JOKER (2019)

Movie Review by LL Soares

My main thought when leaving the theater after seeing the new Todd Phillips movie JOKER was a mischievous one, which is only fitting, considering the subject matter. I found it really funny to think that this movie was destined to become a huge box office hit, despite the fact that it is incredibly bleak. This is the exact opposite of the optimistic, we-can-do-it tone of the Marvel superhero flicks.

Which is why I liked it so much.

It would have been hard to screw this one up. The Joker is one of the most iconic bad guys (if not THE most iconic) in the history of comics. He’s the personification of pure raging insanity. Joaquin Phoenix, on the other hand, is an amazing actor who has a tendency to lean into the darkness. Together, this is a winning combination. Throw in Todd Phillips’ script (co-written with Scott Silver), and all I can say is “Wow.” This isn’t like any other comic book movie. It even makes Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy look upbeat in comparison.

The last great Joker we got was Heath Ledger in Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), but that movie had its flaws. The biggest flaw was that there wasn’t enough of the Joker. He had to share screen time with not only Christian Bale’s Batman, but Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent, too, who went on to become Two-Face. This is nothing against Batman or Two-Face (another great villain who finally got some serious treatment in the movies), but the movie only really rocked when Ledger was onscreen. There was also a plotline about Asian gangsters that should have ended up on the cutting room floor.

It’s hard to compare Ledger with Phoenix’s performance in JOKER, because they’re so different. Ledger’s Joker is out of his mind, yet scarily so. He seems to be totally in control even though he’s completely bonkers. He’s scary, icy, and lethal, with insane flavoring added.

Phoenix’s Joker, or rather Arthur Fleck, the man who becomes “the Clown Prince of Crime,” is a put-upon victim. He gets beat up by kids while dancing in the street, waving a sign for a store. He gets beat up by Wall Street frat boys on the subway. Fleck is incredibly awkward in social situations and doesn’t take charge at all (that comes later). He lives with his disabled mom (Frances Conroy) who has a kind of unrequited love with Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), who she used to work for when she was younger. Wayne, of course, is a local billionaire, who’s thinking about running for Mayor of Gotham City, even though he hates most of its populace and considers them “clowns.” Fleck works for a company called HAHA, which is kind of a talent agency that hires out clowns, but even that is a job he can’t hold onto for very long.

He has a form of Tourette’s where he laughs uncontrollably at inappropriate times – it’s so bad he even has a card he hands out to people to help them understand. This uncontrollable urge is perhaps the most defining thing about Fleck’s character.

He’s alone and victimized, living mostly inside his own head. His thoughts often involve his neighbor down the hall, Sophie (Zazie Beetz), who he has a crush on. After a disastrous performance as a stand-up comic, Fleck ironically ends up on the Murray Franklin Show, a Johnny Carson-like talk show that Arthur and his mother watch every night in their depressing apartment. Franklin is played by Robert De Niro, and if you’re a Martin Scorsese fan, he’ll remind you of Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis) in Scorsese’s film, THE KING OF COMEDY (1982), who was stalked by De Niro’s character in that film, Rupert Pupkin. Arthur might also remind you of another Scorsese/De Niro character at times, Travis Bickle from TAXI DRIVER (1976).

One day, on that subway car with the Wall Streeters, he just cracks. It’s a twisted take on the Bernard Goetz incident that happened in Manhattan in the 70s (his tormentors/victims here, though, are rich not poor), and it’s all downhill from there. But the thing is, for the character of the Joker, it’s all uphill, because Fleck is going to stop being a doormat and start being something very different. Even if he is batshit crazy.

Along for the ride are Glenn Fleshler (from the Showtime series, BILLIONS) and Leigh Gill as Arthur’s co-workers at HAHA. Shea Wigham (BOARDWALK EMPIRE) and Bill Camp play two detectives who keep trying to have a word with Arthur. And there’s even a scene with Alfred Pennyworth (Douglas Hodge) and young Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson).

But the spotlight is focused intently on Phoenix, who delivers one helluva performance here. The movie’s ability to succeed (or fail) rests on him, and I thought he rose to the occasion. He also famously lost 50 pounds for the role, and has several scenes where he is shirtless, and you can see his protruding spine and rib cage. It’s pretty disturbing and the exact opposite of what we’re used to seeing in ultra-buff superhero movies. Phoenix is just amazing here.

Director Todd Phillips, known mostly for comedies like OLD SCHOOL (2003) and THE HANGOVER (2009), does a great job giving us something unique in the formulaic world of comic book movies. I really like bleak movies, and I’m partial to comic book flicks. So I enjoyed this one a lot.

Even the look of Gotham City here is depressing. There’s been a garbage strike going on for what seems like weeks (just like New York City in 1977) and garbage bags are everywhere. So are rats. The city is falling apart at the seams, and no one seems civil anymore. It’s not just a cold, hard city, it’s a malevolent one. And it chews up and spits out schlubs like Arthur Fleck on a daily basis without batting an eye.

Hatred grows inside Fleck like a cancer. And when it finishes eating him up, the worm will turn.

But the weird part is – he touches something in the disenfranchised populace of Gotham. And his insanity starts to seem —contagious.

Since it won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, JOKER has had something of a target on its back. As soon as the movie came to U.S. theaters, many critics were ready and waiting to start a big backlash in reaction to the film’s sudden success, especially due to its violence and moral ambiguity. There’s been an overreaction in the media and police at some theaters. But all this chaos seems perfectly in sync with the character of the Joker, and that only helps to promote the movie JOKER all the more.

I don’t remember seeing so many articles about a movie in newspapers after the fact — even if most of the articles have a negative viewpoint. Though several of these critics are saying that JOKER isn’t a very good or effective movie, the very fact that they are talking about it so much makes their arguments seem a bit hollow. Why all the attention if it’s such a minor movie?

I don’t care. I give it four knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives JOKER ~ 4 knives!

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SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)

Review by LL Soares

Winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature earlier this year, and praised by critics as possibly the best Spider-Man movie yet, animated or live-action, I went into SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE with high expectations. For once, I wasn’t disappointed. SPIDER-VERSE is not a load of hype. It actually delivers.

SPIDER-VERSE, shockingly enough, begins with the death of Peter Parker, the man we know as Spider-Man. Well, it doesn’t begin with that, but it happens pretty early on. First, we get introduced to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore, of Netflix’s THE GET DOWN, 2016-2017), a kid of African-American and Puerto Rican descent, who is smart enough to go to an “alternative school” where he has to live during the week. He’s nervous about it, and nervous he might not live up to everyone’s expectations. His parents, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry, who plays “Paper Boi” on the terrific FX series ATLANTA, and who has been showing up in a lot of movies lately), a cop,  and Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez, of the series DEXTER, 2006-2013, and OZ, 1997-2003), a nurse, are proud of their son, but obviously as nervous about things as he is.

One night, while he’s supposed to stay on-campus, Miles sneaks out to hang with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali, of MOONLIGHT, 2016,  and GREEN BOOK, 2018). The two are very close, but there’s something shady about Uncle Aaron. The two go down to some secret corners of the subway system that are no longer in use, and use spray paint to tag some untouched places with grafitti. It’s there that Miles gets bitten by a strangely irridated spider.

Soon after, Miles learns he has acquired certain “abilities,” including the ability to walk on walls (he sticks to things, and has a hard time controlling it at first). He also gives off electric charges when startled. Somehow he ends up back underground just in time to see the inaugural test in a subterranean lab of a huge super-collider, being overseen by Olivia Ocatavius (aka the Doctor Octopus of this version of Earth, here voiced by Kathryn Hahn of the series TRANSPARENT, 2014-2016, and the movie AFTERNOON DELIGHT, 2013). She works for Wilton Fisk (Liev Schreiber, star of the Showtime series RAY DONOVAN), better known as the Kingpin, who wants to rip open time and get his wife and son back from the dead.

Of course, Spider-Man (Chris Pine, Captain Kirk in STAR TREK, 2009, and Steve Trevor in WONDER WOMAN, 2017, and this Peter Parker is blond!) shows up to stop things, and ends battling a gigantic monster version of the Green Goblin. Miles ends up in the middle of things, and tries to help, but his powers are so new, he doesn’t know how to a use them. Spider-man stops the Goblin, but is ultimately killed by Kingpin’s henchman Prowler (a good guy in our dimension, but evil here). Miles witnesses the murder.

Miles wants to right the wrongs, but he’s just a kid with powers he doesn’t understand. Luckily, the collider test provides him with some allies who are more sure of their powers, a whole bunch of Spider-Men (and women) from alternate dimensions who are somehow brought to Miles’ world because of the testing.

These include: another Peter Parker version of Spider-Man (Jake Johnson, of the NEW GIRL, 2011-2018, and JURASSIC WORLD, 2015), presumably the one from our world; Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld, of TRUE GRIT, 2010, BUMBLEBEE, 2018, and the excellent THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, 2016), a version of Spider-Man who is not only a woman, but the woman who was Peter Parker’s first true love in the comics, who died tragically, but is alive, well, and super-powered in her own dimension; Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham (voiced by comedian John Mulaney), an anthropomorphic pig who was the star of a kids’-targeted comic book series in the 1980s; Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage, star of every damn movie he can), a version of Spider-Man as a 1930s Noir hero; and Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, 2014-2017), a Japanese girl who pilots a spider-like robot, which is fueled by a radioactive spider! They are all heroes on their own worlds, brought to Miles’ by accident, and all desperate to get back to where they belong, while eager to help Miles stop the bad guys here first.

The thing is, all of the other Spider-people are in control of their abilities, and are professional superheroes. Miles is still learning the ropes. The second Peter Parker is instrumental and mentoring him. But the rest also do their share.

Will everyone get back to their own world in the Spider-Verse? Will they somehow defeat Kingpin and Doc Ock and their super-collider machine? You’ll have to see the movie to find out, but I guanratee you’ll enjoy it, and have fun along the way.

Also along for the ride are some bad guys, aside from the Prowler, we’ve got Tombstone (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III, from the CW series BLACK LIGHTNING) and a Spanish-speaking version of the Scorpion (Joaquin Coslo of THE STRAIN, 2015-2016), two other villains from the comics. And of course, we also meet this dimension’s version of Aunt May Parker (Lily Tomlin, whose career spans from ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH IN, 1969-1973, to the current GRACE AND FRANKIE) and Mary Jane Watson (Zoe Kravitz, of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, 2015, and HBO’s BIG LITTLE LIES).

There are a lot of reasons why this one works. First off, because it’s animated (and the animation is terrific), they can do a lot of things cheaper that would cost a lot more to do in a live-action movie. Secondly, because it’s animated, and actor egos aren’t such a big deal (being voice actors here), we don’t have to make all kinds of compromises, and the Spider-people are more true to their comic book roots. I find the less changes in the look and feel of the characters, the more satisfying it is, and let’s face it, some of our favorite live-action heroes bear little relation to the actual comic book characters they’re supposed to be. Spider-Man, overall, has been able to keep the look and feel of the comics throughout all the movies, but they’ve been a rollercoaster of quality, from the early Sam Raimi flicks with Tobey Maguire, to the pretty-damn-awful Andrew Garfield flicks, to the more recent Tom Holland flicks (where Iron Man gives him his costume! WTF?). The thing is, SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is better than all of them, in terms of a more satisfying storyline, terrific pacing, and amazing visuals.

All of the voice actors are perfectly cast, and the direction by Bob Perscihetti (previously part of the animation team for SHREK 2, 2004, and PUSS IN BOOTS, 2011), Peter Ramsey (RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, 2012), and Rodney Rothman (a former writer for the LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, who also wrote 22 JUMP STREET, 2014), is just about perfect. There’s also a strong screenplay by Rothman and Phil Lord (who worked on THE LEGO MOVIE, 2014).

This one deserves all of the praise it’s been getting.

I give it, four knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE – 4 knives!

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AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

Review By LL Soares

(Warning: Review Contains Spoilers)

After enjoying the non-stop action of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018), I was really looking forward to the second part of the story, AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Marvel has been pretty reliable (for the most part) when it comes to delivering decent superhero flicks, so I wasn’t too concerned about anything going wrong. And, based on its box-office take alone, ENDGAME is a bonafide blockbuster. But, on a personal note, I didn’t really enjoy this one all that much.

We begin where things left off in INFINITY WAR. That villainous purple guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) has spent the entire movie hunting down the five “Infinity stones” that will give him ultimate power over the universe. He even has a specially-constructed “gauntlet” to hold the gems in one place. As INFINITY WAR ended, not only did Thanos get all the gems, despite the best efforts of just about every hero in the Marvel universe to stop him, but he also puts them together on the gauntlet, and snaps his fingers, eliminating HALF OF ALL LIFE IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE.

SNAP!

Suddenly, superheroes we know and love begin to disintegrate, along with half the population of Earth.

As ENDGAME opens, we realize that nothing has stopped that. It wasn’t a dream. Half of the Avengers are gone.

Then it jumps ahead five years.

Captain Marvel (just recently introduced last month in the movie CAPTAIN MARVEL) shows up on Earth and offers to help the remaining Avengers track down Thanos. The remaining members include Black Widow (Scarlet Johannson), who has pretty much been holding down the fort at Avengers Mansion and is in charge; Captain America (Chris Evans) who is leading support groups for people who lost loved ones in the big purge; and Rhodey/War Machine (Don Cheadle). Two Avengers who we didn’t see in INFINITY WAR show up. One is Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who was with his family when the Thanos incident happened (why not helping his team?) and all of them vaporize at once, leaving him alone to pick up the pieces. Hawkeye pretty much goes off the deep end and, without much else to live for, becomes a vigilante, traveling around the globe and killing bad guys. Black Widow has been having Rhodey keep tabs on him. And Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who went to the quantam realm at the end of ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018), finally comes back from his journey, to find himself alone and five years in the future after the events of INFINITY WAR.

Meanwhile, Thor has become a fat alcoholic in a place called New Asgard (somewhere on Earth, the Netherlands?). Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) has figured out how to alter his biology to become “Good Hulk” a cross between the Hulk’s size and brawn and Dr. Banner’s intelligence and calmer demeaner. Rocket Racoon is still around, too.

And on a disabled spaceship with diminishing reserves, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) are pretty much waiting around to die, when Captain Marvel happens by and brings the two of them back to earth without much effort.

With Captain Marvel’s help, the remaining team are able to track down Thanos to a distant planet, where he’s living a monastic life after killing half the universe (he accomplished everything he set out to do, so his work is done). The reunion ends badly for Thanos (in one of the movie’s best scenes), but it still doesn’t bring back everyone we’ve lost.

But the quantam science that helps Ant-Man shrink to a sub-atomic level also holds the key to the possibility of time travel. And so Tony Stark uses his super brain to figure out a way to make it work. Which leads us to a huge mission to go back in time and find all of the Infinity gems before Thanos does, thus altering the history of the universe.

With the time traveling, there are a lot of tearful reunions, of course. Tony interacts with his dead father (John Slattery), now younger and alive, and with no idea who he is; Thor reunites with his death mother (Rene Russo); and Captain America happens to catch a glimpse of the love of his life, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who he lost when he was cryogenically frozen way back in the 40s. The Hulk meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who isn’t a loved one, but who is the Sorcerer Supreme before Dr. Strange takes the mantle, and the keeper of the Soul Stone. Nebula finds not only her younger self, but her dead sister Gamora (Zoe Saldana), now younger and alive, and of course, her villainous daddy, Thanos.

And so goes the mission to stop Thanos, reverse what happened, and save everyone who was vaporized when Thanos won the Infinity War in the last movie. Some major characters die (I won’t say who, because some people still plan to see the movie), and things wrap up in a neat and clean manner, with a bow on top.

And, for the most part, I found this one difficult to sit through. Not because, like a lot of people in the audience who had brought Kleenex, because I had a strong emotional investment with these characters. No, I didn’t shed any tears, dear reader. But I found it difficult because unlike the fast-paced perfection of INFINITY WARS, ENDGAME seemed like a real slow-motion slog, and I felt every minute of its three hour and 1 minute running time.

ENDGAME starts out great, until the survivors find Thanos and get their revenge. Up until that point, I really enjoyed this movie. And then, we get to the long, overly complex time travel mission, which takes up most of the movie, and I found myself bored and annoyed.

First of all, I really hate it when movies try to manipulate your emotions. Whether it’s “sad music” that cues you to feel sad in a Spielberg movie, or melodramatic deaths, I find movies that try to tell you what to feel kind of detestable. Second, even though I’ve seen every single Marvel movie and should have felt as invested as the other audience members, I just…didn’t. Which made me realize something. I grew up with these characters in the comics – some are in comics I still read – and so the emotional investment should be there. But the movie versions of these characters are often very different – changed sometimes drastically to fit the mold created by the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and thus just aren’t as sympathetic to me. And for every Tony Stark or Steve Rogers, there’s an awful lot of characters who just haven’t been developed enough onscreen to care a lot about.

And time travel is a problem. For some reason, it’s really hard to do well. I think time travel is what also killed the TV show HEROES, after its initially strong first season back in 2006. Once time travel was added to the mix, the show jumped the shark and just stopped being “must see TV.” And here, the super complex (and not very logical) time travel super mission just left me cold. I don’t know why.

So between the overlong time travel stuff, and the constant need for the movie to try to manipulate and pander to its audience, to get some kind of emotional reaction, I just sat there, not enjoying it at all.

There’s yet another great big showdown at the end, and for a short time the movie got interesting again. Even if there were just way too many characters cluttering up the screen (funny, I didn’t feel that so strongly in INFINITY WAR). Then the movie was over, and I just wanted to move on.

My knees were killing me from having to sit down for three hours. If it was a good movie, I wouldn’t have minded.

Like INFINITY WAR, ENDGAME was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, and also like INFINITY WAR, the screenplay was by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. That said, I’m surprised how different the two movies are.

I’m sure other people saw this movie and absolutely loved it. A lot of them were sitting near me, crying into their Kleenex. But for me, this was a long, drawn-out, yawn. I really wanted to like ENDGAME. I went in expecting to be blown away by it. But it just didn’t happen that way.

I give it two and a half knives out of five.

The things I liked about the movie? Thor is still the most entertaining character, and Chris Hemsworth was the most compelling one here. Rocket Racoon continues to have great chemistry with him. And while a lot of Marvel movies tend to have weak villians, Thanos is probably the best one so far, and I dug anything that involved him. Because he was finally a worthy adversary for the Marvel heroes.

Although I was never a huge Captain America fan, I think Chris Evans was perfectly cast in the role. The same for Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, even though he stopped being fun for me and started getting on my nerves around the time of IRON MAN 3 (2013).

The AVENGERS movies have been a see-saw for me. I still think the first THE AVENGERS (2012) was the best, and a great introduction to the team. I kind of hated AGE OF ULTRON (2015), even though Ultron is really cool in the comics and it gave the movies a chance to give us a cinematic version of The Vision. I loved INFINITY WAR. And I kind of hated ENDGAME. Up and down. Like a see-saw.

But that’s been pretty much my entire take on the Marvel movies. For every one I really enjoy, there’s one that I thought was a waste of time. For every IRON MAN (2008) or THOR: RAGNAROK (2017), there was an IRON MAN 3 or a THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013). Maybe that’s why I wasn’t emotionally invested – because the entire series of movies has been so uneven.

I thought ENDGAME was overblown and kind of a letdown for the final wrap-up for Marvel’s first ten years dominating theaters. I kind of wish things had ended with INFINITY WAR instead.

But that’s me. You may feel differently. And more power to you.

For me, this was an anti-climax.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives AVENGERS: ENDGAME ~ 2 1/2 Knives

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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

A Cinema Knife Fight Review by LL Soares & Dan Keohane

(THE SCENE: A ravaged alien world. From beneath the rubble of a crashed spacecraft, LL SOARES and DAN KEOHANE emerge. LS is wearing a “Team Thanos” T-shirt and DK is wearing a “Team Iron Man” T-Shirt)

LS (spies something shiny on the ground): That wouldn’t be an Infinity Stone, would it?

DK: No, I don’t think there are any of those left.

LS: Too bad.

DK: So why did you ask me to board the spaceship that just crash landed on this desolate planet anyway?

LS: To review the new Avengers movie, of course. A lot of people have been anticipating this one, where the Avengers finally come face-to-face with the “Mad Titan” himself, Thanos. Why don’t you bring us up to speed, Dan.

DK: So here we are, ten years after Marvel Studios released IRON MAN (2008), its first (of many) epic motion pictures in its self-proclaimed Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the release of what is without a doubt the culmination of years of carefully-crafted (and, at times, complex) storylines around the most powerful objects in the universe, the Infinity Stones, and the sociopathic alien genius Thanos’s (Josh Brolin, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, 2007, SICARIO, 2015, and as Cable in the upcoming DEADPOOL 2, 2018) pursuit of them in order to… well, until sitting down to watch the epic AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018), all we really knew was that Thanos wanted the stones in order to wield the ultimate power in the universe.

LS: Yeah, that’s all you know if you only know Thanos from the snippets we’ve seen of him so far in Marvel movies, mostly in “Easter egg” scenes in the end credits. These movies have been building up Thanos’s big arrival for a long time now. Remember that he was behind the alien invasion of earth way back in the very first AVENGERS movie in 2012. It’s about time the sneaky purple people eater came out and showed his face.

DK: He eats people?

LS: Huh?

DK: You called him a purple people eater.

LS: Like the old novelty song. I didn’t mean it literally.

DK: Okay, I thought I missed a scene.

LS: Although it would be cool if he ate people, wouldn’t it? On top of being a murdering madman.

DK: Now—and you need to really pay attention to this film, especially Thanos’s story—we finally understand the reason for this lifelong, evil quest: Thanos thinks he’s actually helping everyone in the universe, by killing half of all sentient species, and thus freeing up resources to allow the other half to live wonderful, happy lives. Pretty big task, and admittedly very frightening.

LS: What a sweet guy! He just wants to help!

In the comics, he actually does all this mass killing to impress his sweetheart, none other than the personification of Death. He’s trying to woo her by delivering as many dead souls as he can. But I guess that didn’t really translate well in a big blockbuster movie.

DK: INFINITY WARS opens just a few minutes after THOR: RAGNAROK (2017) ends. Or, I should say, after the first post-credits scene of RAGNAROK ends, as the last survivors of the destruction of Thor’s home planet, Asgard, are approached by a massive, ominous spacecraft. This ship, of course, belongs to Thanos and his powerful cadre of henchpeople. As the scene opens, they’ve just murdered half of the ship’s population (after a few more moments the other half die too, not to worry). Only Thor (Chris Hemsworth, GHOSTBUSTERS, 2016), his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, KONG: SKULL ISLAND, 2016) and gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba, THE DARK TOWER, 2017) are left, and currently being tortured by number one henchman Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, LOVE/HATE TV series).

LS: Well, actually Gaping…er Ebony Maw is more like a CGI creation with Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s voice. And I guess he acted for the motion capture effects, too.

DK: The way technology is progressing, it wouldn’t surprise me in a few years if they make everyone run around with green tights and polka dots on their face, so they can CGI the cast any way they want. But we digress. For this discussion, though, let’s just say he plays Ebony Maw.

LS: Okay.

DK: Mr. Maw is torturing them to learn the location of an Infinity Stone, which everyone watching THOR RAGNAROK knows was lifted by Loki just before the destruction of his homeworld. It does not go well for most of our heroes, and anti-heroes. And this is just the first scene for crying out loud.

This is the first of many extremely dark and violent moments in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Thanos and his minions are quickly established as murderous, powerful creatures with a single focus: acquire all six Infinity Stones, and heaven help you if you get in their way.

And get in the way our heroes do (just about all of them, with a few exceptions). The movie is two hours and forty minutes of one insanely beautiful and clever battle scene after another. It is relentless, all the way until the credits roll.

LS: And beyond, because there’s yet another of those “end credit” secret scenes. But just one this time, at the very end of the credits. People are so used to these things that the entire sold-out audience where I saw the movie stayed in their seats through every last drop of the credits, knowing a big end scene would pop up. Have I mentioned how much I hate the fact that Marvel has made all of us have to sit through all the credits?

DK: I used to love watching the credits. All those people who worked on the movie. Someone had to give them their due.

LS: Yea, but you told me once you love watching grass grow, too.

DK: Surprisingly, I didn’t find all the non-stop action to be too much. Unlike much of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), which was another non-stop action movie/political argument, I personally found it all a bit tiresome near the end. I think I’m in the minority thinking this, however. In this case, though INFINITY WAR started with a bang (literally) and did not let up, I was riveted to every second of it.

LS: Come on, CIVIL WAR was one of the best of the Marvel flicks! But you’re right about INFINITY WAR. Despite the long run time and abundance of battles and action scenes, it does keep you involved throughout. The only time I got even a little bored was when a horde of nameless creatures swarmed over Wakanda. But even that lag didn’t last long.

DK: A lot of this had to do with the smart, quick dialogue between the characters, and the exceptional performances by just about everyone in the cast. Unlike much of the performances in the final HOBBIT film, where everyone seemed very tired and ready to go home, the actors in INIFINITY WAR absolutely brought their A-game, including directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (who also directed all three CAPTAIN AMERICA films so far).

LS: Now I’m glad I didn’t see the HOBBIT movies. But yeah, there sure are a lot of superheroes in this movie. Someone should call the Guinness Book of World Records.

DK: After some shuffling and relocating of the cast, we basically end up with three distinct groups: Thor, who, after meeting up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, goes with Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper, AMERICAN SNIPER, 2014) and a sullen teenaged (and as funny as always) Groot (sparingly voiced by Vin Diesel), heading to an ancient forge planet called Nidavellir, manned by none other than the always-awesome Peter Dinklage (GAME OF THRONES TV series) as the last surviving dwarf Eitri.

LS: That’s some big dwarf!

DK: The irony was not lost on me. But Dinklage’s shattered, brooding Eitri was fantastic, even if he was only in the film for a little bit. Meanwhile, hunting down Thanos himself are the remainder of the Guardians of the Galaxy: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, the upcoming JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, 2018), Gamora (Zoe Saldana, STAR TREK, 2009) Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista).

LS: With Bautista’s Drax still stealing every scene he’s in! That guy always cracks me up. And who knew Thor and Rocket would have such cool chemistry together? They’re my favorite team in the movie. And, for once, Gamora has a major role in this one, since she is Thanos’s daughter and all.

DK: Well, she’s really his adopted/abducted daughter. But it’s nice to see Zoe Saldana’s Gamora get so much screen time in this movie. And I agree, the scenes with Thor and the Guardians were, as always, show stealers and very, very funny.

Also hunting Thanos through space, though only because of events beyond their control, are Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, SHERLOCK TV series), Spider-Man (Tom Holland, HOW I LIVE NOW, 2013) and Iron Man (Robert Downy, Jr, WEIRD SCIENCE, 1985).

LS: With more funny banter, and the clashing egos of Strange and Stark.

One thing that puzzled me. They end up on Titan, Thanos’s homeworld. Everyone keeps saying it’s a planet. But isn’t it really the largest moon of Saturn?

DK: Nobody cares.

LS: What, no astronomers in the audience?

DK: Meanwhile, back on earth, the rest of the Avengers (remember, this is an Avengers movie) gather together after a couple of Thanos’s groupies try to steal the Infinity Stone embedded in the forehead of the android Avenger, Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head. This group includes Captain America (the third Chris); the Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olson); the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); a Hulk-less Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo); the Falcon (Anthony Mackie); Wong (Benedict Wong) who is Doctor Strange’s assistant; and Don Cheadle as War Machine.

And we haven’t even gotten to the second act’s introduction of the country of Wakanda, Black Panther and everyone there.

LS: Yeah, this movie jumps all over the place, from different parts of Earth, to different parts of the galaxy.

DK: I have to admit, this may be an Avengers movie, but it really didn’t feel like it. I mean, there’s every major character from every major Marvel film, sans DEADPOOL and ANT-MAN…

LS: Well, Deadpool makes sense because he, and the X-Men universe, are still controlled by 20th Century Fox. But imagine if all those mutants were here as well! As it is, the excuse for why Ant-Man and Hawkeye weren’t in this one didn’t make much sense to me. I mean, how could it hurt to add two more superheroes to the already huge mix?

DK: There are still a whole lot of heroes here, and they all had a major part to play. It felt less like an Avengers movie than a Marvel Team-Up on steroids.

LS: Oh, you remember that comic book series, do you? You know who else I wish was here? The Fantastic Four. I’m still waiting for a Thing/Hulk team-up in the movies! But once again, they’re tied up in legal mumbo jumbo, which I hope comes to an end when Disney finally gets control of the Fox movie rights. That’s still going to happen, right?

DK: I hope so. I would be great to see the FF get themselves entwined in these MCU Malays. Even in the comics, though, they’ve always been sort of a stand-alone group (except The Thing, who liked to wander from one Team-Up to another… yea, I loved that series).

LS: You’re thinking of the other team-up series, Marvel Two-in-One! The difference was, in Marvel Team-Up, the star was usually Spider-Man, teaming up with someone else (although there were a few issues where the star was the Human Torch instead, but they were seldom). Marvel-Two-In-One was a different series starring The Thing, where he teamed up with other superheroes each month.

And then there was Super Villain Team-Up, where every issue was Doctor Doom and Namor, the Sub-Mariner! How is that a “team-up” book, if it’s the same two guys every issue? And Namor is more of an anti-hero than a villain! Toward the end, they actually included some other villains, but then it got canceled. But I digress.

DK: You certainly did. What do Dr. Doom and Namor have to do with this movie?

LS: I wish they were in it!

DK: Oh, okay. But, for what it is, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR works; it really, really works. I had to smile early on when Captain America made his appearance. Everyone in the sold-out theater burst into applause. I didn’t clap, and not just because I was taking notes. All I could think, after such an intimidating setup of Thanos’s insanely huge power, was, what can Captain America do? He isn’t even wearing his helmet?

LS: I experienced the same thing. I mean, yeah, it’s cool that Cap’s so popular—my audience applauded his entrance, too—but he seems like small potatoes in the face of a cosmic threat like Thanos. Besides, I’ve always been much more a fan of Thor and Hulk, two guys who could give Thanos more of a challenge.

And you’re right about the helmet. That happens a lot in these movies, because vain actors want to show their faces onscreen, even when it doesn’t make sense. They’re never happy wearing a mask for all the appropriate scenes. The only guy who actually sticks to the mask in all logical ways is DEADPOOL. Who knew Ryan Reynolds would turn out to be the least-egotistical superhero star.

Hell, when Hawkeye is in movies, they never even bother with his cool mask, dammit!

DK: You’re digressing again!

Never mind how Black Widow should have had her neck snapped in the first fight scene because she doesn’t even have super human powers.

LS: Despite the power-levels of each character, they give it their all to protect the Earth! Besides, I just enjoy watching Scarlett Johannson in action, so I’m not complaining.

DK: Hear, Hear!

Aside from every moment the Guardians of the Galaxy were on screen with their newest ally Thor, some of my favorite moments in the film were when Bruce Banner tried like hell to convince Hulk to come out of hiding, and never succeeded. Now and then, Hulk will almost come out, only to say “No” in his endearing Hulk voice, then go away, much to Banner’s frustration. Mark Ruffalo has to be one of the best casting choices in Hollywood history, ever. At first glance he seems so wrong for the part, but he nails it every time!

LS: Now you’ve happened upon one of my few problems with the movie. As a big Hulk fan, I HATED the way Banner was handled this time around. I could understand, where in the plot of RAGNAROK, Hulk could stay the Hulk for long periods of time because of the planet they were on. It didn’t totally make sense, but hey. But there was no reason why Banner couldn’t hulk out in this movie. He’s back on Earth. And Hulk is all about being angry. You’re telling me Banner couldn’t get angry enough in these battle scenes to transform? Hulk and Banner aren’t supposed to have a choice in these things. The way the Hulk refused to come out struck me as majorly stupid. It’s almost like they purposely kept Hulk out of the fight because they wanted to give some of the weaker Avengers a chance to seem more heroic. Or maybe they were implying Hulk was too scared of Thanos to come out. Either way, it pissed me off. And when Banner was put inside the big “Hulkbuster” Iron Man costume, that just added to the embarrassment.

DK: I agree with you there. Him in the Hulkbuster suit was odd, and yeah, it seemed to be more for comic relief (unless they were hoping it would piss off Hulk enough to come out).

LS: When I go to an Avengers movie, I want to see The Hulk! And, except for a brief battle scene early on, Hulk fans get cheated. I’m sorry, I’m just not as big a fan of Banner, and I actually found Ruffalo a bit grating this time around. They tried to make him a comic relief character, and frankly every time he was onscreen it just made me realize how much I missed the real, gets-stronger-as-he-gets-angrier Hulk.

DK: Back to Wakanda. As good as he is, Chadwick Baseman (42, 2013) gets outshone again by the other Wakandans (especially Danai Gurir’s Okoye, Letitia Wright’s Shuri and Winston Duke’s M’Baku), not to mention a couple dozen of his fellow superheroes.

Ok, what else?

LS: You tell me.

DK: A complaint of my own. Yes, I know that early on the theme is that we don’t sacrifice the one for the good of the many, but everyone pretty quickly understands that if Thanos succeeds, half the population of the UNIVERSE is going to die. Knowing this, too often people give up the fight (and whatever Infinity Stone they’re carrying) in order to save one person. I’m sorry, as much as I love my wife, for example, if handing over something to a bad guy would mean a billion, trillion people die, I wouldn’t do it. I’m sure she’d understand.

LS: I found that annoying, too. Some characters make some very dumb choices in this one. I get that there are emotions involved, but it really annoyed me.

DK: In one instance—near the end, so I won’t say who and why—one character, based on the last line they spoke in the film, might have done this deliberately. But again, can’t say any more without spoilers.

LS: Yeah, let’s not go there. Let people have some surprises.

DK: I loved seeing the film in a packed theater. As much of a geek that I am, until now I’d never attended the first showing of an opening night of any MCU film and was amazed how enjoyable seeing the movie in a packed house (which was across the hall from another packed house). Of course, I missed some of the lines spoken, usually because so many people were laughing their butts off.

LS: There were a few funny moments. But not all of the humor worked. Like, the whole Iron Man/Spider-Man patter, started getting on my nerves pretty quickly. I’m getting sick of Spider-Man being treated like an idiot, and I’m getting really tired of Robert Downey, Jr. at this point. His Tony Stark has passed his expiration date. He’s not so cool anymore.

DK: This is also a dark and violent movie, bordering on an R rating (for the sheer volume of the violence, though it’s not super graphic), but I thought it was also very, very funny in spots. Watching the scenes with the Guardians, I wondered how much input James Gunn (who wrote and directed their solo movies) had in the dialogue. He has no writing credits, but their interactions were so spot-on I wonder if this is true. It was also refreshing to have characters curse now and then. While not enough to push the rating beyond PG-13, it was enough to add an extra bit of realness to them.

LS: It only went so far, though. Sometimes the “cursing” was just plain silly. If you’re caught up in the middle of a life-or-death battle, are you really going to tell someone they “Effed up!” like Peter Quill does at one point? Or at one point someone says, “Screw you!”  Come on, give us more believable dialogue! I would have liked it a lot more if it had really pushed over into R-rated territory. But that’s just me.

DK: And the plethora of tween-aged kids sitting around us would have been pretty disappointed they had to stay home, as well.

LS: Who cares!

DK: Disney and the box office. Quick nod to the late, great (in most people’s opinion) comic book artist and writer Jack Kirby who, with Stan Lee, created most of the characters we’re seeing now. Personally, I didn’t like Kirby’s style of artwork, every character was too square and the surrounding scenery too full of weird bubbles (look his stuff up to see what I mean).

LS: Sacrilege! Kirby was one of the best artists in the history of comics precisely because his style was completely his own. Nobody drew like him, and his pure creativity was astounding! Lee might have written the words, but Kirby brought a lot of these characters to life by making them visual for us. But go on…

DK: When they created Thanos for this film, they did so right out of a Kirby comic frame.

LS: That’s funny, because Kirby didn’t create or draw Thanos. Jim Starlin did. And he gets a shout out in the credits. Starlin created, or gave us the definitive versions of, a lot of Marvel’s cosmic characters. Then again, I can’t totally make fun of you for that, because Kirby did create the character Darkseid for DC, who shares a lot of similarities with Thanos. He even has his own powerful henchmen. Remember Steppenwolf from JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)? He’s a Darkseid henchman. But that’s a discussion for another time.

DK: (Humbled at his writing partner’s encyclopedic geekness!) Though I assume Brolin was there during the shots and read his lines (only have his voice deepened to make it sound more Thanos-like), Thanos himself looks like a CGI character. Even so, it’s easy to let that go because among so many bad guys in films, this one gets some decent development. You may not like him at all by the end of this film…

LS: I did!

DK:…but you do come away understanding him better.

LS: Yeah, one major problem with a lot of the Marvel movies is the lack of a compelling bad guy. It’s a flaw that’s turned up in several of the movies. But Thanos corrects that in a big way. He’s complex, fleshed out, and even if his plans are totally reprehensible, they’re portrayed in a way that at least makes you understand him. And there are even a few moments where you might feel a tiny twinge of sympathy for him (or maybe not).

I also liked his henchmen in this one, who consisted of Cull Obsidian (also known as Black Dwarf in the comics, and played by Terry Notary), Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon, from the TV shows FARGO and THE LEFTOVERS—I love her!), Corvus Glaive (Michael Shaw) and, of course, the best of the bunch, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Ebony Maw.

DK: Yea, he was creepy.

LS: And Thanos and his creepy henchmen might be CGI characters, but the point here is, the CGI effects in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR look terrific! So, it didn’t matter at all.

Another thing that’s different about this movie is the fact that some of the characters actually die this time around. It’s not just a lot of fighting with no big consequences. We’re not going to say who dies, or how, because we’re not going to step into spoiler country, but let’s just say the stakes are higher than ever in INFINITY WAR.

So, I think we’ve said enough about the movie, and what happens. Let’s let people find out the big stuff for themselves. But, overall, what did you think of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, Dan?

DK: I was completely blown away by this. I could not imagine the filmmakers keeping so many characters interesting and fresh throughout, but they did. It helped a lot to have them all focused on one storyline, but even then, like I said earlier, the actors and crew brought their A-Game to this one. I can honestly say AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR lives up to its hype. As the culmination of the MCU’s ten-year life (so far), I can’t give it any less than 4 Knives.

LS: I have to agree with you. Despite any complaints I had, this one was terrific. Non-stop action, great characters, A-list actors, amazing effects. I give it a big four knives as well.

You know, it’s funny, anyone who has never seen a Marvel movie, and didn’t read comics, and who decided to start with this movie would have absolutely NO IDEA what is going on. There are so many characters and locations and concepts from the comics and previous movies, and INFINITY WAR does not stop for a second to explain any of these things.

It’s amazing that the comic books we grew up with (and which got us labeled nerds) are now so imbedded in popular culture that most people know all of these things now! And it shows the pure storytelling power of Marvel that people have stayed aboard from the beginning through all these movies, enough so that they didn’t need any explanations of what was going on in INFINITY WAR.

In a way, it justifies a big chunk of our childhoods, sitting around reading “funny books.”

DK: Yeah, it kind of does. Hey, are you choking up about this?

LS: No, of course not. Just breathed in some space dust by accident.

DK: Which reminds me. We just crash-landed on an alien planet, that looks uninhabited. How are we going to get home?

LS (looks up at the darkening sky): Well, Dan, I think we’re going to be late for dinner.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares & Daniel G. Keohane

 

LL Soares gives AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR ~~ 4 knives

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Dan Keohane also gives AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR ~~ 4 knives

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SHAZAM! (2019)

Review by LL Soares

This might be a confusing time for fans of Captain Marvel.

Back in the 1970s (1974 -1977, to be exact) there was a little Saturday morning show called SHAZAM!  where young Billy Batson (Michael Gray) said the secret word and transformed with a clap of thunder into Captain Marvel (Jackson Bostwick). But the most recent movie to be called CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019) stars Brie Larson as a superheroine with cosmic powers, who is soon going to be helping the Avengers kick Thanos’s ass in AVENGERS: ENDGAME later this month.

And now we’ve got a new SHAZAM! movie as well, where Billy Batson (Asher Angel, from the Disney TV show “ANDI MACK,” 2017-2019) turns into…er…Shazam? (Zachary Levi, “HEROES REBORN” 2015-2016)…when he says his own name. Holy lightning bolts, Batman! What’s going on here?

For brevity’s sake, here’s a crash course in the history of Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel was originally created by writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck in 1939 and was a very popular comic book hero whose peak was in the 1940s. There was even a live-action serial (short films with a continuing plot, for those who aren’t familiar with them) about the character called Adventures of Captain Marvel, starring Tom Tyler as the titular superhero. But in 1953, Fawcett stopped publishing the comics, due in part to waning sales (the superhero genre wasn’t selling as well) and partly due to a lawsuit from DC Comics, claiming Captain Marvel was a rip-off of Superman. In the 1960s, Marvel Comics got the trademark for the name Captain Marvel, which they used for a new line of characters. In 1972, DC Comics got the rights to the actual characters of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family (Cappy has a whole family of superheroes, another similarity with Superman at the time), but couldn’t use the name Captain Marvel. So the series was called SHAZAM. This latter property is the basis of the new SHAZAM! movie.

Up to speed?

Anyway, the basic idea is Billy Batson, a normal everyday kid, is given the gift of turning into an adult superhero (who’s a lot of Superman) when he says the word SHAZAM which stands for the great heroes of the past: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. This power is bestowed upon him by a wizard named Mentor (referred to as just “Wizard” in the credits of the new movie, and played now by Djimon Hounsou of “GUARDIAN’S OF THE GALAXY,” 2014, and, ironically, currently in Marvel’s “CAPTAIN MARVEL,” 2019) The gimmick of the new movie is that even though young Billy turns into an adult superhero, he still has the mind of his 15-year-old self. So sometimes thing get goofy.

It’s a more light-hearted plotline than most DC Comics movies these days, although there’s some gritty stuff here, too. When we first meet Billy, he’s at a carnival with his mom. At one point, he gets lost, and can’t find his mother. The police find him, and he ends up in a series of foster families. This, right off the bat, had me scratching my head. A kid gets lost, knows his name and his family must be nearby, and the police can’t track down his mother? This seemed incredibly stupid to me. But hey, we have to keep going…

Billy runs away from every foster family he’s placed in. He runs away because he’s trying to track down his mother. He has a list of names from the phone book of women named Batson, who might be his mother. But he keeps coming up empty. Now he gets placed in a new home, which is run by the couple Victor Vasquez (who you might recognize as “THE WALKING DEAD” character JERRY!) and his wife Rosa (Marta Milans, “NO TOMORROW” 2016 – 2017). The other kids in the group home include teenage Mary (Grace Fulton, “THE GHOST WHISPERER,” 2005-2007, “REVENGE,” 2012-2013, and “ANNABELLE: CREATION,” 2017) who’s trying to get into college; video game enthusiast Eugene (Ian Chen, from the TV shows “FRESH OFF THE BOAT” and “GREY’S ANATOMY”); introverted Pedro (Jovan Armand, from the show “THE MIDDLE”); cute little Darla (Faithe Herman, “THIS IS US”); and disabled Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, also in “IT,” 2017 and the upcoming “IT: CHAPTER TWO”). Billy gets closest to Freddy, since they share a room. But obviously Billy doesn’t have plans to stick around very long.

Meanwhile, that wizard I mentioned (Hounsou) is trying to find someone who is “pure of heart,” so he can transfer his magical powers to them before he dies of old age, and random people find themselves suddenly transported to the wizard’s cave, so he can test them to see if they’re good enough. Of course, no one’s ever good enough. But one of the kids he rejected carries a grudge, and grows up to be the evil Dr. Silvana (Mark Strong, also in “KICK-ASS,” 2010, “JOHN CARTER,” 2012, and “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE,” 2014, as well as 103 other credits on IMDB.com). He’s intent on finding that cave again and teaming up with the wizard’s enemies – the Seven Deadly Sins – which are imprisoned inside stone statues in the wizard’s cave. They promise to give him powers of evil, so he can defeat the wizard’s hero (if he ever finds one).

A lot of this comes from the comics, but man, is it a slog. I found the first half hour of this movie really tough to sit through. I didn’t care about Billy Batson or his mom, or Sivana and his grudge, or the dopey wizard and his tests. All of it bored me to tears, and I kind of wondered why I spent the money for a movie ticket, and then something happened.

Billy Batson, of course, passes the wizard’s test and is transformed by magic into the mighty hero SHAZAM! whenever he says the word SHAZAM! which is also his name (I believe it’s also supposed to be the wizard’s name here as well, so that’s a tad confusing). At this point, Asher Angel’s Billy turns into Zachary Levi, the actor who plays SHAZAM!, and suddenly, the movie’s worth watching.

JUST LIKE MAGIC!

Like I said, I didn’t find Asher Angel’s Billy all that riveting, but once he’s transformed into Zachary Levi’s SHAZAM, things get interesting. Here’s where it becomes a combination of BIG and SUPERMAN. The best interaction in the movie is between Levi’s Shazam and his buddy Freddy, especially when they do a series of “stunts” to determine what Shazam’s powers are. (Super speed, CHECK!). While he tries to figure out all the cool things he can do (including buying beer), Dr. Sivana has absorbed the Seven Deadly Sins—they look like crazy CGI monsters!—who turn into smoke and go inside his glowing eye to give him evil super powers (doesn’t that sound amazing!). Unfortunately, those CGI monsters don’t have much personality and are kind of generic, and they’re as exciting as flat soda.

I like actor Mark Strong a lot, he’s a terrific actor, but man, the dude gets no respect. He should be a big star at this point, but instead he’s playing second-rate bad guys like Dr. Sivana! When is this guy going to get his big break and become a leading man already!  

Eventually Sivana and Shazam meet, and we get some superpowered fisticuffs, culminating in a big showdown between Sivana and the CGI Sin Monsters vs. Shazam and some unexpected allies (they’re actually pretty cool).

SHAZAM! is directed by David F. Sandberg, who also gave us “LIGHTS OUT “(2016) and “ANNABELLE: CREATION” (2017), and he does an okay job here. The screenplay is by Henry Grayden (“EARTH TO ECHO,” 2014), and frankly, if they hadn’t cast people as talented as Levi and Strong, this would have been a complete waste of time.

Overall, my feeling is that when Levi is onscreen, especially with Grazer, the movie is a lot of fun. When Levi isn’t around, it drags. So I’m really on the fence about this one. Is Levi enough to justify the whole movie? Not really. But I give SHAZAM! a score of 2 ½ knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives SHAZAM! ~~ 2 1/2 knives!

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CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)

Review by LL Soares

In space, no one can hear you yawn.

That said, movies set in space definitely don’t have to be boring – especially coming from the Marvel Universe. Just look at GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (I’m talking the 2014 original here, I kinda hated the second one). And of course AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018, which I think is underrated). Which brings us to Carol Danvers, the hero at the heart of the new Marvel flick, CAPTAIN MARVEL!

I think actress Brie Larsen is great, and I was really happy to hear she got the role, back when they were announcing the casting decisions. And I knew Samuel L. Jackson was going to have a sizeable role as Nick Fury (and young Nick Fury at that, with youthful good looks – thanks to CGI – and two eyes!). What I didn’t count on was a fairly boring script.

We begin with Carol Danvers—super-powered but not yet Captain Marvel—as part of a team of space soldiers called “Starforce” (and with this, the generic space stuff begins). They’re defenders of the Kree, one of Marvel’s major alien races, who are identified by their blue skin. Except Danvers—referred to as Vers by her Kree comrades (it all makes sense later), is clearly not Kree. But she’s not really sure where she’s from. She has weird flashes of memory of a seemingly different life, but she can’t make heads nor tales out of it. She gets a little more clarity when she is captured by the Skrulls (the other big alien race in Marvel Land, who are green and sort of lizard-like, and who have the ability to shape shift to look like anyone they want to). In captvitiy, Vers is subjects to a machine that plunders her memories, in the process making them much more vivid, and ramping up Vers’s curiosity about her past even more.

The Skrulls use her memories as a map to a planet called C-53 (aka Earth), where something important they want is. Vers pursues them there. Back on home planet Earth, Vers starts experiencing major déjà vu, because, yes, she’s been here before.

S.H.I.E.LD. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Coulson (Clark Gregg) (and if you don’t know what S.H.I.E.L.D. is, you need to watch more Marvel movies) get called in when Vers crash lands into a Blockbuster video store. It’s the 1990s, and none of the Marvel superheroes we know and love have shown up yet, so the super-powered Vers is something of an anomaly. In fact, Fury doesn’t even believe she’s from another planet at first, until he gets caught up in the Kree/Skrull conflict, thanks to his boss being impersonated by Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelesohn). Vers takes on the Skrulls herself, with help from Fury, while her Starforce team, led by her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who is a Kree warrior but, like Vers, isn’t blue (something that is never explained) hurries toward Earth.

This movie kind of lost me from the start, with the generic space opera of the “Starforce” team going to an alien planet to extract one of their spies from a Skrull stronghold. I thought this whole segment came off as Star War-lite and that wise-cracking Vers seemed to be the only Kree soldier we meet who has any kind of real personality. The rest of her team is pretty forgettable, even Djimon Honsou as Korath, and Jude Law—a normally terrific actor—is forced to play bland sci-fi commander Yon-Rogg. It’s not until Vers get to Earth that things get interesting at all, thanks for Fury, a cat named Goose (one of the best characters in the movie, without saying a word), and Ben Mendleson as Talos, and even that wasn’t exciting enough to get this movie out of the breakdown lane. Speaking of which, a generic car chase scene just smacks of cliché.

Basically, I liked Brie Larsen as Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, but this is yet another weak origin story and her character didn’t get interesting at all until the very end. Annette Benning is okay as a scientist from Danvers’ past (as well as the Kree AI overlord The Supreme Intelligence, who looked so much cooler in the comics), Lashana Lynch and Akira Akbar are good as Maria Rambeau, Danver’s best friend from her past, and her daughter, Monica, respectively. And it’s always good to see Jackson and Gregg. But the script is like an hour and forty minutes of boredom and 24 minutes of adrenaline, which is way off balance. At least our “Captain oh Captain” is set up to make a big splash when she returns in AVENGERS: ENDGAME next month (April 26th, to be precise).

For those who are scratching their heads and wondering, “Isn’t Captain Marvel a teenage boy who turns into a Superman wannabe?” You’re not losing your minds. Back in the 40s and 50s, Billy Batson said the secret word SHAZAM! and turned into the first Captain Marvel, but then DC Comics sued Charlton Comics, saying the Captain was too much like Superman, and so he disappeared. Afterwards, Marvel got the rights to the name Captain Marvel, and ran with it (several characters have born the name “Captain Marvel” since 1969, including Ms. Danvers) and then DC bought the rights to the actual character we knew as Captain Marvel, calling him just plain SHAZAM (and there’s a SHAZAM! movie coming out April 5th from DC , to make things even more confusing).

CAPTAIN MARVEL is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who previously gave us such indie films as the baseball drama SUGAR (2008) and gambling drama MISSISSIPPI GRIND (2015). They also worked together on the excellent “teacher with a drug habit” flick HALF NELSON (2006), which Fleck directed alone and Boden co-wrote the screenplay for. The screenplay for CAPTAIN MARVEL is by Boden, Fleck and Geneva Robertston-Dworet, and is “based on a story” by Boden, Fleck, Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve. That’s a lot of writers for a script that’s so bland.

I hate to say it, but despite a good cast, a cool lead character, and a lot of potential, CAPTAIN MARVEL is a disappointment. And kind of one big yawn. It could have been so much cooler. But, as it is, I give it two knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives CAPTAIN MARVEL ~ two knives.

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GLASS (2018)

Review by LL Soares

The comeback of M. Night Shyamalan continues…

After the peaks (THE SIXTH SENSE, 1999) and valleys (THE HAPPENING, 2008) of his earlier films, Shyamalan was once again fulfilling his promise with a little found-footage horror movie called THE VISIT (2015). He followed that with the horror film SPLIT (2016), where James McAvoy delivered a tour de force performance as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man with 23 distinct personalities, collectively called “the Horde, one of which was a superhuman creature called “The Beast” (not to be confused with Marvel’s Hank McCoy) who’s only desire was to kill (to protect the core personality, Kevin). At the end of that movie, we got a surprise. The ending revealed that SPLIT, aside from being another successfully Shyamalan production, took place in the same world as his 2000 film, UNBREAKEBLE, and was kind of a sequel to that film.

And now we have GLASS (2018), the sequel to SPLIT, which brings it all full circle. And, at this point, it is no longer a comeback. Shyamalan is here.

GLASS takes its name from Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who called himself Mister Glass in UNBREAKABLE, and revealed himself to be a highly intelligent villain, albeit one with a serious condition —his bones were incredibly breakable, making his body as fragile as glass.

But GLASS does not begin with Mister Glass. It begins with the Beast still on the loose and having recently kidnapped four cheerleaders, keeping them captive in an abandoned warehouse. Meanwhile, it turns out that David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the hero of UNBREAKABLE, has been busy since we last saw him, handing out vigilante justice with the help of his now-grown son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) who uses technology to be David’s eyes in the city. David still wears the raincoat we saw him in in UNBREAKABLE, but now the press has dubbed his alter ego “The Overseer,” and he’s a sensation on YouTube (of course).

When Dunn tracks The Beast down, they have their first big showdown, which looks a little clumsy compared to the super-choreographed fight scenes in a Marvel or DC blockbuster, but that’s the point. This story is supposed to take place in the real world. Or at least something a lot closer to reality than a universe where superheroes are overabundant.

Their battle is cut short by armed police, and the two of them are taken into custody.

But they are not brought to matching jail cells. Instead, they are brought to a mental hospital, where one whole wing has been adapted to contain them. Cameras are everywhere, and clearly someone has been watching them closely, because their weaknesses are used to control their behavior. For Dunn, it is pipes that shoot water into his room if he gets out of line (playing upon his weakness from UNBREAKABLE), and, for Mr. Crumb, a hypnotic series of lights is used to flip his personalities like a television remote channel surfing, thus quickly getting him out of a particular hostile personality if it should arise.

When they meet their “jailer,” her name is Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), and her particular psychological field of expertise involves people who think they have superpowers. She plans to prove that these powers are not real, and rid them of their delusions. It’s here that the titular Mister Glass joins the storyline. He’s been an inmate at this same hospital for years now, and has been kept heavily sedated, but because his “delusion” of being a mastermind super villain, he shares a mania with our two other characters, and is moved to Dr. Staple’s new wing, to partake in some intensive group therapy.

At the same time, we get to see more of each character’s primary family member, as they come to the hospital to meet with Dr. Staple. This includes David’s son, Joseph; Mister Glass’s mother, Mrs. Price (Charlayne Woodard), who clearly does not see her son as some kind of patient or a villain, but as a very special human being; and, since Kevin Wendell Crumb has no family that we know of, we see more of Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), the teenage girl who was previously kidnapped by The Beast (in SPLIT), but who somehow managed to survive the ordeal. She is actually empathetic toward her former captor, seeking to help the tormented Kevin, who she sees as a sympathetic victim of his illness. It’s Casey’s support that I have the hardest time getting my head around, but I go along with it, and with Shyamalan’s story.

And so the stage is set, as Dr. Staple goes about trying to prove her theory. But who is she working for? Surely, if she is just using these people to prove her own hypothesis, she would need access to powerful people in order to acquire a whole wing of a mental hospital for just three patients; a wing which has been elaborately prepared for their particular needs and weaknesses. An entire wing that could have been used by a lot more patients in need of help. This isn’t something a person does on a whim. Also, she has been able to do an awful lot of research on these people, and has clearly been watching them for a while now. Is she right that their powers are simply figments of their imaginations, or are they real?

And what of our three superhumans? Going in, we’re led to believe from the previous movies that their powers are real, and that their being brought together will have to result in some kind of major showdown. If so, how long will such a prison be able to hold them?

A long time ago, before UNBREAKABLE, I had the idea for a story involving a superhero in the real world. What would that be like? Now, it would be more of a cliché, but back when UNBREAKABLE made the concept a reality, it was something fresh, and I’m a big fan of that movie. GLASS takes this to the next level. The reason why these movies are so interesting is that they mash up comic book tropes with a world that is a bit more “real” than the one we usually see in the big-budget, larger than life, comic book movies.

Some people have had issues with the movie’s third act, but it worked for me. Not only does it offer a satisfying resolution to the suspense we feel throughout, but it takes the entire storyline and cranks the volume up to 11. By the time the movie ends, a door has been opened, and there is potential for the concept to grow further. Mr. Shyamalan has done his job.

Which is something I’m happy to say. I was a fan of his through his earlier films, and it was fun to see what he would come up with next. When he seemed to lose his mojo, I found it depressing that such a talented director hadn’t lived up to his potential. But he’s back in the saddle now, and I’m excited about his career again.

I liked this movie, and while it’s been getting mixed reviews, I thought it did a good job mixing real-world issues with the kinds of powers that we read about in comic books. I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives GLASS ~~ 3 knives

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