Movie Reviews Archives for 2019-03

Movie Review Dumbo (2019)

Dumbo is a good movie that I feel good recommending to you. The film is solid, well-made, sturdy, family entertainment with just enough laughs and good nature to make it work. I find myself in an odd position with this statement however as I have received some backlash from my radio review of Dumbo. On the radio, I said that I liked the movie, that it was ‘good enough.’ This led to more than one listener asking me why I ‘don't like’ Dumbo. I’m here to tell you, I do like Dumbo despite its many notable flaws.

 

Dumbo is the story of a little elephant born with giant ears who learns to fly with the help of a pair of ingenious siblings. This is a live action take on the 1941 Disney animated movie that, at 65 minutes in length, barely qualified to be called a ‘feature’ film. This version, crafted by daft auteur Tim Burton, is more than two hours long and feels about that long. Gone are the talking animals in favor of some well crafted human characters. Best of all, no problematic bird characters.

 

Newcomers, Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins star in Dumbo as sister and brother, Milly and Joe Farrier. Milly and Joe recently lost their mother but are lucky to have their war hero father, Holt (Colin Farrell), back home from World War 1 and ready to resume life on the road with the Medici Brothers Circus, under the leadership of Max Medici (Danny Devito). Unfortunately, Holt lost an arm in the war and without his beloved wife, he’s lost his once vaunted horse show.

 

With nothing else available with the circus, Max puts Holt in charge of the elephants and specifically, a new baby elephant that Max hopes will be the savior of the circus. Then, Max meets Dumbo and sees his giant, ungainly, ears. Max doesn’t believe that Dumbo will be an asset to the circus and when Dumbo is mistreated by the circus roustabouts, Dumbo’s mom, Jumbo leaps to her son’s defense and a man is killed.

 

Jumbo is deemed a dangerous animal and is sold to another circus. With his mother gone, Dumbo is left in the care of Milly and Joe who care for him and teach him a game. They begin blowing a feather back and forth only to find that when Dumbo sniffs the feather and sneezes, he flies up in the air with his giant ears as wings. Eventually, with prodding from Milly and Joe, Dumbo learns to fly and becomes the star of the circus.

 

Naturally, the flying baby elephant gains nationwide notoriety and the attention of circus entrepreneur, V.A Vandervere (Michael Keaton). Vandervere makes Max his partner in a massive money venture that lands the entire Medici Circus in the big city where Dumbo will star alongside Collete (Eva Green), an acrobat, in a brand new, outlandish show. Vandervere means to exploit Dumbo for all he’s worth, even if that means making sure Dumbo never sees his mom again.

 

There are no spoilers in that description. There are far more characters and more action than what I have described in this review of Dumbo. Tim Burton does well to craft a large, entertaining and colorful canvas. Despite that, this is not typical of Tim Burton’s style. There is an impersonal, mercenary quality to Dumbo that is unusual for Burton’s work. Burton directs like a director for hire rather than a director with a dedicated vision for telling this story.

 

Dumbo has a perfunctory quality that makes the film far more average and standard than truly great entertainment. There is nothing really, terribly wrong with Dumbo, but it is not transcendent or memorable in the way Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella was or even as elaborate and fantastical as the live action Beauty and the Beast. The scale feels smaller and the story lacks the kind of stakes that those films established.

 

The biggest issues with Dumbo are more taste issues. For instance, I didn’t care for the way that Tim Burton directed Michael Keaton to be Johnny Depp-lite. Keaton’s Vandervere has all of the quirk and cadence of Johnny Depp at his most affected. The same could be said of Eva Green who is directed by Burton to play Colette exactly as Burton’s wife Helena Bonham Carter would have played her, with the same lilting affectations.

 

This, aside from a few scenes reminiscent of the lovely watercolors of Alice in Wonderland, though far better than those dreadful movies, are the only Tim Burton signatures in Dumbo. As I mentioned earlier, he doesn’t appear invested in this story or this production in the way he has in his previous movies, specifically the movies he wrote and directed on his own. Burton appears comfortable having delivered screenwriter Ehren Kruger’s simplistic story to the screen with little innovation.

 

Nevertheless, Dumbo is not a bad movie. Dumbo the character is quite engaging for a CGI creation and the flying scenes capture the wonder of the circus and a world where magic still seemed possible. The period setting has a dreamlike, magical quality and though the milquetoast heroes don’t standout all that much, they do enough to be rousing and charming enough to keep audiences engaged and in a pleasant mood.

 

Dumbo is a good movie. It’s at the lower end of the modern Disney live action adaptations, above Alice in Wonderland and The Jungle Book but well below the transcendent masterpiece that was Cinderella and the lovely Beauty and the Beast. It will be interesting to rank Dumbo when Aladdin and The Lion King finally arrive in theaters this summer and next summer respectively. For now though, I do recommend taking the family to see Dumbo.

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Movie Review Us

Us is a horror movie event. Jordan Peele has turned his every work into something everyone needs to see. Following up the break out success of his Academy Award winning Get Out, Peele has busted through some very high expectations and created another masterful horror movie. Us is a chilling, gripping, watch-it-through-your-fingers, entertaining creepfest. That it is also masterfully acted and directed is an example of how too many filmmakers allow genre to hold them back.

 

Us stars Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson, suburban mother of two. Adelaide is happily married to Gabe and the two of them have a daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright), and a son, Jason (Evan Alex). As we meet them, the family is on their way to Adelaide’s mother’s former home where they will spend the weekend and go to the nearby beach to spend time with their friends, party boy, Josh (Tim Heidecker) and wine-mom Kitty (Elizabeth Moss).

 

Adelaide is putting on a strong face but as she tells Gabe, she really doesn’t want to be here. The beach holds a very specific and terrifying memory for Adelaide. When she was 12 years old, she was separated from her parents and wound up in a creepy hall of mirrors. There, she encountered a 12 year old girl who looked exactly like here in every way. This was no mere reflection, it was a flesh and blood twin with an otherworldly, dangerous look in her eyes.

 

Adelaide was changed forever that day and it took years for her to begin speaking and acting as herself again. Now, returning to the beach, Adelaide has begun seeing signs of things to come and old fears begin to re-emerge. Is her doppelganger still out there? What about the terrible menace in that young twins’ cold, laughing eyes? While Gabe remains oblivious, Adelaide has a distinct feeling of dread.

 

I won’t go any further discussing the plot. The title and the trailer gives you a strong enough indication of what you are in for. That said, there is plenty of elements of Us that you will not see coming. Writer-Director Jordan Peele has once again tapped a thicket of social commentary and metaphor for audiences either to disentangle or simple bare witness to. Peele’s direction is sharply focused and his story and characters have depth, drama and humor.

 

Lupita Nyong’o is an Academy Award contender in anything she chooses to do but Us especially calls forth our appreciation for her talent. Nyong’o deserves Academy consideration for her dense and provocative performance as two halves of a whole person, the dark and the light, demon and the suburban mother of two. Nyong’o switches seemingly effortlessly between the stressed mom on the edge and a psychopath with a severe, sharp edged intensity and manner.

 

Winston Duke, who rose to fame as the massive M’Baku, Black Panther’s rival turned ally in Black Panther and Avengers, plays the comic relief of Us. While Nyong’o is the standout dramatist, holding us the palm of her hand throughout, Duke plays the comedy heavy, using his 6 plus foot 275 pound frame to give comic framework to a living, breathing, walking, dad joke. Duke also gets moments to be menacing and intense, but his comic work is what I loved about Us.

 

Us is one of the best horror movies of this young century. It ranks next to Peele’s Get Out as one of the landmarks of the genre in recent memory. I’m perhaps over-hyping it but I legitimately believe every word of this, Jordan Peele is hitting home runs each time he steps to the plate thus far. I watched Us through my fingers while I squirmed in my laid back, feet-up, movie theater easy chair. I wasn’t still for more than a few moments before my pulse raced again over a new development.

 

The ending is one of those great, gut-punch endings that even if you are able to predict it, it will still have a strong impact. Peele is just that damned talented. Us just works that well from a horror construction standpoint. The tension and suspense along with some surprisingly loud laughs and gasps, make for an insanely good time at the movies. Whether you are a fan of horror movies or not, I urge to see Us in theaters.

 

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Movie Review Captive State

Rupert Wyatt is a pretty terrific director. His Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an exceptional sequel in a series that was pretty heavy with greatness. Wyatt’s talent for colorful characters and kinetic action set-pieces served him well on Rise of the Planet of the Apes and he brings a similar talent to the new sci-fi action flick Captive State. Unfortunately, for all the good that Wyatt brings to Captive State, the film lacks an essential something, a star quality that could have raised it above the nature of television drama fare.

 

Captive State stars Ashton Sanders as Gabriel. As a child, Gabriel lost his father and sister to a group of attacking aliens that will come to be referred to as ‘Roaches’ for their bug like appearance. Gabriel’s brother, Rafe (Jonathan Majors), grew up to be a freedom fighter. While most of the rest of the world gave up hope and began serving the roaches, Gabriel and a small cabal of activists began fighting back.

 

It’s been five years, as we join the story of Captive State, since Gabriel last saw his brother. He assumes the worst but holds a flicker of hope. In his own little way, Gabriel is rebelling against the system. He and a friend have a plan to get out of their Chicago neighborhood and hopefully out from under the ‘Legislators’ as some have come to call the roaches and the humans who work for them and benefit from their betrayal with wealth and privilege.

 

The plan involves playing courier to a message, a phone number that he must sneak out of his job where he searches and destroys cell phone memory cards. The phone number is a lovely little creative device as it is written inside a rolled cigarette and we watch it sit precariously behind Gabriel’s ear as he witnesses someone in a similar situation get nabbed and taken away by the police. This sequence is a testament to the talent of director Wyatt and his editor, Andrew Groves, who build a strong, gradual tension even as we know its too early for our hero to falter.

 

The phone number bit almost coincidentally leads Gabriel to his brother. Rafe has been hiding out in their former apartment in a part of Chicago that had been almost completely decimated years earlier when the roaches sent hunters in to level the place while searching for Rafe and his crew of terrorists. This only hardened Rafe’s desire to battle back and try to light the match that he hopes will spark a revolution.

 

You may be wondering where John Goodman figures into all of this. He does, of course, feature prominently in the marketing of Captive State as the only recognizable actor in the movie, aside from a bit part played by Vera Farmiga. Goodman plays a police detective who believes that Gabriel may be the key to preventing another attack by Rafe and his freedom fighters. Goodman’s Detective Mulligan is a super smart character whose motives are well shrouded. I especially loved his brief interactions with Farmiga which carry both a ruefulness and mistrust and a genuine tenderness that informs all that eventually happens in the third act.

 

Again, Rupert Wyatt is a smart director and because of his clever choices and solid artistry, I kind of enjoy Captive State. Unfortunately, the rest of the film’s cast is where the movie struggles to the point that I struggle to recommend it to you, dear reader. Let me preface this that I believe Ashton Sanders is a fine actor. He does the best that he can but as a relative newcomer he is limited and what he lacks is the heft of recognition. You don’t know who Ashton Sanders is and by extension, Gabriel remains something of an unknown.

 

This problem extends to Jonathan Majors as Rafe. For a time, we are taken from Gabriel who becomes trapped by some alien force for a time and sidelined from the plot. With Majors are four other actors whose names I struggle to even identify on IMDB. None of these people are bad actors but they are about as recognizable as strangers in a crowd. We are supposed to invest in these characters as they plot a major attack on the legislators but I struggled to keep an eye on them and remember who they were.

 

I know this won’t be popular to say, but these roles needed more than merely competent actors. If these characters are going to be this important to the plot, they need to be played by people who carry some form of recognition with the audience. They need to be played by, for lack of a better descriptor: stars. These actors are competent but not one of them has the charisma of a star. I don’t mean box office attractions, I mean that ineffable quality, that charisma that sets some actors apart from others.

 

Actor Ben Mendelsohn s a frequent topic of discussion between myself and my friends. I have made fun of the fact that he is not a household name. I’m not wrong about that. But, what Mendelsohn has in spades is that ineffable quality; he stands out in a crowd. The camera doesn’t search for him, it’s attracted to him. Mendelsohn like great character actors before him such as J.T Walsh or the great Harry Dean Stanton or Ned Beatty, has a charisma that helps him stand apart from any crowd they are in.

 

Sadly, Jonathan Majors, Madeline Brewer, Marc Grapey, even the slightly more recognizable Kevin J. O’Connor, lack that charisma. This is not to say they won’t ever develop that recognition level, they are already quite capable performers. Unfortunately, a movie that relies so heavily on us being able to keep track of these characters needs actors who draw our eye and our sympathy based almost entirely on our innate attraction to them.

 

There are simply so many characters to track through Captive State that when things begin to happen at a breakneck pace it’s very easy to get lost in the crowd and our emotional connection to these faces we only barely remember is limited. If one of these characters were played by a Walton Goggins or a Margo Martindale or a Kal Penn, we might find it easier to get and stay invested in them and their fate.

 

I know some are saying that either this should not matter or that the actors in this movie aren’t good enough but I don’t think that is the case. I think these actors are fine, and even the direction is quite good at trying to help us stay with these actors but we don’t have that deeper recognition that comes from an actor or actress we remember. This plot would resonate more if we had a deeper connection to these minor yet important characters. Movie stars matter when you are trying to connect your audience to your characters.

 

This isn’t the only thing that holds back Captive State but it is the most trying element for me. The film grows a tad convoluted in the final act and the ending has a particular predictability to it but I could have got behind it if I were more invested in the supporting cast. That extends to our ostensible star, Ashton Sanders. As handsome and capable as he is, he’s not yet a movie star. He’s not ready to carry the burden of being the central figure in a major movie.

 

Some movies do benefit from a less than showy cast. Steven Soderbergh loves working with amateur casts and has made amazing movies with first time actors in unusual roles. His film Bubble is a minor classic that has no movie stars. Captive State however, is basically a big budget sci-fi movie on a shoestring budget. With a plot this big and a story this expansive, we need the grounding of a recognizable face. In this way, Captive State comes up just a little short of something I can fully recommend. 

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Movie Review Wonder Park

In January of 2018 Paramount Pictures fired director Dylan Brown from the animated movie Amusement Park over allegations of inappropriate behavior. Exactly what that behavior was we do not know. What we do know is that, more than one year later, Amusement Park, now titled Wonder Park, has arrived in theaters and it plays like a movie that was lacking a director. Now, that’s easy to say under the circumstances, but I genuinely feel that the movie lacks a rudder, a steady hand guiding the ship. Wonder Park is a sloppy amalgam of cartoon tropes without a strong throughline.

 

Wonder Park stars the voice of Brianna Denski as June, an imaginative young girl who spends her time dreaming up elaborate theme park rides that her mother, voiced by Jennifer Garner, whispers into the ear of her stuffed monkey named Peanut, voiced by Norbert Leo Butz, who creates them with his magic marker. Hours and days are dedicated to the elaborate design of Wonder Park which mom and dad, voiced by Matthew Broderick, allow to take over the entire home.

 

This is necessary as when June tried to bring Wonder Park to life outside the house, she nearly destroyed the neighborhood. June created a monstrous loop de loop roller coaster out of any pieces of free wood she and her friends could muster together. Naturally, things fly off the rails quickly and June and her friend Banky, voiced by Oev Michael Urbas, are nearly run down by a truck before crashing through every fence in the neighborhood.

 

Mom is upset but not too much and the two set about making Wonderland into their in-home project. This goes on until mom contracts plot cancer. Mom has to go away for a while to undergo treatment and without mom around, June doesn’t feel right continuing Wonderland without her. June takes down all of the dozens upon dozens of models she’d built and takes the many stuffed animals that featured in her fantasy and puts them all in a box in a closet.

 

So distraught is June that she begins to slavishly dedicate herself to her father’s health and wellbeing. She fawns over him and questions his ability to care for himself until he finally decides that she should get out of the house. June is to be whisked off to math camp for the summer but believing that dad cannot possibly get by without her, June ditches the math camp bus and ventures into the forest intent on getting back home.

 

June is soon distracted when she finds a small piece of her Wonderland blueprint moving magically through the air. She chases after the scrap of paper and it leads her deep into the woods where she stumbles over the entrance to Wonderland. It turns out, her imagination had manifested in a real form and was thriving until recently. Suddenly, a black cloud appears to be sucking up all of Wonderland and appears ready to consume the last of her stuffed animal friends when June arrives.

 

Manning the park are Greta (Mila Kunis), a wild boar and de facto leader, Steve (John Oliver), a cowardly porcupine, Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), a narcoleptic bear, and Gus and Cooper (Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong), a pair of woodchuck brothers always bounding into trouble teeth first. Together, they have been battling zombie stuffed monkeys in a war to keep what little of the park is left.

 

Where is Peanut? That’s a little touch of mystery that the film wastes little time giving away. I won’t spoil it here but the little weight given to Peanut’s apparent disappearance is pretty weak. It should mean something that the biggest avatar for June’s mom in this story is missing but instead, the movie trips over itself getting Peanut back into the story and undermines what I would assume would be the deeper meaning of his absence.

 

Wonder Park wants to be something on par with Inside Out, Pixar’s ingenious and emotional trip into the emotional and intellectual world of a young girl. Unfortunately, Wonder Park lacks any of that films substance and nuance. The characters aren’t nearly as memorable and Wonder Park is not nearly as funny as Inside Out. Indeed, Wonder Park pales in every comparison to Inside Out, even the animation which is arguably the best thing about Wonder Park, can’t hold a candle to anything Pixar has ever created, let alone the masterpiece that is Inside Out.

 

Weak narrative structure, meaningless metaphors and a shambling pace are the kinds of things that a good director might be able to work out. Unfortunately, Wonder Park didn’t have a director to help iron out those problems or to even patch them over well. Without that guiding hand you can sense just how much not having a director affected the failed final product that is Wonder Park. This lack of a guiding hand even extends to something as simple as the title. Despite the fact that everyone in the movie refers to Wonder Park as Wonderland, no one bothered to change the title. The words Wonder Park never appear in the movie and stand out as a symbol of the lack of focus that plagues the entirety of this animated adventure.

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Movie Review Five Feet Apart

Five Feet Apart stars the utterly brilliant Haley Lu Richardson in a story that is beneath her talent. Richardson stars as Stella Grant, a teenager coping with Cystic Fibrosis or CF. As we meet Stella, she is returning to the hospital with a new recurrence in her lifelong battle with CF. Stella is exceptionally familiar with this hospital, to the point that it appears as if they hold this room for her with her stuff already laid out. That could just be bad editing, but that’s how it plays. 

 

Also back in the hospital is Poe (Moises Arias), a fellow CF patient. The two of them have been going through CF treatments together for their whole lives and I did like some of their chemistry, even if Poe’s homosexuality is awkwardly jammed into the story via some truly terrible dialogue. The movie needs us to not worry about Poe being heartbroken when we are introduced to Stella’s actual love interest, the dreamy, Will Newman (Cole Sprouse). 

 

Will is a newcomer at this hospital having recently moved nearby with his single mother to take advantage of a drug trial that is Will’s last hope. While Stella can hope for new lungs that can buy her a few years of life, Will has a version of CF, called B-Cepacia, that is thus far incurable and means that he is not a candidate for new lungs. This has, quite reasonably, made Will an uncooperative patient who is simply waiting to die until he meets Stella. 

 

Yes, this is one of THOSE movies, where pretty teens die amid their quirky attempts at creating romance in the face of death. What makes 5 Feet Apart borderline irresponsible is the central gimmick which the film rather carelessly flogs for forced drama. You see, CF patients are kept at a strict, 6 feet apart distance. CF patients are so vulnerable to each others strains of virus that incidental contact could inflame brand new infections. 

 

This is especially dangerous because, as I mentioned, Will’s particular strain is even more deadly than those of Poe and Stella. Does this stop him from attempting to make contact and be around Stella? Of course not. Now, to be fair, the film does well to establish why Stella takes a particular interest in Will, beyond him being dreamy. The same sense that drives her to want to spend time in the NICU fawning over babies through a glass partition, draws her to the equally helpless hunk. 

 

There is also a well established trope of teenagers with no control over their lives via disease or abuse or something in that vein who take chances at whatever might make their life a little normal. It’s normal for pretty teenagers to want to be desired by other pretty teenagers. It’s normal for them to want things that they cannot really have and take a few risks in order to steal what little of the thing they can of what they can’t have. I am on board with that aspect, but it’s handled rather clumsily here. 

 

Five Feet Apart was directed by Justin Baldoni who counts on his resume a documentary in which he followed closely the life of a teenager with CF, among a group of patients with terminal disease. You can sense that he cares about getting the disease right, to a point. Baldoni appears to respect what goes into trying to survive CF for as long as one can. Sadly, the conventions of the modern medical drama crossed with the star-crossed teen romance doesn’t allow for the kind of care and nuance that Baldoni might want to bring to it. 

 

What we get instead is a series of cliched romantic bits that double as unintentional thriller setpieces as we watch in horror as the failed blocking of the characters fail to keep them at the safe distance that the disease plot requires. Sure, they keep saying that they are five feet apart but often it doesn’t look that way. Take the bit they do with a pool cue. Stella claims that the pool cue is five feet long and they use it in a way that allows them to mimic holding hands. However, in more than one scene they are clearly holding the cue wrong and drawing each other too close. 

 

This becomes a moot concern when they both leap into that swimming pool that all hospitals have. Why not just have them spit in each others mouths for pete’s sake. Just because the pool is chlorinated doesn’t mean it’s safe. Then they start splashing each other with water. Are you kidding me? Perhaps my germaphobe tendencies are coming to the fore but this seems more than a little irresponsible. Nevermind that these are two people who already struggle to breath now just jumping into a swimming pool and exerting themselves in a manner that would deeply stress their lungs. 

 

I’m probably just being overly picky, but details matter and Five Feet Apart gets far to many details wrong. That, combined with the fact of the film’s treacly and contrived set pieces, such as a late in the game escape from the hospital that coincides with an important turn of the plot, turns this serviceable teen weepie into something rather insufferable by the end. Five Feet Apart pushes the wrong buttons far too often for my taste, even as star Haley Lu Richardson does so many things right. 

 

Richardson is an exceptional young actress and proves herself to be far more interesting and intelligent than the movie she is stranded within. If you want to see Richardson at her best seek out 2017’s Columbus with her and John Cho. That film is exceptional in every way. I even wrote a loving tribute to the film’s remarkable use of the language of film that you can read if you click here. There is also her remarkably charming and hilarious performance in last year’s criminal underseen, Support the Girls, for even more great Haley Lu Richardson. My review of that movie is linked here

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Movie Review Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel more than beats the hype of being the latest in the Marvel franchise. Brie Larson comes into full movie star form playing Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel. Larson’s chemistry with this cast is off the charts, the direction is kinetic and exciting and as a puzzle piece in the long term planning in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s an incredibly satisfying fit. On top of all of that, this is one heck of a great action movie. 

 

Brie Larson stars as Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers, aka Vers to her fellow Kree Warriors. When we meet Carol she has been training as a Kree Warrior with a mysterious and forgotten past for several years. Flashes of memory keep popping up in her dreams but the pieces don’t fit. WIth the aid of her mentor and commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers attempts to keep her memories at bay while focusing on her training and managing her remarkable abilities. 

 

After meeting for the first time with the Kree ‘Great Intelligence,’ Vers gets her very first mission. Under the command of Yon-Rogg, Vers will go to an alien planet and rescue a Kree spy in the midst of a Skrull controlled planet. The Skrulls are a race of dangerous aliens, the greatest foes of the Kree, who have the disturbing ability to morph their features into those of anyone they see down to a DNA level of mimicry. 

 

In her first mission, Vers is captured and her memories are accessed and she is forced to confront her past. When she eventually makes her escape, her only way out is a Skrull escape pod programmed to go to Earth. Here, Carol will be forced to confront her true identity as she battles the Skrull leader Thalos to keep him from retrieving technology created by a figure from Carol’s past, Dr Lawson (Annette Bening), tech that could change the course of the war between Kree and Skrull forever. 

 

Along for the ride, and discovering aliens for the first time in his career is Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson. Captain Marvel may be the origin story for Carol Danvers but it also provides the most important, and less important, origins of the future leader of Shield and the man behind the Avengers’ initiative. Captain Marvel is set in 1996 and the picture we get of a young-ish Nick Fury is pretty great. Baby-faced rookie Agent Phil Coulson is another standout treat. 

 

The chemistry between Brie Larson as Carol and Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury is off the charts fantastic. These two actors have a comfort, familiarity and ease that would be more expected of actors who had worked together for years rather than having never met before. Larson and Jackson have a comic connection that never fails to charm and when it comes time to fight that same natural chemistry increases the fun and excitement in that arena as well. 

 

Captain Marvel is the first major big screen release for the indie darling director duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and they prove themselves more than ready for the spotlight. The action is exceptionally captured and excited, the special effects are flawless, the script is tight and focused and the character work is some of the best in the MCU. Much of this can be traced to the the steady creative hands of Boden and Fleck. 

 

As I mentioned earlier in this review, Brie Larson is in full on movie star mode in Captain Marvel. Larson’s acting chops have never been in question, especially after her exceptional dramatic work in Short Term 12 and Room but this is the first time she’s truly looked and acted the part of a movie star and she absolutely nails it. Larson’s Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers is a role model more than on par with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and equal to Gadot’s star-power in every way. 

 

The supporting cast matches Larson beat for beat with performances that underline her exceptional work. I already praised the work of Samuel L Jackson and Clark Gregg but there is room still to offer them even more praise for their wonderfully lived in performances. Also exceptional in Captain Marvel is Ben Mendelsohn as the nuanced villainous, Thalos, Jude Law as the leader of the Kree warriors and newcomer Lashana Lynch who plays a pivotal role in the past of Carol Danvers. 

 

The major set pieces are a feast for the eyes, the action pumps up your adrenalin and the cherry on top is the humor. Captain Marvel is legit funny without forcing it. The relationship between Captain Marvel and Nick Fury is pure charm and Samuel L Jackson’s relaxed, confident portrayal of 90’s Nick Fury is an unexpected comic delight. Fury isn’t the butt of any jokes but Jackson plays the scenes smart and lets the humor of the moment arrive organically and earns laughs with his pitch perfect timing and flawless facial reactions. 

 

I completely adore Captain Marvel. I won’t sit here and try to tell you it is a perfect movie but as the latest entry in the beloved Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s a joyous occasion. Captain Marvel is exciting, exceptionally crafted and naturally funny. Brie Larson is a commanding and compelling movie star and directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are more than just steady hands, they are legit auteurs with a vision for this massive franchise movie that nevertheless lays in brilliantly to the wider Marvel Universe. 

 

Captain Marvel is a MUST SEE movie. 

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Movie Review Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral

Tyler Perry’s Madea Family Funeral is yet another example of Tyler Perry’s bizarre approach to making movies. Evidence suggests that Tyler Perry acquires a script for a simple, dramatic movie and then, for reasons that only make sense to him, he inserts himself dressed as a woman and that woman’s brethren doing incredibly unfunny schtick that undermines the drama of the actual story taking place. 

 

With that in mind, I am going to review this movie in two pieces. I am going to review the movie that Family Funeral would be without Madea and the movie that Perry is making with Madea and her cast of wacky characters. This will demonstrate to you the tonal whiplash of attempting to follow a Tyler Perry movie. It’s honestly, exhausting for someone who watches movies for a living to watch what is essentially two movies playing at the same time. 

 

Family Funeral features an ensemble cast that includes Ciera Payton, Rome Flynn and Courtney Burrell, as siblings, Silivia, Jesse and AJ, who have returned home to Georgia to throw their parents, Viane and Anthony (Jen Harper and Derek Morgan) an anniversary party. Along with them are their spouses including David Otunga as Silvia’s husband, Will, Gia (Aeriel Miranda), Jesse’s fiancee, and Carol (KJ Davis), AJ’s wife. 

 

AJ however is sleeping with Gia behind his brother’s back and this is how AJ happens to be on hand when his dad is found dead in a hotel room having suffered a massive heart attack while cheating on Viane with a family friend, Renee (Quin Walters). Now, what was planned as a happy occasion is now going to a funeral at which family secrets will be exposed and lives will be altered forever. 

 

In the other movie inside Madea’s Family Funeral, Madea (Tyler Perry) has been invited to the Anniversary party for Viane and Anthony. What relationship does Madea have to this family? Who knows, but her brother Heathrow (Tyler Perry) has invited her and her other brother Joe (Tyler Perry) and Madea’s pals Hattie (Patrice Lovely) and Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) to come to this party and they’ve tapped Joe’s son Brian (Tyler Perry) to drive them to Atlanta. 

 

It’s anyone’s guess how Madea is connected to this family in Atlanta. This family has not been mentioned before in previous movies, specifically Madea’s Family Reunion, but that only matters if you are likely me and demand that a movie proceed with some sort of internal logic. Tyler Perry is not like me. Tyler Perry has no need of internal logic, plot, even characters are really only a suggestion of a series of broad traits. 

 

The entirety of the Madea portion of Madea’s Family Reunion could be removed from this film and it would not affect the plot whatsoever. Sure, Madea and her gang are also on hand when Anthony’s body is found, in S & M gear, in a hotel. We assume he’s in S & M gear, based on what we see, that was likely an on-set improv that Perry liked and left in the movie despite the lack of visual evidence at hand. 

 

The discovery of the fact that a father and, allegedly, a family friend has been found to be cheating on his wife and has been found dead by his eldest son in a hotel room with a family friend, in S & M gear, is so jarring that neither the comedy nor the extremes of dramatic emotions are allowed to land in any way. A man has just died but that doesn’t mean that wacky characters can’t do awkward, unfunny schtick like attempt to perform oral sex on the corpse in place of CPR. That’s a pleasant gag that exists in this movie. 

 

Tyler Perry, by the way, does not care for CPR. CPR makes Tyler Perry profoundly uncomfortable as he equates blowing air into a dying person’s chest with kissing and when the dying person is a man then it becomes a gay panic situation. Yes, CPR on a man is an occasion for gay panic jokes because being gay needs just a little more unnecessary stigma attached. Performing CPR means your sexuality is questionable somehow. Are we sure that this movie was made in this century? 

 

I get that Madea’s ‘political incorrectness’ is supposedly part of her charm but that charm is lost on me. Once, this character was a bizarre moral center of a movie universe. Then, Perry decided to change her backstory from a scolding southern grandma/avenging angel to that of a former gangster, prostitute, drug addict stripper who is also a wise old sage dispensing moral judgments from an unearned high horse. 

 

Whiplash is the lasting effect of a Tyler Perry movie. On one side is a serious family drama about lies and infidelity and the other side is a broad burlesque of elderly former criminals and drug addicts doing unfunny schtick. I thought it was bad when Madea wielded a chainsaw in the midst of the super tense drama about spousal abuse in Diary of a Mad Black Woman but at least at that point Madea was just a weird side note. 

 

Now that Madea is the center of the universe in Perry’s movies she’s become a monster lording her unfunny references to gang life, pimps and ho’s over the top of otherwise half baked but serious dramas. It’s the worst kind of mash up, as if an elderly version of rapper Lil Kim were dropped into the middle of a reboot of Parenthood. These two things don’t go together. The drama is half baked at best and the comedy is so broad and schticky it’s like the worst episode of Def Comedy Jam in history. 

 

I can see where the Madea character worked on a stage where the improv might feel organic and the setting might encourage such broad swings of tone but in a movie where editing and camera work and acting are necessary to the medium, this brand is ill-fitting. Perry’s style doesn’t mesh with the movies the way it, I assume, meshed with live audiences in the early 2000s when Perry developed the character of Madea on stages in church basements. 

 

Tyler Perry has allegedly stated that this will be the final movie in the Madea franchise and if that is the case, good riddance. I genuinely have nothing nice to say about the character or the movies. I don't understand the appeal and I never will. That said, I don't buy that he's done with this character. Perry has proven to be a mercenary filmmaker throughout his career and while he has plenty of money, I will need some convincing to believe he is walking away from his cash cow. 

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Movie Review Greta

Greta has the makings of a very good movie. The film was directed by Neil Jordan, the Irish auteur known for The Crying Game among a varied and daring nearly 30 year career. Greta stars 16 time Cesar nominee (Cesar=French Oscars) Isabelle Huppert and perennial rising star Chloe Grace Moretz, an actress seemingly always on the verge of a breakout role. So how did Greta go so very, very wrong? 

 

Greta is the name of the character played by Isabelle Huppert as a lonely, French widow living in New York City. One day, Greta leaves her purse on the subway and it is found by Frances (Moretz) who kindly returns the bag and its contents. Frances is treated as some small town hick in New York despite being from the small town of Boston which is like any homey backwater I guess. Is Neil Jordan so up on the New York-Boston rivalry that this portrayal is intentional satire? 

 

Anyway, my digression aside, Frances returns the bag and finds herself taken by Greta’s sadness and loneliness. She takes pity on the old woman and offers to go dog shopping with her. This turns into repeated dinners at Greta’s home and lengthy, intimate confessions about Greta’s failed relationship with her real life daughter and Frances’ pain over losing her mother and her strained relationship with her father, played by Colm Feore. 

 

One night, as Frances is helping set up for for yet another dinner at Greta’s house, she finds a cabinet filled with purses, each with names and phone numbers attached and the same forms of identification inside. This is a quicky indicator that Greta doesn’t just happen to meet people, she leaves these bags places with the intent of having a kind hearted person return them so that she make a new friend. 

 

It’s really sad and pathetic but Frances, as if she has read the script ahead of time, reacts as if what Greta did was sinister. Of course, we know that it indeed was sinister but when you look at it just from the information Frances has, it’s merely a pathetic cry for help. Frances acts as if the bags are evidence that Greta is a serial killer. Instead of confronting Greta about what she found she sets about faking an illness and then sets about ghosting the old lady and not returning her calls. 

 

Greta doesn’t take this well and the thriller plot begins to kick in with Greta as the motherly version of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and that dog that she and Frances bought together playing the role of the rabbit. Greta begins showing up at Frances’ work and at her apartment and even after Frances calls the cop, Greta keeps upping the crazy by following Frances’s best friend Erica (Maika Monroe) while sending creeper photos to Frances. 

 

These scenes aren’t entirely ineffective but Isabelle Huppert isn’t exactly Max Cady from Cape Fear. Greta is strange and creepy but not menacing. You feel like she could be mollified with the promise of an occasional phone call and a casual lunch. Again, that’s as played in the movie, only the marketing has given us any indication that Greta is crazier than what is portrayed in the movie. Only the film score attempts to push us toward genuinely fearing Greta but Isabelle Huppert doesn’t do much helping with that with her docile performance. 

 

Docile until she gets her big “I will not be ignored” moment late in the movie but even that moment isn’t notably energetic. The third act of Greta embraces the crazy a little but not in very convincing fashion. Greta goes predictably where you think it was going from the trailer and abuses the kinds of cliches that movies like this always abuse. There is even a dead meat private detective character played by Stephen Rea who may as well have been named Max Plot Device. 

 

My biggest issue however, with Greta and Neil Jordan is not so much the thriller cliches of good characters making bad decisions or even annoying plot conveniences. The biggest problem is tone. More than once Greta leans a little toward the high level camp that could make the movie work and then pulls back. If Isabelle Huppert is going to play evil in such a mundane fashion the movie needed to find another way to be entertaining and the movie never finds that. The only believable thing about Greta would be embracing just how silly this all is and leaning into it in a darkly comic fashion and it never quite gets there. 

 

I’ve made allusions to Fatal Attraction in this review and while I am not a fan of that movie either, that film at least appeared to drift into camp with some intent. Glenn Close was believably batty but she was also unconcerned about how people would take her. There is something close to John Waters’ Divine from Female Troubles in the high level, over the top, that Close plays in that movie. Isabelle Huppert lacks the energy or nerve to really go for the campy, sleazy, silly that Greta needs to be more than cliche riddled, base, thriller. 

 

Sadly, what we get in Greta is a regrettably straight forward series of overly familiar cliches from similar thrillers about obsessive psychopaths. The only seeming innovation is the lack of a sexual component to the main relationship. Greta is not sexually interested in Frances and the film goes along way to make sure we get that this is about being a mom and not about a psycho-sexual obsession. The crazy lesbian is the one cliche Greta thankfully avoids. 

 

Strangely, rather than a movie like Fatal Attraction, Neil Jordan’s own Interview with the Vampire is the movie that best presages Greta in presenting something that should be high camp but is played dreadfully and regrettably straight. That film, quite oddly, also features a strangely bloodless and mannerly approach to a parental psycho-obsession as Tom Cruise, rather than being sexually obsessed with Brad Pitt’s effete and pretty fellow vamp, is more mad that Pitt won’t play along with being his scion. 

 

Mannerly is a good way to describe Greta. Yes, this is a movie about a psycho stalker but it is going to be decent and respectable about that plot in a way that deflates the movie. Bloodless, for the most part, and with a lead performance with the restraint of a Nun, Greta is a bizarre watch. The score appears to be the only part of the movie that embraces what this movie should be. The film score is filled with moody stabs and atmosphere that is lacking from the performances.  

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