Avengers: Endgame

The twenty-second installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that first began in 2008 with Iron Man and the final film in Marvel’s so-called Infinity Saga, Avengers: Endgame is a terrific superhero movie that is both epic in scope and full of bittersweet emotions in which the audience feels a deep connection to the characters that have been part of Hollywood for over a decade. It follows the previous Avengers film in which the supervillain Thanos has vanquished half of the world’s population as well as half of the Avengers after he gains possession of the six Infinity Stones. Having the feel of a drama about losing loved ones, the majority of the first half of the film shows the comic book heroes in great despair and feeling hopeless in bringing back those who have vanished. Eventually, the surviving Avengers that include Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, War Machine, and Rocket devise a plan involving time travel to rescue the other Avengers and the millions of people lost. Although it does include the typical CGI-enhanced action sequences, the movie, unlike the rest of the franchise, is a very personal one in which all of our favorite characters are reunited and give very real human emotions as they cope with grief. At first blush, the three-hour runtime seems like it would be excessive, but the filmmakers are able to craft a very entertaining and sentimental movie that has just the right amount of time to explore some of the most memorable superheroes in what perhaps will be their last appearance together. Also, it does not always take itself too seriously by including some rather hilarious and fun moments that is reminiscent of some of the more comedic installments such as Guardians of the Galaxy. Overall, I found it to be a quite surprisingly heartfelt and emotionally powerful film that is very much a welcome relief from the stereotypical superhero comic book movies produced by Marvel, while also including elements of action and entertainment that has made the films so popular.

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Dumbo

Directed by Tim Burton and a live remake of the original 1941 Disney animated film, Dumbo is a visually arresting movie that attempts to recreate the magic of the original beloved classic but ultimately fails to provide the expected high-flying inspiring emotions. Set in 1919 America, the film begins when we meet a soldier returning from World War I named Holt Farrier, played by Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell, to the Medici Brothers’ Circus where he was employed in a horse show and is reunited with his two kids who just recently lost their mother and his wife. The owner and operator of the circus Max Medici, played by Golden Globe winner Danny DeVito, knows that his circus is in financial distress so he takes a gamble in purchasing a pregnant elephant named Jumbo. After the aging elephant gives birth to a baby elephant with abnormally large ears and is made fun of and called Dumbo, Medici tries to get rid of both elephants. However, Holt’s children Milly, played by newcomer Nico Parker, and Joe, played by Finley Hobbins, become attached to the mother elephant and her son and quickly discover Dumbo is very special because he can fly. Eventually, Medici discovers his baby elephant’s potential to make money and decides to sell Dumbo and the entire circus to V. A. Vandevere, the slick owner of a amusement park known as Dreamland and is played by Oscar nominee Michael Keaton. Also deep in financial troubles and trying to get financing from a New York banker who is played by Oscar winner Alan Arkin, the amusement park owner is desperate and cuts all corners in order to make money off of Dumbo and separating him from his mother to avoid a distraction. He even asks his prized trapeze artist Colette Marchant, played by Golden Globe nominee Eva Green, to join a very risky trick with Dumbo using his ability to fly. Towards the end of the movie, things go very badly for the villainous Vandevere and a plan is hatched by the members of the Medici Brothers’ Circus to rescue Dumbo and his mother. Where the loosely adapted story of the animated film is lacking, Tim Burton’s unique visual vision is brilliantly able to recreate a glossy circus and amusement park from a vintage era in which showmanship was essential. Overall, the highly anticipated movie fell short of expectations and puts into question Disney’s money-making strategy of sometimes unnecessarily remaking their animated classic catalog into live action movies.

Isn’t It Romantic

Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson best known for the 2011 comedy A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, Isn’t It Romantic is a very creative romantic comedy that satirizes the genre itself and is helped by a well-written script and a charismatic performance given by comedic actress Rebel Wilson. The story follows an Australian architect living in New York City named Natalie, played by Rebel Wilson who is best known for her role in the Pitch Perfect film series, who is disappointed in her life as a disrespected architect and tells her assistant Whitney, played by Betty Gilpin, how much she despises romantic comedies as unrealistic. However, she does not realize that her best male friend Josh, played by Adam DeVine who is often in movies with Rebel Wilson, actually likes her more than just a friend. Her life changes after she hits her head in the subway and wakes up to the realization that she is in a PG-13 romantic comedy in which life seems perfect. Horrified by the prospect of being stuck in such an fake world, Natalie believes the only way to escape this alternate reality is to fall in love just like in a romantic comedy. A very handsome and wealthy Australian man who was a mean client in the real world named Blake, played by Liam Hemsworth, begins to fall in love with Natalie and treats her like a princess stereotypical of a romantic comedy. There are several scenes which are highly effective in making fun of romantic comedies, especially a sequence in which you wakes up in the morning with Blake but never experiences the sex because it is a PG-13 romantic comedy world. Also bizarrely, her best friend Josh begins a whirlwind romance with a beautiful supermodel named Isabella, played by Priyanka Chopra. With their quick engagement, Natalie realizes that she may in fact be in love with Josh even in the real world and sees that he has affection for her too. The major theme that comes across eventually is that Natalie must love herself in order to live in an enjoyable life. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining light-hearted film that uses the innovative twist of poking fun at romantic comedies to craft a wholly unique comedy headlined by the perfectly comedic Rebel Wilson.

The Kid Who Would Be King

Written and directed by British filmmaker Joe Cornish best known for 2011’s sci-fi movie Attack the Block, The Kid Who Would Be King is a surprisingly well-done and fun family-friendly adventure film with a very creative take on the iconic British legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The film follows a young teenager named Alex, played by newcomer Louis Ashbourne Serkis, living in London who leads a fairly typical adolescent life until one day he discovers the magical sword Excalibur previously possessed by the legendary Arthur. Along with his bullied best friend Bedders, Alex is unwittingly tasked with saving England by fighting off the magical evil force of Morgana, played by Rebecca Ferguson, who is the half sister of King Arthur and the mortal enemy of the wizard Merlin. With the discovery of Excalibur, she and her magical zombie army are awakened from the depths of Earth after a centuries-old spell to avenge Arthur’s curse and destroy Great Britain during a solar eclipse. The fatherless Alex is told this unbelievable story and how he is a descendant of the great King Arthur from the famed wizard Merlin who is disguised as a older teenage student, played by the film’s comic relief Angus Imrie. When he is not trying to blend into modern-day England, Merlin appears either as an owl or an older man, played by the great Patrick Stewart. Eventually, Alex and his best friend are reluctantly partnered with the school bullies Lance and his girlfriend Kaye to go on a perilous journey to locate and kill Morgana. In the process, the four of them learn moral lessons to overcome their challenges with each other to become lifelong friends despite being enemies prior to their quest. Overall, although it is definitely geared to be a wholesome family movie, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it to be a terrifically entertaining adventure story also appealing to adults looking for a fun time at the movies.

Aquaman

The sixth installment in the DC Extended Universe comic book movie franchise first started in 2013 with Man of Steel, Aquaman is yet another superhero movie that is stuffed with an overabundance of CGI but slightly departs from the many others by embracing the fun and silliness of the genre. The movie begins in 1985 on the remote coast of Maine when the lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry rescues the mysterious Atlanna, played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, who is discovered to be the underwater princess of the mythical world of Atlantis. They have a child together named Arthur, but Atlanna is forced to leave her family to return to her father who is the king of Atlantis. As he grows up with his father and is occasionally trained by an advisor of Atlantis named Vulko, played by Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe, Arthur, played by Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa, learns he has great superpowers as a half-Atlantean who can swim fast underwater without having to breathe air. At this point, the movie follows the typical formula of a superhero origin story in which the protagonist plays with his newfound powers and eventually discovers he could use his very special skills for good by saving sailors and fishermen. Aquaman, which becomes Arthur’s superhero alter-ego, enjoys a relatively peaceful life on the surface world until his half-brother Orm, played by Golden Globe nominee Patrick Wilson, sees him as a threat to his legitimate claim to the throne of Atlantis. Orm has a stereotypically villainous plan to overtake rulership of all the seven underwater kingdoms by starting a war with the surface world and humans who are polluting the oceans. Over time, Aquaman is joined by the beautiful Atlantean Mera, played by Amber Heard, who is originally betrothed to Orm by one of the other rulers who happens to be her father, played by Dolph Lundgren. Over the course of the spectacular and quite frankly over-the-top underwater CGI sequences, Aquaman along with his new love interest Mera fight to save both the underwater and surface worlds from the destructive designs of his half-brother. In addition to the surrealistic visuals in which sea creatures come to life, the script, with its self-referential humor and quite silly jokes, lends the movie a certain quality of not taking itself too seriously and thereby promoting the inherent ridiculousness of the story. This aspect of purposely pointing out the ludicrous nature of what takes place on screen helps the movie overcome simply being just another bad attempt at exploiting the superhero genre to make a boatload of cash. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining film that, despite its generic stereotypes, makes for an enjoyable distraction from reality, led by a charismatic actor who truly looks the part of Aquaman.

Mortal Engines

Co-written and produced by legendary filmmaker Peter Jackson who is best known for directing the massively popular and acclaimed Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film series, Mortal Engines is a visually arresting and creative blockbuster movie that follows in the long line of post-apocalyptic films based on young adult fiction, but, ultimately, the weak script filled with plot holes and devoid of truly compelling characters is a recipe for a massive flop. Based on the Mortal Engines novel quartet written by Philip Reeve beginning in 2001, the plot revolves around the young revolutionary Hester Shaw, played by Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar, who lives in a post-apocalyptic world in which most of humanity lives on massive mobile cities that rove the so-called Great Hunting Ground and must take over smaller settlements on wheels in order for the larger communities such as London to survive. The visuals very much reminded me of the Mad Max movies in which elaborate machines built from a hodgepodge of antiquated technology move across desolate and immense landscapes. The protagonist Hester is on a revenge mission to kill one of London’s leaders named Thaddeus Valentine, played by the only recognizable actor Hugo Weaving, who was responsible for her mother’s death years ago. At the same time, she sympathizes with the opposition Anti-Traction League whose people live on static settlements behind the Shield Wall in what used to be Asia. Rather stereotypically in movies in this genre, the young heroine must fight off evil forces who pose an existential threat to the good guys. The secretly malevolent Valentine whose own daughter Katherine does not really know his intentions is in search of Old-Tech weapons that can wipe out the Anti-Tractionists living beyond the previously impenetrable Shield Wall. Eventually, Hester along with an apprentice historian from London named Tom, played by Irish actor Robert Sheehan, team up with a revolutionary leader named Anna Fang, played by South Korean musician and actress Jihae, who pilots a fantastical aircraft. There are several other subplots involving formulaic romances and unusual guardians that, rather than adding to the story, bogs down the already messy storyline. Overall, it is a rather large disappointment for a Peter Jackson-produced fantasy movie that relies too heavily on elaborate CGI, which are rather spectacular and unique even for the genre, and whose creative imagery and premise is not done any justice by the overall poor quality of the story and acting.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The tenth overall installment in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World movie franchise beginning with the first Harry Potter released in 2001 and the sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a surprisingly complicated mess of a movie that tries to recapture the magic of the hugely successful Harry Potter universe, and the only real merits are to appeal to Harry Potter fans and the use of fantastical CGI. Set a few years after the original Fantastic Beasts and many decades before the appearance of Harry Potter, the plot follows the exploits of the lowly wizard Newt Scamander, played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, who must track down and disrupt the malevolent desires of the recently imprisoned dark wizard Grindelwald, played by the always creepy-looking Oscar nominee Johnny Depp. Suspicious of his connections to Grindelwald, the British Ministry of Magic also tries to find the villain of the first movie Credence, played by Ezra Miller, who they believe may be working with and for Grindelwald. Newt is surprised to run into his non-magic Muggle friend Jacob, played by Dan Fogler, and Jacob’s magical girlfriend Queenie, played by Alison Sudol, who join the investigation into Grindelwald and the manipulated Credence. In a nostalgic nod to Harry Potter fans, Newt eventually meets up with a young Dumbledore, played by Oscar nominee Jude Law, at Hogwarts School made famous in Harry Potter because it is believed that only the powerful Dumbledore can defeat the equally powerful Grindelwald. As they continue to pursue Grindelwald, Newt along with Jacob and Queenie as well as his love interest Tina, played by Katherine Waterston, find themselves in Paris and trying to find information at the French Ministry of Magic. From there, the characters are taken to the climax of the movie where Grindelwald has gathered all pureblood wizards to join his plot to take over the Muggle world. He uses his dark magic skills to practically force wizards to take up his cause, and Newt along with his allies engage in a battle with Grindelwald in a fantastical CGI sequence. Overall, I found it to have an overly complex storyline that was often hard to follow for the average moviegoer not well versed in the Wizarding World, and strangely there were not many scenes with the titular character Grindelwald or much about his so-called crimes. Unfortunately, I felt that the franchise is reaching a point where it is overextending itself in order to simply make money at the box office and appease the rabid fans of anything related to Harry Potter.