Review: Justice League

All that was going through my mind as I entered the theater to watch this week’s feature film was one simple sentence on repeat until the trailers ended and the show began: “In the name of Sweet Jesus, please don’t suck!”

Justice League opened to show us a world without Superman. Hopeless, fearful, chaotic, dark and vulnerable and in this moment of vulnerability, Earth is wide open to those who wish to do it harm both on world and off.

The death of Superman also triggered an awakening of three vessels of power called Motherboxes and signaled the coming of a being named Steppenwolf who, with his vast army of Parademons, lays siege to various corners of Earth to retrieve the Motherboxes and enact his ambition to alter the Earth into the image suitable for him and his master.

All that stands in this conqueror’s way are five remarkable individuals: Bruce Wayne, Diana Prince, Victor Stone, Barry Allen and Arthur Curry. These individuals must learn to become a team capable of protecting the world and living up to the legacy of the Man of Steel.

Image by Warner Bros. and DC

I went into Justice League hoping for the best but ultimately preparing for the worst because I was ready to find any reason to hate it. I came out of Justice League ready to give my official and resolute perspective: I believe Justice League did enough to not fail. In fact, it is my most forthcoming opinion that I actually enjoyed watching it!

By no means is the film perfect but I do believe that Zack Snyder and Chris Terrio with the assistance of Joss Whedon did in fact learn from the mistakes of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and they did make a fun, coherent, simple picture about the world’s finest heroes: Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg and Superman.

What really held this film back was the fact that it was a short movie and I get the sense that there were a lot of scenes and details that were left on the cutting room floor. The editing team of David Brenner, Richard Pearson and Michael Walsh didn’t do justice (no pun intended) to allow the film to truly highlight the impact of these characters and I believe equal blame should fall upon Terrio, Snyder and Whedon because audiences didn’t get enough depth and scope on these amazing characters and especially what drives and motivates the villain of the film: Steppenwolf.

On the other hand, I think the plot of the film, despite how it was self-restrained, did enough to truly showcase these characters and focused on bringing these heroes together and that was in fact satisfying. It’s what the audiences came to see and it did enough to win them over.

The cast did a good job. We’ve already seen what Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent/Superman), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince/Wonder Woman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Diane Lane (Martha Kent) and Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth) brought to the table as their respective characters from previous features but we see for the first time what Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry/Aquaman), Ezra Miller (Barry Allen/The Flash), Ray Fisher (Victor Stone/Cyborg) can bring to the table and they are in fact fun.

I was hoping to see more from the supporting cast including J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, Ciarán Hinds, Connie Nielsen, Joe Morton and Billy Cudrup but I guess that’s what the future films are for.

Fabian Wagner’s cinematography was on-point, Danny Elfman did a good job with the score though I would have liked to hear what Junkie XL could have brought to the table instead, Patrick Tatopoulos’ production design was very nice, the art direction was good, the visual effects were solid, Michael Wilkinson’s costumes were awesome and Dominic Capon’s set decoration was good as well.

Do I count this as a major win for Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment? It does enough to not lose, I will say that. It’s not as good as Wonder Woman, but it is better than the films that came before Wonder Woman and that is victory enough.

Going forward, I still want Geoff Johns and the creative team to really consider handing the keys to another director for a potential sequel. Zack Snyder did an okay enough job to keep the future of the DCEU alive but these movies need to reach their full potential.

From this critic’s perspective, Justice League is good enough to go see.

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In One Year, the Wizarding World Will Witness The Crimes of Grindelwald

Before Lord Voldemort, the world of witchcraft and wizardry was terrorized by a powerful and fearsome wizard named Gellert Grindelwald who met his downfall at the hands of his former friend Albus Dumbledore. In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the feats of Grindelwald were briefly teased as Newt Scamander scoured 1940s New York City scrambling to retrieve his escaped magical creatures and the film ended with the Dark Wizard in the custody of the MACUSA, or so we thought. Details on the new magical follow-up to Fantastic Beasts has finally come to light including the title: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

According to Warner Bros., in the new film Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has escaped custody and will be seen gathering followers to his nefarious cause. This next film will also see Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) enlisted by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to try and stop him.

As a fan of the first Fantastic Beasts picture, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to the new adventures of Newt Scamander for some time now, especially since this film will feature a young Professor Dumbledore. I was wondering if this film will explore the dynamic relationship between Jude Law’s Dumbledore and Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald and how magizoologist Newt Scamander finds himself in the middle of the feud between them again.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Allison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Johnny Depp, Carmen Ejogo, Jude Law, Jessica Williams, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim and Zoë Kravitz. David Yates is returning to direct and the film is written by none other than J.K. Rowling. The magic arrives in theaters on November 16, 2018.

Movie of the Week: Justice League

Superman was regarded as a savior to some, a god to a few and a threat to many but his sacrifice in defeating Lex Luthor’s abomination known as Doomsday cemented his legacy as a hero. With the Man of Steel out of the picture, the world grows darker by the day as feats of injustice occur on a daily basis, but Bruce Wayne works to honor Superman legacy in the shadows for he knows that a mysterious and massive force is coming to Earth. Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince scour the Earth to recruit special individuals in Arthur Curry, Barry Allen and Victor Stone to stand against this global threat. A new age of heroes is about to begin and it begins with a team. Justice League is upon us.

Director: Zack Snyder (and Joss Whedon)

Written by: Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, Ciarán Hinds, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Billy Cudrup, Kiersey Clemmons, Jesse Eisenberg and Henry Cavill.

What am I expecting to see?: This is the movie that cannot afford to fail! Warner Bros. and the DC Extended Universe already have their first win with Wonder Woman and for this franchise to get back on track, they need Justice League to be a success! I’ve gone on record expressing my lack of confidence in Zack Snyder as the guy in charge of these films but I’m going into Justice League expecting nothing but excellence, in light of the fact that Joss Whedon stepping in to finish what Snyder started. I DO NOT WANT THIS TO FAIL!!!

Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The dark comedic mastermind behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths is back with a vengeance! Martin McDonaugh’s new feature has a very simple plot: it’s about sending a message and that is exactly what the Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri does: it sends a very loud and strong message from the most dangerous adversary anyone wouldn’t want to cross: a very, very, very upset mother!

All Mildred Hayes wants is the truth. Who raped and murdered her daughter Angela and why hasn’t the Ebbing Police Department made any headway into her unsolved investigation? Mildred is a mom on a mission and she isn’t going to let anyone deter her from holding the police responsible for dropping the ball on her daughter’s case.

Mildred’s message is seen and heard loud and clear and it does good but it also creates enemies in and out of the police department and the entire town. Naturally the police rallies around the ailing Chief Willoughby, as does his many friends in town; among those who aren’t exactly pleased by the attention of the billboards includes her son Robbie and her abusive ex-husband but this woman is resolute and she’ll fight tooth and nail to see the fruits of her billboards flourish or sour.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an utter riot of a film! It’s just what you expect out of a Martin McDonaugh picture: dark, full-force, funny, tender in a few places, unresolved but the ride is well worth the price of admission.

McDonaugh’s film is written as superbly it was executed! This is a movie that keeps you guessing whether or not we’re going to get answers but floors you with its relentless force in telling what is happening and I couldn’t look away for an instant, no matter how graphic or tense it was.

Frances McDormand is a tour-de-force! She is a one-woman war-machine ready to kick, punch or fight anyone who tries to silence her and I loved her character’s bravado in this film. In fact, I think this is her best performance since Fargo!

The supporting cast is outstanding. Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Sandy Martin, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Kerry Condon, Darrell Brit-Gibson, all very strong! This ensemble across the board utilizes the talent they possess to the fullest.

Ben Davis’ cinematography is very sharp, Jon Gregory’s editing is very precise, Carter Burwell’s music is good, the production design of Inbal Weinberg is well done, as is the Jesse Rosenthal’s art direction, the set decoration of Marissa Lombardo and the costume design of Melissa Toth are respectable as well.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is film I encourage audiences to see if they are in need of a wild-time! Mildred Hayes is certainly a character to remember and I credit Frances McDormand as well as Martin McDonaugh for crafting an original, dark, relevant picture that pulls no punches. This is definitely a must-see movie if you have the chance to see it!

Review: Lady Bird

I’ve noticed that filmmakers tend to put a piece of themselves or their lives into the movies they make. Greta Gerwig’s debut as a director certainly affirms that tendency in her new film Lady Bird, which makes many references into aspects of Gerwig’s life.

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is a strong willed Sacramento youth ready to spread her wings and soar from the grounded reality of her lower-middle class family, rigid Catholic high school structure and the redundancy of her life in California.

This film is about Lady Bird wanting to find her place in the world; where she wants to go to after high school, who her real friends are while she is in high school, where she stands with her equally strong-willed mother Marion, Lady Bird wants to figure out where she belongs and who she really is.

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is awkward, it’s turbulent, restless, energetic, emotional, introspective, it has all of the traits of a coming-of-age story during the prime of adolescence and it has very strong effectiveness on its audience.

In fact, I believe you could call Lady Bird a loose autobiography of Gerwig herself because this film originated from somewhere very real and personal for her and I saw that this film is an homage to the figures who may have played a role in how she wanted to become the person/storyteller she ultimately became.

Saoirse Ronan’s performance in this film is very compelling; her character experiences the highs and lows of being an ambitious teenager searching for her identity and to be honest, I could connect with Lady Bird because I remembered how I grew up and how I wanted to spread my wings and find a college that was as far away from my hometown as possible; I could identify with where Lady Bird was coming from.

The supporting cast including Laura Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Beanie Feldstein, Jordan Rodriguez, Lois Smith, Kathryn Newton, Odeya Rush, are all very solid altogether in their roles as well.

Technically, Lady Bird is a solid effort of a motion picture. Sam Levy’s cinematography is rather adept, Nick Houy’s editing serves its purpose in allowing the picture to be as awkward as possible but in a good way, Chris Jones’ production design is good, the set decoration by Traci Spadoria is clever, Jon Brion’s music is decent and the costumes by April Napier are very nice.

Ultimately, I believe Lady Bird‘s strongest hook is its ability to pull audiences back to that period in their lives where they wanted to spread their wings. Where they wanted to figure out who they want to be as an adult, which direction they want to take. In her first feature as a director, Greta Gerwig find success in making a film that audiences of a mature age can connect with, at least for me.

Lady Bird certainly made its mark on me. Strong performances, the right balance of humor and serious tones, very personal depth and retrospection from Greta Gerwig allows Lady Bird to fly very effectively.

Review: Wonderstruck

Two remarkable tales set in two different times, centering around two remarkable children confluence in Todd Haynes’ latest picture based on Brian Selznick’s celebrated novel. After a long period of waiting, the opportunity to see Wonderstruck finally presented itself to me and I for one could not pass it up.

Hoboken, 1927. Rose Mayhew is the daughter of Lilian Mayhew, an actress rehearsing for her new Broadway performance at the Promenade Theater in New York. Her father is very strict, urging her to prepare for her lessons in reading lips and using sign language-Rose is deaf by the way-but what Rose truly wants is to find her own place in this big and unpredictable world.

Gunflint Lake, 1977. Ben just lost his mother in a car accident and his aunt and cousins are looking after him. One night, he is going through his mother’s belongings trying to find a clue of some sort as to who his father is and upon discovering an old bookmark to a bookstore in New York City, Ben’s attempt to contact the store goes horribly wrong. A bolt of lightning hits the phone line and the electricity hits Ben so hard, he loses his ability to hear. Though Ben is rendered deaf, he has enough courage and keepsakes from his mother to sneak out of the hospital, buy a bus ticket to New York and try to track his dad down.

The stories of Rose and Ben seem worlds apart at first, but as Wonderstruck plays on the stories begin to mirror each other and when the climax of the picture establishes the connection between the two plots, Wonderstruck weaves the one of the most intricate and beautiful tales ever told on screen.

Todd Haynes and Brian Selznick has crafted a truly special work of filmmaking; a story about hope, discovery, adversity, adventure and courage told through the tales of two characters you don’t see in films everyday, characters who seem limited because they lack the ability to hear but despite their handicaps they are capable of going to great distances. Rose and Ben are characters to root for and I was very impressed by the performances of Oakes Fegley and newcomer Millicent Simmonds.

I also enjoyed the performances of Julianne Moore, Corey Michael Smith, James Urbaniak, Damien Young, Jaden Michael, Michelle Williams, Amy Hargreaves, Morgan Turner and Tom Noonan.

Wonderstruck is a rich technical achievement to say the least. Carter Burwell’s score was lovely, Edward Lachman’s cinematography was beautiful in both black and white and color, Affonso Gonçalves’ editing was superb in jumping between the two time periods to establish the parallels in both plots, Mark Friedberg’s production design was resplendent, Ryan Heck and Kim Jennings’ art direction was marvelous, Debra Schutt’s set decoration was very imaginative and Sandy Powell’s costume design was spot on as well. Visually, this movie was a marvel to behold.

I wanted to see Wonderstruck for so long and I was not disappointed by it at all because not only was I mesmerized by its aesthetic appeal, it was also a film where I had to think and engage with it to make the connections between what was happening with Rose and Ben and when everything came together, everything came full-circle, the payoff was satisfying.

Wonderstruck left me…well…wonderstruck!

Rian Johnson Signs on for More Star Wars

rian-johnson-star-wars-the-last-jedi-influences

Image by Joblo

We are only a few weeks away from the most anticipated movie of the year. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is set to bow into theaters on December 15, 2017 and writer/director Rian Johnson is at the helm of this picture which is poised to be seen as a game-changer to the entire Star Wars franchise. I’m as excited about this film as anyone else and I can’t wait to see where Johnson is going to take this new chapter of the franchise but now there is even more reason to be excited for Johnson and Star Wars going forward. Just confirmed by Lucasfilm, Rian Johnson will spearhead an entirely new Star Wars trilogy, in addition to other projects.

“We all loved working with Rian on The Last Jedi,” said Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm. “He’s a creative force, and watching him craft The Last Jedi from start to finish was one of the great joys of my career. Rian will do amazing things with the blank canvas of this new trilogy.”

This new trilogy will venture outside of the episodic trilogy focused on the Skywalkers and into uncharted territory that has never been explored within the Star Wars canon. Meaning, this new trilogy will explore new worlds and focused on characters never before seen in the galaxy far, far away. Johnson’s longtime friend and collaborator Ram Bergman, will also have a hand in producing this new facet of this epic and iconic franchise.

“We had the time of our lives collaborating with Lucasfilm and Disney on The Last Jedi,” Johnson and Bergman said in a joint statement. “Star Wars is the greatest modern mythology and we feel very lucky to have contributed to it. We can’t wait to continue with this new series of films.” 

There is no word on when this new trilogy will get underway but as soon as the details emerge, it will be relayed accordingly. Rian Johnson is about to trek deeper into a larger world.