Tag Archives: Movie Review

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.

 

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.

 

A Star is Born – Review

MV5BMjE3MDQ0MTA3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDMwNDY2NTM@._V1_Bradley Cooper has established himself as one of the best actors in Hollywood, versatile and adaptable, he’s made a name for himself in his serious dramatic roles, as well as comedy. Now Cooper is flexing a different muscle, as his directorial debut A Star is Born drops and it has garnered significant critical praise, with the talk of Academy Awards swirling around the film like a cyclone.

Something’s Missing

Cooper’s deft direction brings out the authenticity of the life of a star, one that has everything, yet still finds themselves feeling hollow without the means to fill the void. There is a moment, early in the movie where Cooper’s Jack is playing a song for just a few people as he waits for Gaga’s Ally to get ready. The lyrics to the first verse are,

Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
It takes a lot to change a man
Hell, it takes a lot to try
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die

It’s a clear admission from the character that what he’s doing in life is not working, but that the road of change, even trying to change is hard. It takes everything in us as humans to make that 180, especially when we find ourselves so addicted to and wrapped up in things that it becomes almost impossible for us to see ourselves without those vices.

The theme is further accentuated when Ally shares the lyrics of a song she’s been writing with Jack in a parking lot and they capture the essence of the problem perfectly.

Tell me something boy
Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?
Or do you need more
Ain’t it hard keepin’ it so hardcore?

And the later they sing the song together and the first first verse completes the theme,

Tell me somethin’ girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?

r0rtbf8blilknpm8m8xuAll the fame, money, sex, drugs, things, even people, cannot fill the hole that burns so brightly inside of us. We, like Jack are left trying everything under the sun and yet left wanting. Like Solomon in Ecclesiastes you can almost hear the characters in the movie saying, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity….What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

What is fascinating is that the answer to this problem is actually found in the song that Jack sings in the bar as he waits for Ally, sadly, that verse is never sung except on the soundtrack. It goes,

Nobody speaks to God these days
Nobody speaks to God these days
I’d like to think he’s lookin’ down and laughin’ at our ways
Nobody speaks to God these days.

It’s there, the answer to the longing and searching. God. He waits for us to speak to him, to look to him for the fulfillment that can only come from him. Yet he doesn’t laugh at our ways, he cries. Jesus did,  “’O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate.'” 

The movie paints the portrait of a life spent in the futility of longing and it is heartbreaking.

The Movie

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. A Star is Born is rated 4.25 out of 5 stars.

 

Eighth Grade – Review

EG_final-onlineBo Burnham’s directorial debut Eighth Grade is the most uncomfortable, real and important movie of the summer. The film follows Kayla Day as eighth grade comes to a close and life is on the brink of another titanic shift from middle school to high school. What follows is an intimate look at the life of kids today, who must navigate the digital deluge all while trying to figure out who they are and who they’ll be.

All Too Real

Eighth Grade is a raw movie. It offers an uncompromising and unflattering look at the state of adolescence in the United States in the 2010s. These are the children of the digital revolution, with iDevices in their hands before they can walk. For them there has never been a moment without some form of entertainment at their fingertips. Constantly inundated with images and messages, their perceptions of reality are filtered through Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook. The struggle to be “cool”, with its ever-changing standard, is real. The digital domain is pervasive, so that even when these kids are hanging out with each other, it’s usually half-heartedly, lest they miss something coming in from the never-ending stream of social media conscientiousness. It’s a lonely way to live, constantly being reminded that you’re never going to be good enough, skinny enough, funny, hip or cool enough.

It’s said that information is power, yet this generation has all the information of the world in the palm of their hands but lacks the wisdom or experience to use it well. They know way to much, way too early and are in turn forced to think about and deal with things they are just not mature enough to handle. This 24/7 marination in pop culture  makes it difficult for anything else to impact them on the same level. How can parents hope to have anywhere close to the same influence when time is not on their side? The movie does not have many answers, but it does shine a light on something parents are going to have to start addressing as the film shows just how harmful these devices of unlimited potential can be on children.

Unconditional Love

Throughout the film Kayla makes YouTube videos. They are little vignettes of advice on all the things she portrays herself to be an expert on, yet the rest of the film shows she’s anything but. She’s constantly being told that she should be all of these different things through social media and, consequently, she is lost. She has no idea who she is or wants to be beyond what she’s told is “cool”. So each day she works to earn the friendship and respect of others based on what she thinks people want. It’s exhausting for her.

Throughout the film, the one person who’s tried to truly interact with Kayla has been her father. He tries to talk to her and get to know who she is, but she constantly rejects his help and love until the end of the film. When Kayla finds herself at the end of her rope, she finally asks for her father’s help to burn something in the back yard. As they sit there, watching her sixth grade time capsule burn, he asks her what they are doing. She answers that she’s burning her hopes and dreams. She then asks him if he is sad to have her as a daughter. It’s a powerful moment as he begins to tell her how much joy she brings him, how unconditionally she is loved and that he’s always been honored to have her as his daughter. In that moment she climbs into his lap and is held in the arms of love. This moment brings a change in Kayla. She lets go of her videos and the need to be “cool”. It’s almost as if her father’s words of acceptance have nestled into her heart and freed her from the need to earn the acceptance of others.

There is a bit of beautiful Biblical truth in this scene. Isaiah reminds us that all of us, like sheep have gone astray, we’ve searched for everything under the sun to fulfill us and make us whole. Yet there is only one thing that can and because of this God has laid on Christ, the sin of us all, to allow us the opportunity, like prodigals to run back into his arms. Kayla’s rejection of “cool” and acceptance of love brings to mind Psalm 139, we are wonderfully made by a heavenly Father to be something unique, fully known and fully loved by the creator of the universe. Truth and reality are not defined by the forever-changing concept of “cool” but by God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever and his love never ends.

Conclusion

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. Eighth Grade is rated 4.5 out of 5.