My Week in Movies

So my internet is terrible and I had to write all of this on my phone, please excuse any typos. But this week I managed to get to the theater four times, so I thought I’d post some mini reviews…

Avengers: Endgame (Reissue): The sequel to last year’s massive Marvel hit Infinity War and the end of a cibematic era was reissued last weekend with some bonus features tacked onto the end, including a wonderful Stan Lee tribute. I also got an awesome free poster to add to my collection. It’s worth seeing if you’re a die-hard fan or have only seen Endgame once or twice, but if you miss out, it’s not the end of the world… or the game, I guess. I had only seen it once, on premiere night, so I was happy to watch again.

Yesterday: A quirky rom-com set in a world where a massive electrical surge inexplicably causes the entire world (save a select few) to forget about the Beatles, thus launching down-on-his-luck singer Jack Malick to international fame as he performs their iconic songs as his own. This film offers up a few surprises and makes a unique spin on a genre that’s been explored a thousand times, and the two leads (Himesh Patel and Lily James) deliver performances full of charm and humor. Totally worth seeing if you’re a music fan or a rom-com fan or both, even though it is hard to imagine a world where the Beatles never existed. And thanks to Himesh Patel, I have a new addition to my celebrity crush list…

Spider-Man: Far From Home: Just as Ant-Man and the Wasp was the perfect follow up to Infinity War, this filn is a great follow up to the dramatic and emotionally-heavy Endgame. Tom Holland continues to prove himself worthy of the role of the famous web-slinger as he grapples both teen angst and personal doubt in the wake of losing his mentor, Tony Stark. The boy just wants a a European vacation – and to impress MJ, of course – but the appearance of Mysterio (an excellent Jake Gyllenhaal) and some otherwordly threats throw a wrench in his plans. It’s hard to be a teen super hero, but our beloved Peter Parker is a joy to watch as he fights with bad guys and feelings. I don’t want to toss out spoilers, but this movie also has BOMBSHELL post credits scenes that will make your jaw drop. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Midsommar: Ari Aster’s feature film debut Hereditary made a big splash last year and made it on my personal top 10 list for 2018. This folk-horror outing – in which a young woman recovering from tragedy, her distant boyfriend, and their friends travel to a secluded Swedish commune for a festival – is similar in tone to Hereditary, as it is a slow (maybe, at two hours and 27 minutes, a bit too slow) burn to an explosive conclusion and has creepy twists that will keep the viewer on the edge of their seats. Florence Pugh is fantastic, the cinematography and direction are stunning, and the film is easily set apart from other films in the genre that rely on cheap scares and gimmicks. Aster’s “artsy-horror” style won’t be for everyone, but I look forward to seeing even more in the future.

Take a Chance

Way back in 2008, I was sixteen years old and on vacation with my family in Massachusetts. My dad and I got into an argument over movies – he had already seen Iron Man, and insisted it was better than the film I had twice seen already, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. However, neither of us had seen the other film, so how could we make a determination?

My dad had no desire to see Prince Caspian, and, I’ll admit… I didn’t really want to see Iron Man. Shocking, I know, since I am such a huge fan of the MCU nowadays. But back then, I was way more into Batman, so most Marvel heroes weren’t even on my radar. But I wanted my dad to see the Narnia film more than I didn’t want to see Iron Man, so we brokered an agreement – he would take me to see Iron Man and I would take him to see Prince Caspian.

We went to see Iron Man first… and the first seeds of my MCU admiration were planted. I became a fan, and I had to admit that it was an excellent superhero film. Of course…The Dark Knight came out later that summer, which sparked my overall love of film, but Iron Man was still an awakening for me. I had to admit, even though I had previously felt no inclination toward seeing the film, I was glad my dad convinced me to see Iron Man. From that moment, I never doubted a Marvel film… well, except Thor 2.

Later, we went to see Prince Caspian. I was a bit worried that my dad wouldn’t enjoy it, because he had never expressed an interest in either the films or the books. But toward the end of the film, when the battle is taking place and the Narnian forces emerge from trap doors beneath the ground, my dad turned to me in the theater and said, “Awesome,” which proved my worries had been for naught. And once it was over, he admitted that he had enjoyed it quite a lot, and we bought the soundtrack to listen to in the car.

That summer, we both took a chance by going to see films outside of our typical realm of interest – and it paid off. And ever since, we have both recommended films to the other, and have taken those suggestions to heart, and we go to the movies together more often than ever before.

So next time you think a film might not be worth your time, go ahead and take chance. It just might work out for you.

Unusual Skills

You can know someone for decades, and still be surprised when they throw out seemingly random facts about themselves. Obscure little tidbits that don’t quite make it into “About Me” sections and convos because there is little opportunity to slide them in organically without sounding like you’re bragging. Well, I’m definitely not rife with such skills, but an example would be…

I have a history of turning bowling pins into art pieces for a competitive charity event. I have made a Jawa from Star Wars, and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. Here are a couple of pics. I also made a parrot once, but I can’t find any pictures of it.

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I’m proud of these, but I also don’t have much opportunity to mention it – though I can’t say I ever really look for a time to slip it into casual conversation. Sometimes, I even forget about it myself until I stumble across an old picture.

I also used to be on the global leaderboard for a facebook game called Night Balloons. I was obsessed with it for ages – now, I probably couldn’t play to save my life.

So, does anyone else have an unusual skill they’d like to brag about? Because I’d love to hear it!

Also, there will be a bonus post tomorrow!

Film Review: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Dir: Rob Letterman
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy, and more.
Runtime: 1hr 44min
Spoiler Level: Light!

As someone who was around back in the late nineties, when the Pokemon sensation swept the globe, I remember the craze when it was at full glory. Not only that, but I actively participated in it. I had a poster of the original 151 Pokemon over my bed, so I could look at them all every night before I went to sleep. I wore my favorite shirt, emblazoned with a Pikachu, until it was too ratty to wear. I’ve played every game since the Blue and Red era, and I forced my poor mother (love you, Mom!) to take me to see Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back! back in 1999. Needless to say, she did not take me to see Pokemon The Movie 2000 – which I still contend is a great movie, but that’s beside the point…

Pokémon_Detective_Pikachu_teaser_poster.jpgDetective Pikachu follows 21-year-old Tim Goodman (Smith) as he attempts to solve the circumstances behind his father’s disappearance with assistance from a caffeine-addicted, wisecracking, deerstalker-hat-wearing Pikachu. But the search for clues leads the unlikely duo into a mystery more intricate than either could have anticipated, and finding answers could save or condemn all of Ryme City.

Honestly, the biggest surprise in this film is that it’s good. And I don’t mean that it’s just a good Pokemon movie – it is a legitimately good movie overall. It works on a level that many other video-game or anime or cartoon adaptations have failed to achieve… because it doesn’t rely solely on nostalgia or fan-service to make a quick buck, nor does it neglect the source material so not to alienate new viewers. Instead, Detective Pikachu balances well-placed nods to the fans (both old and new) while presenting a film with believable characters and motivations, a story that is intriguing to follow, and it takes great care in bringing everyone’s favorite pocket monsters to life onscreen in a way that fans have been yearning for since 1999, or even earlier.

Despite the fact that Pikachu himself is CGI, the chemistry between the leads is superb, especially their banter and the evolution of their relationship as the story develops. Justice Smith is easy to root for, Pikachu/Reynolds offers steady doses of both heart and humor, Kathryn Newton (and her Psyduck) is a charming reporter eager for the truth, and both Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy, known for their decidedly more “serious” work, give solid performances.

I haven’t played the Detective Pikachu game – I’ve stuck to the main games – so I knew basically nothing about the plot going into the film. The story flows well, and there are parts of it that are predictable and familiar – it is a “kids” movie, after all – but I was genuinely surprised and impressed by a couple of twists. As in, my jaw dropped and I said, “Oh my GOD” to my friend at one point. It’s not Sherlockian-level sleuthing taking place, but it’s also not Blue’s Clues level, if you catch my drift. The dialogue isn’t dumbed down, it’s sharp and won’t give adults a headache. And it feels like the people who made this film actually know Pokemon. As a longtime fan, it is awesome to see Charizard’s flamethrower come to life, Pidgeotto soaring in the air, Loudred beat-boxing in a club, and Magikarp flapping uselessly on the ground. The Pokemon aren’t crammed into the film to try and appease fans, thrown in wherever for throwback or nostalgia reasons; they have purpose, are immersed in the world, the effects are impressive, and their design does true justice to the originals. No, that’s not a dig at Sonic… or maybe it is

Now, does this mean this film will be able to lure non-Pokemon fans into seats? Maybe not – though a few might make the venture based on the adorable titular character, voiced expertly and hilariously by Reynolds. However, it’s definitely the sort of film that won’t bore parents being dragged to the theater by their Poke-crazed kids. If this had come out when I was ten, my mom would have taken me to see the sequel. It has a cohesive narrative, a snappy script, and doesn’t delve so deeply into fan-service that the uninitiated can’t follow what’s going on. It’s one of the first films of this nature that feels like it can make the cross-medium jump without crashing and burning. It’s a solid mystery film for Pokefans young, old, and new, and though it hits familiar beats, it doesn’t feel tired or overdone, and might even generate interest for a new era of fans. 

Sure, non-fans might not be able to pick out their favorite Pokemon puttering about in the background – I got treated to Gengar and Blastoise, two of my favorites, though I missed my beloved Alakazam – but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the film. References may fly over the heads of Poke-novices, but will warm the hearts of wannabe champions from Kanto to Unova. Let’s face it folks – we all live in a Pokemon world. And it terms of video-game film adaptations, Detective Pikachu might just be the greatest master of them all.

Overall rating: 8/10

Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Dir: Russo Bros
Starring: Everyone, really.
Runtime: 3hr1min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light (ANY MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE BELOW A CUT)

20190425_172726_HDR.jpgAt last, the moment Marvel fans have been waiting for is finally upon us – the hotly-anticipated sequel to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War and the culmination of a 22-film saga that began with 2008’s Iron Man has been released for eager audiences to devour. Avengers: Endgame is an epic three-hour adventure that offers an explosive, entertaining, and emotional ending to  the first major chapter of a steadily expanding film universe.

Avengers: Endgame follows the remaining non-dusty Avengers in the post-Snap world as they come to terms with Thanos’s actions and seek to inject hope into their seemingly-dismal circumstances.

There were several things that Endgame needed to accomplish on the heels of the dramatic Infinity War, and hundreds of dangling threads to tie together from multiple movies in the franchise. I don’t know how the Russo brothers, the writers, and everyone who works on these films does it, but somehow, some way, they managed to balance out fan-service, humor, heart, action, a balanced narrative, and a multitude of characters and their interactions in a huge film universe to create a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. Sure, some folks can probably nitpick and find a stone or two left un-turned, but of all the factors fans expected this film the deliver, the most important is probably closure. And though certain fans may disagree with how certain events played out, this film felt complete when the credits began to roll.

Of course, the core of the Avengers are the original squad, with RDJ as Iron Man / Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Captain America / Steve Rogers, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as Hulk / Bruce Banner, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow / Natasha Romanoff, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye / Clint Barton. They’ve been with us the longest, have fought the most battles, and have established themselves as characters who are important to fans, and have had a lasting impact on audiences. Appropriately, much of the spotlight centers on them this time around – not entirely on them, because there are a lot of characters to give screen-time to, but primarily on them – and it gives each a chance to show how far their characters have come since their initial appearances. And by the end, each of their journeys feels finished, their arcs complete, their characters fully-developed.

Endgame delivers the usual Marvel staples – witty banter and memorable quotes, bombastic fight scenes and action sequences, stunning visuals, and throwbacks to prior films and other Marvel lore. It’s all too easy for MCU films to rely on hallmarks and a successful formula – I mean, if it works, it works – but even 22 films deep, this installment offers up twists and surprises. Some familiar, but perhaps unexpected faces show up. Some plot points seem predictable, but take jarring detours. Even the expected events are engrossing. It didn’t feel like I was sitting in a movie theater seat for three hours, and not once did I think, “Is it over yet?” I laughed, I sat in open-mouthed shock, and yes… there were tears. And when it was over, the fan in me was so happy to have been along for the entire ride, and I’m excited to see where the MCU goes next.

For a film series that has been churning out successful film after successful film, barreling forward and building momentum since 2008, Endgame offers a finale that is sure to keep audiences engaged from start to finish. The MCU has experienced some bumps in the road and has battled through fatigue in order to keep viewers in their seats, but they have also proven the merit of superhero films time and time again, and when it matters most, they deliver the closure that the Infinity Saga needs.

Overall rating: 10/10

***********UNDER THIS ARE THE SPOILERS, BEWARE, STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS!!!!! THERE IS A READ MORE THING UNDER THIS BUT I KNOW IT SOMETIMES DOESN’T WORK, SO HERE IS YOUR WARNING!!!!!*************

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Film Review: Dumbo (2019)

Dir: Tim Burton
Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, etc.
Runtime: 1hr52min
Rating: PG
Spoiler level: Light

When I first heard that Disney planned to put out a live-action version of the 1941 animated film Dumbo, I – and many others – had reservations. The original Dumbo is a classic, revered for the emotional impact it had on audiences, even though it tells a simple story. However, the addition of Tim Burton as director boosted my hopes, and when I saw the first trailer, featuring Aurora’s haunting rendition of “Baby Mine,” I knew I was going to see it.

In the 2019 remake of Disney’s classic, visionary director Tim Burton re-imagines the beloved big-eared flying pachyderm in his distinct, signature style while retaining the charm of the original and expanding upon powerful themes, though an occasionally wooden screenplay does diminish the film’s “mystique.”

Dumbo_(2019_film)Per usual for Burton’s work, a major strength of the film is the visuals. Brilliant color schemes and gorgeous, intricate sets help create an atmosphere of magic and awe for the circus scenes, and Dumbo himself – though he shares the spotlight with a variety of new characters created for the film – is adorable, with his massive ears and happy squeaks. Though he never speaks, his emotions are clear in his eyes and his expressions and he carries the heart of the film as he soars to the furthest reaches of a star-speckled tent. Frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman also offers up an incredible score that helps generate a sense of wonder and play homage to themes from the original.

If you’ve never seen the original Dumbo, you were spared the trauma of particularly heartbreaking scenes – which are recreated in this film, and are similarly wrenching. The inclusion of the classic “Baby Mine,” sung by Miss Atlantis (Sharon Rooney,) certainly tugs on the ol’ heartstrings, and Dumbo’s sorrow radiates off the screen in a way that will probably scar a whole new generation of children.

The cast is spectacular – Farrell as veteran Holt Farrier, a widowed, one-armed father of two bright children and Green’s acrobatic Colette, “Goddess of the Heavens”, are standouts, as are the supporting circus acts and DeVito’s Max Medici, owner of the circus. Keaton is excellent as the smarmy, deviously debonair villain, V.A. Vandemere, and the kids, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) shine as they support Dumbo, teaching him that his ears can be a blessing rather than a hindrance.

The narrative strives to expand upon the simplicity of the original by introducing new ideas into a basic and straightforward story – and, at times, it shines. Messages about being true to yourself, not letting fear stop you from flying after your dreams, accepting your flaws, etc, are conveyed in a meaningful manner that will hopefully resonate with young audiences. Milly is a logically-minded young heroine who provides a scientific approach to Dumbo’s abilities, and the supporting circus characters all band together to create a compelling idea of a family that is “made,” two ideas that were not present in the original. But, at the core, it’s still a film about an elephant that can fly, which doesn’t get lost in the flurry of new plot-lines. In fact, in the original, Dumbo doesn’t fly until near the end of the film – but viewers don’t have to wait that long this time around.

Also – for those wondering – Burton’s version (obviously) omits the controversial crow characters, “Song of the Roustabouts,” and takes a firmer stance on the treatment of circus animals – all elements of the original film that are, in retrospect, uncomfortable to watch. So, if nothing else, 2019’s Dumbo does offer some much-needed, modern updates.

Obviously, the original Dumbo, with a paltry run-time of 64 minutes, told a story without frills and superfluity. But the 2019 version manages to maintain the core message while introducing new characters and ideas, and Burton achieves a balance that, for the most part, is solid. It doesn’t try to outshine the original, and distances itself enough to avoid unflattering comparisons about which version did what better. However, the dialogue is occasionally clunky, with unnecessary explanations that bog down the film. Many obvious lines could have easily been removed, as they were inferred by a previous thought, or expressed clearly in the character’s visible emotions. With a cleaner, sharper script, the film would have run much smoother – but regardless, it’s still a charming and whimsical ride, and a pleasure to watch.

Of all the Disney films Tim Burton could have re-imagined, the tale of Dumbo, the flying elephant, was a perfect fit for his skills and his vision. It might not have the same simple magic of the 1941 classic, but instead creates it’s own spectacle, with a patchwork crew of misfit characters that all band together around an adorable, beloved, big-eared hero.

 

 Overall rating: 8/10

One Shot #4: Babe (1995)

There is nothing like a good, wholesome film; the kind you can pop in and watch at anytime, but are perhaps best on a rainy afternoon, when you can curl up on the couch with a warm blanket and a cup of coffee, or tea, or hot cocoa. A film that warms the heart and touches the soul. And one such film is a 1995 Best Picture nominee, Babe – the wonderful tale of a sheep-herding pig who defies the incredible odds stacked against him.

The single shot that encompasses the film happens in the final sequence, shortly before the iconic “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do,” line:

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As much as this film is about a sweet-natured pig who just wants to belong, it’s also about his owner – a taciturn man named Arthur Hoggett, played by James Cromwell. The relationship between the two evolves over the course of the narrative, from a standard man/pig dynamic of “owner” and “owned” to an unlikely team working together for a common goal. This shot is the epitome of their bond – after a rousing success at a competition, silencing their naysayers, man and pig stand side by side, basking in the applause. But who garners the most credit? Babe, of course; which is why the shot is centered mainly on him, and only Hoggett’s legs are shown. Babe is our unlikely, curly-tailed hero, the one who deserves the focus. Yet, the framing of the shot still gives the impression that they are a steadfast team.

I mean… just look at that face. Babe is iconic. An absolute legend. If he were a morning, he’d be golden and new. This is one of the few movies I can watch over, and over, and over again and still get emotional. It is just a classic, well-done, and well-made movie, and if you haven’t seen it, you absolutely should.