Pet Sematary (2019)

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Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home.
This latest adaptation from a work of genius author Stephen King proves to be a missed opportunity. The trailers teased something dark, unpredictable, and memorable, but what we got instead was a terribly written film with poor direction and no attempt to fulfill any promises it sets up. The film has some nice atmosphere building in the start, but ultimately falls into too many horror cliches, like the family moving to a new place for a “fresh start”, and the older, wiser, “exposition dump” character who conveniently knows everything. The marketing not only gave away every surprise there as about the movie, but made me believe this would be a brutal and unsettling horror film. Unfortunately, there are few truly scary moments and every important death happens either off screen or too dramatically to be taken seriously and emotionally. Jason Clarke’s acting never stands out, and he’s an actor who’s unfortunately found himself stuck in the limbo of playing the boring characters in reboots, and like I said, John Lithgow is just there for exposition purposes. There’s also an arc for the female lead which becomes super repetitive and involves unnecessary flashbacks that provide the only possible scares this movie had. There’s also some aspects, like a frightening opening hinting at a cult of some sort or more resurrected animals or people, but this buildup ends up leading nowhere. Pet Sematary ultimately becomes frustrating in its climax and I was happy when it was over. It unfortunately fails to dodge any cliches of the genre and misses out on any emotional response it could have gotten out of its audience, which is disappointing because I had hopes for this one. You’re best off watching the trailer and leaving it there, because the 2-minute teaser was far more entertaining than the actual film was. Let’s hope the King adaptations improve when It: Chapter Two and Doctor Sleep are released in the fall.
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Hotel Mumbai

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The true story of the Taj Hotel terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008. Hotel staff risk their lives to keep everyone safe as people make unthinkable sacrifices to protect themselves and their families.

Hotel Mumbai is a terrifyingly realistic and relevant look at the awfulness of the world and a terrible act of hate. However, it also puts the spotlight on the courage of the protagonists, the workers and guests at the hotel being held hostage. We see in numerous scenes where several characters make the difficult choice to put their guests’ lives ahead of theirs, as they claim “Guest is god”, and that the hotel is their home and they would not leave without first ensuring the safety of others. The guests also are seen never giving up to be with their loved ones and protect them, even if it costs them their own lives. Even though we’re also reminded of the horrible, blind beliefs that radical terrorists follow, even they are given brief moments to remind the audience that they’re also human beings, like a terrorist who is critically injured and calls his father tearfully when he realizes it’s unlikely he’ll make it home. Dev Patel and Armie Hammer deliver solid performances, but a surprising standout is Anupam Kher as the head chef at the hotel who constantly displays leadership, courage, and selflessness during the attack. The dirtector also does a great job building sitatuions of tension and showing certain characters in the same shot to make us uncertain who will make it out alive. Despite being an effective thriller, Hotel Mumbai does unfortanely fall into some “true terrorist attack film” cliches, like the main character who’s new at his job, the white guy who’s mostly there to make more money, the couple who gets seperated, the rich guy who’s kind of an asshole, the brave but foolish cops who are the first to arrive at the scene and the seasoned worker who always maintains his dignity. Though it’s easy to tell where it’s going and who’s likely to die or make it out alive, Hotel Mumbai still remains an intense dramatization that does its job of reminding us of the terror that’s happened in this world and continues to happen today.

Hotel Mumbai is strongly acted, well-directed, and feels very realistically and executed. However, it sometimes falls into cliches of films in the similar genre, while thankfully still remaining intense and timely for audiences.

 

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Shazam!

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Billy Batson is a streetwise 14-year-old who encounters a wizard that lets him turn into an adult superhero by simply saying the word “Shazam”. His newfound powers soon get put to the test when he squares off against the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana.

By focusing less on world-building and more on humor and heart, Shazam! turns out to be one of the DC Extended Universe’s greatest successes yet. It immediately establishes itself as a funnier DC movie but also uses the light tone to convey some real sweetness in its themes. Zachary Levi owns his role with plenty of charisma and perfectly portrays a superhero discovering his powers and size for the first time, which makes for the most enjoyable sequences of the film. Even though you spend so much time with Levi that there isn’t enough unity felt between him and the younger actor playing Billy, both performances are skilled on their own. The movie takes themes that feel rather family-friendly, such as the importance of family and sharing, and perfectly intertwines them with the aim of a PG-13 audience of a live-action superhero film, making for a very heartwarming and cheerful experience, especially in the final half. The one major thing that will bother some viewers is the villain — sure, envy and greed are good motives, and Mark Strong is a great actor, but the execution of the character is ultimately dull and felt so inferior to everything else in the movie, where everything else says “Check me out, I’m awesome!” while the villain’s writing is basically “By the way, I’m evil and I’m doing evil things.” His execution feels really one-dimensional and we never really feel the rage or jealousy of him, and even though we see his backstory, he just feels heartless and mean later on, ignoring the layer the writers could have offered to the character. Also, some of the production design and CGI aren’t very pleasant to look at, such as a wizard’s lair that looks to obviously like a film set and has little to no realism to it. Perhaps a larger budget to make the visual appeal much less underwhelming would have helped. However, Shazam! has a way of playing on cliches, making its audience die of laughter, and humanizing seemingly unimportant side characters and making them feel like emotionally potent roles, as well as giving foster kids representation on the big screen in a superhero movie for the first time.
Shazam! is arguably DC’s greatest win since The Dark Knight, and — surprisingly — the better movie based on a character named Captain Marvel this Spring. More uplifting than Aquaman or Justice League, and definitely more interesting for tweens than Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad. It’s definitely up there  with Wonder Woman as the DCEU outings that have definitely hit their mark, and for once makes you look forward to the next wave of films starring Levi as the titular character. It isn’t perfect as some of the production could’ve used improvement and the villain and plot structure are familiar, but under it all is a message that will reach viewer’s hearts and also make for a damn good time — go see it with family and friends when it’s out on April 5!
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Us

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This horror film follows a family whose summer trip to a beach house is interrupted when a family that looks exactly like them shows up at their door.

Jordan Peele follows up a victory with another one that should be praised for its own reasons. Though it’s a very different film than Peele’s Oscar-wining horror film, Us is an all-out nightmare that will get under your skin like no other mainstream film ever has. Not only is it more frightening than most horror films, but it’s so meticulously crafted and strongly directed by Peele, who make his care for characters and root for them to survive within an instant. From the very first shot of a girl watching television, Peele already plants clues for what’s to come, followed by an opening credits shot that’s simple but will give you chills. He wonderfully builds every shot to contain mystery and intrigue, that will make you never stop guessing what will happen next. He builds shots hide and show certain things and wonderfully makes the doppelganger characters frightening antagonists for the viewer. Lupita Nyong’o delivers two main performances that feel very different but both are spectacular in their own route. She convincingly acts terrified in many instances, but also changes her voice and achieves many feats in numerous scenes tin which she will blow you away. The violence is uncompromising but a blast to watch if you can watch graphic imagery without flinching, as the fight for survival is always thrilling and unpredictable. However, there’s also great moments of comic relief thrown in there, which delivers while still feeling like a full-on horror film. But above all the fright and entertainment, there’s some true shock thrown in, especially towards the end. Peele leaves the message and themes of the film open for discussion, as opposed to more obvious racial commentary in Get Out , while the meaning of Us will be debated for years. Not to mention a plot twist that will go down as an ending for the ages.

Jordan Peele has not let down expectations and is an established horror genius here in Hollywood, promoting true originality and terror in his films. With strong writing and acting, as well as plot devices and themes that can be analyzed for years to come, there’s so much to say about this new horror masterwork that I’d rather not ruin and let you discover for yourself.

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Captain Marvel

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Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.
Whether audiences are looking for the final pieces of the puzzle before Avengers: Endgame,  the first female-led Marvel film (finally), or simply another entertaining, empowering superhero movie, Captain Marvel has something for everyone. It takes place 20 years before the beginning of Iron Man before Nick Fury came up with the Avengers Initiative but still feels connected to events that happen later in films like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.  Even though she isn’t one of the MCU’s brightest heroes just yet, Captain Marvel has plenty of heart and soul delivered to the screen by Brie Larson, who also shares great chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson, whose appearance isn’t just impressive because of de-aging CGI made to make him look 25 years younger, but also because it’s the best portrayal of the character, in his more adventurous, laid back years before assembling the titular project of one of the biggest cinematic events of the decade, and also is in one of his more prominent Marvel film roles, compared to merely a post-credits cameo in last year’s Infinity War. The film beautifully presents its set pieces with astounding visual effects for new planets, powers, and spaceships that never fail to stand out. There’s also some witty dialogue and great comic relief in the form of Goose, a seemingly adorable cat with a shocking secret. There’s also a wonderful tribute to the late legend that started it all — Stan Lee — that kicks off the film and celebrates decades of comic book writing and cameos, and will make everyone watching break into applause — I sure did, as well as my entire crowd. There’s plenty to behold about this enthralling origin story, including great action sets and a fantastic final act, with a lovely theme of discovering who you are, and an interesting plot twist that not many would expect. However, within all its qualities, it’s just missing something — more of it. Despite a great story, Captain Marvel clocks in at 124 minutes, which would seem like a solid length for an action film but the pacing made it feel like they didn’t have a minute to spare. It felt like Marvel and Disney had interfered too much and left too many scenes on the cutting floor. This fast pacing and more focus on story development, leading to less focus on emotional development, is what makes it have less of an emotional connection with the audiences as other Marvel films, and though audiences will love characters like Carol and Fury, and be enthralled by the visuals and action, I feel that the film needed more sequences in the beginning for world building and introducing who Carol is before all the action kicks in, and more emphasis on her emotional arc and vulnerabilities. These scenes would be the key yo establishing that true emotional connection that would have made Captain Marvel another quintessential Marvel movie, like Black Panther was instantly able to do last year. I know these scenes exist somewhere, but unfortunately, the omission of these 10-20 minutes make it feel a bit less rushed and keep it from being the fantastic classic it almost was. It’s also a bit less thrilling to see the discovery of her past when, well, we already know who she is and where she’s from because of the trailer. Despite this, Captain Marvel still has plenty to offer, including empowering themes, entertaining plot and action, and one of the most jaw-dropping post-credits scenes in the history of the MCU, which, without spoilers, will make you want to buy tickets for Avengers: Endgame as soon as you’re out of the theater.
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Fighting with my Family

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This uplifting sports comedy-drama follows WWE wrestler Paige and her real-life journey from holding small matches with her family in England to becoming a worldwide superstar.

Fighting with my Family not only retains some rare, real genius in its humor that all audiences will love, but also delivers a touching and exciting story that will keep you rooting for the characters from beginning to end. Though Paige’s story isn’t a “shocking” or “never seen before” one, the movie lets you forget that it at times has some familiar aspects by delivering a heartfelt script that won’t take you of the scene for a second. Florence Pugh perfectly embodies her character, who is passionate, tough, and isn’t always set on looking “pretty” but not afraid to fight rough, and Pugh really brings some soul to the role as well. Jack Lowden also delivers some great heart as her brother who has an important role in the story that will also make you legitimately care for him and the relationship between the two siblings. Nick Frost and Lena Headey are not only outrageously hilarious parents who love wrestling as much as their kids, and bigger are cast to get some bigger names out there, but they feel like truly loving and supportive parents, despite their outgoing personalities. That’s where the film’s true strength comes — even when the movie goes for monstrous laugh-out-loud moments, it never forgets to deliver some true heart and soul at the same time, which makes it a terrific theater experience in both the enjoyment aspect, and the actual quality the film delivers. Vince Vaughn, who is normally a comedic performer, is surprisingly in the serious role here, and he excellently takes on a coach who goes hard on his wrestlers because he clearly cares about their future in the sport, and also has some down-to-earth moments with the main roles. And wrestling legend Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has some very memorable appearances that remind us why he is such an icon in both the wrestling and film industries, and its nice to see him go for a more inspirational role than just the badass running from explosions, even if his role in this film is minimal.

Fighting with my Family proves an excellent debut for Stephen Merchant behind the camera, who, like I said, perfectly balances humor with some authentic substance and strong writing that will make you fall in love with the characters. Even though you can tell how the climax will end, this movie will have you constantly laughing out loud but also cheering for the leading character of Paige thanks to some great performances and an ultimately uplifting and cheerful experience you won’t want to forget.

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Free Solo

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Free Solo is a documentary that follows Alex Honnold as he becomes the first person to free solo climb El Capitan — in other words, climbing up the rock without a harness or anything to protect him from the deadly consequences of falling.

I’m not a huge watcher of documentaries but I’m very glad I didn’t miss this one and was able to catch it in IMAX. Not only are the climbing sequences very impressive and the visual scale is worthy of a big screen watch, but the movie is able to pull you into the story on an emotional level that not many scripted films this year have reached. Alex Honnold is displayed as an inspiration to everyone who has an insane amount of passion and those who dream to one day set the bar higher. His love of his hobby and eventual profession really connected to someone like me who would also want to one day make a profession out of my love of films, in my case. But not only does Honnold teach us to believe in the impossible, but the movie also shows us a different side of things in a very powerful way, like the emotional toll the buildup to the climb takes on his friends, crew, and girlfriend, who must prepare for the possible outcome that he may not survive the climb. Ultimately, when the movie reaches its climax, your heart will be pounding as you watch the incredible final few minutes of the film that are boasted by reactions from the crew as they watch, as well as a strong score from Marco Beltrami, and even if you know how it will end, the journey there is a damn lovely one.

Free Solo is a must-watch documentary that deserved its win at the Oscars in every sense. It’s amazingly done and inspiring on both a technical and emotional level, and had me engaged for every minute of the film. The film and its subject remind us that there will always be people passionate and daring enough willing to break barriers and set the bar higher.

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