Shazam Review (No Spoilers)

Shazam! Shazam!! Shazaaaam!!! Dammit, I’m still — just me. One easy way to describe Shazam to your friends is ‘Big meets Superman with magic.’ If you guys haven’t seen or even heard of Big, it’s a wish-fulfillment movie starring Tom Hanks playing a character who wishes to be ‘big’ and magically wakes up the next day in the body of an adult with the mind of a child. And, if you haven’t seen or heard of Superman, you’re probably a — Skrull…

Fun fact – Shazam was actually called ‘Captain Marvel’ for a long time in the comics before DC changed their Captain Marvel’s name to Shazam. It’s so cool how we ‘technically’ got 2 Captain Marvel movies within the span of a month.

Positives – Zachary Levi!! Maybe it is a little too early but I firmly believe that we should add his casting to the Mt. Rushmore of superhero castings (RDJ as Iron Man, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool.) He is absolutely born to play Shazam!! His energy is completely infectious and brings such a delight to a superhero. In one of the featurettes, Levi said “Shazam is one of those heroes that just enjoys being a superhero” and he is so right. Unlike most superheroes that want to save the world because they have to (“with great power comes great responsibility), Shazam just wants to save the world because it’s fun! His alter ego, Billy Batson, played wonderfully by Asher Angel, has the emotional heavy-lifting in the movie and that’s where most of the heart of the movie comes from. Speaking of, one thing that especially differentiates this film from other DCEU and superhero movies, in general, is with the heart. This movie has a ton of heart and is just such an enjoyable movie from start to finish. Jack Dylan Grazer, who played Eddie in IT, steals every scene he’s in. He is the foster brother to Billy and is a huge fanboy of the Justice League characters and naturally ends up as the “guy in the chair” to Billy. My favorite sequence of the movie is immediately after Billy gets his powers and shows this new super-powered persona to Freddie. We get a convenience store robbery scene and a montage of Billy discovering his powers and boy, was I laughing hard! This movie shows you just the joy of being a superhero. If a teenager suddenly had the ability to become an adult, he/she would naturally try to, for example, make money showing off their powers or buying beer and this joy is simply missing from superhero movies these day! If you’re just looking for a movie with good characters, emotions and laughs, this is totally that movie. This movie also explores the themes of family and choosing your own family, which absolutely worked. Billy and his mom were separated at a carnival when he was very young and he later learns why. These scenes are powerful and I responded to that. Lastly, Billy’s foster parents are just such nice adults and it’s refreshing seeing foster parents in movies not being dirtbags.

Negatives – After the amazing f(l)ight sequences in Man of Steel, the f(l)ight scenes in Shazam were subpar and could have been crafted differently to differentiate from Superman’s. The CGI is also quite poor and noticeable, especially the physical looks of the 7 different sins. Speaking of the 7 sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth), which played a big role in the movie Seven, ended up being quite underwhelming. I wish they had unique abilities that the hero has to overcome from a way different than just using his superpowers on. If your movie involves sins like greed or sloth, have Billy/Shazam defeat and conquer each and every one of the sins differently. Like the last couple of DCEU movies, the villain is given a good amount of screen time but his motivations are quite generic and ultimately are just ‘meh.’ Maybe I am just spoiled by how excellent Marvel’s last couple of villains have been, especially Thanos…

Rating – Shazam is everything people have been wanting for from DC. It’s funny, has terrific performances, heart, and is not afraid of showing us a superhero that just loves being a superhero. 3.8/5

My rankings of the DCEU (from best to worst) – Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, Shazam, Aquaman, Batman v Superman, Justice League and Suicide Squad.

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US Review (No Spoilers)

After his directorial debut with Academy Award winning film Get Out, Jordan Peele returns to the horror genre with another film – US. Like Get Out, there are many surprises in US that I want you to experience yourself and I will try (extra hard) to not give away any spoilers. I also recommend you avoid any trailers because, upon re-watching them after watching the movie, they frankly spoil a few key moments.

Positives – Technical-ly speaking, this movie is a masterpiece. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and every shot in this movie is well-thought and meticulous. Throughout the movie, Peele sprinkles in little clues that upon multiple viewings, no doubt will become more noticeable.  The score is eerie yet wonderful at the same time. The tension, especially in the house invasion scene(s) with the doppelgängers, was palpable and really frightening at times. The performances were solid throughout, but man, really have to praise Lupita Nyong’o. She is easily one of the best thespians working today and her performance is arguably as good as Toni Collette’s (Oscar snubbed) performance in Hereditary. She effortlessly plays a vulnerable mother/wife and a menacing, scissor-wielding individual. This movie is brimming with symbolism and metaphors and without going into any detail, it does have a lot of political and social commentary.

Negatives – If you’re expecting a straightforward horror movie, you might leave disappointed because this is definitely more than your average horror fare. It requires you to devote your full attention and even then, it’ll (probably) leave you confused and scratching your heads by the end. In other words, you might have to see this movie at least a couple of times to fully understand Peele’s message, which will leave people frustrated. This is definitely less “satisfying” than Get Out and lets us interpret the movie more than spoon-feeding us with answers, which will bug some people. Even though the comedy definitely landed, it did feel contrived at times and there is a tad bit too much humor in this otherwise scary flick. Once Peele starts revealing the surprises, there is quite a bit of logical inconsistencies that you have to get over for the sake of the narrative.

Rating – Jordan Peele’s sophomore outing is definitely a very unique movie with a lot to say about society. While it’s not quite as good as Get Out, it’s still a solid movie buoyed by excellent performances, especially from the lead Lupita Nyong’o, and shows once again that Peele is an auteur. 4/5

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Captain Marvel Review (No Spoilers)

After weeks of vigorously defending the casting of Academy Award winning actress, Brie Larson, and her alleged comments about “hating white men,” I finally got to actually see the movie. Before I go any further in my review, let me say right off the bat – Brie Larson NEVER said she didn’t want white men to review her movie. If you continue arguing she did, thats your prerogative but you would be rightfully deemed “ignorant.” Wanting more diversity from women and people of color in her press tour is not tantamount to “not wanting white people to see her movie.” And then, Larson, unnecessarily if I may, clarified her comments by stating “What I’m looking for is to bring more seats up to the table. No one is getting their chair taken away. There’s not less seats at the table, there’s just more seats at the table.” It’s disturbing that a huge chunk of the online film fan community are unable to look at the facts and continue displaying ignorance by pushing their erroneous, sexist agendas.

Positives – When the movie had Carol interacting with her best friend, Maria, and Nick Fury, it was a lot more enjoyable because we actually got to see some personality from Danvers. Throughout the movie, Larson’s Danvers is extremely stoic but having scenes with other actors like Sam Jackson or Lashana Lynch made her more likable. The supporting actors all do a solid job for the material they were given but Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos stole the movie for me. He was much more than your average MCU baddie and at the end of the day, I really dug what they did with his arc. The story was great and this movie is also a great connective tissue with the rest of the MCU, while also giving a tease to the future of Captain Marvel character. The humor also worked a lot more for me than it has in some of the latest MCU flicks and there was just an appropriate amount of it. The visual effects were solid, for the most part, and the action sequences were super fun to watch, especially the train sequence and beginning fight with the Skrulls.

Negatives – The biggest problem with the movie is with the characterization, or lack thereof, of the titular character – Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel). Despite being an origin story, we don’t really learn much about her or her vulnerabilities. All we get are glimpses to her past and other characters telling us about Carol rather than us actually learning about her. It also doesn’t help that Captain Marvel is so freaking powerful, which reduced the stakes and made the tension less palpable. Even Superman, considered the most powerful superhero, faced challenges in movies like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, but the filmmakers probably thought that to show a strong female character, they have to make her so vastly overpowered. As mentioned before, Brie Larson is an Academy Award winning actress but there were so many moments where her delivery was wooden. That being said, it’s just possible that the direction wasn’t that good and seeing her in Endgame will get us onboard with the character. We also learn how Fury loses one of his eyes in the movie and what was supposed to be a serious moments is played for laughs. It also makes me question Fury’s line in Captain America: the Winter Solider “Last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye.” Another aspect of the movie they could have improved on is the style. What I mean by that is the last couple of MCU movies (sans Ant man and the Wasp) all had distinct styles and brought something unique. This movie felt like a very generic sci-fi movie with a template we’ve seen before.

Rating – Even though Captain Marvel is definitely a fun movie to watch and undeniably an important movie for representation, it still felt like a generic MCU movie (think the likes of Guardians 2 or Ant man 2) that had a bland titular character. Here’s hoping she receives the same treatment in Endgame that Dr. Strange received in Infinity War, which made him an awesome character. 3.3/5

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Alita Battle Angel Review (No Spoilers)

Alita Battle Angel, based on a popular manga, is a movie James Cameron has been wanting to do for years now. However, with him currently filming a gazillion (okay just 4) Avatar sequels, he simply chose to write and produce this movie, giving Robert Rodriguez the directorial reigns.

Positives – Rosa Salazar is great as Alita and the character of Alita is a total badass. Salazar brings a childlike innocence or naiveté to the titular character and beautifully captures the emotions of the character using performance-capture. If her character wasn’t likable, this movie would have fallen flat from the beginning. The visual effects are incredible, especially on Alita herself. She actually looked like a real character and the Iron City felt very much lived-in, as opposed to a very unrealistically clean city. With many of the city’s inhabitants having various cybernetic body parts, it could have gotten muddled easily and would have been hard for us to recognize ‘who is who’ but every cybernetic character had a unique design. You also got to give credit to Cameron and Rodriguez for the world-building. The fight sequences were intense and really fun to watch, at times. The most entertaining sequences in the movie were the “Motorball” scenes and a good way to describe ‘Motorball’ is that it’s a mix of Quidditch (from Harry Potter), roller skating, and car racing. And apparently, killing another participant is ok? Lastly, this is the kind of movie that needs to be seen on the biggest possible screen and if I might, I would recommend watching it in Imax 3d. I have always found 3d to be a gimmick and dislike it as much as the next person, but this movie really benefits from the 3d viewing experience.

Negatives – This movie is plagued with narrative issues. The filmmakers really try to do a lot – Alita and Hugo’s romance, Alita remembering her past etc. As a result, major storylines are resolved very quickly and haphazardly. The stakes are also quite low in the movie because even though Alita is a badass character, she is essentially invincible. Except for one fight scene, all the fight scenes easily end with Alita defeating her cybernetic opponents, and watching those scenes felt tiresome after a point. The supporting cast includes Academy Award winners like Christopher Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali, but Connelly and Ali are mostly sidelined and don’t have much characterizations. They are set up as the primary antagonists but far too often, Ali’s character is “taken over” by another mysterious villain called Nova, which made Ali’s character feel irrelevant. This movie also suffers from pacing issues and is 15-20 minutes too long. I thought the movie was coming to an end at least twice, but instead it drags on and on…

Rating – While Alita Battle Angel suffers from narrative and pacing issues, it does a great job with the titular character and the incredible visual effects and actually ends up being a fun movie. 3/5

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Review (No Spoilers)

“Everything is awesome!” – the song that you only remember a couple of phrases of but just put a smile on your face when you listened to it. This time, Phil Lord and Chris Miller aren’t directing the Lego sequel but are producing it as they just did with Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse. The first Lego movie is my personal favorite animated flick of all time and I was absolutely flabbergasted when it did not even get a Best Animated Movie nomination at the Oscars when we all thought it was going to easily win it. Now, here we are… I like the sequel, but just didn’t think it was anywhere as good as its predecessor.

Positives – Emmett and Lucy (Wyldstyle) are just such likable characters and no matter the situation, seeing Emmett and Lucy interact is wonderful. Both Chris Pratt, who voices Emmett and Rex, and Elizabeth Banks are great and seeing Emmett’s endless optimism “clash” with Lucy’s tough exterior made for some emotional moments. Batman, once again voiced terrifically by Will Arnett, has a bit more to do in this movie than he did in the first movie and more self-aware than ever before. There is one song about ‘Gotham men’ which really cracked me up. Speaking of the DC hero, we once again get cameos from the other Justice League-related characters, which I really enjoyed. The animation is great and the movie has some really adult themes like growing up and “closing” your heart in the process, which I particularly responded with. Oh, and the subtitles on Rex’s raptors was a brilliant idea and those moments were funny!

Negatives – The first movie had a novelty to it, and as expected, the novelty kinda wears off in the sequel. Also, the first movie had a great balance of humor that both adults and kids can laugh at, but this movie doubles down on the latter, which is understandable since these are literally Legos. However, it wasn’t nearly as funny (for me) as the first movie. Another aspect of the movie I didn’t find particularly engaging was the (over)-usage of songs. The musical numbers from the villainous Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (voiced by Tiffany Haddish) just came off as annoying than anything else. Side note – am I the only one getting tired of Haddish’ shtick? Since Girl’s Trip, she has appeared in so many movies essentially playing the same type of character, but I digress. Another criticism I have with the second chapter is with the lackluster “real world” scenes between the siblings. The first movie had a brilliant twist which was that the events of that movie were the creation of a young boy in the real world. And, this movie gives more scenes in the real world, which were fine, but ultimately weren’t as emotionally resonant as the father-son dynamic in the first movie.

Rating – While the Lego Movie 2 is an enjoyable sequel with more adventures with Lucy and Emmett, ultimately, it’s kinda forgettable. It wasn’t nearly as funny as the first movie and the story gets unnecessarily complicated. 3.5/5

 

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World Review (No Spoilers)

After 2 critically and fan-beloved films, Dean DeBlois returns to helm the final chapter in the saga – How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Having just recently watched How to Train Your Dragon 1 and 2 and liking/loving both of them, I was looking forward to the Hidden World especially since the screenings were 3 weeks early, which generally signify a lot of confidence from the studio.

Positives – One simply cannot talk about these movies without lauding the animation style and once again, the filmmakers pull it off. The movie is so gorgeous to look at, especially the scene where Hiccup and Astrid first visit the Hidden World. That really was a jaw-dropping moment. One of the best aspects of this franchise is the growing “relationship” between Hiccup and Toothless and in this movie, Hiccup has to learn to let Toothless go once his lovable dragon finds a female of his own kind. The emotions were palpable and tear-inducing at times. After his father’s untimely death in the second film, Hiccup must learn to be a chief, a clear progression arc from the first movie. The third and final relationship was between Astrid and Hiccup and while it felt a bit rushed in the first movie, the filmmakers took time to flesh out their budding romance in the second movie and in this movie, there is a clear resolution to that. The score is once again composed by John Powell and it’s simply wonderful.

Negatives – What I am about to say might seem contradictory at first but just follow me for a second, will ya? The villain in the last movie was really generic and wanted to kill the dragons, and this is more or less the same in the third flick. The villain, Grimmel, wants to kill all the Night Furies and is opposed to the whole human-dragon “alliance.” Here comes the contradictory part though – this franchise works the best when it focuses on Hiccup and his relationships with Toothless, his dad and Astrid. So, even though the villain’s arc is a little hackneyed, I am willing to be more forgiving because the movie really succeeds with the main story. The movie also gives quite a bit of screen time to the ancillary characters, who are indeed quiet inept and obnoxious. Lastly, Berk becomes home to like 100’s of dragons on top of all the humans, which begs the question as to how was it able to sustain all that life despite overcrowding and limited resources? If only there was a Thanos in this world…

Rating – While the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy is not one of my favorites, it’s definitely one of the better ones, with each installment being a solid, heartfelt movie with spectacular animation style. 3.8/5.

Glass Review (No Spoilers)

M Night Shyamalan, the director of both acclaimed films like Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, Split and reviled films like Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Happening, After Earth, has had an interesting career to say the least. There was a time when M Night was called “the next Spielberg” but then something happened (excess pride?) and he started cranking out poorly-received films consecutively, to the point where studios did not even use his name to market films, ie ‘The Visit.’ However, he seemed to kind of find his groove again by directing 2 good movies in a row – the aforementioned ‘The Visit’ and ‘Split,’ where he brilliantly tied the events of ‘Split’ to the larger superheroic-‘Unbreakable’ world. Thus, here we are. Being a Shyamalan movie, we expect a twist to completely change our perception of the movie (ie Sixth Sense), which is why I worked extra hard to avoid giving any hints of the twist. But just a random question, is it even a spoiler to say “there is a twist in a M Night Shyamalan movie?”

Positives – James Mcavoy is absolutely wonderful in this movie and it’s a shame his performance will likely be forgotten by the Academy voters. Playing so many different characters effortlessly requires a world-class actor and Mcavoy might just have given his best performance to date. Samuel L Jackson returns as the villainous Elijah Price, aka Mr. Glass, and he definitely brings his A-game to the “limited” role he has. Bruce Willis, whose recent performances have been less than stellar, is actually pretty good in the few scenes that he does have. M Night relies a lot more on Willis’ physique as Dunn rather than giving him a lot of dialogue to work with. Barring a couple of poor CGI moments, the fight sequences between Dunn and The Beast were pretty cool to watch and definitely packed a super-strong punch. Despite a weak first half, the second half is actually pretty exciting because we see Glass actually be a mastermind and use his incredible wits. As was the case with Unbreakable and Split, Shyamalan uses colors brilliantly and consistently for the 3 main characters – Dunn’s being green, Kevin’s being yellow and Elijah’s being purple. It’s a good way to distinguish the characters.

Negatives – The movie has serious pacing issues and you definitely feel the 2 hr+ runtime. One of my biggest issue, albeit a nitpick, is the security measures or lack thereof in the the psychiatric hospital. It seems as if a patient can wander around the hospital and tamper with the cameras, equipment etc. without being noticed. The movie’s called Glass when the more appropriate title should be “Split 2: Featuring Unbreakable characters.” Even though Mcavoy is captivating to watch, the movie should have featured more of Dunn and Glass, with the latter literally being the titular character. Also, what was the point of having Dr. Staple (somehow) convince the characters that they are suffering from the delusion of possessing superpowers? More importantly, that should not have add any effect on them because they clearly know they have these abilities. Dunn was the “Overseer” for years and his whole arc in Unbreakable was realizing he has these gifts. So what was the point of retreading over the same story again. The dialogue is pretty clunky at times and Shyamalan resorts to having the characters engage in a lot of exposition and explanation even though it’s largely unnecessary. Without going into any more detail, the ending will leave people divided. For some, like it did for me, the ending worked for the most part. But this is one of those movies I totally understand why others may dislike the ending.

Despite some terrific performances, especially from Mcavoy, and a cool, realistic take on super-powered individuals duking it out, Glass left me a little disappointed. It has narrative issues, logical inconsistencies and a tendency to over rely on exposition. For fans of Unbreakable and Split (like myself), Glass is somewhat of a satisfying conclusion of the trilogy but definitely sub-par compared to its predecessors.

Rating – 2.8/5