Captain Marvel

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is shifting gears to the next phase, and that means new heroes and another universe. I know nothing about the comic books of the new Marvel character who carries the brand as her moniker, but I can say the movie has been worked pretty effectively into the current MCU sequences and it looks like things will run smoothly after our Avengers are decimated with the departures of some of the long time characters and actors.

It does however take a while for the new central figure to grip our interest. The opening half hour of this movie is a collection of flashback, flash forwards and partially revealed narrative that is confusing at times. The screenwriters are deliberately creating a sucker punch that is not that difficult to see coming, given the rest of the history of Marvel. The science fiction elements will draw heavily on the same kinds of imagery and story lines we got in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, but without the initial charm of a clearly sympathetic figure. From the beginning of the story, Carol Danvers who is also Vers on the Kree homeworld of Hala, is a bit of a cipher. If people remember their Marvel history, they will be shaking their heads because the Nova force that was portrayed in the Guardians film was the heroic Federation that stood against the Kree Empire who were apparently villains. This movie gives us a shift in perspective but not necessarily a fair one. Never the less it was a creative method to get our human air force pilot into superhero mode.

It really takes her return to Earth to start the enjoyable part of the movie. When Vers ends up on what the Kree refer to as C-55, she begins to recover some of the memories that lead her to become a member of the star force and a subject to the Supreme Intelligence. Earth in 1995 lives in most of the viewers distant memories and it seem like it would be easy to get that familiar vibe back. This was the main weak part of the production. Other than some soundtrack tunes and a couple of anachronistic computer references, Blockbuster video has to do all the heavy lifting to get us to imagine it is twenty four years ago. The two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who encounter her are well known in the MCU. Nick Fury is the real co-star with Carol Danvers and this was where there was finally some life injected into the comic action. We need more of the kind of by-play that Samuel Jackson had with other Marvel heroes to make this feel like the same universe and to have some fun. As Danvers and Fury become allies, the story starts to make more sense and the process of revealing narrative becomes a lot simpler to follow.

Much has been made of the feminine hero angle for this movie. I will gladly let others pontificate on the patriarchy, bechdel test, and third wave feminism. I see the movie as empowering to all kids who struggle to find their place in the world. When Vers starts to break her molded persona and assert her humanity, it is how through a series of flashbacks to her as a girl and woman at different stages of her life. It will certainly play as a scene of female empowerment, and that’s great, but more importantly, it is an assertion of individuality that needs to be acknowledged, regardless of the gender of the hero. At the end of the film, there is a scene where carol matches her mentor played by Jude Law, and the line that Brie Larson spouts will certainly resonate with all the homogametic audience members.

The story does feel like it is plugging in to the Avengers Infinity War series in some pretty obvious ways, and of course the mid-credit sequence will flick on the switch for those anticipating next months concluding chapter. As a stand alone film, Captain Marvel is solid and entertaining. It may not be as impactful  as the first “Ironman”  or as exciting as “The Avengers”, but it has plenty to offer fans of the superhero genre and it is clearly going to be a big success. It is not a placeholder in the MCU, it is an important step forward so that the direction of the films can shift to new realms, quantum or otherwise.

Free Fire

There is something just great about a movie set in a single claustrophobic location, filled with criminals. “Reservoir Dogs” by Quentin Tarantino served as his introduction to the world. The colorful characters and bantering dialogue were a swift kick in the pants to movie fans who had become jaded by traditional action thrillers. Just a couple of years ago, he plagiarized himself with another location bound crime film, this one set in the old west, “The Hateful Eight”. While he has played with the idea of a single location, both of those films involve substantial flashback stories that take us from the set spot to other locations during the run time of the movie. “Free Fire” does not do any such thing. Everyone arrives at the location, and then the rest of the film takes place exclusively in those confines.

This is basically a criminal deal gone bad, that ends up in a shootout. It sounds very basic and from the perspective of story, it is. There are however a few tweaks that director Ben Wheatley and his co-screenwriter Amy Jump throw into the concoction.  For instance, the spark that lights the already intense situation has nothing to do with the deal. By coincidence, a couple of hotheads with a beef are in the two factions and tempers flare around a bunch of volatile people. Almost all of the characters are given some distinctive personality quirks in a short set up, and as a result we know that even when they are allied with another person, their inclination is likely to be to shoot.

Like most films featuring criminal activity, the parties are not entirely reliable. There are a number of double crosses and switches of loyalty. When bullets start to fly, often the direction you point your gun in is largely determined by where a previous shot came from. Early on, one character quizzes another, trying to reassure themselves, “You’re not FBI are you?” “No. I’m IFM, In it For Myself.” By the midway point of the film, pretty much everyone has joined the same group. free_fire

The stars of the film are Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and Academy Award Winner Brie Larson. Larson plays Justine, a go between for the IRA group that wants some weapons, and the black-marketeers that are willing to supply them.  Her part here makes a little more sense than her recent turn as a photo journalist in “Kong: Skull Island”,  but she basically serves the same purpose, to be the sole representative of her gender with a part in the story. The humor that is the main selling point of this film is enhanced by her presence as a distraction to the others and an opportunity to use some lines of dialogue to promote gender equity in a more unusual way. Hammer is the cooler than thou broker who always has a bon mot to drop. Sometimes he insults the players, often he is incredulously commenting on the circumstances. Copley is the ace in the hole for the movie. His first appearance provokes laughter as his suit is so clearly a 70s cut and his hair and other styling reek  of the decade. His odd South African accent, combined with a belligerent manner and a chip on his shoulder make for a great character that you can just tell will be the source of all kinds of amusement.

I should mention two other scene stealers as they are the ones who lite the fuse and just won”t let it burn out during the story. Sam Riley is a weaselly junkie, brought in on the job simply to load weapons and act as back up muscle. Everybody in this movie kicks his ass to some degree or another. Jack Reynor, who was the standout supporting character of the older brother in “Sing Street” last year, adds another great character role as a counter part local thug who has a surprise connection to the other character. Testosterone induced violence, flavored with a heavy dose of grim humor, and a seemingly endless supply of ammo, makes this film sing as well.

free fire

Our attendance last night was at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood, where there are frequent guest appearances to promote a film. Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer were there last night and will return this evening to talk about some of the behind the scenes stories of the film. Both men were avuncular raconteurs who regaled us with amusing anecdotes about hair, wardrobe and the use of fire on set. The half hour was fun but not particularly deep. Let’s face it the movie isn’t deep, it is just entertaining as were the two stars.

After the Q and A.
Costume Display in the Arclight Lobby

Kong Skull Island

There is no news here. This is a big action film with a giant ape that fights humans an monsters on an island. It is pretty much what you expect it to be. It is entertaining while you watch it and forgettable almost immediately. You will have enough time to consume your popcorn, but I don’t expect there to be deep conversations into the night over the nuances of the story. Samuel Jackson may be playing Captain Ahab or Colonel Kurtz, trying to win the Vietnam War after we abandon our ally, but  that plotline goes no where except to create a little motivation for otherwise foolish choices by a professional.

Tom Hiddleston seems to be auditioning for his role as the next James Bond by playing a SAS agent, out of service but willing to contract for a fee. He is supposed to be the hero part in the movie and he was fine, but the character is so thin that we don’t get much rooting interest. Academy Award Winner Brie Larson is on hand as a photo journalist who smells a story. It’s never clear how she got authorized to be there but that doesn’t matter. I was completely surprised that the film is set in 1973. I suppose there are story issues that are easier to sell that way but it does seem a bit disconcerting. John C. Reilly is part Rip Van Winkle and part Dennis Hopper when the expedition gets to the island. Somebody on the writing team must be a Cubs fan because that is a thing here.20170116_130706

Anyone who has seen a King Kong movie before, knows that Kong is a double edged sword. He is as scary and dangerous as hell, but there are always other things that are more frightening and dangerous, including mankind.  There is actually a subtle environmentalist message in the movie, but I doubt anyone will notice it between all the helicopter crashes and monster battles. The tribesmen on this version of the island are just as silent as the ones in the Peter Jackson film of a Dozen years ago, but they are less malevolent and apparently wise in the balance of nature. They have the role of religious shamans who convey wisdom to the modern world but do so in a silent manner.

John Goodman got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in conjunction with the release of this film. This is a good sized part but nothing special as far as his performance. It would have been so much more befitting if the honor had been bestowed on him last year. Samuel Jackson is a lot more subdued than he usually is, I don’t think I can remember one  use by him of his favorite adjective. There was a nice call back however to his role in Jurassic Park. That was entirely fitting given the nature of this film being about giant monsters on the loose on an island.

You are probably aware that there is an after the credits scene. It is entirely there to set up a series of future films featuring Kong. The studios that combined to create this movie are trying to set up a cinematic universe which will support all kinds of 50s monsters being in a story. It will probably work, this movie will do business until another action film worthy of our attention shows up. Until then, check your common sense at the service counter and pass the Hot Tamales. They will go well with the butter oil in the popcorn, and they will be satisfying for about the same amount of time as this film.