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Aladdin (2019)

I’ve been waiting and wishing ( ;D ) for this movie for a while. Aladdin is my very favorite Disney movie and I was curious to see what else they could do with it in a live action remake. Last year now I reviewed the Broadway show, and I’m excited to review the live action movie too! I’ll keep the story synopsis simple, and talk more about the similarities and differences between the original animated movie (abbreviated from here on out as “OG animated film”), the Broadway show (abbreviated as “BW show”), and the live action remake (abbreviated as “LA remake”).

The young man Aladdin is street-wise, charming, and dashing. Everything a girl could wish for. One problem. He’s a street rat – an urchin and a thief living on the streets of Agrabah. He’s got dreams of becoming something, someONE, more. He believes he can when he meets a beautiful girl in the marketplace, and it turns out, she’s the princess! The law states that Princess Jasmine can only marry a prince, so Aladdin’s got next to no chance. That all changes when he is recurited by the Royal Vizier, Jafar, to steal a treasure from the legendary Cave of Wonders, and by accident Aladdin ends up with that treasure: a magic lamp with a Genie inside. He can now wish anything he wants, including turning himself into a prince. Changing himself on the outside affects how people see him, but can it change who he is on the inside?

First, the similarities!

The core story is unchanged. At it’s heart, Aladdin is two tales. The first is a tale of integrity, honesty, and friendship. Beneath it’s glamour and gusto, it whispers “Be careful what you wish for.” As Aladdin discovers, having a magical Genie and three wishes at your disposal won’t solve all your problems – it can, in fact, make them worse.

The second tale is Jasmine’s. She’s an interesting Disney princess in that she’s not the star of her own movie, but a secondary character. However, in every iteration of the story, we see her struggle to assert her worth and independence in a world that allows women no agency. We learn from her that love can be found in unexpected places, and not to judge a book by it’s cover.

Guy Ritchie takes this desert romance and gives it a different spin. There are elements of action, heists, and even hip hop. Though there are more high-speed magic carpet chases through the Cave of Wonders and the streets of Agrabah, but the film never loses sight of the core stories.

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I fell in love with the sets and costuming with Entertainment Weekly’s first look at this film!

Though the OG animated film was rich in desert colors, in my opinion, the BW show and the LA remake have the “real” Agrabah feel. Through the sets and costuming, we get all manner of luxurious textures, sparkles, a deeper rainbow of colors. The rich sensual experience translates better in either live-action experience for me, though I will admit the magical and fantastical elements translated best in the OG animated film. There’s some things that just work best with traditional, hand-drawn animation, and the Genie’s magic was one of them!

Speaking of, let’s talk about the blue elephant in the room for a moment. I believed from the start that Will Smith could pull off the Genie. Of course, no one can replace the late, great Robin Williams, and many were afraid of that. But replacing Robin Williams was never the point. No one was up in arms about Genie’s Broadway casting, were they? Will Smith got a lot of crap from fans about “getting Genie right” and “replacing Robin,” which made me sad. I don’t believe Robin Williams would have wanted this. Will Smith has the acting chops, plus the comedic ability, and he is also a record-selling rapper and musical artist. If I was afraid of anything, it was that Will Smith’s performance would overshadow those of Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, the relatively new actors they cast as Aladdin and Jasmine.

(Though, really, it’s like tradition for Genie to overshadow everyone – I just didn’t want him to be too much)

Will Smith was phenomenal, just as I’d predicted. I had the biggest, goofiest grin on my face throughout the whole Friend Like Me sequence because I had just KNOWN he would be great, and he didn’t let me down. They let Will Smith… well, just be Will Smith. They gave him a whole lot of razzle dazzle in post (while not a fan of blue Will in the first trailer, I’m adamant the CGI wasn’t finished at that point; he looks MUCH better in motion), but for the most part, they just cut him loose and let him have fun. His enthusiasm billowed out through the screen and infected everyone in the theater.

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Genie and I both say “See? Told ya so!!!”

Casting was spot on for most everyone else as well. Mena Massoud’s Aladdin is as charming and bumblingly endearing as the original. His rougish smile melted my heart; I couldn’t bring myself to be mad when he broke into Jasmine’s quarters to talk to her again (oh, I wanted to. Oh, HOW I wanted to be mad. NEEDED to be mad. I could not!).  Naomi Scott brought new life and new elements to Jasmine (more on this in a moment) while staying true to her independent nature. She and Massoud had great chemistry, though I found their singing abilities left something to be desired. I wasn’t moved to tears during A Whole New World as I should have been; the BW show had me sobbing in the theater and I wanted the same experience, dang it!

Now for the differences.

While Jasmine’s character was given more agency, more of a voice, and a new song to match (Speechless as opposed to These Palace Walls from the BW show), her new voice amounted to… next to nothing, unfortunately. Her moment was built up from the very beginning, when Jafar told her to hold her tongue in the presence of a man. She finds her voice in the climax of the film – only for the rest of the third act to unfold exactly as it did in the OG animated film. I was waiting and rooting for her triumph only to be extremely disappointed when she became the damsel in distress once again. I suppose there would have been no other way to do it without changing the ending events too much… but I am a little bitter about it.

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Let Jasmine sing!!!

More backstory was added about the Queen, Jasmine’s mother, and Jafar and how he rose to his station. However, this exposition was so paper thin, added nothing new to the story, and was mentioned only once or twice. At that point, why bother? I couldn’t suspend my disbelief about Jafar’s backstory especially.

Jafar was the only character I took real issue with. Though Marwan Kenzari portrayed Jafar appropriately misogynistic, he didn’t appear scary enough… or dare I say, old enough. In the OG animated film, Jafar is a creepy, lecherous, and truly sinister old dude. I don’t think the film gained anything by aging him down. His preying on Jasmine was toned down, I think, in favor of his thirst for Agrabah’s throne, but I wasn’t truly sold on his performance.

And, speaking of mothers, to my last point: why on Earth didn’t they include Aladdin’s mother, or at least the song about her? Proud of Your Boy, Aladdin’s ballad about mourning his mom and wanting to do right by her, was cut from the OG animated film. It was included in the BW show, however, and brought feeling and depth to his character. I was expecting it here, for whatever reason… dunno why I’m so surprised it’s not! Apparently I’ve forgotten how much Disney hates mothers! After hearing the less-than-stellar vocal performances by much of the cast, I can now understand why it was cut here, too… but I still feel it should have been included. I would have welcomed an effort at Proud of Your Boy and the reprise over the two “blink and you miss it” mentions each of Jasmine’s mother and Jafar’s past.

I’ve heard mixed things about all live-action remakes Disney’s made to date, and only seen one and a half myself (all of 2015’s Cinderella and the second half of 2014’s Maleficent), but overall I was not disappointed with this live-action remake of my childhood favorite. Guy Ritchie’s direction took us to a more action-oriented Agrabah, but his vision never lost sight of the desert glamour or the heart of the story. Casting for the most part was done very well; Will Smith’s Genie especially. Going in with an open mind on this one makes for a magical carpet ride at the movies ;D

Kathleen

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Ritchie, Guy. Aladdin. 2019.

 

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Shazam!

***There are minor spoilers ahead***

I’m gonna be honest here. I’ve learned the hard way to go into a DC movie with low expectations. My fiancé and I’ve endured too much: trudged through too many sluggish, gritty, grey overtoned color palettes; winced through too many poorly-written, edgy, grimdark facades of the characters we know and love; and pointed out so many potholes, the whole DCEU could easily be mistaken for one of many poorly-maintained streets in the major city nearest us. To say DC movies have been a slog to sit through is a major understatement.

It was with this mindset that I sat down in the theater with my fiancé and ordered my dessert. The trailers had looked good, much better in my humble opinion than those of Shazam’s Marvel counterpart, Captain Marvel (and made me laugh at the use of Eminem’s “My Name Is” in one of the trailers; after the use of “Without Me” in Suicide Squad, it makes me wonder exactly how much of a hard-on DC’s marketing team has for the rapper’s old hits), but if I was optimistic it was cautiously so.

Billy Batson is a 14-year old foster kid. He’s been shunted from home to home, because he keeps running away. Billy is on a mission to find his mom. When he was very little, he and his mom got separated at a carnival. He’s tracked down half a notebook’s worth of female Batsons in the Philadelphia area, but none of them are his mother. Nevertheless, he’s determined to find her, whatever it takes.

A couple named Rosa and Victor Vazquez are the next family to take Billy in. They foster five other children who have been difficult like Billy has been, or have special needs. The Vazquez’ are a loving couple, who were foster kids when they were younger, so they know the ropes and are confident Billy will fit in well and become part of the family. All the children take to him: Freddy Freeman, his new roommate and superhero enthusiast, most of all. Billy, however, doesn’t really want anything to do with anyone in the house; to him, it feels like they’re keeping him from finding his mother, from his real family.

While plotting to run away again to chase down the next Batson on his list, Billy is summoned to a mystical cave. A very old wizard named Shazam tells Billy he has been chosen to become the next champion to protect the world from the manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins. Out of everyone else in the world, Billy has been chosen because he has the purest heart. Billy is skeptical; there are no truly good people left in the world, right? And he can’t possibly be one of them, right? But the wizard is adamant, and Billy lays his hand on the mystical staff and shouts, “Shazam!”

A crack of thunder, a flash of lightning, and Billy is transformed into an adult superhero. The wizard fades away, his quest fulfilled, leaving Billy alone and very confused. He makes his way back home to Freddy, the superhero expert, and together they test the limits of Billy’s powers, film them, and post them on the internet. He immediately becomes a viral sensation, and Billy soon starts using his powers not for good, but to show off and make money. When the Seven Deadly Sins escape and a threat arises, can a teenaged and untrained Billy even rise to the challenge? Will he keep chasing the mother who gave him up for adoption, or learn the true meaning of family?

As usual, the good first:

Guys. GUYS. GUYS. THIS is what a superhero movie should be. Shazam! was everything I had previously been missing from the DCEU, and more.

The difference with this movie was, it felt like they finally just let loose and had FUN with it. They took the concept “what would a 14 year old boy do if he suddenly got superpowers?” and really rolled with it. Of course he would not know how to pee while in costume! Of course he would film himself showing off his powers to become famous! Of course he would try to buy beer while in his older disguise!

What would you have done if you acquired superpowers at that age? Probably about the same stuff, if you’re being honest with yourself! I know I might have ;D Billy behaved exactly as I would expect any 14 year old to, as I would have expected myself to at that age. It was for that reason that the entire theater was in stitches for what I’d say was the first third of the movie.

For all the laughs it provided, it has soul too. Billy has a good heart and is worthy of the mantle of Shazam, though he doesn’t believe it and doesn’t show us at first. It’s over the course of the movie that we, and him, learn it. Rosa and Victor, though they have limited screen time, are obviously loving and caring parents for their foster children. I wish they were my parents! Freddy has a physical disability, for which he has to use a crutch to walk, but his knowledge of superheroes is encyclopedic, and he at turns acts as Billy’s conscience and rival, much as real brothers would.

For all their faults, the DCEU sure knows how to cast. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi are perfect for the roles of Billy/Shazam. Angel is quick on his feet and unafraid to show deep emotion, allowing him to bounce from sarcastic joking to disbelief to fear all in the same sentence. He’s so young, but obviously an artist to watch. Levi, maybe pulling from his own childhood fantasies of gaining superpowers, gives a hilarious and believable performance as adult Shazam. The character fumbles a bit at first, but soon finds his stride, much as a teenager really would.

The bad? There isn’t much. I’ve been mulling it over for a few weeks, and really my one big nitpick is that Billy went from typical teenager in a costume to a hero too fast. That character development was saved only for the third act. At that point you’ve sat through the hilarity of the first act, the very middle-y and bogged down second act during which the Big Bad gets a lot of attention and Billy’s antics have gotten kind of old, before getting to any “meat.” A two-hour movie isn’t a long time for significant character development, but a little bit more of a gradual uptick in hero-ness as the film went on would have been appreciated.

Oh, more of Mary would have been most welcome too. She’s an American treasure, a sweet baby, and must be protected. The cameo right at the end could have been expanded upon a tiny bit more, buuut I suppose there was a good reason, so I can let it slide =P

Overall, Shazam! is a genuinely funny romp through finding the true meaning of family, and back through childhood dreams of becoming a hero. All through the hilarious first act (and at the very end!), we the audience are also back in Billy’s shoes as children, longing for superpowers of our own. To see our wishes fulfilled through Asher Angel and Zachary Levi’s Billy Batson on the big screen is truly fun and heartwarming. I stated in my Aquaman review that it was DC’s best since Wonder Woman, and while nothing DC does can ever top Wonder Woman for me, I feel Shazam! was leaps and bounds above what Aquaman accomplished. Shazam! had more consistent characterization (despite my above nitpick), a main character you truly saw yourself reflected in, and overall, superior writing, a bit of a tighter plot, and a better time at the theater. I appreciate that the DCEU is letting lesser-known characters come out to play… if the rest of it (though I’ll settle for a spin-off series) could be Shazam Family Shenanigans, I would be very satisfied indeed ;D

After Justice League was yet another disappointment, I gave the DCEU three chances to redeem itself in my eyes. With Aquaman and Shazam!, it used two of those chances, the third being Wonder Woman 1984. I mean, I’ve never doubted WW84 would be good, but now I truly have hope for the rest of the DCEU going forward. Don’t screw it up, DC!!!

– Kathleen

Sandberg, David F. Shazam! 2019.

Captain Marvel movie review

Marvel FINALLY got around to having a woman headline one of their Avenger movies, and it was very well done. After a slow start and some confusing world building, it hit it’s stride and I settled in for a great movie. Although my daughter and I went to see the Captain Marvel movie a few weeks ago, due to some scheduled posts and a busy schedule, this is the first I could sit down and reflect on the movie. So similar to what I did with the movie Solo I will address a few issues and then move into seven character studies instead of a standard movie review.

I was a bit nervous about the movie, as her character is brand new to the Avenger movie universe, and I wondered how they were going to tie her in. I haven’t read much about her character, the little I know is her horrible depiction in Civil War II in which she came off as misguided and fool-hardy. Before that, what I knew of her consisted of a backstory of Rogue’s on the animated X-Men series, and how Rogue sucked her powers from her leaving her comatose. I knew she was somehow tied to the Kree aliens, but the world building they were forced to do in the beginning of the movie to explain things to the movie watchers, felt clunky. The movie started to hit it’s stride a third of the way in and then I was able to settle in for the narrative.

Brie Larson was a perfect fit for the role of pilot Carol Danvers. She was the right balance of tough and smart without being too sexualized. She was practical, yet funny, and took her mission seriously. There was a learning curve with her powers and she didn’t take her powers or her relationships with others for granted. She truly did go higher, further, and faster! Now that Marvel showed us they can create a nuanced role for a leading woman, let’s see what they can do with Black Widow and Scarlet Witch!

Samuel Jackson veers towards being a caricature of himself, and I’ve never been a fan of his tough, always ready with a quip,  Nick Fury persona. But the movie de-aged him for the movie and gave him some needed character development. We also get the explanation of how he came to lose an eye, and its not what you would expect.

I experienced a huge generation gap with my daughter as we were discussing the movie afterwards when I made a comment about Jude Law as Yon-Rogg being good-looking, but that didn’t mean he was a good guy. She didn’t know who I was talking about because she did not consider him good looking as he was too “old”. Sigh.

I don’t want to give away too much by revealing who this character ended up becoming, but I was thrilled that actor Ben Mendelsohn wasn’t typecast as the baddie in this role, after his villainy in Ready Player One. I was cheering him on by the end of the movie.

Loved seeing Annette Benning get her groove on with the great 90’s soundtrack! Dr. Wendy Lawson was an intelligent woman who wasn’t quite as she seemed. More roles like this need to be available to older actresses!

Best Friends Forever! Maria Rambea’s friendship with Carol was authentic and much needed. There is a real lack of representation of female friendships in movies and books, so their relationship was welcome. Marie was also a kick-ass single mother to her daughter Monica, whom I’m sure will play a role in future movies, when the Avengers are in modern day.

Goose the Cat stole the show! One of my four cats looks like Goose, so now I will wonder do I live with kitties or flerkens?

While Marvel diligently built Carol into the existing framework of the Avengers universe, I am concerned how a jump from the 1990’s to now might prove problematic, but despite this, I am all in for Avengers: End Game coming out next month.

-Nancy

Aquaman

***Contains spoilers for Justice League and Aquaman***

A lonely lighthouse owner in Maine named Thomas Curry is strapping everything down before a storm, before something down on the coast catches his eye. A woman has washed up practically at his front door. He takes her in and nurses her back to health. She reveals herself as Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis, the nation under the sea. She was attacked while escaping Atlantis, and the arranged marriage that awaited her there. Eventually, Thomas and Atlanna fall in love, and they have a son they name Arthur.

Eventually, the Atlanteans come for her.

Atlanna fights them off, but realizes this is just the first wave of the army that is sure to come after her. She decides to go back to Atlantis and give herself up, in order to protect Thomas and baby Arthur. She sends the royal vizier, Nudius Vulko, to help raise Arthur and train him in the Atlantean ways. As the boy grows, so too do his questions about his mother. Eventually, Vulko reveals that Atlanna was sacrificed to the Trench for treason – falling in love with a surface dweller and having a half-breed son. Arthur, sixteen by that point, decides he wants nothing more to do with Atlantis or his mother’s heritage.

In the present day, a year after the Justice League defeats Steppenwolf, Arthur continues to use his Atlantean powers for good. He stops a pirate attack on a Russian Naval submarine, though he causes the death of the leader. His son, David Kane, vows revenge against him. An Atlantean named Mera comes looking for Arthur, pleading for him to return, dethrone his villainous half-brother, Orm, and reclaim his mother’s throne. Orm is marshaling all the forces under the sea to attack the surface world, and must be stopped. To do that, he must find and retrieve the mythical trident of Atlan, the first king of Atlantis. But it’s just a fairy tale, impossible to be true… isn’t it?

Will Arthur claim his heritage? Can he gain the trust of the Atlanteans, who view him as little more than a half-breed? Can Orm even be stopped?

DC is getting steadily better with their movies… hopefully, they are learning their lesson! I let this one sit for a few days before starting to write so I would be able to think about it more critically.

Overall, the tone was much better than past DC movies. Aquaman has very little of the doom-and-gloom of past DCEU installments. It struck a good balance between serious and goofy. There are moments of suspense, urgency, tragedy, and passion – but they are lightened by cheesy one-liners and Jason Momoa’s roguish smile. The bright color palette did wonders as well, especially in some underwater sequences.

Speaking of Jason Momoa… he is an excellent Aquaman. It’s true the man is VERY easy on the eyes, and it’s easy to just go in and just… stare… (not that I did that) but hear me out!

Aquaman has a history as the joke hero of the DC Universe. Though the character debuted in 1941, his appearance in the 1960’s animated Super Friends show did him no favors. He was portrayed as a lovable goofball with the weakest powers of the bunch. He became infamous for these reasons, leading DC to try rewriting the character multiple times to change public perception for the better. Thus, his arcs are convoluted… which also didn’t help much. Today, Aquaman is still a bit of a joke.

Jason Momoa has a presence about him. He’s a physically imposing dude with an intense stare. He’s best known, of course, for his role in Game of Thrones as Khal Drogo, the ruthless Dothraki warlord to whom Danerys Targaryen is married off to by her brother, Viserys. The Dothraki are a war-loving and hard people, and Momoa pulled off that stoic role perfectly. Yet, if you watch his interviews and behind the scenes snippets – he’s totally different! He’s funny, humble, charming, he drinks beer and throws axes. He’s someone you’d like to sit back and shoot the breeze with.

I think that by casting Momoa, DC wanted to accomplish two things. First, they probably wanted to yet again try to change the public’s perception of Aquaman’s character for the better. To do this, they needed someone with the ability to look very serious, imposing, almost intimidating. Second, they knew from reviews of past movies that they needed to get away from their dark tone. They needed someone who, at the same time, could be light and charming, and be able to hold that balance between hulking and friendly well.

Boom. Enter Jason Momoa, our new Aquaman.

Casting for other characters was also excellent. Amber Heard portrayed Mera in the character’s cinematic debut. In the comics, Mera is often portrayed as Aquaman’s equal in powers, sometimes even more powerful. I appreciated that history placed in some scenes, where she saves Aquaman instead of the other way around! Willem Defoe as Vulko, Arthur’s mentor, was a surprise, but he pulled it off well. Patrick Wilson as Orm, Aquaman’s half-brother and the self-stylized Ocean Master, had some of the best costuming in the movie. (Also, blond, he looks just like a younger Eminem, and it really threw me) His Ocean Master costume looked exactly like the comics.

Speaking of comics, you know who wrote for this movie? Our boy Geoff Johns. This is HUGE. So far, only one other comic book author has written for the DCEU movies, and that was Joss Whedon’s late rewrites for Justice League. Johns has written the New 52 Aquaman, part of the Blackest Night arc, mid-2000’s Green Lantern, and many more comic books, as well as the CW DC shows. The BIGGEST and MOST CONSISTENT nitpick I’ve had with the DCEU movies so far has been the shoddy writing and characterization. I was overjoyed when I saw Johns’ name in the credits and knew instantly that THAT is what made the difference in Aquaman. They got an ACTUAL COMIC BOOK AUTHOR to write the story, for the first time in the entire DCEU.

In short: THANK ALL THE POWERS THAT BE!!!

That said, the movie was far from perfect, and there were inconsistencies that are nagging at me. I thought it was mentioned pretty early on that only half-human, half-Atlantean hybrids could breathe air as well as water – yet, multiple full-blooded Atlanteans spent LOTS of time out of the water, doing just fine. The only instance where a full-blooded Atlantean struggled to breathe oxygen was during the Ring of Fire sequence, where Mera interferes and manipulates Orm into an air tornado.

(Also, wouldn’t Orm have won by default because Mera interfered with the trial? Those are some unresolved politics that are REALLY bothering me X,D )

The color palette in this movie was much brighter than in past DC movies, but in one respect they took it too far. Mera was too oversaturated for my tastes. I feel they wanted to make her pop and draw the eye, and make her bright on land to make her look otherworldly, and perhaps out of her element – but they took it way too far. Her neon red hair was glaring and distracting at times, especially during bright lit sequences. With her equally bright green costume, she forcibly reminded me of Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid… which was also highly distracting for me. It was almost as if they were trying so hard to get the audience to take Aquaman seriously that they threw poor Mera under the bus.

The movie was much too long for a standalone title only loosely related to the rest of the DCU. The thing that could have been cut was Black Manta. Yayha Abdul-Mateen II did a great job portraying the revenge-fueled villain – but his plotline really bogged it down. It was bare bones, for sure, but it added 30 minutes to what could easily have been only a 2-hour movie. Black Manta is Aquaman’s arch-nemesis, and I understand why they wanted to include him – imagine having the first Batman movie without the Joker. You can’t, right?

However, this movie was about Arthur’s struggle with finding his place and claiming his heritage in the sea after a lifetime on land. Orm was more than enough villain for this movie, not only as the big bad hellbent on world domination, but as Arthur’s foil: his half-brother, born in the sea, intent on claiming the surface world, hating it for taking his mother away. Black Manta’s sequence could have easily been cut down to the opening scene, where Aquaman foils the pirate attempt, and a post-credit scene with him building the signature helmet. That would have allowed for the unnecessary explanation of the connection between him and Atlantis that was in this movie to be moved to the next one, in flashbacks or as the opening sequence.

Also… for a movie with a budget as big as this one’s was (at least $160 million)… the CGI was, at times, abysmal. We’re talking early 2000’s, low budget, TV show Smallville pilot abysmal. Overall, it was decent, but there were a few sequences that were truly awful. Consistently, the movement of the character’s hair underwater bothered me. It looked highly unnatural and was also distracting for me.

Aquaman was finally a step in the right direction for the DCEU. The writing by, thank all the powers that be, actual real-life comic book author Geoff Johns, truly sets this movie apart from all others in the DCEU. The casting of all characters was, as always, spot-on, but this time the actors actually had the writing to back them up, save for a few inconsistencies and a missed trip to the cutting room for an over-long plot. Gone is the grimdark of past DCEU movies: Aquaman ably jumps between serious and fun. You can go for Jason’s irresistible charm – but you’ll stay for the overall good time 😉

– Kathleen

Wan, James. Aquaman. 2018.

Ready Player One Movie

I adored the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, so I have been eagerly looking forward to the adaptation of the movie. But books are always better than the movies and this continued to be the case, although the movie was solid. There were some significant changes between the movie and book and usually I would be in an uproar about this, but the author co-wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, and thus he himself tweaked some scenes to better fit an action movie. These changes worked, and gave it a better narrative flow.

**In tribute to the premise of the book and movie, I will be sending you on Easter Egg hunts. Follow my links to find other awesome bloggers out there who have a connection to the Ready Player One movie and the word I hyperlink it to. Enjoy their blogs!**

We first meet Wade Watts aka Parzival in 2044 living in a trailer park wasteland.   Much of society is in shambles, but people can escape from their mundane lives by entering the Oasis, an online massive multiplayer simulation game.  The founder James Holloway has died, and he has created a hunt for control of the game and it’s profits, and players need to embark on a journey to find three keys, each that would unlock puzzles or a riddle with a clue to the location of the next key.  Wade is an expert on 80’s nostalgia, as Holloway based the quests off the games of his youth.

The first key was obtained by participating in a huge car race. Right away this is a major change, but much better suited to film than the original fun (but long and drawn out) scene from the book. We begin to truly see pop culture references here, with vehicles and characters  you will recognize from other franchises. Director Steven Spielberg refrains from referencing too many of his own previous film’s but we still see a DeLorean car, King Kong and a T-Rex. We also eventually spot Batman, the robot Gundam, the Iron Giant, and Chucky in future scenes.  Unfortunately, licensing prevents some classics such as Star Wars or the Avengers heroes from being used.

For the second key, Parzival had to reenact word by word the movie WarGames, but this this movie switches up the film he needs to immerse himself in. This new film was actually a nice surprise. If it was going to go off-script from the book, why not give the viewers a chance to experience an iconic horror movie and some key scenes that will give you the chills.

As an evil corporation honcho tries to win at all costs and has endless money and workers at his disposal to win the game. Parzival is helped greatly by a fellow online avatar Art3mis, who is established as a love interest early on, and his best friend Aech.  Yet another change is that the movie shuffles some timelines with Art3mis and other online friends, before they arrive at the final gate. An epic showdown occurs, and (come on, this is no surprise) Parzival wins the game and the girl!

All in all, this was a fun movie and I look forward to watching it again on DVD so I truly can catch all the shout-outs from movies, music and tv that was embedded in scenes. However….this was no blockbuster and it really didn’t do the book justice. If I were watching it with no preconceived notions, I would have enjoyed it even more. Yet on the other hand, the movie was strong enough and made some interesting cinematic choices that let me enjoy it even as it diverged greatly from it’s source material. My advice is to read the book if you truly want the grand adventure!

-Nancy

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you! Hope you’re all having great dates ;D

This past weekend, as those of you also residing in the Midwest know, was a nightmare! All the snow we got on Friday made my work close, which was awesome, but left me at home shoveling and throwing snowballs for the dogs. It also almost left me without a Valentine’s day date – it was doubtful my fiancé would be able to come visit, but he managed to on Saturday after the weather blew out. We spent that afternoon out and about playing PoGo and it was the best time we’ve had together in a while. Sunday, though, we stayed in, baked, and watched this movie we didn’t get to catch in theaters.

Professor William Moulton Marston is being interviewed by the Child Study Association of America about the moral integrity of his creation: the comic called Wonder Woman. As he defends the themes and images in his work, he also reveals his life story and the inspiration behind the character. In 1928, Bill and his wife, Elizabeth Marston, are teaching at Harvard University and developing the lie detector test. Olive Byrne, daughter of Ethyl Byrne and niece of Margaret Sanger, becomes their teaching assistant and helps them develop the test. The three become close, and it’s soon clear that their feelings for one another go deeper than any of them expected them to. Once their relationship is revealed, the Marstons are fired from Harvard. Adding to their struggles is Olive’s pregnancy. How can the three possibly rebuild their lives after their scandal, let alone build a family together?

I’ve read The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, so I knew already about the man behind Wonder Woman and his family. I would say a good bit of the film was built from speculation because, due to the taboo behind polyamory and discussing sexuality at the time, there probably wasn’t a lot of primary sources from the subjects of the film to draw from. Still, the story is crafted well, and I was able to suspend my disbelief easily enough to enjoy it.

One of the things that surprised me the most was the emphasis on Elizabeth and Olive’s relationship rather than either of the women with Bill himself. Though he is part of the title and one of the main characters, Professor Marston was almost a secondary character in his own film. Thinking back now, it seems as though we the spectators were watching the film unfold mostly through Bill’s eyes. Many of the scenes place him in the background, with Elizabeth and Olive in the spotlight. Sometimes we see them from far back, as if we were Bill watching from the corner of the room. We are spectators too, but we are also Bill the spectator, watching these two powerhouse women fall in love with each other. I certainly hope it opens the door to more romance movies with same-sex or polyamorous couples in the future!

To the eye, every detail was perfect. The costumes and sets were fantastic. To both casual fans and diehard Wonder Woman fans, there are tons of cameos to pick out. The soundtrack was also very good, especially in the romance sequences.

It was an enjoyable film. There is a greater emphasis on the women who inspired Wonder Woman than on the creator himself, which opened the door to a romance film between two women. If Diana wouldn’t be proud of that, I don’t know who would be! It’s crafted well, from the costumes to the music. For reading with your viewing, I recommend either The Secret History of Wonder Woman or Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley to learn more about Bill, Elizabeth, and Olive, and how their dynamic shaped Wonder Woman!

– Kathleen

Robinson, Angela. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. 2017.

Justice League

*Spoilers ahead*

I took opening weekend off to go visit my fiancé. I desperately needed to get away. Honestly, I was so excited to go be visiting him for the first time in way too long that I kind of forgot we were seeing this movie XD So I got comfy in the theater chair and hoped it wouldn’t be terrible. Obviously nothing DC can do will top Wonder Woman, but I figured the rewrites and reshoots they did would bring more of the heart and soul elements that WW had into JL.

Superman is dead. The world is left without hope. And in the place where there might not have been any hope in the first place – Gotham – it just got worse. Batman has been tracking and trying to capture these mysterious beings: bug-like creatures who feed on fear, but they keep exploding whenever he gets near. Amid all the green goo, they leave a mysterious pattern behind. Three boxes in a triangle formation.

Diana Prince knows exactly what the symbol means. The Amazons have lit the beacon as a call to war. She reveals to Bruce Wayne that the Amazons had been guarding a device called a Motherbox on Themyscira. Steppenwolf had tried to conquer Earth once, thousands of years ago. Together, the Amazons, Atlanteans, and tribes of men defeated him, and he retreated. Each tribe was charged with hiding and guarding one of the three Motherboxes. If the Amazons have lit the beacon, it means that the box has awakened, Steppenwolf has returned, and he’s gained the Motherbox the Amazons had been guarding.

They will need help to stop Steppenwolf from recovering the other two Motherboxes. Luckily, they have a few in mind. Barry Allen, also known as the Flash, in Central City. Arthur Curry, the Aquaman, and one of the Atlanteans that have been guarding the second box all this time. Though he’s presumed dead, Victor Stone, or the Cyborg, may be of some help as well. His father used the energy of the last box to integrate his body with machinery and bring him back to life after a terrible accident.

Even with all this power, they need one more. They need Superman. Bruce theorizes that with the power of the one box they have, they can bring Clark back from the dead. Some on the team think it’s worth a shot, and others think it’s a terrible idea. What if he comes back and doesn’t know who he is? What if he comes back totally changed? But Steppenwolf will not wait around until their minds are made up: they need to come to an agreement, and fast.

I genuinely enjoyed the movie. It was no WW, by any means 😉 But for the first time in a long time, DC put out a comic book movie that actually FELT like a comic book movie. The characters were compelling, and most of the fun is watching these big box heroes interact on the big screen for the first time. Casting for the most part was spot on! Each character felt plucked from the comics and placed directly onto the screen. None of them act in a way that you wouldn’t expect them to.

The story, though a little predictable, was written very well. It’s accessible, too! You don’t have to have watched the previous DC movies to understand what’s going on. They do reference some past events, but it’s always with a little context so new viewers aren’t left totally in the dark. Kind of smart of them, since I’m not sure I’d recommend any of the past DC movies that directly relate to this timeline!

There were moments that were touching and genuinely funny, and the movie lets itself be funny and a little lighter. We’ve come a long way from the tones of Man of Steel and BvS here, and it was refreshing – and relieving. I don’t think I could have sat through another one of those.

I have one huge complaint, and I called it when the first trailer dropped. Ezra Miller as the Flash. It was, by turns, better than and worse than I thought. He is the obvious comic relief for the movie, and he somewhat succeeds. Sometimes he really is funny! But most of his one-liners were so cringeworthy! It was so… UGH!!! FRUSTRATING!!! My fiancé, who had a much more open mind about this Flash than I, agreed that sometimes it was just too much. The Flash’s special effects were among the best in the movie (excepting probably Cyborg – holy cow! He looked great!!!), but that really is his only saving grace.

My two most favorite parts of the movie are actually the biggest spoilers, so I will save those for when enough of you have seen it >:D

Overall, Justice League is a great movie. It’s a little serious, but seriously playful – just what a comic book movie should be. The acting (save one) is spot-on, special effects are awesome, and the story is accessible and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Most of all, the characters feel genuine and true to their comic book counterparts. This is up there with the better DC movies they’ve put out in a very long time. Skip Man of Steel and BvS. WW and JL is where it’s at!

– Kathleen

Last JL Trailer!

YEEEEEEEE

Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince are rounding up more metahumans – superheroes – to save the world. Someone’s got to, now that Superman is gone, right? The world needs a hero like him… but why have one, when you can have five? =P

The thing I liked most was we finally got to see some more Cyborg. Most of his costume was likely done in post-production, so we haven’t seen much of him until this trailer. I like what I see!!! I do hope he plays a bigger role in the movie than has been shown in the trailers so far =D

Speaking of liking what I see… Jason Momoa as Aquaman… perfect casting, in my humble opinion ;D

Bruce’s face at 2:48 tho… being so done with Ezra Miller Barry… I feel you, Bruce. I feel you.

Justice League hits theaters November 17th! My fiance and I have the whole weekend blocked off for it and making Bob’s Burgers >:D

Yes, you read that right… my boyfriend is now my fiance! He proposed while we were in Amsterdam, after the concert. I was waiting to post to all social media until we were able to tell and celebrate with our families in person. We are so happy and excited to be entering a new chapter of our lives together ❤

– Kathleen

The Dark Tower

Now, I want to preface this review with a confession.

I’m not a Stephen King fan.

I just can’t read horror! I can’t! I spook wayyy too easily. But the man has written some incredible work and accomplished a great deal and for that I tip my hat to him.

A friend tried to get me into the Dark Tower series ages ago, and to be honest, I was turned off partially because Stephen King wrote it. Anything he writes has to have large quantities of blood and creepy crawlies in it, right??? So I tried The Gunslinger, but didn’t get too far before I called it quits.

Then… just a few weeks back, I read the graphic novel. AND IT WAS AMAZING. It was so good I immediately picked up The Gunslinger again. I wondered why I ever put it down the first time!!! I devoured it in three days (the fastest I’ve read a book in a long, long time), and I’m currently on the second book. I was interested in the movie from the start because it stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, both great actors, but I was more keen than ever to see it. So I roped my friend who’d tried to get me to read the books into seeing the movie with me =P

The movie starts with a boy named Jake Chambers. He has some disturbing dreams, and he draws all of them: a commune where children are gathered, a dark tower, and most frightening of all, a man in black. New York City has been suffering from quakes, and no one knows why. Experts are baffled. Jake does know why, though. The man in black is using the children to attack the dark tower, and if it falls, the world will end in darkness and fire.

No one believes him. His mother sends him to shrink after shrink, thinking he’s suffering delusions brought on by the grief of his father’s death. His stepfather wants to send him away to a special school for troubled kids. But Jake is not crazy, and he is telling the truth. In fact, he’s just found a house in Brooklyn that he saw in his dreams. Inside, he finds a portal. He steps to the other side to find himself in the world of his dreams – as real as he knew it would be. He sets out to find another man he’s seen, someone whom he thinks might be able to help – someone called the gunslinger.

The movie is only based on the novels, so there are inconsistencies between the two media. I only caught a few, while my friend who’s read all the books caught more. There were a few elements of the story that could have used tightening or reworking, especially near the end. Roland’s character seemed off to me, but that was due more to the writing of the movie vs. the books then Idris Elba’s performance.

In fact, my favorite element was the dichotomy of the gunslinger and the man in black as portrayed by Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Both are incredible actors, and brought force to both their characters and the eternal clash of good and evil they are caught in. Their performances were stellar.

I was a bit pleasantly surprised to see minimal special effects. Well, they are there, but only a few sequences used them heavily. I guess I would say… this movie wasn’t in your face about the special effects like a lot of other movies are these days. Probably not a big deal to a lot of people, but I thought it refreshing and worth noting.

Overall, it’s still an enjoyable movie. I wasn’t awed by it, but I definitely wasn’t bored, either. I do agree with my friend, who said that if you had little or no previous knowledge of the books, you’d enjoy it more. As a standalone title, it does the job. If you think about it as a tie-in or continuation of the books, you’re taking a lot of the enjoyment out of it for yourself.

– Kathleen

Arcel, Nicolaj. The Dark Tower. 2017.

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