Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Movie Review: “Avengers: Endgame”

Avengers: Endgame

***** out of 5
181  minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language
Marvel Studios

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

As if living in a post-Avengers: Infinity War world wasn’t hard enough, a post-Endgame world is even harder. The things you know, and the things you’ve seen, cannot prepare audiences for the time they’re about to have.

Thanos still demands your silence, making it the first rule of Avengers: Endgame: you do not talk about Avengers: Endgame. At least with anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. Everything could be a potential spoiler. There’s no reason to even get into the plot for this reason. Just go with what’s been shown in the trailers and TV spots and stay far far away from social media.

You can’t tell someone to make sure they bring a box of tissues, but then what would they think if you told them not to? It’s a tricky game, but thankfully, it’s a blessing to only have to live with for a few more days.

Either way, directors Anthony and Joe Russo have managed to put a fitting cap on the “Infinity Saga” while continuing to expand and breathe new life into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We all knew there was no way they could fail, but at the same time, could they possibly live up to expectations? One word: absolutely!

For those with the film already mapped out in their heads, remember, this is Marvel, and they do what they want. And what they do is surprising, hilarious, emotional, sometimes weird, and genuinely jaw-dropping.

There may be naysayers, but Endgame is the finale we’ve been waiting for. It even manages to polish off some of the bruises along the way — cough Thor: The Dark World cough.

Reviewing a film like Endgame is the epitome of critic proof. It’s going to make all the money, deservedly so. The best thing to do is to just let everyone else take it in and report back when the world is a safe place from spoilers. Just sit back, soak it in, and I can’t wait for the conversation!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Movie Review: “The Curse of La Llorona”

The Curse of La Llorona

** out of 5
93 minutes
Rated R for violence and terror
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

With James Wan moving on to billion dollar blockbusters, his beloved Conjuring universe is feeling the lack the of his presence. Cracks were already showing in the formula with his own Conjuring 2, but The Curse of La Llorona is even worse than the first Annabelle. Director Michael Chaves takes what should have been a super creepy scarefest and turned “The Weeping Woman” folktale into another boring, clich├ęd, screaming banshee flick. If you consider loud noises scary — and there seemed to be plenty in the theater — then La Llorona could work. For the rest of us, it’s just another exercise in horror movie tedium that barely connects to the Conjuring universe.

In Mexico, 1673, La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez) has discovered her husband’s infidelity and drowns their children in the river. Two hundred years later in 1973, Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) is a Child Protective Services case worker sent to check in on Patricia (Patricia Velasquez) and her two boys, Carlos (Oliver Alexander) and Tomas (Aiden Lewandowski). But what Anna doesn’t know is that Patricia has locked her boys in the closet to keep them safe from La Llorona. Now, she’s unleashed a force upon herself and her own two children, Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). They are forced to take the advice of Father Perez (Tony Amendola) and call upon unorthodox curendaro Rafael (Raymond Cruz) to save the day.

The Curse of La Llorona is the kind of horror film that relies on characters working overtime to do stupid things. Like taking baths alone, not calling out for help, or just doing exactly what they literally know they shouldn’t do. For instance, Samantha has already been attacked by La Llorona once, yet when La Llorona tries to drown her in the bathtub, all she does is wearily look around the room to see what’s going on instead of simply getting out of the bathtub or even calling out for her mom.

I was really rooting for La Llorona to be better than the TV spots made it look. But sadly, what you see is what you get. It’s 93 minutes which feel like an eternity. There’s even a waiting montage. That’s right, screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis have characters sitting around simply waiting for La Llorona to show up and yell at them. There’s also a really dumb pseudo-twist toward the end that’s hilarious and Cruz feels like he’s stepped in from a completely different movie filming down the street.

Lots of friends have asked me about this as they’ve been told the story growing up and it scares the hell out of them. But there’s nothing here that’s going to scare audience members the way an abuelita can. Telling ghost stories around the campfire is more frightening than anything that happens in The Curse of La Llorona. The real curse here is the movie itself while the scariest thing is that Chavez is in charge of The Conjuring 3!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Movie Review: “Pet Sematary”

Pet Sematary

**** out of 5
101 minutes
Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some language
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Two years ago, I let a Stephen King film get the better of me. While I didn’t find The Dark Tower anywhere near abysmal as others, it was not the film we deserved. Since then, studios and directors have taken King’s books seriously and decided to start making his films not just good, but surprisingly great. And with Pet Sematary celebrating its 30th anniversary, it was time for someone to dig it up and breathe some new life into one of King’s most terrifying stories.

Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) has uprooted his family from Boston to Ludlow, Maine hoping to start a new adventure. His wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence), and son Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), are along for the ride. One day, Ellie and Rachel discover the local pet sematary — Ellie points out it’s spelled wrong — located on their land, but neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) shows Louis the real cemetery deeper in the woods. A mistake that comes back to haunt everyone after Louis buries the family cat, Church, which comes back with some evil spirits in tow.

The cast shows how far horror acting has come in the last three decades. And hopefully this is a nice sizzle reel directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer can use to get onboard the Dark Tower Amazon Prime show. They clearly have a love for the series and all things King.

While it may not be quite the best remake, Pet Sematary works spectacularly as the Dark Tower film we wish Sony could have delivered. The directors, and writer Jeff Buhler, fill the film with King connections and litter it with enough Dark Tower references to make fans heads spin. It really keeps the film afloat from start to finish, and the highly marketed new twist leaves the door open to the best ending of the story yet. This may not be the definitive film version, but it’s a fantastic update for modern audiences.

Movie Review: “Shazam!”


**** 1/2 out of 5
132 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It’s been a while since I last watched Chuck, and forgotten how charming and hilarious Zachary Levi is. In pitch perfect casting, Levi completely embodies the titular Shazam! as the grown-up version of young Billy Watson (Asher Angel) in the ultimate wish-fulfillment superhero comedy. DC Films has also clearly learned a thing or two about not trying to force their own cinematic universe. Letting director David F. Sandberg loose with the hilarity, heart, and heroics, Shazam! is an amazing adventure for the whole family.

On a snowy winter night in 1974, young Thaddeus Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto) has a run-in with The Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) after he’s transported from the family car when his Magic 8 Ball malfunctioned. Too bad for Thad, as he learns his heart isn’t pure and he’s sent back to his mentally abusive brother and father (John Glover).

In the present, young Billy is a teen on the run from child services  while wanting to find his absent mom who he became separated from at a carnival as a kid. Billy is quickly taken under the wing of Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews). Here, he meets his motormouth, superhero obsessed, paraplegic foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer).

After Billy defends Freddy from a couple of bullies, Billy winds up being whisked away to see The Wizard and learns his heart is pure enough to grab The Wizard’s shaft, shout “Shazam!”, and become the adult super version of himself. Meanwhile, Thaddeus (Mark Strong) has finally found his way back to The Wizard’s lair where he’s overtaken by the spirits of the Seven Deadly Sins and must put a stop to Shazam if he wants to become the ultimate supervillain.

Shazam! is Superman meets Big. Thankfully, the film doesn’t try to keep the laughs going for the whole runtime or it would run the premise into the ground. It’s nice to see Sandberg taking time outs for the audience to connect with not just Billy, or Shazam, but with the rest of the cast as well. And in a fun twist at the end, they all get their chance to shine and threaten to steal the whole movie.

Levi is amazing in a role he seems born to play while Grazer continues to be every bit as hilarious as he was in It. The kid has a huge future ahead of him and it’ll be fun to watch him grow up onscreen. Screenwriter Henry Gayden finds the perfect balance of laughs and sweetness without the latter getting overbearing. There are two end-credit scenes, one which sets up future plotting and the second lands huge laughs. Shazam! is the perfect antidote to the gritty misfires and is the best post-Nolan DC film, period.