Movie Review ~ Captain Marvel

 


The Facts
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Synopsis: Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.

Stars: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Clark Gregg

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: This should be a time of full-scale rejoicing. I mean, it only took 11 years and 21 films but Marvel Studios finally is releasing a superhero movie with a female lead. Though it may be trailing Warner Brothers’s epic Wonder Woman by a full two years, Captain Marvel is surely a welcome addition to the Marvel stable of action heroes and the studio seemed to be thoughtful in bringing the character to the big screen. Casting an Oscar winning actress as the titular character and signing on a directing team known for their independent dramas seemed like unexpected choices for an action movie of this size and unfortunately the payoff isn’t entirely worth the risk.

We’re so deep into this saga that it’s almost become a requirement for audiences to have seen, or have qualified knowledge, of previous films in order to make sense out of the action and developments that take place throughout whatever hero’s adventure we’re watching. That’s even true in this first appearance of Captain Marvel, which is set in 1995, long before the events of the movies that preceded it. Make sure to bone up on your Avengers knowledge (namely watch The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy) because it will go a long way in getting you up to speed.

Starforce warrior Vers (Brie Larson, The Gambler) is on a mission with her team on a desolate planet when she is captured by a band of Skrulls led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, Darkest Hour) and taken back to their ship. Staging a daring escape, she crash lands on Earth where she meets a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Glass, de-aged quite nicely) and teams up with him to locate a power source integral to her own origin story…and future Avenger movies. Along the way Vers learns why she’s plagued with nightmares of a fallen comrade (Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) and memories of a life before her time with Starforce. The secrets she discovers help shape the hero she’ll become and reframe what she’s actually defending.

I’ll be honest and say that I couldn’t resist closing my eyes for a small section of the movie around the forty-five minute mark.   Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck can’t quite keep up a solid pace and the film drags early on, even when we should be actively engaged with Vers uncovering more of her history. Things start to pick up once we meet her old Air Force buddy (Lashana Lynch) who fills in some memory gaps and helps to propel us forward into the final act. It’s when her old Starforce buddies, led by Jude Law (Side Effects), Djimon Hounsou (Serenity), and Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians) show up that the film becomes unstoppable as Vers realizes the full force of her power (a moment that gave me goosebumps) and uses it against an enemy she never considered.

Working with a script from four credited screenwriters (Meg LeFauve, Nicole Perlman, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan), Captain Marvel is a bit of an odd duck because it’s an origin story for several key elements that make up the Avengers universe. There’s the obvious first steps for Vers discovering she’s really Carol Danvers, a pilot with the U.S. Air Force presumed dead after her plane went down years earlier. Then you have the beginnings of Nick Fury’s pet S.H.I.E.L.D. project as well as grudges introduced that get resolved in later installments. It’s a lot to juggle and it’s not a totally satisfying balance of storylines.

It doesn’t much help that Larson walks through the movie strangely blank-faced, rarely changing expression from one emotion to the next. She’s definitely putting the acting effort into the movie but one wishes she’d loosen up a bit and I also wonder if she’d ever seen an Avengers movie prior to signing on. Most of the films are sold with tongue planted firmly in cheek but Larson seems averse to going along with any kind of joke. She does create a pleasant chemistry with Jackson’s Fury…you can see why he’d call on her when the going gets tough in Avengers: Infinity War.  The supporting cast is what helps to keep the movie afloat, namely Mendelsohn and Lynch as two key elements to Danvers coming into her own and embracing her superpowers.

Starting off slow but gradually building to an exciting finale, right now I feel like Captain Marvel falls squarely in the middle of the Marvel canon. That being said, I’m willing to wait it out and see if time is kinder to the film over the next few years as the studio wraps up some loose ends and decides what’s next in their plans for the Avengers.

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Phase One
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Phase Two
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ant-Man (2015)

Phase Three
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Black Panther (2018)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
Captain Marvel (2019)
Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Phase Four
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

 

Movie Review ~ Darkest Hour

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The Facts:

Synopsis: During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds.

Stars: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn

Director: Joe Wright

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 125 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  2017 has sure been a kind year for Winston Churchill.  The late prime minister of the UK has popped up on the small screen courtesy of John Lithgow’s award-winning supporting turn in Netflix’s The Crown, he’s mentioned favorably in Dunkirk and Their Finest, and now comes Darkest Hour where the spotlight is firmly on him.  Though in death (as in life) he has as many critics as he does fans, this is a man that clearly deserves a place in the annals of history.  Thanks to an incredible leading performance, strong direction, and a solid script, Darkest Hour is an entertaining pop-up book that’s much more than just a lesson from the past.

As the shadow of another World War looms over Europe, the British parliament is in upheaval and calling for the resignation of it’s current prime minister Neville Chamberlain (a sneering Ronald Pickup, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).  Hoping to suggest a replacement that will have enough of a rough go that his political party can sweep in to save the day, Chamberlain suggests to the King that Winston Churchill take his place.  Unliked since leading the failed Gallipoli Campaign during WWI, Churchill had been a strong voice against the Nazis back when no one was giving them or their leader much credence.

The King (Ben Mendelsohn, The Dark Knight Rises) is leery about appointing a man he doesn’t trust but acquiesces.  Over the next several weeks Churchill steps into the role during a firestorm of opposition from every angle, eventually steering the government to reject any notions of proposed surrender to German forces.  In doing so, he gained the trust of the people as they banded together and rallied behind their sovereign nation at her most vulnerable time.

All this plot is easily accessible in your tattered history book from sixth grade but while the details haven’t changed, it’s in the telling that creates powerful filmmaking.  Director Joe Wright (Anna Karenina) has, as usual, crafted an intricate period film that’s striking in its detail and rousing in all the right places.  Working with Anthony McCarten’s (The Theory of Everything) sharp script, Wright keeps the film refreshingly nimble, making even stuffy parliament scenes crackle with energy.  Keeping his camera moving (with assistance from Inside Llewyn Davis cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel), he stages wonderful scenes of overlapping dialogue that are not only informative but interesting to watch.

While most men in Churchill’s life gave him trouble (including a scheming Viscount Halifax played by Stephen Dillane, Zero Dark Thirty), according to Darkest Hour it’s two women that kept him in line during this difficult period.  His personal secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James, Cinderella) starts off on the wrong foot with her demanding, persnickety boss but eventually develops into a confidant/cheerleader that he counted on.  Same goes for his steadfast wife, Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) who isn’t afraid to point out to her husband when he’s out of line.  Scott Thomas and James are both excellent in their roles and have ample time to shine, though I often longed for more scenes with Churchill and his wife and less with Layton as the marital relationship felt that it had more of an edge.

All Wright has assembled would make for a strong film about Churchill but if he didn’t have someone to play the man himself it would have all been for naught.  Lucky for him (and us) that he hired Gary Oldman because that’s what sends Darkest Hour skyrocketing.  Oldman (RoboCop) gives the performance of his career (and what a career to begin with!) as Churchill, managing to work under superb prosthetics that transformed him into the historical figure but not letting the make-up do all the heavy lifting.  His acting radiates from within, never coming off as showboating or faux but as a real-life rendering of a man challenged to lead in a time of imminent darkness.  It’s just spectacular work and if he doesn’t win an Oscar for his efforts, well then, I just don’t know what to make of this crazy world anymore.

Special mention must be made to Kazuhiro Tsuji (Looper, The Place Beyond the Pines) for his stunning make-up work for Oldman.  It’s mighty difficult to age and fatten up the actor as he did but the seamless work should net Tsuji his first Oscar after two previous nominations.  Same goes for Jacqueline Durran’s (Beauty and the Beast) luxe costumes that manages to make even Churchill’s suits look chic.

I went into Darkest Hour not being totally in the mood for a history lesson and was surprised at how captivated I was for two hours.  Even for a story where we already know how things turn out, I was often on the edge of my seat and truly entranced by Wright’s vision and Oldman’s performance.  It’s not just a film made up of speechifying and hot air, it’s a thrilling examination of the forward momentum of a country that was cheered onward by a determined man.

The Silver Bullet ~ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Trailer #2)

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Synopsis: Rebels set out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star.

Release Date: December 16, 2016

Thoughts: Not that it’s a very high bar, but this second trailer for December’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is better than most films we’ve seen so far this summer.  Maybe even more than 2015’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, this spin-off prequel sends waves of nostalgia over the viewer. Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) seems to have created a movie made now that feels like it was lensed in the ‘70s and has cast it with a striking group of fresh faces creeping their way up into the A-List.  I’m even more excited to see how this ties into the saga of films that it takes place before and it’s a given that the film will be a swell Christmas gift in just a few short months.   Watch the first teaser here.

Movie Review ~ The Place Beyond the Pines

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ben Mendelsohn

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Rated: R

Running Length: 141 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  The ads for The Place Beyond the Pines would have you believe that Gosling is the star of the show and I’d say that’s about 1/3 right.  In actuality, Gosling is just one part of a film that is essentially a three act saga that winds up feeling a little Scorcese/Coppola-lite.  It’s not that director Cianfrance’s second narrative feature doesn’t have its good moments, because when you factor in some hard hitting corruption mixed with cops and robbers mayhem it certainly does.  No, what keeps the movie from being fully satisfying is its hesitation to move toward completion in the face of a slightly saggy running time.

Reteaming with his Blue Valentine star (and I’ll say again that Gosling was unjustly overlooked for an Oscar nomination for his work in that tough love movie), Cianfrance decides to go big or go home as he follows the lives of two different men across fifteen years – both are men trying to do good from different angles so the movie really emerges from the Venn Diagram this creates.

Opening with Gosling as a tattooed cyclist faced with finding a way to support a child he didn’t know he had, the film gets off to a rough start with a soundtrack that drowns out our actors and asks us to strain to hear what Gosling and co-star Mendes are softly murmuring about.  Director Robert Altman made overlapping dialogue his calling card and I’m hoping that Cianfrance isn’t taking it a step further with a film where you may need the benefit of closed captioning to figure out what people are saying.  It really doesn’t matter all that much because the basic thrust of this slice of life is the standard “man turns to crime to support family” set-up.

Don’t get me wrong, Gosling plays this troubled guy like a pro and the further he ventures away from the right side of the law (with the help of a slightly askew but nevertheless fascinating performance from Mendelsohn) the more we fear for his future.  That future collides with rookie cop Cooper (fresh from his Oscar nominated work in Silver Linings Playbook and before May’s The Hangover Part III) and that’s when the film takes its first of many turns.  Cooper’s cop is a do-gooder, unfazed by the temptation of corruption and naïve to the danger this poses to his career and family.  With a new son of his own and a wife (Byrne, Bridesmaids) who just may wear the pants in the family, Cooper doesn’t let himself get pushed around by his comrades headed up by Liotta who hasn’t yet met a scumbag he can’t play like a harp.

It’s from Cooper’s story that the film takes another jump and I think I’ll leave where that leads to your discovery.  I will say that it’s in this third act where the  movie will either seal the deal or leave you cold – the more I ponder the film the more unhappy I grow with it because of this section that feels too on-the-nose, too pre-destined to really be believable.  One interesting thing about the final section is that it features Cohen (TV’s Smash) and DeHaan (Lawless, Chronicle), both of whom may remind you of A-Listers Channing Tatum and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively.

Cianfrance and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt keep the movie going at breakneck speed but when it drags during its 141 minute run time the film struggles to right itself with a conclusion that satiates.  I’m not a person that needs all the questions answered by a film and actually prefer that not everything is explained but The Place Beyond the Pines feels like it never knew the answers to begin with.  Instead of creating characters and situations that feel new, Cianfrance and co-screenwriters Ben Coccio and Darius Marder look back at any number of crime archetypes found in film.

A trip to The Place Beyond the Pines may not be essential or necessary but the movie’s not a total wash so I don’t want to outright discourage a viewing of it should the interest be there on your part.  Despite the dialogue problems I mentioned above, the film has an unobtrusive score from Mike Patton that works with the sparse world Cianfrance has created.  Aside from a make-up design that ages all the women but seems to make the men younger, performances are sound and the movie does have several scenes with a decent amount of payoff.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Place Beyond the Pines

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Synopsis: A motorcycle stunt rider considers committing a crime in order to provide for his wife and child, an act that puts him on a collision course with a cop-turned-politician.

Release Date:  March 29, 2013

Thoughts: Reteaming with his Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance, star Ryan Gosling throws himself into yet another troubled character seeking some sort of redemption from the people he loves.  Gosling was majorly snubbed by Oscar voters for his work in Blue Valentine and continues to be a star that rightfully earns his solid reputation with each film he makes.  I’m also looking forward to seeing what Bradley Cooper does with his role coming off of the strong showing he made in Silver Linings Playbook.  Clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes, The Place Beyond the Pines will hopefully be as entertaining and interesting as its stars.