Category Archives: Comic Books

“Glass” Movie Review

I’ve always wondered what the world of psychology would think of any super-powered vigilantes running amuck. This film attempts to look directly at that field; at least temporarily anyway. This superhero thriller was first screened at 25 concurrent Alamo Drafthouse Cinema locations across the country. It as then released worldwide by Universal Pictures on January 18th, 2019, thus far managing to gross over $168.5 million against a small budget of $20 million. This made it one of the most successful openings over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend as well as the director’s career. Unfortunately, it’s been pretty hampered by mixed critical reviews, some harsher than others. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the film is meant to act as a conclusion to the Unbreakable-Split trilogy. Although he had wanted to make a sequel to his 2000 superhero gem for years, and apparently had the ending in mind the whole time, Touchstone and Disney were too disappointed by the lack of box office success to move forward. Then a few  years ago, he and Walt Disney Studios president Sean Bailey entered a gentlemen’s agreement, allowing him to use one of the characters in Split on the condition that Touchstone have a stake in a sequel, if made. Set roughly three weeks after that film, Burce Willis returns as former security guard David Dunn, a seemingly indestructible man who goes by the public persona “The Overseer.” He tracks down the disturbed 24-personality man Kevin Wendell Crumb, played by James McAvoy, only for them to both be captured and thrown into a mental asylum. Over the next several weeks, a psychiatrist named Dr. Ellie Staple, played by Sarah Paulson, attempts to convince these two men that they’re suffering from delusions of grandeur, which is apparently a growing field. However, they’re also locked up with the brittle but brilliant Elijah Price A.K.A. “Mr. Glass,” played by Samuel L. Jackson, who plans on turning David and Kevin against one another in a big showdown for the whole world to see. Although I only watched Unbreakable for the first time last year, it automatically became one of my all-time favorite films. Just the way it deconstructs not just the superhero genre but also comic books themselves was so original and engaging, and a fresh way to tell a new story. In fact, it actually holds up a lot better than most films from the same era that were actually based on comic books. Like many, I became ecstatic when 2017’s Split‘s surprise ending showed that the universe of the so-called “Eastrail 177 Trilogy” was still alive. Glass immediately shot up into the list for my most anticipated films of the year when it was finally announced for a 2019 release date. And sadly, while it is enjoyable in parts, especially the first hour, this was ultimately a very big letdown. To be clear, I don’t think that this is really a BAD movie, per se. Rather, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch and think about because there was far more potential for Glass than was in the final product. I applaud Blumhouse for allowing him to make the film the way he did, acting appropriately lowkey and small-scale. But still, you can’t help but feel like it’s simply grazing against something that could’ve been truly great. Shyamalan shows off some of his best and worst tendencies as a filmmaker here, major twist ending included. I actually thought that the ending was a good idea, and had the film been 10-20 minutes longer, it would’ve been more fulfilling. But instead, we’re left with a movie that seemingly just cuts off abruptly, but not before the director can get his obligatory cameo in. If for nothing else, the three main leads do excellent work as their respective characters. Shyamalan proves to be one of the few people capable of getting Bruce Willis to act, as his reprisal as David Dun/”The Overseer” is his best work in a while. McAvoy is even more fearless as Kevin, getting to dive headlong into numerous personalities and voices with ease, and appears to relish every moment. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson proves he still has genuine dramatic acting chops as the highly intelligent and ruthless Elijah Price, who always seems one step ahead of everyone else despite his brittle state. Various actors from previous installemtns also return, such as Charlayne Woodard as Elijah’s proud mother, Anya Taylor-Joy as the only person who seemingly “gets” Kevin, and Spencer Treat Clark as Dunn’s resourceful son and partner-in-crime. The biggest addition here is Sarah Paulson as Dr. Ellie Staple. Channeling the intrigue and scenery-chewing of her various roles on American Horror Story, it’s pretty interesting to gradually learn more about Dr. Staple as the movie goes on. You’re never quite sure if she’s filling out an agenda or is genuinely concerned about these three men. From a filmmaking perspective, Glass is able to regularly impress with some of the director’s big flourishes. Mike Gioulakis, who shot It Follows and Split, handles the cinematography with an amazing amount of fluidity and grace. Many shots are meant to emulate that of a comic book art frame, and also uses primary colors to add more flavor to the characters. Purple for Mr. Glass, green for “The Overseer,” and a whole variety of shades for Kevin and “The Horde.” It also uses a healthy amount of one-shots to track the action and character movements, even if it occasionally feels a bit showy. This complements the editing by Blu Murray and Luke Ciarrochi, which is surprisingly patient with its cuts in scenes. Shots are seamlessly cut together and a number of interesting transitions are used between moments. For example, for an interview scene, each of the characters is either shown in P.O.V. shots or in close-ups, offering a glimpse inside their headspace. West Dylan Thordson provides the instrumental film score for this movie. While it doesn’t contain “Visions” and feels a little lesser compared to James Newton Howard’s work, it still works for this instance. Much like the film itself, the soundtrack isn’t like a bombastic opera you’d expect from the genre at this point. It uses a variety or instruments, including synthesized piano and dynamic percussion, to create a dark and unique atmosphere. It also incorporates a number of strings to create an interesting melody that’s both subdued and heroic, much like these protagonists. The ending suite is particularly memorable as the fruits of the director’s labors come into real focus. I definitely see where this movie wants to go; an exploration of the mythos of heroes and villains, and whether it’s real or true. It’s just not in the film enough to sustain itself for 2 hours and 9 minutes. I know that he promised this was the last one, but it still feels as though he’s wanting to set up a whole cinematic universe of his own. Glass is an engaging yet sadly disappointing study of the power of belief. There are some genuinely entertaining moments peppered throughout, and one can definitely admire M. Night Shyamalan for his ambition. And this is certainly leaps and bounds ahead of some of his worst work, but it simply can’t measure up to what Unbreakable was 19 years ago. This is unfortunately one of those scenarios where upending or subverting audience expectations doesn’t really work out.

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“Aquaman” Movie Review

In this movie, there’s a giant, ancient Kracken voiced by Dame Julie Andrews hanging around in the deep sea. If that doesn’t let you know what kind of movie you’re in for, then I really don’t know what will. This superhero adventure film was released in theaters worldwide on December 21st, 2018, marking the sixth official installment of the DC Extended Universe franchise. Against numerous expectations, the film has managed to gross over $978 million worldwide at the box office, against a budget of around $170 million. Much of that intake comes from overseas in places like China, beating out other films in its genre recently and easily becoming the highest-grossing entry in its franchise. It also broke pre-sale ticket records for the service Atom Tickets and also made a lot from pre-screenings seen by Amazon Prime members. Directed by James Wan, the same man behind Saw and The Conjuring, Warner Bros. had planned for a long time to bring the titular character to life. Aside from a canceled T.V. show on the W.B., the studio hired Will Beall and Kurt Johnstad to write two separate scripts on dual track but only one would be selected. Beall’s edition was ultimately chosen, with David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick attending to some rewrites. It was ultimately pushed back from its originally planned release date for the summer of 2018, but that doesn’t seem to have harmed it too much. Taking place about a year after the events of Justice League, the story follows Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman, a half-human half-Atlantean warrior keeping the Seven Seas as safe as possible. Heir to the throne of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, he is reluctantly drawn into a conflict where his half-brother Orm, played by Patrick Wilson, is attempting to mount a massive invasion of the surface world. Arthur must find the courage to claim his rightful place beneath the ocean and lead his people towards peace. I still remember when I was a young child that Aquaman was considered something of a joke. A blonde man in a green-and-orange jumpsuit communicating with underwater creatures is inherently hard to take seriously for a lot of people. It wasn’t until the last few years that he was reinvented as a total badass and turned out to be one of the most powerful characters in DC Comics. I’ve always been curious to see what a feature-length movie would look like centered on the Atlantean Prince. James Wan’s horror background on great movies like the original Saw worked well, but I wasn’t sure if his sensibilities were fit for a swashbuckling high-seas adventure, as he has described it. At the end of the day, Aquaman has many problems with it, but it’s still surprisingly entertaining and diverting. My main issue with it is how the film feels too conventional for its own good a lot of the time. This is supposed to be an absolutely weird world we discover, packed with crazy monsters and whatnot. While there are certainly some designs and concepts that are really out there, the overall story structure is one we’ve seen so much and strangely doesn’t have much problem flowing through it. I’d actually respect Aquaman more if it went all-in on its balls to the wall ridiculousness, with nothing held back. It runs at 2 hours and 23 minutes, but there’s nothing in the plot to convince me that that runtime is justified. But hey, we do get to see a whole fleet of underwater humans using laser sharks to fight an army of sentient crab people. And in some ways, that’s good enough. Jason Momoa is pretty inspired casting for the titular hero, a far cry from his brutal role as Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones. He has incredible charisma and physical strength befitting of the hero, cranking out numerous cheesy one-liners like a good old action star. He uses his half-Native Hawaiian background to the fullest advantage to internalize the struggle of someone torn between two worlds. Amber Heard is mostly able to subvert the trope of being a damsel in distress as Mera, Arthur’s primary Atlantean ally. Her bright red hair and green suit reminded me heavily of Ariel from The Little Mermaid, although this time, it definitely felt like she had more control of her agency. Wan’s frequent collaborator Patrick Wilson is also noteworthy as the main villain Orm. While his motivations and craziness are pretty typical for a comic book villain like this, Wilson does a good job at containing a lot of it but can’t quite make it memorable enough. Other players include Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman as Arthur’s long-separated parents, Willem Dafoe as his conflicted mentor, Dolph Lundgren as the King of a vital underwater nation, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as a bitter and violent sea pirate with a major grudge out on the titular hero. Some are able to leave better impressions than others, but I can’t quite say that anyone was actually bad in their roles. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Aquaman are pretty damn sweet to swim through. Robert Zemeckis’ longtime cinematographer handles the camerawork here, to some nice results. The camera almost always feels like it’s roving around or exploring the unique world with a certain fluidity. Although, it gets kind of cheesy as there are several shots where the actors make obvious poses. Kirk Morri’s editing job works well to move between the action scenes with enough cuts to keep it engaging without making it incomprehensible. The biggest thing propelling this film are the visual effects. Containing just under 2,300 VFX shots, the environments underwater, particularly the Kingdom of Atlantis, are actually quite beautiful and vibrant. The work done by Industrial Lights & Magic and a handful of other production companies isn’t too shabby, as there are convincing movements of characters underwater. Very few scenes take place on the surface world, so it can become a little obvious after a while. But in fairness, it is rather easy for me to see why the director was mad the film didn’t make the Best Visual Effects shortlist. Rupert Gregson-Williams composed and conducted the instrumental film score, and it’s one of the better ones from a superhero film this year. A surprising number of tracks involve synthesizers for its backbone, especially the main theme for our hero and when we first see Atlantis. It infuses pretty well with conventional instrumentations like trumpets, strings, and electric guitars to get an “out-of-this-world” feeling. Also, for some reason, the film ends with an orchestral pop ballad called “Everything I Need” by singer-songwriter Skylar Grey. It utilizes deeply booming percussion and repetitive piano chords as its main medley. But aside from Grey’s lovely vocals, it’s an entirely forgettable song that just doesn’t really fit with the rest of the soundtrack. Neither terribly awful nor remarkable enough to be superior to many other entries of its genre, Aquaman is a colorful and enjoyably diverting high-seas adventure that never fully takes advantage of its weirdness. James Wan is surely capable of a superhero epic behind the camera, and you can tell he and the cast had a fun time making it. It is refreshing since it doesn’t forcibly setup a big teaser for the next Justice League, as the DCEU is still on course correction. But there’s still something a little unsatisfying about the whole thing. Oh well.

Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2019

Welcome to to the year 2019, readers! Every year brings a new crop of movies that get my blood pumping for one reason or another. This year is no different, as there are a number of high-profile (And smaller indie) releases that have been holding my attention for months on end now. As per usual, there are so many coming out within the next 12 months that it was kind of hard to narrow down into a ranked list. I could only include 10 on this list, though, so here are several honorable mentions that are also on my watchlist for the year.

Honorable Mentions:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Shazam!, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, It Chapter Two, Artemis Fowl, The Kid Who Would Be King, Missing Link, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Captive State, Aladdin, The Lion King, Alita: Battle Angel, High Life, Velvet Buzzsaw

Let’s see what’s coming out, now.

#10: “The Irishman” (TBA 2019)

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If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that Netflix really wants to be taken seriously in the filmmaking industry. While there are still several directors and producers who are cynical about the streaming service’s merits, they have managed to attract numerous high-profile auteurs due to their emphasis on creative and artistic freedom. One of those auteurs is Martin Scorsese, whose long-gestating project The Irishman was finally given the green light once it got to Netflix. While it technically doesn’t have an official release date yet, most sources seem to indicate that it’s going to be released sometime in 2019. And with the recent theatrical success of Roma, I can easily see this as a window for them to open more of their films in theaters. If for nothing else, I just want to see Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci (In his first role in nearly a decade) work together on-screen.

#9: “Joker” (Opens October 4th)

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I can’t quite explain why, but Todd Phillips’ Joker movie has my interest piqued more than any other comic book adaptation coming out next year. Obviously, I’m looking forward to Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, and Shazam!, but this just seems really different from those other films in so many aspects. Based on many accounts I’ve read, Warner Bros. is gunning for a more character-driven, smaller-scale film. Rumor has it that they’ll let get an R-rating, and may even put it into a fall festival next year! Joaquin Phoenix seems like a natural fit for the titular part, reportedly having been terrified by the script he read. And if the set videos prove anything, it’s definitely going to be fast-paced.

#8: “Glass” (Opens January 18th)

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19 years it’s been since Unbreakable first came onto the scene as a brand new superhero movie, but the world was sadly not ready. Now, with a surprise twist at the end of Split, M. Night Shyamalan is officially bringing the story to a conclusion, albeit in a drastically different world than the one it was when it began. Superheroes have absolutely flooded the market in the last 10 years, and it’s both great that Glass is coming out at the genre’s peak, and sad that it took this long. Regardless, it looks like a really cool and intense showdown between the three super-powered beings we’ve come to know, all while wearing its love of comic books proudly on its sleeves. And its use of color looks genius.

#7: “Midsommar” (Opens August 9th)

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It’s honestly kind of problematic for me to say that I’m “excited” for a new movie by the same guy who made Hereditary. I honestly couldn’t blame anyone who still hasn’t recovered from that feverish nightmare, but writer-director Ari Aster already has another film coming down the pipe. This time, it involves a violent pagan cult in Amsterdam. Described as an “apocalyptic breakup movie,” A24 has reportedly constructed a 15-building village to bring his twisted vision to life, so it’s definitely worth keeping tabs on for the end of the summer.

#6: “John Wick 3: Parabellum” (Opens May 17th)

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The set photo above is easily enough to have me already pumped to the max about the supposed trilogy capper for Lionsgate’s surprise action franchise. I’ve absolutely loved these movies not just for their incredibly well-choreographed and shot action scenes but also for the unique world that has been built. John Wick 3: Parabellum seemingly promises to further blossom that world as we getting to see not only more assassins, but also introduces a society of NINJAS. Need I say more?

#5: “Us” (Opens March 15th)

It’s safe to say that after the phenomenal success of Get Out, including an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay, Jordan Peele knows exactly what he wants to do and how to do it. He’s lined up quite a few projects as a producer with power that it’s somewhat easy to forget he’s stepping behind the camera once more next year for a new horror movie. The trailer for Us looks incredibly enticing, as it sees him tackling more high-concept material with a larger budget this time around, along with some impressive casting choices. I’m curious to see what sociopolitical topic Peele will be satirizing this time, but based on the imagery shown thus far, he’s cooked up yet another original triumph.

#4: “Ad Astra” (Opens May 24th)

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Having seen We Own the Night, The Immigrant, and The Lost City of Z, I’m now convinced that James Gray is one of the most underrated filmmakers working in America. He has a certain classical touch that seems to permeate across multiple genres. I’m incredibly curious to see what he has cooked up for Ad Astra, an original sci-fi epic apparently inspired by the novel Heart of Darkness. It centers on a slightly autistic Army engineer who goes on a space voyage to find his father, who was last heard heading for Neptune about 25 years earlier. Not only does boast stars like Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, but also Christopher Nolan’s recent muse Hoyte Van Hoytema is handling the cinematography.

#3: “Knives Out” (Opens November 27th)

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With nary a poster, trailer, first-look image, or even proper synopsis in sight, it says a lot that I’m putting Knives Out this high on the list. It has been described by several sources as writer-director Rian Johnson’s modern-day take on a classic Agatha Christie whodunit murder mystery. It’s far too rare that we can get a movie as simple as that these days. Not to mention, it has a stacked cast including Daniel Craig, Lakeith Stanfield, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, and even Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s really intriguing to see what Johnson has in store for a smaller-scale story like this after helming a huge blockbuster like The Last Jedi. Speaking of which…

#2: “Star Wars Episode IX” (Opens December 20th)

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It feels super lazy for me to include a Star Wars movie on a list like this, but I just can’t help it. As per usual, any and all details of what might be going on in this sequel trilogy capper are being kept under lock and key. We do know that newcomers include Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell have joined the cast, Billy Dee Williams is reprising his role as Lando Calrissian, and the plot will take place one year after The Last Jedi, perhaps one of the most divisive films of the decade. What makes it all the more enticing is that it is planned to be the final installment of the Skywalker Saga, which has spanned decades now. Of course, Disney has more Star Wars material planned to come down the pipe, but to see the story finally reaching a real conclusion is kind of like taking one last trip to your old hometown before saying goodbye.

#1: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Opens July 26th)

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You’re going to have to work extremely hard to make me not feel excited for a new movie written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. While he has gone through some pretty rough patches recently- severing ties with Harvey Weinstein, the Roman Polanski audio, Uma Thurman’s revelatory Kill Bill story -the auteur still has plans and has no intention of slowing them down. His 9th feature film- and supposedly his penultimate one, if what he says is true -legitimately sounds like a passion project he’s been working towards his whole career. It’s going to be set in Hollywood 1969 as a Western T.V. actor and his longtime stunt double struggle to make it in a changing film landscape, and also happens to involve the infamous Manson Murders. Featuring an absolutely sprawling ensemble cast packed with movie stars and said to be close in style to Pulp Fiction, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood sounds like an epic in the making.

Do you agree with my picks? What are your most anticipated films coming out later this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comment section, and as always, if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Following my Blog for similar content. Happy New Year, everybody!

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” Movie Review

If anyone ever tells you that there’s no more fresh air to be found in the Spider-Man mythos, just point them in the direction of this movie. Either they’ll fall head over heels for the web-slinger all over again or there’s no hope left for them. This animated superhero film was released in theaters worldwide on December 14th, 2018. Made on a budget of $90 million, it has thus far grossed over $138 million at the international box office, breaking various records for animated openings in December and becoming Sony Animation’s biggest hit. It has also been the recipient of overwhelmingly positive responses from audiences and professionals, receiving some early nominations. It was even named the best film of the year by a film critics’ group in Utah. Conceived, produced and co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the same duo behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, the film was one of many projects leaked by the Sony hacks of November 2014. From the get-go all parties involved, including director Bob Perischetti, wanted to make a movie that was stylistically different from anything the medium had offered at that point. If all goes well, the studio hopes they can launch a series of animated Web-Slinger films in the future. Shameik Moore stars as Miles Morales, a young half-black, half-Puerto Rican teen living in modern-day Brooklyn. Bored by his new private school and frustrated by the relationship between his police officer father and criminal uncle, he gets pulled into a conflict involving the famous Spider-Man. During a battle, they accidentally open up a multiverse where several other Spider-People from various dimensions have leaked into his version of New York City. With limited time, Miles must get everyone back to their dimensions while discovering his own powers and avoiding the power of crime boss Wilson Fisk. To say that the current cinematic market is flooded to the brim with superheroes would be a massive understatement. In all seriousness, it took this movie several months to get on my radar because of that very reason. It shot up to the top of my December watchlist when I discovered that it was made by Lord and Miller. I absolutely adored their work with The Lego Movie, so I was curious to see what their whip-smart and hilarious stamp would like for a comic book superhero story. Especially because the new comic book-eque style of animation looked so different and original. I’m so, so happy to report that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse exceeded all my expectations and is easily the best Marvel film Sony has produced in a long time. Perhaps better than the Sam Raimi trilogy, or Homecoming, or even the 90’s cartoon show, what makes Into the Spider-Verse so great is how well it understands the character of Spider-Man. Here, he’s not simply a person, but an idea. A mask for anyone to put on whenever they feel like they’re ready to conquer any big trials they may be facing. Whether it’s the affable Peter Parker or a smart but lonely Afro-Latina kid from Brooklyn, they all wrestle with the expectations of it all. As one person tells Miles, “I see this spark in you. It’s amazing. Whatever you choose to do with it, you’ll be great.” There’s a lot of weight that comes with wearing a costume, and to see Miles find the strength to do so is inspiring. Shameik Moore has been a rising star for a couple years now, and his performance as Miles Morales might just be the big break he needs. Through solely his voice, he carries all of the charisma he showed off in The Get Down and Dope, and gives off a relatable charm. Jake Johnson and Hailee Steinfeld also do great work as Peter B. Parker and Gwen Stacy, respectively. Though they’re kind of messy people, they turn into unconventional mentors for Miles while also realizing that they can’t do everything on their own. The other three Spider-People are Nicholas Cage, John Mulaney, and Kimiko Green as Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham, (No, that’s no joke) and SP//r, respectively. Cage is perfect in the role, delivering Bogart-eque lines with deadpan pleasure, while Mulany is hilarious as the cartoony version. Other voice actors include Leiv Schreiber, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Kathryn Hahn, Lili Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, and Zoë Kravitz in roles as various comic book characters, both major and obscure. Meanwhile, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is just as technically astounding as the hype has made it appear. This may have some of the most unique and memorable animation of any movie in recent memory. Yes, it is mostly computer-animated, but it also blends it with comic book artwork, with certain textures on the screen at all times. It occasionally throws in a couple of other styles, such as anime and traditional 2-D, but they’re all in service to creating something that feels brand new. The blending of comic art and CG creates these gorgeous, vibrant colors for the city of New York, and makes the action scenes- particularly a jaw-dropping, kaleidoscopic finale -come to life, big exclamations and thought bubbles included. Daniel Pemberton, who gave a great soundtrack to last year’s underrated King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, composes the musical score for this film. He continues to expand his wings because, in many ways similar to Black Panther, this score infuses traditional orchestral beats with hip-hop tunes. It works to great effect, as a number of tracks that leave a lasting impression. This includes a leitmotif for one of the villains, which has rapid strings and percussion undercut by a menacing distorted roar. Rapper Post Malone also contributed heavily to the soundtrack, writing an original song called “Sunflower” with Swae Lee. It’s a catchy anthem whose lyrics are pertinent to the core of the film, urging its listener to believe that they’re special in some way. It plays during the beginning and end of the film, serving as a nice bookend to the insane story. What’s more is that there is an unexpected yet heartbreaking tribute to Stan Lee in the credits, as well as Spider-Man co-creator Steven Ditko. For those unaware, these two legends died earlier in the year. Lee obviously has his obligatory cameo in the movie, but the way the filmmakers paid homage was both moving and appropriate; a fitting tribute to what he had intended with the character(s). Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a wildly inventive and fun take on a well-worn property that celebrates inclusion. Even with my high expectations, I’m still amazed with what Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and all other parties were able to accomplish here. This sets a new bar for animated superhero movies, and I can’t wait to see what else Sony can offer in this department.

“The Avengers” Movie Review

Oh boy. We now live in a world where Stan Lee, the creative man behind countless iconic superheroes in Marvel Comics, is gone. He died at the age of 95. I was originally going to write a straightforward obituary, but I instead decided that it was more cathartic for me to review a film inspired by the comic book pages he created. I could have easily chosen any of the MCU installments or beyond that, but this one seemed the most fitting. This ensemble superhero action film was released on May 4th, 2012, to incredibly high anticipation from industry insiders, fans, and critics. It broke numerous box office records at the time, including the highest-grossing opening weekend to that point, and the third highest-grossing film of all time. It also helps that critical reviewers and general audiences ate it up like a healthy breakfast. Written and directed by Joss Whedon, the crossover film was a cinematic event many years in the making, with ideas planned as early as 2003. Following the huge and unexpected success of Iron Man in 2008, as well as Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Studios in 2010, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was moving ever closer to its first culmination. Interestingly, the original cut was rated R, forcing Whedon to whittle down the film even further because of one trivial scene. The film is set in the aftermath of the trickster god Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, being given another chance by an otherworldly army called the Chitauri. When he comes down to Earth, he sets out to steal the Tesseract, a cube containing astral power, and manages to brainwash a number of humans into doing his bidding. Desperate, S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, quickly assembles a group of superpowered individuals- The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and a resurrected Captain America -to stop Loki and prevent the Chitauri’s invasion of Earth. Can you honestly imagine what it was like for someone like me, a lifelong comic book fan, to see a superhero team like the Avengers get together onscreen for the first time? It was already a miracle that the previous MCU films had (For the most part) been as great and entertaining as they were. But the idea of seeing so many beloved comic book superheroes on-screen together for one movie event for the first time ever was likely to be either lightning in a bottle or career-ending for all involved. Thankfully, The Avengers so brilliantly brought Stan Lee’s creations to life that it set an entirely new standard for the genre. Joss Whedon really was the perfect writer and director to bring this project about. As a big fan of both Firefly and it’s big-screen continuation Serenity, his ability to juggle multiple characters in an ensemble at once and still make them all relevant is no small feat. Not to mention the brilliantly written dialogue, which sounds natural and fluid in each character’s mouth. He also shows a willingness to compromise with producer and franchise architect Kevin Feige, and it’s clear that the two of them have a deep love for the rich source material. I remember sneaking out of school on opening day to see this movie and seeing all of my comic book idols realized in such a resonant manner was so amazing, as I’m sure it was to many other fans. Speaking of ensembles, the original core team of titular heroes are all perfect in their now-iconic roles. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner all do splendid work as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, respectively. Ruffalo and Evans are particularly well-matched for their characters in this outing. One is a brilliant mind struggling to control his inner rage for the sake of others, the other is a soldier of yesteryear confused and disillusioned by the modern world. Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, and Colbie Smoulders are great in their supporting roles as eager members of S.H.I.E.L.D. while now-deceased people like Powers Boothe, Harry Dean Stanton and, of course, Stan Lee make memorable one-note cameo appearances. Meanwhile, Tom Hiddleston is a joyful bit of character acting as Loki, the main antagonist. It’s clear that the man is having a blast playing this character, which in turn makes him a blast to watch on-screen, in spite of his actions. Yet, there’s a certain element of tragedy to the trickster god, who feels completely homeless and devoid of a welcoming family. It makes his alliance with the Chitauri- who are connected to another major MCU villain -even more understandable and even desperate. As a piece of technical filmmaking, alone, The Avengers is a major achievement that- for better or worse -set a precedent for other MCU films to follow. Whedon uses a lot of his regular collaborators, including Seamus McGarvey as the cinematographer, which was his first foray into digital camerawork. For the most part, he’s able to transition really well, capturing the action and its subjects in a large aspect ratio. This comes for both steady shots in massive set pieces and more shaky, handheld work for ground level action in the streets of New York City. It goes well with the editing job by Lisa Lassek and Jeffrey Ford, who cut the camera in ways that don’t feel too choppy or overlong. For some of the more comedic moments, it knows exactly how long to linger on a person or when to put in a pause. Two shots that stand out are the famous spider-cam rotation around the team as they form a circle and a fantastic shot designed to look like a “oner” that traces the group’s actions throughout the battle. Alan Silvestri, who would go on to write music for other superhero blockbusters, is responsible for composing and conducting the instrumental film score. With some supervision by Danny Elfman and help from the London Symphony Orchestra, he successfully manages to create an old-school sound of action movie soundtracks. The main theme serves as the backbone for the entire soundtrack and it’s, thankfully, a memorable one. With consistent strings, a heroic brass melody, and buoyant percussion sounds. If not for the Marvel logo, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a lost John Williams score written for a Steven Spielberg picture that was never released. And that’s all there really is to it, honestly. It’s pretty tragic that these circumstances are what made me finally review it in the first place, but still. Without that man’s immortal contributions to literature (I will fight Bill Maher on that) and media, this film wouldn’t exist in the first place. Always aware of what it is and running with it, The Avengers is a glorious epitome of all the ingredients of a great blockbuster. If there were any film of the decade to serve as a definitive example of how the industry has changed, this certainly would be it. Stan Lee’s creation has inspired a generation of fans who never felt like they fit in anywhere- including me. Nobody lives forever but the characters and stories he crafted will endure for an eternity. Rest in peace. Or as the man himself would say, Excelsior.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” Movie Review

This is that kind of superhero movie for those who want a relative break from all of the $200+ million blowout epics. Despite what many may say, we need to have this every once in a while. This superhero comedy actioner was released worldwide on July 6th, 2018, marking the 20th (!) film in the impossibly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. Receiving positive reviews, it has so far grossed over $$450 million at the box office against a budget of around $162 million. And that is reportedly one of the franchise’s lowest budgets to date. Following the success of the first Ant-Man in 2015, director Peyton Reed was immediately excited to get involved with the sequel. According to him, including the titular female hero in the second go-around was a “no-brainer” and constantly insisted that they were equal to one another. It’s also the first Marvel film to feature a female superhero in a lead role, even if it’s shared with her male co-star. Taking place shortly before the events of Avengers: Infinity War, we once again find star/co-writer Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a petty con man turned crime-fighting superhero with the technology to shrink or grow in size. In the last few days of his house arrest, he gets a signal that might lead to Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp and wife to Pym Particle inventor Hank Pym, who vanished into the quantum realm decades earlier. This attracts the attention of Pym and his daughter Hope, who seeks to take her mother’s mantle as the Wasp, and have to perform a few heists to get the right equipment. They are, however, being followed and sabotaged by a mysterious woman named Ghost, who possesses the ability to walk or phase through solid objects. I enjoyed the original Ant-Man, released in 2015, for what it was. It was a light, funny, breezy heist comedy with a superhero makeover. It also made for an extremely memorable viewing experience, as my theater that day experienced a power surge followed by 5 minutes of footage that were completely silent. While it was frustrating to me that Edgar Wright was bumped off of the project after years of trying to get it off the ground, the end result by Peyton Reed was surprisingly joyous. And following the game-changing events in Infinity War this April, I was curious to see how Ant-Man and the Wasp could handle following it up. Turns out, it came at a perfect time to relax from the heavy, devastating moments of that huge crossover. This provides a nice, smooth viewing experience for the summer. I really like how appropriately small the scale and stakes are in this film. Lang and Pym aren’t concerned about saving the world because there are other heroes for that- something that’s constantly referenced by them. In fact, almost all of the action takes place within the San Francisco Bay Area, keeping things tight and contained. Unfortunately, that strength also turns out to be the films biggest weakness. While I do like how much more lowkey everything is, it just feels void of any real consequence. There is a mid-credits scene that does bring things back into perspective, and it even got an audible gasp out of me and the audience. Paul Rudd is as likable and fun as ever playing Scott Lang. He perfectly balances the sensibilities of a struggling single dad with that of a costumed superhero trying to do the right thing. Since he co-wrote the screenplay, a lot of the dialogue for his character feels natural and fluid in his mouth. Michael Peña and Evangeline Lilly both return as Lang’s friend Luis and Hope, respectively. Luis and his security crew were funny, even though their improv abilities was downplayed this time around. Lilly, meanwhile, is an absolute badass as The Wasp, fitting into the costume perfectly and carrying a great burdDen of responsibility. Her determination to find her mother offers some nice context and motivation. Hannah John-Kamen takes a little bit to grow comfortable in her role as Ghost, but once she does, she ranks among some of Marvel’s better on-screen villains. Her motivations don’t make necessarily evil, and in some ways can draw some sympathy from the audience. But as always, I didn’t feel there was enough screentime for her character. As is fitting with the nature of the film, the technical aspects of Ant-Man and the Wasp are lowkey but still notable in some regards. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who has previous experience with some comic book adaptations, paints the story in fullscreen glory. There are a surprising amount of practical sets used, which helps some of the scenes pop. The color palette is a bland grey, which makes the colorful costumes standout more. Speaking of costumes, the designs for the titular heroes and Ghost are outstanding. They’ve been updated since the previous installment, and look great on the characters. The film is edited jointly by Marvel veterans Craig Wood and Dan Lebenthal. The most impressive sequence, as last time, is a flash montage in which Luis breaks down events as actors mouth his words. And while the dramatic and comedic moments feel rightly stitched together, the action scenes, are once again, cut to shit. Virtually all of the MCU films have this problem, and I’m starting to get sick of it. Frequent action movie collaborator Christophe Beck composes and conducts the instrumental film score for the picture, which is about exactly what you’d expect from the studio at this point. The typical fanfare for when our heroes show up, a dark and brooding theme to highlight the villains, and fast-paced tracks for when action is going down. The theme song in the end credits, however, was a fun change of pace. It included electric guitar riffs, bass walks, and drum kit fills. Interestingly, that theme felt reminiscent of theme songs from old comic book movies in the 60’s and 70’s. It also makes use of the song “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, which feels like the perfect fit for the story. It does take two heroes to make things right, further emphasizing the teamwork dynamic of the titular protagonists. By no means remarkable or overly important in the grand scheme of things for the franchise, Ant-Man and The Wasp is still a fun, lightweight palette cleanser for the whole family. Pretty much on par with its predecessor, you can expect another round of breezy entertainment from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s great as a breath of fresh air following the gut-punch that Infinity War was. Nothing more, nothing less.

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“Unbreakable” Movie Review

Every single film snob out there who posits that superhero movies could never take place in the “real world” clearly weren’t around for the pre-Marvel Studios boom. I’m not just talking about The Dark Knight (Which turns 10 years old this month) but something that was never even based on an existing comic book. This superhero psychological thriller- written, co-produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan -was released on November 22nd, 2000. With a relatively small budget of $75 million, the film managed to gross over $248 million at the worldwide box office. It’s somewhat disappointing box office intake, as well as the polite reaction from critics and audiences, were partially blamed on Touchstone Pictures’ marketing campaign. It has since garnered a huge cult following, as well as a recently confirmed sequel due out in 2019. Following the massive, unexpected success of his previous film The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan outlined the film’s screenplay and structure like that of a comic book. With the two lead characters written in mind for the actors portraying them, he decided to turn it into a straight-up hero/villain origin story. The spec script ended up being sold to Disney for $5 million, a record deal at the time, who in turn helped the director form his own production company. Bruce Willis stars as David Dunn, a stadium security guard who is struggling to salvage his marriage and life in Philadelphia. On a train home from a job interview in New York City, the Eastrail 177 crashes- but Dunn emerges the only survivor, without a single broken bone or injury sustained. Getting word of this “miracle,” comic book art gallery owner Elijah Price, played by Samuel L. Jackson, contacts Dunn and approaches him with the idea that he might actually be a superhero. Despite being stricken with Type I osteogenesis imperfecta, which makes all of his bones brittle, Price keeps a watchful eye over Dunn’s actions as they both begin to realize their place in the world. How on earth did M. Night Shyamalan go from being proclaimed “the next Spielberg” to becoming the laughing stock of Hollywood? I’ve made no secret about my hatred for The Last Airbender and After Earth, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy his earlier films. For the longest time, I had been dying to see his take on the superhero genre, especially since it came right before the genre had exploded. And now, with Split out and Glass officially coming to theaters next January, I figured now would be as good a time as any to check out Unbreakable. And it is by far my favorite Shyamalan picture. Moreover, it’s a wonderfully original take on the superhero origin story. The marketing campaign sold it as the next supernatural thriller from the man behind “I see dead people.” When in reality, this really is, as director Quentin Tarantino put it, a story in which Superman hypothetically lived on Earth without knowing his full abilities. In fact, in many ways, the film does a better job at deepening the purpose and artistry of comic books than most movies adapted from the illustrated pages. As Elijah Price says, “I believe comic books are a form of history that someone, somewhere felt or experienced. Then, of course, those experiences and history got chewed up by the commercial machine, got jazzed up, made a titillating cartoon for the sale rack.” The opening text, alone, perfectly shows why comics are such a big and important cornerstone in modern pop culture. That, combined with the surprisingly serious tone, makes it feel as though it takes place in a world that you can reach out and touch. It’s easy to see why the main characters were written in mind for the leads because they pull it off so easily. Despite his list of cool roles over his career, I’m fairly positive that this is Bruce Willis’ best performance yet. Like his work in The Sixth Sense, he’s so subtle and quiet for much of the movie, yet you can feel a history of emotional pain. That he never really achieved something truly amazing in his life, that his marriage to the woman he loves is about to fall apart, that he’s disconnected from his own son. Opposite him, Samuel L. Jackson is equally subdued but no less excellent as Elijah Price. As obsessive as he is calculating, his occasional dips into being over the top are perfectly fit for that of a supervillain, especially with his self-given nickname Mr. Glass. Other performers like Robin Wright and Spencer Treat Clark as Dunn’s family, and Charlayne Woodard as Elijah’s concerned mother add something unique to the experience. Meanwhile, Shyamalan shows us that he really does have a wonderful eye for filmmaking techniques. Shot by Eduardo Serra, primarily working with European auteurs, the cinematography is extremely precise and controlled. Most scenes are shown on steady single long takes, which arguably gives the cast more room to breathe. The shot composition is arranged in such a unique way that it actually emulates a real comic book panel. The use of color by editor Dylan Tichenor further illustrates this by assigning certain hues to characters or situations. For example, whereas David Dunn’s livelihood is dominated by shades of green, Mr. Glass is primarily shown in purple. And in certain sequences, a character’s clothes will be highlighted brightly, in contrast to the dreary palette of the real world. For fans of comics, this is certain to be a delightful round of catching homages, especially as Elijah explains specific artistic aspects of the medium. James Newton Howard, the director’s frequent collaborator, composes and conducts one of the best instrumental scores for a superhero film. The main theme song is very singular and unconventional, utilizing an electronic drum kit mixed with different sounds and strings, building up a huge crescendo. Other tracks use simplistic instruments such as minimal trumpets and rousing percussion tools like timpanis and piano. While most of them are made to create a sort of misterioso tone- appropriate as the main hero discovers his own powers -others feel so inspirational and weeping that they feel like they belong in a classic Hollywood epic. And the best part is that they’re all perfectly timed with each moment; the director reportedly showed Howard the storyboards in order to establish what he wanted. And it really shows. Also, I’m really surprised by the generally negative response to this film’s ending. Shyamalan is a director who is famous (Or perhaps infamous) for including a twist in the final scene that shakes up the plot. In his later films, there is justification for this criticism as it felt as though he was just throwing it in for its own sake. I can moderately understand that, as it’s partially wrapped up through epilogue text. I won’t spoil the twist ending in this film, but as with The Sixth Sense, the ending here not only makes perfect sense to me, it also improves a lot with repeat viewings. I’ve watched this film twice within 24 hours, and it only gets better. Unbreakable is a truly inspirational and realistic take on an often disrespected medium. Whatever you may think of his later films, there’s almost no denying that this is M. Night Shyamalan’s true masterpiece. What really makes the film special, aside from everything said above, is that it makes you believe that you, too, might be a superhero. That you have the capacity within to do good work and help people who need it. And for that, I can safely count it as one of the best, and most original, superhero films ever put to the silver screen.

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