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Luca (2021) Review

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Luca

Time: 95 Minutes
Voice Cast:
Jacob Tremblay as Luca Paguro
Jack Dylan Grazer as Alberto Scorfano
Emma Berman as Giulia Marcovaldo
Saverio Raimondo as Ercole Visconti
Maya Rudolph as Daniela Paguro
Marco Barricelli as Massimo Marcovaldo
Jim Gaffigan as Lorenzo Paguro
Peter Sohn and Lorenzo Crisci as Ciccio and Guido
Marina Massironi as Mrs. Marsigliese
Sandy Martin as Grandma Paguro
Sacha Baron Cohen as Uncle Ugo
Director: Enrico Casarosa

Set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, the original animated feature is a coming-of-age story about one young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. Luca shares these adventures with his newfound best friend, but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: he is a sea monster from another world just below the water’s surface.

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I only knew a little bit about Luca going into it, I just knew it was a Pixar Animated movie set in Italy. I only found out that it involved sea people when I watched the trailer like a day before watching the movie. So I really had no prior expectations going in and I’m glad I checked it out, I enjoyed it a lot.

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To get this out of the way, Luca is not very ambitious by Pixar standards or animated movies standards, and is very much formulaic. It was light and fun with a lot of humour, but I was still invested in how the story played out. Essentially it’s an easy coming of age summer hangout movie, and the lower stakes story was honestly rather refreshing. It is a conventional story on the surface but it works well because of the execution. I’ve seen some reviews comparing Luca to a Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki movie and its pretty apt comparison. Luca is a coming of age with a high concept premise with sea monster people while still being anchored to a simple human scale. It’s a simplistic plot but has a lot of character work and has a big heart at its centre. It is a tale of acceptance, individuality and friendship, as well as a story about self discovery and hiding one’s identity to fit in. It definitely excels in its quieter moments too. I am fine with it not being particularly original or ambitious, but I do think it did feel a little too content with its tropes. The fish out of water story has been done plenty of times and it doesn’t really do anything different here (outside of being a literal fish out of water story this time). There were some plot and character aspects that could’ve been expanded on and developed to give some context, and some cliches that make it into the film could’ve been avoided. Some of the conflicts particularly could’ve been handled better. Luca’s parents are scared of him leaving the ocean and it just felt very familiar and by the numbers and could’ve been fleshed out. Even the eventual conflict between the two main characters comes out of nowhere and feels rather forced. The finale from a story standpoint is good, the action in the climax does feel very familiar to other animated films, but is still fun. It also still packs an emotional punch near the end because of the characters, particularly with the strong friendship established between the lead characters. Luca is 100 minutes long and that was the right length for it, which is helped with the good pacing which never gets too slow.

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The characters were quite memorable and were good all round. The young lead characters with Luca, Alberto and Giulia, and the voice acting from Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer and Emma Berman respectively were great. The strong lead friendship between Luca and Alberto in the forefront was fantastic particularly, and drives much of the movie. The rest of the characters were pretty good too, there were only two that stood out as being out of place. The first was the villain, who is basically just a bully and it feels like the movie didn’t really need him and worked fine without him. With that said it’s something you can look past, and if you’ve been a little annoyed at twist villains and tragic villains in animated movies nowadays, then you’ll probably like his addition here. The other is the uncle of Luca, if only because he was voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen but ended up being a cameo since he only had one scene.

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The direction from Enrico Casarosa is great. The animation style is a bit different from most Pixar movies but is still absolutely gorgeous, definitely one of their best-looking movies. It seems to capture this town in Italy perfectly, with its depiction being whimsical and vibrant in contrast to the dark and deep ocean that the film starts off in. The character design is great especially with the sea monsters. The score from Dan Romer was warm and fitting for the film.

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Luca is not one of Pixar’s best but it’s a really good and enjoyable animated movie, it is gorgeous to look at, and has endearing characters and a formulaic but still heartfelt story. It might not be anything new or special, but it’s a refreshingly simple and fun summer hangout flick and definitely worth checking out.

Shazam! (2019) Review

Time: 132 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Asher Angel and Zachary Levi as William “Billy” Batson/Shazam
Mark Strong as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana
Jack Dylan Grazer as Frederick “Freddy” Freeman
Djimon Hounsou as Shazam
Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley
Grace Fulton as Mary Bromfield
Ian Chen as Eugene Choi
Jovan Armand as Pedro Peña
Marta Milans as Rosa Vasquez
Cooper Andrews as Victor Vasquez
Director: David F. Sandberg

We all have a superhero inside of us — it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In 14-year-old Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) case, all he needs to do is shout out one word to transform into the adult superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi). Still a kid at heart, Shazam revels in the new version of himself by doing what any other teen would do — have fun while testing out his newfound powers. But he’ll need to master them quickly before the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) can get his hands on Shazam’s magical abilities.

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Shazam was one of my most anticipated films of 2019. While I wasn’t familiar with the comic book character, I’ve liked most of the DCEU thus far, and seeing this very different character introduced to it, as well as its different tone, had me interested to see it. Plus, I liked the cast involved and the trailers were pretty good. I expected a fun comic book movie, and Shazam surpassed my expectations, a surprisingly emotional yet entertaining and heartfelt superhero movie.

There’s a couple of standout things to note right out of the gate. The movie is very much standalone from the rest of the universe, while there are definitely references to other superheroes like Batman and Superman (mostly from Jack Dylan Grazer’s character) and it definitely exists in the DCEU, it doesn’t rely on it too much. Parts of the movie leave room to explore teased characters and aspects for sequels without outright sequel baiting. In fact, I’d say that you don’t need to have seen any of the other DCEU movies to get the full experience with Shazam. Another thing is that despite all the magic involved, it’s a pretty grounded movie. At its core, it’s a coming of age story with a kid having superpowers. Even with the climax with Shazam flying around fighting the villains of the film, none of it feels world ending, the stakes feel a lot more personal. It might also genuinely be one of the best written comic book movies. As you could probably tell from the trailer and the rest of the marketing, it’s a bit of a comedy. However, it’s not a spoof like you’d expect it to be, all the elements are very well balanced in fact. Now while some might be quick to think that this might be just a MCU movie, a non R rated comic book movie with comedy doesn’t inherently mean it’s going to be that. This is not to slam the MCU, but there’s something about the comedy here that was just really great, with all of the comedic beats just really working for me. Make no mistake, it is lighter than the other DCEU movies but at the same time still firmly in this universe. It’s a bit darker and scarier than you think it would be, in a way that served the story. It’s also a surprisingly emotional movie, as often as you probably hear this about movies, at its core the movie is about family and is a lot deeper than you’d expect. Although Shazam seems like a familiar comic book movie, there some surprises that you don’t necessarily expect (especially towards the third act), so definitely go into it not knowing too much about it. And I’m obligated to let you know that there are some credits scenes, the first being a setup for parts of the Shazam sequel (albeit a really weird and obscure one), the other being more comedic.

The cast all played their parts very well. Asher Angel plays Billy Batson, a troubled orphan who would gain the power of Shazam, and he plays his role very well. Zachary Levi is perfect as Shazam, I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. He’s definitely a little kid in the body of a full grown man, and is probably even more childish than Batson as the kid, and the difference between the two seemed to be a deliberate choice. The development and character arc of Billy Batson/Shazam was great and was one of the highlights of the movie. Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman stole every scene he was in as one of the foster children that Billy knows and first reveals his Shazam identity to. He plays off of Angel and Levi incredibly well and even has his own character arc. Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand and Faithe Herman as the other foster kids, and the foster parents played by Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans were also good. Djimon Hounsou as the wizard Shazam does well in the few scenes that he’s in. Mark Strong plays the villain of Dr Sivanna and he works pretty well. They set him up and give him clear cut and believable enough motivations but he’s nothing special, there’s not much development he goes through after he’s established. I guess they didn’t want the villain to overshadow Shazam, and a character as major as his primary comic nemesis Black Adam would certainly overshadow him. With that said, he was a threatening antagonist to Shazam and was also pretty ruthless (I mean he really has no problem with killing kids). He also sort of served as a dark parallel to Billy Batson with regard to the backstory and similarities between the two. Strong, who is used to playing plenty of villains by now, make this role even better with his performance and looks like he’s having a ton of fun here.

David F. Sandberg is known for his horror movies with Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation. However like Wan with Aquaman, he made the transition to comic book movies very well. This is a stunning looking movie, and it was made with the budget typically half of most comic book movies, and they achieved a lot with what they had. As I said, it has a grounded feel to it, and the way it was shot certainly helped with it. At the same time when it came to the action sequences, they were filmed really well and were entertaining. Like with Aquaman, Shazam surprisingly has some horror aspects to it. The actual costume of Shazam works well, it could’ve been overly goofy and on the set pictures it really didn’t look good, but they really made that costume work on screen. Most of the visual effects were good, it’s about at the level of most modern blockbusters (with budgets twice the size as Shazam’s), so make of that what you will. The worst of the effects were for the CGI villains (whom I’ll keep vague if you don’t know who they are already), they are honestly look pretty bad at times and a little too goofy (and not in a good way), they look straight out of an average comic book movie from the 2000s and it’s a little distracting.

Shazam is a pleasantly surprising movie, the cast played their roles greatly, its written very well and is a well rounded, heartfelt comic book movie. Even if you’re not a fan of the DCEU thus far, I highly recommend the movie, I think you’ll have a good time with it. I’m looking forward to seeing Shazam appear again, as well as inevitably Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam, who we will hopefully be seeing very soon.

IT (2017) Review

Time: 135 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Contains violence, offensive language & horror
Cast
Jaeden Lieberher as William “Bill” Denbrough
Bill Skarsgård as It/Pennywise the Dancing Clown
Jeremy Ray Taylor as Benjamin “Ben” Hanscom
Sophia Lillis as Beverly “Bev” Marsh
Finn Wolfhard as Richard “Richie” Tozier
Wyatt Oleff as Stanley “Stan” Uris
Chosen Jacobs as Michael “Mike” Hanlon
Jack Dylan Grazer as Edward “Eddie” Kaspbrak
Nicholas Hamilton as Henry Bowers
Jackson Robert Scott as George Denbrough
Director: Andy Muschietti

When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, neighborhood kids band together to square off against Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), an evil clown whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries.

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As time was going on, 2017’s IT has started becoming one of my most anticipated films of the year. Prior to seeing that movie, I decided to review the 1990 tv mini series. The mini series had its moments but was ultimately a mixed bag, with only Tim Curry’s Pennywise and the kid actors really being particularly good. This new version of IT had me interested however, with its much darker tone. Ultimately it delivered in such a great way, it was everything I wanted this movie to be and more.

First of all I want to clarify that this is not a remake of the 90’s mini series, it’s the second adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name, and while I haven’t read it myself from what I can tell, this new film is more accurate to the source material. Something that this movie does quite well is that it only focusses on the kids, it feels a lot more focussed and consistent compared to the mini series, which felt rather jarring when it cut between past and present day (and from the kids to their adult counterparts). This movie is also thankfully rated R, one of the things holding the mini series back (among many things) was that it couldn’t go all out with Stephen King’s darkness. This newer version of IT has the freedom to portray almost anything, at times its actually quite surprising, we see things happen to kids that we don’t usually see. While this is a horror movie, I don’t find it to be the scariest movie ever. It has some creepy and unsettling moments but its not that scary to me (granted I’m not easily scared by horror movies). It’s also not just a horror movie, it is also a coming of age film, so don’t go in just expecting a simple scare-fest. This movie surprisingly has a lot of heart, you really care about these characters and the movie is really about them confronting their fears. IT also has some surprisingly good humour (especially from Finn Wolfhard’s Richie), and it doesn’t feel out of place at all, when present its appropriate and really adds a lot. So this movie has a bit of everything, a little bit of heart, a little bit of comedy, and yes, a whole lot of horror. This movie is 2 hours and 15 minutes long and it feels maybe a little long but I can’t really think of anything I would cut.

Let’s start with the leads, the Loser’s Club, with actors Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophie Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs and Jack Dylan Grazer. All of them were great in their roles, and the chemistry between them is great. They really did feel like real kids, especially with the dialogue between them. It never felt like an older person trying to write for children and being out of touch, it feels real and authentic. Also, you can buy these kids being friends, they are all outcasts and underdogs, and its so easy to root for them. Here’s the thing, it wouldn’t matter how scary this movie is, if the kids failed, this movie would fail, and thankfully they were incredibly great. Honestly the only issue I have is that some of them don’t get enough development, but even then, those characters aren’t weak, ther just needed some more screentime and development.

Bill Skarsgård plays Pennywise the Clown, and he had a lot to live up to. I’ll do my best to try to avoid comparing his version to Tim Curry’s, but I can at least say that it’s a very different version. Bill is absolutely transformative, the way that Pennywise acts is so bizarre and unlike anything I’ve seen in a movie. While I wasn’t particularly scared by the movie, whenever there were creepy and unsettling moments, he was always a part of it. He wasn’t goofy at all, he was never intentionally funny, he was this incredibly bizarre creature that was unnerving to watch. I think one thing that makes him effective (much more than Curry’s version) is that he’s not just a scary clown, he was something more, he’s not just attacking people using only his clown form. Everything from Bill’s acting and 100% dedication, the direction and the visuals was absolutely amazingly done. I honestly can’t compare this performance to any other performance I’ve seen before, that’s how great it was. Pennywise was absolutely one of the best parts of the movie. The only problem I had was that I wanted to see a lot more of him. I have a feeling that director Andy Muschietti wanted to make sure that Pennywise didn’t overshadow the kids, who really are the heart and centre of the film, which I guess is understandable. Let’s just hope that we’ll be getting a lot more of him in the second chapter.

The direction by Andy Muschietti is so great, the cinematography is so beautiful and the visuals look amazing. It really does feel like its set in the 80s, from the music used, to the costume and set design, everything. The set design especially is great, highlights were the sewer scenes, there was such attention to detail. There are a couple moments where some segments feel a little ‘too 80s’, but its not too distracting. The only potential issues I have with the direction is that there was some occasional shaky camerawork in the climax. This movie doesn’t have a whole lot of blood, but when its bloody, it is really bloody, and it feels appropriate. As I mentioned, this movie isn’t really that scary, but it is great at having some unsettling and disturbing moments and imagery. The score by Benjamin Wallfisch is rather suiting, ranging from whimsical and almost Danny Elfman-esque to straight up intense.

IT was great and met all my expectations. Along with the very strong story and direction, the kids were written and acted fantastically and Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is nothing I’ve ever seen before. Again, don’t go in expecting an extremely scary horror movie, expect a coming of age tale with likable protagonists and a freaky clown who will surely leave an impression on you. It’s one of the best Stephen King movies yet (granted that’s not saying a lot). Even though the second half of the 1990 mini series was rather weak, I can’t wait to see the next chapter. Muschietti did such a great job with this first half that I can just tell that the follow up will be just as great.