CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)

Review by LL Soares

In space, no one can hear you yawn.

That said, movies set in space definitely don’t have to be boring – especially coming from the Marvel Universe. Just look at GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (I’m talking the 2014 original here, I kinda hated the second one). And of course AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018, which I think is underrated). Which brings us to Carol Danvers, the hero at the heart of the new Marvel flick, CAPTAIN MARVEL!

I think actress Brie Larsen is great, and I was really happy to hear she got the role, back when they were announcing the casting decisions. And I knew Samuel L. Jackson was going to have a sizeable role as Nick Fury (and young Nick Fury at that, with youthful good looks – thanks to CGI – and two eyes!). What I didn’t count on was a fairly boring script.

We begin with Carol Danvers—super-powered but not yet Captain Marvel—as part of a team of space soldiers called “Starforce” (and with this, the generic space stuff begins). They’re defenders of the Kree, one of Marvel’s major alien races, who are identified by their blue skin. Except Danvers—referred to as Vers by her Kree comrades (it all makes sense later), is clearly not Kree. But she’s not really sure where she’s from. She has weird flashes of memory of a seemingly different life, but she can’t make heads nor tales out of it. She gets a little more clarity when she is captured by the Skrulls (the other big alien race in Marvel Land, who are green and sort of lizard-like, and who have the ability to shape shift to look like anyone they want to). In captvitiy, Vers is subjects to a machine that plunders her memories, in the process making them much more vivid, and ramping up Vers’s curiosity about her past even more.

The Skrulls use her memories as a map to a planet called C-53 (aka Earth), where something important they want is. Vers pursues them there. Back on home planet Earth, Vers starts experiencing major déjà vu, because, yes, she’s been here before.

S.H.I.E.LD. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Coulson (Clark Gregg) (and if you don’t know what S.H.I.E.L.D. is, you need to watch more Marvel movies) get called in when Vers crash lands into a Blockbuster video store. It’s the 1990s, and none of the Marvel superheroes we know and love have shown up yet, so the super-powered Vers is something of an anomaly. In fact, Fury doesn’t even believe she’s from another planet at first, until he gets caught up in the Kree/Skrull conflict, thanks to his boss being impersonated by Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelesohn). Vers takes on the Skrulls herself, with help from Fury, while her Starforce team, led by her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who is a Kree warrior but, like Vers, isn’t blue (something that is never explained) hurries toward Earth.

This movie kind of lost me from the start, with the generic space opera of the “Starforce” team going to an alien planet to extract one of their spies from a Skrull stronghold. I thought this whole segment came off as Star War-lite and that wise-cracking Vers seemed to be the only Kree soldier we meet who has any kind of real personality. The rest of her team is pretty forgettable, even Djimon Honsou as Korath, and Jude Law—a normally terrific actor—is forced to play bland sci-fi commander Yon-Rogg. It’s not until Vers get to Earth that things get interesting at all, thanks for Fury, a cat named Goose (one of the best characters in the movie, without saying a word), and Ben Mendleson as Talos, and even that wasn’t exciting enough to get this movie out of the breakdown lane. Speaking of which, a generic car chase scene just smacks of cliché.

Basically, I liked Brie Larsen as Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, but this is yet another weak origin story and her character didn’t get interesting at all until the very end. Annette Benning is okay as a scientist from Danvers’ past (as well as the Kree AI overlord The Supreme Intelligence, who looked so much cooler in the comics), Lashana Lynch and Akira Akbar are good as Maria Rambeau, Danver’s best friend from her past, and her daughter, Monica, respectively. And it’s always good to see Jackson and Gregg. But the script is like an hour and forty minutes of boredom and 24 minutes of adrenaline, which is way off balance. At least our “Captain oh Captain” is set up to make a big splash when she returns in AVENGERS: ENDGAME next month (April 26th, to be precise).

For those who are scratching their heads and wondering, “Isn’t Captain Marvel a teenage boy who turns into a Superman wannabe?” You’re not losing your minds. Back in the 40s and 50s, Billy Batson said the secret word SHAZAM! and turned into the first Captain Marvel, but then DC Comics sued Charlton Comics, saying the Captain was too much like Superman, and so he disappeared. Afterwards, Marvel got the rights to the name Captain Marvel, and ran with it (several characters have born the name “Captain Marvel” since 1969, including Ms. Danvers) and then DC bought the rights to the actual character we knew as Captain Marvel, calling him just plain SHAZAM (and there’s a SHAZAM! movie coming out April 5th from DC , to make things even more confusing).

CAPTAIN MARVEL is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who previously gave us such indie films as the baseball drama SUGAR (2008) and gambling drama MISSISSIPPI GRIND (2015). They also worked together on the excellent “teacher with a drug habit” flick HALF NELSON (2006), which Fleck directed alone and Boden co-wrote the screenplay for. The screenplay for CAPTAIN MARVEL is by Boden, Fleck and Geneva Robertston-Dworet, and is “based on a story” by Boden, Fleck, Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve. That’s a lot of writers for a script that’s so bland.

I hate to say it, but despite a good cast, a cool lead character, and a lot of potential, CAPTAIN MARVEL is a disappointment. And kind of one big yawn. It could have been so much cooler. But, as it is, I give it two knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives CAPTAIN MARVEL ~ two knives.

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MY TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018

By LL Soares

 With no further to do, here is my list of my favorite films of 2018, in order:

  1. ANNIHILATION– I was already impressed with Alex Garland after his 2014 film EX MACHINA. ANNIHILATION was even better. Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, and starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tessa Thompson, it’s about a group of women who explore a patch of land that has been altered by a meteorite and has evolved into something more extraterrestrial than earthbound. The look and feel of the movie, combined with the strong story and fine acting, made this one to beat in 2018 when it came out last February. Despite some strong contenders, I didn’t see anything else that was as good. With an ending that reminded me of Kubrick, in a good way. And that’s high praise..
  2. MANDY– Directed by Panos Cosmatos, who also gave us 2010’s BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, how much you’ll enjoy MANDY may depend, in part, on how much you like actor Nicolas Cage. He’s appeared in some pretty awful movies over the years, but 2018 saw something of a renaissance in Cage’s career, with this one, MOM AND DAD and LOOKING GLASS. Cage plays a lumberjack whose wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) is kidnapped and killed by a weird-ass cult led by a thoroughly creepy dude named Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). Cage’s Red Miller suffers greatly before getting his revenge. A completely insane movie that redeems Cage for his cinematic sins.
  3. SUSPIRIA – I’m a big fan of the original 1977 movie by Dario Argento. It’s one of his best – if not the very best. But the first thing to do when seeing Luca Guadagnino’s “remake” is to consider this a completely different film. Except for the title and some plot similarities, the two films are separate entities. Compared to Argento, this film will come up short, but on its own, it’s a thrilling, visually-stunning flick, with the underrated Dakota Johnson as Susie Bannion, who arrives in  Berlin in 1977 to join the modern dance school where Madame Blanc (the always amazing Tilda Swinton) teaches. I actually didn’t care for the very first scene between a muddled Chloe Grace Moretz and her psychiatrist played by Lutz Ebersdorf (Swinton in disguise as a man, but the trick isn’t as astounding as everyone involved thinks it is), but once that scene is over, it kicks into full gear, and, despite its flaws, turns out to be a thrilling experience. With some gruesome scenes (including a terrific final 30 minutes), some amazing modern dance sequences, and a terrific score by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, this was one of the best times I had in a theater in 2018. The fact that it is number 3 on my list, despite my complaints, means what’s good about this movie is very good indeed.
  4. THE FAVOURITE & THE TALE (tie)– Director Yorgos Lanthimos, who previously gave us some surreal (and terrific) films like THE LOBSTER (2015) and THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017) , gave us his most accessible film in 2018, a period drama about England’s Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her relationships with Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Sarah’s cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), two women competing to be the Queen’s advisor and confidante. But Lanthimos, being who he is, doesn’t’ just give us a dry episode of MASTERPIECE THEATER. His film has its bizarre moments, but it also is a lot of fun, with three amazing performances at its heart by Colman, Weisz and Stone. A wonderful film. ///THE TALE – Jennifer Fox’s amazing film (based on real aspects from her childhood) didn’t get a real theatrical release, instead airing on HBO in May 2018. It stars Laura Dern as a woman who looks back on an “affair” she had with an older guy (Jason Ritter) when she was an underage teenager, and her slow realization that it was actually molestation, and has deeply damaged her as an adult. Probably the most disturbing movie I saw in 2018, this one has real power.
  5. FIRST REFORMED and YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (tie). Paul Schraeder, who has written some true classics (TAXI DRIVER, 1976, RAGING BULL, 1980), and directed some as well (HARDCORE, 1979, AFFLICTION, 1997, AUTO FOCUS, 2002), has seemed a little adrift the past decade or so, but FIRST REFORMED is a return to greatness. About a Protestant minister who has a crisis of faith while trying to help a trouble vet obsessed with climate change—who undergoes a transformation of his own—with a killer last scene that transcends everything that came before it. With an amazing central performance by Ethan Hawke, possibly his career best, and great supporting work by Amanda Seyfried and the (criminally underrated) Cedric the Entertainer./// YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE gives us Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, a man who is hired to liberate kidnapped children who are being used in sex trafficking. He’s a troubled vet who is struggling to keep his sanity and who lives primarily to save other people’s lives, and a veritable violence machine bent on righting wrongs, no matter what the cost, even it’s his own soul. With another mesmerizing performance by Phoenix, and excellent direction by Lynne Ramsay, who also wrote the screenplay, based on the book by Jonathan Ames.
  6. HEREDITARY and SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (tie) – When HEREDITARY came off of some festival showings, the buzz was deafening. This was the horror movie to see in 2018. When I finally saw it, I have to admit, I was a tiny bit disappointed. But this is the kind of movie that grows on you. We’ve seen some of this kind of story before, but here it’s presented in a fresh, vibrant new coat of paint. With a terrific performance by Toni Collette as Annie, a mother dealing with grief as she builds fascinating tableaus featuring miniatures. Collette really deserves more praise for an impressive career. With strong supporting work from Gabriel Byrne as her husband, Steve; Alex Wolff as her troubled son, Peter; and Ann Dowd as a creepy lady named Joan. And a truly chilling performance by Milly Shapiro as Annie’s daughter, Charlie. Even more impressive, this was Ari Aster’s feature movie debut. /// SORRY TO BOTHER YOU offers Lakeith Stanfield (Darius on the FX series ATLANTA) in an effective lead performance as Cassius Green, a down-on-his-luck telemarketer who finds fame (of a sort) and fortune once he learns to tap into his inner “white voice.” With great supporting roles by Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun and Armie Hammer (and some strange horse creatures), this was a rare thoroughly surreal adventure (when’s the last time we had one of those?), directed by another first-timer, rapper Boots Reilly.
  7. BLACK PANTHER – the best superhero movie of the year is brought to us via Marvel and director Ryan Coogler, and features T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), a super-powered costumed crimefighter who also happens to be the king of a small (technologically advanced) African nation. This was like no superhero movie before it, with a focus on the traditions and culture of a fictional nation that made it seem completely real, right down to the ritual battles to claim the crown. With terrific supporting work from Danai Gurira (Michonne from The Walking Dead), Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s genius sister, Shuri, and Michael B. Jordon as the bitter (and sympathetic) bad guy, Erik Killmonger. It has its flaws: including completely wasting potential bad guy Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who becomes the very cool baddie Klaw in the comics (but not here), and Martin Freeman as the bland (and sometimes annoying) S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Everett K. Ross (who seemed completely unnecessary to the story to me). Despite that, this one offered a really refreshing spin on the superhero genre. And was an awful lot of fun.
  8. UPGRADE – I went into this one with no expectations. It features Logan Marshall-Green (from THE INIVITATION, 2015) as a guy who is paralyzed (and his wife is murdered) in a violent attack, and who is given a second chance when a chip with an Artificial Intelligence called Stem (voiced by Simon Maiden) is implanted in his spine, giving him his mobility back, and a whole new set of skill sets, some specifically made for killing. Not really a totally new idea, but Green sells it and the movie does a good job making it a very entertaining joy ride. The best parts are the conversations between Green and Stem, who wants to take over his body. Kind of an internal buddy movie. The superhero movie VENOM reminded me of this one, with Tom Hardy talking to the alien symbiote that has invaded his body. Except Hardy (and Michelle Williams) were the only good things in the otherwise awful (script-wise) VENOM. In UPGRADE, it all worked, and the story was equally compelling. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who previously directed INSIDIOUS, CHAPTER 3 (where he also played Specs) and wrote the first three SAW movies. I enjoyed this one much more than I should have.
  9. ROMA/THE APOSTLE (tie) – ROMA is currently streaming on Netflix (and having a limited theatrical run) and offers a beautiful black and white look back at director Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood. It’s more interested in characters than plot, and focuses mostly on a servant named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who takes care of a wealthy family in a section of Mexico City called Roma, and is a mother figure to the kids (while their real mother can’t be bothered most of the time). It’s about everyday life and even though it is a bit slow paced, it really works as a remembrance of things past. /// In Gareth Evans’ THE APOSTLE, Dan Stevens (who seems to be having a lot of fun since leaving Downton Abbey) plays a man who goes to a weird island that is home to a pagan cult. He’s there to find his kidnapped sister and bring her home. But nothing goes according to plan, and things get a lot worse (and violent) before they get any better. Stevens is terrific, as is Michael Sheen as the Prophet Malcolm. Written and directed by Gareth Evans, who previously gave us THE RAID movies.
  10. A QUIET PLACE – director/actor John Krasinski and his co-star (and real life wife) Emily Blunt give us a small film about a big event: the destruction of earth by creatures that kill whatever they can hear. Throughout the film, the main characters—a couple and their kids—have to keep it quiet to stay alive, but that doesn’t take anything away from the riveting story. While I also enjoyed the (similarly themed) recent Netflix film BIRD BOX (starring Sandra Bullock and based on the novel by Josh Malerman), A QUIET PLACE is the one that makes my list.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR—Just about every hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (except for a few missing faces like Hawkeye and Ant-Man) goes up against the formidable bad guy Thanos, who wants to wipe out half of the universe. And yet, even though the movie juggles an absurd amount of characters, you never once get lost or wonder what’s going on (if you’ve been following the Marvel movies). For this juggling act alone, I thought INFINITY WAR was impressive. But the fact that Thanos is a worthy bad guy (this isn’t always the case in Marvel movies) and the story actually has some decent heft, made it shine so much more than the last Avengers movie, AGE OF ULTRON (2015).

THOROUGHBREDS—Anya Taylor-Joy (THE WITCH, 2015) is Lily, a rich girl who hates her creepy stepfather. Olivia Cooke (ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, 2015, and the TV series BATES MOTEL) is Amanda, a girl she used to be friends with when they were younger—who she reunites with for a tutoring gig. Amanda can’t feel emotions and is prone to violence, and has spent her life pretending to be normal all her life. When Amanda suggests they kill Lily’s asshole stepfather (Paul Sparks, BOARDWALK EMPIRE), things get weird. With Anton Yelchin (GREEN ROOM, 2015) in his last role, as a scuzzy drug dealer named Tim. This was the feature debut of director Cory Finley.

A STAR IS BORN—yet another remake of this classic story of a successful man having a romance with a newcomer who he helps become a star, just as his own star is falling. Star/director Bradley Cooper is really good in this, and makes for a pretty believable rock star. Lady Gaga is equally as good, coming a long way from the stiff acting she did back on AMERICAN HORROR STORY. The music is good, too. Good movie, but not enough to make my top 10 list.

STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT—I’m not really sure why I love these movies. PREY AT NIGHT is a sequel, coming a decade after the original THE STRANGERS (2008). The three masked weirdos from the original film return to terrorize a family in a trailer park and knock them off one by one. I really enjoyed the original, and I enjoyed the bleakness of this one as well. Directed by Johannes Roberts.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF 2018

I really wanted to like THE HAPPYTOWN MURDERS. It stars Melissa McCarthy as a human detective who investigates a murder among puppets, who now live among us. Featuring puppets that swear constantly and have sex. Sounds like it could be hilarious. But the one thing this movie didn’t have was laughs. I didn’t laugh once. It was just depressing.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

If you liked this and you want to check out another “Best of 2018” List, go here to check out Dan Keohane’s favorite films of 2018.

 

AQUAMAN (2018)

Review by LL Soares

I was really looking forward to this one. First off, I’m probably one of the few people who actually liked JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017), and I found Jason Momoa’s take on Aquaman to be intriguing (but the number one character from JUSTICE LEAGUE I’d love to see get his own movie is Cyborg!). Also, after the success of WONDER WOMAN (2017), it looked like DC Comics was starting to get their superhero solo movies right. I was also excited because, like Wonder Woman, this was a chance for a major DC hero to star in a movie – one who had never done so before. We’ve had dozens of Batman and Superman movies over the years, but it’s about time some of the other big heroes had a chance to shine. I have no clue what happened to GREEN LANTERN (2011), featuring one of my favorite DC characters, when he was adapted for the screen and…totally bombed, but it seemed like DC was getting back on the right course lately with its mission to imitate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hell, DC has some pretty great superhero characters of their own, and it was about time they were expanding things to include all of the other kick-ass characters in their armoire. Besides, Aquaman is a favorite of mine from way back in the days when I was a kid and he was in the SUPER FRIENDS (1973 – 2011) cartoon, even if he was the butt of lots of jokes since, as the guy whose main power seemed to be the ability to talk to fishes (move over Luca Brasi!).

But something happened to AQUAMAN on its way to the big screen. Something…confusing…that has resulted in a very lackluster script. I was excited to hear that James Wan was going to direct. He’s the director who made his name with the SAW and CONJURING movies – and while I really didn’t think AQUAMAN would be anything like his horror franchises, I thought he was an interesting choice who would bring a new angle to the superhero genre. Early indications were that he was very ambitious, which was a good sign.

Jason Mamoa (also Khal Drogo in the first season of GAME OF THRONES, Conan in the movie CONAN THE BARBARIAN, 2011, as well as in the shows STARGATE: ATLANTIS, 2005 -2009, and the Netflix series FRONTIER) and in the movies once again plays Arthur Curry, a half-human, half-Atlantean prince whose mother, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), Queen of Atlantis, washed ashore off the coast of Maine one day, injured in battle. She is taken in by a lighthouse keeper named Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison, of the great movie ONCE WERE WARRIORS, 1993, and he was Jango Fett in STAR WARS: EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES, 2002) and nursed to health, leading to a love story and the birth of Arthur. But his mother is taken away from him early on. His father is a nice enough guy, but it’s visits from his mother’s trusted advisor Vulko (Willem Dafoe, also in Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN, 2002, and Lars von Trier’s ANTICHRIST, 2009) that gives him the training he needs to be a warrior, and to control his powers. These include communicating with sea life, of course (something he finds out early in a scene involving a class trip to “the Boston Aquarium” (last time I checked it was called The New England Aquarium).

A woman warrior from sunken Atlantis named Mera (Amber Heard of ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, 2006) shows up one day to tell Arthur about his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson, who was Nite Owl in WATCHMEN, 2009, and was also in James Wan’s INSIDIOUS, 2010, and THE CONJURING, 2013), a full-blooded Atalantean who wants to unite the various undersea kingdoms to form an army to attack the surface world. In order to stop this onslaught, Arthur has to return with her to Atlantis and take the throne, something easier said than done. But Arthur does have Mera on his side (she is engaged to Orm, strangely enough) and good old Vulko. But it may not be enough.

Orm is the principal villain, even if he doesn’t believe he is a bad guy (he has a point about the surface world dumping its garbage in the seas). In the comics his character is called OceanMaster, and when he tries to use the moniker in the film, it sounds awfully silly. Much more interesting is a modern-day pirate (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II of the Netflix series THE GET DOWN, 2016-2017, and the movie THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, 2017) who has a score to settle with Aquaman (concerning the death of his pirate father in the very first scene), and who is working with the Atlantians, using some technology they give him to create special battle armor and call himself Black Manta.

Anyway, Black Manta has powerful lasers that shoot out the of the eyes of his helmet and he’s a formidable bad guy (and much more interesting than Orm). He does his best to get revenge. Meanwhile, Arthur has to face off with Orm in a gladiator pit called the Ring of Fire in a “challenge for the crown” fight that reminded me an awful lot of the similar royal battles in BLACK PANTHER (2018). Except BLACK PANTHER did it much better.

The problem with AQUAMAN isn’t the characters per se. Or the actors. They do what they can. But the plot is convoluted, sometimes a bit draggy, and overall way too long. It’s a movie that overstays its welcome, and more than once I found myself feeling pretty bored with it all, despite the spectacle of multi-colored CGI sea creatures. Then again, maybe all the colorful CGI effects were meant to distract us from the lame storyline. It’s not half as exciting as it thinks it is.

Wan does an okay job directing this one, but the script—by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (who previously wrote ORPHAN, 2009, THE CONJURING 2, 2016, and several episodes of THE WALKING DEAD) and Will Beall (who wrote the screenplay for GANGSTER SQUAD, 2013, and episodes of the TV shows CASTLE, 2009 – 2011, and TRAINING DAY, 2018), based on a story idea by Wan, Beall and Geoff Johns—is weak and lacking in anything really fresh. We’ve seen all this before, and there’s nothing here to make AQUAMAN more exciting than any other superhero flick, or much different than the cookie-cutter flicks we’ve seen way too many of.

While it’s great to see Arthur Curry finally get his own movie, I wish it was a better one.

But at least it’s not as bad as GREEN LANTERN.

I give it two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives AQUAMAN ~ 2 1/2 knives!

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One interesting side note. Aquaman is one of those DC characters who has a very similar doppleganger in the Marvel Universe. Marvel’s Namor, the Sub-Mariner, is also a half-Atlantean prince with a similar origin story. But listen to this—Aquaman first appeared in “More Fun Comics” #73, way back in 1941, created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris. You’d think with that kind of pedigree he’d be the original underwater superhero. I mean – 1941!! But Marvel’s Sub-Mariner, who first appeared back when the company was called Timely Comics, was created by the great Bill Everett way back in 1939. He was first created for a comic called “Motion Pictures Funnies Weekly” that was never released, before showing