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Review: Captain Marvel

Written by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman, and Meg LeFauve and directed by Boden and Fleck, “Captain Marvel” is the 21st film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is the first film in the ongoing series to be led by a woman (Maybe next time Black Widow). Set during the 1990’s “Captain Marvel” is an origin story that can, at times, suffer under the weight of everything the film requires of it as a piece of the larger shared universe. Don’t fret though, the film has enough attitude and heart to appease most audience members. Since the film has to do a lot of legwork in unpacking Carol Danvers’ (Brie Larson) own story through her memory loss and the galactic war between the alien races of the Kree and the Skrulls- the pacing and smoothness of the script do suffer somewhat.

While the film overall may have a “stepping stone syndrome” I’m admittedly doubly excited after the credits rolled to see how the character of Carol Danvers will fare when thrown into the mix with the other Avengers. This film was a lot of fun though- Carol’s scenes with a younger Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) was my favorite part of the whole film, the charisma and chemistry between these two was palpable! I really didn’t expect Fury to be in the film all that much given the de-aging tech required to digitally craft a believable 1990’s Sam Jackson, but it was seamless and incredibly impressive given his amount of screentime. Ben Mendelsohn almost stole the show as Talos the Skrull too, he was menacing, crafty, and far more layered than I would have expected from the shape-shifting alien race. The 1990’s setting was fun to play around in and the jokes devoted to the decade weren’t overdone thankfully. More importantly though, the hints of characterization we got of Carol from both her time as a member of Star-Force and as a pilot in the Air-Force with her friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch- who was the heart and soul of this movie!) show that her personality was singular even through her memory loss. She had attitude and a punk flair that was encouraging for the character’s future. Oh, and Goose the cat- he was pretty great too.

Okay, so, I have to mention the downsides of the film. While I may have had a good time with the superheroine’s space adventure- the film has its share of structural issues. The story at its core is fine as far as origin stories go, but the way the film was pieced together was incredibly clunky. In one of the first few scenes of the film a pair of Skrulls capture Carol and take a peek through her memories to find some information- showing us what her true past was. I get it, at 21 movies in an ongoing saga there’s a lot of pressure to consistently deliver us new content while still being familiar to what the audience loves- but giving the audience all of the information that the main character is seeking for the majority of the rest of the film (with one notable exception) keeps her distant. We get whispers of who Carol is, they tell us who she is, but as we begin the film with her being a powerful hero already- we weren’t with her when she struggled. Sure, we get a cool montage of her defying defeat and getting up from being knocked down throughout her life, but that’s not truly characterization within a story. I think there’s enough in this film to make great use of the character in future outings, but given that this is the first MCU film headed by a woman, shouldn’t she deserve more care with her story? There’s also a few other nitpicky issues I have with the movie, scenes lit too dark, direction lacking in a few fight scenes, and how Nick Fury lost his eye was kind of silly and I would have preferred him losing it in a battle with an alien- but hey that’s just me.

While “Captain Marvel” may have stumbled a bit out of the gate, she stands with excellent peers in the MCU. Tony Stark, Thor, and Bruce Banner don’t have the cleanest cinematic records here either, and that’s okay. The MCU has proven that they can take stumbles and turn them into ballets. Here’s to Carol Danvers giving Thanos a glowing fist to the face in April!

Final Score: There’s only 1 Goose!

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Review: Avengers 3 Infinity War

*WARNING* This review will be full of spoilers, you have been warned!

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the third superhero event film under the Marvel banner and the culmination of ten years of interconnected storytelling across all eighteen previous films. If you’ve been following these Marvel movies and are up to date then you will gleam the most out of the two and a half hour epic that is Infinity War. However if, by some chance, you’re just now considering a Marvel movie marathon and are curious as to which movies are most necessary for this latest Avengers movie, I believe about half of them are required viewing (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1, Dr. Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther). The rest help to build upon the structure, and character development, of the cinematic universe, but that list will get you mostly acquainted with what’s going on.

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So, we’re finally here. After hearing about and seeing several of the infinity stones throughout these films, and with a couple cameos from the mad titan himself, does the film live up to the monumental expectations that Marvel Studios has built? Yes. I can answer that wholeheartedly with a resounding yes. Infinity War is a monumental feat of crossover film-making and it makes the once grandiose events of the first Avengers seem minuscule in comparison. The film follows the wake of destruction left by Thanos and his black order as they seek out the six infinity stones and crisscross the cosmos to implement the will of the mad titan. The opening scene perfectly showcases who Thanos is and why we should be afraid for the fate of our superheroes. After laying waste to Thor and the Asgardian refugees’ ship Thanos quickly bests the Hulk in a fistfight, takes the Tesseract from Loki before killing him, and completely destroys their ship leaving Thor to drift unconsciously through space. Heimdall was able to send the Hulk off to Earth before being murdered by the Black Order and as the incredible hero smashes through Dr. Strange’s staircase in New York City, Bruce Banner comes with a dire warning, “Thanos is coming..”

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Dr. Strange quickly grasps the magnitude of the problem at hand as he grabs Tony Stark from a morning run with Pepper Potts, but it isn’t long before Thanos Black Order arrive to make a power grab for the Time stone in the doctor’s possesion. Spider-Man also gets in the mix and we’re off to the races! The movie moves at break neck speeds jumping across space and back to service all of the various storylines in play but the Russo brothers have outdone themselves with this installment as everything flows naturally with the needs of the story. Now I won’t go beat by beat and describe the whole movie, but instead give a general sense of the scale and the threat that comes with Thanos seeking to wield his infinity gauntlet. Not to mention how the movie cleverly utilized it’s massive cast by breaking the characters off into various factions in different locations to best suit the needs of the story. For example, the Guardians of the Galaxy bump into Thor when responding to their distress signal and then separate into two teams, one consisting of Thor, Rocket, and Groot in order to seek out a “Thanos killing weapon” while the rest head to ‘Knowhere’ from their first movie as it’s the last known location of the reality stone. Iron Man and Spider-Man hitch a ride on the ship that the Black Order arrived in to save Dr. Strange from Ebony Maw on his way to Titan, while Captain America, Falcon, and Black Widow stave off an attack on Vision and the Scarlet Witch thanks to a heads up by Banner and eventually head to Wakanda as a last stand to keep Vision’s Mind stone in his head and not on the gauntlet of Thanos.

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The central theme of the movie is that, when pressed by Thanos and his cosmic conquering, will you trade one life for another? Several characters have this grueling predicament pushed on them, some make choices out of love, others for the fate of the universe, but ultimately they fail when crossing that line. The moral center of the MCU, Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), never falters in his moral code. Several times throughout the movie he reiterates to others that, “We don’t trade lives”. He discards the math of the scenario in giving a life to save millions, nay billions. He saves lives, he doesn’t play that game. That right there, might be the absolute best aspect of this film. All of the characters are true to their nature as established in the previous films. There is a palpable consistency to their actions and reasoning. The Guardians all feel like themselves, still making jokes and acting on impulse. Black Panther and Captain America leap into battle first and have unwavering foundations. Thor feels the most evolved since the ramifications of ‘Ragnarok’ changed the game for his films and overall nature, a kingly warrior burdened with grief, yet still able to convey humor as a fish-out-of-water situation with the Guardians. Consistency paired with well thought out plot-points and a very clever villain, possibly the best the MCU has seen yet, add up to one hell of a Marvel movie.

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With an ending as shocking as it is, I- and many other millions, cannot wait to see how these characters rebound and ultimately save the day. This is most definitely a part one, and with only two other films between now and (the still untitled) Avengers 4 that take place before the events of this movie, we’ll have to wait a year and see how this all unfolds. I cannot praise this movie enough, it was far more emotionally mature and full of dread than I expected. There were significant deaths, high stakes and excellent action, and on top of that the film still managed to be really funny at times. They did it. They really did it. The next challenge is to outdo themselves next year, which I have to say, is a tall order. I have faith in the Russo brothers though, their movies in the MCU have been some of the best entries in the superhero genre as a whole. Now all we have to do… is wait.

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Final Score: Infinite Avengers

THE CAST:
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange

Tom Holland (II) as Peter Parker/Spider-Man

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther

Zoe Saldana as Gamora

Karen Gillan as Nebula

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

Paul Bettany as Vision

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon

Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier

Idris Elba as Heimdall

Danai Gurira as Okoye

Benedict Wong as Wong

Pom Klementieff as Mantis

Dave Bautista as Drax

Vin Diesel as Groot

Bradley Cooper as Rocket

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts

Benicio Del Toro as The Collector

Josh Brolin as Thanos

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord

William Hurt as Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross

Letitia Wright as Shuri

Peter Dinklage as Eitri

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury

Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill

and Ross Marquand as Red Skull

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Review: Kong Skull Island, or “Hold onto your butts… again!”

As the second entry in Legendary’s newly established Monsterverse, “Kong: Skull Island” revives one of cinema’s oldest icons in a colossal way. The film begins with two pilots, one American and one Japanese, crash landing on the beaches of Skull Island near the end of World War Two. They fight, chase, and scrap their way into the jungle and are quickly met by the giant ape himself. Fast Forward to 1973, just as the Vietnam war is coming to a close, and we’re met with an introduction to the Monarch corporation as it tries to secure funding for one last venture into the mists of the unknown, a journey to the fabled Skull Island. “A place where God never finished creation” is how John Goodman’s Bill Randa explains it in his pitch, however it’s his associate Houston Brooks, played by Corey Hawkins, that sells the idea to the gatekeeper by suggesting that the Russians and Chinese will have the same data they do soon enough, and if there is something to benefit from, shouldn’t America be the first ones there?

“Kong: Skull Island” quickly introduces us to the remaining heavy hitters in the cast’s lineup. There’s former British SAS tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) who’s recruited after showcasing his barroom brawling skills, Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver as the anti-war Vietnam photographer, and Samuel L. Jackson’s Preston Packard- a discouraged Vietnam Army officer that leads the military helicopter escort to the island. Once assembled they fly into the storm forever swirling around the eponymous island. Once there they quickly begin dropping bombs to survey the land and retrieve the seismic data. This immediately triggers the first large scale set piece wherein Kong smashes the entire fleet of helicopters like the annoying gnats they are to him.

So let’s talk about what the film does right. From my perspective, this film adequately does what a giant monster movie should do. It focuses on the monsters. It keeps the pace breezy and yet tense. The film gets its tone right. Most importantly though, Kong is a constant force throughout the film. Kong’s motivation was also clearer than that of say, Godzilla in Gareth Edwards 2014 iteration. Kong is the protector of the island, he respects nature and those who care for it, and he chooses peace over violence unless provoked. In Godzilla’s case, it seemed to simply be his need to challenge and reign supreme over the M.U.T.O.s? Or to align some monster’s code of balance?

Anyhow, back to Kong. I loved Sam Jackson’s revenge storyline with Kong, he went full Ahab and Kong was his white whale. Though admittedly I never tire of Jackson’s Shtick, it just works for me. John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, was also incredibly noteworthy. He gets the most complete storyline, and while he provides some comic relief, he never wanders into any zany or out-of-place performances. His character retains the heart of the flick, and it shows in palpable ways throughout the runtime. He’s also the connection to the natives of the island, which were represented not as savage tribesmen, but as a small peaceful community trying to survive in this hellish environment.

Speaking of the cast, I know the film has been steamrolled at times for “wasting” such a talented cast. However I don’t think they were wasted in the least to be honest. It’s a giant monster movie with “B-genre” aspects throughout it. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t expect any Oscar nominations to come from a King Kong movie, and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be the most fleshed out and layered monster movie-Godzilla certainly wasn’t with Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character, not to mention that film actually wasted Bryan Cranston. To that end, story and background information can be told in ways other than dialogue. The sets, locations, subtle acting, and even over-the-top acting all combine to tell a story. Sometimes it feels as though people simply watch films to point out as many problems and issues with a performance or story as possible, and that’s a shame. When did we all become so consistently cynical? Honestly, if you don’t love something, that’s okay-not everyone has to enjoy everything.

In the end I had a ton of fun with “Kong: Skull Island”. I loved the shameless “Apocalypse Now” influences. I thoroughly enjoyed the chaos, the variety of monsters, the fight sequences, and of course the king himself, Kong.

Final Score: Two Kong-sized thumbs up

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Hateful Eight, or ‘Everything you Love and Hate about Quentin Tarantino’

After troubled beginnings and much fanfare Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, the aptly titled ‘The Hateful Eight’, has come to silver screens everywhere. Returning to the western genre once more Tarantino delivers us a truly unique flick as the renegade director gleefully indulges us in his celluloid fantasies. This does not, however, deem it a masterpiece, for it is not one. This film is many, many, other things though, and it deserves accolades for its acomplishments, but it’s also not an effort that lives up to the infamous director’s previous offerings.

‘The Hateful Eight’ follows John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) who is a bounty hunter trekking through Wyoming with the prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) during a blizzard. Along the way, they reluctantly pick up stragglers, respected rival bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), both notably connected to the Civil War on opposing sides.

On their way to Red Rock, where Domergue is set to hang and Mannix is supposed to become the new sheriff, the four seek shelter at the mountaintop stagecoach stopover Minnie’s Haberdashery. There they find that Minnie has left the business in the hands of  Bob (Demian Bichir) the Mexican stable hand so that she may visit friends on the other side of the mountain. Once inside we’re introduced to the remaining three of the Eight through The Hangman’s John Wayne inspired inspection of each. Who is trustworthy? Who is not? We are left with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a polite Englishman who also claims to be on his way to Red Rock, but as the new hangman of the town. The quiet and seemingly affable Joe Cage (Michael Madsen), is a cattleman/biographer headed to visit his mother. Finally we meet General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate leader who shared a Civil War Battlefield with Warren, an infamous and vicious Union soldier who once had a Confederate price on his head.

Let’s break it down shall we?

The Good

If you’re a film nerd you’ll find a lot to love in Tarantino’s newest entry. From how it was filmed on an Ultra Panavision 70, a 70mm panoramic format 15% wider than the conventional 35mm standard Panavision format, to the opening overture which just so happens to be a new piece by Ennio Morricone no less, Tarantino flaunts his love of old-school filmmaking here. He utilizes depth and a sense space incredibly well. His style continues to evolve in subtle ways over the years and you can see how his grand love of the old ways influences his creative choices. You might be wondering why the filmmaker chose to use the widest angle possible on a film that is confined to one location for the majority of the runtime, but he deftly moves through the given space of Minnie’s Haberdashery, the one room cabin that acts as a watering hole and waypoint on the side of a mountain in Wyoming. Strangely in this film Tarantino both matures in his filmmaking techniques, and also reverts to his more, indulgent, adolescence stained ways when concerning plot structure and story. Not to say that this film isn’t substantive, it’s a feat itself that the film nears the three hour mark and the pace is never sacrificed ultimately, for it rests on the laurels of engaging writing and committed performances.

Speaking of, the performances here are the entire reason this film works at all. If it were a less credible cast with none of the wit and vile that these hateful participants require, it would be a mess of a movie. Credit goes to the actors here for captivating us as thoroughly as they do, even while portraying themselves as indeed, hateful people, and are yet degrees of likeability higher than what one would expect given their actions and demeanors. Kurt Russell and Samuel L Jackson steal the show as rival bounty hunters in the post Civil War era, but Walton Goggins, who plays a confederate sympathizer and supposed new Sheriff of Red Rock, was a surprising standout among the talent involved. Not all of the Eight get as much screen time as others, but they all add to the bigger picture.Bruce Dern’s role in particular as a curmudgeonly confederate general after the war shines as the setting’s best embellishment. He rarely moves from the point at which we meet him, and he isn’t the main attraction by far, but he serves his purpose for the story quite well. Jennifer Jason Leigh also deserves praise for her range in villainy, from her dead eyed stares to her defiant cackling after getting elbowed in the face by Kurt Russell’s Ruth she proves to be just as captivating as the rest, if not more.

 

The Bad

This entry in QT’s legacy is a fine addition overall, but it’s runtime leaves something to be desired. At roughly three hours long the film’s length can be seriously felt when nearing the end of the flick. Needless to say, I’m no Oscar winning writer or director here, but it feels as though the film really didn’t need to be quite this long. A half hour could be cut and the story would still work.

The Ugly

This film nudges too far into excess for my palette, in terms of intention and how it plays out in the story and what that means for the tale we’re being told. Particularly one scene with Samuel L Jackson’s flashback killing of an offscreen character in a brutal and pervasive manner that divulges Tarantino’s weirdest indulgences as a storyteller.

It’s not that the ultra violent sequences are shocking because of what’s shown (and it is gruesome) but rather it is because it heavily distracts from the established tension and character building that took up the last hour of screentime, only to be thrown to the way side so quickly. I was rather invested in the first half of the film, but the second half, in my mind, undermines the entirety of the first half of the story. Who poisoned the coffee again? I sincerely cannot remember. I rather liked the mysterious banter and wit among the curious nature of the motivations of these people, are they friend or foe? I suppose the film almost demands a second viewing to better understand the picture as a whole, but for the first time in a long time, I’m not incredibly excited to see this Tarantino film again. I will. I just know I can wait until the title hits Netflix or video release.

Final Score: 3/5