2019 Summer Movie Review: Tolkien

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J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) poses with his “fellowship” in Dome Karukoski’s first English-language film Tolkien. (Source: Washington Post)

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is one of the best writers who ever lived. He brought readers to a different world containing fantastical worlds and inventive languages. His imagination of Middle-Earth was brought forth to the big screen. Everybody has seen and loved Peter Jackson’s marvelous Lord of the Rings trilogy that went onto win numerous film awards. The New Zealand director came back to direct The Hobbit trilogy. Although it didn’t earn as much praise as before, it was great to be a part of a wonderful world everyone wished they were a part of.

After the popularity of those films, a biopic of J.R.R. Tolkien and his inspiration of writing his popular novels needed to happen. In his first English-language film, Finnish director Dome Karukoski and screenwriters David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford focus on the writer’s early years. Fans of the source material will be sadly disappointed with Tolkien.

The movie starts off with Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) as an orphan. At a prep school, his life changes when he forms a friendship with three boys–Geoffrey (Anthony Boyle), Christopher (Tom Glynn-Carney), and Robert (Patrick Gibson). Together, they form a secret society called the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, where they sip on tea and discuss each other’s literary work.

Meanwhile, Tolkien develops a relationship with the lovely Edith (Lily Collins), who is also an orphan. She inspires him to write his popular Middle-Earth saga. However, their relationship gets in the way when he and his friends are enlisted in the trenches of World War I.

Making a biopic of the famous writer isn’t a problem. However, the family and his estate did not endorse Tolkien at all. It’s not a terrible movie, but it feels contrived and occasionally dull. The narrative jumps all over the place from No Man’s Land to the author’s past, which doesn’t help with its poor pacing. Hell, even the war sequences showcase what other war movies have done better. Although the cinematography by Lasse Frank is passable, they feel too generic. It is a treat to catch the numerous references from Tolkien’s work, though.

Hoult is no stranger when it comes to playing famous authors. He played J.D. Salinger in Rebel in the Rye, which also didn’t receive positive reviews. Here, the 29-year-old British actor delivers a strong performance as Tolkien, who captures his charm and wisdom of creating his own world. Two of the interesting aspects of the film is his fascination in linguistics. In one scene, we see Tolkien drunk in the middle of the courtyard shouting in Elvish to the stars. The fact he created languages and drew his own settings for his stories is amazing!

Another interesting aspect is his relationship with Edith. He and Collins are the two who keep the film moving. If the movie only focused on their relationship alone, it would have been more watchable. However–the movie has a lot of potential that hardly adds a lot to its unfocused narrative. Tolkien deserved to be so much more!

5/10

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2019 Summer Movie Review: Avengers: Endgame

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The Avengers fight against time in Avengers: Endgame. (Source: IMDb)

It has been more than ten years since Iron Man released in theaters. A movie that marked the introduction to a franchise that would eventually span across 23 movies. Ranging from truly great movies to cinematic disappointments, the franchise introduced so many characters that everyone has either grown to love or love to hate. Even seeing the core superheroes, such as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and The Hulk, teaming up in 2012’s The Avengers was a movie buff’s dream come true. Everyone has known their origins and how they evolve in modern society. The latest entry, Avengers: Endgame, marks the end of an era.

The movie leaves off after the heartbreaking finale of Avengers: Infinity War, where the powerful demigod Thanos (Josh Brolin) used the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of the universe with the snap of his fingers. The remaining Avengers, which include Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), must find a way to bring their allies back. Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) returns after spending five years in the “quantum realm”. He figures out a way to travel back in time. The Avengers reassemble to undo Thano’s actions once and for all.

[This is only the set-up. If I go on about the plot, it would give away too many plot points.]

Anthony and Joe Russo return to the director’s chair for an epic for the ages. Written with enough razor-sharp wit and poignancy by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, there is so much going on that the three-hour runtime goes by like a breeze. It’s easily the most depressing film in the MCU (I admit, this is one of the few movies where I did get misty-eyed), since it follows the superheroes dealing with trauma after Infinity War. They all have one more chance to set everything right before it’s too late in some thrilling action set pieces.

The movie features the biggest cast in any blockbuster in the last twenty years. Every single one of them all have their shining moments. The ones who stand out are Downey Jr., Evans, Hemsworth, Renner, and Johansson. At this point, all of the characters write themselves.

I can’t imagine a more satisfying conclusion than Avengers: Endgame. Don’t worry, though. The MCU is far from over. Peter Parker is making his return this summer in Spider-Man: Far from Home. There are upcoming television spin-off series centering on Loki and Hawkeye among others (not to mention Disney owning 20th Century Fox). There’s plenty more to come for this seemingly endless franchise.

10/10

Movie Review: Gloria Bell

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Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) is on the search for happiness in Sebastian Lelio’s America remake of his own Chilean film, Gloria. (Source: Variety)

Chilean director Sebastian Lelio is not the first director to remake one of his own movies for American audiences (think Alfred Hitchcock with The Man Who Knew Too Much). His 2013 film Gloria met with universal acclaim from critics as an honest and realistic portrait of a 50-year-old woman making ends meet. After the success of his first English-language film Disobedience, he casts Oscar-winning actress Julianne Moore in a role of a lifetime. She leads a terrific ensemble in a flawed yet solid character study.

Instead of taking place in Santiago, this remake is set in Los Angeles. Moore plays the title character, a free-spirited woman in her fifties who has been divorced for over ten years by her ex-husband Dustin (Brad Garrett). She spends days working in her office at an insurance agency, trying to call her two grown children–Anne (Caren Pistorius) and Peter (Michael Cera)– to no avail.

At night, she hits the dance floor to the numerous nightclubs the city has to offer. She usually dances alone, but she tries to make-up with people her age; if not, older. One night, her life changes when she meets Arnold (John Turturro), who is also divorced with two grown children of his own. After falling madly in love, things begin to get complicated.

Lelio understands the American vibe this version portrays. Every scene feels realistic, especially the era Gloria is living in. With advanced technology taking over, she prefers to live life the old-fashioned way. Moore gives a spectacular performance as a woman who is searching for happiness. Whether it’s trying to find out how a hairless cat always gets into her one-bedroom apartment and can’t standing to overhear her noisy neighbor off-screen (The All-American Rejects lead singer Tyson Ritter, in an effective performance while off-screen), the audience sympathizes with her in every scene she is in. “When the world blows up, I hope I go down dancing,” she says while eating dinner with Arnold and her friends.

Mark her words. While she has moved on, Turturro’s Arnold is trying to get over his changes in life. However, his children are always worried about him. They call him almost every chance they get. That’s why things are starting to become difficult for the two of them. Even when he steps aside to call his kids, he is never seen again. It makes Gloria the least bit worried. Not only that, she sees her two children move on while she is still trying to find her place in life. Lelio is at his most riveting when he has the camera following her every step of the way, even if she doesn’t utter a single line.

The movie, however, is not perfect. There are times where Gloria Bell feels somewhat dull and sluggish at times. There are a few scenes that feel out-of-place, which derails the flow of the pace. Whenever we see Gloria dance to the kick-ass disco soundtrack, it’s hard to resist. It’s nothing I’ll ever see again, but I’m glad a movie like this exists. Now, time to watch the original.

7/10

Movie Review: Hellboy (2019)

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Hellboy (David Harbour) is about to hit the crapper in Neil Marshall’s 2019 reboot. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

It has been fifteen years since Guillermo del Toro brought Mike Mignola’s comic-book series to life. Although far from perfect, the film managed to showcase del Toro’s talents as a writer and director. It featured an excellent visual style (mixing CGI with practical effects), great characters, and almost wall-to-wall action. No one could play the half-demon/half-human better than Ron Perlman, who brought so much charisma and humor underneath all the makeup. The sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, contained a bigger fantasy atmosphere. It’s a shame there wouldn’t be more adventures with the original cast.

Director Neil Marshall (The Descent) thought it would be a great idea to reboot the franchise. Sadly, even with an R-rating, meaning more gore and profanity, doesn’t mean it’s any good.

Hellboy (David Harbour), the adoptive son of Professor Trevor Broom (Ian McShane), trains to become an agent of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). He gets sent to England to help the Osiris Club to take down a group of giants.

After being betrayed by the secret society, he eventually joins forces with Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), who has magical abilities after being kidnapped by fairies as a baby, and a hot-headed M11 agent Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae-Kim), with the ability of turning into a jaguar. They learn about ancient sorceress Nimue (Milla Jovovich), whose head among other body parts were dismembered by King Arthur in 517 AD. She comes back to wreak havoc on humanity, as if we have never seen it done to death already (*ahem* The Mummy (2017)).

Everything about Hellboy feels rushed to the point of feeling like a trailer to a movie that never happened. Its pacing goes all over the place. Throughout this trainwreck, we see the characters go from one location to the next; flashing back or giving too much exposition. Hell, even the action sequences are nauseating to watch. The CGI looks like something out of a video game for the XBOX. This movie contains the most blood I’ve ever seen in a comic-book movie.

Fresh from playing Officer Jim Hopper in Stranger Things, David Harbour is not a bad choice to play Hellboy. He does have the physique and attitude to play someone as tough as the red Nazi demon. Unfortunately, his portrayal comes off as immature and whiny; making terrible jokes and shouting even worse one-liners (“Quit while you’re a head,” he says to a dismembered head after letting it go). Not only sucking out the wit and charm that made Perlman’s version so good, there is also no chemistry between him and his co-stars. McShane’s Professor Broom is so over-the-top that it’s hard not to laugh whenever he appears on the screen (he’s better off training John Wick). Even in limbs, Jovovich still comes off as dull playing a whitewashed character. The weirdest performance of all is Thomas Haden Church as a vigilante who kills his victims and branding them with his lobster-claw symbol.

The new Hellboy is about as entertaining as a two-hour car accident. There is no fun to be had with it whatsoever. Everything about it is incomprehensible and obnoxious to the point of making everyone sick to their stomach and getting a headache. It’s charmless, humorless, lifeless, and cringe-worthy. Not only is it one of the worst movies of the year, it’s one of the worst comic-book movies I’ve ever seen. Of course, a movie like this will end on a cliffhanger; leaving room for a sequel. It’s blockbuster hell.

0/10

Movie Review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

 

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Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is back; this time, with a new team in the superior 2008 sequel to Hellboy, The Golden Army. (Source: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema)

After the success of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro decided to give the sequel to Hellboy a fantasy atmosphere. With a budget of $85 million ($20 million more than its predecessor), The Golden Army is a superior sequel with a lot more humor, wall-to-wall action, and wonderful characters from before–as well as introducing some new ones. Ron Perlman, again, plays Hellboy with the wit and charm as the original.

Here, he and his team of paranormal researchers–his pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), Dr. Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), and a German ectoplasmic psychic named Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane, the only movie where he doesn’t turn in a bad performance) to take down Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), a creature from a mystical underworld who has collected pieces of the crown, so he could be in charge of a massive army of mechanical soldiers, known as “The Golden Army”. Resulting in a battle between the humans and his people.

I love the attention to detail in the wonderful sets, particularly the troll market where Hellboy and his colleagues go through. I’m certain it will take many repeated viewings to catch everything going on in that sequence. For someone who is a sucker for fantasy, the atmosphere works for this kind of movie. With its great action set pieces, the movie also contains some of the most hilarious moments in any superhero movie. I love the scene where Abe and Hellboy discuss issues about women, after Abe falls in love with Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), and sing Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You” while drinking some beer. It’s hard not to crack a smile during that scene.

It’s a shame to hear Hellboy III will never see the light of day. I will miss the great adventures with these actors, and I’ll watch them for the rest of my life, especially Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

10/10

Movie Review: Hellboy (2004)

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Hellboy (Ron Perlman) rids the Earth from paranormal threats while also dealing with personal issues in Guillermo del Toro’s first superhero movie. (Source: IMDb)

Years before he won an Oscar for The Shape of Water, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro adapted Mike Mignola’s graphic novel series, Hellboy, to the big screen. It became a modest box-office success when it hit theaters in 2004. Although it didn’t break any new ground in the superhero genre, it contains enough humor, fantastic visuals, and historical intrigue to outweigh its flaws.

Ron Perlman hits it out of the park as the title character, a demon who came out of a paranormal portal built by the Nazis during World War II to free the “Seven Gods of Chaos” to defeat the Allies. However, things don’t go according to plan as the Allies defeat the Nazis. Dr. Trevor Broom (the late John Hurt) adopts the creature and, eventually, training him to be an agent of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) to secretly protect the world from paranormal threats, with the help of a psychic half-amphibian/half-human Dr. Abe Sapien (Doug Jones; voiced by David Hyde Pierce), John Myers (Rupert Evans), and Dr. Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor). While a demanding role (considering the red make-up), Perlman plays Hellboy as a selfish yet charismatic creature who smokes cigars, loves Baby Ruth candy, and has a soft spot for cats (similar to Vito Corleone from The Godfather).

There is plenty of action in this movie, particularly one exhilarating scene leading to a subway station. For the most part, the movie works, due to del Toro’s sensitive directing and screenplay (though ridden with holes), the energy, the atmosphere, and the great characters. 

8/10

Movie Review: Shazam!

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14-year-old Billy Batson (Zachary Levi) becomes the adult superhero Shazam, who needs help from his foster brother (Jack Dylan Grazer) in David F. Sandberg’s first outing in the superhero genre. (Source: New York Post)

It looks like the DCEU is starting to gain its mojo, after the surprises of Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Fresh from directing two horror movies–Lights Out (based on his own short film) and the surprisingly solid Annabelle: Creation, Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg directs a superhero origin story described as Big meets Superman. Shazam! has been in development for years. At one point, Dwayne Johnson was attached to play Black Adam. However, Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden decided for a more light-hearted tone with some frightening imagery thrown in the mix.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a 14-year-old from Philadelphia, who has escaped from numerous foster homes to search for his biological mother. He spends his days getting into trouble with the law until he gets sent to a new foster home with Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa Vazquez (Marta Milans). One day, he heads on a subway to get away from a couple of bullies, which leads him to a secret lair known as The Rock of Eternity.

There, Billy meets the ancient wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who explains to him he has been looking for a Champion who is “pure of heart”, and must prevent the Seven Deadly Sins, a group of monsters, to wipe out humanity. Reluctant, at first, Billy touches the staff and shouts “Shazam!” This turns him into the adult superhero (Zachary Levi, Chuck and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), who wears a red suit with a yellow lightning bolt on his chest. With the help of his new foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, It), a comic-book fanatic, Billy tests his new superpowers, while the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) is out to get him.

No other actor can capture the young-at-heart charisma while having a violent side than Levi. While he is no stranger playing dorky characters, this is the first time where he plays a superhero. This is by no means a simple role to pull off. Balancing his physicality with the emotional weight, he is nothing short of perfect. There is excellent chemistry between him and Grazer, who provide enough comic relief to keep the movie going. Prepare to laugh your head off when they test out superpowers, which contains the best use of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” since Shaun of the Dead.

Strong plays the best villain in the franchise, by far. It’s no surprise he can play these types of roles in his sleep. However, there is something about him as Sivana I find so captivating. Like its protagonist, he is dealing with family issues. His nasty nature shows in an unflinching prologue where he enters the lair as a child, but gains different powers when he becomes an adult.

For a movie to feature foster parents who expect their kids to respect one another is a breath of fresh air. There is plenty of thrilling action set pieces, but there is an uplifting theme about the importance of family. Seeing where Billy is coming from, it’s almost impossible not to get teary-eyed over. We are with him every step of the way.

For his first movie outside the horror genre, Sandberg hits it out of the park! Shazam! works as a superhero movie, a light-hearted comedy, a trip into nostalgia, and a Christmas movie. Expect to see more wise-cracking and ass-kicking from Shazam soon, since a sequel is currently in the works.

9.5/10