Documentary Review: Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story (2010)

Release Date: October 15th, 2010 (Anaheim International Film Festival)
Directed by: Kevin Tostado
Written by: Kevin Tostado, Craig Bentley
Music by: Larry Groupe
Cast: Zachory Levi (narrator), various

Tostie Productions, Rhino Films, Imageworks.tv, 88 Minutes

Review:

As a lifelong Monopoly master, I liked his documentary because regardless of how well I can play the game, I didn’t know much about its history. But I usually love documentaries like this that go into the background and origins of big pop culture things.

This documentary covers a lot of ground for something under 90 minutes.

It goes through the games creation, it’s evolution, shows how it’s penetrated pop culture and also focuses on some people who play the game in legitimate Las Vegas tournaments.

This also interviews a ton of people associated with all the different focuses of the documentary.

It’s well edited, well paced and, at times, an exciting film.

It’s also educational and does a wonderful job of cluing the viewer in on all aspects of the game, its history and what it means to so many across the world.

This is also free on Prime Video.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other fairly recent documentaries about unique pastimes and pop culture.

Film Review: Shazam! (2019)

Also known as: Billy Batson and the Legend of Shazam! (script title), Franklin (working title)
Release Date: March 25th, 2019 (Pathé Unlimited Night – Netherlands)
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Written by: Henry Gayden, Darren Lemke
Based on: Captain Marvel by Bill Parker, C. C. Beck
Music by: Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, John Glover

DC Entertainment, DC Comics, Warner Bros., 132 Minutes

Review:

“[to Doctor Thaddeus Sivana] You’re like a bad guy, right?” – Shazam

I watched this back-to-back with the Birds of Prey movie that has a really long, dumb title. As much as that one rubbed me the wrong way, this one let me go to bed that night with a smile on my face. Reason being, unlike Birds of PreyShazam! is a movie that did just about everything right.

To start, I was impressed with Zachary Levi in the title role. He wasn’t just an adult acting like a kid, he really lived the part and was convincing, especially in regards to his enthusiasm, body language and facial expressions.

I also really enjoyed Mark Strong as the villainous Doctor Sivana. While he’s already been Sinestro and played big parts in other comic book movies, I thought that this was his best role yet in the genre.

Speaking of his character, the opening scene was a nice swerve where you expected it to be the origin of Captain Marvel… or Shazam as they are calling him now, in an effort to avoid confusion with Marvel’s Captain Marvel. But the opening origin was actually that of the villain, Doctor Sivana. We see him as a young kid almost acquire the Shazam power but he fails the test due to craving the dark magic that seven demons tried to influence him in taking.

Over the years, Sivana dedicated his life to finding a way back to that mystical place with the dark magic and he does achieve his goal.

To counteract that, the good wizard Shazam seeks out the right candidate to take his power in an effort to save the world from Sivana. He finds the young Billy Batson and this movie then turns into a heck of an entertaining adventure.

While origin movies have been done to death and origins can seem to make a first chapter in a superhero franchise feel somewhat stagnant and derivative, this origin story for both the hero and the villain is just so good and it feels fresh.

Ultimately, this was a great way to introduce this character to a new audience in a new medium and it really set the stage for some hopefully solid sequels. With Dwayne Johnson coming aboard as Black Adam in the second film, I’m really stoked to see the magic he and Zachary Levi can create together onscreen.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the better DC Comics pictures of the last few years.

TV Review: Heroes Reborn (2015-2016)

Release Date: September 24th, 2015 – January 21st, 2016 (original run)
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman
Cast: Jack Coleman, Zachary Levi, Robbie A. Kay, Kiki Sukezane, Ryan Guzman, Rya Kihlstedt, Gatlin Green, Henry Zebrowski, Judith Shekoni, Danika Yarosh, Masi Oka

Tailwind Productions, Imperative Entertainment, Universal Television, NBCUniversal Television, NBC, 13 Episodes, 42-43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2016.

Heroes was a good show. Well, the first season was good. After that, each season got worse and worse and eventually got fairly horrible. It was cancelled after four seasons.

Many of the characters were interesting, some of the stories were engaging and there were several unresolved plot points when it met its end.

Several years later, we got the miniseries: Heroes Reborn. It was an attempt to continue the story, albeit a little bit further into the future.

Zachary Levi is in this. I like Zachary Levi. Also, Jack Coleman returns. He was one of my two favorite characters from the original series. And that is about it for the good points of this show. Granted, other Heroes characters return, it just isn’t as impactful as you think it would be and they’re mostly just small flourishes scattered over an ugly canvas. Also, in the original Heroes the timeline altered so much, I didn’t remember where many of these characters ended up, so their involvement was a bit confusing in this series.

The show is just a piss poor attempt. Granted, so were the later seasons of the original show. The thing that hurts this even more is that it was once a one-of-a-kind show but today, there are several superhero shows that are better than what Heroes was at its best. It is glaringly obvious that the Heroes franchise has been surpassed.

The new characters aren’t that interesting and it is hard to invest any emotion in them. The new plot isn’t interesting either and the villain is weak. It is just a dull piece of shit, to put it bluntly.

There are two episodes left (I think and I hope) and I will finish the series but I’m glad that NBC has decided to pull the plug on doing a sequel miniseries.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Well, obviously Heroes. Also, the CW superhero shows starring DC Comics characters.

Film Review: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Release Date: October 22nd, 2013 (London premiere)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Christopher Yost, Stephen McFeely, Christopher Markus, Don Payne, Robert Rodat
Based on: The Mighty Thor by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Zachary Levi, Alice Krige, Chris O’Dowd, Richard Brake, Benicio del Toro (cameo), Chris Evans (cameo)

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 112 Minutes

Review:

“I will tell Father you died with honor.” – Thor, “I didn’t do it for him.” – Loki

Unlike the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I have revisited lately, Thor: The Dark World wasn’t as good as my memories of it.

I do remember being pretty fond of it when it came out but it just doesn’t seem to fit well within the overall MCU when you take what came after it into context. Sure, it gives us the red Infinity Stone but not much else here is all that important. But I guess seeing Thor and Loki play off of one another is always, at the very least, amusing.

In the end, this is the worst of the three Thor movies. But it is not all that bad. It’s certainly better than The Incredible Hulk and Avengers: The Age of Ultron. It’s just a film that wasn’t all that necessary. The relationship between Thor and Jane doesn’t matter after this movie, the secondary characters are sort of forgotten except for Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), who at least makes one more appearance.

This was just a movie where no one really seemed to be all that into it except for the actors playing Asgardians. Hemsworth was great as Thor, Hiddleston is perfection as Loki and Odin is a commanding Odin. Natalie Portman obviously didn’t want to be in this and acted as such. Christopher Eccleston, who I was excited about seeing as the villain, just dialed in his performance and is one of the most forgettable MCU villains to date.

The film was dry, mostly boring and even the fantasy worlds that they traveled to weren’t very imaginative or fun. Other than Asgard, all the other realms in this just looked as bland, dry and awful as a sand sandwich.

The Earth stuff was all overcast and rainy. I know that this takes place in London but c’mon… the magical realms were dark desert; Earth was grey industrial wetness. This isn’t an exciting film to look at.

While I guess it was about time for Marvel to introduce the Infinity Stones (or at least more than one), there are better ways this could have been done. Sure, I wanted a second Thor movie and it would have been a good place to bring in a new Stone but the execution here was lackluster. This whole thing should have been rewritten.

For a film about traversing through magical realms, outer space and battling fantastical shit, Thor: The Dark World felt very small and confined.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: ThorThe Avengers and Thor: Ragnarok

Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Release Date: October 10th, 2017 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Based on: The Mighty Thor by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins, Taika Waititi, Clancy Brown, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Sam Neill, Matt Damon (uncredited cameo), Stan Lee (uncredited cameo)

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 130 Minutes

Review:

“Last time we saw you, you were trying to kill everyone. What are you up to these days?” – Bruce Banner, “It varies from moment to moment.” – Loki

The Thor movies probably get the least amount of respect out of the solo Marvel films. I enjoyed the first two, more so than a lot of Marvel’s stuff. Chris Hemsworth is fantastic, as is Tom Hiddleston. So when I learned that the third movie would also feature a version of the spectacular Planet Hulk storyline, I was super excited. When I learned that it was going to be directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do In the ShadowsFlight of the Conchords), my interest went through the roof.

To put it bluntly, this is now my favorite Marvel film. It actually eclipsed the Guardians of the Galaxy movies in both fun and scale. It is hard not to make comparisons between the films, as both Guardians and this Thor movie involve outer space adventures and a real lightheartedness missing in other Marvel pictures. My god, man… this was so much better than the drab and predictable Captain America: Civil War and light-years ahead of those convoluted Avengers pictures. This also had villains that matter and that look cool, unlike Baron Zemo, who was just some guy, or aliens on flying jet skis or killer robots for the nth time.

Chris Hemsworth is absolutely dynamite in this and even though he has been great as Thor, thus far, this is the chapter in the massive Marvel universe where he really just shines and shows that he is not only the coolest Avenger but an actual friggin’ god. This is the film where Thor finally becomes Thor, the King of Asgard, the protector of his people and a guy that can actually take it to the Hulk.

Tom Hiddleston once again kills it as Loki and this is also where his road to redemption comes full circle. Sure, he’s got his tricks up his sleeves but when his big bad evil sister shows up to destroy his home, he can’t not be by his brother’s side when the chips fall.

Having the Hulk in this was also a real treat that just added weight to the actual threat in this film. This is the best that the Hulk has been and the movie really showcases his power and pits him not just against Thor but also Fenris, a kaiju sized wolf, as well as the mountain sized god, Surtur.

Speaking of Surtur, the first part of the film, which deals with Thor besting a weakened Surtur, was really cool. Ultimately, Surtur does appear in his full form by the end of the film. While he is Asgard’s version of the Devil and he brings about Ragnarok, which is Asgard’s version of Armageddon, Thor uses Surtur’s presence in the film to his advantage. I always wondered how they could actually handle and present Surtur in a film and Waititi nailed it perfectly.

Apart from Surtur, we get Cate Blanchett as the evil Goddess of Death, Hela. She is the older sister of Thor and Loki and has been locked away for eons. The death of Odin brings about her release and even united, the brothers cannot defeat her without additional help in the form of a newly assembled team of heroes.

Jeff Goldblum shows up as another villain, the Grandmaster. He runs a planet that has a massive gladiator coliseum. This is where the big fight between Thor and the Hulk goes down. Obviously, the two end up teaming up and taking it to every baddie in the film.

For what Thor: Ragnarok is, which is a fun comic book movie, it couldn’t be more entertaining. It’s really hard for me to give out a perfect 10 score when rating a picture but in the context of superhero movies and for the fact that it is a better Marvel film than both of the Guardians of the Galaxy outings, which both earned a 9, I have to give Thor: Ragnarok a 9.5 out of 10. It will take something quite exceptional to reach a 10 in this genre but maybe Waititi will give us an even better Thor picture in the future. He’s certainly capable of it.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Thor and Thor: Dark World.