Bird Box Review

Directed by: Susanne Bier
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, B. D. Wong, Tom Hollander, Danielle Macdonald
Based on the novel by Josh Malerman
Runtime: 2hrs 4min Rated: R

Netflix’s latest thriller/horror movie, Bird Box has gotten a lot of attention over the last week. Most likely if you haven’t seen it yourself, you’ve at least heard something about it. According to Netflix’s twitter page, the film has been watched by over 45 million user accounts in the first 7 days of its release.

The film has also sparked a fury of viral social media memes, the most infamous dubbed the “bird box lady.” Apparently there are a number of younger viewers who do not know who Sandra Bullock is and have referred to her as the “bird box lady.” Naturally this angered many people and has even caused websites to post hilarious articles educating the uniformed on Bullock’s true star power.

Bird Box is set in a post apocalyptic world where unknown creatures have taken control of the planet with the ability to cause anyone who looks at them to see their worst fear and then immediately commit suicide. The name of the movie comes from the characters discovering that birds become agitated when the creatures are near, so they keep them nearby to act as an early warning system. It is never fully explained how this works or what the exact nature of the creatures are: aliens, demons, etc, but all of that doesn’t really matter.

Like many of these types of stories, the emphasis is less about the creatures themselves and more about the various character studies. The movie explores several meaningful themes such as: the definition of motherhood, the extremes a mother will go through to ensure her children’s survival, as well as how various individuals react to extreme life or death situations.

Bird Box’s similarities to other films hinders it from hitting its mark.

I love when movies have those extra layers of depth to their story; it makes for interesting discussions and often times allows filmmakers to take a familiar genre and give us an unfamiliar angle that feels new. However, while Bird Box is a captivating movie in its own right, it fails to reach anywhere near groundbreaking. The The story immediately reminded me of a cinema “cocktail” of various movie plots, a spoonful of The Happening, a dash of The Road. At one point I was even reminded of a particular season of The Walking Dead. However the most glaring similarities can be made to the 2018 John Krasinki film A Quiet Place.

To be fair, it is important to know that Bird Box is based on the 2014 novel of the same name and therefore actually predates 2018’s A Quiet Place, which to my knowledge only exists in movie form. I would be willing to bet that after the success of Krasinki’s movie, Netflix as well as other studios have been on the lookout for similar stories to adapt into their own films.

Having similar themes isn’t necessarily a bad thing as movies today are almost always a variation of something that’s already come before. The problem here is that Bird Box is too similar and not executed as well.

Both Bird Box and A Quiet Place are about invading creatures who’s primary strategy for human extinction involves essentially taking away one of our senses. Both movies use their end of the world narrative to say something about the importance of family. The difference is despite Sandra Bullock’s outstanding performance with Bird Box, especially in the last act, A Quiet Place had more of an emotional impact for me. I do think it’s possible that A Quiet Place resonated more with me as a man as it focuses more on a father whereas Bird Box focuses on a mother. I did see some of my friends who are moms post on social media that Bird Box struck them for that very reason. However I still feel that with A Quiet Place, the cinematography, the use of the creatures, how the family adapts, as well as the overall emotional narrative is just better executed.

I think what will ultimately be the line in the sand as to how much you enjoy this movie is what you’ve seen or read first. If you haven’t seen any of the previous mentioned films, Bird Box will probably blow your mind and you won’t understand why there is anyone who doesn’t think it was superb. However, if you have seen the others (especially A Quiet Place) then you’ll most likely feel as I did: less like you’re treading through unexplored territory and something more similar to a well traveled path. Maybe that isn’t fair but it’s inevitable; there are too many similarities with films that have come before it.

I’m curious to know how in depth the book goes, because another problem I had is the film changes the creatures’ tactics halfway through, but never explains why. The creatures don’t have any type of physical form. They can’t go inside or seem to be able to physically hurt people themselves. Without spoiling, there are some individuals you meet halfway through the movie, and you never get anything more than these people exist and are roaming around. It just ends up feeling forced and that their only purpose is to create some type of physical danger to motivate the characters to leave the house in order to drive the story on to its conclusion.

What I liked.

Sandra Bullock is without a doubt the best thing about Bird Box. If this film had someone else in the role I don’t think it would have gained as much popularity as it has. You rarely see her in these types of thrillers that border on horror and it’s a shame because she’s excellent in them. She’s excellent in everything, honestly. Her best moments here revolve around her interactions with the children and the arc she has during their river trip as she thinks back on past events.

The rest of the cast is also a higher caliber than I would expect for a Netflix movie with some bigger names attached including Sarah Paulson, John Malcovich and B.D. Wong. The performances were overall great, but individuals do make the typical horror movie mistakes and I found myself saying out loud repeatedly: “You should have listened to John Malcovich!”

Even though I bashed the story earlier compared to A Quiet Place, by itself it’s still an entertaining movie and I enjoyed the way it was told through the two different timelines: the start of the “invasion” being told through flashbacks while the present shows Bullock and her two kids floating down a river blind folded. Their background and where they are trying to get to is slowly revealed through the flashbacks. From what I understand, this is how the book reads as well.

Final Verdict

Bird Box is carried by the talent of Sandra Bullock and is a decent movie. I wish it could be enjoyed in a bubble, however due to previous films it is hindered by feeling almost entirely unoriginal. The bottom line is if you haven’t seen movies like The Happening or A Quiet Place, you will love Bird Box. If you have then you can still enjoy it but the novelty of the plot won’t work as well as the movie wants it to. I’m glad I watched it, but I’m also glad I didn’t pay for tickets to see this in a theater. I would not have felt like I got my money’s worth. Netflix is the perfect place for this movie to live and is worth a view.


Cinematic Quality: 3 out of 5

Fun Factor: 3 out of 5

Worth watching on Netflix: 4 out of 5

Re-watch Value: 2 out of 5

Overall Score: 3 chicken tender boxes out of 5

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review

Directors: Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr., Rodney Rothman

Voice Actors: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfield, Liev Schreiber, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Nicholas Cage, Lily Tomlin, Kimiko Glenn

Runtime: 2hrs Rated: PG

Watch the trailer here

Due to the sheer number of movies, video games, and cartoons that have been released, Spider-Man is one of the most well known superheroes in pop culture history. Considering the huge success of the recent Tom Holland version of the character along with the excellent PS4 game, there wasn’t really a reason to expect an additional take on the character to come out any time soon.

Then, out of seemingly nowhere came Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse. My interest in this film started out moderate as I thought the trailer was pretty good and hoped it would be half way decent considering Sony’s hit or miss history with Spidey. By the time the movie released my excitement was building as I had seen all of the overwhelmingly positive early buzz. Even then I still had no idea how much fun this movie would actually be. Not only is this hands down the best animated movie of the year, but it’s also fair to throw it into the running as one of the best superhero films of the year, period. I would even go as far as to say that this is one of my favorite Spider-Man movies ever.

This movie is a blast for all ages.

Don’t let this being an animated film fool you into thinking Spider-Verse is targeted solely at kids; there is more than enough packed into the film to keep everyone thoroughly entertained. Even if you normally shy away from animated films, do yourself a favor and give this one a try while it’s still in theaters as the big screen is undoubtedly the movie’s intended format. (If you have kids just use them as an excuse to see it…I won’t tell). 

Spider-Verse tells the story of Miles Morales, a fan favorite from the comics, who takes over the mantle of Spider-Man in an alternate timeline of the Marvel universe most people will be familiar with. In this version, things get out of control when an elaborate device used by the Kingpin, Wilson Fisk backfires and brings different versions of Spider-Man from other alternate universes to Miles’ timeline by accident. Once assembled together,  the team of Spider-People have to stop Kingpin as well as a host of other villains in order to get back to their own timelines before it’s too late. This is a comic book plot through and through.

The animation is unlike anything you’ve seen before.

First and foremost though, I have to talk about the style of the animation; it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in a film before. The creative team actually created new techniques, taking inspiration from vintage comic printing methods to create a vibrant world that feels like a comic book come to life. No, actually it feels like several comic books being mashed together into one gorgeous story and then brought to life. The screen often divides into multiple comic book style panels, thought balloons and caption boxes appear in scenes, and sound effect words pop up such as the “thwip” sound of web swinging. We even get to see the famous squiggly lines that symbolize Spider-Man’s “spidey sense” going off. I recommend if you’re able to, see this on an IMAX screen. I rarely say that for a movie but having the largest screen possible will add to the visual scope of the movie.

Literally the only negative I can come up with for the entire movie is that as a side effect of the art style, there are some scenes where the foreground/background looks out of focus or distorted. It can make it difficult to see what’s going on at times but never actually ruined a scene for me. For a brief moment I did think I had accidentally stumbled into a 3D showing of the movie. I heard somewhere that the out of focus effect was intentional and meant to showcase the repercussions of multiple universes colliding. It all sounds cool, but it still takes a min to get used to and could be jarring for some. 

This is 100% a comic book story, but better executed than many live action films.

The story is well executed and never failed to keep me entertained or engaged with what was coming next. The 2 hour run time flies by, and if anything I would have been fine if the movie was just a bit longer. This is Miles’ story and focuses on him growing into his unique powers as Spider-Man. We get a good look into his family dynamic and what that means for this Spider-Man. There are also creative twists on some of Spidey’s well known villains that helps to keep things feeling familiar yet new. 

While the movie is entertaining for all ages, there are some very positive messages for kids and is a great family film. It also can’t be understated the importance of bringing an African American/Latino Spider-Man to the big screen. What I liked most of all about this was that no one made a big deal about it; actually I’m pretty sure Miles’ race is never even brought up by anyone in the movie. He just is. Miles becomes the Spider-Man of this timeline and it’s great seeing the hero from his unique perspective and personality.

The cast is an all star, stellar line up with literally everyone involved giving excellent performances. Nothing feels “phoned in” and each Spider-Man or Woman has their time to shine with their own distinct personalities that are enjoyable in their own ways. Each gets a unique version of the same introduction which is perfectly executed; giving the exact information you need to know for each. Much of the humor in the film comes from taking these very different Spider-Men and forcing them to temporarily co-exist. I’m not sure who thought of it but Nic Cage as Spider-Man Noir was a stroke of genius.

Speaking of humor, Spider-Verse is jam packed with intelligent comedy that will have you laughing from start to finish. So many moments do such a great job of subverting what you expect to happen in simple yet hilarious ways such as Miles’ reaction to being bitten. Jake Johnson as “Peter B. Parker” does a fantastic job delivering the quipy lines you’d expect from Spider-Man. Johnson isn’t really someone I would have thought of to play Parker, but he brings a wit and sarcasm to the role that reminds me of his character in the show New Girl and now I don’t know how I never saw the possibility before.

There are a ton of villains in this movie; each one is not only visually creative but also has a unique twist on how you may be used to seeing them. It would have been nice if the villains had a similar introduction to what the heroes received, telling the audience why the Green Goblin is a giant monster or who the heck is Hammerhead. The lack of these intros doesn’t hurt the movie, I just think those who don’t read comics will be interested to know more. Because this is an animated film, the fight scenes are also much more elaborate than what you might normally see in a live action film. The screen explodes in action and color in true comic book fashion.

The music score is fantastic and gives as much character to the film as the visuals; it not only fits with Miles’ overall style and personality but it also does an excellent job of building the excitement and tension of each scene. I enjoyed the overall sound so much that I’ve added it to my work playlist rotation.

A couple final thoughts.

Maybe it’s the fact that this is the first cameo I’ve seen since his passing, but the Stan Lee cameo is one of his most memorable; as heartwarming as it is funny.

There is an after credits scene at the very end, and while it may or may not have been hinting at a sequel, it was very funny and another example of how this movie subverts your expectations in hilarious ways.

Final Verdict

Spider-Man: Into the Spider verse is a near perfect superhero masterpiece, packed with equal amounts of humor, action, and heart. From the visuals to the music along with the exceptional voice acting and story, there is almost nothing negative I can say about this film. The only thing I can muster is the occasional “out of focus” look of some of the shots that may be annoying to some. There’s already talk of a sequel which I can’t wait for as I definitely want to jump back into this massively entertaining universe.


Cinematic Quality: 4.9 out of 5

Fun Factor: 5 out of 5

Worth the price of admission: 5 out of 5

Re-watch Value: 5 out of 5

Overall Score – 4.97 friendly universe hopping Spider-Peeps out of 5


Check out these great character posters for the film:

Aquaman Review

Director: James Wan

Cast: Jason Mamoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Wilson, Temuera Morrison

Runtime: 2hrs 23min Rated PG-13

Release date 12/21/18

Watch the trailer

As a card carrying DC fanboy, I’ve been anxiously awaiting Aquaman, hopeful that it would be a home run for my favorite comic publishing house. The DC cinematic universe has been on shaky ground basically since it first began with Man of Steel in 2013. I have honestly enjoyed most of the films released, but Warner Bros just hasn’t been able to capture the hearts of the masses in a way that comes close to competing with Marvel.


Now, multiple rumors and reports that the studio may have officially killed the cinematic universe in its present form have left the future in question. Unfortunately, it seems like Warner Bros wants to continue making solo films, but is reluctant to make any promises towards continuing a shared universe of any kind for the time being.

However a big reason I was hopeful for Aquaman was the movie has had a lot of positive buzz from early screenings. If nothing else mobs of drooling women looking to stare at a shirtless Jason Mamoa for 2 hrs will hopefully help drive the box office numbers up. I don’t blame them at all…I get it. He’s dreamy…whatever.

Hopefully though, if the studio can get a couple wins under their belt like Wonder Woman, maybe they’ll put another Justice League movie back on the table down the road. They just desperately need a solid plan, take their time, and stick with it.

I got a chance to see the film about a week early, thanks to my incredible pregnant wife who saw the tickets go on sale through an Amazon Prime deal in the middle of the night while she couldn’t sleep. Yes, she is one of those drooling women I just mentioned, but I like to tell myself she bought the tickets thinking of me as well .

What you should know before watching Aquaman.

How the overall public will react to the movie remains to be seen, but I really had a fun time and enjoyed the heck out of Aquaman. It’s not a perfect film, but it is an entertaining over the top, fantasy adventure epic that is a worthy counterpart to 2017’s Wonder Woman.

I’ve seen people online trying to rank or compare these two solo films and now having seen both I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. Wonder Woman and Aquaman are polar opposite films that will resonate with people differently, depending on what they are looking for in a movie. I put them on equal footing; each for their own charm they bring. I will say though that I definitely had more fun watching Aquaman than I did Justice League.


To make sure you go into Aquaman with the proper mindset, make sure to check reality at the theater door. This movie is pure escapism with ancient under water civilizations and creatures who do fantastic things. I know that may be obvious from the trailer, but movie goers are used to Marvel heavily grounding most of their heroes in reality to make them relatable to the average Joe. DC usually takes the opposite approach and Aquaman is prime example.

This feels more like a comic book story with all the stereotypical comic book troupes you can imagine. That isn’t a bad thing; because frankly I don’t want all of my superhero movies to be exactly the same. Sometimes I want to watch a superhero figure out how he’s going to juggle paying his bills and fighting crime, but other times I’m just in the mood to watch Khal Drogo ride a giant seahorse into battle and kick some underwater ass.

While there are still some noticeable differences, Warner Bros has definitively changed the tone of their superhero films since Batman v. Superman, inching as close as possible to the lighthearted Marvel brand. Aquaman feels even lighter in tone than Justice League but still maintains a good balance of dramatic and comedic moments that I think more people will respond positively to.

Mamoa’s Arthur is quite different from the comics; with a personality closer to a surfer, bar hopping, biker bro than a royal king of the seven seas. He also has several one liners that are somewhat reminiscent of a Schwarzenegger movie; most are corny or only funny because of how lame they are such as the “permission to come aboard?” line from the trailer. That line has to win the award for most shameless double entendre in a comic book film.


Many of the film’s dramatic moments work but some are pushed so far over the top that I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness. For example, you can tell that director James Wan really likes to use slow motion; it is used entirely too much throughout the movie. Often times you can tell the movie is trying to use slow motion to make a particular shot more dramatic, but it only succeeds in making it so ridiculously campy that you can’t help but laugh.

Another minor issue is the pacing of the movie and how it incorporates some of the flashback scenes near the beginning is a bit jarring. It’s a bit confusing how Arthur is trained by  Willem Dafoe’s character when he’s clearly not allowed to have contact with Atlantis. Eventually enough scenes go by where you finally piece together that he’s been sneaking to the surface to train Arthur, but it’s just poorly communicated.

The sights and sounds of Aquaman.

Visually, the movie looks incredible and reminds me of an underwater version of Avatar in many ways. Colors are bright and varied and your eyes constantly roam the screen trying to take in all the details. Yes, the movie is about 90% CGI, which may be a turnoff to some, but it’s done well and there’s honestly just no way to do this type of movie with practical effects.

The most interesting visual elements are seeing how underwater animals have been adapted into mounts for the different armies to ride. It was an interesting mix of traditional animals such as seahorses and sharks along with more fictional creatures.

One effect that is slightly annoying is whenever someone talks underwater; the voice has a sort of muffled, distorted sound. I get why they did it, and hearing it sounds cool in theory, but it also made it hard to catch what people are saying at times. This is especially true for Patrick Wilson’s Ocean Master who has the most Shakespearean lines out of anyone by far. I can appreciate the “realism” of what talking underwater sounds like but in a movie that takes so many liberties with reality I don’t think it was necessary or maybe could have had a little less of a distortion.

The movie does a decent job “de-aging” a few of the characters for flashback scenes. I think Marvel has done a slightly better job using the technology, but it’s still very believable here.

The fight scenes look great and are convincing, especially the minimal CGI fights that take place on land. The movie does a great job of mixing CGI with practical that makes for some great visuals you might see in a video game or comic book. I also enjoyed how many of the scenes zoom out and pan around to let you see all the action in a single shot. There’s some particular scenes in Italy that come to mind that were really fun to watch.

I was pleasantly surprised at how comic book accurate the costumes were in the movie, especially Black Manta. That guy has a gigantic helmet in the comics and it’s spot on here. The movie hilariously tries to hint at a plausible reason as to why the helmet is so big, however the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. It doesn’t matter the reason though; I’m glad they kept the designs as faithful to the comics as they did. Hinted in the trailer, we also get to see Aquaman’s traditional orange and green armor towards the end and it looks fantastic. I’m sure they will change it, but I’d be happy if he kept this look for future films.

Check out pics of the costumes on screen vs how they look in the comics:











The music score throughout the movie was excellent and paired well with the scenes. However, there’s a couple times where artist recorded songs are mixed in, such as a weird version of Toto’s Africa by Pitbull and it just comes across as silly and forced. You can tell these songs are only in the movie because they were required to be fit in somewhere.

Casting

The casting choices were all excellent. I can’t think of anyone that felt out of place or stands out as a poor choice. The only performance that was borderline for me was Yahya Abdul-Mateen as Black Manta. It wasn’t a horrible performance, he was just playing a very 1 dimensional comic book villian who did comic book villain things. His killer Black Manta suit though more than makes up for it though.

Jason Mamoa is without a doubt the best choice to play Arthur and exactly what the character needed to go from the most “useless” Justice League member to a bad ass warrior king.

I liked Amber Heard’s performance as Mera. She looks spot on with the comics as already mentioned; the only slight negative is her red hair is very obviously a wig; it could have been done better. I can get past that though (wink wink). Dolph Lundgren also did a great job as Mera’s dad, King Nereus.

Patrick Wilson carried himself well as the dick step brother villian Ocean Master and Nicole Kidman was a nice surprise as Arthur’s mom Queen Atlanna.

On a side note, it’s funny to me how many times in Marvel movies the villains don’t go by their comic book names or don’t really talk about it. However 9 times out of 10 in a DC movie you can bet the villain is going to tell you their name: “Now I’m (dramatic pause) BLACK MANTA” or “call me (more dramatic pause) OCEAN MASTER.” The only thing missing in these moments is the dramatic music afterwards “dun dun DUUUN.” I think it’s ridiculous and corny and I love it.

The after credits scene is “meh.”

There is one mid credits scene, and while it does hint at the possibility of a sequel, there is absolutely no mention of anyone outside of Aquaman’s story. Actually, the only mention to anything in the entire movie is a quick mention of Steppenwolf at the beginning of the film.

The credits scene is fine and I won’t spoil it but it’s difficult not to be disappointed that they wasted such a great opportunity to further tease the “Legion of Doom” angle we saw at the end of Justice League. I really wanted to see something along the lines of Lex Luthor and Deathstroke meeting Black Manta and welcoming him into the fold.

Having the individual villains of each Justice League member slowly band together to form their own league over the course of multiple solo movies is not only a fantastic idea, it’s also one of the few plot ideas Marvel hasn’t brought to their cinematic universe yet and would give them the edge they’ve been looking for. It’s honestly further proof the Warner Bros execs have no idea what they are doing with the DC brand and are sadly still trying to piece together a game plan.

Final Verdict

Aquaman is a flawed but entertaining superhero fantasy adventure. This is a visually stunning popcorn movie where you can enjoy the ride as long as you take it for what it is and not over analyze its flaws. Most notably are the times the movie takes itself so seriously it crosses over into unitentional comedy. At the end of the day, this is a fun comic book movie that Warner Bros will hopefully be able to count as a successful step to getting the DC cinematic Universe back on its feet.


Cinematic Quality: 3.5 out of 5

Fun Factor: 4.5 out of 5

Worth the price of admission: 3.5 out of 5

Re-watch Value: 4 out of 5

Overall Score: 3.8 Aqua-bro’s out of 5



Creed II Review

Director: Steven Caple Jr.

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu , Phylicia Rashād

Runtime: 2hr 10min Rated PG-13

Watch the trailer

Creed II is essentially the 8th film in the Rocky franchise and continues the story of Adonis; son of legendary boxer Apollo Creed.

After proving himself in the last movie as a boxer worthy to be taken seriously, Adonis has now quickly fought his way to the top of the boxing world. This gains the attention of an old family foe from Rocky IV; the Russian Ivan Drago who has been secretly keeping tabs on Adonis’ career. Ivan soon arrives in Philadelphia to challenge Creed to fight his son Viktor in an effort to exact revenge and and gain national redemption for losing to Rocky 30 years prior.

Even with this historic match up, Creed II isn’t quite able to land the same punch the first movie had. Unfortunately, Ryan Cooglar wasn’t able to return to direct the sequel and after watching Creed I think that could very well be the difference. The attention Cooglar gained from directing Creed no doubt helped him land the movie he is currently most known for; Black Panther.

However, despite its shortcomings (sequels are rarely better than the original anyway), Creed II still has a tremendous amount of heart that makes the movie enjoyable and worth watching. 

Creed II’s biggest obstacles are in its pacing and story decisions. The movie feels painfully slow at times, making the slightly over 2hr runtime feel much longer. There’s nothing wrong with a slow burn story, as long as it keeps you engaged. Creed II only manages to do that part of the time. 

The majority of the time the movie ends up feeling predictable, formulaic and anticlimactic as it fails to make you forget that this is the 8th movie and you know exactly how things will go.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad film; only that it breaks absolutely zero new ground…other than to maybe show a new perspective on the Drago family. 

It also felt weird to me that the movie makes such a small deal out of Adonis becoming champion early on. This is what his goal has ultimately been since the last movie; to be like his dad, to be better than his dad. However the movie just wants to push past that moment to get to the main event: Creed VS Drago. Only Tessa Thopmson’s character seems to grasp the importance of the achievement, telling Adonis after winning his title fight; “Do you know what you’ve done?!” 

Sure, Drago vs Creed is exciting and the revenge angle from Ivan works well enough. The movie puts more focus on the legacy Adonis’ will leave for future generations of fans as a champion, but the continued pressure from Viktor wanting to fight Adonis feels forced at times.

I think the scenes would have been much more dramatic if Viktor had already won the title and was literally the wall standing between Adonis and boxing greatness. Viktor would have been able to easily gain the title with his ability. The idea that Ivan had been training his son for 20+ years to be able to redeem the family name but could only do that by defeating Apollo’s son for the title is a bit far fetched. Why would’nt he seek redemption sooner? It’s not like he would have known that Adonis would eventually become champion. Hell, he wouldnt have even known he existed before the last movie. Alos, wouldn’t it make more sense for him to have a grudge against Rocky and his son? Oh well. What we’re given isn’t bad, but it could have been so much better.

Team Creed

Michael B. Jordan does an excellent job once again playing Adonis. It’s clear from watching him fight and train in the movie that he has put a lot of hard work into the role. He looks on par with Stallone’s physique in his prime.

The training montage in the desert, while a random location, is arguably one of the best montages of the franchise. It’s one of the most realistic and believable sequences in the franchises’ history. Maybe I’m crazy, but I swear I could tell a difference in Jordan physically by the end.

Tessa Thompson is equally great to watch as the pair continue to face obstacles and challenges together both inside the ring and out. She brings a beautiful balance of strength and vulnerability to the role.

Starting with the previous film, Rocky has now become more of a supporting character; continuing his role as trainer and father figure for Donnie.

Rocky’s personality as portrayed by Stallone is also still fun to watch after 30 years. He’s just a simple guy with a big heart and the movie does a great job of Rocky and Adonis pushing each other to get past their own obstacles.

Sly has said that Creed II is his last time playing Rocky Balboa. If it truly is then I’m happy with how the character has wrapped up. This movie succeeds in giving the character the best possible conclusion after everything he’s been through the last 40 years of Rocky movies.

Team Drago

Lundgren has noticebly more dialogue than in Rocky IV as we get to dive a little deeper into the Drago family’s motivation and what happened to them since Ivan’s defeat to Rocky. You can somewhat sympathize with them, especially Viktor; honestly I felt bad for them more than hated them as villians.

With all the ridiculousness in world news the last few years, I think the movie made a smart choice framing this as a Creed vs Drago matchup while mostly avoiding the US vs Russia themes Rocky IV conveyed. If anything there’s more of a Drago vs Russia story running through the film. 

Florian Munteanu plays Viktor Drago and is actually an amateur fighter in real life. He doesn’t say much (The Drago men apparently don’t waste words when they’re boxing) but this guy is an absolute monster; 6ft 4in, 235lbs of pure muscle. He was the perfect choice for the role. Michael B. Jordan’s physique is top notch in this movie, but there’s this moment where Adonis punches Viktor in the gut and it looks like he had just hit a brick wall. It was a great unspoken signal that Creed was in trouble.

The fight choreography is top notch. 

The hits taken in this movie look as real as I think I have seen in a boxing movie or in any movie in recent memory for that matter. The choreography and camera angles are accented with well executed CGI and it all looks very realistic for the most part. There are a couple punches that you watch a close up as they land (like the one above), and they look so good you can almost feel it.

Final Verdict

Creed II from start to finish is 150% predictable. Combine that with some pacing issues and this movie fails to surpass its predecessor. However the movie’s huge heart and style still makes it worth your time: watch when you’re in the mood for a classic underdog story. The movie also gives Rocky a nice farewell…provided this actually is his last film as the Italian Stallion.


Cinematic Quality: 4 out of 5

Fun Factor: 3 out of 5

Worth the price of admission: 3 out of 5

Re-watch Value: 3 out of 5

Overall Score – 3.25 high energy training montages out of 5

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

Director: David Yates 

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Jude Law, Alison Sudol, Zoe Kravitz, 

Runtime: 2 hrs 13 mins Rated: PG-13

Watch the trailer here

Crimes of Grendelwald is the next installment in the Fantastic Beasts corner of the Potterverse, and continues the adventures of “magizoologist” Newt Scamander during the 1920s as the sinister Gellert Grendelwald rises to the height of his power. 

The Story – Not the film for newbies to jump on. 

First and foremost if you’re new to J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world, this is frankly not a good movie to start watching. The story picks up after the events of the last movie and absolutely no time is wasted on recapping what has transpired so far. I am glad that my wife and I decided to re-watch the previous movie a couple nights earlier and recommend it as it definitely helped us stay on track with the sequel.

In addition to no summary, this movie makes enough references from previous Harry Potter movies to fill the Room of Requirement – see what I did there? So while it’s not required to enjoy the movie, I would say that it’s at least a good idea to have seen the Harry Potter films in order to get the most out of the Fantastic Beasts sequels – especially this one. 

The story itself is entertaining, however you should be aware going in that it does move a bit slow through several sections. That’s not to say there isn’t a fair share of action, because there definitely is. The movie kicks off with a great action scene. However, there is a lot of exposition and dialogue through out the movie as well. I felt it was interesting and worked well, but not everyone wants that in a movie so just be aware. You will need to pay attention.

The reason for the slower burn is due most likely to the fact that Rowling is writing the screenplay for each film since there aren’t already published books to draw from. I think it’s awesome she’s able to do this, but when you have a writer who’s accustomed to telling a story over the course of an entire novel having to shrink that to a screen play for a 2 and 1/2 hour movie, it’s inevitable that it will feel more like watching a visual novel at times. 

The movie isn’t perfect – but don’t let that spoil the fun. 

One of the big criticisms for this film I’ve seen is that it creates multiple plot holes and timeline blunders as it seeks to expand and give depth to the universe. Most are fair issues, while others do seem more like the disappointed grumblings of super fans. It reminds me, on a much smaller scale, of the controversy that recently rocked the Star Wars fandom with the release of The Last Jedi.

When any universe is as beloved as giants like Harry Potter, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, it’s going to get held to a higher standard by its fans. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact it serves to keep pressure on the studios to continue making quality films.

However, the downside is that a fan’s expectations can also make it far more difficult to enjoy a perfectly good movie. It happens all the time. Fans envision what they want to happen in a movie before even seeing it. When those expectations aren’t met people start feeling let down or even cheated out of an experience they feel they deserve. The problem is, there are millions of fans associated with each of these properties; each with oftentimes drastically different expectations for how the franchise should continue. There is simply no way to please everyone.

My best advice for getting the most out of this film (or any film honestly) is two-fold:

First: go in with as little specific expectations on what you want the movie to accomplish as possible. Let the movie hit you, and then see how it makes you feel.

Second: Keep in mind that no matter how long you have been a fan of the movie or book series, it is not yours or my story. Let Rowling tell her story and realize that this is only movie 2 out of 5; anything can still happen. If something doesn’t sit well with you at first, ask yourself if it’s because it legitimately doesn’t work in the movie or is it more that you personally wanted something else to happen?

It is awesome that the creator of this universe is still getting to tell the story the way she wants to. So few authors get this much control over how their characters portrayed in film and I hope it continues.

My wife and I have read all the Harry Potter books and seen all the movies more times than I can count, and we both thouroughly enjoyed Crimes of Grendelwald. I went in blind and then afterwards reading other fan’s articles about plot holes, timeline changes, and other grievances after the movie was interesting but didn’t alter the fact that I enjoyed the movie. 

I will say that the Fantastic Beast movies will most likely suffer the same fate as other franchises that have tried to continue the magic of their predecesors. They will be enjoyable and have their own place in the universe, but will never be quite as good as the originals. 

Visually, this is the best looking film yet, and the opening scene does a great job of hooking you into the film with all its spectacle. There’s also something special and appealing about combining wizards with the style and flair of 1920’s. It worked well in the first film and it does so again here. 

Characters

Newt Scamander – Eddie Redmayne

Eddie Redmayne continues to play the charmingly awkward Newt Scamander. It felt like he had just a bit more of an arc in this movie which was nice. By the end of the film, it felt like Newt had grown as a character. 

Gellert Grendelwald – Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp has moved from that actor who plays wacky characters to something more of a controversial figure with accusations of domestic abuse against his ex, Amber Heard. And while those accusations seem most likely true, I have no interest in getting into that in this post. I’ll only talk about how Depp’s performance as an actor was in this film. As a general rule, I try to stay away from diving too deep into what’s going on in actors’ personal lives. If we knew every detail of what goes on behind closed doors there would probably be very few of them we could stomach.

That being said, just know that he will play a large role in the films from here going forward, so if you find him morally repulsive and have his picture up on a dartboard somewhere it may be difficult enjoying the rest of the Fantastic Beast movies.

Strictly from a performance standpoint, Depp is of course excellent as the sinister dark wizard Grindelwald. Somehow even in 2018 the look and style of the character feels original and unlike any movie bad guy I’ve seen.

The best villains are the ones that believe they are in fact the hero of the story and have motivations you can at least somewhat sympathize with. That fits Grendelwald perfectly. He believes he is fighting the injustice of the magical government and begins to win followers to his cause. He’s an interesting villain, but also manages to be evil while not just following the same steps we’ve already seen with Voldemort. 

Jacob Kowalski – Dan Fogler

Jacob is still the goofy yet endearing muggle who’s just a couple steps behind everyone else. His relationship with Queenie (Alison Sudol) gets a fair amount of screen time as they struggle to make their “mixed” relationship as a muggle and wizard work. Dan Fogler adds a lot of personality to the character and makes you root for him. 

Albus Dumbledore – Jude Law

I thought it was a puzzling pick at first, but Jude Law won me over and is actually an excellent choice for a young Albus Dumbledore. Maybe not so much the voice, but watching his expressions during his scenes looked like you were watching a a younger Michael Gambon – the actor who has portrayed the character the longest. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in the upcoming sequels. 

Credence Barebone – Ezra Miller

The only one I can’t seem to get past; Ezra Miller just doesn’t quite work in his role to me. Maybe I’m just still bitter over him being cast as the Flash in Justice League? He’s really hot right now in Hollywood, but I just don’t get it. The character has a big reveal in this movie and after I found myself wishing they had chosen someone, anyone else to be that person. 

Leta Lastrange – Zoe Kravitz

I was also surprised and a little disappointed at the direction Leta went in this film. It is hard not to think she could have had more use in a different direction, but I guess I’ll go back and re-read my advice from earlier. Especially with 3 films remaining; anything can still happen. 

Final Verdict

Crimes of Grendelwald is an enjoyable sequel to Fantastic Beasts, but in the end serves mainly as a setup for the films to come. There are tons of references to catch, and the movie looks spectacular visually. Ultimately, following and investing in the movie’s cast of characters, once again created by Rowling is the movie’s strongest selling point. 


Cinematic Quality: 4 out of 5

Fun Factor: 3.5 out of 5

Worth the price of admission: 3.5 out of 5

Re-watch Value: 3 out of 5

Overall Score – 3.5 dark wizards rising out of 5

A Star is Born Review

Directed by: Bradley Cooper

Cast: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliot, Dave Chappelle

Rated: R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse.

Run-time: 2 hours 16 mins

Watch the trailer

Music is essentially any note between twelve octaves. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over. All that the artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes.

A Star is Born hooked me right away with it’s fantastic trailer and I knew I wanted to step outside of my normal movie tastes to see this romantic drama. Watching the trailer, it hinted that it would have much more to say than a standard love story between two people. I also appreciate trailers that don’t spoil the entire plot of the movie, as there are few in recent memory that don’t.

I’m going to go out of my way to not spoil parts of this movie, because I think it has more of an impact the less you know from the start. At it’s core is the romance between famous musician, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and an undiscovered but very talented musician named Ally (Lady Gaga).

The love that the two share becomes a dramatic whirlwind journey, filled with ups and downs. It succeeds in painting a picture of what life behind the scenes for many famous musicians has probably been like. As the story unfolds, it will most likely be difficult to watch for many as a raw nerve is hit that has been in music news the last few years. This honestly is the biggest warning for A Star is Born; that it is not going to end the way you may think or want.

That being said, that’s what makes cinema powerful; when it has the ability to grab hold of you, show you a point of view you haven’t experience before and then make you feel something for it. The movie may end, but there is a discussion that still goes on. That is exactly what this film does.

This is actually the 4th telling of this story. The original released in 1937, staring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. Since then there has been a musical in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, another remake in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and again now in 2018. I havent seen the previous versions, but seeing the quality of this newest one makes me want to check them out.

The music is top notch throughout. This isn’t surprising considering some of the names attached, including Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson, who was Bradley Cooper’s music advisor.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are the duet you didn’t know you needed.

It is definitely something special watching the chemistry of Cooper and Gaga on the screen together.

There is no denying that Bradley Cooper is a fantastic actor. Whether he’s portraying a famous musician, a hungover friend, an American sniper, or even a genetically enhanced talking raccoon with a proclivity for machine guns, he gives everything he has to his craft, every time. However, A Star is Born is Cooper’s debut as a director, and it’s clear he is just as talented no matter which side of the camera he’s on. He didn’t stop there though; he also co-wrote the screenplay as well as some of the music. He even sang his character’s songs in the movie. Cooper literally poured all of himself into this movie and it shows. I actually forgot several times that Cooper isn’t actually a musician outside of the film.

Lady Gaga has the same effect, but in reverse. She is unquestionably talented as a musician. With this role, she has successfully expanded out of her comfort zone into acting, giving a fantastic performance. In many ways, her character Ally feels like a version of Gaga in real life. She’s defied and shattered the rules on what a hit singer and song writer is supposed to look like, and Ally struggles during the film with the same image stereotypes trying to be forced on her.

For such a world renown artist, it’s surprising how much down to earth innocence she brings to her character. She also is able to express a tremendous amount of emotion just through her eyes alone. I hope she continues to act, as she gives a powerful and moving performance here.

Sam Elliot has a supporting role as Jack’s older brother and manager, Bobby that compliments the tone of the film. He’s such an iconic acting legend that it doesn’t matter how much screen time he has; he always gives a great performance.

Jack was born much later in their parent’s lives and the two brothers have a contentious relationship. Neither one enjoy bringing up the pains of their past, but there’s one moment towards the end of the film where the two characters finally have a brief moment of honesty and it is a powerful scene.

Final Verdict

The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is the driving force of A Star is Born. The movie has powerful music and acting that is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. Make sure you have your tissues close by.


Cinematic Quality: 4 out of 5

Enjoyment Factor: 4.5 out of 5

Worth the price of admission: 4 out of 5

Re-watch Value: 3.5 out of 5 (depends on how you like your movies to end)

Overall Score – 4 chart topping songs out of 5.

Venom: Movie Review

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate

Run-time: 2hr and 20 min Rated PG-13

Check out the trailer here

Venom has been a “dark horse” of sorts pretty much since it was announced a few years ago. The thought of Sony making a stand alone film with one of Spider-Man’s most popular foes without everyone’s favorite wall-crawler even making an appearance seemed destined for failure. The movie’s outlook improved only slightly when the talented Tom Hardy was announced as taking on the lead role of investigative journalist turned alien powered anti-hero: Eddie Brock.

Fast forward to 2018 and we are now into the third week of its theatrical run. Despite opening to a more than expected thrashing by movie critics, something unexpected has happened. Venom is actually a damn fun time.

As word of mouth spreads, Venom has broken records and become a box office hit (currently having raked in over $400 million).

I went in expecting to be disappointed with a mediocre action CGI-fest and was shocked at how much I enjoyed the film. Not only that, but I’m also looking forward to the already announced sequel.

Let me be clear: Venom is light years behind 95% of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a clunky story that suffers from several issues.

Despite that, the movie makes you look past all of its flaws with a relatable anti-hero and his strange but endearing bond with Venom that is entertaining to see develop. It’s a solid attempt on Sony’s part of bringing the character to the big screen and a hell of a lot better than the garbage we were given, shoe-horned in at the end of 2007’s Spider-Man 3 (I’m looking at you, Topher Grace):

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It’s no secret that Hardy is a brilliant actor and he was a smart choice for Eddie Brock. While I’m a huge fan of his work normally, I was definitely questioning the decision based on the first trailer, as the accent he was going for didn’t seem to work nor did he come across as a believable reporter.

Now, having seen the movie, I think a lot of that was a result of poor editing choices in the trailer. He feels like a much better fit in the actual film, minus a few scenes, and actually has a sort of awkward charm that helps make his character relatable and endearing. The first trailer also butchered the pronounciation of “symbiote,” but I was releaved to see they fixed it for the film.

Interestingly, he’s also the voice of Venom, proving once again he’s the cinematic master of weird voices. Hardy explained in an interview how they created and implemented Venom’s voice into the scenes.

The relationship / bonding moments between Eddie and Venom are hands down the most enjoyable parts of the movie. The interactions are so fun that it’s a shame more time was devoted to pre-Venom setup and not more so to these moments.

This a long movie at 2hrs and 20 mins, but the time flies by. Another 15-20 more mins of Eddie and Venom time would not have been a bad thing.

The rest of the cast worked but could have been better. Riz Ahmed was a supreme dick as the villanous head of the “Life Foundation”, though he really never came across as menacing or as powerful as he was supposed to be. He’s just a dick…with money to waste on irrational science experiments.

Michelle Williams and Jenny Slate were fine, but could have been given more to do. Williams, who plays Eddie’s girlfriend, does have one awesome moment towards the 3rd act but by time you realize what’s happening, it’s over.

Riz Ahmed as Carlton Drake, head of the Life Foundation.

Jenny Slate as Dr Skirth.

Michelle Williams as Eddie’s girlfriend Anne Weying.

The action scenes are well done and there are a couple solid fights. A car chase involving Venom made for some great stunts and effects. I do think Venom would have benefited from an R rating. I understand that the studio wants to make as much money as possible, however this is another example where the more adult rating fits the character. Movies like Logan and Deadpool prove if done right, studios can still make tons of money with an R rating.

I think much of the negative reviews by critics comes from not really understanding the personality of the source material. Possibly, they went in expecting a dark and gritty film, almost bordering horror and didn’t know what to do with the hybrid action/comedy with an alien creature making childish jokes about eating people. He does have an off kilter sense of humor and some of Venom’s comedic lines were actually ripped straight from the comics:

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The plot is the movie’s biggest stumbling block. It isn’t terrible…but it isn’t amazing either. It feels like a trip back in time to a 90’s superhero flick. That may be in large part due to the director drawing heavily from the 1993 Venom comic arc “Lethal Protector.” The issue is this story features Spidey in the comics and you can tell Sony stumbled around trying to figure out how to redo the story without him. They actually did a respectable job all things considered, but it is hard not to think about how much better it could have been.

With the financial success of this one maybe the sequel could have a least a guest appearance from Spider-Man…if only long enough for Venom to gain his signature white symbol and ability to shoot his own version of webs.

There are two after credits scenes: the one at the very end is only worth watching if you’re interested in Sony’s upcoming “Into the Spider-Verse” Animated film as there’s a short clip for it.

I won’t spoil who the actor is, but the middle credits scene is where it’s at, teasing the villain of the Venom sequel: Cletus Kasady aka Carnage.

Final Verdict

Overall, while Venom could have been a much better movie and has several issues, the relationship between Eddie and Venom makes you forget the film’s short comings and just have a great time.


Cinematic Quality: 3.5 out of 5

Fun Factor: 4.5 out of 5

Worth the price of admission: 3.5 out of 5

Re-watch Value: 3.5 out of 5

Overall Score – 3.75 body part Venom snacks out of 5