Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Disney’s live action remakes are much more common now, but the first Maleficent was an experiment in this area. The film explored an alternate perspective from the original story that portrayed Maleficent in a more sympathetic light. The original movie was a tale of betrayal and learning to love again. I honestly didn’t want to see this be about personal relationships with the same light-hearted tone or very dark and dramatic. This movie delivers an original story full of adventure and intrigue. To me, the trailers undersold what they were doing in this film.

The film starts out in the night. We see three humans in the moors (the fairy sanctuary and Maleficent and Aurora’s home), they are there to abduct some creatures and sell them for profit. We see the horned Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) approach them and capture 2 of the intruders. The third human grabs a mushroom creature and escapes back to the kingdom to deliver the creature to the base of the tower. We then see the next morning where Aurora (Ellie Fanning) is holding her royal court. Some of the fairies steal her crown and lead her to a tree where Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) is waiting.

Philip proposes to Aurora, and she accepts. Diaval (Sam Riley) reports this to Maleficent and she storms off to confront Aurora. Maleficent at first doesn’t accept this idea of marriage, but she eventually goes so far as to agree to meet Philip’s parents at a dinner. King John (Robert Lindsay) seems excited for Philip but Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t seem happy at the prospect. Maleficent gets in an argument with Queen Ingrith at dinner and gets ready to leave, flourishing her wings. Suddenly, King John falls into a deep sleep, and Maleficent flees only to be shot down. A large figure with wings dives into the water and retrieves wounded Maleficent.

I think the advertising campaign did a poor job describing even the early conflict, so I tried to go a bit further. This movie has three main ideas taking place: the fairy abductions, the struggle of Aurora between her home with the fairies and the human lifestyle, and Maleficent coming to terms with whether fairies can live in peace with human. If it were one or two of these story lines it may feel too simple, but all-together they stand as a stronger narrative. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a high fantasy adventure movie that really improves on the series. The special effects, costume design, and general creativity makes this a great experience to me. Rated PG

Ryan

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino presents a story about 1969 in Los Angeles, California. Honestly going into this movie, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see it. The advertising campaign left me wondering about the plot of the film. The stars of the movie Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie helped intrigue me. I didn’t know if it would be a movie about over-the-top glamour in Hollywood or a glimpse in their lives as they build up the tragedy of the Manson group, either of which didn’t really interest me. Yet, the movie managed to tell a story about the characters in a way that leads to a compelling climax.

The movie opens with stars, Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Pitt) giving an interview. We learn that Rick Dalton is a Western movie and TV star and Cliff Booth is his stuntman and general assistant. Dalton takes a meeting with Hollywood agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) and Schwarz convinces him that his career is declining. This leaves Dalton in an emotional state as he contemplates his career ending, while stuntman Booth drives him home and gives him a bit of a pep talk. Meanwhile, Dalton’s neighbor Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) attends a party where we learn about his wife, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and her complicated relationship with her ex-boyfriend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch).

As the story progresses, it focuses on stuntman Cliff Booth. We learn about a negative encounter he had with actor and stuntman Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). Booth was believed to be responsible for killing his own wife and acquitted on account of being a war hero. Yet, Hollywood was not thrilled to have him around and many people didn’t want to work with him including a particular director. We learn that Booth lives alone with his dog in a trailer far away from Dalton and glamorous Hollywood.

Throughout the movie we see a group of young women dumpster diving and hitchhiking. Booth notices one of the girls (Margaret Qualley) in particular and strikes up small conversations with her. One day she spots him and asks him to drive her to a compound where a group of free-spirited people are living. Upon arriving Booth thinks that something is off with the people who are staying there. We learn that Booth is not to be fooled.

The movie is 2 hours and 41 minutes, but it feels well-paced. The film covers a relatively short period of time with well-woven story-lines including flashbacks and exposition to enhance character knowledge. Tarantino took stories about lives that I didn’t think would interest me and wove them together with a strong climax. I was really surprised how much I liked this film. It’s certainly worth seeing if the topics of the movie, the actors, or Tarantino’s style appeals to you. Rated R.

Ryan

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man is many people’s favorite super hero. The realistic struggle of his daily life mixed in with his super hero life just connects with people. We first saw Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War as a powerful ally to Tony Stark. We’ve seen him as a super hero in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. I think in Spider-Man: Far From Home, we really get a good mix of Peter Parker’s life and the struggle with Peter having to be Spider-Man.

The movie starts off talking about the aftermath of Endgame. We see Aunt May (Marisa Tomei)  is running a charity for those displaced by the “blip” (the 5 years people were gone) with some help from Happy Hogan (Jon Faverau). Spider-Man makes an appearance at the charity event, but Peter becomes overwhelmed when he’s asked about being a replacement for Iron Man. Later, Peter is talking to his friend, Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), about his plans for the upcoming class trip to Europe where he plans to ask out MJ (Zendaya). The scene then shifts to Mexico where Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are investigating a typhoon that “had a face.” They then get surprised as a mysterious figure known as Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) appears.

Peter and his classmates end up in Venice, Italy. Peter starts to enact part of his plan to confess his feelings to MJ by buying a black dahlia flower made of glass for her. He then gets her aside and seems like he might give it to her, when some strange things occur like crabs fleeing the river. Suddenly a water creature appears. Peter gets ready to fight it, but he doesn’t have his costume on him. The mysterious figure from earlier appears to fight the creature and seems to make some progress at hurting it. Peter focuses on rescuing people and manages to find a mask to wear.

After the creature is defeated, Peter makes it back to the hotel where everyone is staying. As he goes up to his room to get ready for bed, Ned is tranquilized by Nick Fury. Nick Fury tries to explain the situation to Peter as several people interrupt them by knocking on the door. They eventually leave and Fury briefs Peter that Beck has come from another world to save them from the Elementals. Fury also gives Peter some glasses that Tony Stark left for him. Peter doesn’t really want to get involved with the mission and he particularly wants to keep his classmates out of it. Peter leaves only to find out the next day that his trip has been “upgraded” to coincide with the mission. He reluctantly gets on the bus and puts on the glasses that have an artificial intelligence built in them that identifies itself as E.D.I.T.H.

There’s a lot going on in this movie. I really enjoy that aspect of it. We see everything Peter has to deal with, and it’s a lot for anyone; yet alone a 16-year old. It’s honestly this type of struggle to be normal that I’ve missed in these stories. So many things are done well that it really takes some evaluation to find flaws. This movie helps to build a foundation for Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe to move forward together. Rated PG-13

Ryan

Aladdin (2019)

Will Smith, Alan Tudyk, Navid Negahban, Marwan Kenzari, Naomi Scott, and Mena Massoud in Aladdin (2019)

            Disney live action remakes in recent years have been hit or miss to most audiences. I’ve personally enjoyed Cinderella, Maleficent, and Alice in Wonderland, so I do find them entertaining at times. Then there are movies like Dumbo and Beauty and the Beast where I just don’t feel engaged. With the trailer of Will Smith as Genie, many were nervous about the CGI. People were also hesitant about Smith playing a role designed around Robin Williams. While the movie has definite differences, I found Aladdin highly enjoyable.

            The movie starts off with Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) trying to find someone who can enter the Cave of Wonders (a giant animated tiger head made of sand) without the cave collapsing on the one attempting to enter. We then go to Aladdin (Mena Massoud) making his way around the village with some parkour (a form of rapidly moving through the environment). He unknowingly runs into a disguised Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) who gave two girls some bread without paying. Aladdin tricks the baker into letting Jasmine go and they kick off a daring escape number with the song One Jump Ahead. It’s a fun scene that sets off the movie well.

            Jasmine angrily leaves Aladdin after learning that her bracelet was taken by Abu (Aladdin’s pet monkey). We learn Abu took it out of habit. Aladdin and Abu break into the palace to return the bracelet. They make it to Jasmine and her handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad). Jasmine is grateful for Aladdin returning the bracelet and he “steals” a hair pin promising to return it to her later. As Aladdin leaves the palace he gets caught by Jafar and some guards. Aladdin wakes up in the dessert sitting next to Jafar. He asks Aladdin to go into the Cave of Wonders and get only an oil lamp. Aladdin does so but a few other things happen, and he ends up trapped in the cave with Genie (Will Smith).

            This movie is joyful. It’s like a Broadway show brought to life. The dance numbers are tremendous. They’ve added, removed and changed things from the original movie; some of which I liked and others not so much. Jasmine’s character is much more developed and her solo song Speechless helps to deliver a strong message. If you don’t expect the animated Aladdin, I think you’ll have a great time. There was about 20 minutes where I noticed I was just smiling during the movie. Rated PG.

Ryan

Shazam!

DC’s third solo film since they started trying to create a collective universe succeeds with Shazam! I’m personally a fan of Zachary Levi who plays the character of Shazam in this movie. I got to know him in the tv series Chuck, then I appreciated his voice acting and singing talents in Disney’s Tangled, and I was even surprised he replaced Fandral in Thor: The Dark World. So, the actor himself really helped sell me on the movie. I knew some about the character Shazam going into this, but not what would make him the star of a compelling solo film.

For a little bit of character history and some trivia, Shazam is quite an old character first appearing in 1939. He’s also had another name that until recently he’s used, Captain Marvel. This is confusing as Marvel comics also has Captain Marvel as a character. His name Shazam is also an acronym which explains the source of his powers. He gets his powers from Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury; they do glance over this in the movie.

The movie starts off in the past. We’re shown a boy (Ethan Pugiotto) who meets a wizard and is tested to see if he’s worthy. The boy is tempted by this magical eye associated with the Seven Sins, so the wizard declares him unworthy. We then cut to a more recent past of a mother and a son (David Kohlsmith) at a carnival where the mother is trying to win the son a prize. The son gets a compass as a prize and drops it causing him to lose his mother in the crowd. We cut to years later where Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has tracked down another woman he thinks is his mother, but it’s not her.

Billy has spent years trying to find his mother. He constantly runs away from foster care, and he never really grows close to anyone. He ends up at a new foster home with Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (Cooper Andrews) Vasquez who have several foster children with them. Billy still rejects this family, but he does have some casual conversations with roommate Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). When Freddy is attacked by some bullies, Billy intervenes to help and then runs away via subway car. The subway car ends up magically transporting Billy to the wizard from earlier. The Seven Sins have broken out and the wizard chooses Billy to be Shazam.

This movie does so many things right and truly makes it a fun and funny experience. It’s not often we see a boy, who is lost in life, transform into a super hero with spectacular powers. It’s just fun to see how he deals with these powers. The villain Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) has a well-defined character which runs parallel to Billy’s life in many ways but ultimately they make very different life choices. Something this movie does well is it tells most of its story in chronological order. From an audience perspective, it can be a bit annoying to stop the action to explain why two characters are fighting, and this movie avoids that.

There’s so much good about this movie that it’s hard to go into it all. The family dynamic was interesting without feeling cliché. The villain was well understood, though he may be too scary for younger children. We really get to know the characters and care about them. More than anything though, the movie is just fun. Rated PG-13.

Ryan

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame has so much happening at such a rapid pace that it’s unavoidable to talk about its plot. I’ll try to be as vague as possible about the movie until the second paragraph. Avengers: Endgame continues the story of Avengers: Infinity War where Thanos (Josh Brolin), the movie’s super villain, gathers the Infinity Stones and kills half the universe in one snap of his fingers. With this type of cliffhanger after such an iconic movie, it’s hard to imagine not seeing Endgame. Ultimately this comes off as bittersweet as it’s hard to forget how the heroes failed to prevent such a tragedy.

Spoiler time. We start off with Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) spending time with his family. As he’s teaching his daughter how to shoot arrows, he tells her to go retrieve the arrow she shot. As he turns to speak to his wife we see dust behind him. He calls to his daughter with no response and as he’s looking we see the rest of his family turn to dust. He’s left alone in a field. Really just as the movie starts we’re reminded of the gut-wrenching circumstances of the last film.

We then go to Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) in space with Tony recording journals saying he doesn’t think he’ll make it. Just as Tony is falling asleep he sees a bright light which turns out to be Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson). She brings them back to Earth. Tony is in bad shape and they quickly consult with War Machine (Don Cheadle), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). They learn the Infinity Stones have been used again and Nebula confirms the location of Thanos. They fly off to meet him and quickly defeat him in battle. They learn Thanos used the Infinity Stones to destroy themselves and in frustration, Thor unceremoniously kills Thanos.

The movie then skips to 5 years into the future. We’re shown Steve Rogers in a support meeting for those who have lost those close to them. He explains in the meeting that this has happened to him before when he was trapped in the ice, so he’s not unfamiliar with how others feel. We cut to a warehouse where a rat is crawling around some equipment and it activates a portal to the Quantum Realm that brings Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). He looks around the world confused, unaware of what happened. He finds his daughter to see that she’s much older. We learn that time hasn’t moved for him since he entered the Quantum Realm, and that the unusual way time flows may be the key to fixing this world.

This movie provides about as climactic of an ending to the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far as well as to this story of Thanos. Going back to Iron Man, I don’t think many would expect something this grandiose at the other end. The Russo Brothers really created something that encapsulates an era of film making. While there are some flaws in the movie, they’re negligible in the broad scope of things. I recommend catching up on some of the past movies before you see this one. There are even some inside jokes with the comics. Rated PG-13.

Ryan

US

Jordan Peele was known for his comedic nature until recent years. Then in 2017 critics and box offices were taken by storm by the horror hit Get Out. Now he’s made his horror follow-up with Us, a horror movie where it’s revealed that different versions of people are out to get them. I’d also like to state that I’m not a big fan of horror as a genre. I like movies that make you think or creative concepts, but I’m not into slashers or being scared. I had to be convinced to see Get Out and that’s what convinced me to see Us.

We start off in 1986 with a girl (Madison Curry) watching a television and some odd scenes of rabbits in cages. The girl, Adelaide, and her family go to a carnival where they enjoy time together and the father gets overly enthusiastic about winning some games. The girl wanders away and into a house of mirrors. She gets progressively more scared as the power goes out and she hears a noise. She tries whistling to calm herself, someone whistles back. She starts running bumping into a mirror that she though led her to the exit. Adelaide eventually finds another girl standing still. Adelaide turns around and it looks just like the other girl, and Adelaide screams.

After the incident we see that Adelaide had to go through some therapy for the incident and she wasn’t speaking after it. Then we cut to modern day with a family traveling in a car, the mother a grown-up Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o). They share a scene bonding over the music. We see them interacting in their summer house where the father, Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), reveals he bought a boat. They end up going to the beach the next day despite Adelaide initially objecting. The son, Jason Wilson (Evan Alex) gets lost. Adelaide starts to panic as her son is lost at the beach and she looks around and eventually finds him.

They end up going to the summer house from the beach and Adelaide expresses that she wants to go home. She feels like something is wrong and shares her childhood experience of seeing herself to her disbelieving husband. He agrees and they all get ready for bed. Soon after they see a family standing outside in the driveway. The husband is calm at first, but Adelaide immediately asks to call 911. Adelaide tells her daughter, Zora Wilson (Shahadi Wright Joseph) to get her running shoes on. Eventually the family approaches the house and it’s revealed that they all look like the family.

This movie has an interesting premise for sure. The characters all have their own struggles to overcome which make them much more interesting at the start. There’s likely a deeper meaning to the struggles of the characters, but I don’t want to spoil too much with speculation. To me, this was more frightening than Get Out but not as intriguing. It’s a movie that’s worth talking about after seeing, but it’s not as an enthusiastic recommendation to me. There are still some comedic moments in this one that help break up the dark atmosphere. Rated R.

Ryan