That’s It… For Now (Avengers: EndGame, 2019)

Avengers_Endgame_PosterThis is a Spoiler Free Review.  This also means it will be super short.

So, back in the early days, the plan was to have a two part Avengers: Infinity War. Then Marvel announced that this would not be the case.  There would be Avengers Infinity War and then there would be a fourth stand alone Avengers Film.  Frankly? This was a terribly kept secret. Nobody really believed the two films would be unconnected.  And boy…when you are reaching the final few moments of Infinity War, you knew that was not going to be a one off film.

And a year later, we are finding the remaining Avengers trying to determine how to undo the Snap Heard Around the Universe. They come up with a long shot plan to get the stones to bring everyone back.

There is a lot of stuff to love. Some real exciting moments, many great lines. It has some real heartfelt moments and a lot of fun sequences.  There is a lot of surprises as well.

There are a couple things I am still not sure how I feel, especially in regards to one of the MCU’s big characters. And there are some logic issues for sure.  If you read comics, you know that sometimes there are those things where you start to try and apply the logic…but I am finding myself not bothered enough for it to ruin the film.

On the other hand, they do some great stuff with certain characters. I really like how they build up Hawkeye, and their use of Hulk is a pleasant surprise. I also love the setup for certain characters (that I hope play out), and certain characters get well deserved resolutions.

Really, the limitations are few and far between, and the positives are enough that this is a strong bookend for the first four phases.  I really enjoyed Avengers: Endgame.  It offered plenty that I wanted to see, and stuff I did not know I wanted to see.

Rebirth of the Demon (Hellboy, 2019)

Hellboy_2019_PosterFor a time it appeared as if 2008’s Hellboy and the Golden Army was the last time we were going to see Hellboy on the big screen. But then, a few years ago, new talk of a third Hellboy film emerged.  Guillermo Del Toro and Perlman both had expressed plenty of interest.  But then something happened.  Creator and owner of Hellboy, Mike Mignola and Del Toro could not come to a unified vision and Mignola brought his character to a new creative team.

Rather than continue the story began with the Del Toro films, Mignola, Director Neil Marshall and screenwriter Andrew Cosby start fresh.  Hellboy is tasked with fighting the all powerful Blood Queen to save the world.  Dismembered by King Arthur, an evil creature who seeks revenge on Hellboy starts to piece her back together. Once she regains all her power, she will be able to unleash monsters upon the world that will bring about the end of humanity.

But Hellboy is the key to her goals, so not only is Hellboy having to fight the bad guys, the good guys largely do not trust him and some are actively out to kill him. Hellboy also struggles with his relationship to his earthly father Professor Broom and their goals.  If their purpose with the B.P.R.D. (Bureau Paranormal Research Defense) is killing monsters, why did he save Hellboy at all?

It is hard not to compare this with the two prior films.  All three had good casts. Harbour is pretty good in the role. Ian McShane is a very differy Professor Broom.  He offers similar sentiments about Hellboy’s potential, but he is a far gruffer father figure as opposed to John Hurt’s kindly old man.

Sasha Lane is an interesting addition as Alice Monaghan, a psychic and medium with a long friendship and connection to Hellboy.  His main conflict within the team is Ben Daimio.  A military man who hides a big secret and has no trust for Hellboy, Daniel Dae Kim manages to avoid the cliche of the guy with a big secret not get annoying. It is hard not to miss Abe Sapien in the film, as he was such an integral character in the previous films.

Milla Jovovich is, honestly, playing a pretty stock evil character, but it works in the context of the story. I appreciate that the film continues to use the creatures of myth, such as faeries and bizarre ancient looking gods.

I think the new Hellboy design largely works and does not feel like they are just trying to imitate the Del Toro looks.  And yet…

Well, the film treads some similar territory as the first. We are getting a new beginning… but the plot is hinged on Hellboy possibly bringing about the end of the world and his temptations to do so. We get some of the same visuals we have seen in the previous films, with no real fresh approach.  Growing horns, flaming crown…but the story just never feels like it finds it’s footing as a new and exciting role.  I never felt a real rush of excitement or engagement- in spite of liking the characters.

While some of it works, there is also a lot of really dodgy CGI that is, at best, about as good the stuff we saw in the previous two films over ten years ago.

Finally…the film is ridiculously more gory than is necessary.  It is full of digital blood and absurd levels of violent gore.  Where as the Del Toro films delighted in the monsters and fantasy, this film seems to find its joy in simply being gory. I guess this should not surprise us, as the filmmakers did talk about the freedom of an R-Rating…and just a few days before the film’s release the studio released a trailer all about how the film is an awesome orgy of violence and language…full of grossness and gore…and the swears.

I actually hate having to say that this film is a real disappointment.  While I was disappointed when the work with a third Del Toro film fell apart, I still hoped the new team would create a memorable and fun film. It has a great cast, some fun ideas.  And with a better story?  We could have gotten something great…both fresh and familiar…and it just is not.

You Happy Puppet (Possum, 2018)

Possum_PosterPossum is the tale of a disillusioned puppeteer who lives with his stepfather. He decides he must rid himself of the puppet that he keeps in a bag. But the puppet keeps returning to him.

This film has a constant state of sadness.  It is less scary and more creepy.  The puppet is super disturbed looking. Like a spider with a human head.

Honestly, I am not sure if I liked this film or not.  It feels like someone captured depression in a bottle and then trapped it within film.

It moves at a quiet pace, relying on the dreadful creepiness that questions if the puppet is truly a living evil or if Philip is just broken from reality. Is someone messing with him? It may be so. This is a dark and bleak film, that is unrelenting in its gloom.

From a Child Into A Man (Shazam!, 2019)

Shazam_PosterIn the 40s Bill Parker and C.C. Beck created Captain Marvel.  Young Billy Batson is granted powers by a Wizard that allow him to become a supper powers hero to fight evil. The Wizard’s name, Shazam, was also the magic word that would allow Billy to transform. It stood for:

S – wisdom of Solomon

H – strength of Hercules

A – stamina of Atlas (including his invulnerability)

Z – power of Zeus (including his ability to summon thunderbolts)

A – courage of Achilles

M – speed of Mercury (including flight)

These are representative of his powers and he is meant to be a champion to stand in the way of the evil demonic Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth). DC sued Fawcett, the Publishers of Captain Marvel on the grounds that Captain Marvel was far too close to Superman.  Eventually, DC got the rights to the character, but in the 60’s Marvel created their own Captain Marvel.  This resulted in a situation where the Captain Marvel title was off limits to DC. Within the books, they could call the character Captain Marvel, but it could not be the title of their books. DC eventually dumped the Captain Marvel name, referring to him as Shazam.

The film stays close to this, with Billy being chosen by the wizard Shazam to take on his powers.  Billy is a young orphan who had focused on trying to find his mother, constantly running from foster homes. When his latest attempt to locate his mother gets him tossed into yet another foster family. There he meets his super-hero obsessed room mate Freddy Freeman, who tries befriending the standoffish Billy.

After Billy reluctantly fights some bullies in defense of Freddy, he meets the Wizard Shazam. Shazam has been seeking a successor of his power, with everyone before Billy failing to be worthy.  It is interesting that Billy is presented as a decent kid who makes bad and selfish choices…but the moment that seems to trigger his worthiness is that he thinks he is not worthy.

Billy and Freddy begin by testing the powers and having fun with Billy’s grown up persona by getting out of school and stuff.  But when the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana appears (powered by the Seven Deadly Sins themselves) and demands the power Billy holds, the boys learn that there is more to power than zapping cell phones.

Just going to lay it.  I really enjoyed this movie. It is exciting, the jokes land and the premise of recognizing true family is touching.  This is the big push, the foster family is a group home setting overseen by a couple who came out of the system themselves and want to provide a real home.  The whole family is open to Billy, and the big theme is about Billy opening his heart to this family.

I find the film largely to be a real joy and DC has managed another strong film, close on the heals of Aquaman no less.  Since Wonder Woman, they have been turning things around.  Captain Marvel is not afraid to be fun.  Zachary Levi is great at channeling a fourteen year old boy who finds himself in an adult body. Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer play well together (as do Grazer and Levi).  I loved all the kids.  Mark Strong delivers as the bad guy.

I should point out that even though the film has largely been advertised as kid friendly, a few scenes may be far too intense for younger kids in a theater setting. Older kids and teens should enjoy this flick though. I had a great time and am pumped for another visit to Billy and his family.

I don’t Want To Live My Life Again (Pet Sematary, 2019)

Pet_Sematary_2019_PosterIt seems like Stephen King is seeing a Cinematic Resurgence.  The new It film was a hit with a highly anticipated sequel on the way this year.  Also coming this year is In the Tall Grass, while there are announced adaptions of Firestarter and the Tommy Knockers.

And so here we have a an updated adaption of the novel. The original film is a classic exploration of parental grief and the horrors that follow.

The new film begins much like the book and film. The Creed family arrives to their new home, they meet Jud when daughter Ellie discovers the Pet Sematary. There are some early differences, the story introduces a ritual of children wearing masks when they go to bury their pets…this seemed mainly to introduce a creepy mask for later.

If you have seen the last trailer they released you know the new film diverges…wildly…from the book and the previous film.  For those who have not seen it, I will not say a word.

I like that they focused on a friendship between Ellie and Jud. His attachment causes him to make the choice to show Luis the ancient grounds. Although, this change in direction hurts the relationship between Luis and Jud in the story.  It is less fulfilling.

The film also does not retain certain important plot points.  Jud never tells the story of anyone who returned. Sure, there is his dog, but he never reveals any big tragedy that tells of the power to resurrect more than pets.

On the other hand, I do appreciate that they played up the Wendigo myth in this version.

The performances are good, and my biggest concern was, thankfully, perfectly good.  Fred Gwynne was iconic in the role. I am a fan of Lithgow, and he does not try and repeat the Gwynne take.

The final act is much more gruesome, and almost unrecognizable to fans of the 1989 film and it also rushes to the finish line.  I did like the film generally.   There are some interesting changes, but there are also some things that should have been explored better, such as grief and the dark temptations of the sour lands. And some of the changes work nicely, but they could have made the film a bit longer and explored more.

Sometimes Dead Is Better (Pet Sematary, 1989)

Pet_Sematary_1989_PosterWhen Stephen King wrote Pet Sematary, the publisher rejected and King himself felt it was such a dark tale, he shelved it.  He ended up submitting it to complete a deal with his publisher.

And, understandably, Pet Sematary is a dark book that explores life, death and trying to overcome death. The Movie also struggled to get to the screen, ultimately only getting greenlit because of an impending writers strike in Hollywood.

Luis and Rachel Creed have moved their family to a home in rural Maine. They meet their neighbor Jud, who warns them about the dangers of the road in front of their home. Their young Daughter Ellie discovers the local Pet Cemetery.


Jud tells them about the history of the cemetery, which has been around since he was a child.  When the family cat Church is hit by a truck, Jud takes Luis past the Pet Sematary to an ancient and sour ground. They bury the cat and Luis is shocked when Church returns to the house. Church is not the same pet, and Luis tries to reconcile the “miracle” with his rational mind.

The family faces a traumatic event which causes Luis to spiral into desperation and…poor choices.

With a screenplay by Stephen King, the film keeps its core tragic tale.  It downplays some of the heavier sinister supernatural stuff. Specifically, while there is a scene where Jud and Luis pause and hear something loudly moving through the forest, it is never really addressed. In fact, when the moment passes, a fearful Jud claims it is “just a loon”.

On the other hand, the film keeps the terror and the ultimate human horrors parents face. And there is Pascow.  According to actor Brad Greenquist, Director Mary Lambert told him Pascow is less a ghost and more of an angel.  And this really is a pretty accurate view of the character, as he is constantly trying to guide the Creed family away from the awful path they are facing.

Of course, the thing most people remember about the film is Zelda. Zelda is the sister of Rachel who died from meningitis when Rachel was a child. Zelda is a force of both fear (of death) and guilt, as Rachel confesses that she wanted Zelda to die.

The film makes great use with its locations.  I love the houses in the film.

The performances are all strong.  Of course, the most memorable is Fred Gwynne as Jud.  It is amazing that the studio opposed this casting, because they believed people would just see Herman Munster. But Gwynne proved Mary Lambert’s instincts to be very correct.  He has a genuine kindness.  And it makes everything that much more painful when you realize that his attempt to spare little Ellie the pain of losing her beloved cat results in the suffering of this family.

Pet Sematary is at times dread inducing and has a gory finale.  But it is a film that attempts to explore some painful themes through a horror fantasy story.  One of the crew recounts how he had once worked on a Friday the 13th film and swore off horror movies.  But Gwynne convinced him, in  part sharing the tale of his own loss of a child. And I think this is a fear most parents have, and tend to suppress. This is the power of the film.

The film was recently released on 4k and Blu-Ray, so it is a perfect time to catch up on the film if you have not seen it or revisit it if you have not seen it for a long time.


Don’t Trust Yourself (Us, 2019)

But I care about love
I care about truth
And I care about trust
And I care about you
I care about us

~Michael Been, Us, On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough, 1994

Us_PosterGet Out made people step back and reassess their perception of Jordan Peele.  Known for his comedy work, the biting horror thriller that took aim at white liberal racism, viewers took notice.  For a lot of this, that made us want to see what came next.  And the fact that he had more ideas in the realm of horror no longer seemed a question.

Going deeper down the horror rabbit hole, Us tells the story of young Adelaide. In the eighties, her parents take her to the Santa Cruz beach. She wanders away from her parents and enters a strange hall of mirrors. There, she meets a little girl who looks exactly like her. She is traumatized by the event.  The film picks up years later with Adelaide, now married to Gabe, on their way to the family cabin with her children. When they go to the beach, her son Jason disappears briefly, causing a dread in Adelaide.  And with good reason.  That night, they find themselves under siege by…themselves.  A warped set of duplicates seemingly full of malicious intent.

Saying much more just gives away the film.  Astute viewers will likely start to put things togethers fast and start seeing where the story is going. Others will be blindsided.  Unlike Get Out, Peele has formulated a far more… complex plot.  The twists and turns start coming fast after the initial frights of the home invasion.

Peele has a terrific eye, and the film is a visual feast.  There is, for instance, a really nice arial shot looking down on the family as they walk along the beach, attached to their shadows. He and his team of film makers use light and shadow masterfully to create discomfort and fear. In one scene, a person appears from the shadows of the background seamlessly.

You cannot ignore the performances here.  Everyone has a dual role…and pretty much everyone gets to shine. The doppelgängers are chilling in their simple outfits and creepy makeup. Lupita Nyong’o is especially compelling, with her dual role.  Red speaks in a disturbed creaky voice and moves in ways that are psychologically unnerving.

One of the things that makes the film so effective is how much I found myself liking the family.  They draw you into their world making it impossible not to become invested in their survival.

Some have suggested Us marks the reveal that the director Peele most reflects is M. Night Shyalaman.  And while I did not really see it in my viewings, I get what people are saying, mainly in the fact that this is a film with some big ideas that then throws a lot of twists and turns, yeah. But I am inclined to agree with the people who are saying this is a good thing, that this shares more in common with Shyalaman’s best work.

People who are bothered by smaller questions with struggle hard here.  The film aims big, but leaves some stuff off.  Because, honestly…where do the doppelgängers all get their matching red outfits is not important to the story.

Us is a terrific follow up to Get Out, and Jordan Peele has delivered a new an original vision.


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