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Unsane (2018)

Rated R: For Disturbing Themes, Language, Minimal Blood, and Violence

Running Time: 98 minutes (1 hour and 38 minutes)

Genre/s: Horror, Thriller

Released on March 23, 2018 (US Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)


Presented by Regency Enterprises, Extension 765, Bleecker Street, Fingerprint Releasing, and Twentieth Century Fox




Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writers: Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer

Starring:

  • Claire Foy as Sawyer Valentini
  • Joshua Leonard as David Strine / George Shaw
  • Jay Pharaoh as Nate Hoffman
  • Juno Temple as Violet
  • Aimee Mullins as Ashley Brighterhouse
  • Amy Irving as Angela Valentini

"Help isn't just one call away." When this film was promoted that it will be the first flick to be shot entirely on a cellphone, I actually thought that it was some sort of bad publicity. But then I looked at who the director was, and it was none other than one of the most influential experimental filmmakers of this generation: Steven Soderbergh. In Unsane, Soderbergh and company examine the theme of helplessness, in a simple yet completely immersive way.

Here, Sawyer Valentini, played by Foy (First Man) checks-in to a psychiatric hospital being run by Ashley Brighterhouse, played by Mullins (World Trade Center). This is due to an experience with a stalker named David Strine, played by Leonard (The Blair Witch Project) left her mentally scarred. What was supposed to be a simple checkup eventually descends into a nightmare when she is forced to stay in the hospital for a week. Trapped and forced to interact with other mental patients such as Violet, played by Temple (Maleficent) and Nate Hoffman, played by Pharaoh (Top Five), Sawyer's only hope lies outside the facility: her mother Angela, played by Irving (Traffic).

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Most horror movies feature supernatural threats to evoke a sense of dread, including haunted houses and sinister spirits from the beyond. In Unsane's case, however, we are reminded that ghosts and ghouls are not the only things in this world that would lead our figures of salvation to fail. "Realism" is the word, and here, we get to see how even the most trusted figures in society would fail to help us in our most dire moments, or how those people or institutions would be lead to failure by external forces. This recurring theme is presented in a very subtle way that manages to leave quite an impression on viewers upon further analysis.

The core of the story revolves around a woman being held captive in a mental hospital. Though it might sound that this could be a set-up for a paranormal event taking shape, we eventually realize that the reason as to why this is so is that the hospital is aiming to have her health insurance pay for her stay, so that the administration would be able to gain more money. Indeed, the twist itself might be as simplistic as one might expect, but nevertheless the execution and the characters made the twist all the more effective. In addition, the very idea that an institution, much less a hospital would even bother to scam their patients for additional profit is chilling in its own right, as this is a type of situation that could happen to anybody (which is made more terrifying by the idea that a stalker works in that facility).

The character of Sawyer Valentini, anchored by Foy with magnetic sympathy, represents the idea of a person seeking help wherever and whenever she can. Complete with an understandable background pertaining to her seemingly irrational actions, we see Sawyer always asking for help, either to the hospital itself, to the charismatic Jay Pharaoh's Nate Hoffman, who is actually an undercover journalist working to expose the crimes of the administration, to her mother, or to the police. We see Sawyer clinging on to every bit of hope that she can get. It should also be noted that in most cases she asks for help with the use of a cellphone. However, despite her best efforts, all are inevitably unable to help her. Help really is not just a call away.

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Serving as the foil for the hope-searching Sawyer is the despair-ridden David Strine, masquerading as a recently murdered employee named "George Shaw," and is played by Leonard with nigh-perfect creepiness appeal. Strine's characterization, which illustrates the antagonist as a desperate hopeless romantic who is dangerously oblivious to the truth as to what love really is not only makes him a complex villain, but also a relatively relatable one that allows for the film's theme to be understood further. The phone motif once again reveals itself once in Strine's story, wherein he aggressively texts Sawyer for affections to the point of alienation. The stark difference between the two characters is revealed in the fact that Strine simply concluded that Sawyer has all of his hopes and dreams.

Nate also uses a phone, as he frequently and secretly phones his editor about updates on his assignment, while also offering Sawyer a chance to communicate with the outside world. To a lesser extent, the hospital's head Ashley Brighterhouse, played with some level of typical business magnate devilish appeal from Mullins, also asks her corrupt colleagues in the management staff to keep the secrets uncovered by Nate buried. Angela also pleads the police to help her daughter, whom also phoned the authorities prior to Angela asking. Much like Sawyer, all of them experience the failure of the saviors, as Nate is killed by Strine before exposing the truth, Ashley is arrested by the officers she attempted to manipulate, and Angela is murdered also by Strine prior to even getting the chance to amass an "army" to help Sawyer.

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The film's exclusive use of cellular devices not only serve as the film's primary draw, but it also, in a sense, serves as an allegorical extension of the flick's theme of pointless communication. As I have said before, I initially had my doubts about the use of iPhone 7 Pluses for the production, and it was partially evident in certain scenes when the audio might be distorted (Sawyer's discussion about the hospital plan was almost inaudible for me), and the obvious simplistic camera quality in most scenes. However, upon closer inspection, the simplistic quality of the shots does elevate the realistic atmosphere further. With the less grandiose color grading and lighting, audiences are much more engaged with the tension within, thanks to a more sensory type of presentation. Soderbergh's trademark use of the color blue for criminality (the forest and solitary confinement scenes) and yellow for warmth (morning and in the low-security halls of the hospital) is also made useful here, and it further gives the movie a distinctive aesthetic. (It also helps that Soderbergh himself even composed the amazing score, and edited the film in different pseudonyms.)

Upon realizing that help will almost never really come for her, with even earlier flashbacks with a Detective Ferguson, played by Matt Damon (The Bourne Franchise), who consults Sawyer on what to do to prevent Strine from further harassing her indicating that his style of help failed, Sawyer decided to become independent and fight back. With feminist overtones more apparent, Sawyer, with a brilliant monologue delivered by Foy, berates Strine for his crimes, which eventually leads to Sawyer exploiting Strine's disturbing obsession to goad him into leading Juno Temple's intriguing Violet to the basement and retrieve her weapon. Even by the time Sawyer kills Strine, we are left to wonder that, even if she did manage to help herself, audiences are left to a seemingly ambiguous ending, and an overall fun and exciting thriller with artistic merit.


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In all honesty, one does not simply have to finish writing the synopsis of this story in order to know how the plot ends, and yes, cliches are bound to be encountered, and its simplistic nature could disappoint some who truly wish for the more paranormal endeavor, but the unique visual style and execution help Unsane to stand on its own two feet. Plus, with a fully realized roster of characters and an intriguing artistic message behind the craft, and a brilliant and innovative filmmaking breakthrough with the use of phones, this is definitely more than just an average B-movie with a more or less so-so plot. There is beauty in simplicity, after all. I hereby grant this film a score of 19/25 (Pleasant Entertainment).

Wow, I honestly did not know what I was expecting when I finally got to watch this on basic cable. I have to say. I was never really much of a fan of Soderbergh's filmography before, namely due to me still not being able to watch more than a quarter of his films. Thanks to this, and one funny and quirky movie known as Logan Lucky, I am definitely looking forward to see more of his illustrious works, and see how else he can innovate the industry a whole lot mote. Perhaps before leaving, do check-out this small interview of Steven Soderbergh, where he discusses more about Unsane. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!

Captain Marvel (2019)

Rated PG-13: For Minimal Language and Violence

Running Time: 123 minutes (2 hours and 3 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Science Fiction, Superhero

Released on March 8, 2019 (US Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures



"Carol Danvers" Created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan

"Captain Marvel" Created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan



Directors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Writers: Nicole Perlman, Meg LeFauve, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Starring:
  • Brie Larson as Carol Danvers / "Vers" / Captain Marvel
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Nicholas "Nick" Fury
  • Ben Mendelsohn as Talos / Director Keller
  • Annette Bening as Supreme Intelligence; Mar-Vell Doctor Wendy Lawson
  • Jude Law as Yon-Rogg

"Only you can define your own strength." After a series of politically charged hiccups, followed by a mediocre marketing campaign and a couple of numerous video essays criticizing the film (and some about the franchise's seeming monotonous nature as a whole), the film's future seemed bleak. This was made even worse with the knowledge that the title character was being teased as a massively important character for the forthcoming Avengers: Endgame, despite never being referenced in any of the previous installments. With an open mind, does Captain Marvel live-up to expectations?

In 1995, "Vers," played by Larson (Room) crash lands on Earth after a battle with Talos, played by Mendelsohn, a member of the shape-shifting alien race known as The Skrulls. Separated from her colleagues at the technologically advanced Kree's elite kill team Starforce, and her mentor Yon-Rogg, played by Law (Both Mendelsohn and Law appear in Black Sea), "Vers" is forced to partner with former C.I.A. operative turned low-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, played by Jackson (187), to prevent Talos from enacting his plans. However, "Vers" begins to suspect that there is more to the war than meets the eye, and only a mysterious woman known as Doctor Wendy Lawson, played by Bening (20th Century Women) might have the answers.

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At its core, this movie is about the discovery of one's true self amidst countless acts of deception and lies. Much like how this feature has to prove itself to a world that has already grown accustomed to numerous, more popular superheroes, we have "Vers" also attempting to impress her colleagues, and her world's superior known as the Supreme Intelligence (also played by Bening), who takes the form of the person that each individual idolizes. "Vers," constantly reminded by Yon-Rogg to always have her emotions controlled, eventually realizes the truth that she should embrace her strength, and become the franchise's version of Captain Marvel.

However, even if the core theme of the film does seem inspirational on paper, it is particularly elementary for a two-hour, PG-13 superhero cinematic adventure. Though movies can generally make even the most mundane of themes thought-provoking and insightful, without proper execution, the message would ultimately be lost in translation. Captain Marvel, for all of its intents and purposes, be it to introduce audiences to another big screen role-model, or to further expand the franchise's ever-growing cinematic universe, is unfortunately an example of a fairly corporate theatrical product. It also does not help that this film is predictable to the point that, even without spoiling the "twist ending" (if one would even call it that), one can immediately see that it follows the usual pyrrhic revolution formula, rendering everything incredibly stake-free. 

After being able to explore the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, audiences are once more taken to an uncharted corner of the franchise: the Kree-Skrull War, which is also the title of a highly acclaimed story arc in the comics. However, this is arguably what I believe to be one of the franchise's biggest failures with this film in terms of world-building. Here, we could have seen how the highly advanced Kree species attempted to subjugate the universe in the name of security and peace at an earlier era, while we could have seen how the Skrulls attempted to thrive and survive in a seemingly unending war. In addition, we might have even get to see how S.H.I.E.L.D. functioned as an organization prior to the formation of the Avengers. Outside of a few, context-less and lifeless establishing shots or views of a few, nameless characters interacting with each other, we are never truly engrossed in the atmosphere of the 90s MCU. In other words, the portrayals of the Kree and S.H.I.E.L.D. are so surface-based that each iteration can be switched with any of their earlier appearances in other movies, because of their apparent lack of distinctions from previous appearances.

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This surface-based exploration also derails all of the key characters to the fullest degree. As we have no clue on the philosophy behind the Kree's machinations, we also have no idea as to what drives Jude Law's so-so Yon-Rogg, the Supreme Intelligence, and the rest of Starforce into becoming the individuals that they are here. Why Annette Bening's  two-dimensional yet decently acted Supreme Intelligence is so hellbent in taking over the universe, why Yon-Rogg is more than willing to blindly follow the Supreme Intelligence's orders, and why all of Starforce is simply willing to murder their colleague of six years without having second thoughts is beyond me.

To add further insult to injury, the secondary lead character, Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, for all of his efforts, is reduced from an enigmatic agent with years of missions on his shoulders, to a quippy field operative with an interchangeable personality. While the film could have served as a platform to see as to how the enigmatic founder of the Avengers was before he became involved full-time in the world of superheroes, much like how we never understood the reasons of being for the Kree, we never really get to understand as to why Fury even bothers to join S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place, other than "just because." It also does not help that the truth behind the loss of his left eye was caused by him being scratched by petting an alien disguised as a cat, which severely destroys the emotional impact of Nick Fury's speech about trusting people in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. What was originally one of the most intriguing moments in that flick is now turned into a punchline, and not even a funny one to say the least. In addition, even with the return of past characters such as Ronan the Accuser, played by Lee Pace (The Hobbit Trilogy), Korath the Pursuer, played by Djimon Hounsou (Aquaman), and Agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg ((500) Days of Summer), we still don't get any sense of development, despite being set on a different era.

The absence of character development for several of the supporting cast members is not as bad as how badly written the titular character is. Even though it is clear that Larson tried bringing to life a seemingly forgotten comicbook heroine for the modern audience with some funny energy, the unfitting dialogue and corny jokes, as well as the lack of any distinctive personality prohibit Larson from really doing Captain Marvel any sort of justice. In addition, the film's main theme of self-discovery should be more resonant with the main protagonist herself. The problem is that we never really felt the sense of urgency that Carol Danvers feels in her quest to prove herself. We never really felt that she was even lost, which would have been more evident if the film featured much more flashbacks of Carol's time on Earth, which is why the final battle feels so iffy. The payoff would have been more emotional if we actually got to know much more of her time on Earth, especially with her interactions with her bestfriend Maria Rambeau, played by Lashana Lynch (Fast Girls) with some level of charm. Yes, we did get to see glimpses of her life here on Earth. But those are just it. "Glimpses."

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I have to say though that even if Ben Mendelsohn's Talos is quite predictable in terms of character development, I consider his character and his performance to be the highlight of the movie. With Mendelsohn, we get a fleshed-out false villain with a heart of gold and a few actually funny exchanges with some of the characters ("Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?"), and a complete character arc involving family and war. It also did help that he gets to portray technically two characters here, with the other being his human disguise: S.H.I.E.L.D. director Keller, whom we never get to see that much by the time the third act comes around. His subtle use of accents in-between his transformations is pretty good, and it helps differentiate his two roles from each other. In all honesty, perhaps it would have been better if, for this movie, we only focused on the Skrulls alone, then the Kree on the next installment, or vise versa. That way, we could get to see much more developed characters and an even more developed universe.

Other than the many script pitfalls, the film's bland and clearly rushed, grayish aesthetic, which I never really observed only until now, does not make the film any better. Lacking the unique visual color choices from the likes of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers movies, or even any of the Phase One entries, this film only made Marvel Cinematic Universe all the less engrossing with its dull and boring look. This also affects how locations such as the clearly, purely digital Hala, or the desert-looking world of Torf that bears the appearance of a set made in an alley at night, and unnecessarily edited fight scenes such as the train sequence, or even the boring final battle against an army of Kree ships look.

Though if there is one thing the movie did succeed in, that would have to be its connection to the first Avengers movie. Call it fan-service, if you might, but I honestly enjoyed how the film's use of the Tesseract (the glowing, blue-colored, cube shaped Infinity Stone from Captain America: The First Avenger) as Carol's source of her powers and as a plot device, as well as the feature of the Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. facility, and the revelation that, with her callsign being "Avenger," Carol is the very reason as to why the "Avenger Initiative" came to be is fun, and it does feel naturally developed for a prequel. Plus, the de-aging technology used for Samuel L. Jackson, and the make-up for the Skrulls are every bit noteworthy.


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In conclusion, does Captain Marvel live-up to expectations? Sadly, no. It really doesn't, and it all mostly comes down to a screenplay that did not come close to achieving its goal of establishing a major franchise player, even though the cast did do pretty decent jobs. Packed with a generic vibe and an absolute lack of character development, and an unnecessary excess of Easter eggs and callbacks, though enjoyable in some cases as mentioned before, this film overall is not a good movie to keep audiences waiting until the next Avengers movie. Passable in terms of entertainment, sure, but watching the movie until the credits would ultimately leave you with an empty feeling. With that said, I hereby give this film a score of 14/25 (Okay?).

The funny thing is that even though I gave this film a lower score than Aquman, I found Captain Marvel much more enjoyable. And even with my points of criticism, I hope that Marvel could continue developing and improving the character until we finally get the definitive version of her. After all, we could all use more superheroes to look-up to, right?

Before we officially end this review, be sure to listen to three of my favorite songs from the film's soundtrack. Though the application of the songs is not exactly as great as how Guardians of the Galaxy did it, the songs, and a little of Pinar Topak's score did deliver that 90s atmosphere the film is aiming for. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!







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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Rated PG: For Minimal Language and Violence

Running Time: 117 minutes (1 hour and 57 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Animation, Comedy, Science Fiction, Superhero

Released on December 14, 2018 (US Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Columbia Picture, Sony Pictures Animation, Marvel Entertainment, Arad Productions, Lord Miller Productions, Pascal Pictures, and Sony Pictures Releasing



"Spider-Man" Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

"Miles Morales" Created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli





Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rody Rhotman

Writers: Phil Lord and Rody Rhotman

Starring:
  • Shameik Moore as Miles Morales / Spider-Man
  • Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker / Spider-Man
  • Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy / Spider-Woman
  • Mahershala Ali as Aaron Davis / Prowler
  • Bryan Tyree Henry as Jefferson Davis
  • John Mulaney as Peter Porker / Spider-Ham
  • Kimiko Glenn as Peni Parker / SP//dr
  • Nicolas Cage as Peter Parker / Spider-Man Noir
  • Liev Schreiber as Wilson Fisk / The Kingpin

"Everybody can be Spider-Man." There is no question that Spider-Man is a global phenomenon. From appearing in numerous critically acclaimed multimedia projects, including being in one of the greatest superhero movies of all time in Spider-Man 2, and to being featured in one of the best Playstation 4 games so far, and even being the de facto face of Marvel Comics itself, Spider-Man has had quite the influence. In the words of Browntable in his video essay, he has become so influential, that we all strive to be like him. One animated feature tackled this theme, and that is none other than the award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

In this movie, teenager Miles Morales, played by Moore (Dope), becomes a part of a bigger universe when he receives superpowers from a genetically-altered spider's bite. This leads him to encounter Spider-People from all across the multiverse, including a more worn-out Peter Parker, played by Johnson (The Mummy Remake). With his newfound powers and responsibility, Miles must learn to become his own version of Spider-Man, just before Wilson Fisk, played by Schreiver (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) could bring about the end of everything and everyone in it with his latest plan.

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All throughout time, the world has been introduced to numerous versions of the titular web-head. For this movie, we have a total of six different iterations, aside from the two that we have already mentioned before. Each manage to standout on their own, despite the lack of screen time for some of them. Here, we have a still alive Gwen Stacy, played by Steinfeld (Bumblebee) with pop-punk sensibility, a version with a telepathic link to a robot named Peni Parker, played by Glenn  (Nerve) with cutesy anime-like wonder, another from a purely black and white, 30s-centric universe, played by Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) with hammed-up and ever gracious old school appeal, and one anthropomorphic pig named Peter Porker, played by Mulaney (Mulaney) with comical and childish comedic tone, who is straight from a Looney Tunes-inspired world.

In addition to each actor lending a unique spin on the characters, the film expertly makes use of its primary draw, which is the groundbreaking, state-of-the-art animation styles that further emphasized the diversity of each character. If one looks closely, Peni Parker is animated with an anime style, while Peter Porker takes a more traditionally animated route. Plus, while Gwen Stacy has a mixture of two-dimensional and three-dimensional takes, Spider-Man Noir, a film noir-inspired, sketch themed style. The comicbook rendering of the overall aesthetic, noticeable through the various shots of the city and the background characters, deliver a unique sense of wonder that is almost reminiscent of a modern moving comicbook. The colorful blend of flashes and sizzles (plus hidden visual gags such as the "bagel" sound effect) inserted in every action scene also helps take the audience to a seemingly familiar world, with an other-worldly atmosphere.

At the very center of all of these more experienced versions is a completely inexperienced teenager in Miles Morales, who is played with coming-of-age charm by partial newcomer Shameik Moore. Like all of us, Miles is pressured to avoid being the odd one out in the bunch, especially since all of the other Spider-People are confident in their respective roles. He wants to feel a sense of belongingness, which is something that is hinted at the earliest scenes of the film, where Miles reluctantly accepts a scholarship to a prestigious school all because he feels comfortable in all his too familiar environment. His yearning for conformity is even magnified by his somewhat strained relationship with his parents, especially his police officer dad, Jefferson Davis, played by Henry (Widows), whom he partially abandons for the more interesting Uncle Aaron, played by Ali (Green Book). His yearning is further amplified by him wearing a merchandised version of the Spider-Man costume. Conformity, after all, as the film's amazing soundtrack suggests, is something a teenager like Miles would look for.

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When he receives his powers, and when he is invited to be trained by his universe's version of Spider-Man, played by Chris Pine (Wonder Woman), Miles finally regains a new sense of conformity after a brief experience with uncertainty. Even after Kingpin kills the adult Spider-Man, and even after failing to use the full range of his skillset on the first try, he nevertheless feels even more secure when the more emotionally drained Spider-Man reluctantly brings him under his wing. But as Miles become even more comfortable with his new role, he slowly begins to realize that trying to be like all the rest is never going to be as easy as it seems. This becomes even more apparent when all of the other Spider-People harshly train him in his universe's Spider-Man's hideout. "Everybody can be Spider-Man" all right, but not exactly like the genuine article.

Contrasting the film's message is the movie's primary antagonist: Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, a very good foil to the protagonists' who is played menacingly by the ever-reliable Schreiver, despite not having that much characterization like his villanous, super-powered enforcers. Traumatized by the accidental deaths of his wife and son, Fisk came to the conclusion that his dear loved ones may only be replaced by seemingly close-to-the-truth substitutes from other universes. He becomes incredibly blinded to the gravity of the situation, that he is more or less driven oblivious by the potential ramifications of his actions. Like all of the other characters, they are seeking for the epitomes of conformity. 

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"We've all been there," proclaimed Gwen Stacy after Miles witnesses the death of his Uncle Aaron, actually an enforcer for the Kingpin himself, at the hands of his employer after refusing to kill his own nephew. With his sense of security shattered at the revelation of his uncle's indirect duplicity, the other Spider-People aim to empower Miles with their somewhat similar turning points in their lives. Miles, realizing the futility of trying to be something that he thinks he can never be, still desperately clings to the thought. His mentors have decided that he is not ready yet to fully embrace the mantle. As Peter B. Parker said, all it takes to be Spider-Man is a "leap of faith." Not a tragic origin story, or not even a fateful spider bite, but the courage to always take the chances necessary to become who they are supposed to be. In case it is not yet obvious, this serves as a reminder not only to our perspective character, but also to us, the audience. And as soon as the climactic moments come around, complete with Miles finally making his own original take of the suit, and having him perform that one memorable scene from the trailer of Miles leaping from a building, the message that the film has been telling us is as clear as day.

The story, aside from focusing on Miles Morales' journey of self-discovery, also makes several subtle, and at most times obvious references to Spider-Man's legacy in the real world. From nigh faithful recreations of iconic scenes, including one specific scene from Spider-Man: Homecoming, to actual memes, not only do these scenes serve as somethings extra for the loyal fans, but each are included to further emphasize how much Spider-Man has helped inspire countless of readers, viewers, and heroes to always fulfill their responsibilities. Now this is a rare instance in filmmaking history when Easter eggs are actually included to fulfill a more meaningful purpose.

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Overall, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is more than just a bursting blend of color and creative animation. It is more than just an excuse for Sony to again compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe to make their own Spider-Man franchise. It is more than just a fan-service-centric trip to the theaters. This is a tribute not only to the legacy left behind by both Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, who have been rightfully and beautifully honored by the end credits of the film, but to the countless who have been inspired by the web-swinging, Amazing Spider-Man. Though several key characters, including most of the other Spider-People, and all of the Kingpin's henchmen, audiences will nevertheless have quite a time watching this film, thanks to an innovative and carefully executed animation project, complete with heartfelt moments, decent voice acting, catchy soundtrack, and brilliantly paced action. I hereby grant this film a rating of 22/25 (Awesome).

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Two months. Two months of inactivity. So much has happened, and during this time, something interesting took place. Remember our short film, Fago? Last February 23, 2019, the awarding ceremony for the 5th Don Bosco Film Festival took place, and we managed to receive four nominations for Best Editing, Best in Lights and Sounds, Best Picture, and Best Director. We also won best actor for our leading man, Eduardo "Dandin" Prats, Jr., and best screenplay (that's me). With all that said, we would like to thank everyone who supported the film. This was truly a blast to work on! 

And to conclude this review, indulge yourselves to three of the songs from the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack. Yes, since I am "this" close to finally graduating from high school, you could bet that we would be publishing every now and then (hopefully). Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!



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"They're back." In these four space western, hard science fiction movies, the "world's greatest heroes" finally get the cinematic treatment that does them justice. Forget being dark and gritty, and let's embrace weirdness and fun. We see these four heroes take part in astonishing, outrageous adventures in one of the most dangerous parts of the galaxy, and fight through obstacles that only they can live through. It has 60s-inspired prop designs, family-centric humor, a wide selection of villains who are not Doctor Doom, a unique set of alien races to meet, and bizarre intergalactic locations to explore, and above all else: heart. To distinguish it from an almost similar franchise, namely Guardians of the Galaxy, imagine the grand political scope of the Star Trek franchise, and the adventurous vibe of the Indiana Jones film series, with the realistic scientific thrills of both Arrival and Annihilation.

That was the short version of this pitch, and as always, if you are still interested, read-on! Welcome to Dateline Movies, and this is our pitch for a film series for Marvel's The Fantastic Four! And in case you are asking, no, we would not be featuring major non-Fantastic Four characters, such as Namor, the Sub-Mariner, the Inhumans, or Black Panther, and though the following are mentioned all throughout the post, Doctor Doom, and Galactus are not completely involved in any of these films, as I wanted to focus more on their weirder villains, and I wanted to preserve them for future stories, since they are more fitting for wider-scale stories.

Source (This should be the team's theme song in the films.)

Setting and placement in the MCU timeline

Back in the 1970s, college students Reed Richards and Victor von Doom worked together in creating an inter-dimensional gateway to an unknown location known as "The Negative Zone". Based on Doom's recovered schematics prior to being cast-out from his home nation of Latveria by the then corrupt monarchy, both Reed and Doom wanted to access this mythical world for different reasons. While Doom wanted to perfect the device in order for him to rescue his mother, who was sent there by the Latverian government on the grounds that she was a gypsy, Reed wanted to be recognized for his genius, and secure a potentially fruitful future within the ranks of the "Strategic Homeland, Intervention, Espionage, and Logistics Division" (SHIELD).

When the experiment failed, causing the permanent disfigurement of Doom's face, and about millions of dollars in collateral damage, Doom and Reed parted ways, seemingly never wanting to speak to each other again. Doom, many years later, managed to make an almost perfect version of the gateway, and managed to unleash a horde of monsters from the Negative Zone, leading the army to massacre the Latverian monarch, and becoming its ruler. Despite the violent actions done by Doom, many looked-up to him in favor. Doom would later frequently access the Negative Zone in his attempt to search for his mother, but he eventually encounters the alien criminal Annihilus instead.

Annihilus revealed that the Negative Zone is dying from heat death, and that the sun providing heat and light for the entire dimension would soon burst. Annihilus then pleaded Doom to help him fix the sun, in exchange for providing advanced technology for Latverians to use. Doom accepted the deal, but little did both know that both of them have ulterior motives. While Doom wanted to make a device that harnesses pure antimatter energy for him to gain enough power to rule the universe, Annihilus, becoming nihilistic, wanted Doom to make a device that can later-on be reprogrammed to become a bomb that will eradicate something that is coming closer to their reach.

Source (Leaping into action.)
Reed eventually graduated from college with the highest of honors, and he is placed under the guidance of SHIELD scientists Franklin and Veronica Storm. Working away from his un-supportive parents and younger sister, Reed reunites with three of his former college classmates: Susan Storm, a SHIELD physician and Reed's former academic rival; Susan's younger brother, former basketball star, and SHIELD rescue helicopter and fighter pilot Jonathan "Johnny" Storm; and Benjamin "Ben" Grimm, Reed's best-friend and SHIELD engineer. Reed and Susan would later-on fall in love, then marry after about four years of dating. Despite his newfound happiness, Reed still struggles with perfecting the Negative Zone gateway.


When word got out that there are monsters and other concepts straight from science-fiction works in Latveria, Reed personally visited Doom, in an attempt to seek his aid in making a decent portal generator. Doom declined, and when SHIELD overheard Doom telling Reed that he is planning to make use of his newfound knowledge for world domination, SHIELD launched an attack on Latveria, later on securing the entire country.


Initially disliking the idea of tinkering with Doom's machines without Doom's guidance, Reed gave-in to his morbid curiosity, and proceeds to test the portal on his own. Reed is then joined by Susan, Johnny, and Ben, as well as Franklin and Veronica Storm, plus numerous SHIELD agents, but Doom launched a counter-attack with his robotic "Servoguards". In the battle, Doom accidentally blasts the portal generator, creating a giant vortex in the sky that drags everything in Latveria, from the people, to the SHIELD agents, and the entire country itself, into the Negative Zone. 


Reed, Susan, Johnny, and Ben, due to having much of their protective gear destroyed in the battle, were bombarded by cosmic rays from the Negative Zone's toxic atmosphere, granting them unique abilities. Reed now has the ability to stretch beyond human limits, Susan can become invisible and create force fields, Johnny can engulf himself in flames without feeling any pain, and also fly and generate fire blasts, and Ben's skin is now permanently transformed into stone, while also becoming stronger than before. Doom, meanwhile, was presumed deceased in the encounter, with only his empty power armor discovered.


Five years later, Reed finds himself now the reluctant leader of what is supposedly left of their SHIELD crew, composing of people who managed to avoid being exposed to the cosmic rays with their protective gear, alongside Susan, Johnny, Ben, Franklin, and Veronica. They were all made into unwilling slaves by a Negative Zone warlord, who constantly forces them to mine resources for their dying shared community. Reed and the rest of the "Fantastic Four" work together to keep their group stable, while simultaneously working to find a way back home, rescue more stranded SHIELD agents all across the Negative Zone, and even restore peace to the place, which is being ravaged by wars from the various tribes occupying the Negative Zone.


Source (No need to be "negative", you guys.)

The Negative Zone is noted for its vast reach, and its numerous hazardous locations. In addition to being a pocket dimension, the Negative Zone is later revealed to be an intergalactic prison that prohibits anyone else from entering and exiting, and each inmate would have to rely on the closest tribe that they can find for protection. Some of the most notable locations include ...

"Subterranea", the area of the Negative Zone haunted by the least threatening inmates in the dimension, who have since been mutated into mindless creatures known as the "Moloids" by a mysterious force, and this is considered as the coldest area in the Negative Zone, and it composes mostly of mountain ranges, valleys, and plantations.

"Baluur", the area of the Negative Zone that serves as the primary market for all residents that composes a large asteroid belt, with sophisticated space stations attached to each of them, that spans across four planets, the domain of the Negative Zone warlord and weapons dealer Blastaar, and where the surviving SHIELD agents and the Fantastic Four temporarily reside in.

"Zenn-La", the area of the Negative Zone that was once inhabited by an advanced alien race, was a heavily populated, heavily structured planet that was never meant to be a part of the dimension, but due to environmental concerns, and also the dreaded Galactus' actions, it was placed out of orbit, and now abandoned, was since turned into a massive dumping ground.

"Molekulon", the area of the Negative Zone that has been declared as the most mysterious, as a devastating, gaseous storm cloud shields the Alderson Disk (a disk-shaped space station), aside from the changing environment, as well as its tropical-centric atmosphere, and is the home to the enigmatic alchemist known only as "Diablo", as well as his subjects.

"The Latverian Wasteland", the area of the Negative Zone primarily occupied by what is left of Latveria, after the country itself was pulled into the dimension, and is monitored by Victor von Doom's trusty aide Lucia von Bardas, who supplies the people with technology from Annihilus' people, and among all of the areas there, this is the most technologically advanced.

"Arthros", the area of the Negative Zone ruled by Annihilus, and it is the place that is closest to the dimension's sun, which gives-off the necessary high temperature, as well as desert environment, that enables Annihilus' kind's survival, and it is a planet purely made from technology, although it is not as advanced in terms of technology as The Latverian Wasteland.



Source (One big, happy family.)
Premise

"Marvel's The Fantastic Four" is told in a span of four different movies. Each installment focuses on the exploits of the titular team, and their numerous attempts to escape from the Negative Zone, and to fulfill their newly received duties as reluctant superheroes in a very unfamiliar, very dangerous setting. As the movies progress, the Fantastic Four would have to restore order to the Negative Zone after mustering much more of the other SHIELD agents lost there, while also racing against time in order to fix the Negative Zone's sun.

The chronological order of movies, each bearing a title almost on par with various adventure films, are as follows ...
  • "The Fantastic Four, and the March of the Moloids" - When monsters from Subterrenea are ransacking various supply caches, threatening his legitimate business in the process, Blastaar deploys Reed, Susan, and Johnny to the deepest parts of the Negative Zone, where they find a still-alive, though mutated Ben Grimm, and SHIELD scientist Harvey Elder. This movie's narrator and point-of-view is Ben Grimm / The Thing, and the main theme is "earth".
  • "The Fantastic Four, and the Last Emperor" - Now free from Blastaar's clutches, the Fantastic Four, with their newly assembled crew, attempt to set-up peace talks between the many warring tribes of the Negative Zone, but they encounter the deranged would-be world conqueror, the "Psycho-Man", and Susan Storm's childhood friend, Rhona Burchill. The movie's narrator and point-of-view is Susan Storm / Invisible Woman, and the main theme is "wind".
  • "The Fantastic Four, and the Alchemist's Curse" - With time running-out to save the Negative Zone from total annihilation, the Fantastic Four race to a forbidden corner of the dimension known as "Molekulon", where they must evade various traps to retrieve a new energy core, and they must deal with the presence of the evil alchemist "Diablo". The movie's narrator and point-of-view is Johnny Storm / Human Torch, and the main theme is "fire".
  • "The Fantastic Four, and the Fall of the Negative Zone" - Prior to his "death", Doom left a plan to restore the sun, but now it has failed, and the Fantastic Four must find another way to save the Negative Zone from destruction, while all must fear the prophetic threat that was only being kept away by the dimension's dying sun, aside from Annihilus. The movie's narrator and point-of-view is Reed Richards / Mister Fantastic, and the main theme is "water".
The four flicks would be tackling themes of insecurity, environmentalism, and the limitations of scientific applications. Specifically all aim to answer: "Is every single heroic deed the Fantastic Four does for the greater good, or for their own good?"

In addition, each film would follow a plot that revolves around their specified themes, with ... the March of the Moloids being set in an underworld, and there are many instances of mining, ... the Last Emperor being about space battles, and also about being metaphorically "gone like the wind", ... the Alchemy's Curse about gaining the one key element in restoring the sun, a replacement energy core, and ... the Fall of the Negative Zone references Reed himself "drowning" from his perceived failures, and his attempts to make use of a water-like substance to stabilize the dying sun.

Source 1Source 2Source 3Source 4 (Let's see if their next films can do better.)
Cast of major characters
  • Reed Richards / Mister Fantastic
  • A SHIELD scientist with degrees in physics, biology, mechanical, electrical, and aerospace engineering, and an IQ of 267, who lost most of his internal organs, with the exception of a "bacterial stack" that also serves as powerhouse to his body, giving him the ability to stretch every part of his body beyond human limitations. Struggling with his insecurities, he is the husband of Susan Storm, and the best friend of Ben Grimm.
  • Susan "Sue" Richards 'nee Storm / Invisible Woman
  • A SHIELD scientist with degrees in medicine, biochemistry, astronomy, and computer science, who can generate force fields and other projections, and can render anything she touches invisible by manipulating the light waves around her. Coping with her difficult relationship with her husband, while also maintaining a calm demeanor as the second-in-command of the team, she is the older sister of Johnny Storm, and the wife of Reed Richards.
  • Jonathan "Johnny" Storm / Human Torch
  • A SHIELD pilot, former basketball scholar, and college dropout, who can allow his fats to undergo nuclear fusion, giving him the ability to engulf himself in flames at will, without feeling any pain, due to him receiving genetically modified microscopic platelets, and as the combustion makes him lighter, he also gained the ability to fly. Striving to be more than his more childish self, Johnny is the younger brother of Susan Storm.
  • Benjamin "Ben" Grimm / The Thing
  • A SHIELD engineer, a former construction worker, and once a SHIELD field agent, whose body was radically transformed to have the makings of a rock, rendering him bulletproof and incredibly strong, with the transformation also transforming all of his internal organs into stone, giving him the ability to live through extreme environments. Desiring to have his "normal" self back, Ben is Reed's best-friend and longtime companion.
Source (If you thought these stories are weird, you should check-out their comicbooks.)
Cast of minor characters
  • Franklin and Mary Veronica Storm
  • Two SHIELD scientists who are the parents of both Susan and Johnny Storm, and both of whom contrasting heavily in personalities, with Franklin being more rationale and logical, and Veronica being the more philosophical and more eccentric.
  • H.E.R.B.I.E.
  • Reed Richards' cheery and innocent personal robotic assistant, formally named "Humanoid, Experimental Robot, B-Type, Integrated", Electronics and the first among Reed's successful inventions,  who serves as the group's portable computer.
Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4, Source 5, Source 6, Source 7, Source 8
(Fantastic Foes for the Fantastic Four!)
The main antagonists per movie
  • Harvey Elder / Mole Man - (... and the March of the Moloids)
  • A SHIELD scientist with degrees in crypto-zoology, alien biology, botany, geology, and anthropology, and Ben Grimm's parental figure, who commands an army of "Moloids", and who wishes to transform everyone in the Negative Zone into said monsters with his devices to save them from their impending doom, at the cost of their individual freedom.
  • Blastaar - (... and the March of the Moloids)
  • A seemingly cold-hearted, though actually well-rounded ruler of the traders' world of Baluur, who allows the Fantastic Four and their friends to reside among them, on the condition that they assist the Baluurians in keeping them away from Annihilus' forces, the archenemies of their kind, in addition to helping them scavenge from ruined war machines.
  • Revka Scyros III / Psycho-Man - (... and the Last Emperor)
  • A mentally damaged alien ruler, who once resided in the planet Zenn-La, prior to its destruction, and the former warden of the Negative Zone, until he was forcefully incarcerated in his own planet, who can manipulate emotions through radio signals with a control device in an attempt to perform a mass genocide all throughout the Negative Zone.
  • Rhona Burchill / Mad Thinker  - (... and the Last Emperor)
  • A SHIELD scientist with degrees in robotics and computer science, who was childhood friends with Susan Storm, and a psychopath with an extra brain attached to her head, who wishes to be reunited with her only friend by hijacking Psycho-Man's radio frequency, controlling Psycho-Man in the process, manipulating everyone around them to murder each other.
  • Menendez Flores / Diablo - (... and the Alchemist's Curse)
  • A Master of the Mystic Arts from Spain, who was exiled from Earth by his former comrades-in-arms  back in the fifteenth century, and now resides in "Molekulon", where he invites and tests the most powerful creatures in the Negative Zone to best his greatest creation, and who refuses to give the new energy core, as he wants to be the one to save everyone.
  • Owen Reece / Molecule Man - (... and the Alchemist's Curse)
  • A lost and displaced explorer from Earth, who received molecular creation and manipulation powers after being caught in a failed attempt to recreate another version of the Negative Zone gateway, and is the childish personal aide of Diablo in maintaining the ever-shifting environments of "Molekulon", who tests him constantly to be his "best" creation.
  • Annihilus - (... and the Fall of the Negative Zone)
  • A nigh-emotionless, insect-like default ruler of the Negative Zone, who wishes to build a device that enables him to destroy the looming threat approaching the Negative Zone, and who plans to rule completely by himself with his personal controlled army known as the "Annihilation Wave", which composes of mind-controlled subjects.
  • Lucia von Bardas - (... and the Fall of the Negative Zone)
  • A cyborg, serving as Victor von Doom's former bodyguard and political representative, who leads the Latverian refugees as a pirate community unofficially serving under Annihilus with her army of robotic "Servoguards", but in reality, she is actually serving an unseen Victor von Doom, who wants to use the sun-restoring machine as a power conduit.
Source (Predictability aside, this is actually a pretty heartbreaking page.)
Proposed Overall Conclusion, and Tie-In to Marvel's Thunderbolts

Considering that the Fantastic Four are notable for still residing on Earth, despite most of their adventures taking place in alternate realities, pocket dimensions, and obviously, outer space, I figured that the team should find a way to make it back to Earth somehow. 

By the end of the fourth film in the film series, though not necessarily the end for the team, the Fantastic Four realize that their replacement energy core is not strong enough to reignite the sun, Reed's alternate solution of making a cooling system was not feasible in a limited time, and Doom's devices are all accidentally destroyed in their battle against Annihilus. At this point, Franklin Storm is killed, and so is Blastaar. The team realize that the only thing that they can do now is to lead a mass evacuation through the "Crossroads of Infinity", a large, unstable vortex at the edge of the Negative Zone, and save as many inhabitants as they can.

With Annihilus' forces closing-in, Johnny Storm decides to stay behind. With the aid of a dying Molecule Man, who helps stabilize the energy waves, Johnny blasts his way through the hordes, and after incapacitating Annihilus armies, and Annihilus himself, Johnny flies to the dying sun, with only a few seconds until its implosion. Johnny, after saying goodbye to the team and the rest of the surviving SHIELD agents and Latverians, absorbs as much of the unstable energy as he can with his newly upgraded powers. Initially, Johnny is not able to contain all of the energy, as blasts of light quickly disperse and destroys a handful of planets and star systems in the Negative Zone. Eventually, a large orange light covers the entire Negative Zone, as the Fantastic Four and all other ships are scattered all throughout the cosmos upon entering the Crossroads of Infinity. A new sun is created in the process.


Source (Come on, we all knew he wasn't dead.)
The Fantastic Four later crash land back on Earth, specifically in New York City. They realize that though they have only aged by five years, they were gone for already more than fifty years. The Avengers quickly fly in to salvage the crashed ship, and tend to the injured passengers. Refusing to believe that Johnny is dead, and feeling guilty at not being able to be the one to save the Negative Zone, the remaining members of the Fantastic Four, and the newly rescued SHIELD agents and Negative Zone inhabitants, plus Harvey Elder and Rhona Burchill, who escape afterwards, adjust to their newer lives back on Earth, while also seeking a way to return to the Negative Zone in their newly re-established headquarters, the Baxter Building. In addition, Reed prepares for the biggest role that he has to take yet: being a father. Now reassured that he is not a failure, Reed proposes his plan to establish an intergalactic network in preparation for extraterrestrial threats, while also making a promise to himself to bring back what is left of Latveria to its full glory, in an attempt to finally get over his partial envy towards Doom.

Reed is proven to be right later on. Johnny is alive, and he is found alive, though in a coma in Paris, France. Strange energy signatures are detected all over Johnny's body, and as Reed, Susan, and Ben investigate and check-on him, they start having a bad feeling about all of this. 

Meanwhile, Victor von Doom, who actually survived his battle with the Fantastic Four before, now plans to launch a full-scale invasion on Earth, in an attempt to retrieve the Human Torch, whom Doom thinks to be his key in taking all of Galactus' power. He retrieves Lucia von Bardas' broken down body, then watches as his Servoguards takes over the entire Negative Zone.

Source (I gotta get them involved here somehow.)
In the post-credits scene for the fourth movie, we see the Advanced Idea Mechanics' Scientist Supreme, real named Elizabeth "Betty" Ross, have lunch with Agent Everett K. Ross at a fast-food restaurant somewhere in New York City. As Everett K. Ross talks about Reed's plan to start an interplanetary network in order for Earth to have a much more stable connection with aliens on other corners of the universe, the Scientist Supreme laments that that may not even be enough for the many, currently unknown threats out there, and they ought to be prepared for anything. Everett then gives the Scientist Supreme classified documents on the criminals Helmut Zemo, Ava Starr, and Emil Blonsky. As Ross complains about how hard it was to secure clearances for their respective transfers, the Scientist Supreme assures that her "pet project" would be a success.

In case it is not yet obvious, it sets-up Marvel's Thunderbolts, another Marvel Comics property that I did a pitch on not so long ago. Do check that out, in case you are interested.

There you have it. A much more space-bound film series for the first superhero family with, hopefully, all of the essentials that could do the source material enough justice, even though I did take plenty of liberties with it. Speaking of Fantastic Four adaptations, does anybody remember that awful FANT4STIC? Yeah, neither do we. Thanks to my little sister though, we just realized that K-Pop artist Rap Monster made a song ... for that movie? Help yourself with the song, and stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!

Source (I'm surprised an artist even bothered making a song for this abomination.)