Monday, March 25, 2019
When it comes to this Marvel vs. DC war that the internet likes to continue to fight over, I generally choose not to participate. I instead like to argue the position that we should learn to all get along and just enjoy a good superhero movie, regardless of who is putting it out. Yeah, sure, when it comes to the MCU vs. the DCEU, the MCU is miles ahead at the moment because they got a much early start and did things the right way from the very beginning, causing Warner Bros. to go in panic mode with DC as they spent their time trying to play this game of catch-up rather than taking notes on HOW Marvel built such a great franchise. I mean, Marvel has done such a good job at this that "Captain Marvel" went completely unfazed by an angry internet mob that tried their best to destroy the movie. Just three weeks in and "Captain Marvel" is on the brink of becoming yet another $1 billion movie for Marvel. How did they pull this off? Well, it's because they've built such a strong franchise that the level of trust among the fans is at an all-time high. Said fans couldn't care less about what the internet has to say. They want to see another movie in their franchise, especially since "Infinity War" clued them in on the idea that "Captain Marvel" is required viewing before "Endgame."
Despite this, I refused to join the bandwagon of DC hate even though DC was failing miserably at the same time that Marvel was going to infinity and beyond. Instead, I was sitting there silently hoping that DC would figure it out. Why? Well, first, as I said before, I'm a fan of superhero movies. I want them to be done right. But second, and most importantly, I've always been more of a DC fan at heart. Characters like Batman and Superman meant so much to me growing up that it pains me to see the modern DCEU completely botch the execution of these great characters and their stories. In fact, when it comes to Marvel, I really didn't have the same childhood experiences with them, outside those 90's Spider-Man cartoons, of course. I'm a long time DC fan, but only a more recent Marvel fan as I really didn't get into Marvel that deep until the modern MCU revolution. So I honestly think me refusing to jump on the DC hate bandwagon is why I've been able to be a lot nicer to the DCEU than some. Their only film that I've truly hated is "Man of Steel." "Justice League" and "Suicide Squad" were a bit disappointing, but not nearly as bad as some people have claimed. And "Batman v. Superman" is a movie that just kinda exists for me. I roll my eyes at it, but I don't passionately hate it.
My patience with DC paid off huge with "Wonder Woman." The moment she stepped on that battlefield after telling Steve Trevor that her fight was to help these people was perhaps one of my all-time favorite moments ever in a superhero movie because that was the moment where it dawned on me that I was watching a classic DC film. The studio had gone through a lot of darkness, both literally and figuratively, but this was the moment where it hit me that proper DC was back. It gave me chills and my inner child was so happy that I was on the verge of crying tears of joy. It's like when you've been watching your favorite sports team play awful for years, but then you suddenly witness a turnaround point where you realize they've figured it out and are good again. Yeah, sure, we then had to deal with "Justice League" a few months later, but I think that was the after effects of the Zack Snyder movement not having completely died away since the production of both movies had overlapped. I was hoping that DC would learn from the success of "Wonder Woman" and use that movie as a springboard moving forward. "Wonder Woman" worked because they weren't focused on building a universe. They just hired Patty Jenkins and allowed her to make a "Wonder Woman" movie.
After that important essay on the DCEU, let's talk about this "Shazam!" movie. In terms of the history of this character, I touched on this briefly in my "Captain Marvel" review as well, but he was first created by Fawcett Comics in 1939, but their name for him was Captain Marvel. He was super popular in the 1940's, but Fawcett stopped publishing in the 1950's because DC had a copyright infringement on them after claiming he was a copy of Superman. DC eventually got the rights to the character and started republishing in 1972, but branded the comics as "Shazam!" to avoid confusion with Marvel's character of Captain Marvel, who was first introduced by Marvel in 1967. I missed this next bit when I previously discussed this, but I just learned in looking it up that, despite DC calling the comics "Shazam!," they didn't actually rename the character until 2011. So for several decades we had a character named Captain Marvel in both Marvel and DC comics. But DC's Captain Marvel is now named Shazam. If any of that is still confusing to you, that's probably a normal reaction, but simply stated, in 2019 Billy Batson from DC is Shazam and Carol Danvers from Marvel is Captain Marvel. It's kinda crazy that both of their movies were released within a month of each other.
Despite me having looked up that history, I actually didn't know much about Shazam the character before going into this movie outside the fact that he was a lot like Superman and was a kid who turned into a superhero by saying the name Shazam. I think that lack of knowledge on my end really helped me love this movie even more because I realized there was a huge magical universe here that was rather fascinating and a deep lore that I was just now being introduced to. As a quick summary, Billy Batson is a young kid who is about 14 years old. He's had all sorts of family issues as he was separated from his mother at a young age and has spent most of his life bouncing around from various foster homes, but never being satisfied by any of them as he's instead put much of his effort into finding his birth mother. After his latest attempt fails, he's put into a new foster home with Victor and Rosa Vasquez as the foster parents. They have five foster kids named Freddy, Mary, Eugene, Pedro and Darla. Despite their best efforts, Billy still has a hard time connecting with them because family has never been his thing. But one day in running away from some bullies, Billy has a bit of a brush with fate as he comes upon an ancient wizard who gives him his powers.
There's a lot of things that make this movie work and I'll get into the major highlights of them here, but the biggest thing that propels this movie forward is not necessarily all the superhero stuff, it's the family element of it. First and foremost, Asher Angel as Billy does an incredible job at portraying this kid who you feel bad for. He's a very broken individual. You can feel the pain deep inside him as all he wants is to be reunited with his mother. Thus a lot of his actions in the movie make sense. Victor and Rosa are perhaps the two best foster parents one could ask for, and both are played brilliantly by Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans respectively. They know what Billy is going through and they're there to help him. But Billy is not willing to accept them. There's a very powerful definition given early on about what home and family truly are, but this is a lesson that Billy needs to learn and he's not very good at learning it. Thus the movie doesn't allow everything to just happen super easily. It opens things up for there to be a lot of character development and growth. In addition to Billy and the foster parents, all of the foster kids are quite different and unique, providing for a fun dynamic. Leading the charge here is among the kids is a disabled superhero enthusiast named Freddy.
This creates a lot of problems when our villain shows up. Said villain in this movie is Dr. Sivana. Even though his back story is nothing to write home about, and the movie does spend quite a bit of time on that, Mark Strong's performance was so good that it gave him the sufficient amount of menace for me to buy into him as a villain. There were several scenes with him early on that reminded me that the director of this movie is David F. Sandberg, whose only previous two directorial features before this are "Lights Out" and "Annabelle: Creation," two solidly entertaining horror films that properly set up the horror elements. Sandberg gets the opportunity to do something much different than a horror film with "Shazam!," but that background made for quite the menacing scenes even though the characters motivations are a tad bit cliche. He's a power hungry villain who, for certain reasons that I won't mention, but are thoroughly explored in the film, needs to go through Billy Batson in order to obtain his ultimate goal. The scenes with Billy as Shazam and Dr. Sivana are quite excellent, especially since Dr. Sivana is a whole heck of a lot more powerful since he's entering the scene at a time when Billy has figured out his full potential as Shazam.
All of this does set up quite the wild ride. I've talked to several people who watched the trailers and said the movie looks overly cheesy and dumb. If you are one of said people, I don't know the exact words to say to you since I loved the trailers, but I hope you give this a chance because there's a lot of depth behind all the cheese, which is certainly there. Although I wouldn't refer to it as cheesy. I'd refer to it as lighthearted and fun. This is a superhero movie that enters the "Guardians of the Galaxy" realm of almost being more of a comedy than a superhero drama. And they nail the comedy here. There were several scenes throughout the movie of pure gut-busting laughter that had the whole theater so loud that everyone ends up missing a few lines in the film. That's the type of laughter that doesn't happen to me as often as I would like and am thus extremely refreshed when I'm treated to it. This lighthearted nature also gives this movie an old-fashioned feel to it. I also mean that in a positive way because this is like bringing back an old 1940's superhero story, but implementing it into a modern day setting. And that fits perfectly because the 1940's is exactly the time period that the original comics came from, so it's an ode to what these comics used to be.
Despite the heavy comedic nature, the movie never loses sight of what it is. It's a family drama with superhero characters. And that element is what keeps propelling the movie forward for the entire run time. Thus I feel like comparing it to "Fighting with My Family" from last month. In terms of genre, that's a sports movie about the rise of a female WWE star. But at the heart of the movie is a great story of a family that makes the film so powerful. "Shazam!" is a hilariously entertaining superhero film that even spends most of its run time making fun of traditional superhero tropes, but at the heart of it, it's also a very powerful family drama. I'd argue that it's the most complete film in the DCEU right now because of it. "Wonder Woman" certainly hits higher heights than "Shazam!" and is thus still my favorite DCEU movie, but "Shazam!" is the most well-rounded and has a final act that is far superior than most any superhero movie I've seen. It's so good and so entertaining that I want to go see it again tomorrow for $5 Tuesday, but I'm disappointed that I have to wait two weeks before it actually gets it nationwide release on April 5. "Shazam!" is a definite crowd pleaser and I hope you'll all give it a chance in April because it's worth it. I'm going to give "Shazam!" a strong 9/10.
Saturday, March 23, 2019
When it comes to "Get Out," I was floored. Leading up to it, I thought the trailers weren't very good. It looked like a strange, bizarre movie in a bad way and it was coming from a dude who had never directed any feature-length film before, let alone a horror movie. So I wasn't expecting anything from it. That is, not until reviews out of Sundance the month before came out and had the movie pegged at 100 percent at Rotten Tomatoes, a mark which it stayed at for quite some time. That's what floored me. The movie itself was pretty solid, too. I got a bit nit-picky with it in my review mostly because I thought the social commentary in the movie elevated it slightly higher than it deserved. Granted, I thought the social commentary itself was great. It had very important messages about racism that were told in a way that connected with a lot of people who have been victims of racism and was in turn eye-opening for those of us who might be more privileged. But having an important message can't be the only thing right with your movie. I had certain issues with the horror elements itself. Thus if we judge it based solely on horror standards, it wasn't even the best horror movie of that year, but I won't say much because because most of my questions had to do with the resolution.
On that level, "Get Out" was very comparable to "Black Panther." A lot of people loved "Black Panther" because it was the first major superhero movie starring a mostly black cast. I think it was fantastic that it did that, but I still need a good movie to go along with it. "Black Panther" had a very average story that was cut and pasted directly from "Hamlet" and "The Lion King," thus the story felt very boring to me and the action sequences were very generic. That's why I say that sometimes movies like "Get Out" and "Black Panther" are boosted more than they deserve because of the social commentary or social relevance of the film. Movies about racism will always be praised as the best thing since sliced bread simply because of the subject matter. And that's certainly not a bad thing to have movies like this. It's just that I get annoyed when people are willing to completely ignore a lackluster screenplay or slightly subpar filmmaking simply because the movie had something important to say. The best movies will get both aspects right, not just one or the other. All this said, if it feels like I'm throwing too many punches at "Get Out," I'll defend myself by saying that I bought the movie and have watched it many times. I still enjoy it even if I don't crown it as a horror masterpiece.
That's all I'm going to say about plot specifics for "Us." Even that seems like I'm almost giving away too much as it takes a surprising amount of time getting to that point. But I don't know what else I'm supposed to say to describe this movie. That's why I think those less hardcore film fans who haven't seen any trailers for this movie, yet stumble upon it several months from now after having heard nothing about it other than it was a great movie, might have an even better experience watching this because the movie slowly builds towards that premise. It made me partially bored at the beginning because I've seen the trailer nearly 5,000 times and so I was just waiting for the movie to get to the point. In hindsight, though, I really appreciated that Jordan Peele took the time to properly set up this story. He didn't just throw a random family into a scary situation within the first 5-10 minutes of this movie. He let us get to know the family first. Winston Duke as the father was the goofball. Lupita Nyang'o as the wife was more of the straight-edge. Together they made for a really balanced couple. And their two kids were quite likable, albeit a bit strange at times. Thus overall we had a great family that I immediately began to care about, which is very important for a horror movie.
But yeah, then crazy things start to happen. The best way to describe this is that it's like a "Twilight Zone" episode. I could say "Black Mirror" since I've been watching a lot of that recently, but "Black Mirror" is more technology and social media based. "Us" is just straight up bonkers. Certain scenarios are set up and instead of questioning everything that's going on, you accept said premise and focus solely on what's going to happen to these characters and what's the overall point of this thing. The problem with a lot of horror films today is that you can tell the whole purpose of the movie is to earn a few quick bucks. There's not a whole lot of thought put into them. Characters you barely know get thrown into a scary situation and the movie spends most of the time with jump scares and loud sounds meant to make people jump with not much of a story to back things up. Jordan Peele has proven with both "Get Out" and now "Us" that he cares about doing things the right way. His purpose here is to tell a story. He does this by introducing us to this likable family, then throwing them into this wild situation. And that's when horror movies get real good, when you have characters you care about and a story you become deeply invested in. That's what happened with "Us."
This is a movie that demands to be talked about. Some horror movies are pretty cut and dry. You know exactly what is happening and the thrill of it is quite exciting. Jordan Peele, however, doesn't let you off easy with "Us." He challenges you mentally. Like "Get Out," this movie has a lot of strong themes that Jordan Peele is interested in sharing. Unlike "Get Out," said themes aren't as obvious and take a bit of work getting to them. "Get Out" is obviously about racism. There's a lot of discussion about what it's like for a black man to live in a white man's world. He's not trying to hide that. He wants you to walk out of that theater thinking about racism. "Us" is quite a bit more ambiguous with its themes. It's layered and complex. There's a lot of things that don't make sense. At least not initially. It's a movie that made me and my friend talk about it for quite a long time. Then I had to spend the rest of the night looking up videos and reading comments about what others thought of things. And now I feel like I need to let everything simmer for a while, but then I need to see it again. And I feel like the more I see it, the more I'm going to pick up and the more I'm going to understand. But at the moment, I have to be honest and say that I still feel very much in the dark.
Despite feeling like I'm in the dark, I still was thoroughly entertained. This is a situation that parallels how I felt when I first watch "2001: A Space Odyssey." I was the most confused person on the planet Earth, but I absolutely loved every minute of it. And the more I've seen it, the more I'm able to pick up on what Stanley Kubrick had to say with it. But I use the word parallel in comparing the two movies because I don't think "Us" will ever be on quite the same level of "2001," especially since they're not really the same genre. But it was a similar feeling. But that level of confusion means it's really hard to assign a grade at this moment. There are certain things that bother me quite a bit about this movie. And I posed those questions online and got answers, but some of the answers brought up more questions that bothered me. I legitimately don't know how my brain is going to make sense of certain things at this point in time. I need more thought and I need more viewings under my belt. But regardless of how things turn out, I can't deny that the experience of watching this movie was a fantastic one. This could end up being one of my favorite movies of the year, but I have enough questions to hold my grade back for now, so I'm going to play it safe and give "Us" a 9/10.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Last month "Green Book" was crowned the best picture winner at the 91st Academy Awards. That got me thinking. This is 2019. Next year is 2020, which is a brand new decade. Does that mean we now have a complete list of best picture winners for the 2010's? Time for a list? Now I had to stop and think about that for a second because there's two ways of doing this. You could go by the year in which the movies were released OR you could go by the year in which the awards were handed out. There's a good argument for both ways. I've obviously chosen to do this based on the year in which the awards were handed out, mostly because I have plenty of other end-of-decade lists I want to do at this time next year and so doing this best picture winners list now is a way to space things out a bit. But sure, I could've started with "The King's Speech" and gone through whatever 2019 film wins best picture at next year's ceremony. But I'm not. I'm starting with "The Hurt Locker," a 2009 release that actually first debuted at the 2008 Venice Film Festival, but won best picture at the 2010 Academy Awards. See how the release date route can be confusing? Anyways, I hope you enjoy this. If this is popular enough, I might go back in time and do the previous decades, too. So let me know what you think!
10- The Hurt Locker (2010)
9- The Shape of Water (2018)
8- The Artist (2012)
7- The King's Speech (2011)
6- Moonlight (2017)
5- Green Book (2019)
4- Argo (2013)
3- 12 Years a Slave (2014)
2- Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2015)
1- Spotlight (2016)
10- The Hurt Locker (2010)
9- The Shape of Water (2018)
8- The Artist (2012)
7- The King's Speech (2011)
6- Moonlight (2017)
5- Green Book (2019)
4- Argo (2013)
3- 12 Years a Slave (2014)
2- Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2015)
1- Spotlight (2016)
Friday, March 8, 2019
Before I dive into this review, I have a bone to pick with the internet. There are a lot of people who are legitimately angry with Brie Larson and are thus trying to destroy "Captain Marvel" because they claim Brie Larson was sexist towards white males in a recent interview she did Keah Brown of Marie Claire. I have that original interview right there for you to read yourself. In that interview, here are her exact words, "About a year ago, I started paying attention to what my press days looked like and the critics reviewing movies, and noticed it appeared to be overwhelmingly white male." That's the only comment in the interview about white males. She didn't say she hated them or didn't care about their opinions, like some people have spun it as. She made an observation, and an accurate one at that, that there were a lot of white males who were doing most of the reporting and the critiquing. She then says, "Moving forward, I decided to make sure my press days were more inclusive," which is why she reached out to Keah Brown, a black female reporter with Cerebral Palsy, who was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity because she's never had something this big as she says that usually people don't want to take a chance on a disabled journalist.
I think that's an absolutely fantastic thing for Brie Larson to do. She realizes that she now has the spotlight with being Captain Marvel and she's taking advantage of that by trying to make a real difference. And now a large segment of white males on the internet are extremely offended and are trying to sabotage her film? That's gross. Even if she was being sexist towards white males, do you know how long women have had to deal with sexism and oppression towards them? Basically as long as humankind has existed. And now the second a female makes a sexist comment towards a white male, all the white males are going to revolt and try to ruin her career as if its been their gender that has been oppressed for centuries? They can dish it out, but they can't take it? Hypocritical and soft are words that don't even begin to accurately describe this. But that's the thing. She's NOT being sexist. She's being inclusive. Which is why this whole thing is ridiculous. However, Brie Larson and Marvel are going to be the ones with the last laugh as "Captain Marvel" is poised for an opening weekend of at least $135 million based on Thursday night preview totals of $20.7, which isn't too far behind the $25.2 million that "Black Panther" scored before opening to $202 million.
That said, I wasn't sure what to expect with "Captain Marvel." It's Rotten Tomatoes score is settling around an 82 percent, which is a solid score, but also on the lower end of things with the MCU. It's way above "Thor: The Dark World," "The Incredible Hulk" and "Iron Man 2," but right in line with "Captain America: The First Avenger," "Iron Man 3," "Ant-Man" and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2." Movies that are generally well-liked, but are also a lot more mixed than some of the top tier MCU films. A lot of the YouTube critics I follow were very meh about the film, which had me worried, but at the same I know a lot of people who watched the trailers and were very disinterested. I saw the trailers and thought the movie looked like a blast. I never expected it to be a top five Marvel movie, but I expected to have fun with it. So all of this combined together to make me very confused as to what my expectations were supposed to be, thus resulted in me essentially having no expectations one way or the other. I honestly think that helped me to enjoy the film because I was able to accept it for what it was rather than demanding the film to live up to some sort of preconceived notions of what it was supposed to be. It's a light-hearted, fun superhero movie set in the 90's.
As far as specifics of the movie, I'm going to tread lightly here because there's a lot to talk about here, yet the majority of that constitutes spoilers. The very basic premise is that there is a war going on between two alien races called the Kree and the Skrulls. Carol Danvers is a member of the Kree race and they're out to hunt down the Skrulls, who are shape-shifting aliens that are very evasive. Certain things happen in an early battle that has Carol crash-landing on Earth with several of the Skrulls, who manage to escape. Thus she's out to hunt them down before they do too much down. This captures the attention of SHIELD agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, who have both been impressively de-aged to look like younger versions of themselves. They decide to help Carol in her effort to hunt down the Skrulls, thus we have a bit of a buddy cop adventure, focused mainly on Carol Danvers and Nick Fury teaming up to fight the enemy. Again, that's a very basic plot, but I'm not going to say much more. This is a very mysterious, complex story as we're thrown in right in the middle of Carol Danvers' story as she can't even remember who she is. She thinks she might have a history here on Earth, but she doesn't know for sure because all she remembers are flashes of her past.
The obvious comparison to "Captain Marvel" is to DC's "Wonder Woman" as both movies are the first major female-led superhero films in their respective franchises and both characters are arguably the most powerful in the Avengers and the Justice League. Both movies start with a fish out of water sequence as Carol and Diana are trying to figure out their exact place Earth and are not familiar with the culture. Diana is from the secret Amazonian land while Carol is from the world of the Kree. And if we move forward with this comparison, we get to make the very rare claim that DC did it better. Because, yeah, "Wonder Woman" is a far superior film than "Captain Marvel." But that's not necessarily an insult on "Captain Marvel." It's more of a compliment towards "Wonder Woman," which is on a completely different level in terms of superhero films and is better than just about everything in the MCU, in my opinion. However, the "Wonder Woman" comparison is not what my mind gravitated towards. Oddly enough, the first thing I thought of was Star Trek, which is what I wasn't expecting. But the Kree vs. Skrull battle felt like a Star Trek storyline with Carol Danvers and the Kree feeling like our main crew, with Jude Law's character acting as captain.
In addition to story parallels, a lot of the style and themes are quite similar. Both are fairly political, especially with the feminist messages, but not in a way that bothered me. "Supergirl" is super political, especially in this current fourth season. But I don't care. I suppose "Captain Marvel" isn't super political in terms of the issues "Supergirl" tackles, but I would say it carries a much more feminist message than "Wonder Woman." There's even a scene where Carol is fighting a whole bunch of male villains while the movie plays the No Doubt song "Just a Girl." I didn't roll my eyes and complain. I was rather amused. But that said, I don't think the approach of the movie is that men are dumb and useless. It just showcases the power and independence of a female character who is more than able to hold her own without having to have male characters run to her rescue. I think seeing more female characters like this in superhero movies is a very positive thing. You look at the power that Wonder Woman had for young girls across the world and I think Captain Marvel is another female superhero that can have the same effect, especially since Brie Larson's excellent portrayal of her showcases her in a very normal, human way that will make her that much more relatable.
I think the biggest flaws of the movie lie with an issue that Marvel is going to have to continue facing as they move forward and introduce more new characters. Where was Captain Marvel when everything else was going down? If Nick Fury knew about her since the 90's, why didn't he call out for help sooner? The movie tries to insert her into the timeline as if she's always existed and it's not a perfectly smooth process as it raises certain questions about continuity. When Marvel officially decides to introduce the X-Men into the MCU, this will be the same issue. Where were all the X-Men during the events of "Infinity War" and "Endgame"? Why didn't they come to help? There's also a couple of moments that reminded me of "Solo" last year where they tried to explain things that didn't need explaining. I won't say what those were, but it reminded me of when "Solo" explained how Han Solo got his name. It was kinda dumb. But at the same time, it didn't negatively effect the movie, which is the same case here. Sure, trying to pretend that Captain Marvel always existed and trying to explain certain things that didn't need explaining were a bit rocky, but neither of those aspects bothered me enough to think less of the movie as a whole. Just minor nitpicks.
As a whole, yeah I was entertained. The movie had an upbeat, fun vibe to it that had me smiling the entire time. I liked Brie Larson as Captain Marvel. I think she did excellent. She portrayed a very human character who was trying to figure out who she was and what her place was with everything going around her. It was a solid arc. There was also a whole lot more to the story that I found myself really enjoying that I refuse to dive into. I'll just say the movie took me in directions that I wasn't expecting, but I enjoyed those directions. Like most origin stories, this is the very beginning of Captain Marvel. Now that she's established, there's a whole lot more that we can do with her character in the future and I'm excited about that because there's a lot of ground and world-building established in this first film that I think was done pretty well. While the movie is not a straight-up comedy like a "Guardians of the Galaxy" or "Thor: Ragnarok," there was a lot of well placed Marvel humor that cracked me up. No, this is not quite on the level of the top tier Marvel films and is more in the middle of the pack in regards to Phase III, but this is still a perfectly fun adventure that introduced me to a character and a world that I think has a lot of potential. I'm going to give "Captain Marvel" an 8/10.
Thursday, March 7, 2019
I often struggle when reviewing documentaries on this blog. I enjoy watching them, but I often don't know what exactly to say when reviewing them or what score to give at the end because they're a different style of filmmaking that I'm not accustomed to talking about in great length. And that's especially the case here as this is even more unique when it comes to documentaries, which is what I'll get to in a second. That means I'm a bit conflicted in regards to how to approach this. I almost settling for giving a quick few sentences on Facebook and Twitter, but I wanted to do something more than that given how incredible of an experience this was, so I'm diving into a blog post anyways and seeing how this goes. Forgive me if this is a bit more rough around the edges than usual. But yeah, the reason why this is so unique, even by documentary standards, is that this is almost completely a compilation of archival footage from the Apollo 11 mission back in July 1969. I say "almost" because there's a few moments where they put a graphic on the screen to fill in the gaps where there was no footage. But outside that, this is footage from 1969 that they put together. No narrator. No modern-day interviews. Just old footage that was enhanced for IMAX screens.
The other aspect that I really enjoyed was there was a lot of shots included of the crowds of people around the rocket launch who were coming to observe this monumental event. It didn't feel like I was in a theater watching something that happened 50 years ago. It felt like I had been transported back in time and was a part of the crowd. I got to experience this event with the people. I got to see what the atmosphere was like that day. I got to see what it was like from their perspective when the rocket launched into space. It was a really cool experience. Then when they completed their mission a week or so later, I feel like I was a part of the crowd welcoming these three American heroes home. But at the same time, I felt like I was being taken on a tour through the control room in Houston and got to witness what it was like from their perspective in helping things run smoothly. Oftentimes when we see this perspective, all we see is a bunch of people in a room staring at the monitors or typing on keyboards. But with this movie I got to know a taste of what it was like for them to be working countless hours behind the scenes to make this work. I got to see their communication with the astronauts and their constant updates and discussions on how things were going.
Then of course we have the launch itself and the flight through space. We got a dramatized version of this last year in the movie "First Man" and those sequences were incredible in that movie, especially on the big screen in IMAX. No offense to Damien Chazelle and his crew, but it's just a whole new level of amazing when you're seeing the actual footage of the launch. They had a camera right next to the rocket as it took off, so in addition to us seeing what it was like from the crowd's perspective, we also got to see what it was like from the rocket itself. Add to that an excellent score for the documentary and fantastic sound design in remastering this footage to work on an IMAX screen and I was in pure awe as the rocket launched into space. This was also a very educational piece as not only did we get to experience the journey, but we were informed of how things were able to happen. There was a meter on the bottom of the screen that told us the speed of the rocket as well as the distance from the surface of the Earth, and later the Moon. With the help of previously mentioned graphics, we got to learn how the rocket traveled around the Earth, then launched itself into space at the right moment, as well as all the appropriate maneuvers required to make this happen.
The advertising of this movie focused heavily on the fact that there is previously unseen footage here of the Apollo 11 mission. I'm not enough of an expert on this subject to know which of these sequences were previously unseen footage vs. which of them had been widely known, I was just really blown away at how expertly put together all of this footage was so that we got to experience the entire mission starting from the hours leading up to it until their arrival at home from all vantage points in a way that was equally mind-blowing and educational. I haven't read up on this documentary much because I wanted to experience it firsthand without knowing anything, but now having seen this, I would love to see a documentary on the making of this. Maybe they'll have something like that in the special features when the movie is released to DVD. If so, I want to watch it and get all the commentary from the filmmakers. I think that would go a long way to enhancing this experience even more. As far as a grade goes... how do I give a grade to this? That's like going on a tour of some sort of historical site then grading that tour. So I'm not going to. This is an incredible experience worth seeing on the biggest screen possible. We'll leave at that.
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
In regards to thrillers, the reason why I think it's such a fun genre is the huge kick of adrenaline that you get when it's done right. Alfred Hitchcock is one of my all-time favorite directors because he's known as the master of suspense. He knew how to do this genre right, thus most of his films keep you at the edge of your seat for the entire movie and often leave you with the added bonus of having something deep to ponder once all is said and done. But sadly, there's not been a whole lot of directors since Hitchcock who have been able to master this, which is why it's a bit more rare to find a true Hitchcockian thriller in today's world. But they do exist and thus I'm always on the lookout for them, which is exactly why "Greta" intrigued me. It had all the right ingredients in place, which included a solid premise and good lead stars. Said premise involves Chloe Grace Moretz as a young woman who recently moved in with a friend in New York and finds that someone left a purse on the Subway. Even though her friend suggests she go through the purse and scavenge what she can, Chloe decides to be a good person and return the purse. She finds that it belongs to a middle-aged woman named Greta, played by French actress Isabelle Huppert, and tracks her down.
Given that both Greta and Chloe have experienced a loss recently, they start to develop a relationship with each other and become friends. Or so that's what Chloe thinks, anyways. Her friend keeps warning her against this relationship, but she doesn't listen, which turns out to be bad because Greta is a bit of a psychopath. I will say that I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I really did. So no, it's not exactly the Hitchcockian thriller that I wanted it to be. There are moments where it does succeed and I'll get to those, but I think there's a lot of problems with the direction the movie decides to go with this script. I don't know if it's right to blame director Neil Jordan for this or perhaps him and Ray Wright, who teamed up to write the screenplay, but things were just a bit off and I don't think it had anything to do with the acting or the premise behind the movie. The idea of a crazy stalker woman preying on younger females as surrogates for her daughter is something that could work and I think both Chloe and Isabelle Huppert do their best to pull this off. I just feel like the things they were told to do and say just didn't quite spark the right tone and there's too many illogical choices made throughout that force the audience to suspend disbelief in order to be fully entertained.
As far as Isabelle Huppert's character of Greta, I think Huppert had a fun time with this role... when she was given stuff to do. For most of the film, I think she was told to be as nice and innocent as possible, thus I had a hard time being scared of her. Most of the setup for her character was done when she was off camera with all the calls and text messages she was sending as well as what other characters were telling Chloe about her. But when she was on screen, she wasn't that intimidating. She was just a nice lady. Then the music kept telling me that I should be scared of her when it sounded ominous and mysterious, but she hadn't done anything wrong up to this point while she was on camera, so I started to get upset at the score trying to trick me into feeling emotions that the movie hadn't yet made me feel. The sound design and score is absolutely essentially, especially in horrors and thrillers. But it should be used as a means to support and build on the emotions that the movie has already set up with a good story and solid characters. If the movie tries to force the emotions by using sound, then they have things backwards. That's the problem that a lot of cheap horror films have as they think loud noises is how you're supposed to scare the audience.
The other thing that's especially essential for a thriller is the element of realism. The more real the scenario feels, the more the audience can become invested in what's going on. If I have to continue to suspend my disbelief in order for the movie to work, that's a problem. So the fact that the movie set up Chloe's character as extremely dumb and naive was frustrating because she didn't act in a way that most girls in their early 20's would act. Another big flaw here is that Greta became nearly superhuman with her stalking abilities, being everywhere that the plot needed her to be in order for her to seem intimidating, which got to be a bit ridiculous. I brought up the police before, but while I'm in a mood of talking about moments where the movie forced me to suspend disbelief, I might as well bring them up again. If a young woman calls the police and tells them that she is being stalked, I had a hard time seeing them acting so extremely unhelpful as they were. They're not even going to keep tabs on the situation or look into it at all? Finally, and this is where I'm getting into spoiler range a bit, but when Chloe finally gets herself into trouble, it becomes way too hard for our other characters to track Greta down. It seems like they should've found her immediately.
So here we are. The final act of the movie. I won't spoil the full resolution, but eventually Greta manages to drug and kidnap Chloe, locking her up in a box inside of a locked up room, that's hidden behind the piano in Greta's home. Even though Chloe looked disinterested in the movie and overly naive for the first two-thirds of the movie, she kicked it into full gear when she became the kidnapped victim. She showed a ton of emotion and was even as smart as she could be, given the situation. Coincidentally, this was also the part of the movie where Isabelle Huppert as Greta was finally given something to do and she delivered a pure psychotic role that had me terrified. Chloe tried to escape and fight back, but Greta was just too smart and too powerful. She's not even phased when Chloe chops off her finger with a cookie cutter, which is literally the only reason the movie is rated R. No other graphic violence, no strong language, and no sex or nudity. Just a severed finger. But anyways, Chloe becomes trapped and loses hope and I felt bad for her. Greta becomes completely psychotic and I bought it. And since her friend and father were too dumb to figure out where she was, I had no idea how Chloe was going to get herself out of this predicament, if at all.
All that said, a solid finale didn't excuse a poorly executed film for the first two-thirds of it. It just made me frustrated that we didn't get to that point sooner. Had Chloe been trapped in Greta's house closer to the beginning of the second, or maybe even as a part of the first, I think this whole movie would've been excellent. It could've been comparable to the thriller "Don't Breathe," which was a solid movie involving a group of kids who got trapped in an old psychotic blind man's house with no means of escaping. But as is, the finale was still good enough for me to give this movie a pass. And the first two-thirds of the movie wasn't completely cringe-worthy or awful. I just saw the potential of what this could become with better writing and proper direction, so it was more frustrating rather than outright bad because I wanted to love this movie, but I found myself not being able to love it as much as I wanted to. But still, if you're curious enough about this movie to check it out, I'd give it the green light. There's a lot of people who hated this movie, but also a lot of people who loved this movie. I kinda did a lot of both. It has a solid premise, solid acting by our leads when they were given their moments to shine, and a solid ending. As a whole, I'll give "Greta" a 7/10.
Friday, March 1, 2019
March 1st - 3rd -
Looking to come in a bit further down the charts is the new thriller Greta. This stars Chloe Grace Moretz as a young woman new to New York who finds that someone left a purse on the Subway, so she rather generously figures out who the owner is and returns it. Said owner is a middle-aged lady played by Isabelle Huppert who Moretz befriends because she seems nice at first, but ends up being a lot more crazy than was initially expected. The absolute best case scenario if audiences really latch onto "Greta" would be comparing this to last September's "A Simple Favor," which opened to $16 million, or perhaps fellow stalker thriller from a few years ago in "The Boy Next Door," which opened to $14.9 million in early 2016. "Greta" will be playing in about 2,400 theaters this weekend, which leaves it open to surprise. However, with the reaction only being somewhat positive and the buzz not being super loud, general audiences might be looking to save their money for next weekend's big release instead of running out to see "Greta," making some more recent horror/thrillers a possible comparison with "The Possession of Hannah Grace" ($6.4 million) in late November, "Miss Bala" ($6.8 million) on February 1, and "The Prodigy" ($5.9 million) on February 8.
March 8th - 10th-
As far as the box office potential for "Captain Marvel," your typical origin story for the MCU has opened to $80-90 million. Doctor Strange took in $85 million in 2016 while "The Guardians of the Galaxy" opened to $94 million in 2014. On the low end of the spectrum, "Ant-Man" opened to $57 million in 2015, but held exceptionally strong after great word of mouth. However, "Captain Marvel" is not going to be your typical original story. First off, it will very likely get a strong boost due to the social relevancy of being Marvel's first major female-led superhero movie. I say "major" because technically The Wasp officially took that title last year with "Ant-Man and the Wasp," but she shared the title and the movie with Ant-Man. Similar social relevancy led last year's "Black Panther" to open to $202 million. While not expected to go that high, early tracking in some reports have "Captain Marvel" opening as high as $150-175 million. An opening at on par with 2017's "Wonder Woman" ($103 million) seems to be on the low end of what will happen. The other reason this is set to have a huge opening is the fact that Captain Marvel was teased at the end of "Avengers: Infinity War," suggesting that she will be key in "Avengers: Endgame" next month, which makes this movie more of a must see in theaters for those wanting to be fully caught up before "Endgame."
March 15 - 17th-
The other movie that will be opening this weekend is the animated movie Wonder Park. Paramount has been very aggressive in advertising this film as the initial teaser debuted all the way back in July and they've been fairly persistent with it ever since. They even purchased a pre-game Super Bowl spot. But has the push been worth it? That's debatable. Generally speaking, movies without a major animation studio behind them, like Pixar, Disney, or Illumination, have a hard time breaking out. And "Wonder Park" is awkwardly stuck on the schedule between "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World," which still should be doing fairly well at this point, and Disney's live-action "Dumbo" at the end of March. Are families going to take an extra trip to see a more obscure movie about a theme park that doesn't have a studio they trust behind it? Perhaps not. As far as the premise goes, this is about a young girl who has dreamed of having a magical theme park and is fortunate enough to see it come to life. It seems like a movie that could connect well with the younger audience with themes of dreaming and imagination, but the issue will be getting parents to pay for the tickets. Last March Paramount could only get "Sherlock Gnomes" to open to $10.6 million and there's plenty of other examples of smaller animated films opening between $5-10 million.
March 22nd - 24th-
March 29th - 31st-
The final wide release this month is the Pure Flix film Unplanned. Pure Flix is a company that distributes low-budget Christian films. They've put out 16 films since 2015 and those films have averaged a domestic total of $7.4 million. The average opening weekend total for the films that have had at least a moderate opening is $2.6 million, so we're not looking at a huge opening here. "Unplanned" is an anti-abortion film about Abby Johnson, one of the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors in the United States. The movie is the true story of how she was asked to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion at 13 weeks, which then caused her to resign and become pro-life activist. The controversy surrounding this film is that the MPAA slapped it with an R-rating, a first for a Pure Flix film, for "some disturbing/bloody images." In other words, the showed scenes of abortion. The directors of the film were upset at this, claiming the MPAA allows scenes of graphic sex, violence, degradation, murder and mayhem to be PG-13, while them showing an abortion gets an R. Fair or foul? You decide. Despite the complaints, they won't be appealing. The exact total of this film will be determined by the exact theater count. Their latest film, "Indivisible," opened in 830 theaters to $1.5 million.