle.

The issue is, that this theme of struggle seems incongruous with what we see in the present. There is never a situation that Carol is in, that she cannot handle. In fact, it’s all pretty easy for her. Even when her powers are taken away, she is able to beat up everyone in the room.

Q7ZGDNHQCRF4RAI4YNGUNV344EHer struggle for identity is also a frustration. This should be the core of the movie, the question of, “who am I.” She’s a woman without a past, that is tortured with memories that don’t make sense, yet you never feel that. Honestly Veers and Danvers are pretty much the same. There is not a shift in characterization or tone, it is all one note and that note is, “I’m too cool for school.” In the end, the lead character ends up being the least interesting person on screen.

This is accentuated but the fact that she is surrounded by good actors on every side. Samuel L. Jackson is back as a younger Fury and he’s great. You truly believe this is a man that’s confronted with his first alien encounter, that this is his first step into a much larger world. Ben Mendelsohn steals the show as the Skrull Talos. Every time he is on screen, he’s electric. Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau is the surprise scene-stealer. Her portrayal of Danvers’ best friend is heartfelt and emotional..

Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, both are de-aged in the film. At first, it is off-putting, as it does not look completely believable. Gregg unfortunately will never look right, but Jackson does begin to look better throughout the film and some scenes are better than others. Unfortunately the inconsistency draws your attention to something the filmmakers want you to be able to forget, but never can.

Captain Marvel never reaches the heights of Marvel’s best. There aren’t stand out action moments that you’ll walk out of the theater talking about. The lack of narrative and thematic cohesion, plus the lack of a strong arc for the main character put the movie firmly in middle of the Marvel pack, it’s neither a train wreck or a stand out, it’s just kinda there. What’s most disappointing is not feeling like Carol Danvers is anything other than a powerful pawn being placed on the Marvel board for a movie that’s not her’s. Carol Danvers deserved better. Captain Marvel is rated 3 out 5 stars.

The Kid Who Would be King – Review

the-kid-who-would-be-king-new-film-posterIt’s been ten years since Joe Cornish has directed a film and let’s hope that after this we will not have to wait ten more for another. His latest movie, The Kid Who Would be King is an utterly delightful retelling of the Arthurian legend in a modern setting. This film feels like the Amblin films from the 80s, full of heart but with a poignant message to boot.

Men Without Chests 

Morgana, Arthur’s half sister, who was banished to the bowls of the earth has awoken and makes ready her return to rule the surface world. It seems the hollow, selfish, greedy society that we’ve fostered are the antidote to the magical bonds that have bound her for thousands of years. The word hollow is used to describe us a few times in the film and it brought to mind C.S. Lewis’s, The Abolition of Man and his worry that we are creating, what he dubbed, men without chests.

“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

We’ve raised a few generations and asked them to forgo the ideas of good an evil as too simplistic. All foundations of virtue and chivalry are gone. In their place we extol  meaningless celebrity, praise virtueless virtue-signaling and honor the honor-less. Our world has hollowed out and we wonder why it’s on the verge of collapse.

The beauty of this film is that it reminds us of what true virtue actually looks like. Merlin tells kids the code of Chivalry that all knights live by,

  1. Honor those you love
  2. Refrain from wanton offense
  3. Speak the Truth at all times
  4. Persevere in any enterprise until the end

Alex, from the beginning of the movie embodies these ideals. He’s already living them out. Like the Arthur of legend, he brings those that were enemies together, making them allies in a noble cause. It’s not because of his bloodline or birthright, but because of his choices. His dedication to the code, even before he knew the code is what has made him worthy of Excalibur. The Kid Who Would be King reminds us all that there are principles of righteousness to live by and that to save ourselves, we need to remember that before it’s too late.

The Existence of Evil

Merlin has another great line in the movie about evil and how it tricks us into hating each other, so that we’re too busy fighting each other to fight it. This brings to mind Charles Baudelaire’s quote, “…the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.” Leave it to a children’s movie to remind us of one of the biggest problems of our time, we believe in no absolutes, therefore the foundations for virtue are gone and so is our ability to recognize true evil. Morgana’s awakening has actually happened because of this very thing. The greed, self-obsession and pride has lead humankind to embrace vices as virtues and evil as good and they are what she feeds on. The world is topsy-turvy. The movie’s answer is to return to following the code, a code that recognizes the absolutes of good and evil, because without them it’s difficult to recognize one from the other.

The movie paints a picture of our world that feels very much like what the Apostle Paul describes in Romans chapter 1. Paul talks about the way we ought to live and the film mirrors in some ways his answer. “The righteous shall live by faith.” The code of chivalry is but a small part of this, but it’s pointing in the right direction.

The Movie

A movie with kids is always a toss-up if it will be good. It can be difficult to find a group of child actors that can all deliver well, consistently. Each of the young actors here is actually good. They will remind you of the young Harry Potter cast, which is a compliment. Rebecca Ferguson does not have a lot of time on screen as Morgana, but she is very effective in the one’s she has, at least until she becomes the CGI monster. Patrick Stewart yields most of his time as Merlin to Angus Imrie, who plays the younger version of the character. They work in concert to bring to life one of the most famous wizards of all time with a fresh, new take.

Joe Cornish has crafted a movie that does truly bring to mind the films of the 80s but with the effects of modern times. In fact, the only real let down in the movie, effects wise, is the Morgana creature at the end and by that point it’s too late for it to truly impact the film negatively. The one thing the movie is missing is a John Williams’ style soundtrack. If this movie had, had that, it would have been the cherry on top of an already tasty sundae.

The Kid Who Would be King is the perfect movie for families to share together. It brings back the adventure and fun without neglecting important themes that parents and kids can discuss long after the film is over. Movies like this need your support, so take friends and family and enjoy. This movie is rated 4 out of 5 stars.

 

Best of Film 2018

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This is my list, based on what I was able to see in theaters and streaming.

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I will confess that I am not a horror fan at all, but the reviews and the cast helped sell this movie to me and I’m so glad that I saw it. Krasinski’s directorial debut is a masterpiece of suspense, ambiance and tension. I’ve seen this a couple times now and it holds up so well. Of all the movies this year, this might have been the biggest surprise since I wasn’t expecting to like it. Don’t miss the Cinema Stories review.

 

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I loved Diablo Cody’s first film Juno, but nothing till Tully has held my interest and actually got me to the theater to see it. This is a brave movie that shows just how important it is to ask for help when we are having a hard time. I loved the relationship the married couple, Marlo and Drew. It’s modern but so loving and in the end it’s that love that saves the day.

 

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From my original review, “I grew up on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child. In fact, my mother is fond of reminding me that my love for the cardigan can be directly linked to the show and asking for the Mr. Rogers type of sweater when we were shopping. I loved this show as a child. The trolly, the props he used as representations of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, the puppets and the man himself. I remember getting a lump in my throat the first time I saw the trailer for Won’t You Be My Neighboras memories of watching the show flooded back, so I was keen to see the film as soon as I could. I’ll say right up front, it’s brilliant. I may be slightly biased, growing up loving this man and his show, but I don’t think I am. I think this is exactly the kind of movie we need at this point in time.”

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From my original review, ” if someone had told you 22 years ago when the first Mission Impossible film was released that the sixth installment would still be staring Tom Cruise at the age of 56 and that it would be the best in the series, people would have laughed in your face. Yet against all odds, this is exactly what Christopher McQuarrie has pulled off with Fallout. It is truly one of the rare sequels that not only lives up to the hype but surpasses it.” Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

 

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There is so much more I could say about this movie. What I’m left with is just how much fun I had. I left the theater buzzing and wearing the same goofy grin as Solo himself. Do yourself a favor, grab some friends and see this movie! This movie is everything Star Wars fans never knew, they always wanted! Don’t miss The 602 Club and Cinema Stories reviews!

 

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From my original review, “If you are someone that works with youth, if you are a parent, if you have children this age or will have, this movie is one you should see. In fact, if you have children this age, you should see this movie with them and talk about it together. This is an important film that takes seriously the ways in which our changing world is impacting the coming generations. It’s painful to watch sometimes, but ultimately rewarding.”

 

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From my original review, “Cooper’s debut as director is authentic and real. The film feels as raw as it is characters, which is exactly what is needed. The performances are stellar. Cooper and Gaga shine in their roles. Cooper has always found ways to disappear into his performance, but it is Gaga that truly transcends. Her persona of Lady Gaga is hard to forget, but her performance here makes you forget all of that and see only the character of Ally. Sam Elliott as Cooper’s brother is perfect casting.”

“Bradley Cooper has created a wonderful remake, showing that you can bring something fresh and timely to old material if one pours their heart and soul into it. The film is affecting, with resonant themes, incredible performances, great music and will leave you with a melancholy that’s hard to shake.

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This was one of the most visceral experiences I had this year at the movies. Neil was not a man loquacious or expressive person and the movie shows this perfectly. This film is a character study as opposed to a story about the space program. I liked that, there are excellent movies about the space race, but the more personal take resonated well with me. No one is perfect and Neil exemplifies that even heroes have flaws. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

 

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Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical movie follows the help at his childhood home as her struggles mirror the struggle her employer is going through. This film is gorgeously shot and it’s presentation in black and white was a perfect choice. The movie is slightly self indulgent but worth the watch.

 

 

MV5BOTk5ODg0OTU5M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDQ3MDY3NjM@._V1_From my original review, “James Wan has created the most comic book, comic book movie ever. Everything about Aquaman is fantastical and completely out of this world which he embraces with loving arms. Instead of shying away from the weird, Wan just goes for it in a way that’s always a sight to behold.  It’s Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, Godzilla and Star Wars, all in one.” Along with Solo, this is the most fun I had in the theater this year. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

 

2ARGTCAGBBHHFEHFVCCUJDLP5QPeter Jackson’s masterpiece is one of the most important films of the year. He brings the First World War to life through the magic of technology, reviving 100 year old footage and colorizing it to let us see the war the way the soldiers of that time did. He also allows the men to speak for themselves so that the story told is their story. I cannot recommend this enough.

 

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I’ve never been the biggest Spider-Man fan and so when the trailer was released for this, it didn’t move the needle for me. But, as so often happens, at least once each year, there is a movie that garners incredible world of mouth and reviews that forces me into the theaters. Luckily this time I was so glad that I went to see this. It’s inventive, fun, emotional and a visual feast. It feels like a comic come to life! I’m honestly shocked that studios have not tried more animation with superheroes. I hope they continue this series and that there are more high-quality animated superhero friends.

Honorable Mentions. Christopher Robin, Bad Times and the El Royale, Isle of DogsOutlaw King and Black Panther.

Worst of the year. A Wrinkle in Time, Annihilation, Ready Player One, Ocean’s 8, Venom and A Simple Favor.

Aquaman – Review

77149c934692204Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

I love being an Amazon Prime member and was rewarded with a very special perk this week, getting to see Aquaman, five days early! Director James Wan, known for his horror films, as well as the very successful Furious 7 has taken on the titanic challenge of bringing to life the superhero that’s been the butt of every joke possible. The question on everyone’s mind has been, “Can he take that hero that talks to fish and make him cool?”. The answer, you’re darn right he can.

Wan has created the most comic book, comic book movie ever. Everything about Aquaman is fantastical and completely out of this world which he embraces with loving arms. Instead of shying away from the weird, Wan just goes for it in a way that’s always a sight to behold.  It’s Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, Godzilla and Star Wars, all in one.

The movie rides comfortably on Jason Momoa’s shoulders. His swagger is absolutely what this movie needs, but it’s his ability to find the small moments that makes you believe. Amber Heard as Mera is awesome. Her powers look incredible and you’ll be left wanting more. Patrick Wilson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II serve up delicious turns as villains, yet Black Manta steals the show. The rest of the cast is great, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren all bring just the right amount to the roles, adding the weight and gravitas needed.

The effects are excellent. The imagination on display is incredible. The movie is helped by it taking place in a world you don’t know what it should look like so what fills the screen is beautifully breathtaking in scope and scale. It’s fun, vibrant and exactly the kind of thing we love about going to the movies, being awed.

There’s more to say, but with the movie not out for another week, no spoilers, suffice to say, it’s the perfect movie for the family this holiday season! 4 1/2 out of 5 stars for the sheer, uncompromising audacity and joy of it all.

 

Obliviate: Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts and Fan’s Selective Memory

harry_potter_and_fantastic_beasts_4dx_textless_by_mintmovi3-dajxg1p copyJ.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was released in the UK in 1997 and created a phenomenon that has lead to the sale of over 500 million books, in the 7 book series. Going back to the beginning, Rowling sells the rights to the series in 1999 for a mere £1 million. By the time that the first movie is released in 2001, there are 4 of the books in the series have already been released and in fact, every movie released will have the next book in the series already out. This means, for every Harry Potter film, there is never a time when people watching them, either don’t already know what happened, because they’d read the books or they could easily go and read online what they missed.

This gives the Harry Potter filmmakers a lot of freedom. If you’ve read the books and seen the movies,  you know how much of the story is left out. Especially as you get to  Prisoner of Azkaban and beyond, whole storylines are absent from the films and even what’s there is rushed for time since they didn’t seem to want  every movie be 3 hours long. Quick example, the end of Order of the Phoenix, and one of the most important chapters in the book is The Lost Prophecy. It’s arguably the most important chapter in the series as it’s finally the place where Harry truly understands his connection with Voldemort and what is to come, “…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…“. Yet the movie only gives about a minute to a minute and a half to this pivotal moment. The filmmakers rely heavily on the audience to fill in the gaps with their preexisting knowledge from the books or leave it open for them to look online for answers. The movies, for all their visual wonder are truncated versions of Rowling’s epic.

Why do I bring all of this up?

When the first Fantastic Beasts movie came out, I began to hear rumblings in the fandom that Rowling had lost her touch. It’s a criticism that has only gotten louder in some corners of the fandom with the release of Crimes Of Grindelwald. And one of the reasons why I think this is happening is because we’ve forgotten what it was like to be in Rowling’s world and not already have all the answers.

I started reading the books just as the fourth one was released, so I was part of that long wait for the fifth, sixth and seventh books. Like most fans, I was part of the midnight parties, waiting in line for the book, taking it home and devouring it as quickly as possible so I could then talk to my friends and those online about what I thought it all meant and speculate where it would all go next. It was half the fun of the series.

I can distinctly remember waiting for what would be called, Half-Blood Prince, talking with fans who were just sure it would be call, The Pillars of Storgé. Of course they were wrong, but the conversations had between fans then, was all about their favorite series and the speculation happened because we couldn’t wait to find out what Rowling had in store for Harry and his friends. Most importantly, we trusted Rowling as a writer. She’d already shown us her ability to weave a narrative, as well as truly surprise us.

13669129_10157190743835075_291675916011469870_nSo, what’s changed? Why are people so angry at Rowling and what she’s doing with Fantastic Beasts? Why have we forgotten the fun of eagerly waiting for the next installment of her work, all while having the time of our lives trying to figure out, from the breadcrumbs she’s laid, where the story goes next? We know she is a master at using the tiniest detail to create something completely unexpected and wonderful. I mean,  Deathly Hallows the is the proof. If you look at the structure of her screenplays, it’s very similar to how she wrote her books. You can feel the structure with the way she creates mystery, places people and things in the movies that might not be as important yet, but will play a larger role later. Then, she throws you for a loop by upending the mystery, explaining how what you thought was happening wasn’t quite right.

So what’s changed? I think the answer is that we’re spoiled. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to wait for things. We live in a binge culture. In fact, many people actually wait for a series to be over so they can start them and not have to wait. But this has hurt our ability to just enjoy what’s been given to us and wait for what comes next.

Secondly, the binge culture has also lead to the rise of militant fandoms who obsess about everything and begin to place themselves as gatekeepers over franchises and gods of the created universes they didn’t create. In fact it’s become common place to see people demean someone like Rowling or Lucas for “messing something up” in THEIR universes. Can you imagine Tolkien in the age of social media? He’d be crucified for retconning The Hobbit so that it fit better with Lord of the Rings. I mean the guy literally rewrote parts of his previous book to work with his larger mythology.

tumblr_nhm36njqle1rc13aso1_1280This sense of entitlement and peevishness is destroying our ability to enjoy things. As creators continue on in their creations, there may be things that change over time, but shouldn’t they be given the freedom to do that? It is their work after all. So what if Rowling has decided that McGonagall is older than we thought, does that really hurt anything? If she expands on what we know of boggarts, the Mirror of Erised or anything else, what’s wrong with that? Why do we think that just because we know something about a part of Rowling’s universe that we know everything? She’s continued to reveal things she knows about her creation that we do not and telling the creator they are wrong or have messed something up is the height of arrogance. In many ways, we’ve forgotten how to be okay with not knowing everything and having someone, other than ourselves be the arbiter of what’s “canon”.

The act of creating mythology, universes and stories is one that’s always evolving. As much as Rowling knows about her universe, and from all reports, in every interview with the other people involved in both film series I’ve seen or read, she knows almost everything, down to the smallest detail but she’s also still human. Like every author and creator, there will be things she’ll discover about her world as she expands it and she should be given the freedom to do so. Creation is a shear act of will, it’s been said, but it’s never been said to be perfect (unless you’re God), so maybe we can remember that as we wait for the next film in the Fantastic Beasts series. She has 3 more movies to answer our questions, therefore we cannot expect to have all the answers now, especially when we don’t have books to pull off our shelves to “spoil” the end.

Look for reviews of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald on The 602 Club and Cinema Stories podcasts.