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Review: Captain Marvel

Written by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman, and Meg LeFauve and directed by Boden and Fleck, “Captain Marvel” is the 21st film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is the first film in the ongoing series to be led by a woman (Maybe next time Black Widow). Set during the 1990’s “Captain Marvel” is an origin story that can, at times, suffer under the weight of everything the film requires of it as a piece of the larger shared universe. Don’t fret though, the film has enough attitude and heart to appease most audience members. Since the film has to do a lot of legwork in unpacking Carol Danvers’ (Brie Larson) own story through her memory loss and the galactic war between the alien races of the Kree and the Skrulls- the pacing and smoothness of the script do suffer somewhat.

While the film overall may have a “stepping stone syndrome” I’m admittedly doubly excited after the credits rolled to see how the character of Carol Danvers will fare when thrown into the mix with the other Avengers. This film was a lot of fun though- Carol’s scenes with a younger Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) was my favorite part of the whole film, the charisma and chemistry between these two was palpable! I really didn’t expect Fury to be in the film all that much given the de-aging tech required to digitally craft a believable 1990’s Sam Jackson, but it was seamless and incredibly impressive given his amount of screentime. Ben Mendelsohn almost stole the show as Talos the Skrull too, he was menacing, crafty, and far more layered than I would have expected from the shape-shifting alien race. The 1990’s setting was fun to play around in and the jokes devoted to the decade weren’t overdone thankfully. More importantly though, the hints of characterization we got of Carol from both her time as a member of Star-Force and as a pilot in the Air-Force with her friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch- who was the heart and soul of this movie!) show that her personality was singular even through her memory loss. She had attitude and a punk flair that was encouraging for the character’s future. Oh, and Goose the cat- he was pretty great too.

Okay, so, I have to mention the downsides of the film. While I may have had a good time with the superheroine’s space adventure- the film has its share of structural issues. The story at its core is fine as far as origin stories go, but the way the film was pieced together was incredibly clunky. In one of the first few scenes of the film a pair of Skrulls capture Carol and take a peek through her memories to find some information- showing us what her true past was. I get it, at 21 movies in an ongoing saga there’s a lot of pressure to consistently deliver us new content while still being familiar to what the audience loves- but giving the audience all of the information that the main character is seeking for the majority of the rest of the film (with one notable exception) keeps her distant. We get whispers of who Carol is, they tell us who she is, but as we begin the film with her being a powerful hero already- we weren’t with her when she struggled. Sure, we get a cool montage of her defying defeat and getting up from being knocked down throughout her life, but that’s not truly characterization within a story. I think there’s enough in this film to make great use of the character in future outings, but given that this is the first MCU film headed by a woman, shouldn’t she deserve more care with her story? There’s also a few other nitpicky issues I have with the movie, scenes lit too dark, direction lacking in a few fight scenes, and how Nick Fury lost his eye was kind of silly and I would have preferred him losing it in a battle with an alien- but hey that’s just me.

While “Captain Marvel” may have stumbled a bit out of the gate, she stands with excellent peers in the MCU. Tony Stark, Thor, and Bruce Banner don’t have the cleanest cinematic records here either, and that’s okay. The MCU has proven that they can take stumbles and turn them into ballets. Here’s to Carol Danvers giving Thanos a glowing fist to the face in April!

Final Score: There’s only 1 Goose!

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Review: Avengers 3 Infinity War

*WARNING* This review will be full of spoilers, you have been warned!

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the third superhero event film under the Marvel banner and the culmination of ten years of interconnected storytelling across all eighteen previous films. If you’ve been following these Marvel movies and are up to date then you will gleam the most out of the two and a half hour epic that is Infinity War. However if, by some chance, you’re just now considering a Marvel movie marathon and are curious as to which movies are most necessary for this latest Avengers movie, I believe about half of them are required viewing (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1, Dr. Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther). The rest help to build upon the structure, and character development, of the cinematic universe, but that list will get you mostly acquainted with what’s going on.

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So, we’re finally here. After hearing about and seeing several of the infinity stones throughout these films, and with a couple cameos from the mad titan himself, does the film live up to the monumental expectations that Marvel Studios has built? Yes. I can answer that wholeheartedly with a resounding yes. Infinity War is a monumental feat of crossover film-making and it makes the once grandiose events of the first Avengers seem minuscule in comparison. The film follows the wake of destruction left by Thanos and his black order as they seek out the six infinity stones and crisscross the cosmos to implement the will of the mad titan. The opening scene perfectly showcases who Thanos is and why we should be afraid for the fate of our superheroes. After laying waste to Thor and the Asgardian refugees’ ship Thanos quickly bests the Hulk in a fistfight, takes the Tesseract from Loki before killing him, and completely destroys their ship leaving Thor to drift unconsciously through space. Heimdall was able to send the Hulk off to Earth before being murdered by the Black Order and as the incredible hero smashes through Dr. Strange’s staircase in New York City, Bruce Banner comes with a dire warning, “Thanos is coming..”

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Dr. Strange quickly grasps the magnitude of the problem at hand as he grabs Tony Stark from a morning run with Pepper Potts, but it isn’t long before Thanos Black Order arrive to make a power grab for the Time stone in the doctor’s possesion. Spider-Man also gets in the mix and we’re off to the races! The movie moves at break neck speeds jumping across space and back to service all of the various storylines in play but the Russo brothers have outdone themselves with this installment as everything flows naturally with the needs of the story. Now I won’t go beat by beat and describe the whole movie, but instead give a general sense of the scale and the threat that comes with Thanos seeking to wield his infinity gauntlet. Not to mention how the movie cleverly utilized it’s massive cast by breaking the characters off into various factions in different locations to best suit the needs of the story. For example, the Guardians of the Galaxy bump into Thor when responding to their distress signal and then separate into two teams, one consisting of Thor, Rocket, and Groot in order to seek out a “Thanos killing weapon” while the rest head to ‘Knowhere’ from their first movie as it’s the last known location of the reality stone. Iron Man and Spider-Man hitch a ride on the ship that the Black Order arrived in to save Dr. Strange from Ebony Maw on his way to Titan, while Captain America, Falcon, and Black Widow stave off an attack on Vision and the Scarlet Witch thanks to a heads up by Banner and eventually head to Wakanda as a last stand to keep Vision’s Mind stone in his head and not on the gauntlet of Thanos.

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The central theme of the movie is that, when pressed by Thanos and his cosmic conquering, will you trade one life for another? Several characters have this grueling predicament pushed on them, some make choices out of love, others for the fate of the universe, but ultimately they fail when crossing that line. The moral center of the MCU, Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), never falters in his moral code. Several times throughout the movie he reiterates to others that, “We don’t trade lives”. He discards the math of the scenario in giving a life to save millions, nay billions. He saves lives, he doesn’t play that game. That right there, might be the absolute best aspect of this film. All of the characters are true to their nature as established in the previous films. There is a palpable consistency to their actions and reasoning. The Guardians all feel like themselves, still making jokes and acting on impulse. Black Panther and Captain America leap into battle first and have unwavering foundations. Thor feels the most evolved since the ramifications of ‘Ragnarok’ changed the game for his films and overall nature, a kingly warrior burdened with grief, yet still able to convey humor as a fish-out-of-water situation with the Guardians. Consistency paired with well thought out plot-points and a very clever villain, possibly the best the MCU has seen yet, add up to one hell of a Marvel movie.

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With an ending as shocking as it is, I- and many other millions, cannot wait to see how these characters rebound and ultimately save the day. This is most definitely a part one, and with only two other films between now and (the still untitled) Avengers 4 that take place before the events of this movie, we’ll have to wait a year and see how this all unfolds. I cannot praise this movie enough, it was far more emotionally mature and full of dread than I expected. There were significant deaths, high stakes and excellent action, and on top of that the film still managed to be really funny at times. They did it. They really did it. The next challenge is to outdo themselves next year, which I have to say, is a tall order. I have faith in the Russo brothers though, their movies in the MCU have been some of the best entries in the superhero genre as a whole. Now all we have to do… is wait.

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Final Score: Infinite Avengers

THE CAST:
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange

Tom Holland (II) as Peter Parker/Spider-Man

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther

Zoe Saldana as Gamora

Karen Gillan as Nebula

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

Paul Bettany as Vision

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon

Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier

Idris Elba as Heimdall

Danai Gurira as Okoye

Benedict Wong as Wong

Pom Klementieff as Mantis

Dave Bautista as Drax

Vin Diesel as Groot

Bradley Cooper as Rocket

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts

Benicio Del Toro as The Collector

Josh Brolin as Thanos

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord

William Hurt as Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross

Letitia Wright as Shuri

Peter Dinklage as Eitri

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury

Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill

and Ross Marquand as Red Skull

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Review: Black Panther

Written by Joe Robert Cole and Ryan Coogler and directed by Coogler, “Black Panther” is the 18th movie in Marvel Studios’ sprawling universe of superheroics and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes center stage as the titular Black Panther whilst being surrounded by an impeccable cast. This weekend marks a significant debut for representation not only in the Marvel Studios Universe, but for superhero films in general. We’ve had previous superhero movies starring African American leads like Wesley Snipes in “Blade” and its two sequels. There was also “Steel” starring Shaq, “Hancock” starring Will Smith, and the oft derided “Catwoman” starring Halle Berry amongst a few others. This is a different film though, one that doesn’t tiptoe around various injustices, but rather it makes those questions of morality and the adverse effects of colonialism the beating heart of conflict in the film. This film also doesn’t just recognize Africa, the film took great efforts to ingrain the fictional country of Wakanda into the real world setting of Northeastern Africa.

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Which brings me to what I believe is the greatest asset of the film, the incredibly effective world building that went into realizing Wakanda. The filmmakers’ crafted Wakanda as a place that felt as if it had existed untouched and unfiltered by time, hidden by superior technology granted by a chance vibranium meteorite crashing into Wakanda ages ago. Sprawling cityscapes depict a fascinating version of Afrofuturism unleashed in the bustling merchants district alongside the wide and open plains under the watchful eye of W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) and the border tribe, there’s even a mountainous wintry region ruled by the Jabari tribe who are staunchly against the rule of T’Challa, chief among them being their leader M’Baku (Winston Duke). Along with the River tribes and the vast and intricate mining facilities, Wakanda feels like an interconnected country with a long history and that’s a feat that the filmmakers should be praised for accomplishing so efficiently.

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Another way that “Black Panther” stands out from the crowd is in its sense of community. There’s a balance between tradition and futurism that affects all those who live in Wakanda, but especially for those who lead among the isolationist nation. It is here between the pendulum of modernity and tradition that T’Challa has his conflicts within the film, but it has a rippling effect on all of the characters in some form. Okoye (Danai Gurira) the general of the royal guard, the Dora Milaje, and Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s brilliant younger sister and head of the technological prowess of Wakanda, both perfectly exemplify this bridge between conflicting ideologies. Okoye is bound to a strict interpretation of tradition within the Dora Milaje-even after unspeakable acts (I’ll try to keep spoilers at bay) have taken place, she must fufill her duties to the throne. Whereas Shuri is bound to the future inherent in Wakanda’s tech, she is always looking to the next update or upgrade. Though Lupita Nyong’o’s  Nakia may be more of a divergent spirit in this sense. Nakia’s background in espionage and her former relationship with T’Challa provide her with a character that’s willing to break from tradition when its logical to do so. It is this divide that drove T’Chaka’s, (John Kani) brother N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) towards his revolutionary tendencies and the crux of the film’s conflict; should Wakanda open itself up to world and aid those worse off with their great technological feats? Or should they stay unconquered and safely hidden from the world? The film deftly handles the question of how the previous generations handled the world, in all it’s beauty and tragedy, and whether or not they were right by their actions.. or damned by them? Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is the literal formation of these past demons come to haunt T’Challa, the new King and Black Panther of Wakanda.

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Perhaps the single greatest part of this film is its villain in Eric Killmonger. Motivated by the death of his father as a child and abandoned in America, Killmonger pursued his interests with a lethal tenacity and never let a soul intercept his goal of invading Wakanda. Like his father before him Killmonger is a violent revolutionary in the spirit of Magneto, seeking to liberate those who were besieged by history’s injustices. Michael B. Jordan excelled in crafting an adversary whose intentions never wavered, and more importantly, he made Killmonger a layered individual with purpose behind his eyes. His goals, while extreme, can be understood. However since he’s a violent and careless individual we naturally side with T’Challa’s approach, but Eric’s a tragic character whose anger comes from a very real place.

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I have to say that I quite enjoyed the film overall. The film is the first since “Doctor Strange” in the MCU to have so few connections to the wider MCU canon and that’s a benefit to this story. There was no need for a Stark reference or even a Captain America cameo for this film to work within the structures of the MCU, it had enough to juggle without needless and contrived studio mandated team ups (though I do love it when it works well in other movies!). As for the two white guys in the movie, I really enjoyed Andy Serkis getting to work without being covered from head to toe in digital garb or practical effects and make-up, his Ulysses Klaue (sounds like Klaw) was a scene chewing performance well worth the time spent with him. The other melanin deficient character was Martin Freeman’s C.I.A. agent Everett Ross revived from his “Civil War” role and plopped into this film without feeling misplaced or ill advised. The film as a whole was a great time at the theater and I look forward to seeing how these events change the MCU from here out!

Final Score: 1 Prince and 1 Pauper (Seriously, just go see it- you don’t need my arbitrary and baseless scores to know whether or not you’re interested in this film)

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Superbowl 2018 Movie Trailers

Yesterday five movie trailers aired during the Super Bowl that were especially fun. Some of them were entirely new, while others were new teasers or new cuts of trailers that helped to sway me personally into giving several of these films the benefit of the doubt, even through all the exploding volcanoes and starships.

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Mission Impossible 6: Fallout

Ever since the fourth Mission Impossible, Ghost Protocol, the series has continually edged upwards in quality for me. This new Mission Impossible looks to turn expectations upside down with Ethan Hunt and company going against their former agency in the IMF? Plus there’s the new addition of Henry Cavill who should be an exciting new factor thrown into the mix. We’re also retaining writer-director Christopher McQuarrie for a series first, Rogue Nation was an excellent film so I cannot wait to see how they step up the stunts from previous entries in the series!

 

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Avengers 3: Infinity War

Infinity War has been a long time coming in the Marvel Studios Universe, it will be the nineteenth film in the interconnected saga and will include all of the major characters from across all of those films. Naturally not much is known outside of the initial trailer besides rampant fan speculation but this new teaser gave us precious seconds of new shots to drool over and analyze until May, but hey, you don’t need to do much to sell tickets to this event film at this point.

 

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Solo: A Star Wars Story

We finally got a (teaser?) trailer for the Han Solo standalone film, and it did enough to sway me towards a more positive outlook on the upcoming release. While we might not have asked for a Han Solo film, it’s nice to get to play around in the sandbox of the Empire’s early reign over the galaxy again. We didn’t see much, but we did get confirmation that the overall plot from the original expanded universe detailing Han’s origins in the Empire before he turned coat and became a smuggler was seemingly on track. We got quick shots of Woody Harrelson’s mysterious mentor character, Donald Glover’s sly Lando Calrissian, and of course- Chewbacca. We’ll see if this movie turns out to be worthwhile in the end, but hey, I’m always ready for another adventure in this universe, hopefully it will be a positively memorable one.

 

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Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom

This trailer did a lot to turn me around after that awful cut the first time around. The first Jurassic World worked for me in concept and in practice. That film made sense as a sequel, and we’ll see how this film turns out, but not focusing solely on the volcano scenes helped a lot. If that had been the whole story I wouldn’t have bothered, but here it looks like a combination of Lost World with a sprinkling of the original’s texture thrown in, so we’ll have to wait and see if it was worth our time and money- but this trailer did put me into a more positive and hopeful mood for the sequel.

 

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Skyscraper

Another year and another Dwayne, the Rock, Johnson action film bursts onto silver screens across the country. This time around Johnson looks to be a war vet that designs buildings, but when everything goes wrong he has to pull it together and save his family on the 240th floor of a burning building. There’s a lot of standard action beats here but the trailer was cut for maximum tension while maintaining the heightened reality of Johnson’s action movie repertoire and that works for me. Johnson can sell a movie no matter how ridiculous it may seem, hell, I never thought the Jumanji sequel was going to work out but in the end I really enjoyed it! I might just have to give this flick a shot when it hits theaters this summer.

 

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Dundee: the perfect tourism ad

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly disappointed that this isn’t a real film, but it was a great idea for a tourism ad! The reveal doesn’t even happen until Danny McBride notices that Chris Hemsworth keeps talking up the beauty of Australia, which was brilliant by the way. We even got Paul Hogan to put on the old costume and playfully poke fun at rampant and excessive love of Australia that America experienced in the 1990’s.

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My favorite films of 2017

Say what you will about 2017 as a whole, but the films released this last year were a good harvest of cinematic entertainment. I’ll refrain from any sort of top ten lists of the best or worst variety and simply talk about the movies that I saw and enjoyed. Below are the films that evoked the most powerful responses from me, be it slow and meditative science fiction, excellently choreographed action and fight sequences, or simply the films that gave me the largest laughs and the most to dwell on afterwards. As most years there are almost as many, or more, films that I missed due to one reason or another and will likely catch up on later. So if you see a popular film missing I either didn’t think it did enough to merit being on the list, or I didn’t see it. Here’s to hoping that 2018 continues this trend and gives us more quality films to soak up and revel in.

 

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Blade Runner 2049

While this was a good year at the theater, for myself there was no film that surpassed the cinematic glory that was Blade Runner 2049. A sequel releasing thirty-five years after the original film might seem like a detractor for most films, but not here. Director Denis Villeneuve and Cinematographer Roger Deakins (along with cast and crew) have spun a transfixing web of powerful and immense sights and sounds across this science fiction epic. Harrison Ford returns to his lesser known sci-fi icon Rick Deckard and gives us one of his best performances in the last ten to twenty years. Meanwhile Ryan Gosling’s K, the new Blade Runner of 2049, sets out to track down the crimes and mysteries left behind in Deckard’s wake. This film is a slow burning science fiction epic that rapidly escalates the scale apart from the first film’s relatively smaller set of events in the best ways possible. I cannot recommend this film enough, though I know it won’t be every audience’s favorite flavor.

 

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John Wick Chapter 2

Forced back into the world of cordial killers that he left behind ages ago, this sequel brings back Keanu Reeves’ latest hit character John Wick and throws him into a gauntlet of violence and feigned civility. Rarely giving the audience time to soak into Wick’s brooding life after his successful revenge in the first flick, Chapter 2 quickly forces Wick’s hand into fulfilling a blood oath after blowing up his house a few scenes in. This film is a continuation of the surprise success of the first film by allowing what worked there to be thoughtfully expanded upon here. The legend of John Wick hinted at in the first film is realized here by having Wick operate in Italy for his mission, thereby having many people quickly recognizing, and fearing, him. This film cracks open the doors to his old community of killers that was merely peeked at before and it’s a joy to watch Wick do what he does best. If you’re looking for near relentless and creative gunplay in a refined atmosphere then you can do no better than John Wick Chapter 2.

 

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Kong: Skull Island

As a fan of the giant monster movie sub-genre, I always look forward to new and evolving versions of old favorites, and this interpretation of cinema’s most well known giant ape may well be my favorite. The largest Kong yet towers above the rivers and peaks of Skull Island set during the waning days of the Vietnam war in which a few madcap scientists talk their way into a military escort onto the isolated and volatile isle of legend. Once they arrive their suspicions of the giant ape are confirmed as Kong is quick to prove who is King in this untamed land. I love the adoration this film has for it’s monstrous locales and unique creations-this is a film that knows it is first a foremost a creature feature. It doesn’t hurt that the cast involved knew how to embrace the tone, some particularly fun additions were John Goodman as the conspiratorial lead scientist, Samuel L. Jackson’s cynical and bombastic Major Packard leading the military support, and John C. Reilly’s wary but good-hearted WW2 fighter pilot who crash-landed on the island when an aerial dogfight went awry. It’s also worth mentioning that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts maintained his sense of style and kept his cinematic voice intact in a major studio release, that’s no small feat and deserves some recognition.

 

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Get Out

As someone who isn’t all that in love with horror movies, this year gave us two absolutely stellar additions to the genre. The first of which was the outstanding directorial debut of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. What makes this film so magnetic is the way it plays on the real world anxieties that still thread through American racial relationships to this day. Peele slowly settles the audience into unease with his clever use of pacing and throwbacks to some of his most adored film inspirations from the likes of Guess who’s coming to dinner?, The Stepford Wives, and The Shining. This is my preferred style of horror, it never relies on jump-scares or cheap thrills, instead the film unnerves you with each passing minute until the spellbinding hypnosis scenes begin-then the film accelerates the madness only hinted at before. This psychological thriller will likely be among many favorites lists for years to come, and Peele has earned every second of adoration for it.

 

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IT Chapter 1

The other surprise horror hit last year was IT Chapter 1. This latest rendition of a Stephen King classic rose to legendary horror movie heights as the highest grossing R rated movie of all time earning close to 700 million worldwide on a budget of only 35 million. With only another lackluster Saw comeback to challenge it’s box office reign roughly a month after it’s release, the film about a killer clown dominated the silver screen for weeks on end. What really made the film stand out from the crowd though wasn’t the scares-which were plentiful and effective, but rather the chemistry of the Losers Club and how they not only interacted with each other, but how they dealt with the overwhelming presence of Pennywise the evil shape-shifting clown. The film was funny, charming, creepy, and intense. If you (somehow) missed this one at the theater, then check out the video release-it’s definitely worth your time!

 

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Wonder Woman

Ladies and gentlemen, they did it! DC films finally made a great superhero movie. Wonder Woman did what neither Batman, Superman, or Will Smith could accomplish- a truly wonderful superhero story. Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins deserve a hell of a lot of credit for infusing some heart and empathy into this dour and sour universe of grisly and uninspiring superheroes. Gadot and Chris Pine shared an excellent onscreen chemistry on their journey through worn torn Europe, they evolved as characters and weren’t used for glamour shots or crude humor. Wonder Woman is the shining light of the DC film universe and I can’t wait to see how Jenkins and crew return to the character in her untitled sequel, best of all though, we can rest assured that she’s in good hands until then!

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

I wasn’t sure how the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy would fare for me, the first was a surprise hit and became an instant pop culture icon. How would James Gunn handle these characters’ evolution and what kind of madcap adventures would they tumble into next? They may not have been chasing a macguffin stone this time around, but we did get a compelling story that dug into some deeper character work for a few of the characters on the team, and they had a far more interesting villain this time around in Ego the Living Planet, who just so happens to be Star Lord’s father.. Kurt Russell, because of course he is. Everything about this film was amped up from the last installment and the world building for the greater cosmic side of the Marvel universe was stepped up in scale as well. This was a visual feast of colors and special effects and the comedy (a detractor for some this time around) worked for me just as much if not more this time around. This was an excellent addition to not only the Guardians story but the greater web of MCU storylines as well!

 

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Spider-Man: Homecoming

This was my favorite superhero movie of the year, and that’s saying something because this year had some of the best offerings from Marvel and DC yet! Even the Justice League was an improvement overall (though it’s not on this list as it didn’t quite reach the mark for me). Introduced in Captain America Civil War this newest incarnation of the web slinger may be my favorite version yet! Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is the youngest web-head thus far and he’s got an innate natural sense of the big-eyed wonder that a younger Parker would have, especially since he’s the rookie in a world of Avengers now. Placing Spider-Man into the MCU allows him to be positioned into storylines and arcs that would have been impossible before now, a feat realized through the perfect use of Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark as the guiding hero and moral compass (Something Stark could only accomplish after years of being Iron Man). This was a wonderfully small scale super hero movie and I loved it all the more for keeping things grounded, lighthearted, and funny. There’s also the great benefit of having Michael Keaton playing the Vulture, a C-class villain from the comics that he made all his own resulting in one of the best villains of the MCU since Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. I can’t wait to see how this latest version of the Wallcrawler’s story evolves after this!

 

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Thor Ragnarok

Taika Waititi threw out the rulebook with his Thor film and it was all the better for it! I was incredibly excited for this movie since hearing the rumors surrounding the creative team involved and the stories that they were going to adapt with Thor’s third MCU film. Soaked in neon colors, a synthy score crafted by Mark Mothersbaugh harkening back to his Devo days, and paired up with Mark Ruffalo’s Incredible Hulk, with a cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange-this film had a lot going for it, and everything worked beautifully! Plus, Jeff Goldblum! My ticket was sold to this film the moment I saw that first trailer (Although truthfully I would have seen it without the extra hype anyways). Waititi combined elements of the Planet Hulk storyline with Asgard’s apocalyptic Ragnarok event, all while serving up jokes and surprising character development from our recognizable favorites. This might be Marvel Studios’ strongest year yet, these three entries were the hat-trick of risky features and each of them paid off marvelously!

 

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Baby Driver

As a fan of every film that Edgar Wright has directed I was ecstatic about his next release after his fallout with Marvel Studios over creative differences on the Ant-Man film. This choice ended up being beneficial for everyone involved anyways. The Ant-Man film we got was a small (pun intended) and charming heist film with lovable characters introduced into the constantly growing Marvel movie machine. However, while Edgar Wright’s next project would also be a heist film, that’s where the similarities end. Baby Driver is a fast paced crime flick with music in it’s soul, but more than that the film is intelligently written and Wright’s whiplash editing is as fresh as ever and particularly important to this film. Each scene is dictated by the music that Baby’s listening to at that time resulting in eclectic shootouts set to everything from Run the Jewels to Brighton Rock by Queen. Full of blink-and-you-miss-it easter eggs and populated by an excellent cast firing on all cylinders, Baby Driver stole the summer for me.

 

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War for the Planet of the Apes

The final installment in the prequel trilogy of The Planet of the Apes franchise follows our main ape Caesar as he leads his clan of apes towards finding a peaceful territory all their own. However the ghost of Koba still haunts Caesar as the remainders of Koba’s faction work for the remnants of the humans’ military forces. This is my favorite of the Apes newest series of movies, the film showcases the most impressive visual effects I have ever seen onscreen with the performance capture of the apes- who we spend a majority of our time with this time around. The story simmers in a sense of ever present dread and tension as the apes must strive against the paranoid and ramshackle remains of humanity. This story depicts more of the brutality of war than an all out assault, though in a delightful turn of events this film accomplishes more in its quietest moments than most blockbusters ever do throughout their run-times. This completes an incredibly strong trilogy that every cinephile should watch at some point, especially if you have a fondness for thought provoking science fiction.

 

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand planets

Despite having a vague science fiction subtitle and lacking some chemistry between the two leads, Valerian and the city of a thousand planets is a colorful and fast paced sci-fi flick that dazzles with spectacle. Directed by Luc Besson, of The Fifth Element and Leon The Professional fame, Valerian (and Laureline) stumble upon a conspiratorial plot aboard the infamous space station “Alpha” and have to traverse it’s many layers, regions, and sectors to find the answers they seek. While this film may be no Star Wars or Star Trek it is a unique enough offering to engage and entertain with its effective world building and absurdly fun technologies in play. If you’re looking for some science fiction fun but don’t want to go see The Last Jedi another time, Valerian should be able to sate your sci-fi needs this winter.

 

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A Ghost Story

This one caught me off-guard. Nearly devoid of dialogue and cosmically melancholy, A Ghost Story is about a young couple in love when tragedy suddenly strikes the man and he dies. We spend the rest of the film with the departed musician as he wanders the earth incomplete in the, literal, sheets of his ghostly form. The film’s aspect ratio, a squared 1.33 Academy ratio with curved corners, add to the nostalgic and intimate nature of the film as the ghost experiences time and space becoming slippery and unrecognizable. This is the shortest film on the list and if you have the patience for it’s slower parts I would highly recommend giving this unique film a chance.

 

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Fast and Furious 8

The Fate of the Furious is on this list because of the pure enjoyment I had with this movie. At this point, I know what I’m getting with this series- cars, explosions, heists, one-liners, punching, and a set-piece that’s slightly more ridiculous than the last installment in the series. It’s a long running series of Saturday morning cartoons for adults, and I’m okay with that. I had a theory with these movies that every other one was going to be not quite as good as the one that preceded it. For example: the first film was (and probably still is the best of the bunch as far as films go) pretty good entertainment, the second I enjoyed but it wasn’t quite as good. Tokyo Drift was excellent- but I wasn’t as impressed with Fast 4 the reboot of the series, while Fast Five was my personal favorite of the series. The sixth was a let down for me while the seventh was pretty good dumb fun. However, this eighth movie in the franchise was another solid entry for me-the curse of the even numbered Fast and Furious films was broken! I quite enjoyed the prison escape sequence between Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson, the spy stuff with Kurt Russell and Scott Eastwood as the newbie was jovial, and the twist with Vin Diesel being the villain this time around wasn’t as cheesy as I expected. I don’t know if each new episode will stay as fresh or exciting as the best of the series, but hey, I never expected perfection from my guilty pleasures before-why start now?

 

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Logan

Finally unleashing Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine for his final performance, Logan was a different kind of superhero movie. I’ll admit, while I did enjoy this film, it never quite reached the heights for me as it did for so many audience members out there, though the opening and closing scenes were near perfection in execution. Years in the future an old and battered Logan strives to make money as a chauffeur for young rich assholes as he secretly cares for an increasingly unstable Professor X. Things go awry once Laura, his biological daughter created in a lab, comes into the picture. The performances were solid and the action was grisly and entertaining, although personally there were a few too many adamantium claws lodged into people’s faces for my liking. It was a solid film, an ode to Westerns and the Wolverine alike, and a good finale to one of the longest running character performances from comic book adaptions.

 

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

This was the last film I saw in 2017 and it was surprisingly good! This film is a sequel to the Robin Williams led original film from 1995 and I enjoyed the fact that this film didn’t bulldoze over the original but took cues and inspiration from it while crafting a new adventure to enjoy. This time around it is four teenagers that all end up in detention with each other a la The Breakfast Club but instead of talking through their problems together they get sucked into the game reassembled as a cartridge based video game from the mid 1990’s. Each character is put into the body of their chosen avatars, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black. Each has three lives and they must solve riddles and best challenges in the jungle to win the game. It was a joy to watch Johnson and Black play against their type while Gillan and Hart were solid in their roles they didn’t have personas quite as large as the other two, though there is some great character work between Hart as the former football quarterback quarreling with the studious nerd within the hulking body of Johnson. This was a welcome surprise and a fun way to end the year at the theaters.

Listed below are the films that I wanted to catch at the theater, but never got around to:

Disaster Artist, The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, The Big Sick, Dunkirk, It comes at Night, The Florida Project, Colossal, Good Time, Logan Lucky, Detroit, Lucky, Phantom Thread, The Post, Dave made a Maze, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Call me by your name, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, & Wind River

P.S. Yes, I too saw Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi, but I felt that this wasn’t the proper place to pile onto that film as it was/is one of the most talked about films of the year. This post is more about the year as a whole and Star Wars gets most of the limelight when it is released anyways. If you want to know my thoughts on that film I have posted a review on the blog as well. Enjoy!

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Marvel’s Civil War: Should we be worried?

 Spoilers for Batman V Superman follow

In the wake of Warner Brothers’ box office hit ‘Batman V Superman’ the next big comic book movie showdown is between Marvel Studios’ most bankable sons, Steve Rogers AKA Captain America and Tony Stark’s Iron Man. However with all of the hype and excitement preceding DC’s showdown between gods with capes and the subsequent critical downpour from movie reviewers across the board the question worth asking is, will Marvel befall the same blunders and windfall of dollars that Warner’s prized combatants did? And more importantly, if the fans embrace it does it matter what the general audience, or critics, think?

You can bet Marvel Studios is watching the release of their competition like a hawk. Why wouldn’t they? This is, after all, two of the biggest brand name superheroes of all time engaging in fisticuffs on the silver screen and it just so happens to come right before Marvel is releasing their own Superhero slamfest in May. Below I will list and explain the five reasons why I believe that Marvel Studios will come out of their superhero brawl with less bruises than than DC did. To be fair, I do prefer Marvel’s storytelling style (comics, cartoons, and films) over DC’s, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy DC’s characters. I’m a fan of all the Justice League members and have been known to dig into the Justice League Dark comics and I enjoy a good Constantine comic every now and then as well. I just love good storytelling, but preference is preference and my bias does lean towards Marvel. Nothing has to be black and white though, there can be shades of passion and indifference alike. Here are my reasons I believe Marvel’s Civil War will fair better than Batman V Superman.

1 An established universe

Marvel’s established world has an emotional core that’s been building for twelve movies now. The film ‘Civil War’ will have an easier time threading an emotional story arc for both Iron Man and Captain America than the comic did because this version of the Marvel Universe stands on these two characters shoulders. We were initially introduced to this world through the eyes of Tony Stark, we’ve been with him as he’s grown and advanced as a character and as a hero. While the other perspective of this film comes from Steve Rogers, a character that I believe has the strongest films to date within the MCU.  It’s a battle of idealogies as Rogers represents the classical ideals that comes with American values, while Stark on the other hand reps Modern American ideals, realizing that the way we’ve been doing things isn’t always the right thing. These are two very different personalities that have evolved over time and we’ve witnessed them chart this course from the very beginning. This fact alone allows the filmmakers to connect their characters to the audience with ease.

2 With friends like these..

None of the MCU’s movies have been as divisive as either ‘Man of Steel’ or ‘Batman V Superman’. Sure, there have been a few Marvel misfires (I’m looking at you Iron Man 2 & Thor) that haven’t quite hit the mark, but they were still valuable entertainment and received nowhere near the vitriol from critics and fans alike. Furthermore Marvel has taken virtually unknown comic properties like ‘Guardians of The Galaxy’, or unexpected characters like ‘Ant-Man’, and made them work far better than anyone thought possible. Marvel has done the opposite of the DC film universe so far, forging science fiction morality tales that often have a great deal of focus on the characters in play. DC has incredible characters of Godly ability but instead focus on the weight of that power and all the brooding that, apparently, comes with that.

3 One story, not several

Civil War is being adapted from one comic book arc, not several storylines like ‘Batman V Superman’. The man of steel’s second outing tried to cram many aspects of Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘The Death of Superman’ into this adaption while earning neither’s acomplishments in storytelling because of the narrative context of comics compared to how this film universe has been set up. By that I mean that the comics had the advantage contextually by the very nature of the medium that allows for months of storylines to come together piece by piece, however when taking the two incredibly different timelines that ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘The Death of Superman’ inhabit and try to mesh them together it simply doesn’t hold up thematically. The representation of Superman in both storylines are widely different from each other for one, and ‘The Death of Superman’ was built on decades of lore and had to do more to traverse its goal of actually killing Superman (Which we all now know he was put into a “healing coma”). Marvel’s Civil War, while having to adapt the story to fit their continuity obsessed film universe together, does have an easier time as it’s attempting to adapt one, albiet massive, storyline.

4 Truer to the source material

Marvel Studios is creating a more faithful rendition of their characters than DC. Yes they are putting a more modern spin on their characters and the world they inhabit, but they are doing so in a consistently faithful series of decisions. DC is also attempting to insert their heroes into the world of today, but Marvel seems to be paying attention to the core personalities of their heroes that transcend whatever adaption they may be currently going through. This doesn’t mean that each film has to have every other scene ripped from the pages of ‘Astonishing Tales’ or anything like that, but it is nice to notice the spirit of the characters inhabiting the performances onscreen.

5 High stakes fun

Marvel has a proven track record of setting the stakes of any narrative to a high, or dramatic, degree for an appropriate payout in the end while maintaining a ‘fun’ atmosphere about the project. ‘The Avengers’, ‘Winter Soldier’, and ‘Guardians of The Galaxy’ all excel at this notion while other films don’t always nail this beat, even ‘Ant-Man’ performed well by making Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang a relatable character. At the end of the day, Scott’s just a divorced dad trying to maintain a relationship with his daughter by any means necessary. Civil War in itself will only reiterate this idea by incorporating side characters like Spider-man and Ant-Man into the picture for an unattached perspective allowing for the quips that Stark himself may be too preoccupied for this go around. It seems to me that Marvel knows how to pull those emotive strings in all of us, while not falling into any one tone or mood too heavily.

‘Captain America three: Civil War’ will undoubtedly make big money at the box office just as ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’ did. It stands to prove that the critics voice in all of this means nothing to longtime fans that will watch and rewatch this film. For some simply see the trinity together onscreen is enough, or Darkseid’s emblem emblazoned in Batman’s sweaty paranoia nightmare sequence, the point being that while the film has its flaws it also has a core audience that adores it. Just as with any review or discussion on film in the end it all really comes down to subjectivity. We all like different things, we all enjoy different films, bands or musicians, sports teams,  or political candidates. This is fine, this is good. We need diversity in our entertainment, so it’s great to see both Marvel and DC creating entirely different approaches to the superhero genre, if everything were the same, we’d all forgo it after a few years anyways.

I do, however, believe that Marvel has it in them to deliver a more positively received film than ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ based on the creative crews behind both sets of films and from the world building groundwork that has been done by both studios. Marvel’s done more legwork to get where they are today than DC in terms of their current shared universes, and they have a consistent world they have built and people have a good general idea of what to expect. As Guardians of The Galaxy, and hopefully Doctor Strange in November, proved they can take smaller properties and keep their formula from becoming stagnant in a world of many, many, superhero films coming out over the next few years. So, no, I don’t believe its time to sell all our Marvel Studios stock just yet. In the link below I’ve included a fun supercut of Marvel Studios films leading up to ‘Captain America Three: Civil War’ Enjoy!

Road to Civil War: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cR6Xa6fEAg

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Marvel Studios and The Fantastic Four: Is it worth it?

*Forgive me, for my timing isn’t as relevent as it could have been with this piece*

This past summer twentieth-century fox released a reboot of the Marvel Comics property ‘The Fantastic Four’ to less than stellar results, and that’s putting it lightly. Rumors circled the production from day one as newcomer filmmaker Josh Trank was handed the reins to Marvel’s first family. Word had it the director behind ‘Chronicle’ had a particular vision concerning the characters, to introduce them as a ‘hard Sci-Fi’ in tone instead of the openly campy iterations from the 2000’s when Chris Evans was the Human Torch instead of Captain America. Oh, how the times have changed. It’s not fully certain yet exactly what the right circumstances were for this project to be the box office bomb that it became, but one thing’s for sure, we all await the eventual documentary about it. It seems as though that despite having excellent actors attached to this iteration, and a new perspective on the characters and their origins, that there isn’t any one set of shoulders that we can rest all of the blame can upon though. In fact, I’ve listed a link below to Kevin Smith’s podcast ‘Fatman on Batman’ where the indie director sits down with Trank before his Fantastic Four released. It’s the first of three long podcasts (and is NSFW because of language) in which the listener gets to know Trank’s story. It’s a worth a listen purely for better understanding where the director comes from. While Josh Trank may have gotten overwhelmed at the helm though, it seems as though heavy studio meddling could have been a major factor. With their changes to, not only the structure, but the entire third act, they scheduled massive and painfully apparent reshoots that only served to weaken the overall piece. If we take a step back though and see what possible futures the characters can have, we have to ask, even if Marvel Studios has the chance to reclaim the characters, is it worth it to them now that the characters’ image is marred even further?

As a comic book fan, as well as a fan of the films, I say yes. Admittedly, I didn’t see the new film in theaters, but knowing what could be done with the characters, and what implications they have for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, well, lets just say I wouldn’t waste any time signing them up for MCU appearances. The Fantastic Four could be an incredibly timely film if done in the right light today. With Science projects taking ahold of people’s imaginations again from the likes of an eventual mission to Mars and the potential mining of asteroids, the time is now for a superhero team that embodies that spirit of unbridled exploration. The best parts about their comics are the thrill of imagination and discovery and the power of family. Imagine the heart and morals of Captain America but with the deep space tech Iron Man dreams about, and throw a dash of adventure in too for good measure. They explore parts of the MCU that no other characters deal with on a constant basis, much like Doctor Strange does. From the Microverse to the Negative Zone and back Reed Richards and his family know no bounds when it comes to exploring new worlds. That, however, doesn’t even begin to measure everything that comes with them.

Doctor Doom is all well and good, but the real granddaddy of Marvel villainy is Galactus, Eater-of-Worlds! Obviously this storyline is the big, bombastic, showdown that everyone wants to see, and it is ultimately the Fantastic Four that save the planet from this menace, using science, and … well, err.. persuasion. Even without the cosmic terror that is Galactus though, simply having Doctor Doom around to play around with in the MCU would be sufficient. Victor Von Doom is a peculiar villain in that he is the ruler of an entire country and infinitely cunning in his knowledge of both science and magic. Not to mention the galactic thinker himself, the silver surfer, would be a fun addition. Even if only for cameos, he’s surprisingly powerful for someone so shiny. The Alien race known as the Skrulls might even be part of the net of characters specifically related to the Foursome, and truly, who doesn’t want to see the Skrull invasion onscreen, it was enough to make Nick Fury’s paranoia boil over!

Possibly the best part about integrating Marvel’s first family into the MCU would be integrating them into other series. Specifically Spiderman’s films would surely benefit from the added cohesion, plus the characters have a long history of teaming up, some of the best ‘Fantastic’ storylines include Spiderman. I still believe these heroes can be a unique part of the MCU. While a devoted ‘Fantastic’ film might not be in the books anytime soon, these characters could be excellent bit players, much like Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk currently exists within the MCU. They could even be devoted to Netflix where they could thrive in their own series that defines their exploratory nature and then ultimately be utilized in the event movies when a big bad such as Galactus comes knocking. A truly unprecendented move could be something worth doing with this property as well though. While this is incredibly unlikely there is the chance that because Marvel will have to prove themselves with this property they’d have to do something wildly different in their approach. SPOILERS In issue #587 of the comics Marvel killed off Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch, the firebrand hot head went down heroically and saved the rest of the team so that they might escape the monsters of the unforgiving Negative Zone. If Marvel went with this route they would be doing something fresh, heart wrenching, and (hopefully) profound. It would also free up a potential Spiderman sequel arc where he is recruited to the newly christened ‘Future Foundation’ as the Human Torch’s replacement on the team.

The potential is there, but it remains to be seen what will be done with these characters. Hopefully they will not be pushed to the wayside, but given another chance to shine within the same world that ‘The Avengers’ inhabit. I have a feeling Kevin Feige has a contingency plan for this exact sort of thing anyways.

*Kevin Smith does a podcast with Josh Trank, Part 1 of 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s9xrzPLvm0