Shazam: The Die Hard of the DCEU– A Movie Review

I’m only a casual fan of superhero movies in general, especially the DC movie lineup. I wasn’t really familiar with the character of Shazam beyond snippets of the superhero in shows like Young Justice. So it came as a surprise to me that not only was this movie entertaining and a breath of fresh air compared to the preceding DCEU movies, it had heart and a theme that many Catholics are familiar with: the importance of family and the battle of sin versus virtue.

Also, I’m calling it now: Even though this movie takes a lot of cues from Tom Hanks’s Big, I can already see this movie becoming the Die Hard of the DCEU: An action-packed, somewhat family friendly movie that people will watch as part of their Christmas movie marathon alongside Gremlins and Home Alone.

There’s gonna be spoilers from here on out, so if you just want my two cents, I will say that I highly recommend families see this movie. Just keep in mind that kids younger than, say, 10, might pick up on the bad language and have nightmares for weeks. The director has a background in horror movies and it really shows at times. You have been warned!

Yes, this movie does take place during the Christmas season, which calls into mind the main theme of family. Billy Batson’s main goal throughout the movie is finding his birth mother after the two of them got separated at a carnival. At the same time, he cuts himself off from really connecting with any foster family, including the group home he gets placed into. He would rather look out for number one because to him, as long as he has his mom, he won’t need anything else.

The foster family is awesome, even if I kinda wish they had more screen time so that the bond Billy develops is more believable. The main sibling that Billy connects with is Freddie, the genre-savvy superhero fanboy with a disability. He walks with a modern day crutch a la Tiny Tim. The good news is that he’s not a fragile flower the way Tiny Tim was. Instead, he helps Billy out with figuring out all the Shazam powers.

In the villain corner, we have Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. A lot of critics are saying that his character is unfortunately lacking in depth and I will agree that he doesn’t get any parallel journey the way, say, Killmonger did in Black Panther or even a personal connection with Billy other than knowing the power-granting wizard. However, Dr. Sivana does act as a foil to Billy in a thematic sense. Billy is given the powers of Shazam because he has a pure heart underneath his standoffish demeanor. Also, while Shazam is seen as a hero for the people, Dr. Sivana is literally possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins.

I mentioned before that the director’s background in horror films is alluded to in the movie. The Seven Deadly Sin demons are mostly where it shows. Even though these monsters are CGI and don’t get a lot of screentime, their grotesque, gargoyle-like appearances are the stuff of nightmares.

One thing that gets pointed out towards the third act of the movie is that Dr. Sivana’s primary demon, the one he never lets out, is Envy. Dr. Sivana’s envy is more than just a green-eyed monster. He hates the success of his abusive father and the fact that Billy got the wizard’s powers and seeks their ruin.

The “lively virtue” that combats envy (according to Catholic tradition) is kindness. Billy doesn’t start out as being a kind person all the time. But he’s kind when the situation calls for it, when it matters most. Also, Billy is surrounded by kindness in the form of his foster family. The foster parents unconditionally love him. They’ll discipline him for acting out, but at the same time, they always give him a seat at the dinner table. The siblings also help Billy find his mom.

It only makes sense that the way these demons are defeated is through Billy and his foster siblings. My favorite part of the movie was when Billy shared the wizard’s powers with his family because he trusts them enough to know they can help him fight. It was an awesome sight to see Freddy, Mary, Eugene, and Darla do battle with all the Seven Deadly Sins.

By the end of the movie, kindness wins over envy and Billy finally finds a sense of belonging that he used to push away. It cannot be any more “Christmas” than that aside from having a Nativity play!

Much Ado About Nothing (2012 Joss Whedon Version): A Movie Review

much ado

Did you know that after he filmed Avengers, Joss Whedon made a modern adaptation of a Shakespeare play? It’s not surprising when you look into Joss’s personal history with Shakespeare. The cast of Buffy would often talk about how during the summer, they would hang out at Joss’s house and read Shakespeare plays. (Incidentally, I would gladly eat a heart in the marketplace to be a fly in the wall for those summers.)

This adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing has a wonderful cast.  Whedon alumni actors include: Clark Gregg and Ashley Johnson from Avengers (Johnson was the cute blonde waitress that Captain America saved), Nathan Filion and Sean Maher from Firefly, Reed Diamon and Fran Kranz from Dollhouse, Tom Lenk from Buffy, and Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof from Angel. Angel fans, grab your tissues because this will be the only chance to see Fred Burkle and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce get the happy ending they deserve.

There are many interesting things in this adaptation, aside from the fact that it’s set in the modern era. First of all, the film was shot in black and white, giving it the feel of an Old Hollywood movie.  The beginning of the film showes that Benedick and Beatrice were involved, which would explain their coarse behavior towards each other. When Hero and Claudio meet, it’s implied that they knew each other before Claudio went off to war, hence why they rush to get married so quickly.

Speaking of the war, it’s never stated outright what kind of war Benedick and Claudio came from, but it’s implied that it’s a mafia war, as Don John and his cohort are seen being led to Leonato’s house in zip-tie handcuffs. The mafia war implication serves as a reason for why Hero allegedly sleeping with someone else before her wedding was such a big scandal. She was accused of sleeping with the enemy!

The film highlights the main story arc between Claudio and Hero, putting their relationship to the test. When Hero fakes her death, she is seen watching Claudio’s remorse at her funeral from a distance. In spite of the fact that Don John tried to ruin Hero’s reputation and relationship, Claudio was ready to atone for his idiocy. (They even have a joke that involves a black woman glaring at Claudio while he says “I’ll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope.”)

In spite of how people may perceive the play, this is actually the best adaptation I’ve seen. Putting my fangirl bias towards all things Whedon aside, there’s this tendency for people to think that Much Ado is essentially a romantic comedy. It isn’t. The implication that Benedick and Beatrice were involved, but never married is there in the text. When Don Pedro asks Beatrice about Benedick, she says:

Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave
him use for it, a double heart for his single one:
marry, once before he won it of me with false dice,
therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.

It also serves as the reason why she can’t marry Don Pedro. It’s a back-in-the-day thing, but since Benedick and Beatrice were involved, he had to marry her in order to make their relationship legit. It’s not a “boy meets girl” romantic comedy. It’s about two relationships that fell apart and need to be set right. Of course, since this is a modern adaptation, it’s also clear that Beatrice and Benedick still have feelings for each other.

Did I mention, by the way, that I love Amy Acker in this movie? She is a wonderful Beatrice and the chemistry she has with Alexis Denisof sizzles. They both have scenes that involve slapstick, the characters hiding or jumping around to eavesdrop on their friends’ conversations. It’s hilarious to watch. They may not have the strength that Kenneth Brannaugh and Emma Thompson put into their performances in the 1993 film adaptation of this play, but you can argue that this adaptation feels more intimate.

Even though not all the actors in this film have the nuance and gravity of classically trained Shakespeare actors (looking at you BriTanicK), the major actors all gave memorable performances. My favorite is Nathan Fillion’s version of Dogberry, who comes off like Richard Castle meets CSI Miami. He says all his lines with perfect seriousness, which makes scenes like this all the more hilarious:

Marry, sir, they have committed false report;
moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily,
they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have
belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust
things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.

Overall, I highly recommend Shakespeare fans and Joss Whedon fans to watch this film. I also recommend to listen to the commentaries on the DVD. There’s with just Joss Whedon, who explains how they filmed the whole thing at his house. He is amazing with commentaries. Then there’s the cast commentary which basically has you laughing from start to finish.

Now, can we have an adaptation of another Shakespeare play with the cast from Buffy? Like say, James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Gellar in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

In Defense of Silence

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To quote The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Silence shows both sides of this statement.

People who are familiar with the movies from Martin Scorsese are familiar with his themes on guilt, redemption, pride, morality. And usually these themes are portrayed in a gritty, dramatic, and even tragic light. There’s a controversy surrounding Silence because many people, including Bishop Robert Barron, mistakenly believe that the movie promotes apostasy. They forget that the story is historical fiction and that the story arc of Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues isn’t a heroic journey, but a tragedy.

Spoilers for Silence ensue.

I think people forget what a real tragedy is supposed to do. Many people love watching shows like House of Cards, How to Get Away with Murder, and Suits which all have villainous protagonists and the show essentially sides with them even as they endure lots of drama. The protagonists of these shows are not to be admired or imitated or even mourned over if they ever lose the power they gain.

A real tragedy, however, can be found in plays such as Hamlet or Macbeth and even in characters such as Iron Man, who lost his friends and loved ones due to his own hubris and paranoia. The character of Sebastiao Rodrigues is an authentic example of a tragic hero. We aren’t meant to imitate him, but mourn him and learn a lesson from his bad judgment.

In traditional tragedies, the central character has a tragic flaw. Macbeth’s is ambition, Othello’s is jealousy. Sebastiao Rodrigues’s flaw in the movie is implied to be vanity. There’s a moment in the movie where Fr. Rodrigues sees his reflection in the water and sees Jesus’s face as his own. His old mentor, Fr. Ferreira, berates him for daring to compare himself to Christ. Now while having a God complex is never a good thing, I think that Fr. Rodrigues was just trying to act in persona Christi. He had such a devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus that touched my heart.

I think Rodrigues’s real tragic flaw was an interior struggle with a spiritual darkness. This darkness only grew as he watched the defenseless villagers offer themselves up to protect him, to the point that many of them are tortured and eventually die for their beliefs.

When I looked up the era that the novel took place in, I learned that at the time, there weren’t many saints or texts outside of the Psalms that talked about spiritual darkness. It’s possible that Rodrigues didn’t know how to deal with the darkness because he never learned of anyone else who dealt with it. I’m also surprised that Psalm 88 isn’t mentioned, as I think that the Psalm captures Rodrigues’s interior struggle.

In his video review of Silence, Bishop Robert Barron compares the apostate priests to soldiers who defect to the enemy. I think what Bishop Barron forgot, however, is that many soldiers in real life suffer from PTSD. I think that the psychological torture Rodrigues was put under led to him developing a spiritual PTSD. He let himself be consumed by the darkness and apostatized out of a distorted attempt at heroism. 

Rodrigues and Ferreira suffered a fate worse than death as a result of their apostasy: they became what they hated the most and make sure Christianity is not brought into Japan anymore. They are mocked by the children and are ordered to take on a new name. They also take a wife, but it’s never shown if they have any relations with the women they ended up marrying.

It’s shown that even after he apostatized, Rodrigues is still put under great scrutiny. He never completely wins over the trust of the Japanese overlords. In the end, Rodrigues’s entire identity as a Christian completely eradicated as he is given a Buddhist funeral and buried under the name that the Japanese overlords gave him. The only evidence of the man he once was is the crucifix that is shown in his hands as his body is burned.

I don’t think that these events glamorize or promote apostasy. Rather, they show the consequences of sin, in this case, the apostasy: separation from God and loss of self. The film shows the brutality of martyrdom, but giving into spiritual darkness is equally tragic.

I highly recommend Silence to those who want to see a good example of a modern tragedy and I think it’s even a good film to watch for Lent because of its look into spiritual darkness. Just bring tissues and ice cream. You’re going to need it.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for those who apostatize and struggle with spiritual darkness.

Image is used for editorial purposes only.

Kubo and the Two Strings: Collaboration with Catholic Girl Bloggin

 

kubo movie poster

If you must blink, do it now…

Kubo is a young boy who lives with his sometimes-catatonic mother in a cave by the sea. Every day he walks down to the village and entertains the villagers by telling stories using origami that comes to life when he plays his shamisen (a Japanese three-stringed instrument). There is a catch to Kubo’s existence: He must never ever stay out after dark. He soon figures out the reason when he stays out past dark and his evil spirit Aunts come to take him to his “grandfather” the Moon King, who intends to take Kubo’s remaining eye. With the help of a monkey and a beetle, Kubo must find his deceased father’s armor and defeat the Moon King.

This is another collaboration with my awesome friend Amy aka Catholic Girl Bloggin. My friend Amy’s writings will be in blue and my stuff will be in purple.

CGB Hits
I absolutely adore how imaginative this film is! Like the titular character, the world we are introduced to is brimming with creativity. I have always had a soft spot for Asian culture, so I appreciate that the story takes place in ancient Japan.

The first ten minutes has the best use of “show-don’t-tell” that I’ve seen in a long time. Yes, there is some opening narration from Kubo himself, but his dialogue is not an exposition spiel; rather the visuals are allowed to do all the talking. Any time the movie does resort to expositional dialogue, it is kept brief. Speaking of the visuals, the animation is–holy cow–just breathtaking! I turned to the friend who accompanied me and said, “Dude, that looks like real water!” There’s an impressive painting-come-to-life feel with the color palatte and the design of the locations that make the film a beauty to behold.

The story itself is truly inspired! Granted, the “adventures-of-a-half human-half celestial-child” story has been done before, but having him be a gifted storyteller who can bring origami to life with a musical instrument is quite an impressive twist. The most admirable quality of the film are the morals. I really like how Monkey tells Kubo, “Your magic is growing stronger. You need to learn control. But when we grow stronger the world grows more dangerous.” Trust me when I say that her statement holds a lot of truth.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the Jungle Book, in which I pointed out how the film reminded me of something a friend said to me, “Let the angels and the saints deal with the devil. They know what they’re doing.” Kubo and the Two Strings also brought those words to mind! Similarly to how our guardian angels tackle the evil one when he tries to mess with us, any time the hawkish evil spirit aunts come to harrass Kubo, Monkey and Beetle are there to fight them off while Kubo either accomplishes a task or seeks refuge. It is with their help that Kubo becomes strong enough and fully-equipped to finally take on the Moon King himself. Also, the climactic confrontation between Kubo and Moon King does come with an Eden-style temptation. Basically it’s the “join me and you will become like gods” thing, much like how the old serpent told Eve that if she ate the apple, she’d become like God. Between this and the Jungle Book, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that kids films come with an interest in the mysterious spiritual world.

MsOcampoWrites Hits

It’s so refreshing to find a movie for general audiences that has a completely original premise. My brother and I were obsessed with Japanese culture since we were kids and we were both looking forward to seeing this movie. It lived up to the expectations I had and then it blew me out of the water.

The animation is stunning, the characters are all enjoyable, and the writing is a breath of fresh air amongst the remakes and reboots out there. The movie does not play things safe and yet I would totally recommend this movie to basically everyone.

The central themes of this movie are about the importance of family and the power of a good story. Kubo goes on a journey to finish what his father started: to find the armor that will help him defeat the Moon King. Monkey, Beetle, and Little Hanzo all made for excellent travelling companions.

The Sisters were intimidating, frightening villains as well. I also love all the action sequences because there was a variety of them. The townsfolk play a great role as supporting characters who do more than just act as bystanders. I love that they accept Kubo’s gift and don’t treat him like an outsider like other movies would.

CGB Misses

The friend who came with me to see this movie had some questions about Kubo’s scary aunts. “If his grandfather is the Moon King, then are his aunts supposed to be stars or something?” This is just one of the film’s unanswered questions.

Also, is it just me or is the danger Kubo faces at the hands of his tyrannical grandfather lacking some weight? Let me explain: So essentially, if Kubo is caught by the Moon King and the hawk-women, then they will take his remaining eye…and then what? Are they gonna just leave him blinded on earth? Is he going to be made into a freaky spirit person like them? Also, other than being the product of his mother’s disobedience against the Moon King, why is the Moon King threatened by Kubo’s existence? Does the Moon King believe that Kubo being half-human, half-celestial mean that he [Kubo] will try to overthrow him? Now, to be fair, in their final confrontation, the Moon King does offer to take Kubo with him and make him an infinite being, but still, I think that if the threat had been written as “the Moon King’s gonna snatch Kubo’s other eye and enslave him,” or something like that, it would’ve helped.
Speaking of the Moon King, here’s my issue: I totally understand why he is a threat to Kubo, but the movie doesn’t make him seem like a threat to anyone else. The Moon King doesn’t seem to be feared by anyone else in the movie’s universe. In Harry Potter, Voldemort was a threatening presence regardless of whether or not Harry was around; it just so happened that he had his sights set on The Boy Who Lived and anyone associated with him. Here, though, it would have helped to see the Moon King burn down a village or require insane sacrifices or something; anything to raise the stakes of his existence.

MsOcampoWrites Misses
While I will say that all the actors did a great job in this movie, I wish that George Takei had more than just a cameo role. I also think that this movie could’ve been even better with Asian actors in the main roles. Matthew McConaughey’s acting is uneven, albeit has its own interesting brand of charm.
Elephant in the Room

MsOcampoWrites:
Right before we did this collab, one of my Facebook friends sent me an article from a well­ regarded Catholic news source that dismissed this movie and said that it promoted “neo-­Pagan values.” As somebody who grew up watching Charmed, reads Harry Potter, and still watches Buffy, I think that the themes in this movie are just as Catholic as any Bible­-based movie. For one thing, the central theme of this movie is the importance of family. While the main villains are Kubo’s grandfather and aunts, it’s reminiscent of Luke 12:53 “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-­in-­law against daughter-­in-­law and daughter-­in-­law against mother-­in-­law.” The Moon King and his daughters are arrogant because they fail to comprehend things such as compassion and selfless love. Without going into spoiler territory, the ending of this movie shows justice and mercy rendered unto the Moon King, so the movie ends up teaching something that relates to the Year of Mercy as well.

Catholic Girl Bloggin:
Yes, I did see the article about Kubo promoting the occult and I will tell you that I didn’t see a single ouija board, tarot card, voodoo doll or anything occult-like in this entire movie. In fact, the villains were reminiscent of demons while Monkey and Beetle were basically Kubo’s guardian angels. If anything, the story borrows heavily from Greek mythology with hints of Shintoism. For the record, Shinto is a Japanese religion and given that the story does take place in ancient Japan, it only makes sense to borrow influence from a Japanese religion. So fear not, guys and gals, Kubo and the Two Strings is NOT pro-occult propoganda. Frankly, I don’t think the devil really cares about stop-motion animation and the film’s pro-family message would probably have him tripping over himself as he tries to flee.

I don’t think Kubo is in theatres now, but if it’s still showing, I highly recommend families with kids of all ages to check out this movie. If not, rent it from a Redbox or an on-demand streaming service when it comes out on DVD. It’s a great, original adventure that will take your breath away. And on top of that, it emphasizes the importance of family when dealing with a problem that’s more than a child can handle.

Venerable Takayama Ukon and Saint Paul Miki, pray for us.

Star Trek Beyond: An Interstellar Phenomenon

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For those who don’t know, I am neither a die-hard fan of Star Wars nor of Star Trek. I am a Browncoat first, thank you very much.

However, I do like the new Star Trek movie series, for the most part. The first one was a very accessible movie, as it introduced me to the world of Captain Kirk, Spock, and Starfleet. I didn’t like the second one as much, however, because it tried too hard to be (essentially) a remake of The Wrath of KhanStar Trek Beyond, however, blows the other two movies way out of the water. I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first because of the trailer, but this film is definitely a thrill ride from beginning to end. I haven’t felt so breathless after the end of a movie since Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The theme of the movie returns to the themes of the original series: Growing up and dealing with life in a seemingly endless journey towards discovering the unknown. I’m hoping to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible because I went into this knowing next to nothing about what the movie was about beyond what I saw from the initial trailer.

Captain James Tiberius Kirk, played by Chris Pine, records a very contemplative captain’s log. He feels that the five-year voyage has become “episodic” and he wonders if there’s any meaning to it all. This newfound maturity is a breath of fresh air compared to the immature attitude he had during the previous two movies. He’s also celebrating his birthday. However, unlike the original Kirk, he’s not scared of getting old. He’s realizing that he’s one year older than his father, who died at the same time that he was born. Chris Pine, btw, is 35 years old. He does not look it, obviously, but I like that Kirk’s character arc is centering on defining himself beyond his father’s legacy.

Speaking of legacy, Spock’s character arc centers on what he thinks is the logical choice for the continuing of his species and following his heart to keep his relationship with Uhura intact. His contemplation to leave Starfleet would also mean not seeing his best friend. He gets a change in his logical plans when he learns of the death of Spock Prime, played by the late Leonard Nimoy.

While the previous two films could be argued as centering on Kirk and Spock too much, this movie is a great example of how to handle an ensemble cast. Even the so-called “supporting members” of the crew (Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty) play major roles in this film. As Uhura says in the film, the strength of the Enterprise crew is the fact that they stick together, even when the odds are against them. Justin Lin has a lot of experience directing ensembles in movies such as Fast and Furious and TV shows like Community and it shows in this film when the crew gets stranded on a remote planet, with limited communications.

I don’t want to say how the crew of the Enterprise ended up stranded, but I will say that the journey of the first act is a crazy thrill ride. I was legitimately scared that any one of the characters could die, even knowing that they probably have plans for the sequel.

The crew gets separated after getting stranded on the remote planet, with Kirk and Chekov trying to handle a supposed alien damsel in distress. Uhura, Sulu, and the rest of the Enterprise crew are taken captive by the main bad guy, Krall, and his band of ravagers. Bones and Spock are stranded on another part of the planet and spend a lot of hilarious moments together, even as Spock deals with a wound he received from the Enterprise’s crash landing. And Scotty, stranded in yet another part of the planet, meets Jaylah, a young alien lady who’s familiar with the territory and strikes up a good friendship with the engineer.

One thing I loved about this movie is that the only romantic relationship in the spotlight is Spock and Uhura’s. Kirk has abandoned his playboy ways since, as captain, he doesn’t want to get entangled with any of the crew and cause unnecessary drama. (Incidentally, Dr. Marcus does not appear in this movie. Which is an honest relief for me because I didn’t like her to begin with. My headcanon is that she and Kirk had a fling and she eventually left the Enterprise after the fallout of said relationship. But I digress.) The character of Jaylah stands out as a great female character who’s managed to survive on the dangerous unnamed planet in a 100-year-old starship. She spends a lot of time bonding with Scotty, but the two of them are never romantically involved. Kirk also helps Jaylah, but doesn’t get involved romantically with her, either. My usual shipping radar drove me to expect Jaylah to hook up with somebody, but it’s a breath of fresh air that she is instead a great ally who doesn’t hook up with anybody. It’s implied at the end that she’s young enough to enroll in Starfleet and Scotty pulls strings to help her on that path. I hope I see her in the next movie!

Speaking of romantic relationships, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that there was a short scene in this film that shows that Sulu is gay. There is a lot of controversy over it and understandably so. However, the point of Star Trek was to show that the citizens of earth lived in a future with no racial tensions and that anything was possible for them. I honestly thought that Sulu was gay in the original anyway, so it’s no big deal for me that his sexual orientation is acknowledged here. I’m just glad that the film itself didn’t make a big deal out of Sulu being married to another man and having a daughter.

The sad part of this film, though, is that it’ll be the last film that Anton Yelchin, the actor who plays Chekov, will ever be seen in, as he died in a car accident a week before the film premiered. Chekov played a huge role in this movie, helping Kirk search for the Enterprise crew. His sweet demeanor provides for great comic relief at times. Of course, Spock and Bones provide most of the humor in this movie. Again, though, the shadow of Spock Prime still lingers in this film. I started crying during the part when Spock looks at an old photo of the original cast.

I can’t talk much about the bad guy here, though, for the sake of spoilers. All I can say is that these bad guys were a legitimate threat. There were scenes with this guy that are the stuff of nightmares!

Don’t be deterred by the trailer because all the action actually serves the plot here, crazy awesome rock music and all. It reminded me of Guardians of the Galaxy, but with a touch of philosophy from the original series. Overall, I highly recommend you see this movie.

Star Trek Beyond is copyright to Paramount. Image is used for editorial purposes only.

Captain America: Civil War—Avengers, Disassembled

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Warning: Spoilers and feels ensue.

I was not ready to see this movie. All the fun and games from the first Avengers film have gone completely out the window.  Like Buffy Season 6, I knew this movie was going to hurt. And it did. A lot. But it hurt in a good way. The same way that a good tragedy hurts. Because in the end, that’s what Captain America: Civil War is—a tragedy.

I don’t want to go too much into the plot. What I will tell you is that the trailers and TV spots for Civil War are really clever in their misdirection. Don’t go into the movie thinking that you know what’s gonna happen. You will be shocked in the most genuine manner possible.

There are two major conflicts in this movie. The first conflict is this: The Avengers are divided on where they stand on what is called the Sokovia Accords, which registers the Avengers as a UN task force in order to hold the heroes accountable for the collateral damage they cause worldwide. Yes, in spite of the fact that the Avengers went out of their way to cause as little collateral damage as possible, a lot of people still died along the way and most people are blaming the Avengers for it, especially when Scarlet Witch accidentally kills dozens of Wakandans while doing a job with Captain America and company in Lagos, Nigeria.

Now one would expect, given the previous movies up to this point, that Captain America would be all for signing the Accords while Iron Man would be distrusting of the government. However, the events of  Iron Man 3 and The Winter Soldier have led to Tony being in favor of the Accords as a way to try and get some kind of accountability for everyone and Steve wanting the right to choose the battles he fights as opposed to using his abilities to further some politician’s agenda.

Both sides have a point. On the one hand, the heroes do need to be held accountable for their actions. On the other hand, the heroes shouldn’t be used as pawns for government organizations. Both Tony and Steve have very questionable actions throughout the movie as well. Tony reminds me of Angel from Buffy and Angel, trying to atone for his actions by doing what he thinks is best for everyone else whether they agree with him or not, but unlike Angel, Tony is doing so out of genuine grief and PTSD issues and not just from a curse. He’s also willing to admit when he is wrong. Of course, that doesn’t help any by the time Act 3 comes around. But we’ll get to that later. On the other hand, you can argue that Captain America is way too forgiving of Bucky, who killed hundreds of people under the influence of HYDRA’s brainwashing. (Reminds me of Buffy’s treatment of Spike during Season 7.) However, Bucky wants to atone for the things he did as The Winter Soldier and is making an effort to remember the things he did. Unfortunately, he gets implicated in a couple of terrorist attacks, forcing Captain to assemble a team to help him keep Bucky safe. On the other hand, Iron Man assembles his own team to get Captain America and his crew to side with the Accords.

This leads to the huge battle in a Germany airport that’s shown in basically every trailer. The teams are divided thusly:

Anti-Accords (Team Captain America):
Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)
Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)
Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie)
Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)
Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)
Pro-Accords (Team Iron Man):
Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.)
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)
The Vision (Paul Bettany)
James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle)
T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)
Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland)

The most surprising characters in the movie are actually Black Panther and Spider-Man. Spider-Man is the picture definition of “adorkable” in this movie. With the latest reboot coming around soon, Peter Parker is back to being a teenage kid with an insanely hot aunt (played by the seriously-does-not-look 51-year-old Marisa Tomei) who received his spider powers about six months before the events of the movie started. In contrast, T’Challa is a diplomat and the new king of Wakanda. He’s also a very powerful, experienced fighter in contrast to Peter.

A lot of Peter’s life (from what is seen in the movie) feels the most authentic compared to the previous film incarnations because he’s in way over his head. He provides a lot of humor to this very serious movie. It makes sense that he’s the most chatty of the heroes because he’s just getting into the hero scene. Spider-Man is used to exchanging witty banter with his enemies, but the other Avengers (even his fellow teammates) found his chatter a bit excessive. He also makes the other Avengers feel very old when he drops pop culture references. However, in the end, Spider-Man is just an extended cameo compared to the other new kid on the block.

Black Panther joins up with Iron Man with vengeance towards The Winter Soldier on his mind. What surprised me the most about Panther, however, is that while he is awesome at kicking ass, he’s also very wise. Towards the end of the movie, he confronts the true villain of the movie, Zemo, and realizes that everything has been stirred into motion by the cycle of revenge. He doesn’t kill Zemo and refuses to let Zemo kill himself. That is the closest thing to the Catholic version of justice that I’ve seen in this movie.

It’s during the third act that you realize that things are never gonna be the same. Without giving it away, Tony and Steve come to an impasse in terms of Bucky and the fight scene is as awesome as it is heartbreaking. The Captain America and Iron Man we knew are completely gone. What’s worse is that Hawkeye and Ant-Man have become fugitives and can’t return to their families. I feel especially bad for Scarlet Witch because she reminds me a lot of Willow, a powerful witch trying to figure out how to use her powers for the greater good. (Not to mention I totally ship her and Vision, but that is something I will save for Tumblr.)

Now while this movie is awesome, I have a couple of minor complaints. The first of which is that the villain isn’t really that involved in the movie. I barely even remember Zemo’s name and face. I understand his motivations, but in all honesty, he acts more like Eris, the sower of discord, in the sense that his only purpose in the movie is to sow the seeds that will cause the Avengers to turn against each other. The reason I compare this movie to Buffy Season 6 is that, in both cases, the villain was someone the heroes could’ve easily defeated if it wasn’t for the fact that the heroes have become their own worst enemy. I really want Zemo to get some kind of punishment for tearing the Avengers apart.

The other minor complaint I have is the “romance” between Sharon Carter and Steve Rogers. I’m not gonna jump on the Tumblr Bandwagon and be all “Steve is gay for Bucky/Tony,” but Steve barely had any development with Sharon. They flirted in The Winter Soldier and bonded at Peggy’s funeral, but that’s all the scenes they had together. For crying out loud, Steve had more chemistry with Black Widow than Sharon!

Aside from that, though, this movie is definitely worth seeing. If you are as invested in these characters as I am, be ready to cry. You also have to be familiar with the previous movies in order to really understand this one. This movie is gonna hurt, but there’s still hope that things will get better down the line.

A Night at the Movies with Charlie Brown and Snoopy (The Peanuts Movie)

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Dedicated to Mrs. A, who introduced me to Charlie Brown and the whole gang in 4th grade.

Like many kids, I grew up reading the Peanuts comic strips and watched the specials. So when I heard about how Blue Sky studios was making a 3D animated Peanuts movie, I was reluctant to see it until I saw the trailer and heard good things about it.

This review will be spoiler-free because I want everyone to give this movie a chance.

The best word I can use to describe The Peanuts Movie is “timeless.” Movies that are marketed to kids usually try to grab attention by pandering with pop culture references and using modern slang. This was easily seen in the trailers I saw. There were some laughs, but nothing in particular made me want to see any of the movies advertised.

In contrast, The Peanuts Movie begins with the kids waking up and finding out that it’s a snow day. As soon as the alarm clocks started ringing, I felt laughter bubbling up inside of me as I watched Peppermint Patty smash her alarm clock with a hockey stick while Schroeder woke up to Beethoven’s Fifth and just sat in his bed enjoying the music. The only “modern” thing in movie was Meghan Trainor’s song that played a few times throughout the movie. Kudos to the animators and the writers because it wasn’t until I saw Charlie Brown tangled up in phone cords that I realized “Omigosh they’re using landlines!”

The whole movie is a slice of life with lots of nods to the specials that everyone grew up with. You hear the “Skating” theme when the kids go out ice skating on the snow day. There’s a sequence where you get to see everyone do those familiar dance moves from the Christmas Special and Linus hoping that the new neighbor will be open to believing in the Great Pumpkin. The best shout out to the comics, though, came in the subplot of Snoopy creating his novel and his daydreams of chasing down the Red Baron. Snoopy is my favorite character so I loved how the sequences with the Red Baron finally came to life in this movie.

The main story, however, centers on Charlie Brown and his numerous attempts to impress the Little Redhaired Girl. I know some people are up in arms that we actually get to see her face in this movie, but the movie does a great job at not letting anyone actually see her close up until the very end. I also have to give credit to Charlie Brown for actually reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, understanding the complex themes, and being able to write an essay on it in the span of one weekend. Most grad students would slog through that book in maybe a month or two. I tried reading it in high school and I wasn’t able to get through it. Unfortunately, all of Charlie Brown’s efforts end up falling short for one reason or another, to the point that you think the world is out to make his life as miserable as possible.

What Charlie Brown learns, however, is that in order to succeed, you don’t have to do great things, you just have to be good. He makes an effort and always tries to do the right thing even when the odds are against him. I personally think that Charlie Brown’s determination is what inspired Snoopy to stop acting like a bratty dog and actually help his master out. But Snoopy wouldn’t be Snoopy without some digs at Charlie Brown, but thankfully that happens at the beginning of the movie, before Charlie sets out to try and get the girl.

It was a lot of fun seeing all the other characters, too. The speed of the animation made for great comedic timing. It comes off like stop-motion animation and it’s done really well. Plus, whenever the characters have a thought bubble moment, their thoughts are shown in the original comic strip style, which I felt was a nice nod to the source material.

Some might argue that Charlie Brown and especially Snoopy had a bit too much screentime, but given that this is the first feature length Peanuts movie, I’m okay with the most recognizable characters being the focus of the movie. If all goes well, there will probably be sequels that focus more on Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, etc. Another critique I hear is that Charlie Brown actually got a happy ending when in the original comics, he would’ve ended up losing the girl but being okay with it. Honestly, though, there are times that Charlie Brown succeeds in getting what he wants, but it’s never how he planned it. The ending felt realistic to me, compared to say the Valentine’s Day special when Charlie Brown gets a kiss from the little redhaired girl and dances the night away only to end up not remembering any of it.

Kudos, btw, to Christophe Beck for contributing to the movie’s score. As a Buffy fan, I know Christophe Beck’s music all too well and it was nice that he was a part of what made each scene so memorable.

Seriously, people, go see this movie. And make sure to stick around for the credits, too. There’s one particular joke I realized wasn’t in the movie and I was about to think “huh, I can’t believe they forgot that joke” but then, in the mid-credits, there it was. The one joke no Peanuts fan ever gets tired of.

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It never gets old. And this movie won’t either. Go see it!

Peanuts is copyright to Charles Schultz. The Peanuts Movie is copyright to Blue Sky. All pictures here are used for editorial purposes only.

The Martian: A Movie Review by Joey Garrity

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Last night I saw The Martian with two friends and my college Newman Club’s chaplain.  I am confident saying it is the best movie of this year so far, and that the many good things I had heard about this movie turned out to be true.

The movie opens with an intense sandstorm interrupting a Mars mission, during which the crew’s botanist Mark Watney is struck by debris and lost in the storm, believed by his fellow astronauts to be dead.  The remainder of the crew boards their ship and leaves for Earth, reporting the death of Watney to NASA and the world.  Meanwhile, Mark survived the Martian storm and must find a way to survive on the Red Planet and contact Earth with only the Ares scientific base with its equipment and leftover food, a few bags of potato seeds, a Mars rover, and various buried equipment from past Mars missions.
The best thing about this movie to me was that it reminded me of the survival stories I read or watched growing up, such as Hatchet and Castaway.  And it was very much so the next logical step in the survival genre, as deserted planets are the new deserted islands to a humanity that has expanded its exploration to the stars.  Matt Damon gave a phenomenal performance as Mark Watney, and his resolve to never give up in the face of extreme adversity is a great message for all of us.

One of my favorite moments, however, was when Mark’s former crewmates choose to turn around before reaching Earth and head back to Mars to rescue him against NASA’s wishes, whose director argued that one death would be better than six.  From the view of Catholic Social Teaching, the Ares crew were some of the real heroes of the movie, going out of their way and risking everything to rescue a single person from death.  Sometimes as Catholics we are called to sacrifice convenience for the greater glory of God and His people.

Overall, I highly recommend The Martian to everyone reading this.  It is a fantastic piece of cinematography and storytelling.  The only problematic scene I can think of is when Mark says he is going to burn a crucifix he found in the base to make water, but we never explicitly see him doing it and it is implied there were other “personal items” he may have used instead.  As a final note, I am aware that this movie was based on a book.  I have not read it, but I would encourage both myself and all of you to read it as well, since many things can be lost when translating a book to the screen.  All in all, a great movie that stands above the majority of this fall’s blockbusters.

10430369_975770169104125_6064655856476824348_n Joey Garrity is a 22-year-old Catholic from Ohio studying Computer Information Technology at Northern Kentucky University. He is one of the founding members of The Fellowship of the Geeks, a Life Matters Journal project where he and fellow writers blog about consistent life themes in media and fandoms. He is an avid fan of Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and many others. He enjoys writing, playing his bass guitar, listening to music, video gaming, and hanging with friends.

Jurassic World: Larger than Life, But Needs Some Bite

 

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I’ll admit that while I like sci-fi shows and the occasional horror movie, creature features aren’t usually on my radar. I came into Jurassic World as a casual fan of the franchise, having only seen Jurassic Park and vlogs that ripped the sequels apart. Critics are divided on whether or not this is a good movie, so I wanted to see it to form my own opinion on it.

Right off the bat, I’ll say that this movie isn’t perfect, so for this review, I’ll look into the good, the bad, and the overall feel of the film.

The Good

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The scale of the movie is amazing. The first scene shows some kind of dinosaur hatching from an egg and the establishing shot of the island is breathtaking. Then, it takes you into the jungle just like in the original movie, but also includes scenes from the park.

I also liked that they got actors like Chris Pratt (from Parks and Recreation, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Lego Movie), Bryce Dallas Howard (from Lady in the Water and Terminator Salvation), Vincent D’Onofrio (better known as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin from Marvel’s Daredevil), and Katie McGrath (Morgana from Merlin and Lucy from Dracula) to be in this movie. Dr. Henry Wu from the original movie plays a larger role here as head of the genetics lab.

As far as characters go, I love Chris Pratt’s character Owen. He was a proto-Indiana Jones (which makes sense because Pratt is rumored to be starring in an Indiana Jones remake sooner or later) with a cool head and a carefree style. Owen is a raptor trainer and he has a great affection for his raptor pack.

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I liked Claire’s development from being the cold-hearted park coordinator to caring for the dinosaurs to being brave enough to get Rexie (as the original T-Rex from Jurassic Park is called) out of her cage to take on the iRex. The part where she tied up her shirt to look like Ellie from the original movie was a nice call back.

I liked Lowery, the nerdy guy (played by Jake Johnson from New Girl). He seems to represent the fans of the classic movie, pointing out all the things that the fans of the original would also call this movie out on, like the wrongness about creating the Indominous Rex (heceforth called iRex for short).

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I loved the part where Gray and Zach find themselves in the original Jurassic Park and used the jeeps from the original movie for their escape. There are a lot of nice call-backs to the original that I’m sure diehard fans will like.

I also liked that Barry, the only black guy in this movie, did not get killed. I just wish he did more in the movie. But for what it’s worth, he was good.

Speaking of, the dinosaurs were, for the most part, amazing characters. It was amazing to see dinosaurs being used in a petting zoo and a show with a mosasaurus that shows her eating a shark (hello, Jaws shout-out!). The iRex is also a very believable villain and it’s implied there is some human genomes in her.

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The breakout dinos, though, were Owen’s raptor pack: Blue, Charlie, Delta, and Echo. They started out as the intimidating mad dog back, barely capable of listening to anyone other than Owen, and then turning on the humans under the influence of the iRex. However, the bond that Owen has with them causes them to turn against the iRex.

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Finally, the climax of the movie was awesome. Rexie taking on the iRex, Blue joining in on the fight, and  the mosasaurus finishing the iRex off. I was grinning as soon as I saw Claire opening Rexie’s cage and rooted for Rexie as she fought the iRex. The only thing that would’ve made this better is if Rexie dealt the killing blow and pushed the iRex into the mosasaurus tank. But that’s just me.

 

 

The Bad

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I hate to say this, but the CG is awful in this movie. I was so hoping that they would use the practical effects more, but since I never see the major characters of the film actually being hit by the dinosaurs as they’re running, I knew that it was green screen. The only scene where the dinosaurs felt real was when Chris Pratt was touching a dinosaur that the iRex killed. I also didn’t like how the dimorphodons looked because I swear they could’ve been mistaken for dinosaur hybrids themselves. Granted, I’m not a dinosaur expert, so what do I know?

I was also disappointed with how the iRex actually looked. I expected her to be way big and to have wings, maybe. I didn’t expect some kind of chimera fantasy creature, but from how everyone described her, the result that came out was sadly less than stellar. In fact, I actually hoped she would look like this stark white dimorphodon or something. It was really hard to see her being as stark white as she is described. I couldn’t differentiate from the different raptors, either.

Also, it was really hard for me to believe that Claire could’ve been running in heels for all that time. She must have feet of steel or something because I can barely walk in my favorite pair of pumps, let alone run away from rampaging dinosaurs.

My biggest problem with the movie, however, was how they wrote their human characters. The dinosaurs were awesome, but the characters could’ve been a lot more likeable. The only characters I liked straight off the bat were Owen and Lowery. Owen was a great character in the film, but the subplot of his relationship with Claire was pretty contrived. I also didn’t like that Lowery ended up not getting the girl.

I love Vincent D’Onofrio, don’t get me wrong, but the writing for his character was very reminiscent of Avatar. It’s so obvious that he’s gonna be the villain and in what world would militarizing dinosaurs be considered a logically sound idea?! I kept praying that he gets killed in the movie and actually felt relieved when it happened, although his death was particularly gruesome.

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My least favorite death, however, was Zara (played by Katie McGrath). Granted, her character didn’t really do much outside of being a beleaguered assistant/babysitter, but I’m a fan of Katie McGrath and cringed as she was killed by the pteranodon and the mosasaurus.

There were also subplots brought up that went nowhere, particularly the fact that Gray and Zach’s parents are getting divorced. They didn’t seem to be having problems at the beginning and they seemed alright at the end.  For that matter, why didn’t the parents go with the kids to begin with? The whole “spending time with kids to inspire the career woman to have a man and babies” is one of my least favorite cliches. I pretty much rolled my eyes at the Owen and Claire romantic subplot because it didn’t feel real to me.

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I also didn’t like Zach until he actually started caring for his brother. I hated that he was always checking out girls when it’s established in the beginning that he has a girl at home. He acts whiny and stupid and looks too much like a Justin Bieber wannabe. Gray was okay, though.

 

And the rest

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I will give this movie points for keeping my mother awake, as she usually falls asleep while watching movies. She also finds Chris Pratt attractive and I’m definitely crushing on him myself after this movie. (Still love you, James Marsters!) I will give this movie points for being entertaining and engaging, with lots of call backs to the original movie and some subtle take-thats at the less-than-stellar sequels. I also liked that there cameos from people like Jimmy Buffet (seen hauling margaritas in the pteranodon rampage scene) and that the product placement got some take thats (stores being smashed up and some snark from Lowery).

I also felt that the set up for the iRex felt like a commentary on blockbuster movies as a whole. People will want bigger, scarier monsters  and corporations love cashing in on trends to the point that the soul of the story can get lost in the process.
Overall, the whole thing felt like a semi-B movie rather than a blockbuster due to the way they paid more attention to the dinosaurs as opposed to the human characters. However, I honestly would recommend going out to theaters and seeing it for yourself. You’ll definitely enjoy the ride. I saw the movie in 3D and it was definitely awesome, but not what I consider necessary.

 

If you want me to review any other movies currently in theaters, please like my Facebook page and comment which movie you’d like me to see and critique!

All images in this blog post are copyright of Amblin Entertainment and Universal Studios and are used for editorial purposes only.