Amazon’s The Boys Reminds Us To Never Meet Our Heroes (A Non-Spoiler Review)

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If you have not yet subscribed to Prime Video (Amazon’s streaming service), then now is the perfect time. Why? Because their newest show The Boys is an absolute beast, and I mean that in the very best way. Why else would it be one of the most-watched Amazon Originals just two weeks after its release?

The Boys, based on Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s Dynamite Entertainment comic books of the same name, takes us to a world where superheroes are celebrities controlled by Vought International, a corporation which puts profit, image, and power over saving lives. Their primary group of heroes are called The Seven, led by the all-powerful Homelander (Antony Starr). After suffering a personal tragedy, young Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) gets recruited by the mysterious Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) in his quest to “spank” the supes and their excessive ways.

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The Beardict: 9 out of 10. The Boys just blew me away with its compelling story line, flashy costumes, and over-the-top acts of violence. It could very well fill the TV show void that Game of Thrones unceremoniously left behind. The treatment of superheroes as demi-gods is both fantasy and reality, as we do tend to put our idols on a pedestal and not look beyond the surface. It asks one of the most important questions of our time: how much control does the average person have when he/she is surrounded by giants?

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Superheroes with super flaws. We were fortunate enough to attend The Boys’ panel during San Diego Comic-Con 2019. Fun fact: They announced that the show was already renewed for Season 2 even before it premiered on July 26, which tells us a lot about Amazon’s confidence in The Boys.

There, showrunner Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and executive producer Seth Rogen (Preacher) talked about how The Boys is the perfect counter to all the Marvel and DC superhero movies that have dominated pop culture recently. And they’re right, it’s essentially a parody of the genre because of how The Seven, basically a dysfunctional version of the Justice League, are presented: Homelander is a hybrid Superman-Captain America with psychopathic tendencies, Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) is a jaded Wonder Woman, A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) is an extremely irresponsible Flash, and the Deep (Chace Crawford) is a messed-up and laughably depowered Aquaman. Only newcomer Starlight (Erin Moriarty), their version of Dazzler, is up to the task of actually making a positive difference in the world, and she quickly finds out that Vought may not be on the same page as her.

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It’s all about control and manipulation. In Captain America: Civil War, Steve Rogers fights against the Sokovia Accords because he believes that the Avengers should supervise themselves. In The Boys, instead of the American government, Vought’s VP Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue) controls the superheroes’ every move. If they save someone, it must be on camera. If a bystander gets hurt, then marketing/PR needs to come up with a valid excuse.  They effectively use The Seven’s abilities to secure ratings, appeal to their demographic, and sell merchandise. Think reality TV on overdrive–with capes, ass-kicking, and human lives at stake.

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What it’s like to be normal in a world full of superheroes? Two things–collateral damage, and the realization that there’s nothing you can do about it. They jumpstart the plot, and everything goes haywire from there. In superhero movies, the regular folks are always on the sidelines. Here, Billy Butcher and his grudge against the supes are front and center. His rugged look and demeanor emphasize how different average people are compared to The Seven. The rest of his squad A.K.A. The Boys – Hughie, Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), Frenchie (Tomer Capon), and The Female (Karen Fukuhara) get in all sorts of trouble during the first season in a frustrated effort to expose Vought and their shady activities.

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Karl Urban leads a cast of sci-fi/fantasy veterans. He may not be the most talked about Hollywood actor, but Urban probably has the most science fiction and fantasy properties under his belt–The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Thor: Ragnarok, Dredd, Chronicles of Riddick, Pathfinder, Doom, Priest, Almost Human… Do I even need to continue? He even had minor roles in Pete’s Dragon and Xena: The Warrior Princess! You may also recognize his co-stars in other sci-fi/fantasy projects: Jack Quaid was in The Hunger Games, while Erin Moriarty played a supporting role in the first season of Jessica Jones. Chace Crawford was in The Covenant (he was also in Gossip Girl, of course, who could forget?), while Elizabeth Shue was in Back to the Future Part II and III. Last but not the least, Karen Fukuhara played Katana, arguably the best character in the DCEU’s poorly-received Suicide Squad (She continues to be badass in The Boys).

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The blood. Don’t get me wrong, The Boys is an intelligent show with insightful dialogue. However, it does not scrimp on the gore at all and are at times downright barbaric. Almost every episode has flying body parts and multiple blood spatters. There’s no Endgame type of brawl, but the action scenes are pretty cool. With TV as awesome as this, it really is a great time to be alive.

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Everything is gray. You have The Seven on one side, and you have the The Boys on the other. One of the great things about this show is it you can route for either group and not feel bad about it. Everyone has reasons for doing what they do, and although some may be more valid than others, they are reasons nonetheless. Each episode is basically a test of morality as you find yourself agreeing to things you never thought you would.

More to come. At the end of Season 1, it’s pretty obvious that there there are still loads of stories to tell. During the first minute of the show, Vought’s promotional video talks about how 200 superheroes are under the corporation. Just think of the possibilities! Additionally, it seems Mr. Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito), Madelyn’s boss, is going to play a more active role in the second season, which means things are going to get even more dangerous.

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The Boys is such a refreshing take on the superhero genre, and whether you love people wearing spandex or not, it is the best show to binge watch this weekend.

Photos courtesy of Amazon Prime Video. All 8 episodes of The Boys’ Season 1 are now available for streaming om the platform!

Amazon Prime Video is available in the Philippines! Head to primevideo.com to start your free 1-month trial, or subscribe to a discounted rate of 2.99 USD (roughly 150+ PHP)  per month for the first six months (This post is not sponsored).

 

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Beautiful: The Carole King Musical warms us inside with its relatable story and classic tunes

In “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” we see Carole’s journey from hopeful teenager to genius composer, all the way to becoming a confident performer and recording artist.

The Beardict: With her amazing performance in Beautiful, Kayla Rivera goes all the way and brings Carole King right before our eyes. Atlantis Theatrical does a stellar job in showing us how much musical impact King brought over the years—whether as a composer in the sidelines or a singer in front of the crowds. Without a doubt, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is a delightful and relatable ride for both young and old folks alike.

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The story: While it’s true that everyone has a story to tell, the most inspiring ones almost always have simple beginnings. Carole was shown as a shy, unassuming 16-year-old girl, but with talent and tenacity already coursing through her veins. 

She had a singular purpose: to be a composer, a profession dominated by men. Early on, we saw that musical fire in her come alive as she pushed her mom out of the piano chair so she can let her hear what she created. As things progressed, we witnessed how different stages of her life affected the music that she came up with and the lyrics that her husband Gerry Goffin wrote. 

Although her experiences were indeed beautiful, they were not without conflict. Her best friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who also worked under talent manager and music publisher Don Kirshner during that time, provided the much-needed comic relief while solving problems of their own. 

Aside from tackling Carole’s life and that of the people around her, “Beautiful” highlights how the music industry was during the 50s and 60s. Composers like Carole were always in the shadows but never the light, as the songs they wrote were assigned to popular singers and groups at the time. They also sometimes could not let their creativity flow freely, as they had to cater to what type of music would sell records. 

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The music: Carole King had many hits over the years, and a lot of them are featured in the musical. It’s one thing to appreciate their greatness as songs when we catch them on the radio or Spotify, but it’s another to actually know the meaning behind them. For example, “It’s Too Late” is an iconic song about a lost love, but in the musical, we get to find out why it was written and for whom. It is also very entertaining to get different versions of the songs she composed (like the way “Some Kind of Wonderful” has a version from both Carole and the Drifters), veering away from the traditional song-reprise format. 

Additionally, even though it is called The Carole King Musical, the theater production featuring songs from Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil was a nice touch that gave a better picture of the music prevailing during that time, and all the evolutions that followed. 

The performances: Kayla Rivera has been missed. She did well in “Aladdin” and “Addams Family,” but it’s pretty obvious that her excellent portrayal of Carole King is her new crown jewel. Her ability to convey emotions both through song and simple dialogue was quite effective, and she had great chemistry with costar Nick Varricchio (who played Gerry Goffin). 

Overall, together with Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante (Cynthia Weil) and George Schulze (Barry Mann), the main cast quartet had fantastic performances. However, my personal favorite among everyone is Schulze for being a true chameleon. If not for the souvenir program, I would not have realized that he is the same guy who played Earl in last year’s “Waitress!” Everything about Barry is different—look, posture, mannerisms, singing voice, speaking voice, and accent, and yet, Schulze was able to pull it off, and then some!

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Rounding up the awesome cast are theatre veterans such as Maronne Cruz, Jamie Wilson, and Carla Guevara-Laforteza, and a solid ensemble group who probably had more than 10 costume changes during the entire show. Of course, none of these would have mattered if the cast were not supported by an extremely talented orchestra led by Musical Director Farley Asuncion.

The style: The set was simple but quite effective. There were times when only Rivera and a piano were in front of the audience, and yet it didn’t feel like the stage was bare or lacking. I especially enjoyed how it felt like I was attending an actual Carole King concert whenever the scene focused on Carole playing in front of a crowd (the piano zooming towards the audience was just perfect). The ending song “I Feel The Earth Move” was casually performed after the curtain call, encouraging the audience to stand and clap to the beat.

The audience connection: We are positive that everyone who watches “Beautiful” would head home with a smile on their face. Whether you were already a teenager when “Locomotion” came out or your parents haven’t even met yet, you’re sure to find something to connect with while watching the musical. 

For the older generation, it’s the nostalgia that the songs bring. I watched with my dad, and it’s certainly the case with him. Born in the 50s, he told me that he knew almost all of the songs performed, and they reminded him of his younger years. “You’ve Got A Friend” was one of the first songs he learned to play on the guitar, and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” was actually a song he dedicated to a former crush. Woah, right? 

For the younger generation, it’s the reminder that good music is timeless and always relatable, no matter what decade you were born in or what genre you love listening to. I was not surprised at all when I went on a Carole King binge after I watched “Beautiful.” It was the right thing to do! 

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#AtlantisTwenty and Director Bobby Garcia are really on a roll this 2019. With “Angels in America” receiving rave reviews earlier this year, and now “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” charming its audiences to the fullest. We bet their version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” featuring Jett Pangan and Lea Salonga is bound to be a hit—and we honestly can’t wait!

Photos courtesy of Atlantis Theatrical. Catch Beautiful: The Carole King Musical every weekend from June 14 to July 7 at the Meralco Theater!

 

Rocketman takes off with the right combination of substance and flamboyance

“You gotta kill the person you were born to be to become the person you want.” In Rocketman (2019), we follow the colorful transformation of shy kid Reggie Dwight to the legend we now know as Sir Elton John.

The Beardict: As a full-on musical biopic, Rocketman takes off with the right combination of substance and flamboyance. The film allows us to know both the artist and the man–how Elton Hercules John had humble beginnings, rose through the ranks, broke records, and reached the top, all the while managing his tumultuous personal life. It is a beautiful explosion of music that reminds us why we listen to songs in the first place. If you were not an Elton John fan before, you would be now!

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Despite its movie title, Rocketman is not all lift off as we take a tour through the ups and downs in Elton’s life. Because of this, our moods bounce from I’M THE BEST to LIFE SUCKS. The movie presents us with so much relatable content. Elton realizes the hard way that being a genius in one thing doesn’t mean you’ll be a genius in everything. Making music is hard, but liking/being yourself is much, much harder. His belief in ‘killing’ Reggie Dwight made him lose control and float this always-happy persona (That scene in front of the mirror where he forces himself to smile is really tragic). His story inspires us to strive for greatness, but also serves as a cautionary tale about what comes with it (feeling empty, people taking advantage of you, etc.).

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Taron Egerton’s performance as Elton John is simply inspired. There were moments during the film that seemed like Taron was a man possessed, but in a very good way. Who knew he could sing and dance with such gusto? By showing his range, he is successfully veering away from just being called that guy from Kingsman.

Another thing Rocketman does well is introduce Elton John to a younger generation. Most millennials know him for either Lion King (Can You Feel The Love Tonight) or Princess Diana (Candle In The Wind), but obviously, he has so much more to offer. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that he’s had so many hits throughout the decades, and we’re pretty sure that the film’s release is going to result in a spike of Spotify listeners.

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When a film has a lot of material as basis, it tends to just copy what has been done before. Although Aladdin (2019) is without a doubt a magical remake of the well-loved Disney cartoon, you can sense that there were parts that they played it safe and followed the original too much (scene by scene, line by line). In the case of Rocketman, instead of having the character of Elton perform in front of concerts all the time, they used his songs to define certain periods of his life, from childhood to his rise to fame to his midlife crisis. Instead of a voiceover, we get to know Elton’s thoughts through the lyrics. They also assigned singing parts to other cast members, completing the musical feel of the biopic, without it looking like it was forced (La La Land, we’re looking at you!). In terms of direction, Dexter Fletcher obviously knew what he was doing, and the topnotch costume and production design really helped Rocketman soar.

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It’s hard not to compare Rocketman to Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). After all, they are both about the journey of music icons. However, there are other details that tie the two films. For example, is the name John Reid (Richard Madden), Elton’s long-time manager/lover, familiar to you? That’s because he was also Queen’s manager. (Trivia: In Bohemian, he is played by Aidan Gillen, another Game of Thrones alum). Director Dexter Fletcher was also the one who finished directing Bohemian after Bryan Singer’s abrupt departure from the project. What’s actually distinct about Rocketman is its focus on Elton as a gay man in a harsh world. A lot of his music are based on his experiences with the people around him – his parents, his friends, and his romantic partners – and how they reacted to him baring it all for the world to see. One more thing: Congratulations to Taron and the rest of the cast as well for not lip syncing any of the songs (their real voices were used)!

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Rocketman is great, yes. It’s weird, and we totally love it. However, we recognize that it may not be for everyone. Aside from the fact that Elton’s sexuality is central to the development of the story (something that may not sit well with more traditional moviegoers), you also have to like musicals, or at least be open to it. If you can’t stand characters expressing their feelings through song, then you should consider watching something else.

Overall, we think Rocketman is a powerful and honest take on how it must feel like to be a rockstar like Elton John—how he’s achieved so much more than an average human being ever would, but how in the end, he’s just like you and me: passionate but flawed, a Rocketman whose thrusters burn out from time to time but still manages to move forward. We can’t wait until it gets a Broadway version!

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Photos courtesy of Universal Pictures. Rocketman out now in cinemas near you!

What X-Men: Dark Phoenix Did Right

In X-Men: Dark Phoenix, our favorite team of mutants experience their biggest threat yet, and it comes from within their own ranks. While doing a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) bonds with a mysterious cosmic force that makes her not only extremely powerful but also more volatile, causing a rift between her and X-Men leader Charles Xavier (James McAvoy).

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The Beardict: Despite what the majority of critics and moviegoers are saying, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is no slouch. Sure, it suffers from some pacing problems, and the conclusion of the franchise may not be as “epic” as what we would have wanted, but it still packs a solid punch and gives us an entertaining film worthy of our time. Don’t be too convinced of how Rotten Tomatoes has rated it so far: Listen to your mutant-lover heart and give it a shot.

There have been way too many negative reviews on X-Men: Dark Phoenix already, so we’re going to approach it this way: highlight what the movie did right here, and discuss what stopped it from being great in another article.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

What went right:

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The Dark Phoenix treatment – visual effects and Sophie Turner’s performance. In 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, the Dark Phoenix power came from inside of Jean. This time around, they described it as a cosmic entity, which is more believable and closer to the source material. Visual effects were spot on, as the use of bright color for the Phoenix flame was effective in showing it as a force of both life and destruction (The Last Stand concentrated on the decay part too much). It was awesome to see the power course through Jean, as it seemed like she could take on Captain Marvel and Scarlet Witch at the same time. Fans were skeptical at first, but casting Sophie Turner as the title character was a stroke of genius. Showing a significant improvement to her X-Men: Apocalypse performance, her charm, towering presence, and ability to convey raw emotions are more than enough to convert non-fans to believers. 

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Cyclops is the best version of himself. The most mistreated character in the entire X-Men franchise is obviously Scott Summers. Supposed to be the X-Men’s ground leader and one of the most formidable mutants around, he has been constantly reduced to supporting roles movie after movie. If Jean is the MVP in Dark Phoenix, then Scott (Tye Sheridan) is definitely the MIP (Most Improved Player). Charles and the rest of the X-Men finally give him the respect he deserves, as his role in the team expands (after the departure of Mystique and Beast). We see the kids in the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters look to him for direction, and his love story with Jean is pivotal in determining how the Dark Phoenix story line begins and ends. Oh, and his optic blast? It’s used here more times than it was ever used in the past X-Men films combined.

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Good character development for the young X-Men. From being one of Apocalypse’s four horsemen to a bona fide X-Man, Storm has come a long way. We see shades of her leadership and loyalty in Dark Phoenix, and Alexandra Shipp does an excellent portrayal of Ororo, from her partnership with Cyclops down to the African accent that Halle Berry had in X-Men (2000) but conveniently forgot about in X2 (2003). Haha. Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) holds his own as well, as he gets over the need of being told what to do and embraces the lethal power that he has.

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The X-Men working as a team. In almost two decades of X-Men movies, a consistent problem has been the action scenes. It’s glorious seeing one-on-one battles (especially those involving Wolverine), but mutants, gifted as they are, should be seen working together. X-Men: Apocalypse started making mutant battles more fluid, and Dark Phoenix improved them further. Without a doubt, the space and train scenes of the film were among the best of the franchise as we get to see some of our classic X-Men heroes fighting as one unit.

Music. Hans Zimmer’s score was nothing short of perfection – adding a certain level of gravitas to each setting from the space mission scene to the final moments of Jean realizing her full Phoenix potential. Even Quicksilver’s slow-mo action scene received a more serious treatment this time around (versus using a decade-specific track a la Time In A Bottle or Sweet Dreams as in the previous X-Men films).

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Relevant social commentary. The X-Men comic books have always been political. Through the X-Men, creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made a statement about how people have always been resistant to diversity–it’s hard to live in a society when you are different. In Dark Phoenix, mutants get a reprieve from being misunderstood and find themselves in the right side of the law for once–proclaimed as heroes even by the president of the United States. However, all it took were a couple of incidents, and everyone turned their backs on them again. The movie may be set in 1992, and the world we live in now tries to be more understanding, but this still applies: When you’re different, people can still like you, but all it takes is one mistake, and they’ll forget everything you’ve done for them.

References. Despite obstacles, Dark Phoenix Director/Writer Simon Kinberg tries to connect the film to past X-Men efforts. For example, the Blackbird still comes out of the basketball court, and Charles and Erik’s bromance lives on through a game of chess. Seeing Dazzler (Halston Sage) during the X-Party in the woods was a pleasant surprise, and it definitely made comic book fans giddy.

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It’s hard to say goodbye to characters we’ve followed for years, but we have no choice but to let go. Now that the X-Men franchise is in Disney’s hands, we’re hopeful that the direction they take will be less complicated so their transition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be seamless. Who knows, maybe we’ll get an Avengers Vs. X-Men (AvX) adaptation in 10 years? Literally anything is possible.

Now that you’ve read what Dark Phoenix did right, check out the Beardict on what stopped Dark Phoenix from achieving greatness here

Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox. X-Men: Dark Phoenix out now in cinemas near you!

 

 

My Musings on Game of Thrones: The Long Night (Season 8, Episode 3)

My Musings on Game of Thrones: The Long Night (Season 8, Episode 3)

April 29 was an intense day on social media. As soon as the Long Night (Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3) finished, social media accounts were caught in a frenzy, posting (and virtually screaming) all sorts of reactions: from status messages without context, to memes, to downright spoilers. Blood pressures went up and friendships were lost (because of spoilers), but now we’re left with the question: Was it worth all the hype? I can’t speak for everyone, but…

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The #Beardict: As the most ambitious episode/battle sequence Game of Thrones has released to date, The Long Night (Battle of Winterfell) tries to live up to the very high expectations through its non-stop action and suspense, but ultimately ends up lacking in storytelling. Although it does give us with the greatest assembly of Game of Thrones characters ever, fitting farewells to the characters we’ve come to love since Day 1, and a sense of direction moving forward, I can’t help but feel that a very important part of the show was closed abruptly, leaving a lot of questions unanswered.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s impossible to please everyone, and we should just be happy that we’re alive to witness such a great moment on television. Be that as it may, being a loyal fan doesn’t mean we should not provide criticism when it’s due. Let’s get into our points, shall we?

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Many things didn’t make sense, and characters made very poor decisions. The Dothraki were the very first victims of this episode. This is what happens when your group is not represented properly when battle plans are made the night before. Haha. Whose bright idea was it to make them run into the dark when they’re not winter folk? The scene spit on Khal Drogo’s grave. I also get why Jorah Mormont was with them, semi-leading, but why was Ghost even in their faction?

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Daenerys didn’t use Drogon enough to help her soldiers on the ground. She saved Jon Snow when he was surrounded by wights, but for some reason, decided not to fly again, allowing Drogon to get super mobbed. Jorah basically died because Dany froze. Her case to be queen of Westeros just went out the window (Side note: It’s possible that there’s a deeper reason why Jorah was killed off this early in the season—without her stalwart sentry, traitors have a more open line to Dany *cough” Varys *cough*).

Additional questions: How did Sam and Davos survive even if they don’t really know how to fight? Why did Bran warg into crows and do nothing else? Was he taunting the Night King or recording history? Why was the crypt emphasized even though all the main characters were miraculously unharmed by the end of the ordeal?

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The Lord of Light is real, but the Azor Ahai isn’t? During the trench scene, Melisandre had her most vulnerable moment in Game of Thrones as she was not sure if the Lord of Light would heed her call and provide fire to keep the wights at bay. Thankfully, he did—visible proof that he is real. If that is the case, then why does it seem like the Azor Ahai prophecy is fake?  Throughout the series, Melisandre has been going on and on about the “one who was promised” by the Lord of Light, someone who would defeat the forces of darkness (presumably, the Night King) and save everyone in the realm. At first, she thought the reincarnation was Stannis (let’s face it, everyone was way ahead of Melisandre on this one and figured he’s not the Azor Ahai) but changed her mind when she saw Jon Snow. Steady in her newfound belief, she even goes to the extent of resurrecting Jon when he dies at the hands of traitorous Night’s Watch folks. In The Long Night, since Arya ends up being responsible for shattering the Night King into a thousand pieces, then why was Jon resurrected in the first place? Did he fulfill his destiny by bringing everyone together to fight the Night King? Was there really a coming of an Azor Ahai, or was Melissandre just busting our collective balls the entire time?

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Arya’s Destiny: Did Arya need to be the one to kill the Night King? Okay, since we just discussed the Azor Ahai prophecy—did Melisandre change her mind yet again and thought Arya was the one who was promised? She reveals that Beric Dondarion can now rest (he was resurrected by Thoros multiple times in the series) since he’s finally fulfilled his purpose—saving Arya from wights in this battle. However, Arya would be an odd choice to be the Lord of Light’s champion because she, in a way, believes in the Many-Faced God (this is the reason why she can wear many faces).

Anyway, before this episode, there was no indication that she was going to be the one to get rid of the Night King. Until recently, she didn’t even know about the looming threat of the White Walkers. You can say that the surprise is the beauty of it, but it disrespects the revenge list that Arya herself promised to finish. Her entire badass character growth was hinged on that list, and the Night King is such a deviation to her otherwise calculated plans.

Melisandre mentioned brown eyes, green eyes, and blue eyes—did this mean Walder Frey, Cersei, and the Night King? Or Meryn Trant, Littlefinger, and the Night King? People now have many combinations for Arya’s list of actual and potential victims, and although many fans are predicting a Cersei death under Arya’s capable hands—I don’t think this will happen anymore. Her contributions to the Battle of Winterfell have already propelled her to the top GoT characters tier (so much so that expecting mothers are planning to name their daughters Arya), and it will be quite unfair to the story/unbelievable if she ends up killing Cersei as well. My fearless forecast is that Cersei will be the one to kill Arya to make the finale really sting.

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The Night King went down like a punk without enough backstory. We know that to defend themselves from the First Men, the Children of the Forest did some nasty experiments and led to the creation of the Night King. Although it has been reported that his origin may be fleshed out in the planned Game of Thrones sequel, it’s quite sad that the Night King is now gone (after he was hyped season after season) but the questions still remain. Bran says the Night King wants “an endless night” to devour the world, but why? Who is he, really, and why can he smile but not talk? When Daenerys used Dracarys on him, he was quite smug about it because he knew he would not die. Since he was not affected by dragon fire, does that make him a Targaryen, or just an illogical ice being? While we’re on the subject of the Night King, let’s mention how he was so easily dispatched by Arya. She’s an assassin and all, but she’s still human, and he is not (Side note: You know why that Arya move is so familiar? Think Rey and that Last Jedi fight scene with Kylo Ren and the Praetorian Guards of Snoke).

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“You did nothing, Jon Snow.” A lot of memes are going around saying that Jon Snow was basically useless in the Long Night. After watching the episode twice and thinking about what Jon did, I can indeed say that he was, unfortunately, near useless. This started because Jon chose to ride Rhaegal and do How To Train Your Dragon adventures with Daenerys (as my girlfriend called to it) while all hell was breaking loose down below. As he’s not experienced with a dragon, he should have just remained on the ground with Ghost and did damage there. He could have joined Lyanna Mormont and her men in defending the opening, or helped out Theon in protecting Bran, or stayed with Daenerys so he and Jorah could team up to save the woman they love the most. Instead, he ended up running around aimlessly, lost on what to do. At one point, he saw Sam getting mobbed by wights and he didn’t even attempt to help his best friend. Before Arya struck the Night King with a dragon glass blade, he was seen screaming in front of Viserion, ready for his suffering to end (I thought Viserion would try to engulf him with blue fire but he’d survive because he’s a Targaryen). Fans suggest that he was actually distracting the ice dragon so Arya can head past them undetected, but I highly doubt that’s what the episode was going for.

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To be fair, we did see that Jon was feared by the Night King and his generals. When he was swerving with Rhaegal to attack the White Walkers below, a mysterious shroud intervened and pushed him away. When the Night King saw that Jon was only a few meters away from him, he rose an army of wights to come between them (it seemed he did not want to fight Jon one-on-one, because he might lose—he already saw Jon take care of White Walkers beyond the wall).  It’s kind of like when NBA teams play the Golden State Warriors – they concentrate their efforts in locking down Steph Curry, forcing him to have a bad game but freeing his teammates to do the work and attack the opposing team. This was a bad episode for Jon (even MVPs have bad days I suppose), but he did succeed in making the Night King lower his guard when he got taken out of the picture, leaving the path free for Arya to take advantage of. It’s just sad that what Jon set out to do from Season 1 was to protect Westeros from those beyond the Wall, and it’s not even him who gets to take the final blow.

Will Jon get to take the Iron Throne? No. Does he even want it? Not really. Will he help Dany take it? Most likely! Will they succeed? I don’t think so. Whatever happens, let’s all hope Jon Snow’s character is given justice and closure. He deserves at least that.

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Cersei as the big bad of Game of Thrones? When you progress in video games, you usually fight lesser bosses first before going up against the big boss at the end. The enemies you triumph against serve as stepping stones for the final showdown. Although Game of Thrones is not a video game, is it essentially saying that Cersei is a bigger bad than the Night King? It’s certainly anti-climactic given the Night King was described as the greatest threat the entire world has ever known. I’m under the belief that if the first scene of the show is about White Walkers, then one of the last scenes should be about them as well. However, the showrunners are probably reeling us towards the fact that at the heart of Game of Thrones is politics and warfare (Remember the War of the Five Kings?). Season 8 Episode 5 has been teased to even have a bigger battle than that of Winterfell, so I’m keeping my hopes up.

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Bonus: The dark cinematography – was it necessary? This is a controversial topic among fans, but in case you didn’t notice, The Long Night was unusually dark, bordering on pitch black already during some scenes. I joked that the only times the screen was visible (aside from the fire scenes) were when the clouds and subtitles were shown (The night is dark and full of darkness. Haha). The Internet complained and declared that the Battle of Helm’s Deep (from the Lord of The Rings: Two Towers) is still the best medieval-fantasy battle scene more than 15 years after its release. However, a lot of people were also quick to defend how the Battle of Winterfell was shot—that the show wanted us to feel how it was like being there: stressful and full of desperation. They also pointed out that this is why TVs have the brightness function. According to a Mashable report, the cinematographer Fabian Wagner blames “HBO’s video compression which he claims added pixilation and dark colors.” My stand here? HBO should have already told viewers in advance that the Long Night is meant to be dark, and that people can adjust the brightness if they become uncomfortable and can’t see anything anymore.

Thank God the Episode 4 preview already shows us some sun. Haha. Can’t wait for it!

Photos courtesy of HBO. Game of Thrones returns on HBO on May 6, Monday (SST 9AM).

Avengers: Endgame is a fitting close to a beautiful era of superheroes

A NON-SPOILER REVIEW (out of respect for the fans who haven’t watched yet)

Is April your birth month? Well, this 2019, every MCU fan’s birthday became April 24 (or 26, depending on your geographic location). Haha!

The Beardict: Avengers: Endgame has got to be the most hyped movie of all time! And yet, Marvel Studios, President Kevin Feige, and the Russo Brothers was able to craft a thing of beauty that lives up to our very high expectations, and then some. You can almost hear them say: “Some people mishandle their franchises and source material, but not us.” Endgame ties more than 10 years of Marvel Cinematic Universe goodness in a neat bow and presents us with a carefully gift-wrapped story that explodes right in front of our very (watery) eyes as soon as we step foot inside the cinemas, making us shake with raw emotions.

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Endgame speaks to us on a level that goes beyond a regular movie could ever do, kind of like a food dish that gives an umami flavor. Its ability to engage the audience more than any interactive film is an achievement by itself. It doesn’t matter if Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor are characters we grew up with, or we’ve only been acquainted with them for only a short period: Endgame effectively transforms us into happy kids having our first cinematic experience. 

A friend mentioned that Endgame is not “just a movie” (as non-fans would like to remind us every chance they get) but a well-developed masterpiece. Indeed, it is. It escapes the 3-hour movie trap and uses incredible pacing in showing character development, build-ups, and glorious fight scenes–all towards a very satisfying climax and conclusion. This is why for every post that talks about when to pee during Endgame, there are a lot more which provide tips on how not to pee at all–because each scene is simply important.

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Endgame is, without a doubt, the Russo Brothers’ crown jewel. It will be sad to see them go (they have said this will be their last MCU film for the foreseeable future), but they end their Marvel stay with a bang. Joe and Anthony Russo made their MCU directorial debut in 2014 with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Five years down the road, and it is arguably still the most solid Marvel film ever made (which headlines a solo superhero). They obviously didn’t rest on their laurels, because for each succeeding movie they’ve directed–from Captain America: Civil War to Avengers: Infinity War and now to Endgame–they have gotten better and better at transitioning from a world of spies and soldiers (S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra) to something that offers the largest collection of superheroes ever assembled. The Russo Brothers definitely leave an MCU in a great position to tell even more stories that we can enjoy. What a time to be alive!

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We can see how much study was done to portray a single character or display a certain scene. The level of respect is certainly there. Of course, not everyone gets equal screen time in a movie like Endgame, but rest assured that heroes previously glossed over have their shining moments here. Credit should also be given to screenplay writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus for doing an awesome job for inserting laugh-out-loud moments in an otherwise serious movie. To compare, Thor: Ragnarok was enjoyable, but its humor was a double-edged sword because it seemed as if the characters went out of their way to be funny. Thankfully, Endgame does not suffer the same fate. Instead, it has the most heartfelt movie lines that will be quoted for years to come.

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If you’ve watched Avengers: Endgame already, watch it again, and again, and again. It’s the gift that keeps on giving–you’ll always find small gems that you didn’t see before. So many references to the past films are there, so remember to pay close attention. As accessible as Endgame is to everyone who wants to watch a great movie, it serves as a huge thank you to the die-hard MCU fans who have been with the franchise since Day 1.

All of the positive reviews on Endgame will be superficial if it doesn’t translate to box office numbers. As of this writing, Box Office Mojo reports that the film has now broken so many records, including the highest 1-day opening ever (estimated at $156.7 million) in the US. In the Philippines alone, it has already garnered an unprecedented $10 million (I am proud to have contributed to this, and I’m sure many of you are too.) Can Endgame become the highest grossing movie of all time? Hopefully. The reigning champion is Avatar (2009) (Somehow, I want a #BeatAvatar hashtag to trend. Haha!). Its director James Cameron believes that superhero stories are overdone. With all due respect to one of the best filmmakers of our time, I disagree. If the genre continues to produce Endgame-caliber movies, why should it end? As the old adage says, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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Is Avengers: Endgame a perfect movie? No, simply because that’s an impossible undertaking (I personally have questions that I wish were answered, but that’s another article for another time). But wow, it’s super close to being one. Why, you ask? Because Marvel understands us better than anyone in the industry ever could.

Photos courtesy of Marvel Studios. Avengers: Endgame out now in cinemas near you!

Captain Marvel Brings #HigherFurtherFaster To The MCU

By: Jurmane Lallana

“Higher, further, faster, baby!”

It’s been barely a week since Captain Marvel photon-blasted her way towards the big screen. Reviews are mixed, and except for the fact that everyone is looking forward to Avengers: Endgame, the fans are currently divided on almost anything you can think of—from Brie Larson’s casting/performance as Carol Danvers to whether or not Captain Marvel does well as a stand-alone film or if it only serves as an appetizer for Endgame. Let’s attempt to discuss some of the issues here, but first…

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The Beardict: 8 out of 10. Captain Marvel is a stellar start to Marvel’s new wave of superhero films. Although technically still part of the MCU’s Phase Three, the generous display of power and leadership effectively establishes Carol Danvers as the premier hero of Phase Four. As an origin movie, it skips the awkward stages of development and presents Captain Marvel right away as a “noble warrior hero” who sees the light and showcases a glimpse of her full potential during the film’s climax (I got really emotional when she went Binary and MAY have shed tears). Oh, and it gives us 90s nostalgia through its awesome soundtrack and references, which is always a plus in my book. Captain Marvel is definitely not perfect, and I’m saying that as a fan who has been anticipating this for years now. However, my belief in Marvel Studios remains intact, and things can only get better for the franchise from here on out. The best treat for yourself is to watch the movie on IMAX, so you can see Carol’s thrilling adventure in its full glory.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

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Brie Larson as Carol Danvers

With an Academy award under her belt, Brie Larson brings a lot of talent and experience to the MCU. However, Captain Marvel is the first female-led movie from Marvel Studios, and that puts a big responsibility on her shoulders. Her detractors often cite two complaints against Brie: 1) She’s a hardcore feminist whose controversial comments cause certain demographics not to watch her movie, and 2) she simply doesn’t look, act, or sound like a superhero.

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For 1), while it is true that Brie identifies herself as a feminist and has a lot of things to say about society, it does not mean that she only wants women watching Captain Marvel. Many media and vloggers have blown up what she said about wanting more diversity in the movie critic industry, and twisted her comments into something toxic and racist: that white men should be offended and they should boycott the movie. Even in the Philippines, literally any Captain Marvel promotional post is littered by people saying that the movie will tank because the main actor doesn’t care about her audience. Rotten Tomatoes even had to change their system of how movies are rated because trolls kept bombing Captain Marvel with abysmal scores even before its release.

For more clicks and views, the Internet tried to derail MCU’s plan of making Captain Marvel a shining beacon for empowerment. Fortunately, as of this writing, Box Office Mojo reports that the film is expected to have an estimated 153M USD opening weekend (domestic US), which means that all the hate for the movie pre-release was not enough to hamper its success.

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For 2), to Brie Larson’s credit, although she would not have been my first choice (Emily Blunt as Captain Marvel would have been perfect), it seems Marvel was right to cast her as Carol all along. Because of her strong personality and non-apologetic stance when it comes to the causes she believes in, she is able to embody the essence of Captain Marvel even when off-screen: a woman who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo despite the potential backlash that may occur.

In terms of her actual performance as Carol/Captain Marvel, all things considered, I think she did a good job in depicting how a gifted Kree solider would be if she lost her memory. Despite initial criticism received from the trailers that she is emotionless/does not smile at all, Brie’s acting does not disappoint, and she is able to make Carol relatable, especially during her conversations with Nick Fury. In the next installments, now that her past is no longer in question, we will most likely see a more confident Carol Danvers from Brie, something that many viewers were probably looking for already in her debut film.

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Marvel Studios establishes Captain Marvel as MCU’s Superman

Captain Marvel is often compared to DC superheroes. Because she is bannering MCU’s first solo film with a female lead, both fans and bashers would like to know how she measures up against Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Additionally, Shazam (slated to be released on April 5 and headlined by Zachary Levi as the titular character) is traditionally called “Captain Marvel” as well, so people are also talking about which film would be better.

Although these comparisons are valid, the real contest here is actually between Captain Marvel and DC’s golden boy himself, Superman. Powered by the lightspeed engine from the Tesseract, Carol ends up being the strongest Avenger (sorry, Hulk and Thor) and can stop warheads and crash spaceships with minimal effort. That ending scene where Carol looks back at the Earth fondly moments before she departs with the Skrulls? That’s something Superman would do.

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Clearly, President Kevin Feige and the folks at Marvel Studios saw how Man of Steel (2013) failed to captivate its audience, so they proceeded with Captain Marvel with these two things in mind:

#1: Make MCU’s most powerful hero have a solid connection with the female demographic. Basically uncharted territory for them, it was a bold move for Marvel Studios to emphasize Captain Marvel’s gender during the marketing efforts. For example, the trailers highlighted HER in HERO, and release date was set on International Women’s Day. Aside from Carol Danvers, they also featured formidable female characters like ace pilot and best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and Kree Starforce sniper Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan).

Although Wonder Woman was great, Batman and Superman are such icons already that other DC heroes tend to automatically live in their shadows. By making Captain Marvel the strongest MCU character, they are able to boost the name Carol Danvers, a heroine, to the level of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark.

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#2: Concentrate on the fact that Captain Marvel is a human being. The Supreme Intelligence made the mistake of reminding Carol that she’s human, and it led to her drawing strength from it. However, that reminder was not only for Carol, but also for us. Her humanity makes her relatable and inspirational, as she’s not a male alien who arrived on Earth to avoid planetary destruction.

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The genius of Captain Marvel’s twist and secrecy

Once again, Marvel Studios proves that it is a master when it comes to trailers. People always become wary of their trailers because it seems they show too much, but each time, we get amazed at how there was no spoiler at all. For Captain Marvel, they were able to keep the characters played by Ben Mendelsohn (General Talos), Annette Bening (Supreme Intelligence/Wendy Lawson/Mar-Vell) and Jude Law (Yon-Rogg) secret. The Kree turn out to not be so noble after all, and the shapeshifting Skrulls A.K.A. the supposed bad guys are only looking for a new home.

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For the longest time, speculators were so sure that Jude Law was Mar-Vell, and some comic book fans may actually be irked to find out that Mar-Vell’s gender was bent (his alias in the comics is actually Dr. Walter Lawson). However, having Mar-Vell as a female mentor to Carol does work better, as it makes the passing of the torch more symbolic.

S.H.I.E.L.D. is a welcome blast from the past

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The last MCU film that focused on S.H.I.E.L.D was Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Age of Ultron only featured a marginal appearance from Nick Fury), and the organization has definitely been missed. Seeing how the state of the 90’s S.H.I.E.L.D. operations was really funny, knowing how advanced things were in the Avengers (2012). Their headquarters was shown to be in Los Angeles, which ties up nicely to the storyline of Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) being transferred to the LA office during the show’s second season.

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We saw two-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) with his “high clearance” at level 3. His short partnership with Carol prompted him to start the Avengers Initiative, and most likely inspired him to reach the top of the ladder as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. so he could protect the world while she was away.

We also saw a younger Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), a beloved character who has not appeared in an MCU movie in seven years. He will always be the reason why the Avengers came together and saved the world.

Captain Marvel in Avengers: Endgame and beyond

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Of course, it was very strategic for Captain Marvel to open around a month before Endgame, so events of the movie are still fresh in our minds when we enter the cinemas for the fourth installment of the Avengers. Although there’s a certain level of satisfaction obtained from watching Captain Marvel while knowing the details of the other MCU films, it’s not a requirement. One can basically watch the movie, understand what’s happening, and get entertained even if that person hasn’t seen Infinity War.

On the other hand, it becomes a must-watch for anyone who wants to know more about her potential role in Endgame. As the post-credit scene showed us, Carol is probably just a few minutes away from charging into the rice terraces and punching Thanos in the face (Mar-Vell was right all along about lightspeed technology ending wars, just not the way she expected it to). Having said that, it won’t be a deus ex machina scenario either, for sure. I have this wild theory that Captain Marvel gets mind-controlled by a resurrected Ebony Maw, and so the original six Avengers have to band together to defeat her. Haha. Imagine the possibilities!

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Beyond Endgame, as Captain America and Iron Man take a bow, stories revolving around newer Marvel properties such as Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange will become front and center in Phase Four. For the second installment of Captain Marvel, it can focus on Carol’s continuous battles with the Kree (remember, Yon-Rogg and Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser are both still out there), or it can pick up after Endgame. Whatever the case, if there will be another Avengers movie in the near future, Carol will most likely lead that team (she was, after all, the leader of the Mighty Avengers at one point in the comic books).

The Goose effect

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Just as Marvel dedicated posters and collaterals for Goose, I will also dedicate one whole paragraph for our favorite fluffy Flerken. In the comics, Carol’s pet is actually named Chewie (after Star Wars’ Chewbacca). Early reviews of Captain Marvel said that Goose was a scene stealer, and we actually didn’t know the extent of it until Goose eats the Tesseract through his hidden alien mouth. Unlike the porgs from the Last Jedi which were criticized because they had no use at all except for being cute and selling merchandise, Goose succeeds in being both an aww factor and an important plot mover. Universally-liked, there are already reports that Goose will have a role in Avengers: Endgame. Personally, I’m interested in seeing his interactions with Rocket and Groot!

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Together with the rest of the Avengers, Captain Marvel will face Thanos in Avengers: Endgame (opening April 26). I am so grateful that we live in a time where the distance between 1995 and 2019 is just a month. Haha. Until then, I’ll continue using #HigherFurtherFaster as my motto, and I suggest you do too.

Photos courtesy of Marvel Studios. Captain Marvel is currently available in cinemas near you! 

Netflix’s Sex Education Teaches A Lot About Life (And Sex)

Sex Education is a coming-of-age story that centers on Otis, an awkward teenager who becomes even more awkward because of his sex therapist mom. School outcast Maeve spots Otis’ talent at giving sex and relationship advice, and convinces him to start a sex therapy clinic with her.

In an age where movie and series titles can be confusing, Sex Ed is as straightforward as a show can be—we already have an idea of what we’re getting into when we decide to watch it. With only eight episodes, it’s definitely a strong candidate for our weekend Netflix binge.

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The Beardict: Sex Ed is able to get the realness of life. It’s not all drama and it’s not all comedy; it’s able to simulate what a normal day of a teenager is like: exciting but also full of cringe (I can’t count how many times I had to hit pause because of the embarrassment that was about to come. Haha.). Sex Ed is unapologetic, branding nothing as taboo. Nothing is weird simply because everything is.

With that said, here are the lessons we picked up while watching Sex Education:

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

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  • People are brought together by circumstance and form unlikely alliances. Arguably, the best parts of Sex Ed are when Otis, Eric, and Maeve work together to perform a task. They’re so dysfunctional that it actually works—much like Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. Come to think of it: Like Harry, Otis is brilliant but heavily awkward (the “magic” basically is in his blood), Eric has Ron’s loyal best friend mentality except he’s extra fabulous, and with her insight and quick actions, Maeve would be Hermione only if she didn’t scare people to death. If we do get a season 2, we certainly look forward to more adventures with this trio.

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  • It’s okay to think and talk about sex. This already goes without saying, right? Well, in the Philippines where everything is almost always more conservative, people find it hard to open up about sex because it might be considered too vulgar. However, Sex Ed reminds us that it’s perfectly normal to tackle sex head on. Like all things, it can be sad, it can be bad, but it can also be wonderful and mind-blowing. Furthermore, a lot of sexual problems are connected to life problems, and vice-versa. For example, in the show, Otis points out that the reason why sex between Ruthie and Tanya is never okay is because Ruthie is not emotionally connected to the experience (she likes someone else). We also see Aimee’s pushover attitude crossover to her sex life–when asked about what she wants, she doesn’t know because she’s always allowed others to tell her what she should do. When Otis fixes her sexual problem, she finally finds the courage to rebuff her social clique and declare her friendship with Maeve.

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  • “My vagina has betrayed me.” Sex Ed teaches us that we can be brutally honest because it won’t be the death of us (well at least, in most cases). Codes and mind games should take a backseat because the truth is awesome. There are two paragons of honesty in Sex Ed. First off, we have Lily (my personal favorite). She doesn’t have everything figured out, but she’s not set back by inaction, to put it lightly. For the majority of the season, she’s on a quest to have her first sexual experience. When Jean asks her what happened to Otis, without hesitation, she answers that they were trying to have sex (she says this with both Jean and Jakob in the room). Secondly, we have Ola. She flirts with Otis, tells him she likes him, and ends up getting invited to the school dance. Though at one point she gets labeled as a goat (not her fault, by the way), her journey in the show is pretty smooth sailing, and it’s because she says what’s on her mind.

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  • “You’re 16. You’re not supposed to know the answers to anything… You’re going to be just fine.” Sex Education assures us that giving ourselves time to figure out things is a decency we owe to ourselves. Sure, Jean used Otis’ young age to calm him down after he told her that he’s not normal. However, as evidenced by all the parents in the show, even adults haven’t fully understood how to live, and they still learn a lot from their kids as they watch them grow up. And on that note…

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  • If you’re going to live like this, you have to toughen up. This was what Eric’s dad told him when he went home bruised after Otis was a no-show at their supposed Hedwig and the Angry Inch meetup. Mr. Effoing doesn’t really approve of Eric’s sexuality, but he tries to be the best parent he can be. In the end, he even says “Maybe I am learning from my brave son.” All parents shown in Sex Ed try to be there for their children (yes, even Principal and Mrs. Groff), but they differ in their approaches because it’s quite difficult to do. As Jakob said to Jean when they were talking about their kids: “We can never let them know how much they make us feel lonely.”

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  • Sex Education shows that “you can’t choose who you’re attracted to. You can’t engineer a relationship.” This bathroom stall advice from Otis was specific to a sex clinic case he was working on, but you can see it throughout the eight episodes of the season. Otis is proof of this; he didn’t want to fall for Maeve (especially because he thinks he’s a kangaroo and she’s a lioness) but because of all the time they spent together doing the clinic, he did anyway… and got a massive erection when Maeve touched his eyebrow (possibly one of the funniest scenes in Sex Ed).

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  • Things can be pretty messed up, but there is already a level of acceptance even in a toxic environment such as high school, indicating times have changed. Notice how the characters didn’t have to explain how certain things were in the show? They were just accepted and treated as normal with no stigma attached. For example, raised by an interracial lesbian couple, the golden boy Jackson is black and is good at both sports and academics (he has a lot of insecurities but I believe he does not mention his race once). Anwar, whom Eric fancies and hates at the same time, is a fashionable Indian gay guy who is part of Moordale’s elite and thinks he’s better than everyone else. His friend Ruby, the self-proclaimed queen bee and Regina George of the school, is also non-white but is at the top of the food chain and preys on all the “losers” on campus. Interestingly enough, the weakest in their quartet happens to be rich white girl Aimee, who hangs around them to be cool but keeps getting bossed around on a daily basis.

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More to this point, Eric and Anwar are the only two openly gay guys shown on Moordale, and yet nobody suggests or asks why they can’t get along since they’re both gay anyway. In the same way, the show doesn’t need to explain why Ola and Jakob don’t share the same ethnicity since they have a daughter-father relationship. As best friends, Otis and Eric don’t share a “no homo” moment, and they don’t skimp on showing physical affection towards each other just because Otis is straight and Eric is gay.

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  • “You owe me a birthday.” Maeve-Otis scenes are awesome, but the highlight of the show may just be the friendship between Otis and Eric. Their rift was really uncomfortable to watch as their daily banter was the oil that kept the show engine running. However, it made their reunion sweeter, culminating in a heartwarming dance. Eric supports Otis almost without question, and Otis dresses up in drag because he knows it’s important for Eric. They are, without a doubt, #FriendshipGoals.
  • There’s some sort of sex education inception that happens. Maybe we can call it a Sex Eduception? Kidding aside, what we mean by this is that the Otis’ clients approach him for advice and they learn from his wisdom, and yet, at the same time, Otis learns from each client he talks to. Watching Otis and his sessions helps us viewers learn too. So in the end, who really is having the sex education?

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  • “What do you get someone who’s having an abortion? Sunscreen. They need it in hell.” Despite this quote from the protester outside the clinic, Sex Education does not judge at all and tells us not to dwell on decisions we’ve made in the past. In most shows, when a character undergoes something controversial such as an abortion, her entire storyline begins to revolve around it, and her decision whether to go through with it or not becomes the climax of her story. We love how Sex Education puts this arc at the start of the show and does not let the abortion define who Maeve is. Otis doesn’t mention it again, and although it may have played a part in her reluctance when it comes to Jackson, it’s not the focus of their breakup. The real culprit is Jackson overwhelms Maeve, because he’s “too much.”

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  • Life sucks, but not everything is bad, and there’s always hope. Not everyone had a happy season ending in Sex Ed, but Adam probably had the worst. His father issues remain unresolved and to top it off, he gets shipped off abruptly to military school against his wishes. Despite all of this, he was able to have a moment with Eric, and he found their lost dog just sitting on the grass, waiting for him. Although we saw him leaving, his story is most likely far from over. Hopefully, Principal Groff gets to show Adam his fun side, and they repair their severely damaged relationship.
  • “It’s my vagina!” This scene was pretty funny and heartwarming because everyone in the student assembly just kept on shouting “vagina” (even guys) in support of someone they didn’t even know. This reminded me of that scene in In & Out where everyone kept shouting “I’m gay!.” Sure, it’s overly cheesy, and Ruby probably didn’t deserve such a save, but Moordale High, for once, banded together and became one voice, and that’s a good thing.

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  • At the end of the day, we’re all just high schoolers who need “teachers” to believe in us. Miss Sands recognized Maeve’s excellent writing ability and encouraged her to say out loud that she’s smart. Mr. Hendricks from the brand asked Eric to join even though he’s not (yet) particularly good. All the students who came to Otis for advice – they just need someone to steer them towards the right direction. They simply need an honest conversation. Don’t we all?

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  • Sex Education actually makes the procedural drama format interesting. You know how in crime and detective shows like C.S.I., someone mysteriously dies at the start and that’s the case they take on for that episode? For almost all of Sex Ed’s episodes, they start off with side characters who experience sex and relationship mishaps, and it gives us a clue of what Otis will handle throughout the episode in terms of the sex clinic. They act as plot devices that move the show along and make us understand Otis’ method of thinking more.

Sex Education’s treatment of teenage drama is certainly fresh, and we obviously want more!

Photos courtesy of Netflix. Sex Education is now available for streaming on Netflix.

Welcome!

Hi there!

To friends or anyone who accidentally ended up here, I welcome you to my review site called Beardict, short for Bear’s Verdict. Here, I try to review movies, TV shows, and anything about pop culture that I find interesting. Please bear with me as I get this blog up and running. Check back in for updates!

Enjoy!

Jurmane

What Stopped X-Men: Dark Phoenix From Being Great

In X-Men: Dark Phoenix, our favorite team of mutants experience their biggest threat yet, and it comes from within their own ranks. While doing a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) bonds with a mysterious cosmic force that makes her not only extremely powerful but also more volatile, causing a rift between her and X-Men leader Charles Xavier (James McAvoy).

The Beardict: It’s far from perfect, but we like Dark Phoenix. We even outlined the things that the film was able to do correctly. Be that as it may, we know it has its fair share of problems. Here, we discuss the things that stopped Fox’s final X-Men film from achieving greatness.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

The choice of Dark Phoenix Saga as source material. The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic story lines. At the heart of it was the relationship between the X-Men and Jean Grey ultimately sacrificing herself, but it took four years of storytelling (30+ issues) and character development in the comic books to get there. On the other hand, Dark Phoenix attempted to accomplish relationship building, introducing/resolving internal conflicts and establishing characters introduced in X-Men: Apocalypse in under 2 hours, which resulted in too much drama and uninspired dialogue.  To compare, with Avengers: Endgame, you feel the weight of each scene more because the Marvel Cinematic Universe spent 10 years building towards it.

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Dark Phoenix could have translated a lot of iconic lines to the big screen. For example, in the comic books, Jean says “I am fire and life incarnate. Now and forever – I am Phoenix.” The Watcher, the ultimate observer of events in the Marvel Universe (Earth-616), describes what Jean went through: “Jean Grey could have lived to become a god. But it was more important to her that she die… a human.” Instead, in Dark Phoenix, we are given at least 3 iterations of Jean saying “when I lose control, bad things happen,” and Magneto saying “Who’s blood is that?” more times than we can count.

A simple reason why the Dark Phoenix Saga was going to be tricky to adapt? X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) already tackled this, and no matter what your feelings are about that film, it was released more than a decade before Dark Phoenix (2019).  Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) didn’t feel like a repeat because it chose not to focus on Uncle Ben and the origin of Peter Parker’s powers–it understood that the audience already knows about these things and does not care much about them anymore.

Corporate decisions AKA the Disney takeover. In 2018, it was reported that Walt Disney Co. was in talks to acquire Fox. On March 20, 2019, it became official. How does this affect X-Men: Dark Phoenix? Dark Phoenix was originally set to be released in November 2018, but was later pushed back to February 2019, and then finally to June 2019 because of a number of factors: script re-writes, production re-shoots, and competitive scheduling. This delay unfortunately  pushed the release after Captain Marvel (which coincidentally shared several similarities–i.e. shape-shifting alien race, space exploration, male figure hindering an overpowered titular female character from reaching her true potential, a line about humanity/emotions making us weak but not really) and Avengers: Endgame (it significantly elevated the bar for superhero movies, and Dark Phoenix released barely two months after it is problematic). While Dark Phoenix in itself can hold its own, by comparison, it feels rather small-scale, disjointed, and abrupt. Where Marvel Studios is a prime example of franchise building/corporate synergy, Fox’s X-Men is not. Disney’s takeover of Fox does not help its case either, and despite Dark Phoenix’s (sort of) cliffhanger ending, one can’t help but remember that a reboot is just on the horizon.

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A “boring” villain in Vuk. Yes, the antagonist of X-Men: Dark Phoenix is named Vuk of the D’Bari empire. If you missed it, it’s not your fault because the film didn’t spend much time developing her (except for a short flashback). Jessica Chastain did what she could with the material, but hiring an Oscar-nominated actress to play a near emotionless character is such a waste. Because of Infinity War and Endgame, the gold standard of villains now is Thanos, and Vuk is obviously unable to establish a connection and evoke empathy from the audience.

The little things (which could have gone a long way). For a movie that was supposedly set in the 90’s, Dark Phoenix felt like it could have happened in present day, a stark contrast to Captain Marvel which was loaded with 90’s references and did not shy away from marketing itself as such from the very first trailer.

Someone who has followed the X-Men would be aware that Magneto’s new home-base was actually Genosha, a fictional island nation that was granted to him by the United Nations to serve as a mutant sanctuary. However, the movie does very little to explain it, and instead shows us a birds-eye view of what could be just another small island off the coast of Manhattan (Fun fact: Genosha is supposedly in Africa. A simple subtitle telling the audiences where they were would have helped establish the setting). Because of this, it seemed like the entire movie happened in New York, which reinforces the small-scale comment we made earlier. Remember, this was set 9 years after X-Men: Apocalypse. Magneto had nearly a decade to recruit/”save” mutants, perhaps even meet some iconic characters from the Brotherhood. And yet, the best we got were two underdeveloped mutant “goons” whose names we cannot even remember right now.

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Baggage from previous movies, inconsistencies, and timeline issues. Unlike the MCU which is a well-oiled machine with collaborative directors, each X-Men movie tends to veer away from what has been established by introducing their own thing, breaking the continuity in the process. With reinvented characters and a solid story, X-Men: First Class (2011)  is one of the best X-movies out there, and it was a great reboot to a franchise that badly needed one. Unfortunately, although Days of Future Past (2014) was awesome, it brought back the old cast and prevented fans from moving on. It was then followed by Apocalypse, which featured the new cast again. You get the picture.

Additionally, the decade jump from Apocalypse (2016) to Dark Phoenix was unnecessary because both films made use of the same core characters. The ending of Days of Future Past already showed us a glimpse of where all the “present-day” X-Men should be, which means that at some point, the core X-Men would be back together, with Charles once again leading the School for Gifted Youngsters. Since we’re following the same timeline, we can assume that Jean Grey/Phoenix, after all the conflict and supposed death, would head back to Earth and rejoin them.

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Characters which no longer have a place in the story. Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) are good examples. Because of the timeline alteration, Mystique ends up as one of the X-Men’s senior leaders instead of joining the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and is quickly killed off (her implied death was even shown in the trailer and discussed by Jennifer during interviews). Quicksilver, on the other hand, conveniently gets injured early on in the film, and he does not even get a scene with Magneto (it was teased in both Days of Future Past and Apocalypse that he is Magneto’s son). It seems both Mystique and Quicksilver are just there to add to the cast star power, not because they are needed.

Simon Kinberg at the helm. Kinberg has been part of the X-Men franchise since The Last Stand, and has even gone on to write and produce other movies such as F4ntastic Four. (Okay, that isn’t saying much, but still). But the point is that as far as Fox’s X-Men universe goes, Kinberg is pretty much “the guy” to thank/blame. In fact, he is so embedded in it that the core X-cast members love him, so much so that they lobbied for him to direct Dark Phoenix (Jennifer Lawrence said that she would not return if Kinberg was not directing). It says a lot about him being a better choice for the cast & movie than someone controversial like Bryan Singer. However, this big budget, high-stakes, supposed epic finale to a 19-year superhero franchise was Kinberg’s directorial debut. Endgame was  the fourth film Joe and Anthony Russo directed for the MCU,  and they worked with duo Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for the screenplay.   Kinberg not only directed Dark Phoenix but also wrote the script, so no matter what great ideas he came up with, there was probably a lack of check and balance and outside perspective for the movie.

Lack of Wolverine. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine has been the most consistent thing in the X-Men franchise. Because Jackman plays Logan so well, even the worst X-Men movie always has him as a silver lining. Going back to earlier marketing of Dark Phoenix, a substantial number of fans’ negative sentiment around the film was caused by the fact that Wolverine was not in it. It’s not that Wolverine has to be in every X-Men story (in our opinion, he is overexposed), but since this is the final film of the franchise, it makes sense that they find a way to put him there.

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Now that you’ve read what stopped the greatness of X-Men Dark Phoenix, check out the Beardict on what it did correctly here.

Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox. X-Men: Dark Phoenix out now in cinemas near you!

Godzilla: King of the Monsters has great visuals overshadowed by a convoluted plot

In Godzilla (2014), humanity was shocked to find out that massive monsters dubbed as Titans were living among us all along. Five years later, in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), the government wants to shut down Monarch, the secretive organization tasked to study the Titans and determine their purpose in the world. Are these Titans threats that need to be exterminated, or are they here for a reason?

The Beardict: 5 out of 10. I want to recommend Godzilla but I just can’t. It’s a perfect example of a blockbuster’s marketing/trailer doing an excellent job, only for the actual film to fall short of the hype. Although Godzilla himself is a sight to behold (slapping and blasting all those who dare challenge his dominance), the story that surrounds his return is too complicated for a monster movie. It’s pretty obvious that a lot of time was spent in developing the design and battle sequences involving the Titans, so it really sucks that irrational and underdeveloped characters take away the spotlight from them.

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

The criticism of Godzilla (2014) was that there was too little Godzilla (his adversaries, the MUTO’s, ridiculously had more screen time). This time around, they corrected this mistake, and Godzilla was present from start to end. Having Godzilla as the “good guy” in this revived franchise is a nice spin, as most versions in the past have almost always painted him as the enemy. It’s actually easy to root for Godzilla because he’s like your loyal giant dog who will defend you from your enemies. By the end of the film, they succeed in establishing him as King of the Titans, and that’s perfectly fine.

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The problem lies with how they got there in the first place. There are so many things that are introduced one after the other that it’s hard to catch up–the (borderline useless) Russell family drama, the “twist” that Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) wants to release the Titans (billions to die in the process) so that the world can be saved from man’s destructive nature, the fact that King Ghidorah/Monster Zero (the three-headed hydra-like nemesis of Godzilla) is not a Titan but some sort of alien, the idea that Godzilla can be supercharged by dropping a nuclear bomb on him. In the final battle, Godzilla even pulls off a Jean Grey and even harnesses some sort of Phoenix Fire power. Don’t get me wrong–the visual effects are outstanding, and they are, without a doubt, a treat to look at, but in movies, there’s an important thing called “making sense,” and Godzilla: King of the Monsters sometimes forgot about that.

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Additionally, there was so much talent among the cast of Godzilla: King of the Monsters that was wasted. We have Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) and  Zhang Ziyi (Memoirs of a Geisha), and yet, almost all of them are just there to bounce speculations off of each other and get caught up in some sort of blast but miraculously still survive. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) as extremist Jonah Alan is not given enough material to work with, and his best contribution to the entire movie is the line “Long live the king” (which is honestly something Tywin Lannister would say).

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Overall, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an explosive blockbuster that could have been great, but ends up mediocre at best because it chooses to explain the fun out of things rather than concentrating on entertaining its audience. Luckily, we have Godzilla Vs. Kong next year, so maybe that one will be able to hit the mark.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures. Godzilla: King of the Monsters out now in cinemas near you!

The Fun Superman: Shazam Blasts His Way Into Our Funny Bone

In Shazam!, an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) transfers his power to foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel). By shouting ‘Shazam,’ he transforms into one of DC Extended Universe’s most powerful heroes to date.

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The Beardict: With its laugh-out-loud comedy and likable characters, Shazam! is a great addition to the DCEU, much like Aquaman (2018) and Wonder Woman (2017) were in the past couple of years. As it should, it totally deviates from the gloomy Snyder era and jolts us with entertainment that we desperately need. It makes us head out of the theater with a positive vibe, basically in the mood to happily shout ‘Shazam’ to a random passer-by.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Shazam! has such a fun origin story. The wizard was supposed to give his power to someone who’s “pure of heart,” and when presented with the proposition, Billy himself said that he doesn’t think there is someone like that. Despite his admission, the wizard still gives power to him anyway because he doesn’t have any other choice. It’s like when you spend hours and hours looking for the perfect shirt at the store but when it’s time to go, you just pick something that’s good enough. Haha.

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With the help of his brother and self-proclaimed superhero expert Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), he discovers a plethora of powers: lightning blasts, invulnerability, fire immunity, super strength, super speed, and flight. Because of the lack of instructions, Billy proceeds to use his newfound abilities the way a teenager would – for money, fame, convenience store treats, consoles and gadgets–the works. His superhero start was the total opposite of “With great power comes great responsibility” (Sorry, Spider-Man, I know you hate using that overused line). Zachary Levi, who broke out more than a decade ago through NBC spy comedy Chuck (2007), was perfectly cast as adult Billy. With his bubbly personality and goofy expressions, he shows us how transforming into Shazam! boosts Billy’s confidence and helps him have a more positive outlook in life.

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One of the things that Shazam! effectively does is not take everything too seriously–and that includes making fun of past DCEU movies. Taking a page from Deadpool’s consistent ridicule of Fox’s X-Men franchise, Shazam! takes shots at Batman and Superman several times during the film: the kid reenacting the fight scene between Batman and Superman through his toys (and dropping them to the floor once he sees Shazam through the window), the fact that collateral damage was kept to a minimum despite his power level (Superman and Zod in Man of Steel basically wrecked half of Metropolis), and how Superman visited the school cafeteria at the end of the movie (but his face was not shown, touching on the fact that there is this existing dilemma of finding a new actor to play Supes given Henry Cavill’s sudden departure from the franchise). Credits also featured a creative cartoon showing Shazam and his silly interactions with the other Justice League members (dragging Batman around was gold). Additionally, the second post-credit showed Shazam laughing at the idea of talking to fish as a superpower, an obvious jab at Aquaman.

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Shazam! is not all games though. Throughout the film, Billy tries to find his mom while trying to adjust to his new home. Shazam! highlights the difficulties a foster kid goes through–that missing feeling and all the unanswered questions that comes with it. The scene where he finally gets reunited with his mom is arguably one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I’ve ever seen in an otherwise hilarious movie. In his journey, we rediscover with Billy what family means, and it isn’t, in fact, measured by blood. Just look at what happened to Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

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Is Shazam! a kids’ movie? Yes, but before you react negatively to this, let me say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Like Netflix’s Stranger Things, it is able to make the children the front and center of the story without it being too corny or cheezy. Shazam! reminds us that when we were kids, everything was simple, and if we had a problem, we dealt with it without too much emotional baggage. Oh, and that part where Billy realizes that in order for him to succeed, he could share his power with his brothers and sisters? That was beyond cool, and the fact that the likes of Adam Brody (The O.C.) played his siblings’ adult superhero versions made it waaay cooler.

The only gripe I had while watching Shazam! was about Eugene portrayed as a stereotypical Asian nerd–he wore thick glasses, played video games all day, and knew how to hack, etc. However, when he transformed to Ross Butler (13 Reasons Why) and said ‘hadouken’ while using his newly-granted lightning powers, the scene more than made up for the initial portrayal. Haha.

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To end, let’s discuss the slug-like creature that appeared during Shazam’s first post-credit scene (fun fact: he’s voiced by Shazam! director David Sanberg). His name is Mr. Mind, and he’s an alien said to have “high intelligence and telepathic powers.” In case you were not able to notice, we actually get to see Mr. Mind early on in the film when young Thaddeus enters the wizard’s lair (he is inside a case). However, when it’s Billy’s turn years after, we see that the case is now broken and Mr. Mind is nowhere to be found (it is possible that he escaped during the breakout of the Seven Sins).

In the comic books, Mr. Mind is part of the Monster Society of Evil, a supervillain group which includes Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson was cast to play this character back in 2014). This is a smart tease of things to come in the Shazam! franchise, and we certainly hope we have not seen the last of Billy and his supportive family.  SHAZAM!

Shazam! starring Zachary Levi now out in cinemas near you. Photos courtesy of New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. Pictures

4 Important Lessons from Netflix’s The Ted Bundy Tapes

Trust. We tend to give it freely to the people around us. We give it to our parents–we hope they don’t kick us out of the house even though we sometimes (intentionally) forget to do our chores. We give it to our friends–that they don’t turn their backs on us when we tell them our not-so-pleasant secrets. We give it to our schoolmates and hope they don’t take the credit when we contribute wonderful ideas to a project.

We trust all the time because we kind of need to, and we even give it to people we don’t really know. When we’re craving for a decent cup of coffee, we go to a shop and trust that the barista will blend it the way we like it, that he will not spit on it because he’s annoyed that he had to wake up 5am to do his job. When we let other people open doors for us, we trust that they will hold said door until we finish passing by, that they won’t slam it on our faces midway.

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The Beardict: We assume that every person we encounter is normal by default, but should we? Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes documentary definitely reminds us that we shouldn’t, as we get to see a glimpse of how a seemingly-harmless man manages to murder more than 30 young women in the 1970s. What are the lessons to be learned here?

#1 Monsters abound in this world, and they are flesh and blood just like us. We often scare ourselves silly with supernatural stories and movies, but the ones we should fear the most are fellow human beings with ill intentions. No boogeyman in our closet is going to harm us the way a person can. During Bundy’s reign of terror across different states in America, he did unspeakable things—kidnapping, rape , mutilation, and murder. The term serial killer was coined because of him. However, at the end of it all, he was only a man (and he died like any man would), but the fact remains that he did so many bad things while he was still alive.

#2 There are simply people without any guilt and remorse. They say that serial killers such as Ted Bundy have psychopathic and narcissistic tendencies, and they have no sense of empathy or remorse. Guilt is an alien concept to them, which means they could literally do the worst things imaginable and not feel bad about it. During his jail time, Bundy admitted to have engaged in necrophilia. He also decapitated some of his victims and spread their body parts across his favorite forest and mountain spots. On top of all of this, his youngest kill is an innocent 12-year-old school girl from Florida. These acts scream a total disregard for human life.

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#3 Trust with caution. Ted Bundy had the intellect to change the world for the better, but he didn’t. A wasted genius, he gained the trust of the people around him through his charm and good looks, and was able to hide the fact that he was, all things considered, barely a human being. When the murder accusations came pouring in, his family and friends were in disbelief. Later on in his life, he said that there was this compulsion, this voice in his head that made him do the horrible things he did, but can you really trust a proven liar? Anyway, we don’t know what people are capable of, so we should never ever put ourselves in such a helpless position. Constant vigilance, as Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter franchise loved saying.

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#4 We should continue to be disturbed. I was talking to a friend about this documentary and she said she’s not drawn to watch it because she’s seen so much disturbing stuff in her life already. Be that as it may, Ted Bundys can be born at any moment, or they may even be in our midst already–we just don’t know. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in, and if watching serial killer documentaries will give us a slight edge in life, we should take it.

Realistically-speaking, with technological advances and added securities, can a Ted Bundy wannabe go on a killing spree in 2019? Well, anything’s possible. Better to be safe than sorry! Feel disturbed, get angry, be prepared. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Photos courtesy of Netflix