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Friday, May 24, 2019




Stranger Visitor From Another Planet

James Gunn and David Yarovesky's Brightburn sticks to that old adage of stage and screen: If you introduce a rifle in Act I, that rifle will be fired at the head of a 12-year-old alien lunatic by his adoptive father in Act III - and do no harm at all. But the same can't be said for what the boy does to him in retaliation.

Like a Marvel "What If?" tale, Brightburn retells the oldest story in superhero fiction from a horror point of view. Stop me if you've heard this one: a Kansas couple, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) Breyer, want to have a child and their wish is granted when a spaceship carrying a baby crashes outside their farm. The couple hides the spaceship and raises the child, whom they name Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) as their own. They love him, care for him, but he's different and he's bullied by kids at school. Then, on this 12th birthday, the alien ship they hid in their barn glows red and calls out for Brandon in an alien language, ordering him to "take the world!" Brandon, who has never been hurt or sick in his life, gains even more powers: now, he can fly, is super strong, super fast, invulnerable, affect nearby electrical devices, and he can fire Heat Vision from his eyes.

The obvious conclusion is that with these awesome powers, Brandon dedicates his life to truth, justice, and the American way goes completely apeshit and starts murdering people and destroying things. He massacres the chickens in his family farm. He stalks and injures the prettiest girl in school, Caitlyn Conner (Emmie Hunter) - which isn't too far from what Brandon Routh's Man of Steel did to Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane in Superman Returns, to be honest, although Superman had the courtesy not to be seen or break her hand. When his parents or his school tries to discipline him, he boasts that he's "something superior" and makes veiled threats. And he murders, boy howdy, does he murder! Brandon likes to learn about human anatomy and doodles grosteque drawings about what he's gonna do to people - and then he does them. Brandon murders Caitlyn's mom Erika (not unlike how Henry Cavill's Man of Steel murdered the African warlord at the start of Batman V Superman) and opens her up from the inside out. She also gets a shard of glass in her eye in a funhouse mirror homage to when a bullet bounced off of Superman's eye in Superman Returns.

As Brandon keeps on murdering, donning a scary red hood and cape that accentuates his horrible red, glowing eyes, his mom Tori goes out of her way to defend him, despite his transparent lies. Meanwhile, his dad Kyle is not so sure about him anymore and the guilt they have of never telling Brandon about being from outer space bears down on them. When Tori finally confesses to Brandon that he's not really their son, his violent, incensed reaction is the polar opposite of how Clark Kent always took the news that he's from Krypton. And the creepy alien voice from his spaceship is no Marlon Brando or Russell Crowe. There are themes of nature vs. nurture in Brightburn and Brandon occasionally expresses he wants to be good, but they get swept aside every time he loses his temper and the urge to kill rises - which is constant. Brandon also understands branding; he draws up his own logo and leaves it in blood at his murder scenes.

Eventually, there's just no talking to Brandon anymore and Kyle decides there's only one course of action left: take his son hunting and then shoot him in the back of the head. It doesn't go well. One of the clever bits of Brightburn is the casting; Dunn is suitably creepy and vicious as Brandon and Banks is excellent in the Martha Kent role, but casting David Denman is a masterstroke because of how much he evokes a bearded Ben Affleck. When Brandon realizes Kyle tries to kill him, Brightburn pushes the Knightmare scene in Batman V Superman where the Dark Knight is held prisoner by a fascist Superman to its most horrible conclusion. In a lot of ways, Brightburn is the Superman horror story Zack Snyder was always teetering on making (and reportedly wanted to go all-in on in his aborted concept for Justice League) before saner heads prevailed.

Finally, Brandon stalks and destroys his Kansas farmhouse and the sheriffs who have come to arrest him. Tori realizes Brandon is a super killer and goes for the one thing proven to hurt him, a shard of metal from his spaceship, but she fails to pull a Jon Snow on Brandon's Daenerys Targaryen and, like Robin Arryn, Brandon makes his mother fly. There's also a concluding bit involving an airplane that's reminscient of something similar that happened at the end of Chronicle, another tale of a teenage superpowered maniac. 

Brightburn does feel a bit slight when it comes to answers and it holds back from going deeper and fully exploring the menace that is Brandon Breyer, but for the Superman-derived horror it's trying to accomplish, it's efficient, effective, and very well done. There's also amusing set up for a sequel by talk show host Michael Rooker screaming about Brightburn, as this new super villain is called, as well as other menaces like a "half-human, half-sea creature" and a "woman who chokes people with a rope", so good, there's gonna be an evil Justice League. And, ironically, there's far more likely to be a Brightburn 2 than a Man of Steel 2.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Game of Thrones Season 8 at Screen Rant


Game of Thrones season 8 concluded the biggest show in the world. I was thrilled to be part of the main Game of Thrones team covering the final season at Screen Rant with a sweet gig as the God of Death charting everyone who died plus a weekly deep dive into each episode, and more. Here are all my features linked below:


Friday, April 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame



"Whatever it takes" is the never-say-die mantra of Joe and Anthony Russo's Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd film and the pinnacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What it takes, to echo a victorious Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Avengers: Infinity War, is everything... and everyone. Faced with their greatest defeat and the deaths of trillions - half of all life in the universe wiped out by a snap of Thanos' Infinity Gauntlet-wearing fingers - the surviving Avengers regroup and take the fight to Thanos. Their hope is to use the Infinity Stones to bring everyone back. Not all of the Avengers make it through. But over the course of a fluidly-paced 3 hours and 2 minutes, the titanic and unprecedented Avengers: Endgame brilliantly subverts expectations, crescendos, and brings the first 11 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a magnificent and beautiful conclusion while never losing focus on these characters we've come to love so much.

Avengers: Endgame is essentially four movies in one. Picking up 23 days after Infinity War, the Avengers are smarting from their loss. When Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) rescues Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), who were stranded in space, and brings them back to Earth, the Avengers set out to lay the smackdown on Thanos at his "retirement home" on a planet called the Garden. But again, they are too late: Thanos destroyed the stones and not even Thor (Chris Hemsworth) aiming for the head with his magical ax can set this right. The Avengers lose again and that's that. Five years later, Endgame picks up with a spin on HBO's The Leftovers as the heroes and the human race cope with their new reality. Tony Stark moved on and he has a precocious daughter now. But some Avengers like Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) just can't. Others, like Thor, just give into despair and let themselves go. Suddenly, the tiniest, most impossible shred of hope arrives when Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) shows up at the Avengers' door with the craziest of crazy schemes: a time heist - travel back in time and collect the Infinity Stones before Thanos can and then use the Stones to bring everyone back.

The time heists are the centerpiece of Endgame and they brilliantly (and confusingly so don't think too hard about it - Back to the Future this ain't) take Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Thor, Natasha Romanoff, Nebula, Scott Lang, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) back to key moments of past MCU movies to nab the Stones. Rogers, Stark, Lang, and Hulk arrive in New York City 2012 at the aftermath of The Avengers to collect the Space, Mind, and Time Stones, which were all in NYC at that exact moment in time. Nebula and Rhodey go to Morag to the moment when Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) first stole the Power Stone in Guardians of the Galaxy. Rocket and Thor go to Asgard to steal the Reality Stone, which is imbued in the body of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) during Thor: The Dark World. And Barton and Romanoff travel to Vormir, 4 years before Thanos would trade the life of his daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) for the Soul Stone, both unaware of the rules of how to gain the Soul Stone means one of those Avengers isn't coming back.

The chaos that ensues during the time heists is simply ingenious, filled with numerous moments that connect to other MCU movies like Ant-Man and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Stark and Lang hilariously fail to get the Space Stone, which means Steve and Tony have to call an audible and make a side time heist to a secret SHIELD base in the 1970s where they both encounter younger versions of Tony's father Howard Stark (John Slattery) and the love of Steve's life, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who is also joined in a cameo by her Agent Carter co-star Jarvis (James D'Arcy). There's also a brilliant nod to the controversial Nazi Captain America story in recent Marvel Comics when two Steve Rogers from two different time periods fight after the future Steve pretends he's a member of Hydra. Meanwhile, in 2013, Thor gets to heal some of his broken heart by seeing his mother Frigga (Rene Russo) one last time. And, in 2014, the younger versions of Thanos, Gamora, and Nebula find out that the future Nebula is trying to steal the Power Stone. Even more malevolent in 2014, Thanos is cursed with knowledge of his ultimate success in the future and he decides to get that big win now; Thanos manages to pull off a time heist of his own and arrives five years later to lay waste to Avengers headquarters and mount a full-scale invasion of Earth.

It's shocking to realize that the epic battles that closed out Infinity War were merely a drop in the bucket compared to Endgame's finale, which matches and even outdoes anything seen in Star Wars or Lord of the Rings for sheer spectacle. The Avengers use the Infinity Gauntlet to bring back... everyone... and during the melee, the resurrected superheroes like Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) all get important bits of business to play keep-away with the Infinity Gauntlet, fight Thanos, or both. In addition, other heroes like the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) finally get to fight alongside the Avengers when Captain America, at long last, utters the rallying cry, "Avengers Assemble!" But the most important and fitting rallying cry of all is by Tony Stark himself, who started all of this when he uttered: "I am Iron Man!" Stark says it once more, pulling a rabbit out of a hat and placing the crowning touch on the story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Avengers: Endgame is a miraculous achievement by all involved - and just about everyone who was part of this Marvel Studios journey was involved. The film smartly gives focus to some characters, like Clint Barton and Scott Lang, who didn't get to play a role in Infinity War, it honors Natasha Romanoff (and Scarlett Johansson) as the unsung soul of the Avengers, and it offers a fitting new beginning for Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, but most of all, Endgame gives sweet closure to the two pillars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Chris Evans' Steve Rogers and Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark. Captain America and Iron Man broke the Avengers apart in 2016 but together they get to go out as friends, brothers, and legends who will never be forgotten. Avengers: Endgame is a glorious celebration of these characters, their love for each other, and our love for the single greatest cinematic universe that defines a generation. Our world is bigger and better thanks to the Avengers, who will continue on to teach our grateful universe about sacrifice, family, and that we can be the best version of ourselves if we do whatever it takes.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 On Screen Rant


Star Trek: Discovery is back for season 2 with Spock, Captain Pike, and me writing tons of stuff about it for Screen Rant. Linked below are all my season 2 features for the Disco: