By: Kevin Jordan
Settle down, all you geeks.
With the release of Avengers: Endgame rapidly approaching (just six short (LONG!!) weeks away), movie theaters are preparing for the ultimate nerd-gasm. You might think they are prepared for this after the first Avengers and Avengers: Infinity War (not to mention Star Wars: The Force Awakens), but we nerds have a funny way of surprising you. Yes, I am a nerd, though not nearly to the extreme of some folks you would find at a comic convention dressed in cosplay. I did once dress as Khal Drogo for Halloween (more like Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon dressed as Khal Drogo), but that is totally different. To my point, Endgame has a real chance to melt the entire film industry and waiting another six weeks is going to be hard. Luckily, Captain Marvel is here to remind us of the U in MCU and to, seriously, calm down you big dorks.
(Very minor SPOILER WARNING and, seriously, calm down you big dorks.)
Vers (Brie Larson) is a Kree soldier, training under the tutelage of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Wait, that is his name? Throughout the entire film, I kept wondering what his name was because I do not remember anyone actually saying it. Anyway, Vers is having recurring dreams featuring a person she does not know (Annette Bening) and is struggling to control her ability to shoot energy beams out of her fists. She meets with the Supreme Intelligence (taking the form of Annette Bening) that governs the Kree to discuss her future and is sent on a mission to retrieve a Kree agent from the hands of the Skrulls, the enemy of the Kree. In what is the first of some very predictable scenes, the mission goes awry and Vers is captured by the Skrulls, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). After the obligatory escape scene, Vers ends up on Earth being chased by Skrulls and waiting for Yon-Rogg and her squad to retrieve her. If you don’t have any questions about what you just read, thanks for reading, nerd.
At this point, the meat of the movie kicks off, which ends up being a ninety-minute romp through 1995 with digitally-remastered Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury. On that note, Disney has exponentially improved their CGI effects making people look years, if not decades, younger. It was noticeably raw in Tron: Legacy, a bit jarring in Star Wars: Rogue One, and practically unnoticeable in Captain Marvel. Well, at least with Jackson. Twenty-years-younger Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) just looked weird with hair.
Welcome to the future.
Captain Marvel is definitely an origin story for Vers, who later learns her real name is Carol Danvers and that she is human and not Kree, but it is also arguably an origin story for Nick Fury as well. The MCU movies and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are littered with Fury-morsels, but almost none of them tell us much of Fury’s backstory. Captain Marvel addresses that void, spending ample time fleshing out Fury while he was just a regular two-eyed agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and not the one-eyed S.H.I.E.L.D. director we are well acquainted with. Meeting Carol and the shape-shifting Skrulls robbed Fury of his run-of-the-mill secret agent mindset and the subsequent events of the film send Fury down the path we met him on years later in his life in Ironman. It is a great bit of character building and he serves as a perfect sidekick to Carol throughout the film.
Speaking of which, Carol (who becomes known as Captain Marvel) is also given a plethora of backstory. Fighter pilot, best friend to fellow pilot Maria Rambeau, stubborn kid-later-woman who refuses to accept people insisting she stop trying to compete with men, Kree special-forces soldier, and superhero. We learn about all of these things along with Carol, as she has amnesia of everything from earlier than six years ago and pieces them back together as the film progresses. All of this is weaved in between action scenes reminiscent of most fugitive movies, including The Fugitive, where the hero must rediscover her past in order to succeed in the present. I did not realize how much I missed movies like this and I enjoyed the heck out of it.
That is not to say the film is without some flaws. For one, Yon-Rogg and Carol’s Kree squadmates are as thin as characters can be. Of note, Gemma Chan and Djimon Hounsou are noticeably wasted as two of those mates, each appearing in a couple of fight scenes with scant dialogue and being eminently expendable. Not much better is Bening, who plays two different characters (the mental image of Bening conjured by the intelligence, as well as a military engineer on Earth), each of whom is forced to recite cringeworthy dialogue about her own looks. I mean, why is a super intelligence commenting on its imaginary avatar’s looks? It reminded me of the poorly-written Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but at least Ego’s name gave cover to that kind of thing.
Another flaw was some of the banter from Larson fell a bit flat at times. If there is one thing I love about the MCU films, it is how great the banter is between all of the characters. At times during the film, Larson seemed like she was trying too hard to match Jackson’s wit. There are precious few who can do this, most of whom are actors in the MCU. I have no doubt that Larson is capable – there are other scenes that she nailed – but, too often, Larson came off forced and it showed like a sore thumb. In addition, her body language seemed forced at times as well. It was like her brain was telling her she needed to stand like a superhero and her body interpreted that as “stand kind of weird.” I do not know how else to describe it, so when you see her posing on the porch of a house near the end of the film, try to describe it yourself.
Nobody makes me bleed my own blood.
That being said, the movie as a whole is quite good, on par with Ant-Man and Doctor Strange. As with most of the individual-focused MCU films, Captain Marvel feels contained and deliberate. While the conflict in the film is revealed as fairly large, it never feels like an existential crisis. Larson is a very solid choice for Captain Marvel and Jackson and Gregg remind us why Fury and Coulson are two of the most beloved characters in the franchise. The special effects are excellent (though, a little cartoony at the end when Carol starts to glow) and the music and costuming are straight out of the mid-1990s (if you are my age, you will recognize the dozens, probably hundreds, of 1990s references sprinkled throughout the movie). If nothing else, there is a running gag with a house cat that will make you smile. All of that together will tide you over for the next six weeks and, if it doesn’t, you can borrow my Khal Drogo costume for a nerdy fix.
Rating: Do not ask for any money back, even if you will need it for the fourth time you see Endgame.
By: Kevin Jordan
A steaming wad of everything.
In what was one of the weirdest screening experiences of my movie-writing career, I saw the eighty-fourth (approximately) incarnation of Robin Hood, inspiringly titled Robin Hood. The good news is this latest version can be whatever you want it to be. War movie, comedy, action-adventure, romance, B-movie, spoof, fantasy, homage – it has it all. The bad news is this movie could not decide which of those things it wanted to primarily be. The only thing keeping it from being one of the worst films I have seen all year is that I saw the trailers and fully expected it to be a smoking crater of a film. So, I ended up enjoying it as ironically as is possible.
You know the story – Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Every version has dressed the story in slightly different clothing with tiny little tweaks around the edges, but the major plot lines and characters are always consistent. However, this latest Robin Hood is easily the most schizophrenic version of them all. It borrows heavily from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and, strangely, from Robin Hood: Men in Tights. One moment it takes itself seriously, the next moment it throws a pie at its face. One scene features a gritty war scene straight out of The Hurt Locker, followed later by a scene spoofing the lobby shootout from The Matrix. It is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…and Larry, Curly, Moe and Kevin Costner and General Schwarzkopf.
We can do whatever we want because it is that kind of movie.
I probably should have hated this movie, but there were just enough winks and nods at the audience that I forgave it for being a bucket of flopping fish. How can you not laugh at a car chase scene where the cars are horse-drawn wagons swerving around corners and crashing into each other? How can you not giggle at watching multiple scenes in which horses crash through heavy wooden doors as if the horses are not conscious animals that would definitely stop before hitting the door? How can anyone not guffaw at a machine-gun turret in which the turret is a machine-crossbow? Seriously, The Matrix-lobby-shootout-homage almost had me in tears. The unintentional/intentional comedy of this film is a solid eleven.
You can see the levity in the performance of most of the actors as well. Taron Egerton (Robin Hood) is clearly having the time of his life, which is saying something after starring in two Kingsman films. He gets to run around shooting arrows, jumping off things, and letting fly one-liners. Not to be outdone, Jamie Foxx (Little John) gets to play the mentor, one part stoic, one part wise man, one part sensei, and three parts one-handed badass. Even when he audibly quits on a middle-eastern accent in the middle of a sentence, you will acknowledge that of course he quit on the accent because this movie deserves no less.
Accent? I don’t need no stinking accent.
Then, there is F. Murray Abraham (the Cardinal), relishing an absurd villain role, chewing up his few scenes as only a classically-trained, award-winning actor can. He was so inspiring that Tim Minchin (Friar Tuck) decided to play Tuck as if he was always on his third bong hit, which explains why this movie sometimes felt like a lost episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast missed the epiphany. Eve Hewson (Maid Marian) simply gave up on her role, as the character had all the development of a zygote and the charisma to match. Jamie Dornan (Will Tillman) played his character as if he was still playing Christian Grey, a look always in his eyes like he cannot figure out why Marian is not getting naked. Given the severe shallowness of both Will and Marian’s characters, we are wondering the same thing, but about both of them.
Come here to me.
But, none of them compares to Ben Mendelsohn delivering a Sheriff of Nottingham best described as if a used wad of chaw morphed into a human. His first speech to the people of Nottingham is straight out of the Republican/Fox News fearmongering playbook, yelling at poor people that the rich must have the poor people’s money or the Muslims are going to flood their homes, steal their jobs, and decimate their culture (I wish I was making that up). The problem is that his delivery is such that we cannot tell if this is poking fun at the bullshit coming from conservatives or if the screenwriter/director actually believe that bullshit. From there, Mendelsohn devolves into snarling out nearly every line, most of which are descriptions of what he is going to do to people, one example being “I want the streets flooded with his blood (Robin Hood’s, just Robin Hood’s).” At least he never told someone he was going to rip off their head and shit down their throat, though you know he was thinking it with every line of dialogue.
They are standing that far back because he threatened to eat their children if they did not bring him Hood’s head.
There were a lot of other components in this film that could have led me down the path of anger and loathing. The evil plot is convoluted and nonsensical, even for a movie as obviously dumb as this one. The costuming goes from period to modern to Assassin’s Creed to Lord of the Rings. There is a massive mining operation in Nottingham where the thing being mined is never revealed and everyone lives in the mines, including Marian and Will. The opening war scene features Robin and another soldier moving through a house looking for enemies, brandishing their bow and arrow like a rifle or pistol, as if a bow and arrow are a close-quarters weapon instead of a ranged weapon.
In the third act, after the Sheriff orders his soldiers to steal all of the poor people’s stuff, burn down the mines, and kill everyone (all of which they fail to do), none of the soldiers or Sheriff notices when the entire town gets to together, on multiple occasions, to plot a revolt. And, when Robin turns up in town four years after leaving for war, and two years after the Sheriff confiscated Robin’s estate, the Sheriff does not question where Robin is suddenly getting mounds of money from. If I did not know better, I would think this movie was purposely made for me to shred into little pieces.
You can’t hate me, because I am beautiful.
As Robin Hood movies go, this one is definitely in the argument for worst adaptation. Some people would argue the 2010 version is much worse, but that version was so benign that everyone forgot about it within hours of watching it. The 2018 version could have been a great popcorn flick if it had embraced more of a satirical portrayal, doing more things like Robin knocking four arrows at a time (channeling Mel Brooks and Cary Elwes) and less things like Will expressing his political aspirations as a man-of-the-people. Maybe the eighty-fifth incarnation will finally get it right.
Rating: Definitely ask for all of your money back since no actual Robin will steal it back for you.
By: Kevin Jordan
If you are not a fan of CGI and think that CGI is ruining film, Ready Player One might kill you. At the very least, it will give you an aneurism or a stroke. Possibly both. If so, you deserve it. I am not quite ready to devote my year-end review to all of the incessant whining about the use of CGI in movies, but I am seriously thinking about it. CGI is one of those topics that film snobs love to use as an excuse for hating some movies, right alongside with “there is no more creativity in Hollywood.” Forget about the fact that CGI has allowed us to realize hundreds of movies and tens of thousands of elements within movies that would otherwise be impossible. Could you imagine how stupid Spider-Man would look if all of his web-slinging was done via wire-work? Oh, right, they tried that on Broadway. I rest my case.
My point is if there is one thing Ready Player One has a ton of it is CGI. My greater point is that Ready Player One could not be made without a ton of CGI. Nearly the entire movie takes place in a virtual simulation called the OASIS where anyone can be anything or have anything they want. Want to race through a city in an exact replica of Doctor Brown’s Delorian while dodging a rampaging T-Rex? Want to be seen as a nine-foot tall warlock or the Iron Giant? Want to pilot Mechagodzilla while fighting an army on a planet called Doom? None of that is happening without a lot of help from computers. And if it is, it probably looks terrible.
Be all that you can be.
Having read and loved the book of the same title, I was terrified that the movie was going to be a disappointment. Mostly, because I managed to see multiple previews at other screenings, but also because with great CGI comes great responsibility. Happily, the effects of the movie are fantastic, as well they should be given the $175 million budget of the film, but also because director Steven Spielberg is a genius. Everything felt like it had depth and texture and nothing felt flat. One great example is an early race scene that manages to feel claustrophobic and tense, even though it is happening on open streets and is nothing more than pixels, even for the characters. At no point did I ever feel like the visuals were just throwing ones and zeroes at me in attempt to overwhelm my senses. I even appreciated the 3-D effects, which I normally hate, despite the arms of the cheap 3-D glasses jabbing me in the side of the head.
It was pretty dazzling.
The film also stays fairly faithful to the source material, in no small part aided by the author (Ernest Cline) co-writing the screenplay (with Zak Penn). If you have not read the book (do it now), the main plot is a treasure hunt within the OASIS, a hunt designed by the creator of the OASIS, the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Competitors must solve three puzzles (including discovering the location of the puzzles) to obtain three keys, which will unlock an Easter Egg hidden in the OASIS. Whoever finds the Egg gets full control of the OASIS and inherits Halliday’s half-trillion dollar fortune. The details of the puzzles vary between the film and the book, but the structure remains intact.
Naturally, everyone is trying to win the game, but nobody has figured out how to complete the first puzzle. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a.k.a. Parzival is a Gunter – players who spend all of their time hunting for the egg – and also knows virtually everything about Halliday and the things Halliday liked (movies, video games, music, etc.). This knowledge eventually leads him to crack the mystery of the puzzle and put him on the radar of everyone in the world, including Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), CEO of Innovative Online Industries (IOI) and all-around jerk-off. Sorrento has tasked an army of indentured servants (people who have accrued debt within the OASIS) with winning Hallday’s Egg in order to assume control of the OASIS and monetize the crap out of it. If you are any kind of gamer, even the kind that plays Candy Crush on your iPhone, you would hate this guy because he is the one advocating for inserting ads and incorporating microtransactions into games (think freemium games where there are things you can only get if you pay actual money for, but the game itself is free). He will stop at nothing to win the game, including kidnapping and murder, but excluding actually playing the game himself. In other words, he is the guy who buys a game, then buys the walkthrough guide for the game so he can get to the end without effort. What kind of loser does that?
It’s all just a game.
Along the way, Parzival joins forces with Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), and two other kids (Philip Zhao and Win Morisaki) whose characters are so underdeveloped they are literally just avatars. Together, they try to solve the remainder of the puzzles, but not before Art3mis welcomes Parzival into “the rebellion.” This rebellion Art3mis is referring to is a group of people trying to stop IOI from taking over the OASIS because IOI will wreck the openness/freedom of the OASIS by indebting more people and creating a class structure of the haves and have nots. If you get this from the film, it is only because you read the book, as the film only occasionally mentions such social issues. If there is one criticism I have of this otherwise excellent movie it is that the film has plenty of CGI, but none of the book’s balls.
I guess it does have one ball.
One of the highlights of the book is the way that Cline was able to focus on social issues through the lens of the OASIS like income disparity, class separation, and the inability of poorer classes to improve their standing in life. Whenever the film seems to be ready to make some real social commentary, it shies away from the conversation and distracts the viewer with action and adventure. For example, book-Parzival talks about how it is nearly impossible for him to compete for Halliday’s prize because he does not have money to pay for transit to other worlds. Like with our freemium games, real money is used to purchase power-ups and Parzival has no real money. By finding the first key first, he gains instant fame and earns money through endorsements, allowing him to better compete, but also that a poor guy suddenly has lots of cash. The book explores how money opens doors and effects people and makes the reader think about that with regards to people in the lower classes. I am not saying the film should go deep-diving into social commentary, but those elements were key in developing Parzival and his character arc in the book, and film-Parzival was noticeably shallower. But, then Parzival and Art3mis get into a shootout while dancing in a zero-G club and deep thoughts are forgotten.
Good luck affording that (in the book).
Having said that, it was refreshing to see Spielberg jump back into directing a big, fun, blockbuster flick and knock it out of the park. His handling of the CGI was near perfect (and props to all of his effects folks and cinematographers). Perhaps the most fun thing is that the movie is stuffed full of pop-culture references from the late 1970s to now (reportedly, acquiring licensing for all of it took years) and all of them are fun and well incorporated. My personal favorite is a small one from a movie called Krull and if my brother had been with me, we would have high-fived over it (if you spot it, please, please comment as proof that more than two people have seen Krull). We also would have high-fived about the CGI because this movie would have sucked without it. If you still hate CGI after this film, I will still call you an ambulance because you deserve it.
Rating: Do not ask for any money back and spend more for the book.
By: Kevin Jordan
Churchill would like his soul back.
(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up. As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews. Enjoy!)
Darkest Hour is best described as the deleted scenes from Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. It’s the Deep Impact to Armageddon, but not moronic. Darkest Hour takes place during the couple of months from when Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the British Army’s evacuation from Dunkirk (basically, spring of 1940). It focuses on the politics behind the appointment of Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) as PM and the clashing of ideas between Churchill, Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) with regards to confronting Hitler and the war. If you have ever wanted a glimpse at what Churchill may have been like, I’m pretty sure Oldman conjured the ghost of Churchill so Churchill could possess Oldman, in order to portray the most accurate version of Churchill possible. My wife walked into the room mid-movie and her reaction was “that’s Gary Oldman?!” While Darkest Hour isn’t nearly as compelling as Dunkirk, it will still have you on the edge of your seat wondering if Churchill will make it three months before the King (Ben Mendelsohn) sacks him. Darkest Hour is also a great example of a movie seemingly designed for its main actor to win an Oscar and Oldman definitely makes his case. If you love historical, political biopics like Lincoln, you will love Darkest Hour.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, but do ask for Oldman to end the séance.
By: Kevin Jordan
Sooooooo worth the wait.
Has it already been a year since Star Wars: The Force Awakens? It doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were all giddily applauding the resurrection of one of the greatest and nerdiest movie franchises of all time. Okay, maybe not all of us – 8% of critics and 11% of audience members (on Rotten Tomatoes) gave it a thumb’s down and probably kicked a puppy for good measure. For the rest of us, the countdown to Rogue One began the moment the proverbial curtain closed on TFA because, like the addicts we are, we wanted our next fix. Finally, that clock has hit 00:00:00:00 and we nerds rejoice.
(I will keep the SPOILERS to a minimum, but beware.)
My favorite conversation about this movie right now is the bizarre notion that Rogue One is a standalone movie in the Star Wars universe. If you have been paying even the tiniest bit of attention, you know that this movie can only be a prequel to A New Hope. The entire plot is how the rebellion manages to steal the plans to the Death Star and (SPOILER ALERT) you know they succeed because A New Hope opens with Princess Leia hiding those plans in R2-D2. If you somehow forgot that or didn’t know it, you probably aren’t going to watch this movie anyway.
On a related topic, I predicted that everyone was going to die by the end of Rogue One because of a line spoken in the original trilogy by Mon Mothma – “Many bothans died to bring us this information.” I would have sworn that this came from A New Hope and I think most people believed that as well (I confirmed this by asking several people about it). As it turns out, that line was said in Return of the Jedi and was referencing Death Star II. Whoops. I’m not going to tell you how right or wrong I was, but I will say I wasn’t surprised at any death in this film because of my prediction. I’m telling you this so you don’t make the same mistake. The impressive thing about this film is that the characters were written so well that, even though I was expecting them all to die, I still hoped they would all pull through. You know what I mean – every time you watch A New Hope there’s a small part of you that thinks Obi-Wan will hightail it out of there rather than letting Darth Vader kill him.
The most important thing you need to know about this movie is that fix you’ve been waiting for is the equivalent of mixing Viagra with Ecstasy while drinking absinthe and consuming edibles – all through a firehose. There are AT-ATs, AT-STs, and death troopers. There are TIE fighters, X-Wings, Y-Wings, star destroyers hovering over cities, and the Death Star rising over the horizon. There is a new snarky droid (K-2SO), a new evil imperial commander (Orson Krennic), a new roguish pilot (Cassian Andor, who is dressed like a Han Solo worshipper), a new orphaned hero (Jyn Erso), and a new guy who might be a Jedi (Chirrut Imwe). There are even familiar characters making cameos (Vader, to name one) or prominently featured (Grand Moff Tarkin). It’s so much Star Wars that you’ll practically float through the next year waiting for Episode VIII.
You also need to know that the action in this flick is fairly limited. Where TFA was almost non-stop fireworks finale, Rogue One saves almost all of the action for its actual finale. That doesn’t mean things don’t happen, but not everything is draped in explosions and lasers. It’s a nice change and gives the audience the ability to really admire the detail and care put it into realizing these places. In other words, the special effects are so amazing that I’m half convinced that Disney created a wormhole to this galaxy, sent a camera crew through, and is literally just filming what is happening there. If you don’t get shivers when you see the Death Star rising over the horizon of the planet in the finale…you…I just…bruised puppies.
Aaaahhhhhhhhh. That’s the stuff.
Another positive of reducing the action is we get to know the characters better and these actors shine. Jyn (Felicity Jones) is exactly that mix of Skywalker and Solo without being quite as optimistic as Rey in TFA. Cassian (Diego Luna) is the type of intense character that you now realize has been missing from a rebellion. Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is just as loathsome an imperial commander as we like, though not as coldly evil as Tarkin, but far more intimidating than General Hux. Then there’s K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Cassian’s droid companion, who arguably steals the show. K-2 provides the vast majority of the comic relief, but is also the trusty sidekick (to everyone, really). Speaking of sidekicks, Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) provide the muscle, with Imwe appearing to be a quasi-Jedi, praying to the force and kicking ass, but with no light saber to be found. Make of him what you will. Rounding out the cast, we have Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) – an extremist rebel, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) – imperial defector, and Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) – Death Star designer. All three are good secondary characters, though Galen and Saw get very little screen time. That might seem like too many characters, but Saw was the only one that felt underutilized/underdeveloped to me.
We’ve been a waiting for you.
The last thing you need to know is that this movie is drawing comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back and rightly so. The movie is serious for far more of its running time than its brethren, with only a minimal amount of comic relief (but very well-timed comic relief). The ratio of action to non-action is perfect for me, though I’ll understand if some folks get a little fidgety through the first half of the film (put the gigantic soda down). And, again, those special effects…just wow (though one little facial rendering at the end of the movie proves we still have work to do with human faces). As much as I liked TFA, I liked this one more simply because we got more of the nerdy stuff that we haven’t seen since the original trilogy, but wanted more of (like the Death Star doing Death Star things). Like I said, the year was more than worth the wait and you will most likely agree. If not, just leave the puppies alone.
Rating: Sooooooo worth more than the price of admission.