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Movie Review: ‘Justice League’ Plays Its Superheroes Silly and Safe

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The coming of the Justice League isn’t quite the grand superhero ensemble event of the year, but it didn’t come with the same dreadful disappointment of Batman v. Superman. This is more like a Thanksgiving dinner of an awkward family struggling to make the gathering work. They quip, quibble, babble in cliches and never entirely gel as well as they should. Still, they make the best of a familiar formula, albeit speeding past the grunt work Marvel put into defining their characters for a grand team-up.

Justice League ArticleNot long after Superman’s untimely demise, the Earth is already facing a new threat that drops on the world’s heroes as abruptly as it does the audience. Batman (Ben Affleck) has found that strange, bug-like creatures are searching for alien boxes that emit energy, dubbed Motherboxes. He doesn’t fully understand what they do but is smart enough to know that an evil scheme is afoot and that he needs a team. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is already onboard, having aided Batman once before and biding her time in Europe, working in art galleries and fighting crime every time a terrorist appears. We know enough about these characters to appreciate their candor. The heroes they hire, however, don’t have that kind of time.

Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is quick to join the team as The Flash, living as a loner with the powers of super speed. Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) still needs a bit of time to adjust to his new robotic body to become the high-tech hero Cyborg. Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the bearded prince of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, is more of a reluctant frat guy, not so keen to join a team unless there’s some beer, babes or noble action involved. Even though the film loads each of them up with supporting characters, the script wastes little time detailing their origins, skating by most of them with brief explanations. Barry Allen got his powers from lightning; great. Victor Stone absorbed the powers of a Motherbox; got it. Arthur Curry talks to fish; sure, although he suggests the water does most of the talking.

The big bad for this hero gathering is surprisingly underwhelming, despite his whole destructive conquering of the world bit. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) is a familiar villain to Wonder Woman’s people, though I’m surprised they instantly recognized him with his thorny helmet and flaming weapon, looking as though he shopped at the same store as Aries. His goals are nothing special, nor are they all that coherent. According to Wonder Woman’s jumbled account, he needs to collect three Motherboxes that will combine to turn the Earth into an apocalyptic wasteland. He keeps babbling on about the New Gods and the evil force known as Darkseid, terms that’ll breed goosebumps in DC Comics fans and head-scratching among the uninitiated.

Zack Snyder initially wrote justice League, but Joss Whedon was brought onboard to lighten up the script. You can certainly see the two contrasting forces at play here. The premise of these characters sounds dark; Barry has a dad in prison, Victor is ashamed of being a technological monster and Arthur has some issues with the lineage of Atlantis. Whedon’s writing adds some Prozac to the mixture, medicating Snyder’s dower elements into something wittier and light. I use the pharmaceutical reference because the charisma and comedy come artificial, built more to extract quick laughs than building ones.

This is most evident with the underdeveloped Aquaman, speaking more in action punctuations of “my man!” and “yeah!” than of his kingdom or his identity in the world above water. Take a look at the contrast in the film; we first see him as a stoic and silent provider for a small village, only for him to end up in the final scene as the chipper surfer dude of the League. I suppose Aquaman is now cool to the masses, even if it’s mostly because of nothing quips and a hot body. At least nobody in the audience burst out laughing when he zips through the seas.

Despite the film’s numerous attempts of falling flat on its face with jokes that are not as funny and speeches that are a tad too corny, there’s an admirable effort present for Snyder jumping gung-ho into DC’s more profound lore. About halfway through the film, the team realizes they can’t defeat Steppenwolf without Superman. How they bring him back to life is one of the weirdest plans of any superhero film, so strange that even the heroes think this might be in poor taste. Oddly enough, however, it makes sense for DC Comics. For as overly-eager as Snyder is to throw everything into Justice League, it’s a bit refreshing that he foregoes most of the time-wasting explanations of Atlantis, the Speed Force, Parademons, New Gods and Darkseid. There’s even a Green Lantern briefly mentioned in a backstory, proving that seemingly nothing is off limits for this universe.

Though Justice League stumbles and never quite finds its groove until the end of the picture, there’s better promise for this franchise’s future. Many of Snyder’s mistakes have been better resolved, graduating from letting civilians die, to excusing civilians from demolished cities, to finally saving citizens from harm’s way. There are bits and pieces of a great hero team present that start to come further and further together as the film continues. And there’s just something so satisfying about a movie where The Flash whisks civilians to safety, Wonder Woman can use her truth-telling lasso for pranks, and Superman can use his freeze-breath on his enemies. The expanded universe of DC Comics hasn’t quite reached that pique level of superhero charm, but it has at least found its way out of the incoherent darkness.

P.S.: While I’ve grown to despise post-credit Easter Eggs, I was delighted to stay for what made me all the more hopeful for the next Justice League outing.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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The Meg Munches For Box Office For Debut

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The final month of summer seems to be the time for creature feature horror. The Meg, the giant shark movie starring Jason Statham, made a splash to debut at #1 with a box office gross of $44.5 million. Not exactly a big wave for a summer blockbuster with a budget of $130 million, but still a decent premiere as the box office begins to wind down during the end of summer. Expect it to linger around for most of the month.

Still a top contender in the box office and easily one of the biggest success for the second half of the summer is Mission: Impossible – Fallout. As the sixth entry in the saga, starring Tom Cruise as the action-hungry agent Ethan Hunt, the film has pulled in another $20 million in its third weekend for a domestic total of $161.9 million. Also lingering in the top spot is Disney’s Christopher Robin, the live-action adaptation of the Winnie the Pooh stories, now in its second weekend to add $12.4 million to bring up its domestic total to $50 million. With no significant family-friendly movies coming out for the month, you can expect this film to cling to the top 10 for quite some time.

A few new films debuted lower on the list but with what could be considered success. Slender Man, the horror film based on the online legend, made $11 million for its debut, clearing the $10 million budget. BlacKkKlansman, the latest film by Spike Lee that focuses on the investigation of the racist Ku Klux Klan, made $10.7 million for its premiere. While it still has yet to clear its $15 million budget, the positive word of mouth around this film may keep it steady in the box office for August. One premiere that wasn’t so lucky was Dog Days, the new animal-centric comedy starring Vanessa Hudgens, came in at only #12 for a debut of $2.6 million.

Though the rest of the films had expected drops, one milestone was crossed for Ant-Man and the Wasp, despite only being at #10 for the weekend. After six weeks, the film has made $200 million domestic and $448 million worldwide. While this doesn’t make it equal to Marvel’s previous successes his year, it’s still proving to be a solid summer for the unstoppable Marvel superhero franchise.

View the top 10 box office results for the weekend below:

The Meg ($44,500,000)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout ($20,000,000)
Disney’s Christopher Robin ($12,430,000)
Slender Man ($11,325,000)
BlacKkKlansman ($10,799,000)
The Spy Who Dumped Me ($6,600,000)
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ($5,820,000)
The Equalizer 2 ($5,500,000)
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation ($5,110,000)
Ant-Man and the Wasp ($4,048,000)

Next weekend will be a three-way battle between the new romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, the survival action picture Alpha, and the gritty action/drama Mile 22. Considering Crazy Rich Asians and Mile 22 will both be debuting in over 3,000 theaters, they’ll be the top contenders, although Crazy Rich Asians will get an early start by debuting on Wednesday.


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“The Meg” is Without Bite

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In the swarm of killer shark movies, The Meg does so little to stick out as being more worthy of the theater than the plethora of other B-movies in this subgenre. It’s not stern enough to match the character and terror of Jaws. It’s not silly enough to duplicate the delicious camp value of Deep Blue Sea. And it’s undoubtedly not wild and insane enough to be as goofy a concept as Sharknado. It’s rather sad to admit that a heftier dose of special effects for this usually cheap type of movie amounts to little more than a forgettable B-movie, putting in the minimum effort to be earnest and campy.

An expensive underwater research facility is run by a greedy billionaire (Rainn Wilson) with a research team that includes the tattooed bad-girl (Ruby Rose), the “no way” black engineer (Page Kennedy), and the eager to prove herself Chinese scientist (Li Bingbing) with a child randomly wandering the halls. When the facility discovers an unexplored part of the ocean floor, they’re excited to discover all the new species. One animal they’re not too keen on getting to personally know is the legendary Megalodon, a shark so monstrous in size it can chew through the largest of whales as though they were breadsticks.

The giant shark damages an exploration vessel that leaves the crew stranded below. The only man for such a rescue is former deep-sea rescuer Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham). He was previously disgraced for leaving people behind during life or death situations, but maybe this time he’ll save everyone. Well, perhaps not everyone; the shark has got to eat. And given the PG-13 rating, he won’t be eating much off the human menu, feasting more on the filling meals of giant squids and whales.

While there are no quality kills to be had in this creature feature, the film does its best to be as showy and shlocky as possible, striving to be the most average of B-movie storytelling with a blockbuster budget. There are plenty of great shots of the monster looming over vessels and toppling over ships, including a high-tech chase of mini-seacrafts zooming around reefs as the Megalodon pursues. There are also plenty of brilliantly bad lines delivered with a tongue almost too deep in its cheek; scientists will laugh at the term “insertion,” the billionaire will mutter that he can’t swim, Statham will do his expected trash talking while battling the sea-beast, and a little girl will ask point-blank if her mother bound on a dangerous mission will end up dead. All the actors are trying their best to make this overly expositional monster movie fun, though this tone comes easy for Statham who seems always to have a knowing smirk on his face.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the more bombastic shark movies, but the lack of graphic violence felt like the film was holding back from its grander camp potential. How can you have a shark movie where such an enormous creature attacks one of the most populated beaches on the planet and mostly knocks a few boats and platforms around? I started to spring from my seat when I saw that wide shot of the beach with all those people, hoping the shark would ascend from the waters and swallow a few victims whole. And those hopes were quickly dashed when even the dog is spared from this slaughter, most likely edited back in because people don’t like seeing dogs as appetizers. While there are no humans bloodied or gored too visually, there is plenty of underwater life that become massacred. It’s an interesting study in MPAA logic; a human mother and daughter being torn to bloody shreds by a giant shark is most likely an R rating, but a whale mom and daughter are PG-13 approved when their tails are bitten off as their blood clouds the ocean.

Despite some second-act melodrama that made me ask “where did this subplot come from,” there’s nothing all that memorable to The Meg. The film’s sharper teeth for both horror and comedy are trimmed down to a standard summer blockbuster formula, best suited for those who want a killer shark movie without all the blood and gore, except for some chum and plenty of gored sea creatures. It’s a monster movie so severely mid-tier, garnering laughs by formula and scares that come telegraphed, that it’ll easily be lost in the endless pile of marine life massacre films. Okay, maybe it’ll be remembered as the one with Statham in it; it’s hard to forget such a smile.


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Review: “Christopher Robin” Brings Happiness and Heavy-handedness

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There’s something so enduring about the characters of Winnie the Pooh that even the most simplistic of their stories have a certain intelligent charm to tales of talking stuffed animals. Disney’s Christopher Robin is a perfect example of how they can save a film too safe, sappy, and overbearing with its message about growing up without losing your sense of play. There’s thankfully no darkness in its depiction, despite the dreary streets of London and the more muted tones of Hundred Acre Wood. At its core, it’s same old Pooh antics that have made this fluffy collective the most wholesome, smart and funny of the Disney ensembles.

Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) and his longtime friend Winnie the Pooh in Disney’s CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

The film centers on a question that always lingered in Christopher Robin’s conversations with Pooh but never adequately addressed: What will happen when Christopher grows up? Not surprisingly, he leaves behind the woods for boarding school, the war, a job, and to raise a family. But he’s not the same Christopher (Ewan McGregor), more of a worrying worker that puts business ahead of family. He arrives home and can’t even smile at his wife. His daughter wants him to read her a bedtime story, and he selects text on the industrial revolution. He’s lost his playful ways that once helped his animal friends.

Into his world comes Pooh, the silly old bear willing to venture out of his fantastical woods and into the stuffy world of post-war England. This could be a dangerous development, as we’ve seen from previous experiences of fantasy cartoon characters coming to life in fish-out-of-water tales, the sourest being The Smurfs that should’ve stayed in their land of mushrooms and magic. Thankfully, the familiar characters, despite looking a little odd as more realistic computer-generated depictions, haven’t lost their touch. Pooh is still a dopey questioner of the world, Piglet is still a fearful creature, Rabbit is still a worrying wart, Owl is always a wise sage, Eeyore is still a sad sack, and Roo still a cute little kangaroo. Oh, and of course Tigger still bounces. Why wouldn’t he? It’s a wonderful thing, bouncing.

Madeline Robin (Bronte Carmichael) and her father Christopher’s longtime friends Tigger, Piglet and Winnie the Pooh go on an adventure in Disney’s CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

It helps that the story is simplified to keep Pooh’s adventure free of convolution and modern world set pieces, despite some silly accidents of Pooh breaking Christopher’s house and Tigger causing a ruckus in traffic for little reason with forced hilarity. After much denial from Christopher and rushing of Pooh back to his home before more Englishmen are freaked out by a talking teddy bear, the film finally starts to take off with its whimsy. Watching Ewan McGregor get back into the swing of things and embrace Pooh’s impeccable logic of play and doing nothing brings back the familiar and powerful charm the characters were known for.

It’s just unfortunate that the characters find themselves trapped in a live-action film with morals so painfully spelled with overblown scenes of sentimentality that themes of favoring family and imagination feel artificial. Once more, Pooh and company come to the rescue with their well-defined comedy, whereas the human characters spell everything out within big, bold letters that are sure to give a concussion of good intentions. While I fully expected Christopher Robin to realize that life is more than business meetings and studying, I wasn’t ready for him to point these lessons out like the review of an after-school special, making sure the message is loud and clear.

Piglet, Pooh, Rabbit, Roo, Kanga, Tigger and Eeyore in Disney’s live-action adventure CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

Christopher Robin has the tricky balance of fantasy and reality where honey-seeking and Heffalump-hunting trump a standard plot of Christopher trying to save a business and his family. It seems like the type of film Disney would have made in the late-1990s and thankfully not the mid-2000s of trying to fathom how Pooh would handle driving a car or eating honey out of the head of a plastic bear container. Whenever the characters are on screen getting into their usual squabbles and discoveries laced with witty commentary on life, I smirked and even laughed, perhaps harder as I wanted to push the predictable plot aside, which must insert scenes of Christopher at war and telling off his bosses in an almost cartoonish manner.

Much like Christopher Robin’s arc, I wish the film would learn its lesson about embracing woodland adventures sooner than its brief dip into a more somber story, teetering on the edge of becoming as awkward as Hook. The film, if nothing else, is a testament to how you can’t help but love Pooh. Well, until he’s forced into a movie where he uses an MP3 player and does a suggestive dance with a honey pot on his head. Let’s hope we never reach that point where I find myself looking at this franchise with a sigh and an “oh, bother.”


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