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Sunday, June 2, 2019

Upcoming Movies: June 2019


June 7
"Dark Phoenix" (https://www.foxmovies.com/movies/dark-phoenix) - Jean Grey begins to develop incredible powers that corrupt and turn her into a Dark Phoenix.  Now the X-Men will have to decide if the life of a team member is worth more than all the people living in the world.

"The Secret Life of Pets" (https://www.thesecretlifeofpets.com) - Continuing the story of Max and his pet friends, following their secret lives after their owners leave them for work or school each day.

June 14 
"Men in Black" (https://www.meninblack.com) - The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe.  Now they tackle their biggest threat to date: a mole in the MIB organization.

"Shaft" (https://www.warnerbros.com/movies/shaft-2019/) - John Shaft Jr., a cyber security expert with a degree from MIT, enlists his family's help to uncover the truth behind his best friend's untimely death.

June 21 
"Toy Story 4" (https://movies.disney.com/toy-story-4 ) - When a new toy named Forky joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy.

"Child's Play" - A mother gives her son a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.

June 28
"Anabelle Comes Home" (https://www.annabellemovie.com) - The demonologists bring the possessed doll to the locked artifacts room, placing her behind sacred glass and enlisting a priest's holy blessing. But a night of horror awaits as Annabelle awakens the evil spirits, who set their sights on a new target, their young daughter and her friends.

"Yesterday" - A struggling musician realizes he's the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate timeline where they never existed.

"Aladdin"


After “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast,” another Disney princess is getting a live action makeover.  While the 2019 Guy Ritchie's directed "Aladdin” is about riff-raff Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Genie (Will Smith), it's also a story about Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott).

In Agrabah, a society with a rigid class system, Aladdin gets by from stealing from street vendors.  A thief with a heart of gold, he takes what he needs and gives the rest to the hungry.  One day he and his thieving monkey, Abu, run into a disguised Princess Jasmine.

Jasmine is roaming outside the palace to better understand the lives of her people.  She aspires to follow in her father's footstep by becoming a Sultan herself, instead of simply being married to a foreign prince  After a couple of stolen breads and a sleight of hand exchange of bracelet, they end up on the run together.  It's a lively scene, showcasing creative parkour skills between tight walls, narrow alleys and open rooftops over bustling streets of Agrabah.

Jasmine parts way abruptly as she has to get back to the palace to greet one of her prince suitors.  Aladdin, who still has her bracelet, then attempts to return it to her at the palace.  He is spotted by Jafar's (Marwan Kenzari) smart-talking parrot, Iago, and caught by the guards.

Jafar, the Sultan's adviser and number two, has been plotting to take over the kingdom.  His path to power is a magical oil lamp inside the Cave of Wonders.  Only someone with the purest heart, a diamond in the rough, can enter the cave.  This is where Aladdin comes in.  He and Abu successfully walk into the cave and find all sorts of forbidden treasures.  Careful not to touch anything, Aladdin couldn't help but freeing a flying carpet weighed down under a rock.  A few mishaps later, Aladdin is trapped inside the cave with the Genie out of the lamp.

It may take getting used to seeing a human actor as Genie, and while it would never be the same as the animated version, Smith makes the role his own in smoothly hilarious ways.  Aladdin uses his first wish to escape from the cave and second to make him a prince, as only a prince can be with Princess Jasmine.

Prince Ali makes his entrance in an extravagant and explosion of colors.  A parade of fancifully costumed entourage singing and dancing their way into the palace, complete with exotic animals and lavish gifts.  The nighttime carpet ride with the classic tune “A Whole New World” is a highlight, taking Aladdin and Jasmine over the panoramic cityscape, countryside and coastline.

The princess finds herself strangely drawn to the unknown prince, who seems to share her values.  She's looking for a partner to wisely lead the kingdom, not a savior.  She's led to believe that the Aladdin she met earlier is actually a prince in disguise. 

Aladdin struggles with the truth.  It's not easy to give up a pretense when it gets you what you want.  A watchful Jafar seizes the opportunity and eventually gets his hand on the lamp.  The Genie, now serving him as the Master, has no choice but to grant him his wishes.  First as the Sultan and second as Sorcerer.

Amid this transformation, Jasmine finds courage to not be silenced.  This is a strong princess with her own mind and agency.  Scott has the charisma to demonstrate the princess coming into her own powers convincingly and she belts out “Speechless” with conviction.  Jasmine shows that she's worthy of being a ruler herself.

Still, Jafar becomes impossibly powerful.  His all-consuming avarice for being number one remains his weakness, however, which in the end is crucial as it's the key to beat him at his own ruthless game.

It's heartwarming to see Aladdin's third and final wish is to set his Genie free, even if it means giving up what he wants most in the world.  Massoud pulls off both the princely facade and humble commoner who finds his way back to being true to himself.

The movie's production bursts with candy colors and exquisite fabrics, moves fast with action, and delights with music. “Aladdin” maintains the energetic pace and vibrancy from start to finish.

Like a magical carpet ride, "Aladdin" will take you to a whole new world of fantasy adventures, with charm and heart fit for the whole family.

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-aladdin/

DVD: https://tinyurl.com/aladdinvideo
DVD (animation): https://tinyurl.com/aladdinanimation
CD: https://tinyurl.com/aladdincd
Soundtrack: https://tinyurl.com/aladdinsoundtrack



Sunday, April 28, 2019

"Avengers: Endgame"


What's Marvel's endgame?  After 11 years and 21 movies, “Avengers: Endgame” is expected to bring an even bigger box office dollars than the "Avengers: Infinity War" last year.

A nod to Marvel's Kevin Feige for having such an imaginative vision all those years ago and being a force that has transformed the world of entertainment for millions around the world.

Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) finally makes an appearance and we know why he was missing in action in 'Infinity War.'  Same goes with Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).  Along with other surviving Avengers – Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor/God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson), War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Okoye (Danai Gurira, “Black Panther”), Nebula (Karen Gillan, "Guardians of the Galaxy") and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, "Guardians of the Galaxy”), and newest superheroine Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) – they are stunned and in sorrow, reeling from the horrific aftermath of Thanos' (Josh Brolin) infamous finger snap that halved the universe's population.

The opening scenes are both quietly ruminative and decisively shocking.  It's not nearly as easy as finding and defeating Thanos, and get the Infinity Stones back to undo the damage.  Thanos' madness carries a lasting impact and some things can't simply be reversed. 

At some point, lives do go on.  We see a family man in Iron Man, Captain America moving on, out of shape Thor, unified Hulk, mission-focused Black Widow, vengeful Hawkeye, vagabond Captain Marvel.

Some things can be undone though – at least that's the expectation.  Ant-Man's return from the Quantum Realm drives the plot forward.  The master plan, dealing with space and time, is multilayered and very risky.  It splits our determined heroes into individual pairs or groups, each with a specific goal.  Of course, not everything happens exactly as planned and their actions lead to unintended and unpredictable consequences.

It's not all grim, however.  The plan is inventive in its conception and execution.  Hats off to the Russo Brothers for cohesively charting the course with a twist-filled narrative that not only creatively incorporates major events and meaningful characters from previous movies, but also expands upon and pays homage to them.  Cameos and old characters emerge, and moments that unfold are surprising, touching, nostalgic, nerve-wracking, heartfelt or humorous.

The battle of all climatic battles also doesn't disappoint.  The sheer scope is utterly staggering.  At its lowest moment, the skies open up and rallying cries propel the grandest, fiercest battle ever seen in a superhero movie.

The twists last through the final scenes, concluding the movie on a powerful, emotional and bittersweet note.  It's a fitting ending for self-professed genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist Tony Stark, who birthed the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008.  The character has come a long way from the time he boldly introduced himself to the world as Iron Man.  Steve Rogers has his own profound and peaceful closure but not without hope for the future.  Torn apart in "Captain America: Civil War," the two men's friendship stands the most rigorous tests.  On another note, some lives are still lost, sacrifices made, and things forever changed.

Three hours plus flew by and it felt like it was half its running time.  “Avengers: Endgame” triumphs through the strength of its storytelling, characters arcs, and visual spectacle.  If there's a perfectly imperfect epic of an ending, the movie marks a closure of an era, at the same time, a continuance and beginning of the next generation of superheroes.

There may not be another movie like this, at least in the foreseeable future.  Its illustrious legacy will live on for many years to come.

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-avengers-endgame/

Video: https://amzn.to/2YwOor6
Soundtrack: https://amzn.to/2JF5aQB

Upcoming Movies: May 2019


May 3
"The Intruder" - A young married couple buy a beautiful house on several acres of land only to find out that the man they bought it from refuses to let go of the property.

"Clara" - An obsessive astronomer and a curious artist form an unlikely bond which leads them to a profound, scientific discovery.

May 10
"Pokemon Detective Pikachu" (https://www.detectivepikachumovie.com) - In a world where people collect Pok√©mon to do battle, a boy comes across an intelligent talking Pikachu who seeks to be a detective.

"The Hustle" - Female scam artists, one low rent and the other high class, team up to take down the rotten men who have wronged them.

May 17
"John Wick 3" (https://www.johnwick.movie) - Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin's guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head.

"The Souvenir" - A young film student becomes romantically involved with a complicated and untrustworthy man.

May 24
"Aladdin" (https://movies.disney.com/aladdin-2019) - A kindhearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true.

"Ad Astra" - An astronaut travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet.

May 31
"Godzilla: King of Monsters" (https://www.godzillamovie.com) - A crypto-zoological agency faces off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah.

"Ma" - A lonely woman befriends a group of teenagers and decides to let them party at her house. Just when the kids think their luck couldn't get any better, things start happening that make them question the intention of their host.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

"Dumbo"


Director Tim Burton ("Big Eyes") stamps his brand of fantastical world into Disney's live action remake of 1941 animated classic, "Dumbo."

World War I soldier Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell; "Saving Mr. Banks," "Winter's Tale," "Total Recall")  returns to his two kids, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins).  His wife passed away during his absence.  The family also returns to circus life, the Medici Brothers' Circus owned by Max Medici (Danny DeVito), where Holt is assigned to be an elephant caretaker.

Jumbo the elephant gives birth to a baby elephant with oversized ears, later to be called Dumbo.  The baby animal, cute as it maybe, is viewed as a freak, which stretches credibility.  He's painted as a clown and casted aside as a minor attraction.

A chaotic accident leads to a heartrending separation of Jumbo and Dumbo.  Milly and Joe strike a friendship with Dumbo.  They find that Dumbo is naturally drawn to feathers and he can flap his ears and use them as wings.  It takes a fire rig incident at the show for Dumbo to soar, much to the bewilderment of the audience.  There's a sense of wonder when Dumbo flies around the tent.

As Dumbo's star is rising, he's attracting a cutthroat circus mogul, V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton, "The Founder," "Spotlight").  He buys Medici's circus and incorporates the group into his theme park attractions, Dreamland.

The plan is to have his trapeze artist, Colette Marchant (Eva Green, "Perfect Sense") rides Dumbo as he flies in the Dreamland's  show.  Dumbo and Colette eventually fly, although it doesn't go smoothly and  the show is botched.  Meanwhile, Vandevere has another plan as well, one that doesn't bode well for the Medici troupe.

The movie drags on for the first half and honestly feels rather bland, but it takes flight in the last third act with a suspenseful rescue mission adventure.  The entire crew is determined to foil Vandevere's plan.  Vandevere here becomes a caricature scoundrel, but it fits with the theme of a kids  movie. 

The theme park retro-futuristic design and Cirque-like costumes are a visual treat.  Dumbo will make you believe that an elephant can fly.  While it doesn't look exactly real, the CGI-rendered elephant goes for magical realism and looks believable enough.  He's got childlike, loveable eyes and demeanors that can elicit emotions.

The movie has a message about truly believing in oneself, especially when the situation is critical and calls for it.  This affects not only Dumbo, but also his human friend, Milly.

While "Dumbo" doesn't soar quite high, it's a delightful flight and you'll end up smiling from ear to ear.

Animation: https://amzn.to/2JIVQLm
Video: https://amzn.to/2HkNcRH

Sunday, March 10, 2019

"Captain Marvel"


“Captain Marvel,” one of the most anticipated movies of the year, bridges last year's “Avengers: Infinity War” with the ending of the Avengers founding members' stories, “Avengers: Endgame,” set to premiere on April 26, 2019.

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the first Marvel's female-led movie is curiously set in the 1990s, more than 10 years after “Iron Man” birthed the interconnected superheroes universe.  The main question is of course Captain Marvel's whereabouts.  Where has the most powerful superhero been in the last two decades, and especially when all could really use a lending superhand before Thanos decimated half of the universe's population?  MCEU gives an explanation that makes sense in this origin story.

Speaking of origin story, in addition to traveling into the past, the movie adds a fresh spin by opening the story in the middle of a hero's journey.  Living in Planet Hala, Brie Larson is Vers, a noble warrior of a humanoid alien race Kree.  She's a part of an elite squad Starforce, led by Commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law, “Sherlock Holmes”).  The Krees have been locked in battles against shape-shifting aliens, Skrulls, with Talos (Ben Mendelshon) as their leader.  The Skrulls appear to have been gallivanting across galaxies, taking the forms of native inhabitants and invading planets.

Vers has had recurring nightmares, flashes of images that she couldn't understand.  Yon-Rogg teaches her to control her emotions and impulses in order to be the best version of herself.  While escaping from a space battle with the Skrulls, Vers crash lands on Planet C-53, or Earth as we know it.  Los Angeles, 1995 is chock full of nostalgia.  Blockbuster videos, Radio Shack outlet, Pacific Bell pay phone, Alta Vista web browser, paper map, and all the retro style and music.

Vers runs into fresh-faced, two-eyed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.S., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, "Kingsman: The Secret Service," "Oldboy") and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg).  The digitized de-aging of the two are surprisingly believable.  Not the hardened agent we know, Fury here has more of a laid-back attitude and humor.  He's never seen a superpowered being prior to Vers.  The duo quickly and comfortably fall into buddy cop roles in their effort to thwart the Skrulls who follow Vers to Earth.

The Skrulls are after a light speed engine created by a Kree scientist, Mar-Vell, or also as known as Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) of the United States Air Force.  The device is said to have a vital role in ending wars.  Dr. Lawson has a connection to Vers' past life as a USAF test pilot, Carol Danvers.

Vers and Fury trace Carol's life back to the last person who saw her alive six years ago, fellow pilot and best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).  Carol's close bond with Maria adds dimensions to Vers' character, reminding her of who she is, her humanity and indefatigable spirit as strength.  Carol discovers how fierily powerful she truly is when she sees the truth and frees herself from what's holding her back.  Having ties to the Air Force and the space inevitably take the action higher, further and faster into the skies. 

If the story seems straightforward, it's not.  A phenomenal twist flips everything on its head.  Larson's Carol is very low-key, defying a typical portrayal of a hotshot pilot.  She's more reserved than brash, placid than cool, wistful than cheerful.  Law's Yon-Rogg may be more than meets the eye.  Mendelshon's Talos is one-of-a-kind foe, utterly sympathetic and humorous.  The future is not black or white.  An adorable fury friend named Goose steals the scenes with her hilariously indescribable power.  The post-credits pick up where 'Infinity War' ends and a prequel to how a certain cosmic cube appears on Earth.

The movie has all the familiarity of a Marvel movie and is cleverly tied to the cohesive and expansive Marvel Universe.  Yet from a storytelling perspective, it's refreshingly different, which is quite a feat for being the 21st movie.  "Captain Marvel" is an entertaining blast from the past and marvelously empowering.

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-captain-marvel/

Video: https://amzn.to/2VrI4zc


Monday, January 14, 2019

"On the Basis of Sex"


“The word ‘woman’ does not appear even once in the U.S. Constitution,” a judge tells Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  “Nor does the word ‘freedom,’ Your Honor,” she replies.

Director Mimi Leder opens the film with a classic contrast of a scene, a lone woman marches and steps into the esteemed institution among a sea of men in suits.  In 1959, bright-eyed Ruth (Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”) is one of the nine women admitted to Harvard Law School.  Her husband, cordial Marty (Armie Hammer, “The Man for U.N.C.L.E.”), is a second-year student.  When he is stricken with cancer, Ruth steps up by attending his classes in addition to hers, and caring for him and their toddler, Jane.

The film depicts the incomprehensible discrimination that women endure at that time.  From the moment of the dean's dinner where female students are asked why they think they're worthy in place of a worthier man, ignored in class or not taken seriously by their peers or superiors, rejected by law firms for sexist reasons even after graduating the top of the class from Harvard and Columbia, taking a backseat to men in career and social circles. Women are expected to stay home and men to go to work.  If women choose to work, they can only be secretaries, teachers or nurses.  It's just a natural order of things.

Ruth ends up teaching about sex discrimination at a university whereas Marty is on a fast track to become the youngest partner of a major firm specializing in tax laws.  The relationship between Ruth and Marty is illustrated wonderfully.  Marty is admirably supportive and progressive. Their marriage is a truly egalitarian in all aspects of life – education, career, household chores, childcare and parenting – serving as role models for their growing kids, Jane and James (Callum Shoniker).  It's no surprise that, Jane (Cailee Spaeny), now in her teens, grows up to be fearless and foward-looking.

Ruth and Marty jointly take a pro-bono case about a man, Charles Moritz (Chris Mulkey), who is denied by the tax courts caregiver deductions.  He is an unmarried man paying for a nurse to care for her ailing mother at home. Caregiver deductions are handily given to women, widowers or men whose wives are incapacitated because women are presumed to be caretakers.  In an era where discrimination on the basis of sex is legal, this case has a transformational potential to topple the systemically discriminatory legal system and open the doors to gender equality.

Ruth makes an alliance with the head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Mel Wulf  (Justin Theroux), convincing him to add ACLU's name to the legal brief, essentially backing it.  While being undermined at every turn by various parties, Ruth is undaunted.  Constant challenges and setbacks do not deter her from moving forward with conviction, even as she's not without doubt.  Armed with a brilliant legal mind and passion for doing what's right, she is an epitome of resilience, persistence and determination.  Jones turns in a formidable performance.

When the government responds with a brief that lists all the federal laws that discriminate against women, the plan is to focus on winning this one case, and then tackle these laws one by one.  Far easier than done when the law is not on your side.  Asking judges to enforce or uphold the law is not the same as making or changing it.  This case could set a legal precedent and result in a far-reaching impact that would touch generations to come.

The courtroom showdown is one of the best aspects of the film.  Dramatic oral arguments against ticking timers.  Plan to deflect probing questions and redirect into the tax deduction aspect for one man derails, Ruth doesn't yield.  When backed into a silent corner, she stands up and turns it into an impassioned speech about radical social change that resonates.  Times are changing.  In order for the country's culture and lives to change for the better, the laws have to change first.  With her utterly compelling closing argument, soft-spoken Ruth sets the future on a different course and leaves a lasting legacy towards equal rights.

Glass-shaterring figure Associate Supreme Court of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn't get nicknamed 'Notorious RBG' overnight.  “On the Basis of Sex” is one poignant, remarkable story on how it all began.  Full of fascinating insights, it is trailblazingly engaging and inspiring.

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-on-the-basis-of-sex/

DVD: https://amzn.to/2w2EW2p
Blu-ray: https://amzn.to/2YzJREd
Video: https://amzn.to/2EflYKu
Book: https://amzn.to/2JHyvcZ

Sunday, January 6, 2019

"Escape Room"


It's no surprise that Hollywood would turn a popular interactive game, escape room, into a movie.  In real life, you pay to be locked in a room with several people and spend an hour to discover and decipher riddles and puzzles that would ultimately let you out.  If you aren't able to solve them, well, you still get out safely when the time is up.

In "Escape Room," six strangers receives a sleek black box, each containing an intriguing invitation to participate in an escape room activity with a prize of $10,000 for the winner.  They are timid physics college student Zoey (Taylor Russell), nerdy gamer Danny (Nik Dodani), hotshot businessman Jason (Jay Ellis), former miner-turned-trucker Mike (Tyler Labine), scarred war veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll) and stuck-in-a-rut warehouse worker Ben (Logan Miller).

While these people seemingly have nothing in common, eventually they find that they are chosen because of something in their past that makes them who they are.  The mysterious game master seems to know the smallest details of their lives and tailor the game specifically for them.

The game begins before any of the participants realizes as they sit in the waiting room.  After the initial denial that this is real and that they are trapped, they realize they have no choice but banding together and figuring out the hidden signs and personal clues in order to survive the death traps – from being baked alive in an oven-heated waiting area, submerged in a frozen forested lake, falling down an elevator shaft in an upside down bar, poisoned to death in a hospital triage, hallucinating in a trippy room, to crushed into pieces in a study room.  Then there's also a suspicion whether the game master is one of them.

The interconnected sets are creatively designed and challenges tricky, packed with paranoia and terror.  The participants come up fatally short in each room since the game is rigged to ensure zero survival.  Every passing moment, every death rattles the survivors more and more.  The question is who would do this and why. The ending makes it clear that there's a larger entity at work and sets up for an even more preposterous sequel.

If you could believe in the total impossibility of the execution, you'll enjoy this tension-filled ride.  There is no escaping in "Escape Room."  This psychological horror thriller will keep you thrilled and at the edge-of-your seat.

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-escape-room/

DVD: https://amzn.to/2Q7U0ot
Blu-Ray: https://amzn.to/2YxWD5U
Video: https://amzn.to/2w1ofnT

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Friday, December 28, 2018

"Mary Poppins Returns"



"Mary Poppins Returns" begins with the now grown-up Banks siblings in the Great Depression era, Michael (Ben Wishaw; "The Danish Girl," "Skyfall," "Cloud Atlas") and Jane (Emily Mortimer).  Ben is a widower with three small children; John (Nathanael Saleh), Georgie (Joel Dawson) and Annabel (Pixie Davies).

A painter at heart, Ben has another job as a bank teller to make ends meet.  Jane is a labor organizer.  Ben has fallen into hard times, having to take care for his kids and their family home is going to be foreclosed.  The only way to save his home is to find his father's share certificate of the bank that he works at.  Meanwhile, the ruthless bank's chairman Wilkins (Colin Firth, "Kingsman" series, "The King's Speech") is doing everything he can to repossess the  house.

To the surprise of the Banks siblings, their former nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt; "The Girl on the Train," "Edge of Tomorrow," "The Adjustment Bureau") arrives just in time to sprinkle some magic back into their lives.

Blunt brings blunt attitude and polish patina into the role.  She gracefully ascends, glides or descends using a kite, umbrella or balloon and sing and dance with nary a hair out of place.  Another standout is Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack, the energetic lamplighter and partner-in-adventure.

None of the tunes is memorable except the closing song 'Nowhere To Go But Up.'  A couple of musical sequences are overextended to the level of tedium.  At times it feels like a musical number is just there for the sake of it, which prolongs the pacing and doesn't move the story along as it should be.  These lessen the time that could have been used to build more warmth into the characters' connections.  And of course, there's always an inherent hole with magic; the racing-against-the clock dilemma towards the end could have been easily solved by Mary Poppins.

The production is a lavish affair as scenes after scenes are filled with elaborate musical numbers, gorgeous compositions and colors, including a blend of live action and hand-drawn animation.  Bubble bath-plunging, bowl-spinning, lamp-lighting, bike-riding, tower clock-climbing and time-turning, balloon-floating.  Seasonal change from the cold cloudy winter into sunny spring blooms caps the story on a joyous hope for a better future.

There is something merry about watching musicals around the holidays ("The Greatest Showman," "La La Land," "Into the Woods," "Les Miserables").  "The Greatest Showman" was so successful that it leads to live show tours around the world next year.  "La La Land" won the Golden Globes.  "Mary Poppins Returns" is this year's end-of-year mirth that will put a bright smile on your face.



Wednesday, December 26, 2018

"Aquaman"


After the critical acclaim and popularity of "Wonder Woman," a lot was riding on "Aquaman."   Aquaman (Jason Momoa) was first seen in "Justice League."  DC, playing catch-up with Marvel, has had its rushed shared universe misfired or resulted in mixed reviews.  It needed another strong, standalone superhero movie.

One stormy night a lighthouse keeper (Tom Curry, Temeura Morrison) spotted a wounded woman ashore, which turns out to be Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), an ocean queen who fled an arranged marriage.  A cute, fish-out-of-water scene follows.  They soon fell in love and had a son, Arthur (Jason Momoa).  An incursion into their peaceful life made Atlanna realize that she would have to return to Atlantis in order to keep her family safe.

Arthur is raised among humans but secretly trained on land by Vulko (Willem Dafoe), a royal adviser.  As a boy, Arthur learns that he can breathe underwater and communicate with fish.  A grown-up Arthur uses his abilities to do impressive rescue at sea.  The beer-chugging chap prefers to work alone, although fame finds him after his submarine-saving act makes news.  Momoa has the imposing physicality and laidback dude persona that makes the lighthearted character work.

Beneath the sea, battles are brewing. King Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur's ambitious half-brother seeks power over the other realms and intends to wage war against humans, in return for their polluting the ocean.  If he succeeds with his alliances, war would rage on and mankind would be in peril.

Mera (Amber Heard), a hydrokinetic-powered princess betrothed to Orm, seeks out Arthur and asks him to return to Atlantis to take his rightful place on the throne.  He's the firstborn son of Queen Atlanna and the only one who could unite the seven seas and prevent the war between the ocean denizens and surface dwellers.  Orm doesn't take kindly to Arthur's intention and challenge him into a duel.  When it appears clear that Arthur is out of his element, Mera takes matters into her own hand and shows that she's every bit a heroine.

An averse hero, Arthur doubts that he would be able to do what's required.  For one, his identity as a half-breed would not allow Atlanteans to accept him as their king.  Moreover, he admits that he doesn't typically lead or work well with others.  Mera believes otherwise; he's precisely the connection between land and ocean.

A key for Arthur to show Atlanteans that he's the rightful ruler is to obtain the hidden Trident of Neptune, thought to be held by the first king of Atlantis and lost when the society submerged ages ago.  Arthur and Mera team up to find the mythical weapon and save both worlds.

Atlantis' ancient architecture, futuristic tech, and ocean occupants such as armored shark, warrior sea horses and war drum-playing octopus are richly rendered and luminously lit.  Its citizens are regally dressed befitting the colorful underwater environment and movements are fluid as liquid.

The nearly 2.5 hours of running time does feel long and the all-CGI epic battle scenes could be cut back a bit.  Also, for those who don't read the comics, a second villain feels unnecessary, although it seems that this subplot would carry on in a sequel.

All in all, director James Wan has created an over-the-top world-building that is distinctly different from other superhero movies.  "Aquaman" is a superhero origin story with an aquatic Avatar, Star Wars war and Indiana Jones treasure-hunt adventure rolled into one.  It's got a surprisingly touching love story, family-bonding and kingdom unity.

"Aquaman" makes a seaworthy splash amidst all the superhero fares.  It's a swimmingly rollicking, action-packed fantasy adventure.

https://www.sdentertainer.com/movies/movie-review-aquaman/

DVD: https://tinyurl.com/aquamandvd
Blu-ray: https://tinyurl.com/aquamanbluray


Monday, December 17, 2018

Upcoming Movies: April 2019


[Originally posted on 03/31/19]

April 5
"Shazam" (https://www.shazammovie.com) - By shouting out one word - SHAZAM!, a streetwise 14-year old foster kid can turn into the adult superhero Shazam.

"High Life" - A father and his daughter struggle to survive in deep space where they live in isolation.

April 12
"Hellboy" (https://www.hellboy.movie) - Hellboy is caught between the worlds of the supernatural and human, battling an ancient sorceress bent on revenge.

"Missing Link" (https://www.missinglink.movie) - Mr. Link recruits an explorer to help find his long-lost relatives in a fabled valley. Along with an adventurer, the trio of explorers travel the world to help their new friend.

April 19
"Under the Silver Lake" (https://a24films.com/films/under-the-silver-lake) - An intelligent man without purpose finds a mysterious woman swimming in his apartment's pool one night.  The next morning, she disappears.  He sets off across town to find her, and along the way, he uncovers a conspiracy far more bizarre.

"Fast Color" - A woman is forced to go on the run when her superhuman abilities are discovered. Years after having abandoned her family, the only place she has left to hide is home.

April 26
"Avengers: Endgame" (https://movies.disney.com/avengers-endgame) - After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War, the universe is in ruins.  With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos' actions and restore order to the universe.