Booksmart

bsDirector: Olivia Wilde

Screenwriters: Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, and Sarah Haskins

Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Mason Gooding, Skyler Gisondo, Billie Lourd, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, and Lisa Kudrow

There was a time not long ago where we were getting a nice little onslaught of better than average coming of age films. The sweet spot maybe was 2013 – 2014; movies like Boyhood, The Spectacular Now, Mud, The Fault in Our Stars, and The Hunger Games films were all happening during this period, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe while in full swing, had not quite fully established its supreme dominance. Films like those seemed to have dropped off the mainstream in recent memory. Lady Bird certainly broke through in 2017, but other than that, it’s been a different sensibility at the movies. Fortunately, Bo Burnham’s 2018 film Eighth Grade and Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart may be proving that the time is right to resurrect this delicate genre where the performers wear their hearts on their sleeves and we reflect on our inner-child rather than galactic super-dominance. And just so we’re clear, I loved Avengers: Endgame, but variety is the spice of life!

Booksmart documents the final days of high school for Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), two best friends who embraced school to the fullest, lead the student council, earned every academic honor, and have been accepted to prestigious colleges. Their beliefs were that in order to reach these epic academic heights, they had to be laser-focused on studies and extra-curricular activities, leaving no room for the indulgent parts of high school.

That being said, when circumstances reveal that several of Amy and Molly’s popular and partying classmates (whom they perceived were than bright) also had received admirable post-secondary opportunities, they realized that, perhaps they missed out on the high school experience after all, leading to a mission to make up for lost time in one night by hitting parties, giving into urges, and just being kids!

The bulk of the film can be described as in the vein of other films like Can’t Hardly Wait, American Pie, and Superbad where outsiders decide they want to be insiders and awkwardly work their way in only to learn it’s not so great on the inside, but the journey is the truly valuable experience. I’m not subjugating the plot to be critical because while this is a time-tested format, the journey truly is the valuable part, and Booksmart does just enough with this to make it stand out as clever, relatable, and entertaining.

Much (all) of the credit for this film’s success should be given to the two lead performers, Dever and Feldstein. This movie is two actresses away from being middle-of-the-road. Comparable to the way Metcalf and Ronan elevated Lady Bird, these two actresses give everything to their performances and make us care about them, their friendship, and their futures. Supporting roles that are practically cameos come from Jason Sudeikis (Wilde’s husband), Will Forte, and Lisa Kudrow who all basically bolster the comedy side of things, and they do so nicely. However, this film is all-in on its two leads.

Appreciating this film does involve some true introspection. Some of the negative criticisms I have read about the film come from reviewers who clearly just missed the nuances and the point. One reviewer mentioned that Booksmart wants you to laugh at someone being vomited on, but I don’t think that scene was meant to be funny at all. Another said that “name-dropping” Malala was in poor form, but if you’ve ever met a teenager, you’d know that this is something that they would totally do, and their reasoning for it is actually quite in the spirit of who Malala is and what she represents as an activist (not that it even has to be). What I’m trying to say here is that this film attempts to breathe the air its characters breathe, and if anything, I’d say it’s not authentic enough being set in a highly affected, mostly affluent school with kids who do not really represent everyday kids. Booksmart does not want to cater to perceived expectations. It also does not want to shock or make you uncomfortable; however at times it does both of those things because that’s life. B+

Booksmart is rated R and has a running tiem of 1 hour and 45 minutes.  

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Avengers: Endgame

EGDirectors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Screenwriters: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Brie Larson, Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, and Josh Brolin

What is left to say about Avengers: Endgame that has not already been said? The film is already speedily on its way to overtake Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time, and it shows no evidence of slowing down as the summer movie season starts to heat up!

Still of the 21 Marvel Cinematic Universe films that lead up to Endgame, I reviewed 11 of them, and cinematic saturation aside, I will make it an even dozen with this one!

Avengers: Endgame is the sweet story of a young artist looking for love in Northern France. Of course it’s not; it’s the story of a superhuman, a guy in a metal suit, a persuasive lady, a Norse god, a bow and arrow guy, and a monster –  seeking revenge on a purple megalomaniac for obliterating half of the galaxy’s population. As preposterous as it sounds in those terms, this film delivers. The plot is quite simplistic, although it can be argued that it is not as simplistic as it could have been. The spoiler ban has lifted, so I am not speaking out of turn when I say that the heroes you saw “dusted” in Infinity War are perhaps not gone forever. The mechanics that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely implement to get them back are gleefully “bananas,” making for a tremendously entertaining and nostalgic second act that is as perfect as any segment of a film the Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us.

The film picks up post-snap, and instantly defies expectations. I’ll leave it at that. The first act unfolds as a psychological drama examining how life goes on Leftovers-style after half of the people on Earth just suddenly disappeared. The answer: grief, guilt, desperation, and pessimism. The evolution of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is particularly noteworthy. This nuanced approach to the film’s opening act is a welcomed and fascinating change of stride from what we’ve come to expect from these films. It grounds the actions, consequences, and motivations in a way that feels earned and appropriate rather than just getting on with the action. The first scene of this film is damn near heartbreaking!

This is not to say the film is flawless. The introduction of Captain Marvel last March provided the MCU with a captivating new hero; however she is also somewhat problematic in terms of her involvement within Endgame. She allows for the laziest plot resolutions punching as many holes in the narrative as she does in the ships of Thanos’s army. On the other hand, this movie attempts to utilize time-travel, which opens it up to so much convolution, it’s best to just go along for the ride anyway.

You should also be warned, this was not marketed as a “part 2” to Infinity War, and in many ways it is not; however, it very much is a part 22 to the MCU, and if you are not up on these films, your enjoyment of this film will be impacted immensely. That being said, thank you Endgame for giving me even more evidence to use in conversations about why Iron Man 3 is the best Iron Man movie and a top five MCU film!

All of that being said, this movie is actually epic, and I use that term without hyperbole. The Russo brothers have assembled a true love letter that spans the entire run of the most successful film franchise in history. A strength of all four Avengers films is that even with such bloated cast of characters, every one of them gets a moment to shine. The heart, the humor, the excitement, and the impact of events is as strong as in any of the MCU films, and for my money this is the best Avengers film of the four with the caveat that it does not stand alone and without the tremendous setup of the previous films, this one would not work.

With the Marvel Cinematic Universe complete at least in the form that it has existed these past 10 years, it will be interesting to see what the future brings. Many questions left unanswered in this film will likely supply plot direction for future films involving these characters, but how they will evolve and progress as a franchise is unclear. All I can say is that this is a fitting end to a joyous cinematic ride. A-

The Avengers: Endgame is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 3 hours and 2 minutes. There is no post-credits sequence, but there is a post-credits sound that is explained here if you are not interested in hanging around.

My Official MCU 22-film Ranking from Best to Worst:

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A
  2. Thor: Ragnarok – A
  3. Iron Man 3 – A
  4. Avengers: Endgame – A-
  5. Avengers: Infinity War – A-
  6. Marvel’s The Avengers – A-
  7. Captain America: Civil War – A-
  8. Iron Man – A-
  9. Black Panther – A-
  10. Avengers: Age of Ultron – A-
  11. Captain Marvel – A-
  12. Captain America: The First Avenger – B+
  13. Thor – B+
  14. Spider-Man: Homecoming – B+
  15. Ant-Man – B+
  16. Ant Man and the Wasp
  17. Iron Man 2 – B
  18. The Incredible Hulk – B
  19. Thor: The Dark World – B
  20. Guardians of the Galaxy – B-
  21. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – C+
  22. Doctor Strange – C+

Shazam!

shazam!Director: David S. Sandberg

Screenwriters: Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke

Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Djimon Hounsou, and John Glover

A weird thing is happening with mainstream cinema right now. We are now fully saturated with superhero films. It is undeniable. Usually, when this level of inundation occurs in a pop culture medium, fatigue sets in, and another trend emerges. Oddly enough, seven superhero-related films had major releases in 2018, and at least ten more are slated to come out in the 2019 calendar year, demonstrating that fatigue is not setting in, and in fact with Avengers: Endgame predicted to break all box office records, we have not even reached the pinnacle of this superhero-film era.

Why might that be? Well, for starters, unlike many movie fads, the superhero genre has proven to be quite versatile. These films have broad reach and audience appeal from absurd to intense, to adult-themed, to even awards-caliber social commentary. But even more than that, the most successful of them have wit, charm, and charisma that carries them and allows them to massively engage in the original purpose of cinema: Escapist entertainment. Shazam!, the latest offering from the DC Extended Universe, is the latest of superhero fare and represents everything that works for the genre as well as the finest achievement so far in the DCEU.

Shazam! is like Big meets Home Alone, so allow that to sink in before you proceed. It also knows it is like Big meets Home Alone and lets you know it knows. That being said, it is not stale nor does it lean on preconception. The gist is that in an alternative dimension, a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) is tasked with restraining the seven deadly sins’ influence on Earth. With his powers growing weak, he must find a new champion who is pure of heart to replace him before his powers fade, and the sins are released from their captivity. His search spans many years, once nearly selecting a young boy named Thaddeus Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto), but finding his heart to not be worthy. This dismissal by the wizard sparks a maniacal 45-year pursuit. As an adult, Sivana (now played by Mark Strong) seeks to discover the wizard’s hidden realm and take the power for himself. The good news is that the wizard finds his new champion in a foster kid named Billy Batson (Asher Angel), charging him with the power to transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) simply by calling the name Shazam and with the ultimate goal of protecting Earth from the seven sins. Unfortunately, the wizard is not able to fend off Sivana, and he is able to transform into the sins’ vessel and harness their power, which he plans to yield maliciously, of course.

Now the table is set for a battle of good and evil between Shazam! and Sivana, who wants Shazam’s power for himself. Nothing really to write home about. However, the conflict is not the magic of Shazam!. Few, if any, superhero films so far have succeeded in capturing the cultural identity that comic books represent to the generations who grew up with them. Shazam, however is an exception. The true accomplishment of Shazam is how effortlessly and flawlessly it showcases the majesty, hopefulness, and glee that this style of fantasy has on our imagination. Much of this is accomplished through the chemistry between Billy/Shazam and his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). Their scenes together make the movie, and fortunately, about 80% of the movie is focused on their exploits together, navigating the tricky world of becoming a superhero. Levi has been on my radar for years, having been a big fan of the NBC series Chuck, and even though he has been consistently working since that show went off the air, he still had not found that break-out role that showcased his talents. That is no longer the case. Zachary Levi has a tremendous amount of fun in this role, and his performance elevates the movie to being truly enjoyable whenever he’s on the screen.

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I mentioned that about 80% of the movie is focused on our heroes, but unfortunately, that means that the other 20% is focused on our villain. For some reason, the DCEU is still struggling with the whole villain thing. Mark Strong does his best with what he’s given to play Dr. Sivana. While menacing, evil and fixated on chaos, the old tropes of daddy-issues fueling an absurd quest for power for the sake of aimless revenge is tired and uninspired. Sivana sits somewhere between General Zod and Steppenwolf in the DCEU villain hierarchy.

Shazam! does manage to avoid one common pitfall of new superhero movies, and that’s delivering an origin story that is not dull, mediocre, and contrived. Writers Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke were able to access the source material in such a way that everything feels fresh about the journey to becoming Shazam. Shazam! shows us (as well as DC) that we all do in fact have a fun and inspired superhero inside of us. B+

Shazam! is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 12 minutes. There are two post-film sequences; one mid-credits, and the other post-credits. The first is plot-based, but the second is just played for laughs.

Captain Marvel (2019)

CaptainDirectors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Screenwriters: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, and Lashana Lynch

Ever since that cryptic page sent by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in the post-credit scene from Avengers: Infinity War, people have been saying…”Who’s Captain Marvel?” That is an epic question in itself. Those familiar with the Marvel Comics origin of Captain Marvel know it is a strange one. The first Captain Marvel dates back to 1939 as a fictional comic book superhero from the now defunct Whiz Comics. Whiz and Captain Marvel were put on the back burner after DC Comics sued the publisher over Captain Marvel’s similarity to Superman in the 1950s. Marvel Comics eventually developed a trademark on their own character named Captain Marvel in the 1960s with the caveat that in order to retain the trademark, they’d need to publish a Captain Marvel title at least once every two years, leading to DC eventually rename their iteration Shazam, a character that is also getting the cinematic treatment this year. But that’s not all! Marvel’s Captain Marvel went through 6 different versions before finally arriving as the Carol Danvers version that we have now!

Ok, so now that we have that out of the way, who’s Captain Marvel and what is this movie all about? Captain Marvel is centered around Carol Danvers (played by Brie Larson), a U.S. Air Force pilot who through a series of events is recruited to an elite team of alien warriors called the Kree on the planet of Hala. Danvers develops superpowers under the tutelage of her mentor and commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). With the Kree, Danvers (known as Vers to her Kree comrades), helps fight in an ongoing war against a group of alien shapeshifters known as the Skrulls. The tricky bit is somewhere along the line, Vers (Danvers) has forgotten any and all of her life on Earth save for some disturbing nightmares featuring a woman (Annete Bening) she recognizes but cannot place. During a botched rescue operation, the Skrull commander, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) capture Vers and tortures her for answers about the Kree as they make way to Earth with the plan to find a scientist who may be the key to helping them develop a quantum drive that would give them the edge in the battle against the Kree. Vers manages to escape only to crash land in Los Angeles. It is here that we discover that it is the 1990s, and Vers’s spectacle of an entrance draws the attention of (much younger) S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Now it’s a race against time as Vers teams up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop the Skrulls from obtaining the quantum drive. Another battle – one of identity – also ensues as Vers’s sudden appearance on Earth begins to uproot some repressed memories of her previous life on Earth, some of which may affect the future of the universe! So the stakes are high.

Captain Marvel is a very fun movie, and much credit for its success goes to Larson, who really carves out a character here that could fall flat with the wrong performer in the role. She is charismatic and all-in on this performance, which is no surprise given she’s an Oscar winner for her work in the intensely gripping film Room. Captain Marvel certainly is a pivot from Room, but Larson’s versatility shows here that she’s a bankable and playful actress who will elevate a film. Her chemistry with Jackson, Mendelsohn, and Danvers’s best friend Maria Rambeau (played by Lashana Lynch) is contagious, helping the audience feel much more connected to the film’s events.

In addition to the performances, the action and story are on point as well. I think there were some heightened expectations that this film would provide more clues and explanations associated with the fateful climax of Avengers: Infinity War, but Captain Marvel is an origin story film and it takes place well before Thanos started outfitting that gauntlet with infinity stones. That being said, Captain Marvel is not without some nuance in providing a few answers to some questions within the MCU. Several of which can be attributed to the scene-stealing break-out star of the film, Goose. I’ll say no more. If there’s one other scene-stealer of note worth mentioning, it’s the late, great Stan Lee. 2019 will mark the last year of Stan Lee Marvel film cameos. Captain Marvel, Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home all feature appearances by the comic legend, and this one from Captain Marvel is a real gem.

Finally, for some reason, there’s an unfair amount of pressure on this movie due to its milestone status of being the first MCU film with a woman in the lead. This kind of treatment is the ignorant equivalent of saying, “Wait, women can be superheroes too?” The subversive and powerful impact of Black Panther is not part of the mission with Captain Marvel, nor should it be. Of course art is reflective, and so releasing a giant film like this will be part of a cultural conversation, but it really should only be a positive one. If the movie was not good, it should not be used as some kind of barometer test for a larger gender-based agenda. Fortunately the movie is good, and Captain Marvel is cool, so girls and women will be proud and inspired by that. No need to harp on it or heap tons of pressure on it. Ok, end of moderate politically correct rant.

If there is a flaw in the film, it’s the challenge of balancing the Earth story with the Kree story. Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg is somewhat squandered and lost in the sauce once Vers leaves Hala. There’s an obvious desire to tap into some of that Guardians of the Galaxy space opera cache, but it doesn’t quite work. The movie really soars with its Earth storyline, and when it soars it is a blast! A-

Captain Marvel is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 4 minutes.

2019 Oscar Prediction Ballot

nohost.jpgIt’s nearly Oscars Week! That’s right, next Sunday, February 24th at 8:00 PM EST, there will be a 91st Academy Awards and it will be bonkers. There is no host, and the controversial decision to hand out several awards during commercial breaks has raised even more eyebrows. Nonetheless, this is always an exciting time for The People’s Critic, and as always, I welcome you to join in on the fun by filling out an official People’s Critic Oscar Predictions ballot (use this link if on mobile). I have made my predictions, so now it’s your turn.

The ballot below contains the nominees for all 24 categories! On Oscar night, feel free to review the Summary of responses page for live updates on how your picks are doing, as well as view the live analytics (available only after you’ve submitted a response) for each category throughout the week!

Also, to make your Oscar night as lavish as possible, feel free to grab a copy of this blank Oscar ballot for your Oscar party, and if you’re looking for a feast sure to be a favourite, please enjoy our carefully curated 2019 Oscar dinner menu (printable version). Good luck and enjoy!

2019 Oscar Predictions

oscars91For those of you eagerly awaiting my annual predictions, your wait is over.

Like I do every year, my 2019 Oscar Predictions include all 24 categories and their nominees along with my humble (yet educated) opinion and commentary on who will bring home the gold at this year’s ceremony, held Sunday February 24th, hosted by… NO ONE!?

I will say that having no host under the pretext that there were no quality choices is just, plain lazy! I present to you, exhibit A:

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That’s right, The People’s Critic tossed his hat into the ring a full two months ago, and nary a jingle has he heard from the Academy. So there it is: laziness. So on we go, hostless, but the show must go on!

Visit my Awards Spotlight Page for links to Oscar Predictions and Menus past and present as well, and be sure to check out the highly anticipated 2019 Oscar Dinner Menu.

So make yourself a Spiked LeeMonade, and check out my predictions for the 2019 Oscar winners! I know it’s a long post, but it’s only 500 words longer than than last year!

2019 Oscar Predictions
2019 Oscar Dinner Menu
2019 Printable Oscar Ballot
Awards Spotlight Page

2019 Oscar Nominations [FULL LIST]

16-oscar-nominations.w700.h700We may not have a host, but we do have nominations. I will of course have my overly analyzed, long-winded predictions shortly, but for now I will let the nominations speak for themselves. The Oscars will air live February 24th on ABC.

Best Picture

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star is Born
Vice

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlackKKLansman
Sam Elliot, A Star is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me
Sam Rockwell, Vice

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Director

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
BlacKkKlansman
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born

Best Original Screenplay

First Reformed
Green Book
Roma
The Favourite
Vice

Best Foreign Language Films

Capernaum
Cold War
Never Look Away
Roma
Shoplifters

Best Documentary Feature

Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

Best Animated Feature Film

Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Live Action Short Film

“Detainment”
“Fauve”
“Marguerite”
“Mother”
“Skin”

Best Documentary (Short)

“Black Sheep”
“End Game”
“Lifeboat”
“A Night at the Garden”
“Period. End of Sentence.”

Best Animated Short Film

“Animal Behaviour”
“Bao”
“Late Afternoon”
“One Small Step”
“Weekends”

Best Original Song

“All The Stars” – Black Panther
“I’ll Fight” – RBG
“Shallow” – A Star Is Born
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” – Mary Poppins Returns
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Best Original Score

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Mary Poppins Returns

Best Film Editing

BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
Green Book
The Favourite
Vice

Best Production Design

Black Panther
The Favourite
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns
Roma

Best Cinematography

Cold War
The Favourite
Never Look Away
Roma
A Star Is Born

Best Costume Design

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Black Panther
The Favourite
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Queen of Scots

Best Sound Editing

A Quiet Place
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma

Best Sound Mixing

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

Best Visual Effects

Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice