Pierce Pioneer

“Tiger King”: A Must Watch

Ty Phay / Staff Illustrator

From gay, country singing, drug-addicts, to cultish tiger housing societies, the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” shocked the world with its captivating look into the lives of the American big cat community. The most-watched Netflix show since March 20, gave a glimpse into the animal rights controversy that many Americans didn’t know existed. 

According to the documentary, twice as many tigers live in U.S. captivity than in their natural habitats. Big cat owners across the nation claimed they existed for the conservation and awareness of the animals, but directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin allowed viewers to judge the owner’s intentions.

With viewpoints from all sides of big cats captivity, ranging from caretakers to protesters, the directors captured the conflict between good and evil. This conflict drove the story of the docuseries, and added to the dramatized angle fit for national streaming. The docuseries seemed to stray from the focus of spreading awareness for big cats and focused on the characters that drive the controversy.

The protagonist and former big cat zoo owner Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic,” provided much of the surreal entertainment throughout the seven-part series. Wildlife park owner Bhagavan “Doc” Antle best described Exotic as, “A completely insane, gay, gun-toting, drug-addict fanatic.” Exotic was the perfect defining character and face of the documentary with his eccentric lifestyle and fiery personality. 

The second large scale animal owner and breeder is best known as “Doc Antle.” The director of Myrtle Beach Safari and Rare Species Fund seemed to bring together cultish intentions with the operation of his wildlife park. His act of polygamy with his park staff added to the surreal nature of the characters in the docuseries. 

In contrast, for these two big cat animal owners, animal activists have devoted their efforts to the abolishment of exotic animal parks. Animal activist and Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin acted as the antagonist to the main character of Exotic. Through her opposition and controversies, mainly over the disappearance of her husband, the directors added her story to blow up the documentary. 

“Tiger King,” may not be for people of all ages due to the use of profanity, guns, and crude language, but the story told is unlike anything the world has seen. The show left its audience laughing at one minute, gasping the next, and finally shaking their head all in one episode. The seven episodes acted as the perfect getaway during the current Covid-19 pandemic that left the world stuck at home. 

The docuseries blew the mind of people around the world gaining popularity across social media. From celebrity photoshops, to Tik Tok videos, and memes, the show was popularized by people of all backgrounds. 

Directors Goode and Chaiklin masterfully put together a juicy and eye-opening docuseries showing the controversy and blinded nature of self-proclaimed animal activists. The endless energy of the back and forth banter led the characters in the series to distance themselves from the conservation of big cats in the wild. Visitors of America’s big cat parks benefit every day from the striking features of an 800-pound tiger, but it’s the animals that ultimately pay the price.

“Outbreak” Review

Photofest / Courtesy Photo
Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo in 1995’s ‘Outbreak’.

A look back at 1995’s “Outbreak”, amidst the COVID-19 quarantine.

During these quiet, yet rather suspenseful times, many people may be finding that they’re running out of things to do while sitting at home. While it is more than likely that most have had more than their fair share of TV and Netflix, one classic movie stands out in light of its relevancy to today’s events. 1995’s “Outbreak”, available to stream on Netflix, wonders, “What would happen if a deadly virus took the world by storm?” 

This virus in particular is named ‘Motaba’, where the recipients of which break out into nasty open sores. The makeup in the movie is quite realistic, as expected of a feature film; but nevertheless, if blood makes one squeamish, this may not be the film for them. 

As far as factual accuracy is concerned, Outbreak, being set mainly in the United States, uses correct medical and governmental terminology. The main protagonists associate with real organizations such as the World Health Organization and the CDC. 

The movie has a very well planned and moderate pace, rarely being too slow, yet not skimming over any important details or scenes for the sake of time. 

For those looking for comic relief in this rather dark story, there are several light jokes throughout between leading roles which helps viewers connect to the characters, making the movie all the better. Not to worry for those who find that humor ruins a good plot however, as there is still plenty of solemnness and blood to go around. 

This being said, the semi-intense graphics of the disease are not the only reason this movie is rated R. While there is no questionable or sexual content throughout the movie, the main characters swear frequently enough that one may want to reconsider before watching this movie with children. 

Overall, Outbreak is a well-orchestrated film that will capture the attention of a viewer throughout, with the perfect mix of both suspenseful and heartwarming moments. Especially considering the events that have been happening around the world recently, this movie is certainly worth a watch for anyone with a Netflix subscription.

Kickin it with Q – Bloodshot movie review

Quintin gives a review of Bloodshot.

Editor: Quintin Mattson-Hayward

Logo: Jesus Contreras

“Klaus” blesses the season with traditional animation

Netflix / Courtesy Photo
This animated holiday movie is set in a surreally gruesome place, filled with surreally gruesome people.

With the holidays right around the corner, Netflix has gifted viewers with a new 2D animated Christmas movie, Klaus. Even for viewers who don’t celebrate Christmas, it is well worth the watch. The movie perfectly captures the true spirit of the holidays with beautiful traditional animation

The movie pulls us into an adventure with Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), a self-centered postman, who is forced by his father to work in a chaotic town called Smeerensburg. Jesper must mail enough letters to go back home. This proves difficult when all of the citizens only want to fight each other.

Jesper learns to work with an old toymaker, Klaus (J. K. Simmons), in the woods to help him achieve his goal of getting out of there. With Christmas approaching, Jesper takes advantage of the holidays to encourage the children to write lots of letters to Santa. Klaus and Jesper must work together to respond to these children’s wishes. In the meantime, he learns about the origin of Smeerensburg and the tales of local citizens while he struggles to make it as a successful postman.

The plot travels along at a steady pace, comedically tying in the original stories and traditions of how Santa Claus came to be. The humor is full of sarcasm and witty comebacks which make the movie an enjoyable watch for audiences of all ages. It doesn’t feel as though there is a dull moment in the dialogue between characters.

Netflix / Courtesy Photo

For older viewers, “Klaus” unexpectedly carries subtle, dark tones which involve violence, breaking and entering, and gloom. These dark themes tend to stick out the most in comparison to the rest of the film for those that recognize it. The audience may be shocked at some of the humor which will hint at something darker than a children’s movie.

At times, some of the characters’ stories can be a little too serious, reminding the audience of the heartaches life has to offer. “Klaus” is slightly reminiscent of the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as dark themes stay consistent nearly all the way to the end of the movie. manages to make it feel less like an overall Christmas film.

With 2D animation making a successful comeback in “Klaus,” they take it a step further by adding organic lighting to make objects appear visually textured. The scenes are visually appealing all throughout without feeling clunky like some 3D animations. The audience should watch to appreciate the use of traditional animation, if not for a refreshingly new Christmas plot.

As a great addition to Christmas movies, “Klaus” has a solid storyline and successfully captures the essence of a kind heart. A lesson can be learned about the gift of giving and how small good deeds can influence others in big ways. If anyone wants a humorous Christmas story with emotion, “Klaus” is definitely a movie to watch over the holidays.

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” is disappointingly lackluster

Illumination Entertainment / Universal / Courtesy Photo
A scene from “The Secret Life of Pets 2”.

Decent animated movies are not hard to come by. However, it takes skill to make a great animation. Therefore, though these movies are released frequently, it is not often that audiences get one that has substance. Judging by the trailers,“The Secret Life of Pets 2” looked like it had promise . However, in execution, the movie stumbles with its complexity.

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” tells many interconnected stories. The first is of a terrier named Max (Patton Oswalt) who is trying to cope with the pressure of a toddler in the family. Another is of a dog named Gidget (Jenny Slate,) trying to retrieve Max’s toy after losing it to a group of cats.

The main strength of the film is the vibrant and colorful animation. Even with the cartoony designs of the pets, their movements strongly resembles their common real life counterparts. The creatures are adorable, which is great for a children’s movie.

Despite the great animation, it may be difficult for kids to follow the complicated story. The whole movie is structured like a sitcom episode, where different plot lines are interspersed, thus making it feel more “TV” and less “cinema.” One minute, the movie is occupied with Max’s affection towards the owners’ son and in the next, it cuts back to Gidget making a plan to get back the toy. Though this grants the movie more pace, it also results in the lack of depth.

Illumination Entertainment / Universal / Courtesy Photo
Max the terrier (voiced by Patton Oswalt), Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and Liam (Henry Lynch) in The Secret Life of Pets 2.

Unlike a movie like “Toy Story” which a whole family can enjoy, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is geared more towards a younger audience. For example, the humor is simplistic, and the best it the best it may do is to garner a smile. It is worth pointing out that even though the majority of the film’s humor is flat, it has its moments. One of the better scenes involves Gidget and a laser pointer.

The villain in the film is extremely one-note. Sergei is the classic “bad guy” that one sees in countless other movies. A good villain can make the audience feel sympathy for their actions or motives. However, in “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” the character feels one dimensional and bland. With a cute bunny like Snowball as the villain in the prequel, Sergei has no chance of beating that kind of novelty.

The movie has a message to young viewers, but it feels almost too heavy-handed. There is almost no subtlety when it comes to “the takeaway.” A great movie can simply let the youngsters figure the lesson out by the plot and not by what the characters tell them. Adult viewers might even roll their eyes because of the way the movie presents its “lesson.”

Though “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is not a bad movie, it is not a great one either. With purpose of entertaining kids, it can deliver as solid as a 90-minute babysitter. For adults who want to look for something both meaningful and has a great tale, the film is not a great choice.

“Dark Phoenix” ends “X-Men” series on mediocre note

Twentieth Century Fox / Courtesy Photo
Sophie Turner — the immortal Sansa Stark from ‘Game of Thrones’ — showing enormous potential as Jean Grey in Dark Phoenix.’

“X-men” is no stranger to moviegoers and comic book fanatics. Ever since the first movie in 2000, the franchise has acquired a loyal fanbase and spawned some great films. The notable ones are “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Logan” and “Deadpool.” Along with that, it has also produced some stinkers. With this, the supposed last installment to the series with the old gang “Dark Phoenix” has a lot of weight on its shoulders as it concludes the story.

“Dark Phoenix” follows the story of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) a mutant whose power is becoming harder to control as she turns into the infamous “Dark Phoenix.” In order to save her and the world from such aggressive power, the “X-Men” now have to fight with one of their own, while tensions arise within the group.

After the Game of Thrones finale, Sophie Turner returns in “Dark Phoenix” with a good performance. Her American accent is believable, and she portrays the pain that the character experiences with skill and finesse. A dialogue of her with Magneto (Michael Fasbender) shows her range in acting with believable artistry and panache.

James McAvoy is amazing as ever as he again portrays Charles Xavior or Professor X. Though definitely not a villain, he is somewhat responsible for the current combative situation. The movie tells the viewers the reason why he did something in the past that might be responsible for Jean’s anger towards the group.

Twentieth Century Fox / Courtesy Photo
Jennifer Lawrence plays Raven/Mystique in the movie “Dark Phoenix.” 

The CGI (computer generated imagery) is decent but definitely could be better. In a shot that involves floating guns, viewers can tell that the weapons look a little “plasticky.” Also, the way the character Hank (Nicholas Hoult) transform into his Beast form has a cheap effect. However, the make-up artistry for him as well as the characters, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is done masterfully.

The movie is not as action heavy as fans might want it to be. There are some fight scenes but they are infrequent, leaving room for the story. Even still, the battles are not as hard-hitting as the other Marvel action scenes. The altercation on a train at the end is easily the best one in the movie, boasting some great choreography and illustrating how the powers come in handy for these mutants.

The group of aliens who are led by Smith (Jessica Chastain) feels almost unnecessary; they are not as intimidating as the villain Apocalypse in the last “X-Men” movie. Chastain is great, but the writing for her character is dull. When the movie cuts to the aliens, audiences may be bored and yearn to be back with the mutants.

“X-Men” is a series that involves a lot of time travel. Therefore, people might think that they need to “catch up” with the lore before watching the movie. With “Dark Phoenix,” it is not the case. The movie provides the audience with enough substantial information to familiarize new viewers to the “X-Men” universe.

While “Avengers: Endgame” ended a series with a bang, “Dark Phoenix” has trouble closing the chronicle. Long-time frequenters can pick out a handful of better films in the franchise. It is still an entertaining movie, but certainly does not conclude the X-Men series in the best way.

“Ma” is entertaining yet lacks substance

Anna Kooris / Universal Pictures
From Left: Maggie (Diana Silvers), Erica (Juliette Lewis, back to camera) and Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) in ‘Ma.’

Marge Simpson, Peggy Hill, Kitty Forman… are some of the most known on-screen mothers of our time. But, as amazing as being a mother is, filmmakers are always looking for ways to put a new spin on it. The new thriller “Ma” which recently arrived at theaters mixes the loving mother figure with a disturbing tale. Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures,…) is an actress who is usually cast for roles with brighter and more innocent personalities. With “Ma,” Spencer sheds the usual wholesome personalities that she always plays and explores a darker side.

The film centers around a group of high school rebels. In an attempt to get alcohol, they meet Sue Ann (Spencer) a seemingly sweet woman, who after some hesitation, buys them liquor. She then invites them to a party at her house, and they gladly accept. In a short time, her basement becomes the best party place in town. However, as the group gets to know her, they start to uncover a more sinister side. Now, she thirsts for revenge to right the wrongs from her past.

Actress Octavia Spencer puts on a disturbing performance in “Ma.” People who are usually acquainted with her more “innocent” roles may be shock as she progressively becomes creepier in every scene. Every time she is on screen, audiences can sense that something is “off” with her. Her subtle facial expressions and ominous delivery adds to the foreboding ambiance of the film. The actress carries the entire movie with her disarming presence.

Anna Kooris / Universal Pictures
McKaley Miller as Haley (Left) and Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann (Right).

Though “Ma” is more of a thriller than a full fledged horror movie, it features gore that might make some moviegoers cringe. The whole film is creepy in nature, and the blood is the “cherry on top.” The filmmakers put in a handful of tension building moments, and the movie does not shy away from getting “suggestive.” One scene in particular has the potential to make people uncomfortable with what it shows. Though one could argue that it was done for “shock value,” it is still quite effective.

The dynamics between the teenagers are also well-established. Despite not being on par with the main star, the young actors put on a good show. They are believable as a group of high school students as they try to find fun in the more “naughty” activities such as drinking. What they do and what they say are realistic for the most part. This gives audience members a break from the more tense scenes.

With that being said, the group is quite generic in terms of character tropes. There is the “sexy blonde chick,” the “wide-eyed innocent” and everything else in the book. As good as these people are, it still feels wooden in the use of slang and sometimes sounds forced.

The movie explores the character of Sue Ann’s past with the use of flashbacks. This provides audiences with information about her early days. Even though her childhood is made clear by the end of the film, it is still vague on how she could have started her ominous revenge plan. Besides that, the ending is also bland and somewhat predictable.

Overall, “Ma” is certainly no bad movie, but it is not a “must-see.” The intrigue of Octavio Spencer as a psychopath may make viewers enjoy the film. However, they might look back and think that “Ma” is rather basic. With such a skillful actress, the movie should have been better and more satisfying.

 

“Rocketman” launches with energy

CreditDavid Appleby / Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Photo
Jamie Bell, left, and Taron Egerton as Taupin and John in “Rocketman.”

Biographical renditions (biopics) are ways for filmmakers to tell stories about significant figures throughout history with film. This year with “Bohemian Rhapsody” being awarded Best Actor with Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, it seems like musical biopics are becoming more mainstream. Studios appear like they are interested in films involving musicians. After exploring the story behind the group Queen, audiences now get to see the life of Elton John. The singer and composer is a household name that was responsible for some of the most popular tunes of all time. People around the world have fallen in love with his tracks such as “Tiny Dancer” or “Circle of Life” and the affinity for them has no end in sight. Therefore, it makes sense for a movie like “Rocketman” to be made.

“Rocketman” is the life story of Elton John (Taron Edgerton) from his early days of a musical prodigy to then selling out arenas. The film shines a light on the aspects of John’s career that fans did not get to see, including some of his highest and lowest points. In the process, it tells one of the most fascinating rise-to-fame stories of our time.

Taron Edgerton has tremendous pressure on him portraying the legendary musician, especially after Rami Malek’s incredible performance in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Despite all of that, he puts on possibly his best show of his burgeoning career. This casting choice might seem “out of nowhere” at first, but the movie shows that he is the perfect candidate for the role. His mannerisms, and the way he performs the songs, charmingly resembles John.

It is worth noting is that Edgerton does most of the singing in the movie, according to Bustle.com. His vocals are impressive, especially for people who are only familiar to him as Eggsy in the “Kingsman” series. The songs do not sound exactly like the Elton John versions, which helps the movie avoid sounding like a music video playlist.

Paramount Pictures / Entertainment Pictures / Alamy / Courtesy Photo
Taron Egerton as Elton John in a scene from from “Rocketman,” directed by Dexter Fletcher.

It is important to know that this movie closely resembles a musical in a lot of ways, which may annoy some people. “Rocketman” is dream-like, and this is established from the get-go. For example, time slows down or freezes, and Elton John is put in a trance. Characters often break out into songs and numbers. This makes the film surprisingly refreshing. It also dials up the energy level up a notch with montages of Elton John’s career, which are also done like a stage musical.

In the film, Elton John’s music is used as a way to show various points in his career. His fans can easily figure out which phase he was in just by the songs. The filmmakers also recreate some of his most iconic costumes. Whether it’s the sparkly baseball jersey or the colorful headdresses, the visual representations display the different landmarks of his life.

There is always a sense of liveliness in every scene, even in the more somber ones. Although the movie is 2 hours in length, the passion and fire of the film easily entrances the audience. Despite that, when “Rocketman” wants to make people feel empathy for the musician, it does the job really well.

As much as there are many great details about this movie, it suffers from some flaws. Though it is engaging, it has almost the same beats as “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Even a montage which involves newspaper headlines look extremely similar to the one in the Queen biopic.

“Rocketman” is a tribute to Elton John, and it is perfect for his fans to enjoy. However, it can also entertain people who are simply looking for a great movie. It is a story that sings and returns people to a timeless era of music.

 

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is heavy in beast, light in characters

WARNER BROS. PICTURE / Courtesy Photo

Godzilla is one of the most symbolic monsters that has ever been created. When the name is mentioned, most people can easily picture an enormous lizard-like creature that stands taller than a skyscraper. This creature has been the star of many different films throughout history; the most recent one was “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” a sequel to 2014’s “Godzilla.” The predecessor used impressive visuals and included a provoking storyline. This time, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” promises a line-up of even more terrifying monsters. Can this new installment to the series wreak havoc in theaters?

This sequel sees a new beast named King Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon, awoken from a “cryosleep.” The creature quickly summons other creatures on Earth and becomes the nemesis of Godzilla himself. Now a group of monster zoologists must fight to save humanity from extinction.

With a premise like that, this movie could be the “Avengers” of the “MonsterVerse,” the Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With that, it brings one of the most impressive visual feasts that audiences can pay a ticket to enjoy. There is quite an amount of monster glory to look forward to in the film. Seeing new creatures interacting with each other perfectly illustrates the ecosystem of these towering animals.

The designs of the monsters are beautifully done, giving off an intimidating vibe, especially with the giant butterfly Mothra. In the battle sequences, these creatures look like they have substance which results in the realistic destruction of buildings, ships, cities… The star of the movie Godzilla is bombastic, loud and grand along with King Ghidorah, who is effectively menacing. In some scenes, the movie perfectly conveys how humans are merely lowly insects to the creatures which generates even more of a formidable ambiance

Warner Bros. Entertainment / Courtesy Photo
The big lizard gets angry in ‘Godzilla: King of The Monsters.’

Like the first movie, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” treats these titans as if they were animals and not villains. Similar to “Jurassic Park,” as frightening as these creatures are, they are still animals trying to survive. This adds a new edge to the movie and asks the question whether humans can co-exist with these colossal beings. The destruction these monsters bring is almost justifiable as some may say that they do not know any better.

Despite the monsters, the movie is quite flat. The human characters are almost forgettable. Although the movies have some incredible talents like Milly Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) and Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel) their characters are not memorable, and thus, the great acting has little impact. Though the actors definitely try to work with what was given to them, the plot is still boring. The scenes involving these characters can drag on sometimes, and the movie, as a result, feels too long.

As amazing as the monster sequences are, the combination with the humans scenes can make the entire experience tiresome. The center plot involving the family members is both vague and somewhat unnecessary. The tension between the mother (Vera Farmiga) and the father (Kyle Chandler) is not well explained. As for the military sequences, they are both dull and generic.

This time around, it looks like “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” does not have quite as much of a roar as the first one. If one expects breathtaking battles between the monsters, they may be bored in the character heavy scenes. If they expect a memorable storyline, they might be even more disappointed with the movie. Either way, it is not as good as the trailers suggest.

“Booksmart” lives up to its title

AnnaPurna Pictures / Courtesy Photo
Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart

High school can be the best of times or vice versa. It is a time where people start to find their identity as well as planning for another chapter of life. The high school spirit has been captured in so many movies like “Mean Girls,” “High School Musical,” and “The Breakfast Club” just to name a few. Moving forward a few decades, 2018’s “Love, Simon” continues the love training, putting audience in the shoes of a gay high schooler. This year, “Booksmart” brings to the table teenage angst through a pair of best friends, who are trying to find their place.

“Booksmart” is a story of two high school bright bookworms, Amy (played by Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein,) trying to navigate their way through high school. After hearing that a graduation party has been planned, they decide to attend to experience the high school vibe that they missed out on and in order to show people their “fun side.” To add to the mix, Amy and Molly both have their own romantic interests and are on the mission to find love.

If there is one word to describe this movie, it would be “youthful.” The beauty of teenagehood is painted in a simple yet uplifting way. However, one perk that “Booksmart” possesses is the maturity. It does not shy away from the realistic vulgar teenage talk. One might think that this is done for shock value, but it comes off as authentic. Both Dever and Feldstein put on incredible performances, and the chemistry between Amy and Molly drives this coming-of-age story well. The choice of making the character of Amy, a lesbian, offers a new perspective to audience members who are tired of the same old motifs.

Annapurna / Courtesy Photo
Beanie Feldstein as Molly (left) and Kaitlyn Dever as Amy.

While the movie is charming, the trailer can mislead the audience into thinking that this is a laugh-out-loud comedy. The movie definitely has quite a lot of humor, but a large portion of it is in the first half. The rest is more dedicated to the hormonal interactions of high schoolers and character progressions. It is a great quality, though it can drag on for people who are simply looking for laughs. When viewed under a comedic lense, “Booksmart” might not be satisfying, but when looked at as a film, it works wonders.

The movie is “R-rated,” which means this is no “High School Musical.” The humor can be viewed as offensive, and some of the ways teenage affection is depicted may make people uncomfortable. It is important that viewers go into this movie knowing that for the most part, it does not pull any punches to preserve authenticity. When “Booksmart” needs to get graphic, it does.

When it comes to flaws, there are a few minor ones. In some scenes, the references of teen lingos and memes can easily conveys that an adult is obviously writing the script. Also, near the end, there is a plot point that can scream “too convenient” to viewers. It sticks out, especially when most of the film feels so real.

To sum up, “Booksmart” is a teenage polaroid. Adult viewers can watch this movie and reminisce memories of a younger time, while the younger viewers can identify with the story. It does not try to be a masterpiece, and yet, it succeeds in many ways.

“Brightburn” gruesomely twists comic book genre

BORIS MARTIN / SCREEN GEMS
Jackson A. Dunn as Brandon Breyer

People can argue that the movie industry is in the era of superheroes. Plenty of “origin” stories, reboots, spin-offs and sequels have brought what was once a niche market to a more mainstream audience. While these movies are fun, they can be formulaic. As a result, filmmakers have tried numerous approaches to make superheroes more interesting. They went from making it dark and gritty, like “The Dark Knight” to turning it into a comedy joyride, like “Deadpool” or “Thor: Ragnarok.” Now, it seems as if they have discovered a new way to play with this genre, and that is with horror, which comes in the form of “Brightburn.”

The movie is straightforward with its storyline. A couple (played by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) encountered a boy (Jackson A. Dunn,) after his spacecraft crashed on their farm. Desperate for a child, they decide to name him Brandon Breyer and lovingly raise him as their own. However, it is a colossal mistake when the Brandon discovers his powers and decides to terrify the town.

The concept of the movie lies in a simple question: What if a Superman-like being has no moral compass? With that idea, it delivers a bloody and gruesome answer. On paper, it sounds like a superhero or supervillain origin story, but in the execution, it is a full fleshed horror-drama flick.

A lot of the film is devoted to the story of the family, who are being torn apart as Brandon grows hungry for blood. In order for this work, it requires amazing chemistry from the cast. Elizabeth Banks and David Denman are believable in the movie. The love that is on screen is heartwarming which results in quite an impact when the relationship crumbles as they figure out how to deal with their son. Jackson A. Dunn did a stunning job portraying the evil Brandon Breyer, to the point where people might even feel a hatred towards his character. Overall, the performances in the movie across the board are great.

Screen Gems
Elizabeth Banks as the loving and increasingly alarmed mother in “Brightburn.”

This is not the first time that filmmakers have tried to put a “thriller” spin on the superhero genre. Director M. Night Shyamalan blew audiences away with “Split” as his directorial comeback in 2016, which was a chilling story of a supervillain. A delayed project named “The New Mutants” also resembles the same tone as this movie, judging by the trailers.

“Brightburn” is different. The concept alone may interest many, while the movie has a lot of fun with the idea. It shows audiences what most superhero movies do not dare to show. It has blood, violence and is definitely not for the squeamish. Additionally, “Brightburn” is also surprisingly suspenseful, such as when the moments Brandon toys with his victims before the kills. They can make audiences hold their breath as they wait for him to strike.

Fans of comic book movies can recognize several nods to Superman in the movie. Brandon Breyer has quite a few of the same powers as the beloved American superhuman. The way he designed his symbol, flies, and even the location of Kansas are all tributes to the Man of Steel himself.

With all the positives, “Brightburn” comes with a few negatives. The story feels incredibly rushed, especially when Brandon finds out that he is special and goes from a sweetheart to a nightmare. However, the reason for his evilness is ambiguous, and the transition is extremely abrupt. The movie feels like it should be way longer than it actually is.

But with a fair amount of heroic superhuman stories, it does not hurt to have a few sinister ones. With “Brightburn,” audience can experience a combination of genres that has the potential to sprout a series of other copycat films in the future.

“Aladdin” (2019) falls short of greatness

Disney
Will Smith as the genie.

When it comes to movies, there are the staples, the movies that most people regard as great, memorable movies such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Mulan” or “The Little Mermaid.” These movies, while not technically the most perfect movies, have something else that keeps viewers coming back to them. Some would argue that Walt Disney’s 1992 “Aladdin” is one of those movies. In the past decade, old Disney movies getting a live-action remake is becoming more common. Even great ones like “The Jungle Book” are not unheard of… Now, the studio is back with its latest live-action remake for “Aladdin,” which has sparked many discussions ever since it was announced.

The animationation“Aladdin” is a popular one. This new rendition follows most of the beats of the original animated classic. It tells the story of a young thief named Aladdin (played by Mena Massou) who falls in love with Jasmine (Naomi Scott,) The Princess of Agrabah. In an attempt to get a better life, Aladdin discovers a magic lamp which contains a powerful genie (Will Smith). Aladdin now uses it pursue to Jasmine as well as keeps it from Jafar (Marwan Kenzari,) an evil sorcerer who wants to be the King of Agrabah.

In the original animation, the Genie is what makes movie. With the voice of Robin Williams, the Genie has become one of the most recognized Disney characters. Will Smith, as a result, has some big shoes to fill. However, with as much controversy as there was about this casting choice, he did a wonderful job. Smith is a charismatic actor, and though not as great as Robin Williams, he is easily the best part of the movie.

The CGI (Computer-generated imagery) for the Genie character can look “plasticky” at times, but overall was well-done. The character is brought to life in the same spirit as the Robin Williams version, illustrated by his movements, humor and the way he carries himself. While the “Genie form” is seen quite often in the movie, the character often adapts the “human form,” which is essentially Will Smith. Even then, he still brings a level of quips and comedy that makes the movie shine.

Daniel Smith/Walt Disney Pictures
Mena Massoud and Will Smith in Disney’s new live-action ‘Aladdin,’ directed by Guy Ritchie.

It is difficult to know what from the original should be included in the new rendition of the film. With the Genie character, there are jokes that the Robin Williams’ Genie says which are “redone” here. While they work, they are still repeated moment that were previously accomplished with more style. Still, quite a few details were brought back. For example, Aladdin sharing his food with the less fortunate is an iconic moment that is both in the original and the remake version.

The rest of the cast is over-the-top. With the Genie, the larger-than-life persona is required to show his personality. With other characters… not so much… The actors sometimes overact, making it feel more like a stage musical than a film. The stars of the movie are “all over the place.” The character of Jafar appears miscast, and Marwan Kenzari often overdoes the way he deliver lines. Mena Massou, although has his moments as Aladdin, can come off as one note. Naomi Scott, on the other hand, did a good job performing Princess Jasmine, but even she still cannot escape the occasional overacting.

“Aladdin” is a colorful, vibrant movie. The costumes, props and set are designed to be flashy as a palette for musical numbers and choreography. The city of Agrabah is impressive; however, it does not look authentic. Even in some scenes, a movie junkie can tell that a backdrop is not real. The parts where Jasmine is on her balcony best exemplifies the obvious “green screening.”

The musical numbers are great, and most of them are from the original movie. With other parts of the film as a “new coat of paint” outside of the 1992 version, the musical aspect needed the same treatment as well. The songs were given a facelift to give them a modern sound while retaining some of the key elements from the old film. However, people who loved the original might view this as unnecessary.

In the end, if a person is not a fan of the original “Aladdin” from 1992, this is not a movie that will convert them. People have an affinity for the old movie can have a fun time watching the realistic rendering of the animation, but at the end, it is still recycled material. However, the film is a good choice for families in the landscape of saturated remakes that does not look like it will go away anytime soon.

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