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Avengers | Endgame – A SPOILER FREE Movie Review


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It is very difficult to review Avengers | Endgame without spoiling something. One of the recurring reactions during this movie was “how did they hide THAT?!?” In this age of spoilers, the fact that so much of this movie unfolded without the audience knowing what was coming next is something of a superheroic accomplishment in-and-of-itself. I found myself shocked and pleased by each successive surprise and, as I consider the movie a few days after seeing it, utterly pleased by each-and-every moment that directors Joe and Anthony Russo and the screen writers packed into this 3 hour movie, a runtime that never once felt long.

There is much to accomplish in this movie. If the title and the press is to be believed, it is the wrap up of 22 prior films and provides a coda to the story line that was originated in 2008’s Iron Man. The most impressive feat of the movie is that it lives up to those expectations. It accomplishes all it sets out to do and it is surprisingly funny in doing so.

We know the story: following the events of Avengers | Infinity War half of the population of the universe has been annihilated and the surviving Avengers are wrestling with what to next. Can they find a way to undo what Thanos’ snap accomplished? Do they continue to “avenge” in this new world? Are they done with the superhero game all together?

One of the most impressive things about the movie is that any and all of the above answers seem possible. The audience has very little idea of where this movie is going to take them (even if they assume that time travel is, in fact, involved). Somehow, the filmmakers manage to engage, amuse and surprise with this Tale to Astonish and the ride is terrifically fun.

But the stakes are real. They are high. There are repercussions. Deaths count. Actions have reactions. Decisions have consequences.

That’s a good thing after the emotional investment many have made in these movies and in these characters.

One of the things that have set these Marvel Studios films apart is the spot-on casting and the all-in nature of the performances that the actors have given in their iconic roles. Robert Downey, jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner – the original Avengers – are all so very good in this movie as they have been in all of these Marvel films, that one hates to see the closing credits roll. Without question, things have changed. The endgame has been reached. Each of these actors has terrific moments in the movie and each deserves them. Likely we will never see them assembled together in quite the same way.

Telling a “last” chapter is a challenging thing. Think of the final installments that have preceded this movie. They are often less than fulfilling either as a conclusion to running plot lines. They are often less than fulfilling as a conclusion to emotional arcs. Avengers | Endgame satisfies on both of these fronts and on so many more.

If this is truly the end, what a magnificent end it is!

AVENGERS | ENDGAME receives FIVE CODAS out of a possible FIVE

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Breakthrough – A Movie Review


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I am glad we live in a world where movies like Breakthrough get made and are in wide release. I am glad there is a market for movies like this and I have found that, in the Easter season, they fill a emotional and thematic space that needs filling.

At least for me.

Starring Chrissy Metz of This Is Us fame, Breakthrough tells the (based on a) true story of John Smith, a eighth grader who falls through the ice of a St. Louis river and dies only to somewhat miraculously come back to life after doctors have given up hope. Metz is excellent as Joyce Smith, a devout Christian mother who is struggling with her son growing up and with the new pastor at her mega-church. The underappreciated Josh Lucas is, well, underappreciated here as her husband Brian and is given too little to do. Topher Grace (so creepily good in last year’s BlackKklansman) is Jason Noble, the pastor of the Smith’s mega-church and Joan’s foil for most of the film.

John’s death and recovery are, obviously, the engine that makes Breakthrough run. The horrific accident and the rescue efforts both in the water and at the hospital are really well documented and engaging. Metz proves her mettle as she prays for God to bring back her son and then spends much of the rest of the movie incredulously opposed to those who would suggest to her that the recovery is anything but a miracle and that those who would suggest that anything other than Joe regaining his former life before the fall are not welcome, that their support is not needed.

Where the movie has any conflict is here: Brian and Pastor Jason are not as fully faithful as Joyce and the tension among them on this point ignites a bit of theological debate on the nature of faith.

But only a little.

Breakthrough is a paint-by-number movie, holding no real surprises for the audience. Fortunately for me, I like this particular canvas and it gave me all I wanted.

(And Chrissy Metz has a terrific voice – that’s her over the closing credits)

BREAKTHROUGH receives THREE AND A HALF CHRISTIAN RAPPERS out of a possible FIVE

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SHAZAM! – A SPOILER FREE Movie Review


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With the release of SHAZAM! it is very, very clear the powers that be charting the course of the DC Movie Universe have completely altered their direction. While the early offerings were dark, real-world and gritty, the latest films (Wonder Woman, Aquaman and, now, SHAZAM!) are wildly different in tone from the earlier offerings and from each other. This is not a bad thing at all and, if it accomplishes nothing else, it does set the DC movies apart from their Marvel counterparts.

SHAZAM! is a different creature from all of the mainstream superhero movies that precede it in that it embraces the nature of its story so completely and that nature is family. SHAZAM! is the first, true family superhero movie. And it works. Overtime.

Though it does not share the dark overtones of many of the DC films, it is clearly in the same universe and their are constant reminders of this fact. Telling the story of Billy Batson, a young foster child moved from home-to-home, SHAZAM! is also something of a superpowered homage to Tom Hanks’ classic BIG.

Billy receives magical powers from a wizard which turn him from a 15-year-old boy into a superpowered adult with untested and unknown abilities. Part of the fun of the film is watching Billy (Asher Angel) as Shazam (a terrific Zachary Levi) learn just what it is he can do. Aided by Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) , a foster child Billy meets in his latest home, Shazam learns he can fly, is amazingly strong and has “bullet immunity” among other things. The interplay between Angel and Grazer is almost as fun as the exchanges between Levi and Grazer, the constant being Jack Dylan Grazer. This kid is fun!

And so is the movie. With a plot line that tips its hat to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Monster, INC, Ghostbusters and Big, a wonderful turn by scenery-chewing Mark Strong as the unrepentantly evil Doctor Sivana and a major, last reel reveal that should delight even the most cynical among movie goers, SHAZAM! is a world of fun. Director David O. Sandberg leaned into the craziness that is the story of Shazam and that was absolutely the right decision. He also littered the movie with just enough fan service connecting it both to the DC movie universe and the comic book history of the title character.

Be sure you stick around for both post credit sequences. One is incredibly funny. The other is incredibly bizarre. Both fit SHAZAM! perfectly.

SHAZAM! receives FOUR AND A HALF MAGIC 8 BALLS out of a possible FIVE

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Countdown to ENDGAME | Guardians of the Galaxy


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Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 |Avengers: Age of Ultron |Ant-Man |Captain America: Civil War |Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther | Avengers: Infinity War | Ant-Man and the Wasp 

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Untitled

Guardians of the Galaxy was a CRAZY risk for Marvel Studios. Not only were the characters that make up the “team” C Listers, they had little to no name recognition, they did not have a place in the cultural lexicon and they had not been set up or name dropped in any other Marvel movie. If this one worked, look out. Marvel would rule the cinematic world.

This just in: Marvel rules the cinematic world.

Oddly, of the 18 movies in this countdown, I think (after – WAY after – last week’s Thor: The Dark World) I was looking forward to re-watching Guardians the least because I have seen it so very many times. That is a measure of how much I love it, of course, but I wondered what surprises it would still hold or if it would keep my interest.

I need not have worried.

This thing holds up, holds interest and holds a audience captive with its humor, action and audacity.

What a terrific movie.

When I reviewed Guardians of the Galaxy when it was released, I gave it FIVE DANCING GROOTS out of a possible FIVE because that is as high as the scale goes, friends.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Peter Quill (Star Lord)
  • Gamora
  • Rocket
  • Groot
  • Drax the Destroyer
  • Yondu
  • The Nova Corps
  • The Ravagers
  • The Kree race
  • The Power Stone (this is orb that Thanos seeks in the film)
  • Ronan
  • The Celestial race (the giant head called Knowhere)
  • Nebula

CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:

  • The race to find the Infinity Stones is on as Thanos is after the Power Stone in this movie.
  • The Guardians of the Galaxy are set up as a force to be reckoned with in the film.
  • Thanos’ motivations and roles as expanded.
  • The Collector’s importance to the quest for the Infinity Stones is further explained.
  • Obviously, most of the Guardians of the Galaxy play significant roles in Infinity War and Rocket looks to be very key to the events of Endgame.

AVENGERS | ENDGAME IS COMING

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Countdown to ENDGAME | Captain America: The Winter Soldier


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Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 |Avengers: Age of Ultron |Ant-Man |Captain America: Civil War |Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther | Avengers: Infinity War | Ant-Man and the Wasp 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

Untitled

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a wonderful movie, not simply a great superhero movie. Part political potboiler, part thriller, the movie only suffers form a bit of silliness with a time lock plot in the third act that draws things out a bit unnecessarily.

That, however, is a small complaint and the action and pathos of the film are complex and compelling.

All of this happens while a massive amount of world building is taken care of as well.

And it has Robert Redford in a tremendous role as the morally ambiguous Alexander Pierce.

Any list of the top five Marvel movies must include Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

When I reviewed Captain America: The Winter Soldier when it was released, I may actually have been too harsh only giving it FOUR AND A HALF SMITHSONIAN EXHIBITS out of a possible FIVEUpon further review, it may deserve five.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Sam Wilson, The Falcon
  • Bucky Barnes reintroduced as The Winter Soldier
  • Brock Rumlow, Crossbones
  • Sharon Carter, Agent 13

CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:

  • The destruction of SHIELD will leave the world all the more vulnerable to invasion by the forces of Thanos.
  • Stephen Strange is mentioned by Hydra agent Jasper Sitwell. He is, of course, Doctor Strange, and he was featured in Avengers Infinity War.
  • The post credit sequence features Baron Strucker (a Hydra operative) and future Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. The Scarlet Witch, in particular, featured in Captain America: Civil War and was on Avenger on the run in Infinity War.
  • Bucky is a MAJOR player in Captain America: Civil War and has shown up in… other places in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well. He was in the post credit sequence of Black Panther and featured – a bit – in Infinity War.

AVENGERS | ENDGAME IS COMING

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Captain Marvel – A SPOILER FREE Movie Review


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Releasing this film on the International Day of Women was no mistake by the makers of Captain Marvel for one goal of the movie – and this is a goal at which the film absolutely succeeds – is to tell a tale of independence and empowerment for its main character. The title character is powerful, confident and clever. She is funny, independent and empowered. Her story is the story of a superhero and there is barely a moment spent – for humorous purposes or otherwise – where anyone questions the fact that, if she is not the most powerful person in the room, she is well on her way to becoming that.

The movie gets a lot of mileage out of the fact that its title character does not quite remember her entire history. A series of inter-cutting flashbacks (which anyone who has seen the trailers has watched) reveal bits and pieces of conflicting history to Captain Marvel and part of the fun of the movie is walking along with her as she attempts to unravel how these images work together to make her whole.

Brie Larson is wonderfully cast in the title role. She looks perfect in each incarnation of the costume, and that is a critical thing for anyone playing a superhero – sometimes these costumes look silly. Larson has the gravitas to carry it off, even when her hair pokes through her helmet like a mohawk. And, though her character is on a quest to find out exactly who she is during the course of the movie, Larson’s Captain Marvel never doubts herself. She may not be in control of her history, but she is completely in control of herself. As Captain Marvel is set up as one of if not the most powerful characters in the Marvel Movie Universe, the casting had to be spot on. It is.

Set in the 1990s, Captain Marvel takes on a terrifically 1990s movie trope – the buddy comedy – and plays that out to entertaining effect. Samuel L. Jackson is on board as a young, two-eyed Nick Fury and he is having a tremendous amount of fun. The pairing of Larson and Jackson works and the friendship between the characters is the backbone of the movie. That computers seamlessly de-age Jackson about 20 years is pretty cool and pretty scary (and what they do for castmate Clark Gregg as a young Phil Coulson is equally cool and/or creepy).

Ben Mendelshon is, likewise, having a ton of fun as leader of the antagonist alien race – the shapeshifting Skrulls. This is an actor who knows how to chew scenery in the best way and he does so with aplomb here.

Annette Benning continues a noble tradition of the addition of an A-List actor (see Brando, Marlon, Nicholson, Jack, Redford, Robert, Close, Glenn and others) to a comic book film and, much like her compatriots, looks like she’s having a terrific time as well. And Jude Law is the perfect mentor to Larson’s Captain Marvel.

But it’s Captain Marvel who is at the heart of the story and her friendship with Maria Rambeau (delightfully played by Lashana Lynch) and Maria’s daughter Monica (played by Akira Akbar) is the most important to the movie. The relationship between these characters is perfectly pitched and utterly in sync with the overall themes of the movie…

… which are hard to delve into in a spoiler free review. Suffice it to say that Captain Marvel employs more twists and turns than other Marvel movies and all of them land very nicely. The movie keeps the audience on its heels and, hey, we’re talking about the 21st Marvel movie in the last 10 years. That this one continues to surprise is absolutely saying something.

There is world building here. There is world bridging here (yes, the audience gets a sense of a part of the forthcoming Avengers: Endgame) and there are thrills to be had in all of this.

If there is a drawback, and this may well have something to do with the saturation of the genre, some of the scenes seem a bit telegraphed. This is not to say they are not enjoyable. The entire movie is one empowering hoot. Rather, this is to say that even good scenes that are overly familiar can only have so much effect. And, to be fair, it’s not Captain Marvel’s fault that Wonder Woman beat it to some thematic punches.

These are minor quibbles. This is a very fun movie and a fitting installment in the overall Marvel saga. Come for the great characters and the kitty cat, stay for the TWO post credit sequences.

CAPTAIN MARVEL receives FOUR FLERKINS out of a possible FIVE

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On the Basis of Sex – A Movie Review


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It took The Cinnamon Girl and I way too long to get to On the Basis of Sex. Way too long. When we got to see it a few weeks back before the Academy Awards, we looked at each other and said “why did we wait so long?”

Felicity Jones is marvelous cast as Ruth Bader Ginsberg, an absolute, real life hero whose story is being told while she is still with us. That’s a rarity and a blessing to be sure. Jones’ Ginsberg is just what one wants in a hero: determined, uncompromising, compassionate, loyal and incredibly smart. She will likely make a career out of playing such roles and she should. She is self assured in her choices and her work in On the Basis of Sex is terrific.

Jones is clearly the lead here and the movie depends entirely on her performance. Thankfully, it is spectacular.

She is ably supported by a strong cast. Armie Hammer, who I find terrific and just one break away from being a superstar, takes not one ounce of the spotlight away from Jones as Martin Ginsberg, Bader Ginsberg’s husband. Theirs is a well-drawn, devoted relationship and one that forms a terrific backdrop to the themes of the film. It is not a stereotypical marriage that one might expect of the era in which the movie occurs, rather the challenges the Bader Ginsberg faces as she inches ever closer to the glass ceiling are played out delicately and believably within her relationship with Martin and Hammer is perfect in the role.

Also important though, perhaps, a bit more one note, is Cailee Spaeny as Jane Ginsberg, who has come of age watching her mother approach but never quite tap on the above mentioned ceiling. The mother-daughter dynamics are by-the-book, but they work in the overall context of the movie and Spaeny’s Jane is a critical part of keeping the themes moving forward.

Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates and the ever terrific Sam Waterston are excellent in their roles as well and director Mimi Leder keeps the entire movie on pace and builds in enough suspense to keep the audience engaged until the final scene.

Having not yet watched the CNN documentary about RBG, I can only hope On the Basis of Sex is a realistic account of the woman’s early life because it is an inspiring one.

ON THE BASIS OF SEX receives FOUR and a HALF REAL LIFE HEROES out of a possible FIVE

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