Blog

CAPTAIN MARVEL: Spectacularly Adequate But The Cat Steals The Show

Now playing everywhere:
(Dirs. Anna Boden & Ryan K. Fleck, 2018) 

The 21st movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduces a new character, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Actually, a new old character as she’s been around for 50 years, so she’s new to the MCU, and new to me. I’ve, of course, heard of Captain Marvel, but didn’t know about her back story, or powers, or, well, anything really.

But I’ve been here before. Whenever they put out a new movie featuring characters I wasn’t previously familiar with, I head to Wikipedia and learn the basics so I at least have an inkling of understanding going in.

In this origin story, we are introduced to the lead character played by Brie Larson as Vers, a member of Starforce (that’s Starforce, not Spaceforce) on the planet, Hala, which is inhabited by the alien race, Kree. We also meet Vers’ mentor, Yon Rogg (Jude Law) who is training her to fight the shape-shifting, green-skinned Skrulls, who have been endlessly warring with the Kree.

Larson’s Vers, who is plagued with visions involving Annette Bening as Supreme Intelligence (that’s her actual character name, well, one of her character names here), gets captured by the Skrulls, and escapes in a pod that crash lands in 1995 Los Angeles (through the roof of Blockbuster Video, mind you). From here on out, the movie’s soundtrack is all ‘90s hits – Nirvana’s “Come as You Are,” Salt-N-Pepa’s “Whatta Man,” Elastica’s “Connection,” Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains,” etc. (Larson even wears a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt at one point).

Soon after, S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and Phillip J. Coulson (Clark Gregg), show up on the scene, both digitally de-aged (there’s always gotta be some digital de-aging in these flicks, you know?). Then there is simultaneously a foot chase on the LA Metro, a car chase, and a bunch of furious fist fights. Fury and Vers team up to, you know, save the world from an alien threat, the twist being that the ones we thought were the good guys may not be. Not that that is much of a twist.

Danvers and Fury find one of her old friends, fellow fighter pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), who joins them on the adventure, and Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), who turns out to be not so bad, also comes along for the ride – oh, and to save his fellow Skrulls. Oh, and the McGuffin is once again the Tesseract (it’s been in around half of these Marvel movies), a cosmic, blue-glowing cube that can control matter and energy.

Vers begins to figure out something that most moviegoers will figure out right off that bat – she was an Airforce fighter pilot named Carol Danvers (the “Vers” come from her dogtag getting fractured in a plane crash that gave her her powers (I’m not going to explain anything more than that).

It’s a zippy adventure that fun to watch, even if you can pretty much guess everything right before it happens. The one element I didn’t expect was a cat named Goose who totally steals the show. 

The cat stows away on the military plane that Danvers and Fury commandeered, and even follows them up into space. That’s where we learn that Goose isn’t a cat, he’s a Flerkin, which are alien creatures that resemble ordinary earth cats except when they shoot masses of tentacles out of their mouths, or swallow whole objects or people.

Goose could be seen as an update of Jonesy from ALIEN – think orange cat on a spaceship – but if Jonesy could annihilate hoards of attackers. Now, Jackson is always really funny, but I’m not sure he’s ever been as funny as he is here talking cute and lovey to Goose.

I like Larson quite a bit, and think she won the Oscar for ROOM for good reason. She puts in a solidly stoical performance in the title role here, but sometimes I felt maybe she was taking it all a bit too seriously. No matter, the character still works despite than when I squint she looks like Supergirl. The plot is no great shakes, story beats can be seen way in advance, and some of the MCU tropes seem a little stale, but it’s still a fun superhero movie with enough cleverness to keep most entertained.

The audience I was in for this film were with it big-time because the regular roster of MCU characters that fill in the margins of the studio logo was replaced with a montage of images of Stan Lee’s many cameos throughout the franchise. It got big applause – the first time I’ve seen a logo get that kind of response. Of course, there was also his obligatory cameo later in the film (he had shot a bunch of cameos for upcoming films before he passed last November).

Except for Goose the Flerkin, CAPTAIN MARVEL is, at best, spectacularly adequate. That still means, like most Marvel movies, it’s well worth the price of ticket. Just make sure that, like always, you stay for the end credits stingers. But, of course, you know that; everybody knows that.


More later…

INCREDIBLES 2: Predictable Plotwise, But Still A Solid Sequel

Opening tonight at a multiplex near everybody:

INCREDIBLES 2 (Dir. Brad Bird, 2018) 


A
t the screening of this long awaited sequel, there was a mini-featurette before the movie began in which the film’s stars – Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, and Samuel L. Jackson – stress more than once that while it’s been 14 years since the original, this’ll be well worth the wait. For the most part it is.

Mere months after the events of the first installment, we catch up with the crime-fighting Parr family – Bob/Mr. Incredible (Nelson), Helen/Elastigirl (Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowel), Dashiell/”Dash” (Huck Milner), Violet and Jack-Jack Parr (Eli Fucile) – as they are trying to thwart a bank robbery by the returning supervillain, the Underminer (voiced by Pixar regular John Ratzenberger).

This results in a pretty thrilling, funny and gorgeously animated opening sequence involving the Incredibles, with the help of the icy touch of Lucius Best/Frozone (Jackson), pulling together to stop a ginormous drilling machine from reaching its Metro Bank destination, and the follow-up is off to a great start.

Things settle down a bit when the premise is introduced by a couple of new characters, telecommunications CEO Winston Deavor (a slick Bob Odenkirk), and his tech saavy sister, Evelyn (a more energetic than usual Catherine Keener). The Deavors wants to arrange a campaign that will make the use of super powers legal again, and recruit Elastigirl to go off and fight crime in the dangerous city of New Urbrem, while Bob stays home to take care of the kids to his great disappointment.

But while stranded at home, Bob learns that Jack-Jack has an array of super powers (17, he says at one point) including being able to shoot lasers out of his eyes, teleport through walls, turn himself into fire, and change into a scary red monster (sort of a like a fiery Tazmanian Devil) if he’s denied a cookie.

Since Odenkirk’s Winston is such an unabashed fanboy of the Incredibles who knows the words to all of their individual theme songs, he stands out as a candidate for the film’s secret bad guy, but gladly screenwriter Bird knows that would be too obvious.

As for the film’s up front villain, there’s the Screenslaver, dressed in black with big goggles like a cartoon Kylo Renn, who can hypnotize people through their screens. There’s also the thread that the secret baddie (I won’t Spoil their identity) has devised glasses that control the wearer in order to frame them doing acts of evil.

That’s a pretty predictable plotline that’s been done to death, but the action and laughs come so fast and frenetically in the film’s last third, which is set on runaway ship headed to crash into New Urbrem, that it really doesn’t get in the way of the extreme entertainment factor.

Sure, the overall world of the INCREDIBLES doesn’t feel as fresh as it did in 2004 (still looks really cool though), but despite its formulaic flaws, it’s a joy to spend time with these characters again on another fast paced ride. INCREDIBLES 2 is a solid sequel that should please the many big fans of the first one, as it did a casual fan like me. Thanks for the update, Bird, Pixar, and all the great voice talent – see you in another 14 years!


More later…

INCREDIBLES 2: Predictable Plotwise, But Still A Solid Sequel

Opening tonight at a multiplex near everybody:

INCREDIBLES 2 (Dir. Brad Bird, 2018) 


A
t the screening of this long awaited sequel, there was a mini-featurette before the movie began in which the film’s stars – Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, and Samuel L. Jackson – stress more than once that while it’s been 14 years since the original, this’ll be well worth the wait. For the most part it is.

Mere months after the events of the first installment, we catch up with the crime-fighting Parr family – Bob/Mr. Incredible (Nelson), Helen/Elastigirl (Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowel), Dashiell/”Dash” (Huck Milner), Violet and Jack-Jack Parr (Eli Fucile) – as they are trying to thwart a bank robbery by the returning supervillain, the Underminer (voiced by Pixar regular John Ratzenberger).

This results in a pretty thrilling, funny and gorgeously animated opening sequence involving the Incredibles, with the help of the icy touch of Lucius Best/Frozone (Jackson), pulling together to stop a ginormous drilling machine from reaching its Metro Bank destination, and the follow-up is off to a great start.

Things settle down a bit when the premise is introduced by a couple of new characters, telecommunications CEO Winston Deavor (a slick Bob Odenkirk), and his tech saavy sister, Evelyn (a more energetic than usual Catherine Keener). The Deavors wants to arrange a campaign that will make the use of super powers legal again, and recruit Elastigirl to go off and fight crime in the dangerous city of New Urbrem, while Bob stays home to take care of the kids to his great disappointment.

But while stranded at home, Bob learns that Jack-Jack has an array of super powers (17, he says at one point) including being able to shoot lasers out of his eyes, teleport through walls, turn himself into fire, and change into a scary red monster (sort of a like a fiery Tazmanian Devil) if he’s denied a cookie.

Since Odenkirk’s Winston is such an unabashed fanboy of the Incredibles who knows the words to all of their individual theme songs, he stands out as a candidate for the film’s secret bad guy, but gladly screenwriter Bird knows that would be too obvious.

As for the film’s up front villain, there’s the Screenslaver, dressed in black with big goggles like a cartoon Kylo Renn, who can hypnotize people through their screens. There’s also the thread that the secret baddie (I won’t Spoil their identity) has devised glasses that control the wearer in order to frame them doing acts of evil.

That’s a pretty predictable plotline that’s been done to death, but the action and laughs come so fast and frenetically in the film’s last third, which is set on runaway ship headed to crash into New Urbrem, that it really doesn’t get in the way of the extreme entertainment factor.

Sure, the overall world of the INCREDIBLES doesn’t feel as fresh as it did in 2004 (still looks really cool though), but despite its formulaic flaws, it’s a joy to spend time with these characters again on another fast paced ride. INCREDIBLES 2 is a solid sequel that should please the many big fans of the first one, as it did a casual fan like me. Thanks for the update, Bird, Pixar, and all the great voice talent – see you in another 14 years!


More later…

F*** The Haters, Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT Is F***-in’ Great

THE HATEFUL EIGHT
(Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2015)

Before “The Eighth Film by Quentin Tarantino,” as it’s identified in the opening credits (what other filmmaker does that?) properly begins, there’s a title card reading “Overture” accompanying an image of a silhouette of a stagecoach pulled by a team of horses, with snow-covered mountains in the background.

As composer Ennio Morricone’s intense minor melody slowly built, I found myself staring into the graphic until the shadows on the mountains became more and more ominous. One even started to resemble a lurching figure with a knife drawn, others looked like pools of blood, winding snakes, etc. This perfectly set the sinister tone for the three hour film following.

Tarantino’s Western opus, which is now playing exclusively in a limited Super CinemaScope 70mm Roadshow release (it begins a regular theatrical release in digital on January 8th, 2016), also features a 12-minute intermission, so it’s obvious that the filmmaker is reveling in giving us an old school cinema experience.

But, being Tarantino, it’s still sprinkled with his distinctive post-modernist stylings, meaning that it’s profane as f***, ultra gorey, and brimming with racially-fueled attitude.

Set in Wyoming, several years after the Civil War, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is broken up into a handful of chapters, recalling PULP FICTION except that there’s no prologue or epilogue.

In the first chapter, “Last Stage to Red Rock,” we are introduced to Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren aka “The Bounty Hunter,” Kurt Russell, who previously starred in Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE half DEATH PROOF, as John Ruth, who is another bounty hunter dubbed “The Hangman” because he doesn’t kill his captures (he prefers to watch them get hanged after handing them over), and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue aka “The Prisoner,” a wanted fugitive in Ruth’s custody.

Jackson’s Major Warren, who’s transporting the bodies of three of his bounties, hitches a ride with Russell’s Ruth on his stagecoach as it turns out that the two men had met before. Ruth recalls that Warren has a letter from President Lincoln in his possession, and asks to read it again, but Leigh’s uncouth, rednecky Domergue spits on it, causing Warren to slug her and she and Ruth tumble out of the stagecoach as they are handcuffed together.

Chapter Two, “Son of a Gun,” introduces Walton Goggins (The Shield, Justified, DJANGO UNCHAINED) as Chris Mannix of the infamous Mannix Marauders as Ruth tells us, who also hitches a ride with the crew, who claims, to Ruth’s disbelief, that he’s travelling to Red Rock to be appointed the town’s new sheriff. We get more inklings of back stories as the slickly racist Mannix tells Ruth a tale about how, after the war ended, Warren burned down a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp in a prison escape (Warren: “The whole place was made of kindling…so I burnt it down”) killing 47 men which caused the South to put a reward on his head.

So there, we have half of the eight, and what Tarantino deems relevant info about their reputations, and Chapter Three, “Minnie’s Haberdashery,” rounds out the rest – Demián Bichir as Bob (“The Mexican”), Bruce Dern as General Sandy Smithers (“The Confederate”), and a couple of RESERVOIR DOGS, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, as Oswald Mobray (“The Little Man”), and Joe Gage (“The Cow Puncher”), respectively. 


Ruth, Warren, Domerque, and Mannix arrive at the chapter’s title stagecoach stop to find that Bichir’s Bob is looking after the place while Minnie is visiting her mother – or so he says.

The rest of the movie takes place in the log cabin interior of Minnie’s with the most elaborate Mexican standoff that Tarantino has ever mounted. When we come back from the intermission, there’s suddenly a narrator (an uncredited Tarantino) who tells us that during the last scene, somebody seen only by Domergue poisons the coffee (Chapter title: “Domergue Has a Secret”), so we’ve got that mystery to chew on (along with the puzzle of who’s in secret cahoots with who), and we get one of the writer/director’s patented time juggling so we get to see what was happening during the same time as the setup.

In a flashback chapter, “The Four Passengers,” that would be too spoilery to describe, we have a few moments with the only other women in this brutal boy’s club: Tarantino’s trusty stuntwoman Zoë Bell, the motherly Dana Gourrier (as Minnie), and the lovely Belinda Owino. This segment also prominently features Channing Tatum, but damn if I’m gonna tell you how his character factors in.

I won’t go into the particulars of the big ass finale, “Black Man, White Hell,” but will say that it sure packs a bloody wallop.

Leigh’s Domergue, who gets her face bashed in so much throughout the film by Russell’s Ruth that she’s a disgusting, blood-soaked mess (with convincingly broken teeth too) way before the end, can be difficult to look at in ginormous, 70mm close-ups, but the actress owns the role with such intensity that I could never look away.

It’s cool that this is the second ultra violent Western that Russell has starred in this year – the great BONE TOMAHAWK being the other. The guy seems at confident ease with this sort of material (having the classic ‘90s Western TOMBSTONE in his background surely helps) and really rocks the thick, gray handlebar mustache. 


And, in his 6th Tarantino film, Jackson stands out yet again. With his sharp, smart delivery, Jackson’s Major Warren has many of the film’s most amusing lines and moments, and was one of the only characters I cared about getting out of the cabin alive.

It’s fitting that Madsen and Roth are on hand as the Tarantino joint this most echoes is RESERVOIR DOGS with its one-setting, and aforementioned Mexican standoff scenario. I wouldn’t put this in the same class with that outstanding debut or its classic follow-up PULP FICTION, but I enjoyed it more than his last few films, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and DJANGO UNCHAINED, and I liked those films quite a bit.

It already appears that THE HATEFUL EIGHT may be Tarantino’s most divisive movie yet. I’ve seen critic friends post that they thought it was a cinematic masterpiece, and seen others declare that it’s one of the year’s worst movies.

But I was intensely entertained throughout its three hour running time – I can understand folks thinking that it’s way too long and talky, but I found the dialogue, deliciously laced with evil undercurrent, to be consistently involving (as well as funny as f***), and I devoured how Tarantino through the sharp lens of cinematographer Robert Richardson made the spare scenery so immersive.

I also don’t agree about the charges of misogyny that have been leveled at it. Like almost all the men here, Leigh’s Daisy Domergue is a scary, murderous outlaw, and the actress nailed it in a recent Q & A when she said “She’s a killer. She’s gutsy and her whole identity is, ‘Yeah, give me what you’ve got, it doesn’t mean anything to me. Hit me again, I don’t give a f**king sh*t.’”

So in that spirit, I’ll sum up by saying f*** the haters, Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT is f***-in’ great. See it in 70mm if you can.


More later…