Friday, May 17, 2019

“John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” - Difficulty: Evil. Cheat mode: Enabled.

I like how cocky the John Wick franchise has become. The first film’s title was simply John Wick. No fanfare. Just a dude’s name. John Wick grossed $88 million on a $20 million budget, coupled with an inexplicably high 85% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Brimming with confidence, Summit Entertainment and Thunder Road Pictures (among others) doubled the production budget and title words for the sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2. The bet paid off with the film grossing $171 million (double the first film) and garnering an 89% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In February. That is impressive for a movie that is barely more than hundreds of murders strung together by well-shot choreography.

With their pockets full of cash, the production companies have made their boldest bet yet - spending $55 million on a third John Wick installment, adding a chapter title - Parabellum - and opening the movie in mid-May with Avengers: Endgame still dominating theaters and just one week before everyone plunks down their cash to watch the Will Smith-fronted, live-action remake of Aladdin (Smith playing the Genie). All joking aside, the release date looks like a major mistake, as Aladdin is immediately followed by Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix, Men in Black: International, and Toy Story 4, on consecutive weekends. Despite currently sporting an 89% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Parabellum is most likely going to die a quick and gruesome death at the box office. Much like nearly everyone in the cast of Parabellum.

(SPOILER ALERT: If you have not been paying attention to this franchise, there really is nothing to spoil since anything resembling a plot has never been seriously considered by the writers of this franchise. Unless body count is a spoiler.)

Parabellum picks up immediately where Chapter 2 ended, give or take a few minutes. We last saw John (Keanu Reeves) being given an hour head-start by the manager of the Continental Hotel, Winston (Ian McShane) before every assassin in New York City starts trying to kill him. Back in the tattooed-lady phone room, the murder contract on John is set at $14 million. While Wick is making his way to a weapons cache (presumably), one of the tattooed ladies is dutifully reciting the time remaining at regular intervals in a telephone.

Do you really want to know?

(Not to get sidetracked, but who exactly is she talking to and why? We know it isn’t any of the assassins (ancient dialing machines are seen spreading the contract information to individual phone numbers) and we can safely assume that every assassin can read a clock, as can the other tattooed ladies in the room. It’s not even useful for the audience because there are clocks everywhere and John himself keeps telling us how much time is left.)

As a reminder, the one thing this franchise beats us over the head with is that there are kinds of rules dictating the assassination business. As I’ve noted in the previous reviews of the franchise, the writing is, to put it delicately, dogshit, so it is not the least bit surprising that Parabellum can’t even wait for its own deadline to kick off the action, breaking the hallowed (and undefined) rules almost immediately. With a few minutes left in John’s hour, the first assassin takes on John, noting that nobody will notice a few minutes and John calls him out on his premature assassination attempt. I would never have remember this line if for not for a) 117% of the movie’s dialogue mentioning the rules and b) a doctor (after patching up John’s stab wound) telling John to shoot him because “they’ll know I told you where the medicine was,” where being on the top shelf of a cabinet in his office. The idea of the all-seeing and all-knowing eye of the High Table is the second-most quoted thing in the movie after the rules, so it is comically poor writing to have back-to-back scenes contradicting that idea.

Rules are made to be broken.

While Chapter 2 at least made an attempt at some kind of plot, Parabellum shoots that plot in the face, delivering us 131 minutes of mass murder interspersed with an adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) dispensing High Table punishments on everyone who helped John in Chapter 2 and the beginning of Parabellum. This includes Winston, as well as the hobo-king (Laurence Fishburne) and the ballet queen (Angelica Huston) and an attempt on the Casablanca equivalent of Winston, Sofia (Halle Berry). Want to know more about whose these people are? Me too and I saw the movie.

For the third movie in a row, the franchise refuses to dive into its underground/not-so-underground assassin world or any of its characters. Every time the movie stops for a moment and someone starts talking, I got interested. Finally, they are going to flesh out some of th….oh, John is killing more people. *38 dead people later* Ooh, ooh, ooh, someone is finally explaining the High Table and, dammit John, can you please just not kill anyone for five minutes? We desperately need some exposition here. Aaaaaand, he just shoved a shotgun up the exposition’s ass. *Sigh*

Wick isn't the only one killing everyone in sight.

The most telling sign that this franchise has worn out its welcome is that the screening audience noticeably tired of the non-stop death. During the first action sequence, people were laughing and audibly cringing and having fun. As the movie drug on, the laughs become more sporadic until finally disappearing altogether around the ninety-minute mark. The second act somewhat revived the audience with a pair of ninja-dogs clamping their teeth on multiple assassins’ dicks (literally, the assassins’ actual dicks) while John and Sofia head-shotted their way through countless enemies. But, by the time the climax rolled around, the death and murder had become so tedious and mind-numbing that the audience was over it. True, a handful of people did clap at the end, but I’m pretty sure they were actually slapping their own faces to wake themselves up.

Essentially, the entire franchise is a video game, each entry bringing diminishing returns. Yeah, the fight choreography is still really good, but the high volume of bad guys causes the audience to notice how truly choreographed it is. You can literally see John’s opponents not fighting in order to allow him to defeat dozens of people simultaneously. It’s the punching equivalent of how the bad guys have the worst aim when shooting while the good guys score perfect kill shots with every bullet (which, incidentally, is also featured in this film and franchise). It’s like if you set the difficulty in Call of Duty to evil, then entered in a bunch of cheat codes. Sure, you’ll get to the end, but it’ll feel like a waste of time when you get there. Just don’t get cocky about it.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back and play a video game instead.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

“Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” - Go or something-or-other.

I know next to nothing about Pokemon. I know it is a card game where the cards feature different creatures, which I assume are called Pokemons. I am not going to Google this, but feel free to email Goat with your complaints about me being stupid. Anyway, players make decks of creatures to do battle with other players doing the same. This is the same as Magic cards, but much more cartoonish. There was also Pokemon GO, a mobile game played by everyone except me. Heading to this movie, I asked my young friend accompanying me to the screening of Pokemon: Detective Pikachu if anyone still played Pokemon GO? He said yes, but hesitantly. He is eleven years old and is exactly the person who would know, so his hesitance leads me to believe that the kids don’t play anymore. Just adult nerds.

After watching the movie, I asked my friend if the movie matched Pokemon lore or the card game or whatever. He said no. Period. No hesitation, which leads me to believe the filmmakers may get a lot of angry, adult Pokemon nerds complaining about how the movie didn’t follow something-or-other. But it did have that ball thing from Pokemon GO, as well as a ton of Pokemons roaming around on screen, so maybe the nerds will overlook something-or-other.

You complete me.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) does not have a Pokemon. Apparently, he needs one. We don’t know why - and no explanation is ever given - but everyone in the beginning of the movie comments on Tim’s lack of cuddly companion (my friend confirmed that this human-Pokemon pairing is not a thing outside of the movie). This is soon remedied when Justice meets Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), a yellow Pokemon with a lightning bolt-shaped tail. However, Tim isn’t looking to have a Pokemon, it just sort of happens. Pikachu is trying to find out what happened to his human, Tim’s dad, when they discover each other in Tim’s dad’s office. As far as Tim knows, his father was killed in a car crash, but Pikachu believes Tim’s father is still alive. Since Tim’s father was a detective, Pikachu believes himself a detective as well and Tim and Pikachu embark on a quest to find Tim’s father. Sounds just like the card game, right?

If you were hoping for some Pokemon battles a la the card game, don’t hold your breath. The movie explains to us that battles have been banned in Ryme City (the setting of the movie). You know that preview you saw with Pokemon fighting a dragon in a cage-match? Save for the climax featuring Pikachu fighting a flying Pokemon lizard-y-thing, that one cage-match is the entirety of the Pokemon battles. Sorry Poke-nerds. I was sad too.

Put some clothes on. There are kids watching.

That doesn’t mean the movie wasn’t fun. In case you didn’t notice, Ryan Reynolds voices Pikachu. As fun as it might have been to get an R-rated Pokemon movie featuring a foul-mouthed stuffed animal, this PG-rated version was still a hoot. Given a lot of things coming out of his mouth, PG is a bit iffy. No cuss words for folks who think their children have never heard the words shit or ass before, but a lot of double entendres aimed at adults.

(Side note: I realize we had an R-rated stuffed animal in Ted, but Seth MacFarlane sucks.)

Justice does a great job as well. He brings an earnestness that hits just the right tones. Not too adolescent, but definitely not too adult. He definitely does not carry this movie, but he is a great sidekick to Pikachu, even if that is somewhat unintentional (he really is the protagonist of the film, despite the film always cocking its head toward Pikachu). I cannot say the same for Kathryn Newton, playing a young wannabe journalist, who does come off far too juvenile and pretty unlikable. The film tries to develop her as a love interest for Tim, but you’re kind of rooting for Pikachu to accidentally electrocute her. Finally, we have Bill Nighy playing a corporate philanthropist who created Ryme City and Ken Watanabe playing a police Lieutenant who looked like he was constantly hung over. These are two very good actors clearly not giving a shit, but in different ways. For all of Watanabe’s apparent nonchalance is an equal amount of ham from Nighy. Luckily, the two of them combine for a small amount of screen time, allowing Reynolds and Smith to shine.

Didn't you used to be Ken Watanabe?

The reason I enjoyed the film is because I was able to disregard a large amount of nonsense being thrown at us. That is going to happen when eight different writers are tasked with writing a story and screenplay. It would have been nice to get an explanation for what roles the Pokemons actually perform in the relationships or if Pokemons are more than just apparent pets, among many other questions. Most importantly, if the reason for capturing Pokemons (which is what they do to pair up) is for battling and battling has been banned, why anyone still captures them? Nabbing them as part of an underground fighting ring makes sense, but literally everyone in the film has a Pokemon. Rather than dwell on those things or be really annoyed at Newton, I sat back and enjoyed the near-constant stream of comedy coming from Reynolds, as well as a beautifully rendered city and characters. I get that film-snobs hate CGI, but the texturing and seamless integration in a movie like Pokemon drowns them out. You don’t even have to be a Pokemon nerd to enjoy this kids’ film, even if only at a surface level. Or something-or-other.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back. It was fun, but eight writers? Really?

Sunday, May 5, 2019

“UglyDolls” - Fugley.

What movie did we see last night?
UglyDolls.

Why was it called UglyDolls?
Cuz Fuglers are ugly.

What is a Fugler?
Funny. Ugly. Cute.

And how do you know about fuglers?
BECAUSE I’VE SEEN THEM!!! They’re basically stuffed animals.

Do fugler toys talk like in the movie?
Uh, no, but they can make friends.  They’re not animatronics or anything, but they can just make friends. But they have button eyes.

Oh, kind of like in the movie - they use their button eyes? For money?
[laughs creepily] Yessssss.

So, what happens in the movie?
So they go to the big world and then they watch this concert that Lou sings.

I no longer wonder what is in the light at the end of the tunnel.

Who’s Lou?
The boss of the big world.

At one point, I went out to get you an Icee; what happened while I was gone? I came back, and they were at the School of Perfection.
[laughs victoriously] AHA!

So, Lou sings a concert to the dolls.
AND the people.

So, what else happens?
The dolls get recycled and escape.

Which ones?
The ugly ones.

Where do they end up going after they escape?
Umm…I kind of forgot about that. But they ended up going…somewhere. Down the pipe.

To Uglyville, right? All the ugly dolls live in Uglyville.
[creepy laugh]

Who is the one who wants to leave? She wanted to leave…?
She?

Did you even WATCH the movie?
[doofus laugh]

The town is anything but ugly.

So, a group of the ugly dolls went to the school of perfection in the big world. In order to pass the test, they had to do what?
To not get messy.

What else?
To not go in the washing machine.

Was that their punishment if they got messy?
[giggles] Yeah. They went in several times.

What kind of doll was Lou? Was he ugly too?
NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

What was he?
He was…a singer. A singer doll. [starts singing nonsense]

Okay…so what did you like about the movie?
[sings] The giant BABY!

What did the giant baby do?
He throws characters when he wants them to escape. And then at the end, they pick him up. And goes like this [flaps arms], like a baby does. And they had a race.

Oh, a race? What happens if they win the race? Is that how they go to the big world.
Maybe.

What did you think about the music? Did you like the songs?
THUMBS UP! …Kelly Clarkson.

Oh, Kelly Clarkson was singing?
Yeah. The pink one. Moxie.

Did she have any friends? Do you remember their names?
Lucky Bat. …and nothing else.

She had more than one friend.

What about Ugly Dog?
OHHHHHH!

Did you know the actor who did the voice of Ugly Dog is named Pitbull? Also like a dog?
Pitbull? I don’t know him.

Do you like how the movie looked? The yarn and buttons? Or do you like the kind like Lego movie animation?
[ponders] I like the Lego Movie TWO better than UglyDolls.

Do you know what the moral of the story means? Do you know what message the movie was trying to tell kids and adults? That it’s ok not to be perfect?
[nods]

Do you remember anything else?
[shakes head]

No? Maybe they just didn’t do a very good job teaching the message?
No. they didn’t.

Is there any last thing you want to tell people? Would you tell people to go see UglyDolls?
[ponders] Yeah, Evan. He has a Fugler.

So you would tell people who HAVE ugly dolls to go see UglyDolls?
[nods]

Rating:
What’s a better way to spend money - to SEE UglyDolls, or to BUY a fugler?
[thinks hard] To buy a Fugler!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

“Hellboy (2019)” - Somebody crack a window.

Did you know there was a remake of Hellboy coming out this year? Did you even know there was an original Hellboy released back in 2004 and a sequel released in 2008? Do you think I am making up a movie that is actually titled Hellboy on purpose? Those are all legitimate questions. Personally, I would answer them no, yes, and yes (Hellboy is easily a top-five-worst movie title). Plus, who thought there was an audience for a new Hellboy when the first two movies probably only made a profit based on DVD sales? And what clown in the marketing department thought it would be funny to barely advertise the new Hellboy and open it two weeks before Avengers: Endgame? Speaking of which, Endgame was awesome and obliterated every opening weekend box office record, including accounting for 90% of all U.S. movie ticket sales for the weekend. Sadly, we’re here to talk about Hellboy, not Endgame. I’m sorry.

(Side note: So far, Hellboy has grossed a measly $21 million (on a $55 million budget), with just $350 thousand of that coming in week three.)

If movie theaters could fart, it would smell like Hellboy. I knew right from the beginning I would need to hold my nose as the movie opened with narration. And not just any narration, but a prologue about King Arthur chopping up an immortal witch, Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich), putting her still-alive body parts in magic boxes that only a holy man can open, and burying the boxes in random places scattered around Britain. Cut to Hellboy (David Harbour) sneaking into a Mexican wrestling match to track down his missing partner, who disappeared while tracking down some vampires. I know that sounds insane, but the insane part is that none of the spectators blinked an eye at a demon-beast, a.k.a. Hellboy, walking into the building. Had the movie built us a world where magical creatures and humans lived together, this would have made sense, but part of that absurd Arthurian legend (he said with no sarcasm whatsoever) is that the creatures all went into hiding after the defeat of Nimue. *Massive sigh*

Queen Overactor.

Upon returning home and lamenting the dying words of his partner - that the end is coming - Hellboy is summoned back to work at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense for his next mission and a talking-to from his adoptive father, Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane). This leads us to one of the worst action sequences of the year, featuring Hellboy battling multiple giants after almost being killed by a human cult that tricked him into helping them hunt giants. Confused? Who cares.

Meanwhile, a warthog-man is tracking down Nimue’s body parts in order to reconstitute her so he can get revenge on Hellboy. By this point, I was barely holding out hope that the stench of this film would dissolve into something fun to watch and we were only about a half hour into the film. Then, the warthog-man ripped the tongue out of a monk, shoved it into his own mouth, and spoke in the priest’s voice to open one of the magic boxes. Nope - I’m out. I often cut a lot of slack to fantasy films because I love the genre, but the tongue thing is too much. Even in a nonsensical world filled with gore, it is too gross and too ridiculous to swallow. The rest of the movie involves a medium (Sasha Lane) and were-tiger (Daniel Dae Kim) teaming up with Hellboy to try to prevent Nimue from being re-ummm-built(?) and destroying the world. Merlin shows up too and I officially hate this film.

Why are you always yelling at me, dad?

One thing that may surprise you is that the original Hellboy and its sequel were generally well-regarded by critics and audiences alike. They were creative and well-produced, offering a world and characters that were well-thought out and realized by director/writer Guillermo del Toro. Ron Perlman (in the title role) was charming and funny and the rest of the cast held their own. This year’s reboot is none of those things, offering the kind of creative inspiration one gets about an hour after eating rancid chicken wings with too much hot sauce. Even if this reboot were a deliberate B-movie, the acting is beneath even that level. The cast is either taking themselves too seriously (Lane and Kim), screeching and shouting their lines at the camera (McShane and Jovovich), overdoing the camp (Thomas Haden Church - don’t ask), or all of the above (Harbour, who is decidedly not Ron Perlman). I would blame it on Director Neil Marshall, but, based on the fact that there are eight credited producers, I’m not convinced Marshall actually did anything but sit in a chair.

Hellboy is the kind of movie that should be fun to watch for nerds like me. Movies like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters or The Brothers Grimm. Instead, Hellboy was the kind of movie that is the opposite of fun to watch. Movies like Season of the Witch and Red Riding Hood. It’s the kind of movie that makes you wonder how an actual writer finished the script and didn’t immediately light himself on fire. I really wanted to enjoy another entry in a franchise that sounds terrible on paper and has an even-worse title. Instead, I’m just trying to figure out how to get the smell of it out of my jacket.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back unless you saw it the same weekend Endgame opened. Sold out Endgame screenings was the signal for you to just stay home.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

“The Curse of La Llorona” - Do you know where your children are?

As parents, we tell our kids all kinds of lies to get them to behave. Right now, you are thinking of Santa Claus. Jolly old St. Nick is mostly a harmless lie, unless you subscribe to evil versions of Santa like Krampus or Tim Allen. Be good and you will get the presents you ask for, but be bad and you get a lump of global warming. But, I think we can all agree that Santa is a fun lie that probably will not scar your children, especially since you have no idea where you can purchase a single lump of coal to shove in their stockings.

On the flip side, some parents try to scare the shit out of their kids to get them to behave. Right now, you are thinking of the Boogeyman. My parents tried this, but their hearts weren’t really in it. The boogeyman lived in the closet or under the bed and would get me if I got out of bed. I was as scared of the boogeyman as I was of the sandman because what kind of sick bastard sprinkles sand in kids’ eyes? I still got out of bed because I was five and the word boogeyman just didn’t sound all that scary. So, my parents showed me Poltergeist when I was seven and, fuck, is that a clown over there?! I may not have been afraid of the boogeyman, but after watching Poltergeist, every stuffed animal I owned was crammed in the closet for a month. You can never tell with those things.

Remind me to tell you later about that doll you're holding?

In Mexico, the boogeyman is known as La Llorona. According to my friend, he was warned as a child not to stay out after dark or La Llorona would come and get you (side note: my friend grew up in New Mexico and was very surprised that I spent six years there during college and had never heard of La Llorona). But, there is more. She doesn’t just get you, she takes you and drowns you in the nearest river. Wow, that is hardcore. If my parents had told me about La Llorona, I wouldn’t have been so worried about a stuffed bear.

(SPOILER ALERT - plot points coming up, but nothing scary.)

As horror movies go, The Curse of La Llorona is better than most. While movies don’t scare me anymore the way Poltergeist did, La Llorona will scare a lot of people. The film starts by showing us the origin of La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez), all the way back in the late 1600s, including the drowning of her two kids. Flash forward to 1974, where we meet Anna (Linda Cardellini), a social worker and widowed mother of two. After getting her kids off to school, Anna is tasked with responding to situation where a mother, Patricia (Patricia Velasquez), has (again) kept her kids out of school. Anna convinces Patricia to let her inside Patricia’s apartment to talk and discovers Patricia has locked her two children in a closet adorned with the evil eye. Dun-dun-dun.

Long story short, La Llorona kills Patricia’s children, then sets her sights on Anna’s kids. The film plays out much like Poltergeist. La Llorona is haunting the house and toying with the family at first. She appears fleetingly, then marks the two kids by burning fingerprints into their arms when she grabs them. There is no reason she is waiting to snag them other than the movie’s runtime demands it. Like all horror movies, it has to build up to the big climactic showdown with the family in the house, so murdering the kids on the first go is out of the question. Plus, Anna has to do some discovery to come to believe La Llorona is real and how she might be able to protect her kids. This is where the best character in the film, Rafael (Raymond Cruz), comes in.

Now the movie can get started.

When Anna goes to Father Perez (Tony Amendola) for help, he tells her about Rafael. Rafael is a former priest who is “unorthodox” and not condoned by the church. The moment Rafael starts talking, this film ups its game by an order of magnitude. After Anna convinces Rafael to help her, Rafael goes to her house and sets about determining what exactly is terrorizing the family. This scene involves a great bit with some eggs and an even greater punchline from Rafael. This scene sold the movie for me, particularly by making it clear that the movie was not taking itself too seriously, but in a way that didn’t cheapen the film. Incidentally, this punchline is used again to marvelous affect later in the film and the audience loved it, myself included.

By this point, I had two questions I wanted answered to truly be happy with this film. The first was why it seemed to be randomly set in 1974. This film could have taken place in any year and it would not have changed it in any appreciable way. Then the Annabelle doll showed up in a flashback, loudly proclaiming La Llorona to be a Conjuring universe movie. Yes, there is a Conjuring Universe and, no, Hollywood is never going to stop.

You're in my universe now!

The second question was why is Anna’s family the target of La Llorona? Ghosts always haunt for a reason, be it an ancient burial ground, someone watched a video tape, or because he just wanted to shape a clay pot with his wife one more time. I was concerned that La Llorona had picked Anna because her kid was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is every lazy horror film’s default go-to. In this case, Patricia blames Anna for Patricia’s children’s deaths and informs Anna that “when my children died, I did not pray to God. I prayed to La Llorona to take your kids and bring back mine.” Bra. Vo. Did I say this movie stepped up its game? This movie stepped up its game.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any scary parts, but there are plenty of them throughout the film. This being a scary movie, the scares are the one part I won’t spoil for you (nor will I ruin the ending), but there are plenty of jump scares and slow burns to keep you from relaxing. I also enjoyed how the film doesn’t try to hide La Llorona from the audience until the end, like many other movies do. She is front and center almost from the beginning and it is still startling at some points when she appears. There are also a couple of chintzy scenes during the climax (leave the doll!), but nothing so egregious as to ruin the film, not to mention Rafael more than makes up for them. I have never felt the need to try to scare my kid into behaving, but now I know what movie I would show him if I did.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back unless you brought your kids. In which case, wow - you are hardcore.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

“Shazam!” - Tag. You’re it!

If ever a movie was being given a massive pass for not being the next putrid entry in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), Shazam! is it. Currently, it sits at 93% positive critics ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, which ties it for best in the franchise with Wonder Woman. In no universe, including the DCEU, is Shazam! even in the same ballpark as Wonder Woman (which itself was a good, but flawed film). The Los Angeles Times review headline says “’Shazam!’ gives the overworked superhero genre a fun, irreverent lift.” I guess if we are pretending that two Deadpool movies, The Lego Batman Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe don’t exist, that headline is accurate.

(Side note: Not to mention there were a grand total of six super hero movies last year, if we’re not including the three major animated superhero films. That’s less than 1% of all movies released last year, making the superhero movie arguably the least overworked genre in film.)

Or, how about this quote from a review on Common Sense Media - “This refreshingly delightful, lighthearted entry in the DC Extended Universe has enough charm for the whole family thanks to standout performances, broad humor, and positive messages.” Lighthearted? For sure. Delightful? Maybe. Charm for the whole family? Only if the whole family is okay with demons biting people’s heads off. Positive messages? Ummmm, no. Besides the villain throwing his brother through a skyscraper window to plummet to his death, Shazam! features such delightfully positive messages as the hero stealing, imprisoning police officers, visiting strip clubs, and illegally buying alcohol, as well as abusive fathers, abusive siblings, bullying that is literally attempted vehicular manslaughter at one point, and child abandonment. Those are only positive messages if your surname is Manson.

Definitely lighthearted.

(SPOILERS will be coming as I am not part of that 93%.)

Shazam! is a conventionally bad movie, rather than the cinematic raw sewage that is much of the DCEU, three of the four Transformers sequels, and that Nutcracker movie from last year. To start with, Shazam! is devoid of any kind of coherent plot. The film begins by introducing us to the child version of the eventual villain, Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), summoned by an old wizard, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), to Shazam’s lair to be tested for purity of heart. After failing the test, Thad is sent away and told that he will never be worthy and can never return to the lair. Challenge accepted. Years later, grown-up Thad figures out how to get back to the lair, does so, and touches a glowy orb to release the seven deadly sins while Shazam simply looks on (instead of using his magic staff to immediately stop Thad). Wizards, right?

Meanwhile, fourteen-year old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a foster kid bouncing from home to home while he searches for his mother. When he was very young, he got separated from her at a carnival and never saw her again. The question of why his mother never found him hangs over this movie like an anvil. Was she kidnapped? Did she have her memory wiped by an evil sorcerer? Was she dead? When the film final answers that question, the anvil crushes your soul with the reveal that she simply abandoned young Billy on a whim. What could be more of an irreverent, delightful lift than a deadbeat mom? Good times.

Yeah, hide behind the disabled kid.

In between the making of super-villain Thad and worst mom of the century is Billy being summoned by Shazam. Rather than testing Billy for purity of heart, Shazam vomits out some exposition about seven wizards and the deadly sins and a previous champion who went bad and now there is just he, and he is really old and needs a new champion and invites Billy to touch his staff and say his name and oh-my-god-is-all-this-really-necessary and that he is out of time and Billy is “his only option” so…fuck it, Billy is Shazam now and inhabiting an adult, swole body now (Zachary Levi). It’s tough to find lazier writing than that, but then the rest of the movie happened.

Shazam! being a superhero movie, you would expect the standard plot of hero-must-stop-bad-guy-from-executing-his-evil-plan. And what might that evil plan be? Thad wants to take Shazam’s powers even though he already has the same set of powers. That is not a plan. That is barely an action item on a to-do list. And why he is trying to take Shazam’s powers? Because the sin-demons told Thad to destroy Shazam. How that translated into take his powers is beyond me. Especially since Thad exp-vomits during one of their fights that magic can hurt magic. In other words, they can kill each other if they fight. Except, based on the ensuing fights, nuh-uh. And what is the endgame of the demons? I think it is to destroy civilization and, based on our current trajectory under Individual-1, their job is done.

Nice shower curtain.

So, if their goal is to kill everyone (and we know how easy that is based on a boardroom slaughter conducted by Thad and friends), why bother with Shazam at all when they already know Shazam is a dumb kid with no training? Or, why doesn’t Thad just kill him one of the multiple times he has the opportunity? Or, if Thad only needs one demon in him to maintain his powers, why aren’t the other six committing genocide? Oh, right, because this is light-hearted family affair.

It isn’t just the plot that is non-existent. Outside of Thad and Billy, the only other character developed beyond a name tag is Billy’s foster-brother, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). If you didn’t already surmise it from the trailers, Shazam! is what would have happened if the fortune-teller machine in Big had asked Josh to touch her box and say her name. Just like Billy in Big, Freddy is the sidekick that is in on the secret and sharing in the initial joy of being able to partake in adult activities. Unfortunately, rather than developing their relationship beyond testing Shazam for various powers in order to sell the inevitable friend break-up, Shazam! skips straight to the break-up, then immediately jumps into Thad v Shazam. This ensures the audience does not give a shit about any bond the two kids might have had, but does actively turn the audience against the disabled kid (Freddy requires a cane to walk), who started out as kind of a jerk to begin with. Maybe that’s why Individual-1 tried to defund the Special Olympics.

Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were moments during the film where I was laughing and somewhat enjoying myself. The film does manage to hit some punchlines along the Big premise of what a kid would do with superpowers. Captain Sparklefingers and some of the superpower tests were funny bits. But the third act squashed any goodwill I was willing to give the film. Not only do the demons inexplicably refuse to kill anyone (after the boardroom scene), but they are consciously avoiding it. Then, Shazam has a forced moment of recalling that the old wizard said the word heart to him, which translated to Shazam transforming his foster siblings into more Shazams. That’s not even the really dumb part. During the old wizard’s story time, he said there were originally seven wizards protecting the realm. Shazam has five foster siblings. After imbuing them, he breaks the magic staff that allows him to make wizards. You do the math because the writers obviously did not. It also didn’t help that the entire climactic battle played out like a scene that would have been right at home in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze.

It's morphin time!

Shazam! also manages to hit a couple of pet peeves of mine. One is the aforementioned scene where two bullies literally knock over Freddy with their truck. In front of the school. In front of at least one hundred students. And not one of them calls a teacher, security guard, adult, police, Superman, or Freddy’s mother. There is no way to suspend one’s disbelief of a scene like this. Two, where are all the adults in this school? I recall one single hall security guard. How is it that almost all movies featuring schools manage to have zero teachers or administrators outside of a principal’s office? Three, the student’s ages at this school range from high-school senior to at least second grade. In Philadelphia. Did I say these writers were lazy? Phoning it in is the polite way of describing this mess of a screenplay. And I haven’t even gotten to the multiple continuity errors my friend and I caught on a first viewing, how the fact the demons are seven deadly sins is never used in the plot save for a really bad one-liner from Strong, or how the hero costumes were worse than childish, including how Shazam’s cape looked like a frilly shower curtain someone shrank in the dryer.

The bottom line is Shazam! is not a good movie, nor a particularly funny movie. It has its comedic moments, but they weren’t nearly enough to cover for the action sequences, which were amateur at best. Levi pulls off a likable Shazam and Grazer puts out a solid, if fairly unlikeable Freddy, but the lack of plot or character development keeps the audience from connecting with them. Essentially, Shazam! is what would happen if Hancock (the Will Smith character from 2008’s Hancock) knocked up the pink Power Ranger. But, hey - Shazam! is arguably the second best DCEU movie, so 93% everybody.

Rating: Of course you should ask for all of your money back. You are still in my universe.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

“Storm Boy” - No, seriously.

When I read the title Storm Boy, all I can hear in my head is Phoebe from Friends, saying “Flame Boy” and it makes it really hard to take Storm Boy seriously.  And it should be taken seriously.  It’s about a boy and his pelican.  *giggles*  In fact, it’s about a boy and his three pelicans.  *laughing*  Three pelicans he raised from when they were chicks and they walk with him into town when he and his father run errands.  *snorts and guffaws*  Storm Boy is an adaption of a children’s book.  *nodding while wiping away tears*

Seriously though, the film does try to talk about some serious topics.  Dead family members, poachers, estranged parents and their children, corporate destruction of the environment in the name of the almighty Australian dollar.  If not for the pelicans livening the mood, this would be the most depressing movie since those two cowboys couldn’t quit each other.

I have no idea how the children’s book reads, but I sincerely hope that, like the film, it features the old version of pelican boy, a.k.a. Mike Kingley, complete with wildly unruly hair.  This is a great time to mention that Geoffrey Rush plays elderly Mike and his hair is Einsteinian.  At this point in Mike’s life, he has built up a company that does something (no idea what) and turned control of the company over to his son-in-law, Malcolm (Erik Thomson).  Mike just wants to fade away into retirement, but his granddaughter Madeline (Morgana Davies) is imploring him to stop the company from selling land that is special or something.  I think it had to do with Aboriginal land, but the kid story was all about a bird sanctuary and all I could focus on was that crazy hair and pelicans.

Love the hair.  In both cases.

Anyway, Mike is also seeing flashes from his past that seem more real than ghosts and deals with it by telling the story of his childhood to Madeline.  After the death of his mother and sister when he was a boy, Mike’s father, Hideaway Tom (Jai Courtney), and he lived alone in a small beachside house on a lonely island.  One day, while wandering around, he meets Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson) and they discover a bunch of dead pelicans and three unattended pelican chicks.  Young Mike (Finn Little) determines to care for and raise the chicks back at his house.  This leads to saw aw-that-is-so-cute moments, as well as eww-gross moments.  Tom is not happy with the arrangement, but goes along with it due to Mike’s steadfast determination.

The film continues on for a while, showing us the birds growing up and Mike playing with them and teaching them how to do things.  Tom correctly points out that these very large birds (easily as big as young Mike) are going to eat them into bankruptcy, so Mike teaches the birds how to fish for themselves.  Some time later, Tom points out that the birds need to be with their own kind and learn how to fly, and, begrudgingly, Mike teaches them how to fly.  Don’t look at me like that - of course a human being can teach big, dumb birds how to fly.  All you have to do is run down the beach and flap your arms and the birds will instantly take off into the air.  It worked for Mike.

And he teaches them how to play soccer.

Obviously, reliving his past will make old Mike realize the error of his company’s ways and he will attempt something heroic to prevent the, uh, whatever it is they were doing.  Honestly, it didn’t matter.  The soul of this film is in the childhood story and the present-day stuff is just a big cliched distraction.  I was even enjoying Jai Courtney acting well.  Seriously.  After appearing in what seems like twenty different terrible action movies and really not helping those films, someone cast him in a quiet role in his native country (Australia).  He was delightful and I say that with zero sarcasm.  Surprise, for sure.  But, zero sarcasm.

My first thought when the film concluded was it was nice and mulling it over for a couple days has not changed that opinion.  With a PG rating, the dire topics are watered down, but the poaching and family issues still hit a strong emotional chord.  Plus, the visuals and cinematography are excellent, with the exception of one scene that highlights the limited budget of the film (but must be there as it depicts a climactic piece of the story), but we won’t hold that against them (much).  For a movie that sounds absurd on paper, it earned my respect.

Rating: Ask for three dollars back and try to get Phoebe’s voice out of your head.