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Kita Kita / I See You (2017)

Rated PG: For Minimal Sensitive Themes

Running Time: 84 minutes (1 hour and 24 minutes)

Genre/s: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Released on July 19, 2017 (PH Release Date' Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Viva Films and Spring Films

Writer and Director: Sigrid Andrea Bernardo

Starring:
  • Alessandra de Rossi as Lea
  • Empoy Marquez as Anthony "Tonyo" Marquez

“Love is blind”, or in this case, “love makes you blind.” Such is the theme of this romantic comedy film, titled Kita Kita, or “I See You” in English.

Written and directed by independent filmmaker Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, Kita Kita stars longtime actress Alessandra de Rossi and comedian Empoy Marquez. When it was released on July 19, 2017, the film was labelled as a sleeper hit, and was received positively by both critics and audiences alike. It was popular on its release to the point that it became the highest grossing independent, Filipino movie of all time, and for good reasons. I mean, for a movie that only has a budget of 10 million pesos, that really is a major achievement.


In an industry plagued by romantic movies that resort to cliche-riddled storylines such as adolescent love triangles, or steamy love affairs, this one is definitely a breath of fresh air, which is a sentiment shared by almost everyone who had seen it. CNN Philippines even declared this as one of the “best romantic comedies in the last 25 years.” Though my expectations were admittedly pretty high, there was this part of me that thought that it would be disappointing. Imagine my surprise after watching it.

In the film, Sapporo-stationed tourist guide Lea, played by de Rossi (Kid Kulafu) goes temporarily blind after discovering that her fiancee was cheating on her. While she recovers, a man named Tonyo, played by Marquez (Bloody Crayons) invites her to tour the rest of Sapporo, Japan together, in an attempt to lift her spirits up.

The first thing that literally caught my attention was the film’s cinematography. Sapporo’s colorful and reinvigorating scenery, from interior locations to natural exterior sets really help sell how positively otherworldly and paradise-like the place is, and it helps establish the whimsical atmosphere the film is aiming for. Originally I thought the reason why they chose Sapporo for the movie was because it was “simply beautiful”, but looking back, I think that decision has some thematic significance to it.

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The theme of the film is all about appearances, and how they can deceive the naked eye, and Sapporo’s rich and exciting landscapes perfectly contrasts the realities Lea has to face (i.e. an unfaithful fiancee, an obvious lack of friends, and so on). Props to Ms. Bernardo and cinematographer Boy Yñiguez for giving us a very lively presentation.

I also have to give credit to Arlene Flerida Calvo for the sweet and bubbly score which further emphasizes the film’s sugary, syrup-y tone, and I do believe that one of the best parts of the movie that showed that is when both Lea and Tonyo are eating ramen noodles on one of their dates. As Tonyo states that he is the perfect match for Lea, the instrumentals really help bring about those “kilig” vibes, as we call them here.

The entire film can be summed as “two people touring Sapporo together.” Yes, the entire movie is just them exploring the various tourist traps of the country, all the while being completely dialogue-driven. “Dialogue-driven”, as in … it’s just them talking to each other for an hour and a half. The film also goes about as you would expect any rom-com from the last four decades or so would go about. One character is left heartbroken, until a character comes around and they both fall in love. You know, “formula.”

But I have to say, even though I could literally see this massive plot twist from five light years away (more on that later), this film really is good. Not just “average good”, as in “really good.” Most dialogue-driven movies have huge chances at becoming boring, but not Kita Kita. Every line, every corny, pop culture-related joke, every small moment of exposition, every single interaction is so heart-warming, and very relatable.

Here, we never get to hear cheesy exchanges such as “you’re the love of my life”, although we get to hear a slight variation by the third act. Instead, we get these real, human interactions that not only move the plot forward, but with every utterance from our two main characters, we get to know them more and more. For all the cynical comments from Lea, we know that she is more than just a totally heartbroken snob. For all of the one-liners Tonyo says, we know eventually that he has a really heartbreaking story of his own. 

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Frankly, these lines could not have been successfully delivered if it weren’t for the talented leads. In this two-character story, both Ms. de Rossi and Mr. Marquez manage to play and find balance with their respective strengths, with the latter inserting some lighthearted moments, and the former injecting some realism. I also commend Ms. de Rossi for actively willing to experiment with her role.

The screenplay overall is really decent, and I have to commend the extensive bits of foreshadowing here that adds the movie a rewatch bonus, which then brings us to what I believe is the most talked about part of the film: the plot twist.

As the film progresses, both Lea and Tonyo begin to fall for each other. As luck would have it, Lea begins to regain her lost sight while Tonyo and her are again exploring the streets of Sapporo at night. Tonyo, who stopped Lea and crossed a street for awhile to claim a teddy bear as a gift, is completely distracted by the sight of Lea fully healed that he did not see a speeding truck coming as he crossed the street again. Yep, Tonyo dies, guys. I guess you could say “love does make you blind”, huh?

The plot twist kicks-in a few days later. Lea is again heartbroken and somewhat returning to her slightly cynical state at the start of the movie. Noticing Tonyo’s completely empty house, Lea goes there, and as she reads a letter that Tonyo left behind prior to dying, we get a flashback from events that took place before the film itself. It turns-out Tonyo was heartbroken when his girlfriend dumped him. Distraught, he decided to drink all the alcohol in all of Sapporo, until the kind Lea shows him simple acts of kindness. Lea’s good nature then causes Tonyo to have feelings for Lea.

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In the near beginning, Lea, dressed as a heart, mentioned of a Banana Man that she hung-out with on the night her fiancee forgot about their anniversary. Well … surprise … Tonyo is the Banana Man, which is only surprising to those who have never seen a single movie outside of Kita Kita. Who else could it be, right? I’m pretty sure it couldn’t be Nobu, Lea’s fiancee, because that would just raise more questions.

As the letter comes to an end, Tonyo reveals that he is diagnosed with an enlarged heart, and that he might be dying as a result. Because of this, and upset that Lea is heartbroken, Tonyo is motivated to nurse Lea’s heart back to its better state, and also as a means to express his undying gratitude for Lea.

In other words, an infatuated Tonyo has been stalking Lea, as in every scene before his introduction, he was there, following Lea. I don’t know how else to say it, now that I think about it.

The revelation that Tonyo has an enlarged heart initially came-out of nowhere for me, but as I have previously mentioned, there are actually clever bits of foreshadowing that hints about Tonyo’s condition that none of which I never noticed before. Most of these hints are through Tonyo’s jokes, including his comment about pancit being able to extend one’s life, and in a scene where he is watering Lea’s plants, and he makes a joke that the plants are “losing their lives” (while also inserting a Plants vs. Zombies reference).

Probably the best foreshadowing bit for me is the whole heart and banana anthology. Whether intentional or not, once you realize that the “big-hearted” Tonyo is healing Lea’s broken heart in a sense, much like how bananas are good for the heart, the plot twist becomes even more obvious. I swear I am not over-thinking this.


Though as much as I love the extremely subtle hints about Tonyo’s enlarged heart, I do believe that they could have made some clearer hints, such as Tonyo growing easily tired sometimes, while he makes excuses that he just needs some more exercise, so that the plot twist wouldn’t feel out-of-place upon revelation. I actually thought for awhile that it would have been better if Tonyo died from his heart disease, but then it became apparent that the movie would just border on cheesy melodrama.

Sadly, even without the subtlety, the identity of the mysterious Banana Man would still be clear as day, because again, there are only four characters in this entire flick, and the other two introduced at the start are just relatively minor in significance. I once read that the film was supposed to have three main characters, and though I think it would help the plot twist less obvious, the film as a whole would feel much more generic. Still, they are good bits of foreshadowing.

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On the matter of Tonyo stalking Lea, there are reviewers out there who actually view the character as a malicious manipulator, and I do understand why they would have that sentiment. However, I do believe that calling Tonyo a “manipulator” might be a little too extreme.

Sure, he might have been following her creepily around, and he might have interfered in her life by orchestrating Lea’s discovery of her fiancee’s infidelity, I don’t think Tonyo did anything remotely evil to be called as one. If Tonyo was making Lea feel guilty through his sickness, then I guess that is the only time we can call him one. I think the best word to describe him is “misguided”, because again, Tonyo did not do remotely anything that can be considered harmful such as guilt-tripping or secret keeping, and the secret that he kept was hidden for justifiable reasons.

For a better understanding, let's compare Tonyo's case to the one in the movie Passengers, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. In that film, Mr. Pratt's Jim Preston, who was awoken prematurely by a an unexpected computer system failure, was lonely for a lengthy amount of time. In a desperate need to feed that isolation, Jim deliberately awakened Ms. Lawrence's Aurora Lane from cryogenic slumber, which ultimately dooms her to the same fate as Jim does: an early death. Combined with the fact that Jim had hidden this from her the entire film, this definitely counts as manipulation. With that in mind, I'm pretty sure Tonyo didn't do anything of that sort to Lea.

Overall, Kita Kita is a solidly crafted romantic comedy that clearly has more to offer than most films under the same genre. It might have cliches under its belt, but it has charming performances from both leads and a heartwarming screenplay to compensate. This film, even if you have watched it a lot of times before, never feels dull.

I hereby grant this film a 20/25 (Pleasant Entertainment)

With that, we conclude yet another movie review. But before we leave, be sure to listen to KZ Tandingan's rendition of "Two Less Lonely People" by Air Supply, a cover which is included in the film's soundtrack. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Rated PG-13: For Violence

Running Time: 136 minutes (2 hours and 16 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Adventure, Drama, Superhero, Thriller

Released on April 4, 2014 (US Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures



Inspired by the "Winter Soldier" story arc by Ed Brubaker



"Captain America" Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby



Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring:
  • Chris Evans as Steven "Steve" Rogers / Captain America
  • Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
  • Sebastian Stan as James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes / Winter Soldier
  • Anthony Mackie as Samuel "Sam" Wilson / Falcon
  • Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Nicholas "Nick" Fury

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"The price of freedom is high." The modern world is a complicated place to be. With wars brewing, with today's technology becoming tomorrow's doomsday devices, with conspiracies popping-up here and there, who can we trust in a world where there is no one left to be trusted? This is the question that Captain America: The Winter Soldier asks the audience.

In this film, superhero, Avenger, and recently inducted S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Steve Rogers, played by Evans (Gifted) joins fellow Avenger and S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague Natasha Romanoff, played by Johansson (Isle of Dogs) in uncovering the darkest secrets lurking with their agency. Their efforts in search of the truth leads them to cross paths with the enigmatic assassin known only as the "Winter Soldier," played by Stan (The Martian), forcing Steve to confront the demons of his past.

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After Captain America: The First Avenger featured the titular hero in his traditional Second World War setting, the filmmakers were left with a challenge on what to do with the character next. As the setting has been updated to the modern era, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and The Russo Brothers, the directors, were left with the challenge on conceptualizing the next adventure for the Star-Spangled Man with the Plan. The result is a movie that does not focus on the mystical threat, but instead on very real problems that we all fear in our everyday lives such as government conspiracies, political sabotage, and urban terrorism. The film makes perfect use of its superhero source material by emphasizing more on Steve's more optimistic worldview, in contrast to society's more cynical outlook, by having our main protagonist come to terms with the changes of time, with a healthy dose of political commentary in the process. 

Here, Steve, after being thawed from his six decades of cryogenic freezing, struggles with keeping-up with the changes in the world. He, played so effortlessly by the complete embodiment of the character, Chris Evans, clings so desperately to any sort semblance to his idealistic time period, from having to have regular visits to his former lover and S.H.I.E.L.D. co-founder, Margaret "Peggy" Carter, played by Hayley Atwelll (Cinderella Remake), who is now dying and is diagnosed with a severe case of the Alzheimer's Disease, to joining a government agency just to combat more political enemies, much like the one he fought in the war. He even visits the local museum, just to get a sense of nostalgia.

However, Steve does try to adjust to his new setting, as hinted by the humorous gag of him listing all of the pop-culture sensations that he has to experience for himself, including Star Wars. He even manages to sympathize with former para-rescue man Sam Wilson, who is portrayed at the character's best by Mackie, complete with a compelling backstory about being a survivor in the battlefield. Visually, there is something that helps further cements the movie's theme of adaptation to changes, and that is the updated, more tightened fight choreography. Not only does this show that, over the short time that he has out of the ice, Steve has managed to adjust a little, this hints to the audience the full capabilities that Steve has as a superhero. He might be strong and can carry a giant metallic Frisbee, but he is also very agile and reflexive. Seriously, a lot of the action scenes are very well choreographed, with my personal favorite being the intense elevator fight sequence and the introductory fight against a pirate named Georges Batroc, played by real-life mixed martial artist George St. Pierre (Never Surrender). Though admittedly the fight scenes are hyper-edited to point of nausea, as noted by the multiple, over-edit cuts in the film, the cameras at least keep it focused on the action and the energy. And yes, Henry Jackman's underrated score completely fits this film's espionage tone, with among my favorites being his score for the highway fight scene.

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For Steve, the lines between good and evil are further blurred when he learns about S.H.I.E.L.D.'s latest security initiative known as Project: Insight. With Project: Insight, S.H.I.E.L.D. would be able to make use of algorithms to kill any potential threats based on people's records, with the use of three, heavily-armed Hellicarriers. Steve dislikes this idea, noting this as a sign of inciting fear. But Steve has his concerns rebuffed by Nick Fury, who is given much more depth and acted in a better fashion from Samuel L. Jackson. Plus, his improvised monologue pertaining to his grandfather also did help establish Fury's interesting perspective more, and his stance is all the more conflicted by having to work with somewhat shady figures like Black Widow, who is also given more depth, if just a little, and is given much more emotional resonance than before by Scarlett Johansson. 

Steve's struggles to adjust to the present is made even more complicated with the revelation that HYDRA, the very enemy that he fought to destroy in the 1940s, has been infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. ever since the agency's inception. Robert Redford's Alexander Pierce is the leader of this latest incarnation, and Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes, now rechristened as the Winter Soldier, is his primary assassin. Steve's past has literally come back to haunt him, and not only have they returned to smite their will all over the world, they have changed. No longer are they the typical would-be world conquerors straight-out of retro comicbooks and cartoons, they are now, in their own way, a radical peacekeeping organization hellbent on actual order. Order through chaos, at least. This startles Steve as though sinister their actions might be, what they have done have truly shaped centuries, as elaborated by the charismatic Redford. Captain America, for the first time in his entire life, is forced to combat enemies who might actually have a point.

Despite the many valid points that Pierce makes, including that being able to predict and eliminate potential threats before said threats manage to perform a crime could reduce the chaos, Steve relents, knowing that there is no peace if one maniacal agency is at the top of the food chain. He resists, and in a symbolic action, Steve uses the costume that he wore back in the Second World War, which he retrieved from the Smithsonian Museum where an amusing Stan Lee cameo is featured. He then rallies all of his friends with a speech that reminds them and the audience that yes, "the price of freedom is high." Though security would be achieved through violent and sinister means, none of them would make us any better than the very enemies that we strive to eliminate. Instead, it takes courage and honesty to bring about peace. As Councilman Singh, played by Bernard White (American Dreamz), said in a standout scene of him answering Pierce's question about potential threats, he would do anything to prevent any incident from happening, but "not if it's [Pierce's] switch."

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With that said, Steve, sticking to his beliefs, battles all of HYDRA's personnel, with an army of loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in tow, even going as far as to do everything that he can to bring back his best friend from HYDRA's control. While Steve, Sam, and Natasha work to rescue the World Security Council, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s overseeing committee, we get to see how much is lost from this battle. The Russos Brothers definitely did an amazing job in highlighting the stakes by showing how numerous S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, from desk workers to air-units, fought and are killed in the process, all of which completely reflects Steve's harrowing reality. Not being the person to give-up, Steve stands his ground, even if Bucky nearly kills him. He succeeds in bringing him back, and the battle is won, but the consequences are high. Steve wakes-up from recovery to a world that is now filled with mistrust and paranoia. Things that he himself felt all throughout the film. But Steve is confident that he could still fight for what is right, despite being a stranger in a familiar land. After all, he is just getting started.

In all honesty, it is particularly difficult to find faults in this film, outside of the technicalities that I have previously mentioned. However, if there is one thing that is definitely worth the criticism, it would have to be the revelation of HYDRA's infiltration. Now, don't get me wrong. On first viewing, I actually enjoyed this twist, as this shows how much of a serious threat that the terrorist organization has become over the years (to the point that they might as well be this universe's iteration of the conspiracy theory-linked Illuminati). However, as with most commenters would say, the plot twist that an ancient, evil organization has been pulling the strings the entire time does reduce the conflict from "man versus society" to a more black and white "good versus evil" conflict. In other words, this renders an initially complex film to a basic superhero tale.

In one amazing, spine-chilling scene of Steve and Natasha encountering a secretly alive Arnim Zola, played by Toby Jones (The Hunger Games Series), one of HYDRA's top scientist back in the war, who has since transferred his consciousness to a supercomputer, reveals that HYDRA has been "feeding chaos, reaping war" for the world to surrender its freedom willingly. They allowed deaths and disasters to happen, and they continue to do so for HYDRA to slowly take control of everyone through fear. Again, I personally believe that this is a decent compelling twist that truly illustrates the terrors of a malevolent invisible hand orchestrating events in their favor, but perhaps it would have been better if Alexander Pierce and his cohorts are not affiliated with HYDRA.  We could have Pierce, instead a paranoid government figure and radical peacekeeping officer, become unwittingly a pawn in a more complex scheme due to HYDRA's manipulations. This way, the moral argument about "the ends justifying the means" would remain intact, while expanding further the threat that is HYDRA.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier has and will always have a special place in my heart for being the film that truly elevated the Marvel Cinematic Universe to more thought-provoking and bolder heights. We have interesting and compelling villains, in-depth characterization for all figures involved, and an overall well done modernization of a seemingly outdated source material, which could have been particularly dull if it were not for the efforts put into the filmmaking process. Though some cliches are apparent, and some characters such as the Winter Soldier himself and Crossbones are not as fleshed-out as they should, with the conflict between Steve and Bucky being completely downplayed in favor of the HYDRA story, and though there are some flaws in the technicalities, this is definitely a major turning point for the franchise. One that is also aided by an ever-charismatic cast of actors. I hereby grant this film a score of 21/25 (Awesome!)

I still highly regard this as my favorite MCU film of all time. The fact that it even managed to reintroduce a Golden Age superhero to modern audiences, complete with some intriguing spins and commentaries is something that should truly be commended for. As we conclude this review, feel free to take a look at three of my personal favorite scenes from the film. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Rated PG-13: For Mild Language and Violence

Running Time: 181 minutes (3 hours and 1 minute)

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

Released on April 24, 2019 (PH Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)



Presented by Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures



Inspired by "The Infinity Gauntlet" story arc written by Jim Starlin



"Iron Man" created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby

"Thor" created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby

"Captain America" created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

"Guardians of the Galaxy (2008)"  created by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

"Doctor Strange" and "Spider-Man" created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

"Black Panther," "The Hulk," and "The Avengers" created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

"Carol Danvers" created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan

"Thanos" created by Jim Starlin



Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring:
  • Robert Downey Jr. as Anthony "Tony" Stark / Iron Man
  • Chris Evans as Steven "Steve" Rogers / Captain America
  • Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner The Hulk
  • Chris Hemsworth as Thor Odinson
  • Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
  • Jeremy Renner as Clinton "Clint" Barton / Ronin
  • Don Cheadle as James "Rhodey" Rhodes / War Machine
  • Paul Rudd as Scott Lang / Ant-Man
  • Brie Larson as Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel
  • Karen Gillan as Nebula
  • Danai Gurira as Okoye
  • Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket Raccoon
  • Josh Brolin as Thanos

Note: Major spoilers lie ahead. Other blogs won't be warning you about that, but not us. Not us.

"Whatever it takes." Previously on Avengers: Infinity War, lives were lost, sacrifices were made, and heroes were defeated. The Avengers, after countless battles, from aliens, to killer robots, to their own teammates, have met their match, and they have lost. Now, the remaining heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have come together to do what they were formed for: to "avenge the fallen." A saga a decade and a year in the making, everything finally comes together in the Endgame.

In the film, Thanos, played by Brolin (Deadpool 2) uses the Infinity Stones to eradicate half of all sentient life in the universe, leading to the universe descending to chaos. The founding members of the Avengers, including Iron Man, played by Downey Jr. (Too Much Sun), Captain America, played by Evans, the Hulk, played by Ruffalo, Black Widow, played by Johansson (Rough Night), and Hawkeye, now known as Ronin, played by Renner (Tag) reassemble with newer allies such as Ant-Man, played by Rudd (Admission), War Machine, played by Cheadle (Miles Ahead), Nebula, played by Gillan (The Circle), and Rocket, voiced by Cooper (A Star is Born - 2018 Remake) must seek-out a way to undo all of Thanos' actions.


"I am inevitable." What happens when everything that everybody held dearly is gone forever? The Russo Brothers, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and each of the actors presents us a humanly relatable glimpse of what happens when even the best of us fall. Instead of doing typical superhero things, such as immediately seeking another way to undo all of the damages done, the Avengers do what all other humans do in a seemingly uncontrollable situation: they move-on, but not entirely. Some retire and isolate themselves from the rest of the world out of extreme grief, like Iron Man or Thor. Some find morally questionable ways to vent-out their hopelessness, like Hawkeye. Some try to go through the motions of their daily lives, while just hoping they forget about everything, much like Black Widow and Captain America. 

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Though the theme of the film is sacrifice, the feature never sacrifices its time to entertain audiences everywhere. In traditional Marvel flair, numerous callbacks are prevalent all throughout, and unlike most previous films, which is a common point of contention from other reviewers, every single reference is a joyous moment to behold. In a scene when Captain America reunites with his former S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague and then-secretly HYDRA double-agent Brock Rumlow, played by Frank Grillo (The Purge: Anarchy) manages to retrieve the Mind Stone by assuring him that he too is working for HYDRA, which lead to everyone in the theater laughing-out loud. (This scene is even funnier when you realize that this is a reference to the infamous "Hail HYDRA" meme.) But the best callback scene would definitely have to be when Tony Stark gets to have one, final chat with his father Howard, played by John Slattery (Both Ruffalo and Slattery appeared in Spotlight). Their heartwarming discussion about fatherhood helped Iron Man finally get the motivation that he needs to push through until the end, and it leaves all of us shedding a tear or two at the nice wrap-up for Iron Man's overall character arc.

The surprise inclusion of former Sorcerer Supreme, the Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton (Trainwreck) also adds an extra flavor to an otherwise fun scene, as this also addresses a very minor continuity that the Masters of the Mystic Arts more or less just avoid any conflict at all, even if said attacks are just a few blocks away from them. Also, it is just nice to see that even though their characters are dead, they nevertheless have a special place in the overall franchise continuity.

On the overall story, there are two things I want to highlight: the central time-traveling story, and the sacrifice-related plot. True to the film's emphasis on sacrifice and hope-seeking, the screenwriters indeed refined both aspects of the screenplay to the fullest degree.

The rumors are true. This is a time-traveling movie about the Avengers retrieving all of the Infinity Stones scattered all across time and space. However, unlike X-Men: Days of Future Past, where our heroes have to alter one specific event in order to achieve a more serviceable future, they are not allowed to make changes to the timeline whatsoever, as doing so could bring about even more unwanted happenings to be put into motion. As such, they must also return each of the Stone to their rightful place in time, In addition to it being a unique spin on the whole time-traveling gimmick, and to it being very caring towards the franchise's history, this very plot point also serviced the respective character arcs of both Captain America and Thor. Though Captain America can finally rendezvous with his love Margaret "Peggy" Carter, played by Hayley Atwell (Jimi: All is By My Side), and though Thor, as funny as his depressing weight gain might seem, can already tell his mother Frigga, played by Rene Russo (Velvet Buzzsaw) about her coming demise, both relent and decide to focus on what their true goals are. After everything that both of them have been through, they had the chances to gain some happiness in their lives, but both refused. (Plus, Evans' and Hemsworth's performances in their parts also really help to elevate the emotional gravitas.) 

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"Part of the journey is the end." With this feature, this marks the end of several lingering character and story arcs established in various movies all the way from the very beginning, which is Iron Man. In a flick this paramount in importance, it is fitting that certain sacrifices have to be made, in order to elevate the stakes. The movie does just that by further giving dramatic depth to the original Avengers line-up, especially Scarlett Johansson's much more intriguing Black Widow, who now has been traumatized to the full by their defeat and their seeming inability to make everything right again, complete with a compelling for her story. An equal treatment is given to Karen Gillan's memorable Nebula, who really has to confront her past by fighting an alternate version of herself. Heck, even Hawkeye gets one, as he undergoes a drastic, emotional change after losing his entire family from Thanos' actions.

In a painful yet fulfilling move, Iron Man dies a heroic death in an epic last stand for the Infinity Stones. As tears are shed, we are presented with arguably one of the most iconic and tear-jerking scenes in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is Iron Man's funeral, with the camera lingering slowly to all of the heroes who fought by his side. Later on, Captain America, now fulfilling his mission, travels back in time to grow old with Peggy as his wife. In the wrong hands, these powerful moments would have been just silly or forgettable, but thanks to competent hands and even more competent actors, these are unforgettable moments that also rightfully put an end to their arcs. Though, depending on your interpretation, Captain America either does deserve being happy with Peggy, especially after all of the traumatic moments that he just went through, or he never moved-on and simply traveled back in time, completely discarding the life that he had in the present. (I go with the former, though.)

The film's heavier focus on characterization is nothing to be surprised at, considering that character development for the protagonists is what the franchise is quite notable for, and that this is a film made to conclude several dangling plot threads. Though that is true, and though the pace is slower than most other films, the film never fails to entertain, and the few action sequences here are as lively as ever. Sure, that fight scene between Captain America and the past Captain America is cool, but trust me when I tell you that the climactic battle with everyone against Thanos is just jaw-dropping, and that pre-battle shot of Captain America against all of Thanos' forces is just eye-popping. And like a true epic battle sequence, there is no shortage of amazing moments, including seeing Captain America finally lifting Mjolnir to fight Thanos, the newly resurrected Doctor Strange teleporting Asgardians, Wakandans, and Masters of the Mystic Arts, Scarlet Witch nearly killing Thanos, and of course, Iron Man's final stand  are among the many other highlights in this film. This is made even better by the amazing score by Alan Silvestri.

Yes, this movie definitely lived-up to the hype. Yes, it did manage to be emotionally engaging while still being fun and entertaining. But, it is not entirely perfect, and my two minor problems with the movie lie in the scope, and the visuals. Trust me when I say that none of these issues would derail your entire experience, unless you skipped all previous films and just jumped straight into this one.

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In terms of the scope, there is no denying the abundance of recognizable faces all throughout, but the problem lies with how the aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War is handled. We don't see how Wakandans adjusted without their king, how Aunt May Parker, played by Marisa Tomei (The Rewrite) grieve for her dead nephew, or how Ant-Man's friends pondered his whereabouts. The Hulk's ex-girlfriend Betty Ross, played by Liv Tyler (Super), who is confirmed to be killed-off due to Thanos' snap, is never mentioned at all, despite being quite important to the Hulk and her father Thaddeus Ross, played by William Hurt (Broadcast News). Heck, we don't even get to see, or least of all hear how exactly are other planets reacting to the chaos. Though we have scenes of Captain America helping traumatized citizens recover in a group therapy session, and Ant-Man exploring his ghost town of a neighborhood do give some context, we only ever really get to view a "compressed" glimpse on the grave situation. This is a cinematic event, after all, and audiences truly need to see how devastating Thanos' actions are through the eyes of the people closest to the fallen heroes. Hopefully these would be resolved or at least discussed in the forthcoming films.

Though much of the other characters have had their resolutions, I feel as if the Hulk's personal arc, which is said to have begun in Thor: Ragnarok and continued all through here, is really rushed. In the film, the Hulk now possesses both the personalities of Bruce Banner and the Hulk after coming to terms with the Avengers' defeat, therefore becoming one entity. Though Ruffalo does add a much more carefree energy to this take, it would have been interesting if the film would actually build-up to this from the start of the film, and by having the "Professor Hulk" persona manifest itself by the near end to furthe illustrate Bruce Banner's psychological struggles. Also Captain Marvel, played by Brie Larson (Unicorn Store), who is teased time and again to be the savior of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, does absolutely nothing until the final battle. (Her entrance was actually met with a faint round of applause in our theater, just so you know.) 

It also cannot be denied that the costume designs are grand, and the motion capture performances are always beautiful to behold, and it does take away some of the kinetic energy that one should feel in this sequence. I find a lot of the other settings to be bland and forgettable. The gray aesthetic that we mentioned in Captain Marvel? It is prevalent in the final battle, but what rubs me the wrong way the most is how the New Avengers compound does not really feel like a headquarters at all. As someone pointed-out on Twitter some time ago, the way the place is designed, from the furniture to the garage, everything feels generic and lifeless, and unlike the Avengers Tower, you cannot get some semblance of a home here. Also, why is New Asgard, the latest home to the remaining Asgardians, feels more like a typical Norwegian farmland than a potentially blooming empire? Granted they just started building in five years, it would have been nice to see anything to make this setting much more visually distinct.

By the way, the Hulk dabbed. Yep, you read it here first.

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At the end of the day, each one of us are reminded that good types of sacrifices are always bound to be made. It is painful, sure, but an eventually fruitful one, and this is a brilliant message that the movie managed to deliver with presentable and ultimately rewarding execution.

Avengers: Endgame is the stuff of legends, and perhaps there really is nothing  else like it in cinematic history yet. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll cheer. Not a minute goes by when you would ever want to set your eyes someplace else. A lot of the jokes land, a lot of the performances are on-point, and a lot of the stories payoff very well. Plus, we even get some nice twists along the way, aside from some subtle hints at what he future of the franchise has in store for all of us. Minor flaws such as scope and visuals concerns, as well as a justifiable lack of screentime for Thanos, are observable though. Even if it might not be as unpredictable as Avengers: Infinity War, none of those claims would take away the fact that this movie effectively lived-up, if not, exceeded all of our expectations by giving us a powerfully resonant and overall satisfying partial finale to a fantastic film series. I present this film a 22/25 (Awesome!)

For ten years, I have watched every single movie, streamed almost every single television program, and read every single Wikipedia page about them. It really is such a blessing to see how a movie like this actually managed to deliver a near-perfect film that not only serves as the beginning for the next wave of movies, but also as an extended thanks to the many fans out there who have been inspired by the work put into these movies, and the stories that have been told through them. I am simply thankful for Marvel for all of these. It truly is quite a time to be alive, knowing that our favorite comicbook properties are becoming more open to the public.

Jeremy Renner and Paul Rudd are undeniably the highlights of the movie's press tour. As such, before you leave, be sure to check-out the highlights of these two's tour. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!

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Shazam! (2019)

Rated PG-13: For Minimal Language and Sensitive Themes, and Violence

Running Time: 132 minutes (2 hours and 32 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Superhero

Released on April 5, 2019 (US Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by New Line Cinema, DC Films, The Safran Company, Seven Bucks Production, Mad Ghost Productions, and Warner Bros. Pictures



"Shazam" Created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck



Director: David F. Sandberg

Writers: Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke

Starring:
  • Asher Angel and Zachary Levi as William "Billy" Batson / Shazam
  • Mark Strong as Doctor Thaddeus Sivana
  • Jack Dylan Grazer as Frederick "Freddy" Freeman
  • Djimon Hounsou as Shazam

"Home is where you choose to be." Though it is hardly the most original theme discussed in all of cinema, and though it is not the deepest Aesop to thread through our minds, it is a timeless concept that can make a film more than memorable, if the execution is done right. Shazam! is a particularly good example of making perfect use of an enduring central theme not necessarily by making it more complicated than it should be, but by placing emphasis on heart.

In this film, young orphan Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel (Andi Mack) can become an adult, super-powered version of himself, played by Levi (Thor: The Dark World) after stumbling upon a weakened wizard named Shazam, played by Hounsou (Captain Marvel). Now equipped with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury, Billy must be ready to battle the demented Doctor Thaddeus Sivana, played by Strong (Kingsman: The Secret Service), who wishes to steal all of Billy's powers to exact his revenge.


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It has been said that "home is where the heart is." Unfortunately for our main protagonist, played astoundingly by the brilliant fresh talent Asher Angel, Billy's heart is not in the right place. In fact, this film makes it deliberately clear that, despite his sympathetic background, Billy is indeed an obnoxious brat during the first few parts of the film, which is a nice nod to the audience that yes, even superheroes can have huge, glaring flaws. All he wants is to find his biological mother, who lost him while out at a local carnival long ago, and ever since, Billy has been extremely fixated in returning to his home. After several failed attempts, with even some ending-up with him being at the receiving end of law enforcement, he finally finds a physical home for him in the form of a foster group, but alas, he still feels as if this is not where he is supposed to be.

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One thing that really made an impression for me is the amazing supporting cast. Billy's newfound home, for the audience at least, does feel like one. This is because of the memorable side-characters who might only have about a few minutes of screentime, but are nevertheless written with so much care and importance that you simply cannot help but be fond of these characters. In this group home, we have the disabled comicbook fan Freddie, played with such joy by Grazer (It Remake), alongside the super-enthusiastic and warm-hearted Darla Dudley, played by the lovable Faithe Herman (Bodied), the college freshman Mary Bromfield, played by Grace Fulton (Annabelle: Creation), the geeky Eugene Choi, played by the funny Ian Chen (Fresh Off the Boat), and the silent yet quirky Pedro Peña, played by newcomer Jovan Armand (The Middle). All five of these characters, plus their adoptive parents, do everything that they can to reach-out to Billy. Sadly for Billy, he does not warm-up to them immediately, which causes a few problems for everyone. They do end up becoming so integral to the story, that to my gentle surprise, all five of them even manage to share the powers of Shazam, effectively becoming the Marvel Family! Not only did this line-up very well with the theme, it just goes to show that the supporting cast, regardless of how small the role might be, will always be essential to a film.


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Things only get worse for Billy after receiving his powers. Instead of setting-out to fulfill Shazam's wishes to prevent the forces of evil from taking over the world, he practically gives-up in searching for his home as he instead chooses to reside in the traditional childish fantasy of being a superhero. Eventually, he practically makes use of his powers for everyone else's entertainment, becomes a complete hypocrite towards Freddie when he declines to appear in school for popularity, and runs away at his first ever encounter with an actual supervillain. I have to say though. As we go deeper into Billy's more selfish impulses under the Shazam guise, thanks of course to the always reliable Zachary Levi to bring a specific level of childlike obnoxiousness and tragic coming-of-age with his heavily underrated acting sensibilities, we see that Billy is really not a superhero. He is just a kid in a grown-up's body, but once he realizes that his real mother does not want him around, which is a very subversive approach since I was expecting for the mother to accept him and have Billy stay with his new family out of sincerity and care, Billy is hit by reality hard.

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Now, I have to be deliberately clear that I am not all that familiar with the mythology of Captain Marvel (yes, that was his superhero name prior to the controversial lawsuit with Marvel Comics). And when I watched a video by YouTuber Captain Midnight discussing the changes done to the character, I am left amazed. At this day and age, I am comfortable with adaptations making certain changes to the source material. This is due to the fact that they are "adaptations," and makers are given license to make creative changes as they see fit. By retroactively altering his origin to be just an act of total desperation on Shazam's part instead of him being a noble "chosen one" type of character, the movie adds a level of gravitas to the character which effectively modernizes him for the audience today. The flick even addresses the idea that a lot of candidates for the mantle of Shazam are unworthy because of their flawed moralities, which I have to commend as a decent deconstruction of the superhero archetype.

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Speaking of changes and villains, Mark Strong is extremely incredible as the main antagonist, and I would even consider him as the best supervillain that the DCEU has to offer so far (which really isn't saying much, considering the previous movies). Though it makes drastic changes to the character, including having him completely ditch his more stereotypical mad scientist get-up in exchange for a more traditional business-suited villain, while still keeping his scarred eye intact, and though the film's prologue completely spoils Doctor Sivana's backstory, therefore eliminating all chances at suspense, Doctor Sivana is the perfect main antagonist for this film. It is even made better by the fact that he survives for a sequel in the near future.

Here, Sivana lives most of his life as an outcast, always believing in seeing in the supernatural world. As a child, he was one of the many candidates to inherit the powers of Shazam, but is rejected for his potentially corrupt nature. It is because of this that he became obsessed with seeking such power, and after receiving new powers from the Seven Deadly Sins, evil spirits trapped in Shazam's lair, the Rock of Eternity, he decides to murder all the people that have mistreated him, including his abusive father, played by John Glover (Smallville).

Do you notice the parallels to Billy? Similar to Billy, Doctor Sivana just wants to find his home, the Rock of Eternity, and also like Billy, he uses his powers for selfish reasons. The similarities end, however, with the fact that Billy does have a home, which he still has not seen yet for himself, while Doctor Sivana having always known hatred, even until the end credits. A perfect foil indeed.

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Aside from the characters, we also have to commend the film and director David F. Sandberg for truly making the city of Philadelphia a "home." Most action-oriented superhero movies tend to feature their various settings, from the buildings to the people, as nothing more than just things that we just randomly pass by as we progress through a story. In this film's case, however, we do get a sense of community. We see how the city and its citizens feel about having a superhero living in their area of residence through Billy's interactions, including displaying his lightning-generating powers to a crowd of adoring fans. We feel the excitement that they feel when Billy saves a bus full of people from plummeting towards death. We feel the fear of the exact same people when Doctor Sivana terrorizes a carnival one night with his seven devilish assistants, and as they each cling desperately to hope while either hiding from the monsters, or just observing the chaos from afar. We also feel the sense of a larger world through the film's use of certain superhero merchandise. Through this application, we note that this film is indeed set in the DC Extended Universe without feeling forced, and it also shows how the people feel about superheroes in general.

Finally, we have the theatrics of the film. The concept of a home would not be felt if it were not for the other elements that subtly alluded to this theme, while also being added spices to an interesting visual main course.

The script's extensive use of humor is also commendable, as this film showcases one of the best uses of actually good jokes. For instance, the entire convenient store robbery scene, and that part when Billy could not hear Doctor Sivana's evil monologue due to the Philadelphia traffic is really funny, and it really emphasizes the heartwarming and fun nature that the film aims for.

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The lesser use of CGI is also worth noting, as well as the costume designs. I really do love how colorful Billy's costume is, and how everything that is mystical, including the Rock of Eternity and the terrifying manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins are incredibly great, especially when they all manage to contrast superbly with the realistic Philadelphia setting. Sure, it may not be as extraordinarily excessive or as colorfully grandiose as it could have been, but who cares? The character work on the script, penned by Henry Gayden, with story guidance from Darren Lemke is all you need to have a good time. Heck, that final battle at the carnival, which also serves as a bookend, could have been a generic beat 'em up that destroys an entire city block. But no. All we have are visually simple yet striking moments, combined with incredibly funny lines.

My favorite thing about the movie is, aside from all of the above, the subtle used of some licensed songs. Most movies tend to just throw-in a random song just for the sake of it (Ahem, Suicide Squad, ahem). In this case, however, some songs are actually used for significant reasons. For instance, the introductory song "Do You Hear What I Hear?" plays during Doctor Sivana's first encounter with the wizard Shazam, and plays again when he returns to the real world, which reflects the fact that only he saw Shazam, not his family. And my personal favorite was the use of the instrumental for the song "Slow Hands" by Niall Horan, which is played during one of the family's regular pre-meal prayers, which involves all family members holding hands. Guess who was the only one who refuses to join-in? Clever and subtle. I like that.

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It's hardly original in its storytelling, and it's unlikely for the film to gain major awards in the long run. But what Shazam! does succeed in is reminding audiences everywhere that we don't need dark and overly mature stories in our theaters. A little subversion from the source material also did help to reintroduce a slightly forgotten character to the modern world. Sometimes, we just need a simple, fun, and heartfelt experience. Thanks to a lovable cast, particularly from our two leads, to one captivating, though somewhat uninteresting supervillain who did have his entire backstory spoiled in the first scene in the film, to actually funny jokes, and to colorful blends of whimsy, perhaps it is safe to say that the DC Extended Universe's problems are finally behind them. Here's to hoping that this franchise would consistently make more films as amazing, as charming, as memorable as this one. I hereby grant this film a score of 20/25 (Awesome!).

Fun fact: did you know that John Glover, the actor who played Thaddeus Sivana's father played the father of Lex Luthor, played by Michael Rosenbaum (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) Lionel Luthor in the hit television series Smallville? Also, did you know he played the guy who gave Poison Ivy, played by Uma Thurman (Kill Bill) in the wildly reviled Batman and Robin film? The other thing you have to love about this film is its fun Easter eggs list.

And since we mentioned Easter, have a very happy Easter season everyone, from all of us here! Before you leave, help yourself to some songs featured in the film and its promotional materials. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!