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 ~ Labor Day

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Depressed single mom Adele and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man a ride. As police search town for the escaped convict, the mother and son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited.

Stars: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tom Lipinski, Clark Gregg, Alexie Gilmore, Lucas Hedges, Brighid Fleming, James Van Der Beek, Maika Monroe, Brooke Smith, Micah Fowler, Tobey Maguire

Director: Jason Reitman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length:

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  I have this nagging feeling that I’m going to be one of the very few people that likes Labor Day, Jason Reitman’s adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s 2009 novel.  I’ve had time to think about the film a lot over the last few weeks since I attended a screening with the author present.  While I enjoyed the film when I saw it, I was wondering if the author’s buoyant personality in the Q&A after colored some of my judgment.  I gotta say…after some deep soul searching my opinion stands.  I liked Labor Day… I liked it a lot.

Though the trailer suggests Labor Day fits on the same golden hued shelf as countless film adaptations of those saccharine Nicholas Sparks books, rest assured that it’s so much more than that.  Reitman has become one of my very favorite filmmakers and I don’t believe he’s made a movie yet that I don’t have a high level of respect for…even Juno, which I caught part of recently and for the record does not hold up as well as I remembered.

I hold steady that Up in the Air is his best film but there’s signs here of a maturing director that doesn’t feel the need to make the same film repeatedly just because he found favor there before.  I’m in the camp that feels Young Adult was one of the under appreciated gems of 2011, navigating its pitch black comedic moments with ease and leading up to a less than satisfying resolution for our anti-heroine that was incredibly satisfying for the viewer.

That same against the grain approach Reitman has employed in previous efforts is true here with the director taking responsibility for adapting Maynard’s work for the screen.  As has been the case with every Reitman film, his taste in casting is impeccable.  From the A list stars above the title down to the extras populating the background Reitman finds himself in a league with directors like Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher who have an eye for casting.

Reitman wanted Kate Winslet (Carnage) for this role so badly that he delayed production of the film to accommodate her schedule.  Back on screen after nearly two years, Winslet reminds us again why she’s so valuable an asset to any film set she joins.  In similar territory to her work in 2006’s Little Children, Winslet is a mother struggling with depression years after her husband (Clark Gregg, The To-Do List) left her to start a new life.  Living with her son (Gattlin Griffith) in the kind of New England home that’s too run down to be fancy but too well kept to be ramshackle, she rarely ventures outside, preferring to shut the world out and stay cocooned within.

Relative newcomer Griffith is remarkably assured and Winslet helps him avoid coming off with a misplaced hyper-sensitivity to the situation.  When an escaped convict (Josh Brolin, Oldboy) takes mother and son hostage during a once in a blue moon trip to the supermarket, a carefully played trio of agendas start to take shape over a hot and sticky Labor Day weekend in 1987.

Brolin’s character is wounded physically and emotionally, jailed for a crime of passion we see played out in brief flashbacks that reveal themselves cautiously rather than tease for show.  Coming off like a gentle giant rarely threatening, Brolin’s actions over the next several days are certainly unconventional as he helps around the house, fixes what was once broken, and, in a scene bound to be lampooned in the next Scary Movie entry, helps Winslet and Griffth make a peach pie.

Ah…the peach pie scene.  Y’know, I went into the movie with no knowledge of this but so many of the reviews are either deriding it as exceedingly syrupy or praising it as one of the sexier non sex scenes since Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze made a muddy mess at their Ghost pottery wheel.  Either way you’ll be licking your lips at how deliciously cinematographer Eric Steelberg (Draft Day) captures every flake of crust and piping hot filling.

Aside from the central trio, Gregg’s fatherly once a week outings with his son and new family have that forced happiness feel to them that we actually understand why Griffith can’t wait to get back to the man on the run playing house with his mom.  Brooke Adams has a nice little cameo as a mother to a disabled boy…and leaves a lasting impression with a genuinely startling surprise.  Even if she comes off like a character out of Diablo Cody’s imagination, Brighid Fleming’s turn as the new girl in town leaves you wanting more.  Heck, even James Van Der Beek gets a few good moments as a concerned sheriff.

In the stifling heat of a long Labor Day weekend (everyone maintains a glistening gleam of sweat for the majority of the film), three people form the kind of family environment they never knew they needed.   Sure, the final third of the film withers a bit and lingers a tad too long but it doesn’t die on the vine.  With a director now fully coming into his own leading a cast of esteem, Labor Day has even-keeled fireworks on display.

Down From the Shelf ~ Thor

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: The powerful but arrogant god Thor is cast out of Asgard to live amongst humans in Midgard (Earth), where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders.

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, Jaimie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Josh Dallas, Tadanobu Asano, Idris Elba, Clark Gregg, Colm Feore, Samuel L. Jackson

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Buoyed by the enormous success of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Marvel sought to continue toward its ultimate goal of making what would become the 2012 blockbuster The Avengers by releasing Thor in May of 2011.  Re-watching the film again before taking in its 2013 sequel, Thor: The Dark World, I was again reminded why Thor was my least favorite of the Marvel films franchise so far.

In the two years since I originally saw Thor theatrically Marvel has also released Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man 3 and these films have only served to solidify my thoughts that Thor doesn’t work as well for me  because so much of it is set primarily in a world of CGI fantasy.  Whereas characters like Iron Man and Captain America operate in a world not so far away from our own recognizable metropolis capitals, Thor’s land of Asgard is a nicely rendered but ultimately too shiny a façade to keep my interest.

It doesn’t help that Thor has the least interesting characters and villains in the Marvel Universe so it’s hard to get attached to any of them.  While he fared better in The Avengers, Chris Hemsworth (Rush, Cabin in the Woods) is a sullen dud as Thor, confusing rote glowering for juvenile indignation when he doesn’t get his way.  When he’s banished from his homeland and left powerless in the deserts of New Mexico where he’s rescued by astrophysicist Jane (Natalie Portman, fresh from her Best Actress Oscar win for Black Swan) who happens to be studying the very wormhole that brought him to Earth.

In a plot that mines some of Shakespeare’s best works (no wonder Bard-indebted actor Kenneth Branagh is in the director’s chair here), Thor must come up against his half-brother Loki (a benignly sinister Tom Hiddleston) to stop him from taking the throne as the heir of Asgard and plunging the world into a frozen wasteland.  The familiar themes of a royal family betrayal are a nice complement to the mythology of the superhero but a lack of original battle sequences and climax that feels rushed ultimately lets the film and audience members down.

The big budget bucks are fully on display here and, don’t get me wrong, though the film is effects heavy it looks great.  It’s just so different from the other Marvel films (so far) that I always knew I was watching a film that existed within its own rules.  There’s something about seeing Iron Man/Tony Stark pursued by various nasties through an urban earthly landscape that speaks to me more than watching Thor dangle dangerously on the edge of an impressive but obviously effects created black hole.

As with every Marvel film there are fun cameos, hidden clues that tie the film to other movies, and hints at what’s next to come.  The final scene in the end credits was directed by The Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon because it served as a bridge toward the opening scenes of Whedon’s awesome summer blockbuster.  There’s also a quick appearance by Jeremy Renner (The Bourne Legacy, American Hustle) as Clint Barton/Hawkeye who would become a major player that next summer.

A solid super-hero flick with a spattering of theatrical drama, Thor is still low on my Marvel list but does serve its purpose of introducing The God of Thunder to whole new legion of fans.

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The Silver Bullet ~ Labor Day

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Synopsis: Depressed single mom Adele and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man a ride. As police search town for the escaped convict, the mother and son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited.

Release Date:  December 25, 2013 (limited)

Thoughts: By all accounts, Jason Reitman is on a roll.  Starting with the sly Thank You For Smoking before breaking into the major leagues with the unconventional hit Juno, he followed that with the rewarding Up in the Air and the very underappreciated Young Adult.  So for his fifth major motion picture, Reitman probably had it in the bag the moment he enlisted Kate Winslet (Titanic), an Oscar winner continuing her streak at the top of her cinematic game.  Winslet costars with Josh Brolin (Men in Black III) in a film adaptation of the Joyce Maynard novel that has shades of Winslet’s 2006 suburban drama Little Children but seems to maybe not cut quite as deep a wound.  That’s not a bad thing when you consider Reitman’s talent for taking off-kilter material and fashioning something wonderful from it.  Keep your eye on this one; it may be one of those sleeper films that slip in to award conversations at the last minute.  The pedigree is certainly there.

Movie Review ~ The To Do List

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To-Do

The Facts:

Synopsis: Feeling pressured to become more sexually experienced before she goes to college, Brandy Clark makes a list of things to accomplish before hitting campus in the fall.

Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Rachel Bilson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Donald Glover, Scott Porter, Andy Samberg, Connie Britton, Clark Gregg

Director: Maggie Carey

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  Fret not, all of you out there that have lamented the death of the 80’s screwball sex farce for a picture is coming that should get you all misty for a cinematic time long since passed.  In the grand tradition of films like Joysticks, Hardbodies, The Last American Virgin and the more ribald sequels to American Pie, The To Do List is a decidedly slight coming of age story chock full of crude humor and kooky performances.  Like those earlier films, though, there are some troubles to be had as the one joke set-up reaches its climax long before our leading lady does.

In an interesting bit of genre gender bending, The To Do List exchanges a nerdy, awkward virginal male for a nerdy, awkward, virginal female that has spent her high school hot lunch days with her nose in books rather than the crotches of her classmates.  After graduating and before heading to Stanford, Brandy (Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed, Monsters University) has a summer job to look forward to and watching Beaches with her friends (Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele).

This being a sex comedy, of course the film has to take place in the past (1993 never looked so perfectly embarrassing), Brandy’s job is at a struggling summer pool that operates in the shadow of a larger country club and her two friends are stock character non-virgins more than happy to educate our naïve star on what she has to look forward to in college.  Taking advice from her foul mouthed sister (Rachel Bilson), Brandy makes up a list of all the sins of the flesh that she wants to commit before September rolls around.  This “To Do List” is filled with a variety of popular terms out of the urban dictionary that aren’t fit to print in a review my mom will probably read.  As Brandy goes through her list –  ‘Wow…there are a lot of ‘jobs’ here”  – the audience laughs along with the knowing nostalgia of where we were the first time we found out what a ‘shocker’ actually was.

As Brandy makes her way through the list and through several boys at her work (including a perfectly pitched performance by Johnny Simmons as an ardent devotee of Brandy) her end goal is to lose her V-Card to studly lifeguard Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), a bleach blonde 90’s stud that “feels like Marky Mark looks”.  Some nice turns from Porter and Bill Hader as the washed out manager of the pool do land where they need to but poor Connie Britton and Clark Gregg (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Marvel’s The Avengers) are underused as Brandy’s parental units…an understanding mom and uptight dad.  Britton and Gregg are talented enough to make their shoehorned in roles appealing but are ultimately stymied by an underwritten script.

Reportedly inspired by writer/director Maggie Carey (Hader’s wife) and her experiences before college, the movie is really just a series of the same punch lines over and  over again.  That works for a while but with a film that nearly reaches 105 minutes the laughs don’t come as often as they should and the lessons that will be learned are clear before the first reel is over

Though the dialogue is incredibly (and almost laughably) crude and there’s an abundance of bodily emissions that end up in the mouth of Plaza the film is surprisingly chaste.  The one thing that the 80’s film has on this entry is stars not quite famous enough to feel self-conscious about showing a little skin.  Even in the throes of passion everyone is covered up in the film but I’m not saying if the film had nudity it would have been more successful…just more in line with the old-school feel the more is obviously already going for.

For fans of these retro sex comedies, you’ll probably get more than a few laughs out of The To Do List but it’s a film that will probably play better on the small screen rather than in a cavernous theater where the laughs die quickly.  Though well acted by a more than game cast in an obviously low-budget production, the movie can only manage to get up to second base before losing stamina.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Iron Man 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Tony Stark has declared himself Iron Man and installed world peace… or so he thinks. He soon realizes that not only is there a mad man out to kill him with his own technology, but there’s something more: he is dying.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Garry Shandling, John Slattery, Kate Mara, Clark Gregg, Olivia Munn

Director: Jon Favreau

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: I’m going to say it, okay?  I’m just going to come out and say it.  The time has come for me to state something publically for all the blog-world to read.  Are you ready?   I liked Iron Man 2 more than I liked the first Iron Man.  Wow…ok…that felt really great to say.  I realize I’m in the minority here and that many, many, many people would disagree but at the end of the day and after watching both films back to back I still find the second entry to be a tad more entertaining and fulfilling than the first.

Now that’s not a knock on the first film which in and of itself was a strong film and a great kick start to the Avengers franchise that we have today.  What shaved a tiny fraction of a point off for me was an iffy first half where I always find my mind wandering whenever I see it.  Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in the first Iron Man is strong but I think everyone that was carried over into the second entry (good-by Terrence Howard, hello Don Cheadle) just has more to work with.

Maybe that’s because the script for Iron Man had four writers while Iron Man 2 was penned solo by Justin Theroux (recommended by Downey Jr. after writing Tropic Thunder) and the script feels more like the voice of one rather than the voice of many.  There’s more character development, a tighter beginning, and enough material to carry the film from start to finish.

After the success of Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios stumbled again with yet another attempt at The Incredible Hulk.  Though that film did decent business (and included a cameo from Iron Man), it wasn’t the homerun that Iron Man was so there was even more pressure on Iron Man 2 to right a listing ship.  Aided by more action and visual effects, the movie really delivers on a massive scale…even more impressive when I saw it on an IMAX screen that awed me even as I was deafened by the booming sound design.

Adding more layers to Tony Stark, Downey Jr. feels at home in the role and Theroux adds some opportunities for Downey Jr.’s wry comedic strengths to shine.  Once again Downey Jr. and Paltrow exhibit a great chemistry and even the introduction of a sultry new Stark Company employee (Johansson) can’t drive a wedge between the two.  Johansson (who replaced Emily Blunt) is here to introduce the Black Widow that would play a part in later Avengers films and her presence adds a decent amount of anticipation for what would come next.  Rockwell and Rourke are nice yin/yang villains with Rockwell’s hyper charm working well alongside Rourke’s reserved blood boiler. 

I found the first Iron Man to be an entertaining superhero movie but nothing truly spectacular.  Iron Man 2 falls into largely the same category but it does what sequels should do – deliver something bigger while also moving our characters forward at the right pace.  It’s clear that these Avenger movies have been very carefully plotted out because they need to tie into each other at key points – Iron Man 2 fits nicely into the grand scheme of this world.