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Avengers: Endgame Review – Marvel Delivers A Superhero Epic Like Never Before

Avengers: Endgame wraps up the story of the MCU so far, delivering an epic superhero adventure while honoring the past in a satisfying finale.

Marvel Studios kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe nearly 11 years ago with 2008’s Iron Man. Back then, they had a relatively modest vision of building to The Avengers by assembling a team of heroes from their respective origin movies into a single unit. In the decade since Robert Downey Jr. made his debut as Iron Man, the MCU has grown to include superheroes from all across the universe, from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to the Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, Avengers: Endgame marks the 22nd film in the MCU and sets out to achieve a feat Hollywood has never seen attempted before by ending the story that first began in Iron Man. And it does, in a spectacular accomplishment. Avengers: Endgame wraps up the story of the MCU so far, delivering an epic superhero adventure while honoring the past in a satisfying finale.

Avengers: Endgame picks up after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, which saw the Avengers divided and defeated. Thanos won the day and used the Infinity Stones to snap away half of all life in the universe. Only the original Avengers – Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – remain, along with some key allies in the forms of War Machine (Don Cheadle), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Each of the survivors deal with the fallout from Thanos’ Decimation in different ways, but when an opportunity presents itself to potentially save those who vanished, they all come together and set out to defeat Thanos, once and for all.

For Avengers: Endgame, Marvel Studios assembles its veterans behind the scenes as well, re-teaming directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who joined the MCU with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who’ve penned a total of six MCU movies since Captain America: The First Avenger. All that’s to say, Avengers: Endgame fits perfectly within the larger MCU in terms of direction and screenwriting because it was created by those who had a prominent hand in crafting the sprawling cinematic universe. And with so much experience under their belts, the Russos excel at balancing the superhero spectacle with human drama, while the more focused story of Endgame allows for the characters to truly shine. There are moments when the story gets a little unwieldy, suffering from similar problems to Infinity War in maintaining a consistent pace throughout the entire film. But Avengers: Endgame is meant to be a culminating epic and it’s clear that the Russos, Markus and McFeely took the care to make sure they got it right.

At the heart of Avengers: Endgame are the heroes we’ve been following since the very beginning. At this point in the franchise, there’re too many heroes for one movie – even a three-hour movie – to focus on all of them. Avengers: Infinity War undoubtedly struggled under the weight of balancing so many characters. With half the universe gone, Endgame is able to focus on the original six Avengers, who are the true center of the MCU (at least, so far). The film remarkably balances its character arcs so well it’s as if each hero gets a solo movie in Avengers: Endgame. There are certain character beats that may not work for all viewers, and even within the original six, certain heroes get more focus than others, unfortunately. To their credit, though, the actors give some of their best performances in the MCU, especially the original six: Downey, Evans, Hemsworth, Ruffalo, Johansson and Renner. Even with future movies or TV shows already planned for some characters, this is the original Avengers team’s swan song, and the actors put their hearts and souls into Avengers: Endgame.

In addition to the character drama, Avengers: Endgame delivers superhero spectacle like nothing seen in the MCU – or any other superhero movie – ever before. With Endgame acting as the conclusion of the MCU thus far, it goes all in on action. There are times when Endgame falls back into Marvel’s old problems (hordes of unimportant villains, too much CGI and muted coloring), but they’re tempered with character-focused moments. While most of these are in service of the core six, each Marvel hero in Avengers: Endgame gets a moment to truly shine and join in on the superhero fun. Some of these moments are unashamedly fan service and, in fact, there’s a great deal of fan service in Avengers: Endgame overall. But after 11 years and 21 movies, Marvel has earned some fan service, and it all adds to the epic, event nature of Avengers: Endgame.

Ultimately, Avengers: Endgame is a whole lotta movie, but the filmmakers put every single second of its three-hour runtime to good use. Since Endgame concludes the Infinity Saga (the official title of the story thus far), Marvel and the filmmakers have the unenviable task of delivering a movie that satisfies all MCU fans. While there are bound to be aspects of Avengers: Endgame that don’t work for all viewers, for the most part the movie actually, truly offers a satisfying ending to the Infinity Saga. As a result, Avengers: Endgame is a must-see for Marvel fans, even those who have only a casual interest in the MCU. Because of the spectacle, it’s worth seeing Avengers: Endgame in IMAX, though it isn’t necessary to enjoy the movie. Marvel Studios’ latest faces the highest expectations of any Marvel Studios movie thus far and manages to exceed them, which is nothing short of extraordinary. Simply speaking, Avengers: Endgame is one of the best Marvel movies ever.

Trailer

Avengers: Endgame starts playing in U.S. theaters Thursday evening April 25th. It is 181 minutes long and rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2019-04-23 03:04:53

Molly Freeman

Avengers: Endgame Delivers An Ending That We Haven’t Seen In the Genre Before

Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige promises Avengers: Endgame will have an ending unlike any other entry in the comic book movie genre, thanks in large part to it serving as the conclusion of one massive saga. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown significantly since it began in 2008, as the solo Iron Man movie led to a set of movies building towards The Avengers. But, even in the mid-credits of a colossal achievement of its own, Marvel teased that Thanos was on the horizon for the future.

It wasn’t until last year, though, that they truly made good on this tease in Avengers: Infinity War, with the Mad Titan framed as the main character of the film. He succeeded in eliminating half of all life across the universe with the snap of his fingers, which included the loss of many major MCU characters. This surprising ending to Avengers: Infinity War sets the stage for Avengers: Endgame to show if the remaining heroes have what it takes to defeat Thanos and reset the universe to its rightful place.

Related: Everything We Know About Thanos’ Role In Avengers: Endgame

This alone is no easy task for directors Anthony and Joe Russo, but their toughest task may be telling the final chapter in the larger MCU story that is eleven years in the making. Feige spoke about this challenge during the Avengers: Endgame press conference and noted that the film’s ending will be something that has never been seen before in the genre due to this. He said:

“Well, what’s special is all the actors on this stage, all the actors who are not on the stage. And as you said earlier, the family that has come together this decade, plus, and the fact that in a… Robert said it so well in the trailer; part of the journey is the end. And about four or five years ago, we all started talking about doing something that every turn – including the first Iron Man film we talked about, ‘How can we do something that’s never been done before? What if a superhero outs his identity at the very last shot of the movie?’ ‘We can’t do that. No one’s done that. We can’t do that. What would we do next time?’ ‘I  don’t know. Let’s do it.’ Four or five years ago we talked about what haven’t we seen in films based on comic characters. We haven’t seen an ending, a definitive conclusion to an overall saga. So that is why it’s called Endgame. And why I think it’s very, very, very, special.”

The Russo brothers even doubled down on what Feige said later on during the press conference, teasing that an epic conclusion is in store for fans. They just hope that fans will be satisfied with what they’ve made. They said:

“…And with Endgame, we can get the opportunity to finish off one of the grandest experiments in movie history and bring it to, as Kevin said, an epic conclusion. So, what we’re hoping for is that people feel satisfied with the conclusion.”

Even though there have been other movie franchises that have ended, and even superhero ones at that, none of them have dealt with anything close to the history that Avengers: Endgame has behind it. However, these statements will also bring about certain expectations with fans about what the ending of Avengers: Endgame will actually hold. Saying that this is a definitive conclusion could be read a number of different ways, and one of the biggest is the assumption that many of the original Avengers will die before the movie concludes. This is expected to be the final appearances of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and maybe more in the MCU, and killing off their characters is a major way to make sure that this is a definitive conclusion.

That said, Feige has also referred to the first eleven years of the MCU as the Infinity Saga, so one way that it can be a conclusion to this saga is by how it wraps up the story of the Infinity Stones and Thanos. Both have been central to the MCU for a number of years, but especially over the last two Phases. Avengers: Endgame could come to a close with Thanos being killed by the Avengers or even the Infinity Stones being destroyed altogether. But, with Downey saying the film is the most unpredictable MCU movie ever, that sentiment could be true for how this saga concludes. This was already one of the burning questions fans had, but Feige’s statement could result in even more intrigue ahead of Avengers: Endgame‘s release.

MORE: Avengers: Endgame Special Look Trailer Breakdown


2019-04-07 07:04:12

Cooper Hood

The OA Part 2 Review: An Improved Season Delivers An Even Weirder Ride

Part II of Netflix’s bizarre but ambitious pseudo-existential sci-fi series The OA offers up a compelling continuation of its main story, one that gets even weirder than the weirdest moments from season 1, but it also proves the show can be a lot of fun, if you let yourself go along for the ride. 

The brainchild of writer-star Brit Marling and co-writer and director Zal Batmanglij, The OA seemed to epitomize the potential and the potential pitfalls of what Netflix could offer those with a solid pitch for a new series. The story of a missing blind woman, Prairie Johnson (Marling), who returns after seven years in captivity, with her sight restored and an outlandish tale of a deranged scientist, Dr. Hunter Aloysius ‘Hap’ Percy (Jason Isaacs), who kidnapped a group of people who’d all gone through near death experiences and seen another dimension, must have been one hell of a pitch meeting. Add to that the use of interpretive dance as a means of accessing parallel dimensions, a group of wayward teens eager to believe Prairie’s story, and an ill-advised and completely unearned season 1 finale that revolved around a school shooting, and you have a recipe for one of the biggest mixed bags on television in recent memory. 

It’s been quite a while since The OA first debuted on Netflix, and its second coming — titled The OA: Part II — is even more ambitious, ostentatious, and downright bizarre than what came before. It’s also more focused and, often, more compelling than the first season, as Marling and Batmanglij — along with their writers’ room and fellow directors like Andrew Haigh (Lean on Pete) — have constructed an almost alarmingly expansive three-pronged narrative structure that not only continues the events set in motion last season, bringing back the teens played by Ian Alexander, Patrick Gibson, Chloë Levine, Brendan Meyer, and Brandon Perea (as well as The Office’s Phyllis Smith) but also creates two entirely new scenarios set in an alternate dimension. 

The central new storyline features Kingsley Ben-Adir as Karim Washington, a former FBI agent turned private investigator who is searching for a missing girl and winds up discovering a clandestine operation tied to Dr. Percy and fellow newcomer  Pierre Ruskin, a Russian entrepreneur played by Mad Men alum Vincent Kartheiser. Saying more would give away too much of what the series has up its sleeve, as The OA, like Marling and Batmanglij’s film efforts Sound of My Voice and, to a lesser extent, The East, tend to function first and foremost as J.J. Abrams-like puzzle boxes — though with a less blockbuster-y, more pseudo-intellectual vibe that helps distinguish them, for better and for worse. 

While the puzzle box-ness of it all worked to hamstring the story and climax of season 1 (excuse me, Part I), it’s clear early on in Part II that Marling and Batmanglij are keen to offer up at least a few answers to many of the biggest questions left dangling from 2016 — namely what happened to Prairie after she’d been shot in the chest and carried off by an ambulance, but also what happened to Dr. Percy and the others held captive in his underground research facility. But a willingness to be more forthcoming about what’s going on doesn’t mean the show has tamped down its offbeat storytelling ambitions. If anything, The OA Part II is even more offbeat and ambitious than the season that preceded it. That will no doubt be cause for concern by those who were left largely unimpressed by season 1 (this reviewer included), in particular how it felt as though the show wasn’t going anywhere, and couldn’t quite articulate what, if anything, it was trying to say about life, death, and the human condition. But even as it sometimes becomes far weirder than anything seen in Part I (just wait until you see what happens with an octopus), it also feels as though, finally, the series has a greater purpose beyond smashing a bunch of philosophical questions and quantum theories into one another to see what happens. 

Some of that newfound purpose comes from a more focused episode-by-episode structure. While The OA Part II continues to tell a largely serialized story, one that now covers three distinct plot threads, and gives a surprising amount of time to Karim’s investigation into a missing girl, nearly every episode takes pains to deliver a complete beginning, middle, and end. Making use of a more episodic structure helps make Part II more captivating (if still occasionally overlong), particularly when it works to devote its storytelling energies to the perspective of a single character. This gives the show greater freedom to explore enormous ideas it’s working with, while also working to ground them within the context of the story more, so as to limit the dorm-room philosophizing of it all. 

That’s not to say The OA Part II isn’t just as high on its own supply as it was in Part I. If anything, the show’s creators seem to have spent the last few years doing just that. The upside, though, is that Marling, Batmanglij, and everyone else involved in front of and behind the camera have returned more earnestly committed than ever before. And perhaps that’s what ultimately makes this show work in its own strangely endearing tinfoil hat-wearing way. There are no winks to the audience, subtle or otherwise — though nothing The OA does is ever subtle. Instead what’s on screen is the product of a group’s wholehearted dedication not only to something that is utterly ridiculous most of the time, but also to the fact that the very thing to which they are so dedicated must be ridiculous in order to even work. As ambitious series go, there’s really nothing quite like The OA, and while your mileage will certainly vary, it’s hard not to appreciate the grand scale of what Marling and Batmanglij are attempting to do, even if it’s difficult at times to discern what, exactly, that’s supposed to be. 

Next: Catastrophe Series Finale Review: Saying Goodbye As Only This Show Can

The OA Part II begins streaming on Friday, March 22, 2019 only on Netflix.


2019-03-15 05:03:30

Kevin Yeoman

Counterpart Review: The Sci-Fi Spy Series Delivers A Superb Start To Season 2

Counterpart season 1 was one of the best shows of 2018 (although the series premiere sneak peek arrived in late December 2017), and because the phrase “too much of a good thing” no longer has any meaning in this era of Peak TV, the series is back to begin its second go-round just before the year makes way for 2019. And although a quick turnaround of that sort might seem like a True Detective-sized red flag, or a perilous misstep on behalf of what has proven to be a smart, emotionally driven spy thriller about the nature of identity and the enormous ramifications of choice, Counterpart instead returns with a confident, focused season 2 premiere that is ready to build off of and explore the consequences of the events (and personal discoveries) that dominated and upended the story in the latter half of the first season. 

That fallout had surprisingly little to do with the fact that there is a dimensional rift beneath a governmental building in Berlin, wherein the people from two mirror worlds crossover and sometimes interact with one another (and their counterparts, naturally). Instead, it focused on a clandestine operation known as Indigo, whose primary function was to infiltrate the other dimension, exert influence over its policies, and, for some, exact a kind of misguided revenge for a flu epidemic that decimated the population. For Indigo to work, that meant replacing people from Dimension One without those with whom they were close being any the wiser. That next-level sleeper cell spy game came to a head with a terrorist attack that resulted in the crossing between the two dimensions closing, leaving those — like both versions of Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons) — who were unlucky enough to be in the wrong dimension at the time, trapped on the other side. 

More: The Gifted Fall Finale Review: The Series Delivers A Big Win For Mutankind

The emphasis Counterpart placed on Indigo and its various players gave the series the narrative thrust it needed at the tail end of season 1, and it continues generating intrigue here. But the clandestine conspiracy also allowed series creator Justin Marks and his writer’s room — which includes Mad Men alum Erin Levy — to accentuate the questions the series likes to ask about the nature of identity and the enormous ripple effect a single choice can have, not only for the person making it, but for their entire world. Those questions are paramount at the beginning of season 2, as the series finds new and interesting ways to examine the division between its characters, many of whom have been irrevocably changed by their inter-dimensional encounters, all while keeping or moving them closer in proximity to one another. The result, then, has become an engrossing, next-level spy thriller with a sci-fi twist. 

There is a tendency in second seasons to up the ante, as it were, to go bigger and bolder. Usually that means making additions to the cast or expanding the profile of characters who hit big the first go round. That doesn’t always translate to smarter television, but it does in the case of Counterpart. For one, the series expands the role of Olivia Williams as Howard’s wife, Emily. Williams was a major player in season 1, but only in terms of her Dimension Two counterpart. Now, however, Williams is pulling double duty, like her co-star, as Dimension One Emily is out of her coma and faced with a Regarding Henry-like re-evaluation of the person she was before the accident that nearly claimed her life. 

Of course, Emily is unaware (presumably) her husband isn’t the one she’d purposely deceived for 25 years, and kept from being promoted at his job, but rather the colder, more ruthless and pragmatic Howard Prime from the other dimension. It’s the sort of arrangement that can sound like gobbledygook on paper (or when you try to explain it to someone who hasn’t seen the show), and yet watching it onscreen, thanks to the nuanced performances of Simmons and Williams, it not only makes sense, but affords the series a level of dramatic weight and elegance that’s can sometimes be a rarity with such high-concept genre fare. 

It’s smart stuff that Counterpart doubles down on, turning the relationship between Peter Quayle (Harry Lloyd) and his doppelgänger wife, Clare (Nazanin Boniadi), into a worst-case example of ostensibly the same scenario. Peter and Clare are fully aware who the other is, and that level of truth makes Emily’s ignorance (either as a result of her brain injuries or her husband not being who he says he is) seem almost blissful by comparison. Little details, like the unsettling sound of the massive locks on Quayle’s “safe room,” in the house he shares with the woman who is and is not his wife, underscore the show’s willingness to examine its characters’ fascination with and fear of anyone labeled as “other.”

The weight Counterpart places on such a designation makes the arrival of Betty Gabriel’s FBI agent Naya Temple exciting beyond her potential role in rooting out the truth of Howard Prime’s prolonged visit in Dimension One and, more devastatingly, Quayle being (however unwittingly at first) the mole known as Shadow. Gabriel gives Naya’s outsiderness a purposeful sense of authority while also allowing her to be a little overwhelmed by the strange truth she’s only just now learned about the world(s) she’s been thrust into. It’s always a risk introducing a major new character into a series that ticked like a precision timepiece, but Counterpart and Gabriel make the addition look like a smart one. 

Overall, the most remarkable thing about Counterpart season 2 is that it has the confidence to make storytelling decisions and direct its narrative like a series entering its fourth or fifth season. It’s a little more methodical in its approach this time around, devoting whole hours to a smaller group of characters and parceling out Simmons’ outstanding performance of the two Howard Silks by allowing them the opportunity to more fully inhabit their respective spaces without the other’s presence. One of the most appealing aspects about season 1 was watching Simmons act opposite himself, conjuring up two completely different versions of the same man, so it’s a risk not returning to that dynamic immediately. But, as the series demonstrates the deeper it gets into season 2, it’s a calculated risk that most definitely pays off. 

Next: Nightflyers Review: SYFY’s Miniseries Gets The Tone Right But The Pacing Wrong

Counterpart continues next Sunday with ‘Outside In’ @8pm on Starz.



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2018-12-09 02:12:26

The Gifted Fall Finale Review: The Series Delivers A Big Win For Mutankind

With a title like ‘gaMe changer,’ the merry mutants of FOX’s The Gifted get a big checkmark in the win column, something that will, with any luck, alter the core dynamics of the show. It’s not too often that a television series will call its shots like that (let’s face it, it’s pretty ballsy for any show to flat-out call any episode a “game changer”), much less actually pull it off. Sure, creator Matt Nix and his writers’ room still have to follow through with the events seen here in a creative and meaningful way, but until then, The Gifted can revel in the fact that it delivered an episode that could well be the turning point for the series as a whole.  

Since FOX’s X-Men-adjacent series premiered, it was always working to limit the one thing most viewers were tuning in for: mutants. It’s long been an X-Men storytelling tradition that the easiest way to combat the sometimes godlike powers of Marvel’s mutants is to turn them off completely or have them somehow be on the fritz. The film series has often resorted to that tired plot device in one form or another, particularly in movies like The Wolverine, Logan, and Deadpool 2, just to provide some sense of balance and give the normies of the world a chance against characters whose off-the-charts powers make them kinda boring to watch from a storytelling standpoint. And to The Gifted’s credit, the series has found a way to upend that cliche and potentially explore a world where not only are mutants of varying power levels running free, they’re taking a cue from ol’ Howard Beale. That is: they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take this anymore. 

More: Vikings Season 5B Review: Power And Revenge Drive A Methodical Premiere

Mad mutants running around with no one detaining them or keeping their powers in check certainly stands the chance of livening up what can sometimes be a rather plodding series. And in case viewers were wondering what this brave new world Reeva, Polaris, Esme, and the rest of the Inner Circle are helping create will look like, The Gifted is here to remind viewers that Rebecca (Anjelica Bette Fellini) is (or was) what happens when a world treats powerful, emotionally undeveloped people like garbage and them lets them loose. 

The show has been building toward an end to the Rebecca situation for a little while now, and after she turned someone inside out and was later put in solitary confinement at Reeva’s request, the show effectively set the stage for the probably psychotic mutant with a niche power set to cause some trouble. To that end, when Andy sets his would-be girlfriend free and offers to run away with her, Rebecca’s response works to foreshadow the kind of mayhem the world of The Gifted can likely expect when the show returns next year. 

Normally, flashbacks for characters in the X-Men series are basically the same story over and over again. Rebecca’s is really no different. After apparently nearly killing her teacher and showing little in the way of remorse — or any feeling, really — about it whatsoever, she gets a visit from Sentinel Services, who won’t even let her finish the inside out pancakes before they drag her away. Although the scene is reminiscent of so many other “My Child is a Mutant” flashbacks that’ve been seen or read time and time again, the twist here is that, well, Rebecca’s parents, were probably right to fear her. The scene at the breakfast table was similar to that of ‘It’s a Good Life’ from Twilight Zone: The Movie, in that a supernaturally powerful child is ostensibly holding their family hostage. 

It’s one of the few times The Gifted asks the viewer to understand what made a mutant act violently without also overtly asking for the audience to sympathize with them. And that grey area is where the series has spent a great deal of its time since the arrival of the Inner Circle, and, more so, since Andy and Polaris joined their ranks. As such, the show turns its game-changing event into something that, interestingly enough, creates as many problems as it solves. 

But while The Gifted splashes around in those murky waters, it finds a clearer approach when it comes to its two other primary storylines. In the first Reed, Kate, and Lauren discover the kindly old researcher willing to help Reed out with his X-gene run amok isn’t just working to suppress dangerous mutant abilities and help those who want to lead normal lives, she’s actively in search of a way to eradicate mutantkind. Something she has in common with Jace Turner and the hate group known as the Purifiers. While the series isn’t subtle with the allusions it makes regarding the would-be civilian militia, it does at least give the storyline a frightening real-world feel, one that, sadly, never ceases to be effective. And it’s particularly effective considering John is about to be on the receiving end of the group’s machinations. 

In all, ‘gaMe changer’ lives up to its title, delivering an opportunity for The Gifted to actually chance the circumstances of the world is has created, and to dramatically upset the status quo going forward. Whether or not it follows through on this promise effectively remains to be seen, but perhaps when the series returns in 2019 it will do so by entering into a brave new world. 

Next: Nightflyers Review: SYFY’s Miniseries Gets The Tone Right But The Pacing Wrong

The Gifted returns on January 1, 2019 on FOX.



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2018-12-04 07:12:08

Prodigy Review: Spiritual Drama Delivers Mixed Results

Prodigy plays with some big ideas and heady themes, but doesn’t fully develop all of them as it struggles to truly connect with audiences.

Marking the feature-length debut of director Nathan Leon (who previously helmed shorts such as D.O.A. and Limbo), new drama Prodigy is hoping to make a minor splash as it hits VOD. Nominated for four International Christian Film and Music Festival awards (including Best Picture), it certainly has a more intriguing pedigree than the typical straight-to-video release, giving indie fans hope for a rewarding counter-programming option to check out this holiday season. There’s no denying Leon has an ambitious vision, but he isn’t entirely successful in the execution. Prodigy plays with some big ideas and heady themes, but doesn’t fully develop all of them as it struggles to truly connect with audiences.

Prodigy is set in the not-too-distant future, where teenage boy Caleb Black (Embry Johnson) is an individual with the ability to seemingly receive messages from a higher power, allowing him to accurately predict potentially apocalyptic events. After the first two of Caleb’s prognostications come true, tensions start to mount in anticipation for the third. Various parties, including the government, have a keen interest in Caleb, hoping to make sense of it all and figure out a plan.

Caleb refuses to give information about his third message to any official, saying he’ll only speak to his estranged father, Erick (Cory Kays). When the two are reunited, Caleb expresses his desire to break free of the facility where he’s being held and trek to a mysterious location, where he’ll receive another message that could alter human history. Erick reluctantly agrees to help, embarking on a dangerous journey that could change the very fabric of his personal beliefs.

Leon also penned the Prodigy script, and his approach to the writing is a tad flawed. He essentially thrusts viewers right into the thick of the story, not always taking the necessary time to properly set up character dynamics and relationships. Things start to become clearer as the movie progresses, but the early going can be a little tricky to follow as Leon rushes through establishing a universe where the supernatural is possible. It’s nice to see the filmmaker demonstrate a trust in his audience to pick up on what’s happening, but the first act definitely could have benefitted from having a little more room to breathe before Leon dived head-first into the road trip/chase aspect that propels a majority of the plot.

As for the craftsmanship: Leon maintains a steady hand on the material, moving the film along at a nice pace to ensure viewers never lose interest in Prodigy’s genre elements. The situations the characters find themselves in don’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but there’s still enough at stake in the core narrative (from both a personal and worldly perspective) for people to care about what happens. Having said that, Leon isn’t as smooth handling the thematic angles of Prodigy, laboring his characters with (at times) heavy-handed dialogue about topics like fate vs. free will and the existence of divine beings controlling our destinies. Again, this is fairly complex subject matter for a first-time feature director to tackle, but it’s certainly a little rough around the edges as Leon tries to reach viewers with his message. Some audience members may be turned off a bit by its perceived preachiness.

Erik and Caleb are meant to be the emotional foundation of Prodigy, and things aren’t entirely convincing on that front. While Kays and Johnson have some strong scenes together, the father-son bond Leon is hoping to flourish doesn’t completely shine through for the whole movie. The chemistry between the two leads doesn’t always light up the screen, but the shortcomings might be more of a byproduct of the writing than the individual performances. Both Kays and Johnson do a good job with the material they have to work with; the former doing a riff on a typical broken soul haunted by past tragedy and the latter accurately portraying a “gifted” child burdened with an overwhelming responsibility. The characters definitely fit into old archetypes, but for the purposes of the film, they work.

The supporting cast fares a little worse, primarily because Prodigy is loaded with secondary players. The film is hampered by one too many story threads (there are multiple parties pursuing Erik and Caleb on their journey), and a couple of these eventually reach uneventful conclusions that illustrate how superfluous they are. Streamlining the core narrative would have helped matters and allowed certain characters to make more of an impact. As it stands, the standouts here include Brian Tyrrell as the government’s Dr. Faron (an admittedly clichéd corporate suit villain) and Hailey Henry as Maya, a waitress who offers to help Erik and Caleb. The script gives the actress some fascinating layers to explore, though the character’s arc feels a little unearned. Other actors like Tyler Roy Roberts as Jericho and King Amir Allahyar as Gabriel are relegated to being generic mercenaries on the hunt for the heroes.

In the end, Prodigy deserves points for swinging for the fences in its attempt to give audiences a fully rewarding experience, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark across the board. The ideas and themes presented have been explored with a little more grace and nuance in films prior, though interested viewers should still be able to have interesting discussions about its subject matter after watching it. For a first-time feature director, Leon clearly has some talent that he’ll hopefully be able to refine as his career moves forward. Naturally, Prodigy will be low on many’s must-see lists this December, but it might be worth checking out for its target demographic.

Trailer

Prodigy is now available on VOD. It runs 110 minutes and is not rated.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments!



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2018-12-04 03:12:59

10 Most Powerful Weapons In Fortnite (And 10 That Are Completely Worthless)

The multi-platform game Fortnite has taken the world by storm. Upon its release in 2017, it quickly became the most popular game across the masses. The game is free to play, though additional “skins” can be purchased, using the game’s currency “V-bucks,” which of course, must be purchased using real money. The weapons in the game, however, are 100% free.

Fortnite boasts a vast number of weapons that can all be found throughout the game’s various locations. Players can search chests and vending machines, inside of which loot can be found. Amongst this loot, players will find weapons, healing jugs, and other items. The contents of loot chests are a surprise each time. The location of these chests are fixed, however, and only a certain number will appear at a time.

There is yet another way to acquire items, however, which will cause other players to growl in frustration. In the game , players battle against each other, and the victor can gain all of the loot from those they defeat. Loot only lasts for that existing game, as each player starts over at zero after each match. Players also keep their eyes out for floor loot, llamas, and supply drops. The llamas look like a pinata from a birthday party. Destroying these will also produce various sought-after items. Supply drops contain a large amount of loot, and float in via a hot air balloon box.

While some loot chests include powerful items and weapons, others should be ignored, as they might contain some of these utterly useless weapons.

Here’s a list of the 10 Most Powerful Weapons In Fortnite (And 10 That Are Worthless).

21 Powerful: SCAR (Legendary)

Most Fortnite players know this Legendary Assault Rifle as SCAR and are eager to obtain it. SCAR stands for Special Combat Assault Rifle. This variant of the assault rifle packs a punch, as it rakes out 198 damage per second and has a 30-round magazine. It is the perfect weapon for medium range battles.

This assault rifle has great precision and can fire 5.5 rounds per second. Because of this, it is the main choice for every player’s arsenal.

This favorite weapon can be found in vending machines, floor loot, chests, and supply drops. Players have a 30.8% chance of getting it in a supply drop. It is based on the Belgian assault/battle rifle Fabrique Nationale SCAR, which was introduced in 2009.

20 Worthless: Guided Missile (Epic)

The guided missile was vaulted in season 3 following complaints of being too overpowered. However, it was re-released in the season 5.10 update with some changes. These alterations included reduced movement skill, reduced turn radius, and reduced damage. Using it makes players vulnerable to attacks from opponents, as you must be out in the open to fire it.

It delivers 74 damage to health and 400 damage to structures. We’re not saying that this weapon doesn’t get the job done, it just isn’t amongst the best weapons. The Epic Guided Missile is fun to use to destroy structures but that’s about it, as it is a risky weapon to use. Guided missiles can be found in chests and supply drops.

19 Powerful: Heavy Shotgun (Legendary)

The Legendary Heavy Shotgun is a heavier version of the Tactical Shotgun. It also has a longer range and an increased firing rate, with its overall damage per second being 77. With a higher range, it is great for mid to late gameplay when players are moving away from close-quarter contact. If you come across a Legendary Heavy Shotgun, you should definitely pick it up, as its powerful punch can help lead to victory.

This shotgun has a slight resemblance to the Franchi SPAS-12, which is an Italian manufactured shotgun. The Legendary Heavy Shotgun can be found in chests and supply drops. Players have a 50% chance of finding it in supply drops and only a 12.4% chance of finding it in chests.

18 Worthless: Pistol

This small firearm has two variants: Common and Uncommon. Most players will pass up this gun when they come across it or replace it quickly with something stronger. The damage it delivers is not the greatest, with 23-24 health and 23-24 structural damage. It does, however, have a 16-round magazine and a firing rate of 6.75 per second.

In close combat, it will get the job done, but be careful if you decide to go up against an opponent with a shotgun.

Using this firearm over long distances is a bad idea and a waste of time.  Starting out the match with this weapon gives players at least some fighting ability. Pistols are only found in floor loot.

17 Powerful: Compact SMG (Legendary)

While there are multiple versions of submachine guns in Fortnite, the Legendary Compact Submachine Gun delivers the most damage to structures and opponents at 22 and 21, respectively. It has a fire rate of 10 rounds per second and a magazine size of 40, with a reload time of 2.97 seconds. It also boasts 210 damage per second.

The Legendary Compact Submachine Gun is definitely a weapon that players want in their arsenal, so be sure not to pass it up. This Fortnite weapon was inspired by the FN P90, a Belgium made submachine gun that was created in 1990. It can be found in chests, floor loot, and supply drops.

16 Worthless: Scoped Assault Rifle

The Scoped Assault Rifle in Fortnite has two different variations: Rare and Epic. This weapon delivers a mere 23-24 health damage and 25-26 structural damage, respectively. One good thing that the Scoped Assault Rifle has going for it, though, is its pinpoint accuracy, which makes it easier to use than some other weapons.

The rifle has a 3.5 round per-second firing rate. We’re not saying that this rifle is not worth picking up, but it should be replaced by a more powerful weapon the first chance you get. It can be found in chests, floor loot, and supply drops. This Fortnite weapon is loosely inspired by the AK-12, H&K 416, and the H&K G36C, combining an assault rifle with a sniper rifle.

15 Powerful: Grenade Launcher (Legendary)

The Legendary Grenade Launcher is the perfect choice for destroying structures, as it has a whopping 410 damage. It fires rockets from its 6 round magazine and has a reload time of 2.17 seconds. Damage to opponents is 110. This weapon is great to use against another players’ structures, which can lead to their elimination if they happen to be located nearby.

To use it efficiently, players must aim higher than their target to compensate for the arc trajectory.

Players should also avoid using in small areas, as the grenades can bounce back off of a surface before exploding. This weapon is inspired by the Mikor MGL that originated in South Africa in 1981. It can be found in chests and supply drops.

14 Worthless: Burst Assault Rifle (Common)

The Burst Assault Rifle has five different variations: Common, Uncommon, Rare, Epic, and Legendary. The Common Burst Assault Rifle deals out 27 health damage and 81 structural damage. It does have a 30-round magazine with a 1.75 rounds per second firing rate, however.

Bullets are fired in bursts of 3 at a time. The rifle has a 2.9 second reload time. The Burst Assault Rifle is best used in medium range combat. It’s better to avoid using this rifle against far opponents, as it is not very effective. It can be found in chests, and floor loot.  The legendary version of this rifle can also be found in supply drops, as well as in chests and floor loot.

13 Powerful: Heavy Sniper (Legendary)

Delivering 51.81 damage per second to health and 1100 to structures, the Legendary Heavy Sniper Rifle is a devastating weapon. The only downside is the long reload time, as it takes 4.05 seconds each time. Compared to other sniper rifles in the game, it has less of a bullet drop. So it’s important to take this into account when aiming at targets.

Its long range ability makes it the perfect weapon to use against unsuspecting opponents at far distances. With the Legendary Heavy Sniper, players should find a location with a great vantage point like a tower. However, be sure to have good cover, since reloading takes a while. This weapon closely resembles the Barrett M82 Anti-Material Rifle, which was standardized by the U.S. military as the M107. It can be found in floor loot, chests, supply drops, and vending machines.

12 Worthless: Minigun

The Minigun may look like a firearm that packs a punch, but looks can be deceiving. The Minigun has two variations: Epic and Legendary. However, it the gun is often overlooked since it lacks power. Its health damage comes in at 18-19, while its structural damage is 32-33. It has a high fire rate at 12-rounds per second, which makes it good for destroying structures. Upon pulling the trigger of this machine gun, there is a short delay before it begins to fire.

This delay can be dangerous, however, especially if you’re facing off against opponents whose weapons aren’t as delayed.

Because of this, it’s better to replace it with a more powerful weapon the first chance you get. The Minigun can be found in chests and supply drops.

11  6. Powerful: RPG (Legendary)

This explosive weapon deals out a devastating amount of damage. It can deal out 413 damage to structures and 121 to opponents. The Legendary RPG also has a very large range, which makes it a great choice for taking out bases.

Surprisingly, players can also ride on the rockets and some have even used them to cross the entire map. In order to do this, multiple rockets must be fired for the continuous ride. This, however, is not the easiest thing to do. The Legendary RPG can be found in chests and supply drops. The real-life inspiration for this Fortnite weapon is the RPG-7. RPG is commonly known to stand for Rocket-Propelled Grenade.

10 Worthless: Dual Pistols

The Dual Pistols comes in two variations: Rare and Epic. Considered a step above the Pistol, the Dual Pistols is considered as a 2 round burst weapon. Players should make sure that they take time to aim when using the Dual Pistols, however, as this isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

The Dual Pistols deliver a health damage of 41 for the Rare variation and 43 for the Epic variation. Because of this, it is one of the most powerful pistols. However, it doesn’t stand up against many other weapons. Like other pistols, if this is the only weapon available, you should definitely pick it up, as it will deliver more damage than the pickaxe. The Dual Pistols can be found in chests and floor loot, though players are most likely to find it in chests.

9 Powerful: Double Barrel Shotgun (Legendary)

This Fortnite weapon comes as both Epic and Legendary variants. However, the Legendary version is much better. The Legendary Double Barrel Shotgun is great for close range battle, as it delivers 228 damage per second to health and 90 to structures.

Though it is not ideal for long range use, it packs a punch in close quarters. 

If opponents put some distance between themselves and the business end of this shotgun, it will yield very little damage. It is, however, capable of delivering two shots rapidly. The Legendary Double Barrel Shotgun is sure to take down any enemies who are unlucky enough to come face-to-face against it. The Legendary Double Barrel Shotgun can be found in chests, floor loot, and supply drops.

8 Worthless: Stink Bomb

This nose hair-burning explosive releases a stinky gas cloud upon detonation. The gas appears as a yellow cloud and lasts about nine seconds. The Stink Bomb deals out 5 health damage every half-second and it can even bypass shields. Players that throw this unpleasant explosive must be careful, though, as they can also take damage from it. Teammates, however, will not suffer any damage from the Stink Bomb.

The Stink Bomb resembles real-life mustard gas or tear gas. It can be found in chests, floor loot, supply drops, and llamas. Though it can be dangerous, the Stink Bomb isn’t as threatening as many players assume. Because of this, it should be replaced as soon as players find a more powerful weapon.

7 Powerful: Damage Trap

Unlike other items on this list, the Damage Trap is a trap, and therefore is not a firearm. The Damage Trap can be placed on any surface that accepts traps. Players are able to place it on ceilings, floors, and even walls. It delivers 150 of damage to players’ health.

The Damage Trap is typically set and then left for unsuspecting and unfortunate players to come across. However, it can also be used by placing it down after trapping a player, so that they have no way to avoid it. Fortnite has had other traps in the past, but most of those have been vaulted. This uncommon weapon can be found in floor loot and supply llamas.

6 Worthless: Hand Cannon

Another pistol to make our list is the Hand Cannon, which has two variations: Epic and Legendary. While it can be useful against medium and long range targets, it is difficult to use in close range combat.

It also has a low fire rate of 0.8 rounds per second and, unfortunately, it isn’t very accurate.

However, if a player is lucky enough to land a shot on their target at close range, it will most likely get the job done. While it does deal out 60-62.4 health damage and 79-83 structural damage, it’s definitely worth replacing with a more powerful weapon later in the game. The Hand Cannon can be found in chests and floor loot.

5 Powerful: Thermal Scoped Assault Rifle (Legendary)

The Legendary Thermal Scoped Assault Rifle packs a heavy punch with its 15-round magazine. It has a 2.07 second reload time, which could be worse. It can also deliver 66.6 damage per second.

With the thermal scope, players have the ability to see chests, supply drops, llamas, and even enemy heat signatures. This makes the Legendary Thermal Scoped Assault Rifle a great scouting tool. Players would be crazy to pass this up if they came across it. Even without its thermal abilities, it is still a great weapon to have in any arsenal. It can be found in chests, supply drops, and floor loot. However, players have the highest chance at finding this weapon in a supply drop. It was inspired by an AR15 assault rifle.

4 Worthless: Tactical Shotgun

Fortnite has three variations of the Tactical Shotgun: Common, Uncommon, and Rare. The Common version has the worst reload time of the three at 6.3 seconds. It delivers only 67 health damage and 50 structural damage.

In close quarters, it can be useful to suppress an enemy. However, it does not have the quickest of fire rates, with its rate stuck at 1.5 rounds per second. Out of all of the shotguns available in the game, the Tactical deals out the least amount of damage. However, it is better than some of the other weapons at close range, like the pistol or suppressed pistol. The Tactical Shotgun can be found primarily in floor loot.

3 Powerful: Heavy Sniper Rifle (Epic)

A tier down from its Legendary counterpart, the Epic Heavy Sniper Rifle deals 150 damage to health and 1050 damage to structures. Its reload time is a little long at 4.275 seconds, but it makes up for it in destruction.

Released during August 15th’s update, the Epic Heavy Sniper Rifle quickly became a fan-favorite with players who quickly began to experiment with the best situations for its use. Many players choose to carry two of these at once so that they can quickly switch between the two to deliver the most damage. While it may not have a quick fire rate at 0.33 rounds per second, it makes up for it in damage. It can be found in chests, floor loot, and supply drops. Like the Legendary version, it resembles the real-life Barrett M82.

2 Worthless: Submachine Gun

Fortnite offers three variations of a Submachine Gun: Common, Uncommon, and Rare. However, none of these are very powerful weapons. Both the health and structural damage of the three different types ranges from 17-19.  It does have a fire rate of 12 rounds per second, though, making it good for close to medium range combat.

Its magazine has a capacity of 30 rounds, which makes up for the low amount of damage that it deals out. It can get the job done, but overall, it is less powerful than a large number of the weapons offered in the game. It may look awesome, but it is definitely lacking. The Submachine Guns can be found in chests, floor loot, and sometimes in supply drops.

1 BONUS: Quad Launcher (Coming Soon)

According to an in-game notification, this long-awaited weapon will be making its debut in Fortnite very soon. In the notification, this weapon is said to “quickly fire up to 4 rockets to blanket an area with explosive damage.”

The Quad Launcher is a shoulder mounted rocket launcher and it is already building up a reputation, as many fans are excited for its introduction into the game. Players will have to wait to find out exactly how much health and structure damage this new weapon will deliver, though, as many details are still unknown. One thing is for sure, though: this anticipated rocket launcher will definitely be something to write home about.

Are there any other powerful or worthless Fortnite weapons that we missed? Let us know in the comments!



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2018-10-10 02:10:05 – Karis James

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween Review – A Pretty Slappy Sequel

Goosebumps 2 lacks the charm and inventiveness of its predecessor, but still has a reasonable amount of spoopy entertainment value to offer.

R.L. Stine’s beloved 1990s children’s horror book series makes its way back to the big screen in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, a sequel to the live-action film adaptation of Stine’s novels that came out in 2015. While Jack Black starred as a fictional version of Stine in that movie, Sony didn’t even confirm the actor’s return for the followup until a few weeks before its release. Similarly, neither the director, writer, nor supporting cast of the (generally well-received) first Goosebumps film worked on the second installment. While Haunted Halloween certainly suffers for it, the sequel isn’t an entirely hollow continuation of the franchise either. Goosebumps 2 lacks the charm and inventiveness of its predecessor, but still has a reasonable amount of spoopy entertainment value to offer.

Goosebumps 2 picks up in the small town of Wardenclyffe, New York, as its residents prepare for the fast-approaching Halloween Night festivities. Meanwhile, in the Quinn household, high school senior Sarah (Madison Iseman) is trying to finish her college application and her younger brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is struggling with his science class project – a miniature replica of an experimental wireless transmission station in Wardenclyffe that was built and designed by Nikola Tesla, but never finished (aka. the Tesla Tower). The Quinns are joined by Sonny’s best friend Sam Carter (Caleel Harris), who is staying over at their house while his parents are away for the Halloween holiday.

After some prodding from Sam, Sonny agrees to take a break from his project and clear out an abandoned local house, as part of the duo’s ongoing efforts to launch a (successful) junk cleanup business. While there, however, the pair stumble upon an incomplete manuscript for a Goosebumps novel, unaware that the building was once owned by R.L. Stine himself. Not knowing any better, Sam and Sonny unlock the book and inadvertently unleash the Goosebumps villain Slappy the Dummy back into the real world. While the living ventriloquist dummy seems (sorta) friendly at first, it’s not long before he reveals his true evil plan, with only Sam, Sonny and Sarah to stand in his way.

If the original Goosebumps movie was a throwback to the popular family-friendly spooky adventures of the 1990s (think Hocus Pocus), then Haunted Halloween is closer to being the 2018 equivalent of a direct-to cable scary movie for kids from the ’90s – that is, noticeably cheaper and more generic, yet otherwise harmless and playful in its own right. The Goosebumps 2 script by Rob Lieber (Peter Rabbit) likewise carries over the first movie’s imaginative premise and conceit (e.g. Stine’s Goosebumps novel manuscripts are really enchanted objects which contain and prevent his “demons” from entering the real world) and includes references to its story, yet never really tries to build on its concepts, much less its themes and lore. Instead, Haunted Halloween offers helpful, if unchallenging, life lessons for kids and a serviceable narrative that doesn’t exactly push the envelope for the larger Goosebumps brand.

At the same time, Goosebumps 2 is perhaps more successful than its predecessor when it comes to being genuinely menacing and scary for the juice box crowd, yet still light-hearted enough to avoid traumatizing them (hence, “spoopy”). Much of the credit for that goes to director Ari Sandel (The DUFF), who does a commendable job of combining suspenseful and creepy storytelling with comedic moments here, much like Stine did so well in his original Goosebumps novels. Haunted Halloween, as indicated earlier, feels like a lower-budgeted affair than the first Goosebumps, yet Sandel and his creative team – including, DP Barry Peterson (Game Night) and production designer Rusty Smith (Get Out) – still manage to deliver a movie that’s a proper cut above a comparable TV film, in terms of overall craftsmanship. That also goes for the CGI and creature effects in the sequel’s first half (more on the second half later).

The actual setting of Haunted Halloween is mostly populated by stock types, be they the film’s young heroes or the local bullies that Sonny and Sam have to deal with (not to mention, Sarah’s dishonest would-be boyfriend). While their characters are fairly two-dimensional in the Goosebumps sequel, Harris, Iseman and Ray nevertheless have the same affable screen presence that’s allowed them to stand out in films and TV shows past and, thus, make their protagonists all the easier to root for. That also goes for the adult supporting players here, as Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs) and Ken Jeong (Community) mostly channel their famous small screen personas as Sarah and Sonny’s adorkable mother Kathy and their eccentric neighbor Mr. Chu, respectively. As for Black as R.L. Stine: his own role in Goosebumps 2 is pretty superfluous, which is disappointing considering the energy that he brought to the proceedings as the first Goosebumps‘ co-protagonist (not to mention, his vocal performance as Slappy, which Black didn’t reprise in the sequel).

All in all, Haunted Halloween is a passable if derivative sequel – but not because the Goosebumps books themselves are incapable of sustaining multiple films. Rather, the problem is that the sequel recycles too much from the first movie and struggles to make creative use of the fresh elements (like the real-world Tesla Tower) that it brings into the mix here. It’s too bad, seeing as Goosebumps 2 had a wealth of different monsters and horror genres in Stine’s source novels to draw from, yet elected to continue simplifying the author’s mythology by making Slappy the big bad (again) and skimping on giving the other creatures much in the way of personality. As a result, the second half of the movie plays out as a watered down version of what happened in the original Goosebumps, albeit with lower production values and emotional impact.

Still, Goosebumps 2 should go over best with its young target demographic and provide them with enough silly scares and fun adventure to keep them engaged for its brisk runtime. Moreover, much like your average comic book movie these days, Haunted Halloween delivers its fair share of Goosebumps easter eggs and nods to the real Stine’s source material (right down to a Stan Lee-esque cameo from Stine himself), to further serve the property’s youngest fans. As for those who prefer their family-friendly fantasies with Jack Black starring front and center – The House with a Clock in Its Walls is still playing in theaters and ought to fulfill your own needs for some spoopy entertainment this Halloween season.

TRAILER

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween begins playing in U.S. theaters on Thursday evening, October 11. It is 90 minutes long and is rated PG for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!



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2018-10-10 01:10:58 – Sandy Schaefer

22 July Review: Paul Greengrass Delivers Another Intense Docudrama

Despite some general storytelling issues, Greengrass succeeds in delivering another well-crafted and intelligent docudrama-thriller with 22 July.

In-between his efforts on the Bourne movies, journalist-turned filmmaker Paul Greengrass has spent much of his career making docudrama-thrillers about real-world events, ranging from the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. (United 93) to the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama in 2009 (Captain Phillips). While there’s an inherent risk of exploiting a real-world tragedy that comes with any such project, Greengrass has long been celebrated for his ability to dramatize terrible events on the big screen in a manner that’s intense, yet sensitive and ultimately insightful in its presentation. Thankfully, that remains the case with his Netflix Original 22 July, even if it doesn’t necessarily represent the writer/director at his finest. Despite some general storytelling issues, Greengrass succeeds in delivering another well-crafted and intelligent docudrama-thriller with 22 July.

22 July picks up on July 21, 2011 in Oslo, Norway, as Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie) – a self-declared right wing extremist – prepares to carry out a terrorist attack on the city the next day. He begins his assault by setting off a bomb in a van near the main office of the then-current Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (Ola G. Furuseth), killing eight people in the process. Breivik then proceeds to continue his attack by gunning down 69 members of a summer camp organized by the AUF – the youth division of the Norwegian Labour Party – on the island of Utøya, before he is ultimately apprehended by the police and taken into custody.

Among the members of the summer camp is one Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli), who manages to survive Breivik’s attack despite being shot multiple times and left permanently maimed. As Viljar struggles to recover both physically and psychologically from what happened to him (along with everyone else who survived the Utøya shootings and their loved ones), Breivik works with his chosen lawyer Geir Lippestad (Jon Øigarden) to mount a defense and use his trial as a platform to publicly announce his political agenda (which calls for the immediate deportation of all Muslims and heavier restrictions on immigration to Norway, among other things). When it becomes clear to Viljar what Breivik intends to do, he grows increasingly determined to continue his rehabilitation and testify against him in court for not only himself, but also every other person whose lives were affected by what took place on July 22.

Adapted from the book One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — and Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad, Greengrass’ script for 22 July has a very clear-cut three act structure – with the first act focused on the July 22 attack, the second part set during its immediate aftermath, and the final third centered on Breivik’s trial. The film is strongest during its first and third acts in particular, as those chapters (respectively) play to Greengrass’ strengths as a suspense-thriller storyteller and provide the emotional payoff to Viljar and, thus, Norway’s overarching journey of recovery and survival. It’s the second act where things start to drag and get a little muddled, especially as 22 July splits its focus between not only Viljar’s story thread, but also Lippestad and Breivik’s trial preparation, and the investigation into Stoltenberg’s administration and its failure to prevent a terrorist attack. While there’s nothing in the second act that feels inessential, 22 July struggles to divide its attention evenly between its three plotlines and the film’s pacing suffers for it.

On the whole, however, 22 July does a nice job covering a fair amount of narrative ground, even when taking its pretty substantial runtime into consideration. It helps that Greengrass (as he’s known now for doing, as a director) never fully lifts his foot off the gas pedal and keeps the film’s proceedings feeling on-edge throughout, even during its more purely dramatic portions. The filmmaker, working this time around with DP Pål Ulvik Rokseth (The Snowman) and Oscar-winning Argo editor William Goldenberg, uses essentially the same vérité cinematography and restless editing style that he has on his previous movies, in order to fully immerse viewers in the film’s setting and action. At the same time, Greengrass slows things down a bit here and, in turn, delivers a movie that’s more visually cohesive than some of his weaker efforts in the past (see the last Bourne sequel, in particular). This serves 22 July well, allowing it to effectively work as both a grounded drama and thriller.

Given the sheer amount of information that 22 July strives to cover, though, there’s not a lot of room for the film’s actors to really shine – not in the way that Barkhad Abdi and Tom Hanks did in Captain Phillips, for example. Even so, the 22 July cast is uniformly strong across the board, with Gravli especially doing an excellent job of portraying Viljar’s struggles with his physical injuries, PTSD, and the sheer amount of emotional baggage that he’s saddled with after barely managing to escape the attack on Utøya with his own life. Actors like Thorbjørn Harr and Isak Bakli Aglen are similarly moving in their smaller roles as members of Viljar’s family, as is Seda Witt as Lara Rashid, a young woman who starts to make a romantic connection with Viljar before both of their lives are shattered by Breivik’s attack. As for Breivik himself: Lie is quite compelling in the role and portrays the terrorist as a fully-developed person – one whose rationalization of his behavior makes him chilling and pathetic in equal measure.

As with his previous films, Greengrass uses 22 July as a means for delivering larger sociopolitical commentary about the state of things in the world, specifically where it concerns the rise of xenophobic and nationalist ideologies in various countries (the U.S. included). While his scripted dialogue can start to become a bit on the nose as its strives to get these points across (especially in the third act), Greengrass largely succeeds in allowing the story here to shine a light on these issues organically, without getting up on his figurative soapbox to drive the point home. If there’s a downside to the filmmaker’s approach, though, it’s that July 22 winds up handling its subject matter in a way that’s more engaging intellectually than emotionally and, thus, lacks the emotional resonance of Greengrass’ best work to date.

All things considered, however, Greengrass does a very good job of bringing the true story behind 22 July to cinematic life. The final result is a film that makes for an enlightening and otherwise respectful documentation of a horrifying real-world event, rather than one that comes off as exploitative or manipulative. 22 July is showing in select theaters now – in order to qualify for next year’s major film awards shows – and it certainly benefits from being seen on the big screen, but can still be appreciated just as much as a Netflix Original on your home TV. While it’s obviously not a light-hearted viewing experience, 22 July is very much worth checking out if you’ve enjoyed Greengrass’ previous non-Bourne efforts and/or would like to know more about Norway’s own infamous modern terrorist attack.

TRAILER

22 July is now available for streaming on Netflix and is playing in select U.S. theaters. It is 143 minutes long and is rated R for disturbing violence, graphic images, and language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!



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2018-10-10 01:10:22 – Sandy Schaefer

The House With A Clock In Its Walls Review: Eli Roth Delivers Spooky Fun

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a magical, kid-friendly horror flick with exceptionally fun performances by Jack Black and Cate Blanchett.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls follows in the long Hollywood tradition of adapting classic children’s novels for family-friendly fare. Earlier this year, Disney didn’t quite hit the mark with their big-budget adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time, but not for lack of trying on director Ava DuVernay’s part. Now, Universal sets out to adapt the arguably lesser known 1973 mystery children’s story The House with a Clock in Its Walls written by John Bellairs, with illustratrations by Edward Gorey. The novel spawned a series that consists of 12 books, with the most recent being released in 2008 (though author Brad Strickland took over following the passing of Bellairs in 1991). Now, the books find new life in a big-screen adaptation. The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a magical, kid-friendly horror flick with exceptionally fun performances by Jack Black and Cate Blanchett.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls follows 10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), who goes to live with his uncle Jonathan (Black) after his parents die in a car accident and he’s left orphaned. However, Jonathan’s house isn’t normal, it’s full of ticking clocks and other strange things – things that scare the young boy. Nothing is scarier, though, than the ominous ticking that seems to be coming from within the walls. After confronting his uncle, Jonathan tells Lewis that he’s a warlock, and his next door neighbor and friend Florence Zimmerman (Blanchett) is a witch – though she’s much more powerful than Jonathan. Lewis pleads for Jonathan to teach him magic, and his uncle relents, tutoring the boy in the mystical arts.

As Lewis’ magical education continues, strange, scary things still happen in Uncle Jonathan’s house – which Lewis’ new friend Tarby (Sunny Suljic) calls the slaughter house because, he says, a man was murdered there with an ax. Lewis eventually learns, though, that the man who lived in the house before Jonathan was a warlock named Isaac Izard (Kyle McLaughlin), who died mysteriously. Unfortunately, Lewis and Tarby drift apart as friends and in an effort to win him back, Lewis reveals his magical abilities and decides to prove them. In doing so, though, Lewis summons a great evil that, along with the ominous ticking of the clock in the walls of Jonathan’s house, could bring destruction to the world. It’s up to Lewis, Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman to save defeat the evil and save the day.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls comes from horror master Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel), who’s made a name for himself with violent, R-rated fare, but proves himself adept at a different kind of horror with this family-friendly feature. Though House with a Clock in Its Walls is undoubtedly muted for the kids its intended for, Roth effectively balances tension-building scenes – aided by Nathan Barr’s soundtrack – with horrific payoffs for some fun frights. Plus, the film has a skillfully written script by Eric Kripke (Supernatural, Timeless) that intertwines fantastical elements with horror and grounds it all in compelling characters – though, the movie undoubtedly favors the arcs of Black’s Jonathan and Blanchett’s Florence over Lewis, who is ostensibly the main character. Still, House with a Clock in Its Walls is undoubtedly a Kripke script, with plenty of humor and heart for viewers of all ages, that’s brought to life with Roth’s keen eye for horror.

Where The House with a Clock in Its Walls stumbles is in pacing, lagging at times and moving foward a breakneck speed at others. This tends to be typical of film adaptations that aim to stay as true to the book as possible, using montages to show the passing of time (as is the case with Lewis’ magical education) then cramming multiple major set pieces together – which is how the third act of The House with a Clock in Its Walls feels. It’s not a massive detriment to the movie, since these stumbles are only in certain portions of the film’s one hour and 45 minute runtime. Otherwise, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a tightly woven and entertaining adventure. Further, even in the moments when the movie lags, it’s typically for a wondrously beautiful bit of magic that will keep viewers enthralled.

Still, the stars of The House with a Clock in Its Walls aren’t the magic or even Vaccaro’s Lewis, it’s Black and Blanchett, who serve as the two core characters in the film’s story. Kripke, who has created such beloved on-screen teams as Supernatural’s Winchester brothers and Timeless‘ Lifeboat team, puts his stamp on the duo of Jonathan and Florence, who trade fun barbs and banter throughout the film. For their parts, Black and Blanchett bring effervescent life to their roles, seemingly having as much fun playing the over-the-top characters as viewers will have watching them on screen. Though Black and Blanchett work best together – particularly with Blanchett working exceptionally well as the straight man to Black’s typically boisterous humor – they also bring a compelling amount of depth to their characters. Unfortunately, this also means the rest of the cast gets short-changed. Vaccaro does hold his own, for the most part, alongside the adult stars. However, McLaughlin and fellow supporting actress Renée Elise Goldsberry, who plays Isaac Izard’s wife Selena, get very little to do and their characters suffer greatly for it (though they still bring some fun to the table).

In terms of the film overall, The House with a Clock in Its Walls actually seems to draw inspiration from a number of classic, popular and even less well known movies and shows. But, by virtue of Bellairs’ novel predating many of them, The House with a Clock in Its Walls never comes off as a cheap knockoff of another property. It’s got elements in common with Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Practical Magic, 13 Ghosts, and even A Christmas Story, but still manages to stand on its own as an enjoyable family-friendly fantasy-horror film. Instead of feeling derivative, The House with a Clock in Its Walls comes off as one long homage to cinematic history, borrowing from everything that came before in order to create something new.

Ultimately, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is an incredibly solid children’s adventure that adults will be able to enjoy as well, though it may be too scary for younger kids. Its visuals and magical moments are stunning on the big screen, but may not warrant a trip to IMAX, where the sometimes-clunky CGI is unfortunately easier to see. Though it may not become a classic like previous Amblin-produced family adventures, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is an entertaining ride with plenty of fun and compelling characters – not to mention, quirky magical household items that will enchant viewers.

Trailer

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It runs 104 minutes and is rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!



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2018-09-21 04:09:00 – Molly Freeman