Movie Review: Brightburn

The superhero genre has plenty of gold to share with the world, but not enough of those movies do something radically different. Writers Brian and Mark Gunn, brothers of James Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy fame, twist the iconic story of Superman into a slasher flick with plenty of gory kills and a refreshing take on the highly saturated genre. Super Myers may not soar like expected, but the film packs a punch.

After failing to have a baby, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Byers (David Denman) witness a spaceship crash behind their home to discover a baby. Their adopted alien son, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) comes off innocent until his 12th birthday where he starts to descend down a supervillain path. His parents must come to grip with the reality of the identity of the child they have been raising all these years. A compelling narrative that weaves together a family, supervillain, and slasher story into one in a fairly successful way, but plenty of generic beats get hit to downgrade the experience.

Child actors can be a huge hit or a miss. While many of the supporting kids did not add much to the overall story, especially towards the final act, the little screen time was impressive. Besides Dunn, the only person to get any larger scenes around his age was Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter) who was a classmate that Brandon started to develop feelings towards. The adults did an outstanding job, but the young actors and actresses deserved more room to shine.

To no surprise, Banks is stellar with her performance along with her costars who bring together a wonderful family bond. Denman and Banks have a chemistry that feels like they have had a long history together. In both the brightest and darkest moments of this horrifying journey, the family dynamic between the three is flawlessly executed. I was floored how Dunn can snap from deep emotion to a soulless killer in an instant.

The caped murderer theme works, but I felt it needed some tweaking. The balance between supervillain and horror film felt unbalanced. The scarier aspects felt typical with some creative moments that needed to be exercised more often. Brandon’s arc as he discovers and learns about his powers were given little screen time, but every second was utilized to not waste the hour and a half runtime. The last act loses some of Brandon’s supervillain narrative except for a goofy scene during the beginning credits.

Some techniques with lighting and camera work were a sweet treat that I did not expect. The red to symbolize Brandon’s dark alter ego was masterfully placed to make for some disturbingly pretty shots. Plus one death scene has a unique take on how to shoot a character’s perspective before their demise, so keep an eye out for that even if you easily squirm.

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The deaths were satisfyingly brutal, but not enough was done. A murderous superpowered child should get a higher body count, especially with the short runtime. For gore fans, this is for you, but I felt I needed more to take care of my appetite for blood on the big screen.

I felt the inexperience from the Gunn brothers, and director David Yarovesky hurt the quality when this comic inspired horror flick should have been far better, but for younger filmmakers, they did impress with what they accomplished. Something felt missing from the plot to give it that extra nightmarish punch to the gut that sticks with him after viewing. Brightburn has excellent performances with some imaginative ideas, but it needed an extra push to be more original as a whole.

Score: 7/10

Images via Sony Pictures Releasing

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Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Initially, I was hesitant when the first chapter of the John Wick series came out, but like many people, after seeing the film, I was blown away by the superb choreography. The second came, and I thought no way lightning could strike twice, yet it did. Now with the third entry, I have to say while it continues the same level of beautiful shots and some of the best action in the genre, some elements miss the target for an enjoyable, yet unsatisfying experience.

Leading right off of Chapter 2, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) finds himself desperately trying to survive against Winston’s (Ian McShane) $14 million target that has been painted on his back. Every hitman wants that money, and John needs to tie up loose ends to stop the call for his head. A story that starts off riveting, and ends on a note that left me hungry for more.

The draw to Reeves’ action trilogy is the mind-blowingly crafted fight scenes. The classic style the series has brought to the table continues to drop my jaw while delivering plenty of new ideas. Besides the typical kung fu and gun-fu, there is dog-fu, motorcycle-fu, and horse-fu.

A flow goes to the series, which is crucial to their quality. Combat feels fluid as the story weaves itself in and out. For the first half, this is an easy ace, but the second gets a little sloppy. Instead of rounding out on a third movie, the story gets too big for its foundation and starts to crumble in some areas. The wrong beats get hit, and the experience gets disrupted.

I have found a distinctive tone in these movies. It is serious and thoughtful, yet a touch of dark humor with a side of cheesiness allows for it to give that wink to the audience to let everyone know that a dog avenging hitman is not too deep. Parabellum gets weird with some of its humor that feels out of place, like a different personality that I have not come to known through the previous two entries.

Eccentric characters continue to fill this world. McShane’s performance as Winston continues to steal every scene that features him. Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King truly is a king with his intense charisma. New faces like the badass Sofia (Halle Berry) and the mysterious advocate for the hitman organization the High Table, The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) moves the narrative in exciting directions. While Zero (Mark Dacascos) feels out of place by being too cheesy and having off comedic timing.

The lighting and cinematography still shatter my expectations. The vibrant lights consume the night in New York and other destinations in a spectacular way. While the action feels like music with its rhythm, the visual components feel like a masterfully crafted painting.

Parabellum has its issues but shoots down any of its competition in the world of gunfights and martial arts. While this continues to be my favorite action series, I feel let down by later parts of the film. A stylistic, yet underwhelming introduction felt like a warning that this would not meet my skyscraper-high expectations. Still, I cannot hate on a movie with this cast, action, and the several good boys who fight for justice and belly rubs.

Score: 7/10

Image via Summit Entertainment

Movie Review: Pokémon Detective Pikachu

If I had to give an award for a film this early in the year, it would be Detective Pikachu. That award would be the most surprisingly enjoyable flick of 2019. I went in for Ryan Reynolds, and I came out with a smile on my face because of this delightfully nostalgic trip.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) heads to Ryme City’s police department about the case of his deceased father. When going to his father’s apartment, he soon meets a Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) who happens to be a detective too. After some convincing and realizing they can understand one another, the pair join forces to discover the mystery behind Tim’s father.

The narrative moves in some generic areas as the two unlikely partners search for answers. By the later acts, plenty of turns make for a much intriguing, mysterious crime story while having a heartfelt story about someone who once aspired to become a Pokemon trainer.

Smith and Reynolds have this wonderful chemistry that surprisingly worked despite the two not having real face to face interactions. The relationship works flawlessly as the two form a bond that feels organic.

While the film has plenty of solid supporting characters like Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), the city’s founder, who brings a lot to the story despite his too little amount of screentime. Nighy never disappoints with his excellent performance. The thorn in the side of the movie comes from Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton). While Newton’s performance is excellent, her character has too many moronic moments that cause issues. As I am a journalism major, I felt some pain seeing how the writers created her character, that annoyingly pushy journalist who ends up causing more harm than good.

The Pokemon are given a blend of a realistic aesthetic while having their anime characteristics. While I felt a few of them needed to be reworked to not look out of place, most of the mighty creatures looked spectacular along with other CGI that was done throughout the film.

Ryme City looked breathtaking with its Japanese inspired culture while having some Western elements. A brief introduction gave it more life than expected. With much of the film taking place in the metropolis allowed for enough time to explore and enjoy an exciting location that could have been bland.

The pacing usually flowed well, except for a few hiccups that felt unnecessary and could have been more creatively done for something more original. Adding in more action would help some of those problems, but the final battle makes some of the slower parts more bearable.

Drama and comedy came together to tell a fun, yet compelling story. The balance allowed for some heart pulling moments while still having those laugh out loud moments. While not a lot of the jokes land too hard for a big laugh, a few got me enough that I will think back on those hilarious lines for the next few weeks.

For a movie that seemed to only be fueled by the irresistible charm from Reynolds, I got to go down an adventure that came in without overstaying its welcome. The focus on the first generation Pokemon allowed for the perfect nostalgic trip for adults while still accessible for kids who may have grown up with later editions of these superpowered creatures.

Score: 8/10

Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Movie Spoiler Review: Avengers: Endgame

My most controversial move yet, I am doing a spoiler review of Avengers: Endgame. This is your only warning. Don’t worry though, there will be plenty of surprises for the film, but go watch it because I know you want to and it is incredible.

The Infinity Saga has come to its epic conclusion. The Russo brothers along with the whole cast and crew created the perfect closing to the universe’s most powerful stones and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ toughest foe, Thanos (Josh Brolin). On paper, making Infinity War and Endgame seems impossible, but this worked the way I wanted to while going above and beyond my expectations on how to solve the greatest problem that these heroes have faced.

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The surviving Avengers all reunite, with the inclusion of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), then after a lengthy discussion, the group seek out to defeat Thanos. In a surprise, they do, but the stones have been destroyed, so it is a quest to restore these cosmic gems to bring back the fallen. My theory, along with many others who had the same idea, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) comes to the rescue with his plan about controlling the quantum realm to go back in time and stop Thanos. Yes, Endgame becomes a time-traveling heist flick, and it is just as awesome as it sounds.

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes still face separation due to the previous conflict between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) which causes hiccups in the plan. The internal issues last a while but did not take away from the narrative. The decision made sense for Tony to still have resentment towards Cap, and the resolution of this problem worked for both characters and their respective arcs.

Going back in time has plenty of logistical issues, and each of the divided teams faces them as they split through different places in time to find each of the infinity stones to bring back their friends. The biggest obstacle, Thanos is back and of course, catches on what is happening with his rivals. The race between the two groups builds up slowly but leaves plenty of anticipation during the three-hour journey.

The bumpy heist resolves by snapping back everyone to life, but Thanos and his army smash onto Earth for the most breathtaking battle I have ever seen. The final act starts as an exciting mix of grand warfare while still feeling intimate due to the lack of characters. Then the snap’s work comes to fruition when everyone who was lost comes back to defeat Thanos. This shift in tone and pacing makes up for the somber and sometimes sluggish pacing from the previous acts.

The main questions before watching were what will happen to Tony, Steve, and Thanos? The end of these massive personalities satisfied me more than I would have hoped. Thanos got what he deserved by getting dusted, Tony had his more heroic moment by snapping the Mad Titan, and Captain America retired by placing the stones back in time and replacing his noble lifestyle for the American Dream. Nothing would have fitted more for any of them and tied their arcs flawlessly.

Over half of the film develops the world and its characters to see where everyone is after the snappening and how everyone is coping. When you thought DC got dark, this is on another level, I got flashbacks to Logan all over again except I cried way more here. The snap emotionally devastated everyone, and much of the film reflects their feelings. The dark, often ugly colors used throughout the movie along with its pacing and music made this trauma even more impactful.

While many other Marvel stories blend the right mix of humor, drama, and action, this was the most unbalanced. A few actions scenes held together in between the long strokes of development but the combat did not satisfy until the final battle. Serious beats drowned out the comedy, but the humorous moments were fitting and a nice place to catch some fresh air in between all of the crying.

The length seemed daunting, and unlike Infinity War, I felt time move too slow. However, this direction felt necessary, even though it does not flow the way the third Avengers adventure moved. The audience and characters needed time to digest the snap and mourn together. The emotional connection I felt with these fictional people, and creatures went beyond anything I have ever experienced in my life. I may disagree on some decisions, but everything that was shot and written had a purpose.

The most significant critique would be Alexandra Rachael Rabe, who played Tony’s daughter Morgan. Child actors have a tendency to do poorly, while others can excel past adults. I wish a different child actor were cast since Rabe had little to no emotions, especially during Tony’s funeral.

Endgame executed precisely what was expected most, which were consequences while still pulling back the aftermath from Infinity War. While I had some doubts about how all of this would work, especially fixing all of the death which could have made the previous film pointless, yet the Russo brothers and their writers, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely, prove they are much smarter than I am by crafting a story that is a fitting end that the fans deserve to see. Marvel has cemented themselves into being rulers of taking precarious narratives and bringing some of the best pieces of entertainment on a blockbuster scale.

Score: 10/10

Image via Marvel Studios

Movie Review: Shazam!

Going to the theater to see a DC film is a dangerous move that will risk wasting money and wasting two hours that could have been spent with anything more enjoyable. That bitter taste lingers in some areas, but DC took some notes from the fun side of Marvel to create Shazam! which is the best from the DC universe by a long shot.

A mysterious wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is on his last stride before death, so he needs a new hero to take over to protect Earth from the seven deadly sins. A troubled teenager in Philadelphia living with a foster family, Billy Batson (Asher Angel), gets chosen to become the new Shazam (Zachary Levi). Of course, those demons from hell that were warned about eventually got loose, so now he must learn to become a hero to save the world. Seemingly generic, but this story has quite the personality.

Levi and Angel playing essentially the same character work wonderfully. The role for Levi is nothing new since he is used to playing a man-child from his breakout role in Chuck, but he is able to show he is more than that character. The dynamic personality glows throughout his arc, which has been done many times before, but not often this entertaining. Seeing a hero learn his powers feels more believable when they are having fun, especially a 14-year-old. It is hard to say that someone would not want to test out their powers in the most thrilling ways like a child, even if they are an adult.

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Image via Warner Bros. Pictures/DC

Mark Strong as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana has his typical villainy moments with his overly dark DC vibes. While he has those flaws that make him a bit dull, his backstory and performance make him a lot more compelling. A lesser baddie from others seen in the genre, but far better than anything from the DC extended universe.

The wholesome, loving foster family Billy lives with warmed my heart until I stopped to think how shallow they all feel. Performances from everyone were a joy to watch, but not enough development made me care. What worked is their wonderful chemistry which saved the film from this flaw and made this family feel real. If a few were cut from the film, then others could shine more on screen for a better roster.

The action reminds me of what we see in any Superman flick with some added humor from a Spider-Man story (sorry DC fans for the Marvel reference, but it is the truth). Flying through the city to bash through buildings in a more contained story is a refreshing take. The world is in danger, but having a more intimate setting made every fight more personal between Thaddeus and Shazam.

DC has a color issue with its bland visuals and lousy CGI. Besides Shazam’s beautifully vibrant suit, that is one of my new favorites from any superhero movie, there is not much to admire on the big screen.

The most shocking aspect is the humor. I consistently laughed and for the right reasons. I did not laugh to mock; instead, I laughed for genuinely funny scenes. Everyone has their time for serious and comedic beats that fit correctly.

Two entries in a row from DC that has horror directors working on their big blockbusters. While I felt James Wan’s (Saw and The ConjuringAquaman was atrocious, David F. Sandberg (Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation) managed to implement his horror experience in a way that worked much better without taking away from the tone that makes Shazam! so damn good.

Shazam! is not only a blast, but a great balance of a family movie, superhero adventure, and a new take on the coming of age theme. Any fan of caped heroes who save the little guy needs to stop reading and go to the theater to support this goofy, yet a heartfelt film. For once, a DC movie got its tone right by executing its darker and brighter moments into a cohesive narrative without the jarring shifts like its previous releases.

Score: 8/10

Image via Warner Bros. Pictures/DC

Movie Review: Pet Semetary

Hollywood is lubed up for another big screen recreation of a Stephen King classic novel all over again. Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer adapted another one of his iconic stories which already got the adaption treatment with a painfully outdated film in 1989. Kolsch and Widmyer had two heads to put together an honest depiction of a King masterpiece which had plenty of gaps, but plenty of eerie creepiness to satisfy a horror enthusiast like me.

Like all bad ideas that lead families to have a horrific experience, Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz) take their children, Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage (Huge and Lucas Lavoie), out of Boston and into a small town to slow things down in life. After one accident with a cat and Louis taking up on a terrible offer from his eccentric neighbor named Jud (John Lithgow) to bury the family cat in a spooky area, the dead come back like themselves, but with a different personality. The family goes through various levels of horror that psychologically and physically attack, while as an audience member, I just had the most amount of anxiety possible.

The story flows well with hints of creepiness to going full speed into a land of utter insanity. Jump scares are thrown in for effect during the slower moments then build up the tension with more intelligence in the latter half, even though the first stands out more compelling than the second. The main issue that pops up is the logical leaps without any real explanation. Plenty of elements get some background, but some psychological aspects did not get enough details to make sense to people who missed out on the novel.

The cast has strong moments on their own, but sometimes miss the beats with chemistry. Lithgow nails his performance as expected. Same with Clarke, Laurence, and Seimetz, but a few parts fell flat in some scenes between what should be a husband and wife relationship. Laurence’s dramatic performance landed on two feet, while the youngest one, Lavoie was another body to fill screen time, which is typical for children that young. Those few missed beats are not fatal but put me off during what should have been more compelling situations.

The subtle uses for shock value and tactics to get in the face of anyone watching worked for the most part. Psychological horror with seemingly random noises and visuals to keep both characters and me on our toes. At times, these psychological moments disrupted some of the flow and confused me with how the semetary’s power worked. Building the lore fell through, making some supernatural elements feel like gimmicks.

A generic horror flick with some great performances and excellent build up, Pet Semetary may have its flaws, but a much better film than most in the genre that continuously throws out anything that can stick. Maybe with smarter writing and more unique scares that did not jump then, this would be a much more worthy King adaption. Horror fans looking to get their fix for that anxiety-inducing experience should still manage to have a good time with this short, sweet, and thrilling remake.

Score: 6/10

Image via Paramount Pictures

Movie Review: Us

Jordan Peele’s descent into horror was a smash hit with Get Out, a thought-provoking thrill ride and now he has another mind-bending flick that is more haunting, equally thoughtful, and more significant flaws in its direction and storytelling. Us may not reach the same heights as Peele’s first entry into the genre but makes an impact with its unique idea.

Family vacation went horribly wrong, familiar with a brilliant twist. The Wilsons go to Santa Cruz for a getaway, but coincidences occur to bring back some past memories for the mother of the family, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o). After one night of seeing a family in their driveway, it is revealed her suspicions are correct. This American clan has doppelgangers called The Tethered, who have a bloodlust and now the Wilsons must survive and discover the horrific truth behind their evil other halves.

While Us is a far more adrenaline pumping film than Get Out with its faster pace and more focus on murder throughout, the first 20 plus minutes takes its time to develop the Wilsons. Their typical American family dynamic may feel stereotypical, but is executed flawlessly with Gabe (Winston Duke) as the goofy dad, the protective mother, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) as the teenage daughter who isolates herself to be on her phone, and Jason (Evan Alex) as the innocent, precious little boy. Their chemistry feels real, and everyone stands out with their unique personality. If this were just a family movie, I would not mind.

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The cast knocks it out with their performances, especially when having to turn humorous family banter into the chemistry that depends on survival. Nyong’o steals every scene with her moving performance of a woman who suffered something traumatic in her past. While she is fantastic, the children and Duke keep up the pace with her by delivering contrasting emotions that work well together as a unit.

The turn of tone from a family vacation that is full of fun and laughter turning into a bloodbath works, especially for the Wilsons. They adapt in a relatively believable way, at least when events happen to them. Some reactions feel less real when they witness things happen to others, but it only occurs a few times that threw me off of their emotions.

Writing an original idea may seem impossible, but Peele crafting the Tethered and their backstory is as genius as his themes that make this more than just your standard movie. I had to try to catch up with the film as its narrative moves on while trying to pick up on messages and tiny details. My brain might be exhausted, but it is happy to have had the exercise.

Similar to Get Out, the melding of various emotions from humorous beats and heart pumping intensity comes together, but differently. I felt Peele’s previous film blended together smoothly, while here there are considerable shifts with each act turning into a different feel. What works well is the transition allows for a way to say, “Hey, this is the next evolution of these characters and their journey.” Having everything come together as unison would make for an effortless development rather than sharp turns that jerked me into a new tone.

Peele proves himself yet again as a master of detail with plenty of foreshadowing, world building designs, and thoughtful additions that make it worth a second or third watch to catch everything on the big screen. The cinematography and lighting are well thought out with no careless mistakes. The passion of filmmaking gushes out, making it apparent that Peele got to tell the story he wanted to deliver.

Three months in and I think I found the best score of the year. Eerie orchestral work along with epic, yet haunting choirs elevates both the themes and emotions. The grand feeling from the music also gives me a sense for Peele’s progression in the horror genre as a director, producer, and writer.

Horror lives on with another success that despite its flaws, gives a spine-tingling experience. Unlike its predecessor, Us has its predictable moments along with less impactful twists that at times felt thrown in. A powerful message gets delivered about society and race, but less creative than Get Out‘s rare take on racism. While it may fall short in some areas, fans of the genre should be as satisfied as I am with this brutal vacation.

Score: 8/10

Images via Universal Pictures