Category Archives: Reviews

Movie Review: Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix

With all of the rumors, buzz, and delays in the lead up to Dark Phoenix, you’d think the film was a disaster of a film. The end product though is neither good nor bad. It just kid of “is.” Rounding out the newest quartet of Fox‘s X-Men films before they’re inevitably rebooted by Marvel, the film is a bunch of good ideas taken in the wrong direction.

The film adapts the classic comic story The Dark Phoenix Saga with some twists and other material. Originally written by Chris Claremont with art by John Byrne, it’s a storyline that was also borrowed from in X-Men: The Last Stand, the last film in the original X film trilogy. Unlike X-Men: The Last Stand, this film isn’t a complete total disaster.

The story is simple. Infused with a comic force, Jean Grey’s powers are expanded and extended to a point she has trouble controlling them. And from there, disaster strikes pitting her against forces that want to control her and help her.

Dark Phoenix borrows liberally from the original material (the D’Bari and Vuk are included) as well as other storylines. Mainly that Charles Xavier is a completely horrible human being.

That’s really where the film revolves. Charles Xavier has done horrible things, mainly dealing with Jean Grey, and those decisions are coming back to haunt him. The exploration that the X-Men are a vanity project of his is there. An extension of his ego that he knows what’s right.

And that’s what’s frustrating about the film. The concepts are all there. The themes are all there. There’s an interesting psychological/thinking film within. Writer and director Simon Kinberg never seems to want to really commit to that, instead delivering a fairly popcorn focused film. The lessons from Logan are both present and not. These films can be more than just big action sequences. And even those sequences are underwhelming.

The Phoenix Force itself looks like leftover FX of Galactus from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The climactic train sequence has moments that are both inspired and not. Too much space is present making the sequence feel empty and not focused on a primary point. Magneto, Nightcrawler, and Storm get moments to truly stand out. Especially the latter two characters. The train sequence almost makes up for it. It also had me thinking how Snowpiercer has shown that a film on a train can be amazing.

But, back to the plot….

The film is lazy. Characters come in and out of scenes and sequences without explanation (D’Bari for example). Foreshadowing is so present you almost expect the characters to look at the camera with a smirk. Kinberg’s direction feels like it doesn’t have an “eye” or “vision.” Shots are panned out too far and don’t focus on one thing. It’s a scattered vision for a scattered film. And the cast as a whole feels like they’re phoning it in.

The film feels like it knows it’s the end as opposed to setting something else up. And the cast are in on that reality. The acting is… subpar at best. There’s some laughable line delivery. The audience literally laughed. The make-up itself too is distracting with the women sporting caked on make-up with slight sparkles. It all feels very low budget and B-movie but at the same time a very high budget film. With a reported $200 million budget, the movie just feels like everyone is checking boxes off and going through the motion.

The true joy of the film, as it has been in a few X films is “spot the mutant.” There’s lots of “guest” appearances such as Disco Dazzler, Kitty Pryde, and Quinton Quire. When you find yourself paying more attention to background characters than the main cast, you have issues. And even that feels cheap. The make-up here too isn’t present enough and there are moments where in a panned out scene someone looks normal and up close there’s some make-up to say “mutant.” Most of the mutants just look like average individuals, with nothing spectacular about it. I guess prosthetics and costumes weren’t in the budget. Much like everything else, it feels a bit halfassed.

What’s weird though is, the film is somewhat enjoyable. It’s not one I want to pay full price to see but in a matinee or on television, it’s worth the svelte 113 minutes it’ll cost in time.

Dark Phoenix has some bang moments and you can see where it could have been great. Much like the Phoenix Force itself, the film both creates and destroys the legacy of the previous three films. It’s neither good nor bad. It just is.

Overall Rating: 6 out of 10

Movie Review: Aladdin

Aladdin 2019

“I can show you the world…” In a world where such classic animated films exist, it’s a relevant question to ask what you get from simply remaking something as beloved and classic and Disney’s 1992 Aladdin. With Director Guy Ritchie on board and Will Smith taking the place as the iconic blue genie, can they deliver something worthwhile?

Yes. Yes they can.

The remake updates the not-so-old film in a lot of ways. In fact, this film is so not-so-old that I can remember seeing it opening weekend at the old Scera Theater in Orem, Utah amid a massive throng of children and hearing those opening words of “Arabian Nights” describing its setting as “where they cut off your ears if they don’t like your face– it’s barbaric, but, hey, it’s home.” This line was almost immediately redubbed and scrubbed from future soundtrack and home video releases to something that didn’t imply that Arabs are barbaric, so it’s not like Aladdin hasn’t needed some brushing up from day 1.

But perhaps what is most refreshing is its elevation of Princess Jasmine to, arguably, the main character of the film. While Aladdin still goes through his growth and character journey, so too does Jasmine grapple with her place in a patriarchal kingdom where she feels she is actually the most qualified person to rule. She’s not wrong, and Jasmine basically is coming for Elsa as the most overtly feminist member of the Disney pantheon. A new song added for the film, “Speechless,” is performed to perfection by Naomi Scott. If this song isn’t nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars, I’ll eat a DVD of Aladdin.

[Minor spoiler ahead, skip to next paragraph if you don’t want to know] One of the most interesting ways they updated this and cranked the feminism up to 11 is a single line delivered by Aladdin in a new scene immediately post the “A Whole New World” magic carpet ride. Looking down at Agrabah, Jasmine talks about wanting to help all of the city’s residents. She wants to be listened to and help rule because she knows she can do a better job than anyone else. She turns to Prince Ali for his opinion, and he delivers one of the most astounding and wonderful lines of any film this year: “Why does it matter what I think?” Her self worth isn’t bound up in his approval, and he knows it. Aladdin: secret feminist ally? You read it here first.

But what so many people actually want to talk about is Genie and Will Smith. He’s actually pretty good, especially when they let him be charming and do his own thing. When he’s going through the motions of trying to deliver on the beloved performance of Robin Williams, it’s just really hard to do that. Smith does his best, and the results are decent. But most of Smith’s best moments are when he is in a human-esque form incognito in the palace. He has (limited) agency, desires, and even a romantic subplot to himself? (With the incredibly charming Nasim Pedrad from SNL who plays one of Jasmine’s handmaids and is almost worth the price of admission herself.)

Ritchie’s directing here is crisp and workmanlike, but eschews so much of the visual style and kineticism some of his other films have. That means “One Jump” becomes a parkour-inspired mini-heist of sorts, but most of the musical numbers can’t quite compete with the originals. The direction is similar to Ritchie’s recent The Man from UNCLE in that he doesn’t leave a lot of fingerprints, but the end result is pretty fun. An added dance scene that is straight out of Bollywood is particularly fun and a great bonus.

Still, there are a few moments that land a little poorly. This seems largely due to wanting to keep Smith caged and closely working on aping Williams. The genius of Robin Williams was they just let him riff in the sound booth and then animated around the fun he brought to the script. So some of the things are a little cringey, but it’s likely to make parents roll their eyes as they fondly remember The Fresh Prince and the animated original Aladdin, but that kids will enjoy.

So why remake a classic? This brings a fresh feminist take to a movie that didn’t need a ton of updating, so it’s just the right touch. And while Will Smith isn’t Robin Williams, he’s still immensely watchable but is outshined by the excellent leads playing Aladdin and especially Jasmine. Take your family and experience a whole new world of what Aladdin can be.

Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Detective Pikachu – Classic Noir Meets Video Game Fun

Detective Pikachu

Pokemon has been a major cultural force for over two decades now, but other than a few animated films, it has never really broken into the cinematic realm. And then there’s the “video game curse” which has turned even the best video games into cinematic dog crap. But Detective Pikachu defies all the odds and is really good. Focusing on character and plot– borrowing its best bits from detective noir classics of the past– and letting the video game content play as the setting was the smartest choice writer and director Rob Letterman. He seems happy to borrow liberally from the video game but then also makes the film very much its own thing that everyone can enjoy.

Why is it that so many video game movies are cursed to be terrible. It’s the medium that often makes it hard (though not impossible) to adapt to film. A good movie needs great characters, and especially needs a lead “POV” character that is the audience’s “way in” to the world of the film. We see the events unfold more or less through their eyes, and these characters usually have the most depth, development, and the best character arcs.

In a video game, the POV character is. . . you. Video games not only get away with, but encourage, more bland player characters– because they’re supposed to be bland aka “universal” so everyone who is playing the game can feel like they are actually taking the place of Mario or Sonic or even more developed player characters like a Cloud Strife or Leon Kennedy. Even if the point is playing through that player character’s story, like as Shepherd in Mass Effect or Revan in Knights of the Old Republic, or any of the characters in Detroit: Become Human, it’s more like you’re playing an interactive movie than a standard video game. Even Lara Croft didn’t really become an interesting “character” per se until her most recent games, which then became very literally adapted on the screen– which is what made last year’s Tomb Raider work and break the video game curse.

As I noted in that review, the question is always, “Would I have rather watched this movie or spent two hours playing the game?” In the case of Detective Pikachu, you definitely want to watch the movie.

A lot of that comes from the performances of its leads, which includes Ryan Reynolds as the eponymous talking gumshoe pokemon mascot and Justice Smith as Tim Goodman. Goodman in the game was literally just your avatar (Good-man, get it?) but Smith does a great job imbuing him with pathos and having fun. A scene in the middle of the film where he has to interrogate a Mr. Mime by using pantomime is incredibly funny, but mostly he does his job of being our POV character and leading us through this new world of Ryme City.

The city is brainchild of billionaire Howard Clifford (an incredibly fun Bill Nighy), it’s a city where humans and pokemon exist side by side. Visually and aesthetically it seems to smash together the best parts of New York, Tokyo, and maybe a little bit of Bladerunner‘s Los Angeles and Tim Burton’s version of Gotham City in his 1989 Batman. But what’s most fun about it are all of the Pokemon easter eggs hidden in almost every scene. You could play a “Gotta catch ’em all” type game where you name off every type that you see and that would be fun enough in and of itself.

But this movie also has a plot, and it’s also quite engaging. Tim Goodman comes to the city upon learning of his estranged father’s death from his former partner, Lieutenant Hide Yoshida (Ken Watanabe). Tim goes to clean out his father’s old apartment and finds an overly caffeinated talking Pikachu with a case of amnesia but a nose for a mystery. You know he’s a detective because of his hat! The Pikachu is convinced Tim’s father is still alive and they need to track him down. Along the way, they discover a conspiracy involving illegal drugs, underground Pokemon fighting rings, and a mysterious MewTwo who we see briefly in the opening of the film who may be the key to all of it.

It’s a pretty great mystery. And while it moves along quickly enough for little kids, it will still be engaging for adults. Also engaging for adults? Some of the dirtier jokes that might fly over kids’ heads. In this way, the film that this most reminds me of is Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Film noir type detective story? Check. Frenetic jokes and a high energy lead? Check. Corporate intrigue and conspiracies? Check. Betrayals, twists, turns? Check. Strategic cameos and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it placement of beloved cartoon characters? Check!

The only thing missing here is the more perfected animation style of Roger Rabbit. One minor complaint is that some of the pokemon may not look exactly like either their video game or animated versions– the charizard and gyarados models specifically are a little off– but most of this is spot on and lots of fun. My Pokemon-obsessed ten year old son (the target audience for this) freaked out when they went into Clifford’s office and he had giant wooden statues of Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina. If you know who those are, this movie is going to make you very happy.

This is the perfect dessert sorbet to clear your palate after the heaviness of Avengers: Endgame. It’s light and fun but also has some deeper elements. If you took classics like Double Indemnity and The Third Man and added a billion cute little pocket monsters into it, you’d have this. And it is delightful. Even if you are meh on Pokemon and have never played a game, this is a lot of fun.

4 out of 5 stars

Avengers: Endgame [Spoiler-Free Review]

I’m not going to tell you a thing about the plot of Avengers: Endgame that isn’t in the trailers. And anyone who spoils the secrets of this film — the true culmination of every single one of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — deserves a punch in the throat from Thanos himself.

Yes, it clocks in at over three hours (3 hrs 02 minutes to be precise). Yes it’s overstuffed. Yes it’s worth it. Yes it’s everything fans are hoping it will be. Yes it has lots of surprises.

But that isn’t what’s truly amazing about Avengers: Endgame. What’s amazing is how personal it is. All of this really started with the Holy Trinity of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America. And each of them has a truly amazing journey.

Tony Stark started this all with a movie in the summer of 2008. And he has had more ups and downs than anyone. We see him at his worst. We see him at his best. We’ve seen his daddy issues. We’ve seen him try to be a mentor and a father figure himself. And we’ve seen him fail. Over and over and over and over. But perhaps Tony Stark’s superpower in all of this is not his intellect of wealth and privilege but his resilience. Despite all his failings, he comes back.

Which brings us to Steve Rogers, whose journey in this film is also intensely personal. While Tony overcomes failure, Steve Rogers seems to seek martyrdom. He’s always fighting the good fight because he can take it, perhaps better than anyone can. But inside he’s still that skinny kid from Brooklyn and he’s been carrying a lot of guilt and desires around the road not taken from 1945.

And then there’s Thor, who simply doesn’t know how to fail. He literally doesn’t, and his guilt over Thanos and the death of nearly all of his people take a heavy toll. He also has regrets about the past, and perhaps there’s a way to fix what is broken. And talk about daddy issues– Thor’s guilt over what happened to his family looms large over everything.

These three broken people are the keys to unwinding what Thanos has done. And their journeys are as much personal as they are cosmic and fantastic.

It’s in the quieter moments that this film especially shines. While a bombastic third act that is unlike anything you’ve quite seen in the MCU, there are tiny, stolen moments that mean so much for each of the main characters.

So much of Avengers: Endgame is about generational trust and angst. So many of our characters are motivated by loss– especially loss of family — it would be hard not to. But the families of the MCU, from Thanos and his children to the found families of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers to the actual families of Tony Stark, Thor Odinson, Steve Rogers, Clint Barton, Scott Lang. . . the ties that bind us together are what matter, what ground us, what give us our values. They’re the people we fight with (what was Cap: Civil War but a family squabble gone wrong?), but they’re also the people we will fight beside.

Beyond the beautiful meaning of the film, what is most amazing is how it ties up the entire history of the MCU is a beautiful bow. Everything you wanted to see? I hate to be so grandiose but most of it is in there. No matter what your favorite film or franchise is, you will get a moment that directly ties back or references something from that movie, and perhaps several.

There are a couple of “problems” with Endgame, but they are few. This is a weird gripe, but as amazing as the final act is, it makes the preceding two hours a little less good by comparison. But, we needed that setup.

The film is a little padded, but this is not the movie to hold back on. And I daresay on repeat viewings it will be incredibly hard to identify anything that could or should have been cut.

It also starts incredibly abruptly, sort of out of nowhere with no fanfare, no Marvel page-flip animation. But it works because we are meant to be taken aback by it. It’s meant to be disruptive and raw. We are talking about the aftermath of Thanos’s snap, right?

There are a couple of characters who get short shrift, but not many. And there is a surprising lack of Captain Marvel in the movie. However, this makes a lot of sense. With her Omega-Level powerset, her presence makes so many of the other characters superfluous, and you would simply get a Danvers Ex Machina to get out of so many situations.

Plus, as she explains, there are thousands of other planets out there dealing with the aftermath of Thanos’s snap, and the others don’t have The Avengers to help. But, don’t cry, Carol Corps. She gets her time(s) to shine. But I could’ve done with a little more Carol Danvers.

This film also features a scene nestled in the middle of the climax that teases for a tiny moment what a thing to behold an A-Force movie could be. It was one of several moments where I cheered through tears of joy.

There were no less than five times when tears welled up in my eyes. Sometimes in joy, sometimes in sadness. It’s not perfect, but it is perfect in that it ties up everything from the last 11 years and delivers on fans’ wildest dreams. For their next act, the Russo Brothers should audition to take over for Santa Claus in terms of their ability to consistently deliver the magic. Avengers: Endgame is an emotional thrillride. Don’t let anyone spoil it for it. And don’t spoil it for others.

4.75 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame

How do you wrap up 11 years of storytelling over 21 movies? Avengers: Endgame is the finale to an epic story that began with Iron Man in 2008. It’s not a film that stands on its own, but instead it’s a movie that would be a satisfying finale to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The reality is, no matter what I write this is a must for fans of Marvel’s epic tale. Even if it were a total disaster, the film would still make a fortune just so people can see how it all ends. The film pays that fan service rewording those would have stuck along throughout the decade. The film is both a final chapter and a “this is your life” walk through Marvel’s cinematic history.

Broken in to three distinct sections the film is a rollercoaster ride clocking in at a little over three hours. Once it’s all wrapped up, it’s clear why the film had to be three hours. There’s so much packed in, it’s difficult to keep track of everything and causes so much to be given so little focus. There’s so many boxes needed to be checked and strings to be weaved together, it’s an impressive accomplishment in achievement for that alone.

The film opens post events of Avengers: Infinity War with the world, and universe, dealing with Thanos’ actions. Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, the film surprisingly focuses on the emotion and adds layers to an already devastated world.

It would be easy for the team to just get together and charge after Thanos in hopes of fixing things but instead with a jump of five years there’s a conundrum presented. The world has changed, so how do you bring back those lost? Do you? And what happens if you change things? What would be lost? It’s a new spin on things and surprisingly deep, though not explored enough. What it does do is add layers to characters whose lives have been impacted for the positive. That begins to show the thought and intelligence having gone into the film.

The second part of the film is basically a heist film and the solution to the problem. The less said about that the better but it does dip into various open questions and also shows us some more Marvel history we’ve never seen before. Here, the fan service kicks up with winks and nods to the memes and moments that have become so popular.

That all leads up to the finale which is titanic in scope to the point there’s almost too much on the screen. So much, so little screen time. All together it feels like each actor being given their moment to shine and take their curtain call in their own various ways. And this is where the film feels like the “most Marvel” falling into the third act we’ve seen so many times before. This is on a level we haven’t seen before. More though, isn’t necessarily better. Unlike the battle in Infinity War, this one is specifically focused on moments bouncing around the screen like a pinball as the greater event goes on in the background to fill the screen.

There is a brilliance of that final act though. With a tight focus throughout the film as far as characters, when we get to that climax, there’s an explosion of excitement that hits you as to what you’re seeing and what’s being done. It’s the magician finally concluding the trick that’s been set up for 2 hours and it’s beyond satisfying with a sense of childlike wonder.

There’s nothing particularly bad about Avengers: Endgame. It’s a beyond satisfying conclusion over a decade in the making. And, if this were the end of it all, it’d be an amazing way to go out. But, in it’s Lord of the Rings like infinite endings, it reminds us that it’s just on piece in a massive puzzle and story. For as much as it is an ending, the film also sets up the next decade as it bounces around delivering more emotional moments and the next phase(s) of films.

Avengers: Endgame is a big screen spectacle that invites you to turn your brain off and enjoy it for what it is, a swan song and look to the future. It’s both an end and a beginning delivering emotional moments that pay off for long time fans and hopefully exciting them for what’s to come for years.

Overall Rating: 8.0

Movie Review: Shazam!

Shazam!

If you watched the advertisements for the latest DC Cinematic Universe film Shazam! (and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not, it absolutely is), you’d think the film was Big but with superheroes. That description might get at some of the basics but in reality it misses out on so much of what makes this film not just work but also stand out as one of the best live action superhero releases of the modern era.

Shazam! follows Billy Batson, a foster kid who’s searching for his birth mother. He’s eventually recruited by the Wizard and given power to turn himself into the adult superhero Shazam but shouting SHAZAM!

What follows over 2 hours of having fun with, fun of, and love of superhero tropes and films.

Played by Asher Angel, Batson is a troublemaker with a heart. He’s on a mission to find his mother and by doing so running away from various foster families and facilities. Enter the Vasquez family headed up by Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (the always amazing and loveable Cooper Andrews). They run a foster home and are the parents you both love and roll your eyes due to their corny jokes. Each kid exudes personality and cuteness. Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman and Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley standing out. Those two get the most screen time out of all of the children with Darla delivering moments where you just want to hug her and others where you want to adopt her yourself. Grazer’s Freddy though is fandom personified guiding Billy through his learning his powers.

From there, the film is jokes about superpowers and some of the sillier aspects of being a superhero. And it does it all with a smile and infectious enthusiasm. Much of that is due to Zachary Levi as Shazam. Levi along with Grazer combine to form a team where it’s hard to not enjoy their journey of discovery. It’s just over the top silly at times and that’s exactly what it should be. Action sequences are broken up with segments using social media to explore Shazam’s powers. Freddy acts as Yoda to Billy’s Luke. This all works due to the amazing comedic chops of Levi and Grazer who nail the delivery of every scene and when things get serious, play it all off as believable kids.

The film is about excitement and the discovery of the hero in us all and it wears that on its sleeve with a giant smile.

That enthusiasm and discovery is juxtaposed with Mark Strong‘s Dr. Thaddeus Sivana who years earlier was rejected from the power of Shazam and has been searching for it ever since. The villain is the weakest part of the film, though Strong’s performance is strong. The film falls into a fight we’ve seen so many times before and is a bit reminiscent of the original Superman films down to the special fx. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was done on purpose as an example of the film’s clear love of superhero films.

What stands out to me for Shazam! is not just how much fun I had watching the film, but how much the audience enjoyed it. I haven’t seen a crowd cheering and applauding since Black Panther and Wonder Woman. There was also sniffling during the more serious and touching moments. The film nails the emotional moments delivering an experience that’s hard to not have fun watching. If you found yourself smiling or laughing at the various television spots, the film takes that humor to the next level. It’s unafraid to take the silliness that extra step and nail the joke.

Shazam! is a film that exceeded my expectations delivering an entertaining film that I immediately wanted to see again. It’s the first live action superhero “family film” since the original Superman. Judging by the audience reactions, from kids to their parents, it was enjoyed by people of all ages and genders and catapulted itself to being one of the best superhero films of the modern era to be released.

Overall Rating: 9.0

Movie Review: Dumbo

Dumbo

You’ve seen a housefly, you’ve seen a dragonfly, but have you ever seen a live-action remake flop? Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages (and shout out to all the gender non-binary/non-conforming people, too!), prepare yourselves for disappointment and to leave theaters scratching your heads wondering exactly what you just watched. It’s Tim Burton‘s remake of the Disney animated classic Dumbo!

The weakest part of this film is that it is trying to update and remake Dumbo, a beautiful but problematic animated film whose running time is a scant 64 minutes, and probably only 40 minutes or so once you remove all of the objectionable elements. And so Burton’s updated version here actually zooms through most of what we think of as the Dumbo story in the first hour of the film, leaving room for an additional story where our baby flying elephant goes to work for a big city circus led by Michael Keaton. Here he’s paired with a French acrobat Colette (Eva Green) and expected to make big bucks for the big circus, which transforms into a messy third act that seems to simultaneously indict capitalism and the circus as an institution as Dumbo’s human friends (of course led by two plucky children!) and a team of circus folk plot a rescue for Dumbo and his mother to set them free.

Blame screenwriter Ehren Kruger for this mess, as he is also responsible for the travesties of the worst of the Transformer movies (Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon, and Age of Extinction) Yes, the guy who gave us problematic racist sterotype robots was asked to reshape Dumbo and its problematic racist stereotype crows. PS- the film just skips over the crows.

But in skipping over some of the glaring imperfections, we’re also left with an incredibly hollow and predictable story. All of the parts of this film that are uniquely Dumbo were better done in the animated film. Pink Elephants on Parade gets a Circue de Soleil type reimagining with acrobats and giant bubble machines and pink lights put on for a cheering audience. But gone is the charm and menace of this being a hallucination brought on by a baby elephant getting drunk on champagne. Baby Mine is still sad and heartbreaking, but isn’t adding anything that the original didn’t already have.

Despite all those negatives, there are some nice spots in the film. The central idea of the precocious misfit kids (the girl wants to be a scientist like Marie Curie! How progressive!) and their bond with the misfit baby elephant is still charming. The actors’ performances are doing all they can with this lackluster script. Eva Green is as captivating as always, even if her part is woefully underwritten. And then into the third act saunters Alan Arkin as a rich investor and steals every moment he’s on screen.

Some of the best moments come from the on-screen chemistry between rival and then partner circus ringmasters Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton. They’re both a joy to watch, even if they occasionally take me out of the film reminding me this isn’t the first time I’ve seen them paired up against one another in a Tim Burton film.

And therin lies part of the crux of the problem with Dumbo. As I’ve said, the parts that are uniquely Dumbo are simply better done in the original animated film. And what’s left? Well, perhaps it would have been better as an original Tim Burton movie about a creepy circus and an attempt to free the animals from subjugation. It’s where the movie actually really shines and the only place where it feels like a Tim Burton film as we get into the cool art deco design of the (intentionally/subversively?) Disneyland-esque “Dreamland” park, and especially “Nightmare Island” where the “dangerous creatures” are kept.

Any resemblance to actual Disney theme parks, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.

There are even two long, lingering shots of Dreamland selling Dumbo plush toys, as though Burton is trying to send us a coded message that he knows this is all a pretense to sell merchandise. There are also a couple of waaaaaay inside jokes aimed at people with an intimate knowledge of the Disneyland parks of yesteryear. That’s where this movie shines, where it feels subversive and like Burton is poking fun at the cashgrab nature of his enterprise. I’m here for that Tim Burton for days. But then he intersperses it with cringeworthy moments like a cameo from Michael Buffer, and if you are familiar with his work. . . you know what’s coming. And it’s terrible.

No no. . . Dreamland isn’t at all like Disneyland. . .

And also, for god’s sake, don’t waste Danny Elfman‘s talents asking him to redo the 1941 score. It’s the most underwhelming waste of his talents since his Age of Ultron score, which he famously complained about being so limited because he was just asked to ape a temp track. It feels very much the same here.

And so, unfortunately, all I’m left with is a weird feeling that I wish I’d just watched Big Fish and the original Dumbo instead. Those are great movies: even despite Dumbo‘s problematic elements, it’s still a classic. This. . . this is just not.

I’ve been fine with most of the previous Disney live-action remakes. Each of them, up to now, at least brought something new or different to the party. Despite occasional flashes of brilliance, this does not. As so we’re left to ask, who exactly is this movie for? Fans aren’t going to get what they want, and this is by no means new or innovative or interesting enough to warrant your hard-earned money (reminder that taking a family of four to a full-price movie plus snacks can cost almost as much as a single Disneyland ticket). Stay home and pop in your copy of the original or Big Fish and enjoy yourself.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Shazam!

Shazam!

If you watched the advertisements for the latest DC Cinematic Universe film Shazam! (and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not, it absolutely is), you’d think the film was Big but with superheroes. That description might get at some of the basics but in reality it misses out on so much of what makes this film not just work but also stand out as one of the best live action superhero releases of the modern era.

Shazam! follows Billy Batson, a foster kid who’s searching for his birth mother. He’s eventually recruited by the Wizard and given power to turn himself into the adult superhero Shazam but shouting SHAZAM!

What follows over 2 hours of having fun with, fun of, and love to superhero tropes and films.

Played by Asher Angel, Batson is a troublemaker with a heart. He’s on a mission to find his mother and by doing so running away from various foster families and facilities. Enter the Vasquez family headed up by Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (the always amazing and loveable Cooper Andrews). They run a foster home and are the parents you both love and roll your eyes due to their corny jokes. Each kid exudes personality and cuteness. Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman and Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley standing out. Those two get the most screen time out of all of the children with Darla delivering moments where you just want to hug her and others where you want to adopt her yourself. Grazer’s Freddy though is fandom personified guiding Billy through his learning his powers.

From there, the film is jokes about superpowers and some of the sillier aspects of being a superhero. And it does it all with a smile and infectious enthusiasm. Much of that is due to Zachary Levi as Shazam. Levi along with Grazer combine to form a team where it’s hard to not enjoy their journey of discovery. It’s just over the top silly at times and that’s exactly what it should be. Action sequences are broken up with segments using social media to explore Shazam’s powers. Freddy acts as Yoda to Billy’s Luke. This all works due to the amazing comedic chops of Levi and Grazer who nail the delivery of every scene and when things get serious, play it all off as believable kids.

The film is about excitement and the discovery of the hero in us all and it wears that on its sleeve with a giant smile.

That enthusiasm and discovery is juxtaposed with Mark Strong‘s Dr. Thaddeus Sivana who years earlier was rejected from the power of Shazam and has been searching for it ever since. The villain is the weakest part of the film, though Strong’s performance is strong. The film falls into a fight we’ve seen so many times before and is a bit reminiscent of the original Superman films down to the special fx. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was done on purpose as an example of the film’s clear love of superhero films.

What stands out to me for Shazam! is not just how much fun I had watching the film, but how much the audience enjoyed it. I haven’t seen a crowd cheering and applauding since Black Panther and Wonder Woman. There was also sniffling during the more serious and touching moments. The film nails the emotional moments delivering an experience that’s hard to not have fun watching. If you found yourself smiling or laughing at the various television spots, the film takes that humor to the next level. It’s unafraid to take the silliness that extra step and nail the joke.

Shazam! is a film that exceeded my expectations delivering an entertaining film that I immediately wanted to see again. It’s the first live action superhero “family film” since the original Superman. Judging by the audience reactions, from kids to their parents, it was enjoyed by people of all ages and genders and catapulted itself to being one of the best superhero films of the modern era to be released.

Overall Rating: 9.0

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