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Toy Story 4 (2019)

rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆

This is a spoiler free review

Synopsis: Set after the events of Toy Story 3, Toy Story 4 (dir. by Josh Cooley and written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom) picks up with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) going off to kindergarden. After creating a new friend at school named Forky (Tony Hale), he inexplicably becomes the most important toy in Bonnie’s life. When the gang goes on a road trip with Bonnie and her family, it’s up to Woody (Tom Hanks) to keep Forky safe. However, when Forky gets kidnapped by a doll named Gaby Gaby (Christina Hendricks) in the antique store of a carnival, it’s up to Woody and Buzz (Tim Allen) to get him back. Along the way, Woody reunites with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who, in the time since she was separated from Woody, has developed a far different view on what it means to be a toy.

When I first sat down to write this review, I was conflicted. I wasn’t sure whether to let my love of the franchise as a whole dictate this review, or my critical perspective of this one movie, regardless of the previous three. I don’t think I’m the only one on the internet who wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of a fourth Toy Story. The third ended the franchise so perfectly, why continue it? Can they really justify a need to continue this story? The short answer is no.

I was debating what to rate this film, and the reason I gave it three rather than two in a half stars is because I do recommend it. While I would have preferred the franchise ended with the third movie, I was never bored. The story had a nice flow to it, the characters (both new and old) are all very likable, the animation is spectacular, and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments.

So let’s start with the characters. I’m sure from the promotional material (and merchandise- at least if you went to Disney World these past few weeks), you can tell there are a lot of new characters. I think for the most part, I enjoyed these character. Keanu Reeves as Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom is a notable highlight and has a lot of fun moments. Gaby Gaby serves as the film’s antagonist, and actually subverted my expectations a bit by being a lot more sympathetic than a lot of the other Toy Story villains, while also serving as an intimidating threat, no thanks to her minions who are all Ventriloquist dummies. The two characters I liked the least were Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key). While I think that both actors are great comedic voice talents, the characters didn’t serve much purpose outside of being “comedic relief,” and that wouldn’t be a huge problem if I actually found them to be funny. However, most of the jokes (except for this running gag) weren’t that funny, and they didn’t justify their purpose through the plot, so they didn’t really have a reason to be there. The final new character who I’m sure you’ve seen advertised is Forky (Tony Hale). I thought that the character was very cute, had some good lines, and I like the bond that he and Woody formed. While he was essentially the center of the main plot, which got me worried that Forky would take up most of the film, most of the story is luckily still told from Woody and Buzz’s perspective.

Woody and Forky bond while stranded on the side of the road during a road-trip in Toy Story 4.

Bo Peep makes her return, and I thought her character and her relationship with Woody was handled really well. It was interesting to see how her perspective on being a toy has changed since she left. While there were plenty of new characters, it was a shame that a lot of the old characters were sidelined and didn’t really have much to do. While, yes, the voice actor who played Mr. Potato-head died and they had to rely on archived recordings, it really was a shame because, especially in the last film, it really felt like a conclusion. Not just because of the grand stakes of the film, but with how all the characters contributed to the main story. The character whom I also think was wasted in this story was Buzz. He had this running gag throughout the movie which I didn’t think was all that funny, nor did it contribute to any character growth. So if I had any main issues with the film, it’s the fact that the story really didn’t know what to do with any of the characters that weren’t Woody, Bo Peep, or any of the new toys, which- as a conclusion to this franchise- I think is a real shame.

As I mentioned before, the animation really is excellent, however, there aren’t a lot of actual set pieces. We mostly stay in the carnival, and while that does provide for a lot of fun scenarios, it makes the movie feel a lot less in scale than say, the toys almost burning alive in a landfill. I don’t know how they could have topped the stakes of the last film, so I guess it was a good idea to have the stakes feel intentionally more intimate. As a finale, I would have liked to have a few more set pieces, but I think for this story it worked out okay. The final thing I was to briefly touch upon is the ending. Whether you’ve seen the film or not, I’m sure you’ve heard mixed things about the way the film ended. While I think the ending works for the message this particular was going for, I think that as a conclusion to the series, it rather undermines the rest of the franchise. It’s more bittersweet than the previous film, but for me at least, it feels rather inconclusive to what the other films aimed for in their endings, though it definitely works here and feels like a good conclusion to the themes of this film.

Woody ad Bo Peep reunite after having lived two totally different lives. They both reminisce about the time they’ve spent together as well discover how being a toy, for them, means different things.

So does this film really ever justify it’s existence? Not really. That being said, there are a decent amount of heartfelt moments, action, laughs, and good characters to justify it as a decent flick. While it doesn’t meet the emotional climax of the third film, I didn’t think it ever could. So if your looking for another chance to see Woody and the gang go on little adventure, I think you’ll be satisfied.

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I Just Read: The Handmaid’s Tale

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

Note: This is a spoiler-free review

The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwood and published in 1985, is set in the not too distant future (at the time of the book’s publication). Because of the decline in birth rates, the nation of Gilead was born from America with the sole intent of regulating and controlling the population to prevent birth rates from continuing to decline. Each citizen is Gilead has been sanctioned into a single, societal status. All of the remaining, fertile women, have been re-assigned as Handmaids. Because of their ability to procreate, the Handmaid’s rights and freedoms are the most restricted among the entire population. Offred, one of these Handmaids, is not only not allowed to read (like other Giledean women), she must follow a strict daily schedule, must perform public tasks with another Handmaid at all times, refrain from making eye contact, and where a bright red dress everywhere she goes- as a symbol of her status. Her entire worth- and even her life- depends on her ability to get pregnant- yet Offred can remember a different time. When she had a job, friends, a husband, and a daughter. When she had freedom and control over her own life- and body.

As a brief disclaimer- I have not watched the tv show on Hulu. I did not know much about this book going into it- other than it was dystopian novel where women are oppressed. While I can’t say that in my middle school years I was deeply embedded into the whole young-adult dystopian novel trend, I had my fair share of exposure to a few (The Hungar Games, The Maze Runner, Forest of Hands and Teeth, and Gone as examples) I can’t say that I really fell in love with any of them. While I thought a lot of these books feel into the same tropes and characters, there was something that fascinated me about the whole dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre, so I was curious about The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian book that was not only written before the whole trend started, but one not specifically geared towards the young adult demographic. Believe me, I was not disappointed.

While most dystopian novels depict a world far into the future (or one with an unknown time period), Margaret Atwood presents a character, Offred, who can remember a time in which everything was normal. This creates a fascinating narrative in which Offred leads us through (little by little) how Gilead formed, slowly but surely. The transition from America to Gilead is both disturbing and all too realistic, creating a greater sense of dread, fear, and isolation, as Offred reveals to us how this future came to be.

Elisabeth Moss (right) stars as Offred in the Hulu original series The Handmaid’s Tale. This Emmy award winning show originally aired in 2017 on the network and is currently on it’s third season.

Outside of the times in which timelines and character’s backstories are revealed to us, the actual plot of the story is mostly complicated in how it reveals information. Something Atwood does flawlessly is jumping around from pre-Gilead days, to Offred in the Red Center, to the present day, with Offred going about her daily routine. This leads to the formation of a rich and fully realized world. Not only do we learn about the philosophies and rules of this society and justifications for why things are the way they are, but we get to learn (through Offred’s eyes) the Handmaid’s- and other character’s- purpose in society, and the oppressive laws and restrictions that society (specifically Handmaids) is subjected to.

In addition to the fully realized ins and outs of this society, something that Atwood does masterfully in her writing is creating this sense of quiet and paranoia. There’s this constant feeling that someone is watching you, and even the simple act of looking someone in the eye could have you dragged off, punished, and put on display for others. All of this oppressive rules and restrictions does lead to some interesting moral questions about how far people are willing to go to keep the population under control, or what lengths people will go to during a growing epidemic?

Let’s talk about the characters. Offred herself isn’t super interesting, but what really makes her a protagonist that we want to follow is how she was a relatively normal women who was forced into this horrific and restrictive new life and society. We want to follow Offred and see this world through her eyes, the different roles people play in this new society, and what’s it’s like being the most “valued” person in this society, and yet being the one most at the whim of others. We learn through Offred how things came to be, and while I won’t spoil it, Offred’s situation becomes a bit more intriguing as compared to other Handmaid’s, and we become more and more engrossed into her story, as she learns more about Gilead. The story is told entirely from first person, which I think creates a rather unique narrative as we never quite know what happens to certain characters, or what people’s true intentions might be. It all comes from Offred’s limited- yet very observant- speculations.

There aren’t many characters besides Offred that we get to know first hand. The only one that gets the most development and backstory, besides Offred, (that we meet) is Moira, who might be my favorite character. She brings some much needed comic relief to the story and, out of the supporting cast, was for me the most interesting and entertaining character.

The Commander (right), played by Joseph Fiennes in the Hulu Original series, plays a summons Offred to his office.

If there are any critiques or negative opinions I had of the book (and there are very, very, few), I thought that the message the book was trying to get across was pretty on the nose. While I understand that most dystopian societies are meant to center around a social anxiety or impending issue in the world (such as global warming or nuclear war), a lot of characters, dialogue, and settings are centered around this theme, or warning, that the book presents with this society. While this aspect could just be a product of it’s time (as in this theme or idea wasn’t as present in media in the 80s) I just feel like a lot of these themes could have been presented more subtly. I also feel like a couple of the characters were not fully realized, especially the Commander. I was often confused how I was supposed to feel about him. While I know that the author wants us to questions what his motives are (as we never get inside his head) I feel like he was kept too ambiguous to the point where it was hard for me to get invested in his actions.

Overall, The Handmaid’s Tale is a solidly entertaining read. If you love dystopian fiction but are sick of the y-adult dystopian fiction novels that have been published to death in recent years, or if you just love entertaining reads with interesting themes and world-building, this is definitely one to check out.

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I Just Read: Beloved

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 stars

Note: This is a spoiler-free review

Beloved, by Toni Morrison, is a fantastical, historical fictional novel that was published in 1987. Beloved tells the story of former African-American slave Sethe. Set after the American Civil War, Sethe managed to escape from the clutches of Sweet Home, a beautiful yet horrifying plantation settlement in Kentucky. Yet, even after 18 years of freedom in Ohio, even after spending each moment of freedom with her 18-year-old daughter, Denver, Sethe cannot seem to escape the horrors of her past. From being reunited with another former slave from Sweet Home, Paul D, to being haunted (in more ways than one) by the ghosts of her past when someone she thought long dead, walks right back into Sethe and Denver’s lives.

As usual, it seems, this was another book that I read for American Literature, as apart of our Southern Gothic unit; however, it’s one that I almost instantly feel in love with. From the rich language, to the fully realized characters, to the vivid settings, to the dark and haunting images and themes the book tackles, all of it makes for a beautiful and immersive reading experience.

This was one book that I was actually glad to have read in a literature class because we could talk about the plot and I could clear up certain story beats that I missed. While the language is very, very rich and poetic, Morrison’s writing style does take some getting used to. She could have these long, poetic, vivid sentences, but buried deep within one of those sentences is a very important plot point that I (more often will not) will miss. So while I appreciate how the language sucks you in, it’s also very complicated to read. It defiantly took at least 50 pages into before I started getting used to the language. It’s definitely one, if your like me, to read with others to discuss plot points, the timeline of certain events, and what certain passages imply.

Another feature of Morrison’s writing is how she jumps around in time. One part of a chapter will be Sethe and Denver talking in the present, and then merely a paragraph later, we will jump to Sethe in the past, escaping from Sweet Home. Again, this is a feature that confused me in the first 50 pages, and while it can get tricky to keep track of where we are, I did get used to it. In fact, that’s one of the books greatest strengths. The way that Morrison reveals information about the characters and their past kept me engaged through the whole story. Rather than revealing an entire character’s backstory in one chapter, little by little she would reveal more and more about the characters (mostly Paul D, Sethe, and Baby Suggs) and their past. The information was never forced either, as the jumping around in time kept me completely immersed in the narrative, as the three characters I mentioned earlier have very dense backstories. It was much more engaging for me to have each character reveal their past little by little rather than just being told how they ended up where they are in an entire chapter.

Paul D (Danny Glover) protects Sethe (Oprah Winfrey) in the 1998 film adaptation of Beloved (dir. by Jonathan Demme.)

I also think that Morrison approached the characterizations very interestingly. When I discussed the book with my classmates, I found that early on in the story, we had very different opinions on the characters. None of the main characters, even until the very end, seem entirely good or entirely evil. Despite some of these characters being victims of slavery, terrible abuses, and great tragedies, we aren’t always sure how to feel about them. We want to feel sympathetic towards them, but at the same time they themselves have done some dark things in the past. Sethe,and Paul D, to be more specific, both have lost people they were close to and endured unimaginable trauma to escape slavery, have also done or said terrible things. Even Denver, who appears quite stubborn and resistant to change at first, does have a good reason to hold onto the past. This create characters- and an experience- that appears all too human.

The final thing I wish to talk about is the fantastical aspect of the story. Without giving too much away, this book does create a fine line between ghosts and other fantastical happenings, and 19th century America. All of this does, however, come together beautifully to create a very dynamic reading experience all revolving around the past and how- in more ways than one- it could come back to haunt you. The final story, as a result, is both tragic (as Morrison does not shy away from the horrors of slavery) while also providing a ray of hope that, while the past is inescapable, there is a way to move forward.

If I didn’t make it clear already- I loved Beloved. While it is a tricky read, I think the rich language, tragic and all too human characters, immersive historical setting, time period, and delicate blending of the fantasy and the reality, makes for a very memorable reading experience. If you think you could handle some of the darker and more violent themes and images, and don’t mind books with denser language, this is one I would definitely check out.

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Shazam! (2019)

⭐⭐⭐☆☆

This is a spoiler free review

Shazam! (dir. by David F. Sandberg and written by Henry Gayden) tells the story of young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who, after getting adopted into a large foster home, is transported to an alternate realm where he’s given great power and strength whenever he utters the word Shazam! Billy Batson, with the help of his new foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), adapts to and discovers the extent of his new powers. When a new threat (Mark Strong) rises with the intent to taken down Shazam, Billy must learn to embrace his new powers, and his new family, in order to earn the title of “superhero.”

I can imagine that with a certain other superhero movie that has been released to theaters more recently, many people might not be too interested in hearing my thoughts on a much smaller scale superhero film that came out over a month ago. Because I love superhero movies, though, and I want to still get my thoughts out about this film, I plan on reviewing this film and Avengers: Endgame this week. This way I will also not be too behind on my reviews.

As I mentioned before, this movie is much smaller in scale than most other superhero films, but I actually think that’s quite refreshing. The focus is mostly on Billy, him getting used to his new powers, and the foster family. Quite honestly, all three of those things encompass some of the best moments of the film, as well as Zachary Levi as the adult version of Billy that he turns into. I really bought him as Billy and thought that he captured both the comedic potential of a “child being trapped in a man’s body,” the characterization of Billy himself, and what a boy his age would say and do in his situation.

(from left) Shazam! (Zachary Levi) and Frederick “Freddy ” Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) look on at some incoming trouble in a convenience store.

With that being said, I thought a lot of the writing and direction was really spot on, especially when it came to the stuff involving Billy and him coming to terms with his new powers. Not only do I think that Asher Angel did a great job creating a sympathetic and believable character, but I also kept think to myself, “yeah, that’s exactly what a kid would do if they were given the ability to turn into a super-powered adult.” Some of the best parts of the movie are Billy and Freddy learning what his new powers are and putting them to the test, in addition to Billy trying to get away with adult things in his new “adult” form. Both aspects to the film were very hilarious and fun to watch.

Billy’s backstory, as well as the foster family, kept the entire film feeling grounded and real- which is something that I think is rarely done with the newer DC films. I really sympathized with Billy Batson and his backstory. Like I mentioned before, the themes related to family really helped ground this film and give a real humanity to everything happening. I really liked the members of the foster family. Some of them, particularly the foster kids played by Grace Fulton and Jovan Armand, were presented with character arcs that didn’t really go anywhere, and as a result get sidelined. However, I thought that Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy was great in his performance, his chemistry with Billy, and with his characterization. I also loved the two foster parents. Although they didn’t get a ton of screen time, I really sympathized with them and what they were doing for both Billy and the others. I just really loved the entire dynamic between Billy and the foster home. There was a certain wholesomeness to it all that I really haven’t seen in most superhero movies.

While I do think that the film’s antagonist, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, was a little weak, Mark Strong did a good job with his performance, and the villain (+the creatures that are sort of controlling the villain) was a legitimate threat and legitimately intimidating. There’s this great scene about halfway through the movie where these monsters (which do have legitimate unique designs if not a bit bland color schemes) are in a boardroom with a bunch of people. I won’t give much more away, but I certainly did not see that scene getting as intense as it did. Besides that, the villain wasn’t particularly complex, and I never really got a sense of what his grand scheme was. On the other hand, I do think that Dr. Sivana’s main motivation does make sense. It’s based on something that happened to him when he was a child, which I think does connect him more to Billy, who is also a child and is going through a similar struggle that Sivana went through but never learned to let go.

Shazam! is engaged in his first fight against a supervillian, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

The visual effects I thought were overall, pretty well done. There were a couple of creatures in the film which I thought every now and then looked a little fake, but only briefly, and the cool designs were enough to overcompensate for some of the weaker effects. With that being said, there are a few complaints I have about this movie. For one thing, I didn’t think that there was a lot of action in the movie, and even the action that was in the movie wasn’t very memorable. I thought that the third act also went on a little too long.

All in all, I really enjoyed Shazam! Even with the few critiques I listed above weren’t complete deal breakers, especially considering that the best scenes are Billy simply getting used to his new powers, and him interacting with Freddy and the rest of the foster family. It’s a really sweet, funny, and all around fun film that never forgets what the heart of the film is. While it’s not Into The Spider-verse levels of heartfelt and memorable, and while I’m not dying to revisit it like I was when I first saw Infinity War, it’s still an enjoyable film that deserves a watch.

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I Just Read: The Catcher in the Rye

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆

This is another book – just like The Great Gatsby– that I read for a school assignment, but I’d still like to give my own thoughts and perspective on the writing, characters, and so forth.

This review contains very mild spoilers

To give a brief synopsis, The Catcher in the Rye, written by J.D. Salinger and published in 1951, follows 17-year old Holden Claufield as he is (once again) expelled, this time from an extremely expensive boarding school due to his poor work ethic. Although he is asked to not return after Christmas break, he decides to leave a few days early. Fearful of his mother and father’s reaction after they find out he was expelled, he decides to spend the next few days before the start of Christmas Break in New York City before going home. The rest of the story follows Holden as he journeys from place to place in the city and comes across faces new and old, all the while becoming more estranged and bitter of society.

In my English class, one thing we discussed was how J.D. Salinger was well known for pioneering, or at least popularizing, this stream of consciousness style of writing. The story takes place from a first person perspective, and we as the readers are very much immersed into Holden thoughts, which often diverged considerably from the main plot. Often times Holden will go off on a tangent about something that will ultimately lead to an entirely different tangent about a different subject. I think whether or not you can get into this writing style depends on your tastes. On the one hand, it does get a little frustrating, especially if what he’s talking about distracts from the action or adds little in the way of the narrative. While it did frustrate me at times, especially when I just wanted to get back to the action, a lot of what he did ramble on about, at least the way I saw it, added to his character and gave me some more insight on who he his.

I think what J.D Salinger did which really aided itself to this stream of consciousness narrative is that he kept the plot to a minimum. Nothing of great magnitude really happens in the story, we just follow Holden as he travels around the city and interacts with different people. This gave way for more distractions from the main action since there really isn’t much plotting to begin with. The story, in fact, feels like a little slice of life narrative, albeit it bit more unique than just an everyday occurrence for Holden. There is still the challenge of Holden grappling with his ever growing bitterness for the world and society. Even the new “moral” that he learns by the end of the story is very subtle in how it is conveyed, and it’s not even really too clear if he will follow through with that newfound view of life.

“The Catcher in the Rye” author, J.D. Salinger (1919-2010).

From my class discussions, one of biggest complaints, besides the stream of consciousness style narrative, was with Holden himself. On the one hand, I don’t think he’s a very likable character. Even though he is a jerk I think that we are still supposed to root for him, but I more often than not found myself more frustrated with him. However, the strange thing is the reasons why I don’t like Holden are also the reasons why I relate to him the most: he’s a teenager. He’s hypocritical, he’s bitter towards society, he complains and actively calls out other people for being “phony,” and he has more than a few stints of depression. So while I don’t actively like Holden, he does feel like a genuinely real teenager. If that’s what Salinger’s intent was (to make Holden feel real as opposed to likable) he nailed it.

Because the story was being told from a biased point of view, it was very hard to get a grasp on the various supporting characters; however, I will say that I found Holden’s sister, Phoebe, to be my personal favorite character. I thought her young, sassy attitude was a great addition to the story and a great contrast to Holden’s attitude. This brings me to probably my favorite thing that the book tackles: it’s themes. I won’t give what they are, but it’s done so subtly that if I was not analyzing this book in an English class, I think I would have glossed over them completely. The themes that the book presents are very compelling, and while some might think that the ending is a bit dissatisfying, I rather like how the story is kept open ended on what Holden will chose to do. Something else I enjoyed about the book is that it solemn just tells you how things affect or have affected Holden. There are a couple of heavy hitting moments that one would think Holden would go more into, but he doesn’t. Either Salinger wanted the reader to contemplate themselves how they think those traumatic moments have affected Holden, or maybe because, at the time, those social issues were never even brought up in novels before.

Overall, I think this is one book that I actively enjoyed more because I was able to discuss and analyze it in English class, so I was able to identity and appreciate a lot of the deeper themes and character moments. The book and Holden did actively frustrate me, but I also believe that was Salinger’s intent from the start. I think whether or not you will enjoy this narrative style and a character like Holden depends on your taste, but I would still recommend checking it out. I am glad I read it, but I can’t say I actively enjoyed it as much as, say, The Great Gatsby.

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Captain Marvel (2019)

⭐⭐ 1/2 out of 5 stars

This is a SPOILER FREE review

For a brief synopsis, Captain Marvel (directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and written by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet) follows the story of Vers (Brie Larson), a Kree warrior who has no memory of her past. While on a mission to intercept the Skrulls a race of alien shape-shifters that the Kree are at war with, Vers is both separated from her team and unlocks some memories that may hold the key to her past. After crash landing on Earth, she teams up with low level S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) to discover who she is and put a stop to the war once and for all.

Before I give my thoughts on this movie, I should say that I really didn’t have high expectations going in (and no not for the reason that you may think). Honestly, the trailers just looked really boring. Captain Marvel herself just looked like a very uninteresting character and the story seemed very cliche. A “powerful being” with a “mysterious past” learns that “something in her past” may prove that she’s “more powerful than she ever realized.” Going in, I of course did not want this movie to fail, the promotional material just wasn’t giving me much hope that this would be an interesting story.

I am a little saddened to report that the movie was better than the trailers, but it was still just… okay. While it wasn’t necessarily bad, it was not that memorable either.

I will say that this story is told a little differently than other Marvel films. That’s more of a neutral statement than anything else. Instead of starting out as a normal person, Carol Danvers starts out as a powerful Kree warrior in space. Once she lands on earth, she must both hunt down the enemy and discover who she really is. This, I think, leads into one of the main problems with the story. The characters are constantly going from point A to B, from one set piece to another, that we never really a chance to get to know any of the characters. We never really get a moment, say, as fun or as character building as the Thor’s Hammer Lifting scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It wasn’t really helped by the fact that the trailers pretty much showed who she was before getting her powers, so there weren’t that many surprises with that plot point.

From left: Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) prepare for an air force mission.

Another problem, unfortunately, lies with Captain Marvel herself. Watching the trailers, she really didn’t seem that interesting or that she had a lot of energy. And while I do think they brought a little more energy and charisma than I was expected, she was overall just a very boring and confused character. Part of that I think lies in the performance. Okay, as a performer myself, I HATE to critique acting, especially since I don’t know what the direction was like or what the actor was going for. And I have no doubt that Brie Larson is a very good actress; however, I just don’t think she was right for this role. That really sucks for me to say because Marvel usually does phenomenal with casting. I also don’t think that it’s entirely her fault. I feel as though the directors, writers, and Larson had no idea how to make this character interesting. She alternates constantly between being stoic and stone faced to more sarcastic and laid back. They don’t even really play up the whole fish out of water scenario with her being on Earth either. It’s mostly just scene or two because they need to move on to the next plot point. Another huge problem is that characters keep commenting on what they want you to believe is a major character flaw, that she needs to keep her emotions under control, but that character flaw is never demonstrated nor does it really ever effect her negatively because it always seem like she has her emotions under control (to the point where she can sometimes have very little emotion). That’s not to say, she does give an occasional funny line or emote some charisma, but it’s overall a very muddled and rather boring character.

Now lets talk about the supporting cast, a stand out being Samuel L. Jackson. At first, I was rather confused about what he was doing, until I realized that this is a younger more naive and energetic Nick Fury, and he does a great job playing this younger version of himself who’s very energetic and charismatic. He even gets a couple of laughs (although there was this whole thing how he is obsessed with cats which I think was supposed to be funny but came off as kind of strange). I even think that Captain Marvel is at her best when she interacts with him. I should also say that the de-aging effects on him is phenomenal! It’s so seamless that you don’t even notice that it’s an effect. The other new characters are not much more interesting. However, I will say that I thought Lashana Lynch as Carol Danver’s best friend did very well and had a few very good, standout acting and character moments. Jude Law’s character Yon-Rogg I thought was very boring. I don’t think it’s an acting problem, the character is just written very flat, and what they decide to do with that character is very underwhelming.

Now let’s get into some positives. I will say that there is a bate and switch between characters in the film that leads to another subplot. While others may find this forgettable, I actually thought it worked really well and added some much needed emotional stakes to the story. I also thought the cat, Goose, was pretty cute and had a couple of stand out moments (also because I’m a cat lover so it’s very refreshing to have a cute, fun little cat character when it’s so often a dog). And there were maybe one or two really entertaining action scenes. One where’s shes escaping from the enemy ship while still in bondage, and the other is the train chase (it’s the part in the trailer where she punches the old lady). It was also a little refreshing to see a film take place in the 90s as opposed to the 80s, which has been the trend for some time now (even though I’m a sucker for the 80s aesthetic, music, and nostalgia). The effects were well done. The only really bad CGI is when she’s flying in space and the cat in a couple of scenes

From left: Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) and his fellow Skrulls wash up on shore looking for Captain Marvel.

Although I praised the escape and train scenes, most of the action was very underdeveloped. There were a couple action scenes where you couldn’t even make out what was going on because it was so dark. Even in the scenes where lighting wasn’t an issue, you couldn’t even make out some of the action because they used so much shaky cam. Even the climax (which lasted maybe five minutes) was underwhelming. I should also say that I didn’t really find the movie all that funny. Look, I don’t expect nor want every single Marvel movie to be like Thor: Ragnarok, where it’s just joke after joke. And if you’re just going to this movie not for the Marvel lore but just for a dumb, fun and funny action film, then you will very disappointed. They did have plenty of jokes and quips to be found in this film, but most of them, for me, just didn’t land. I chuckled a couple of times, but there was no real genuine laugh out loud moments.

The final thing I have to say is, and I won’t spoil it, but they change up the Marvel Logo at the beginning, which was amazing and super heartfelt. There was a cameo from a certain person that was amazing and made me smile. Also, stay for the mid-credit scene (as if you need to be told to do so), but you could honestly skip the after credit scene.

All in all it’s a very average, underwhelming, even boring film at times. That’s not to say there weren’t some genuinely fun moments or good lines, it’s just muddled into a pretty mundane final product. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, but I also know there are people who really enjoyed it, so I would still say check it out and see for yourself.

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First Time Viewing: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of 5 stars

This is a new type of post I will be introducing to my blog. In addition to reviewing new releases, I will be also be going back to movies that have come out in the year’s prior that I have never seen. Most of the time they will be well regarded/critically acclaimed films (such as this one) but I may also take the time to review “so bad it’s goo:d type films or just movies I’ve personally been very interested in seeing. With that in mind, let’s get on with the review.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a Spanish language film directed and written by Guillermo del Toro and released in the United States on December 29, 2006. Pan’s Labyrinth takes place in 1944 Spain, where an 11-year old girl named Ofelia and her recently remarried mother are relocated to a remote forest. There, Spanish soldiers, led by a ruthless Captain who also happens to be Ofelia’s mother’s new husband, seek to eradicate the rebels. When Ofelia discovers an ancient Labyrinth inhabited by several fantastical beings, she soon finds herself on a quest to escape further into this fantastical world, all while taking care of her mother and evading the Captain’s wrath.

I was just made aware that this film was in Spanish not too long before viewing it, and I had never seen a full-length foreign feature before, so I wasn’t sure how that would affect my viewing experience. Much to my surprise, I had no problem both following the story and enjoying the nice visuals. Part of that, I think, has to do with the fact that this movie is more visually than dialgoue is driven, or at least, it’s not very dialogue heavy. It’s not like, say, a Marvel film, where there’s a lot of dialogue and exposition needed to keep track of the story. The story, in fact, is very simple, yet it carries so much dramatic and emotional weight. This isn’t just a film about a girl meeting a bunch of cool creatures, but a story about one girl’s desire to escape into the fairy tales she loves so dearly and away from her harsh reality. The narrative constantly shifts from Ofelia’s (Ivana Baquero) perspective and her connection to both the war and fantasy, to Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), one of the Captain’s servants, and her connection to this young girl and the war.

What I thought was very well done is this constant shift in perspective. The fantasy stuff is kept surprisingly dark and grounded, in addition to being very imaginative and mystical. This was all made possible through the connection of the girl. At first, I didn’t really like her acting that much, as I feel she didn’t react to all of this fantasy stuff as a girl would. That is until I realized it’s because all of these creatures and magic is very much real to her. This idea that the fantasy is as real to Ofelia as our own world, intertwines the two worlds in a way that’s both clever and heartbreaking.

In short, while the story is fairly simple, it makes the movie feel almost like it actually is a fairy tale, but with a darker, more adult twist, while still having the magic and simple, yet identifiable characters. Captain Vidal (Sergi López) I thought was a fairly strong antgonist. While he was not very complex, the intent to make him more of a monster than the actual monsters Ofelia encounters certainly works to the film’s advantage. I also thought that the connection between Ofelia and her mother (Ariadna Gill) gave the film a huge emotional core as they had a very strong bond. My personal favorite performance was from Mercedes. I thought she was a great character and provided a great alternate perspective to give some humanity to the human world and further connect the two competing realms.

The Pale Man (played by Doug Jones)

With all that being said, I think it would be a mistake to not talk about the creatures in this film. While the CGI effects do not hold up super well, they are far and few and do not take away from the overall quality of the film. Whoever designed and brought to life some of these creatures and designs deserves an Oscar (hehe and they did get one) because these are some of the greatest practical creature designs that I’ve seen. I think what really amazes me is the fact that the Faun and the Paleman (both played physically by Doug Jones, whom also played the sea creature in another Del Torro film: The Shape of Water) is actually there. They aren’t CGI creations or anything. This passion and effort (coupled with the brilliant designs that don’t even look like a human is inside of them) for these monsters really come through in how amazing they look. The Pale Man sequence in this film is one of my personal favorite scenes, as I found it so gripping and terrifying. The monsters are also complimented by great production design. Though not very colorful, all of the sets are so detailed, massive and strange that they manage to be almost as memorable as the creatures.

This film, though not a horror film, does have some very intense sequences. I mentioned the pale man scene, but there are so many intense, satisfying, and intensely satisfying moments, that I couldn’t imagine skipping most of this movie. The scenes in the real world still manage to be just as exciting and interesting as the fantasy stuff, which I think could have easily been some of the most boring parts of the movie. All of this leads up to an ending that will leave you awestruck. I myself sat there for a few moments (holding back tears) wondering how I should feel.

Guillermo Del Torro without a doubt had so much passion and love for this project, and it shows in nearly every frame. It’s so hard to often create a narrative like this, but Del Torro’s writing and direction, coupled with a brilliant makeup and production design, great cinematography, fitting performances, and a beautiful and chilling score, all contribute to an amazing film which is, dare I say, a masterpiece that I will certainly revisit again.