DARK PHOENIX (2019) – More Superficial Than Superhero

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There’s more superficial than superhero in DARK PHOENIX (2019), the latest Marvel X-Men movie to hit the theaters.

When 20th Century Fox rebooted its X-MEN franchise with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) that film not only instantly became one of my favorite X-MEN movies but also one of my favorite Marvel superhero movies, period. A major reason for this was the casting of James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. These two actors shared some strong chemistry together and lifted FIRST CLASS to its status as a superior superhero movie.

With apologies to Jennifer Lawrence, who has also appeared in these movies as Raven/Mystique, McAvoy and Fassbender have continued to be the best part of these X-Men reboots, and so even though DARK PHOENIX opened to dreadful reviews, knowing that McAvoy and Fassbender were back, I still trekked to the theater to catch this one.

And while I can certainly understand why this one opened to such negative reviews, it wasn’t all bad. It’s just not very good.

DARK PHOENIX tells a story that fans of the X-Men comics know very well, the story of Jean Grey becoming the Phoenix. This story was also told in the previous X-Men series, in X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006). Fans didn’t like how the Phoenix story was handled in that movie, and I doubt they’re going to like how it’s handled here.

In DARK PHOENIX, it’s 1992, and the X-Men are enjoying happy times as they are universally perceived as heroes, and a jubilant Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) spends his time giving speeches and has access to a personal phone line to the President of the United States. Life is good.

But during a daunting space rescue, where a crew of X-Men attempt to extract the endangered crew of a space shuttle, a strange space phenomenon, a beastly looking cloud of light, which is threatening the shuttle descends upon the scene, and it’s up to Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) to stop it. She does, but it nearly kills her, and when she returns alive and well, she is given the nickname “Phoenix” as she seemingly has risen from the dead.

But all is not well, as Jean begins to exhibit some weird behaviors and unleash powers she doesn’t seem able to control. She’s suddenly out there doing things that are giving the X-Men a bad name. Further complicating matters, a group of space aliens who we know virtually nothing about led by Vux (Jessica Chastain) want the power which Jean possesses.

With the X-Men reeling, as there is lots of in-fighting over what is perceived as Charles Xavier’s mishandling of Jean Grey, the glory days for these mutant heroes comes to an end. Looking for help, Jean seeks out Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who’s living in the desert with his own band of mutant rebels. And once Magneto learns the truth about Jean and what she has done, he’s not interested in helping her but in killing her.

It’s up to Charles Xavier, who refuses to give up on Jean, to save her, but he’ll have to contend with Magneto, the space aliens, the military, and his own renegade mutants to do it.

This plot actually sounds better than it is, and that’s because the story as told in the movie is kind of all over the place. There were parts that I liked, but taken as a whole this one never becomes a unified story that works.

The screenplay by writer/director Simon Kinberg was far too superficial to be successful. Plot points are glossed over, conversations are banal, the dialogue trite, and the characterizations are without depth.

We learn little about the villainous aliens, and their scenes in this one are sporadic and dull. Speaking of dull, that’s how the X-men come off in this movie. Jean Grey/Phoenix really isn’t all that interesting, and her story isn’t given much depth at all. Jennifer Lawrence does very little as Raven/Mystique. Her role isn’t much more than an extended cameo, and she gets some of the worst lines in the movie.

I like Nicholas Hoult as Beast, but his dialogue here isn’t any better. Michael Fassbender doesn’t show up as Magneto until halfway through the movie, and James McAvoy seems to be stuck saying the same things as Charles Xavier throughout. He sounds like a broken record.

Jessica Chastain is wasted as alien Vuk, a villain with no characterization, back story, or screen presence.

And while Tye Sheridan plays Cyclops, Alexandra Ship plays Storm, Evan Peters plays Quicksilver, and Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Nightcrawler, none of these folks make much of an impact.

Director Simon Kinberg also struggles to make this one cinematic. There’s hardly a memorable scene here, visually or otherwise.

There just didn’t seem to be a whole lot of attention to detail. There’s an entire plot of in-fighting with the X-Men, reminiscent of what the Avengers went through in CAPTAIN AMERICA; CIVIL WAR (2016) but the two films aren’t even on the same page when it comes to quality. CIVIL WAR got down and dirty, got right into its characters’ faces, and as a result the audience knew exactly where each character stood and felt their pain.

Not so here with DARK PHOENIX. We know where the characters stand because they say so, but we never feel it. That’s a big difference. Very little of what happens in DARK PHOENIX resonates.

So, what did I like about DARK PHOENIX? Well, it still stars James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, and so even with the weak dialogue, the two actors are enjoyable to watch, and I did enjoy their performances here, although hands down DARK PHOENIX is the weakest of their X-MEN collaborations.

I also like Nicholas Hoult as Beast, but unfortunately, the women don’t fare as well. I didn’t really enjoy Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, as unlike McAvoy and Fassbender, she was  unable to overcome the bad dialogue. Jennifer Lawrence sleepwalks through her brief stint as Raven/Mystique, and Jessica Chastain is reduced to being robotic as villain Vuk.

While the initial space shuttle rescue was blah, the climactic battle aboard a speeding train at least had some pop.

But nothing in DARK PHOENIX really sticks. Things happen, but moments later they’re forgotten.

This may be the end of this class of X-Men. Disney, which owns the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, has bought 20th Century Fox, and rumor has it they will once more reboot the X-Men series and incorporate it into the MCU.

And while this isn’t the best ending of the James McAvoy/Michael Fassbender led series, I’ve enjoyed the ride. It’s too bad that their final film wasn’t better.

Unless of course, they, like the Phoenix, survive the buyout and rise once again as Professor X and Magneto.

I for one wouldn’t mind that at all.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

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While I enjoyed AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) well enough, I liked the previous installment of the Marvel Avengers’ saga, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) much better.

For me, INFINITY WAR was the perfect balance of action-adventure, well-placed humor, and raw emotion. It also didn’t hurt that it had one heck of an ending, one that left audience members gasping in shock at the bold decision made by the filmmakers.

Thanos won.

Those two words still make me groan.

Speaking of words, let’s get back to the point of this column, and lighten things up a bit. A huge reason why INFINITY WAR was so enjoyable was its script. Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the screenplay did a remarkable job giving each and every character in the film key moments and quality screen time. As such, there were a lot of memorable lines in this one, most of which need very little explanation or setting up.

Let’s have a listen:

One of the main reasons the script in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR was so lively was because of the interactions of all the different characters, many of which were meeting each other for the first time, like here when Tony Stark first runs into the Guardians of the Galaxy:

PETER QUILL: Everybody stay where you are. Chill the eff out. I’m gonna ask you this one time. Where is Gamora?

TONY STARK: Yeah. I’ll do you one better. Who’s Gamora?

DRAX: I’ll do you one better. Why is Gamora?

 

And this exchange between Doctor Strange and Peter Quill:

DOCTOR STRANGE: Ok, let me ask you this one time: What master do you serve?

PETER QUILL: Oh, what master do I serve? What am I supposed to say, Jesus?

 

The Guardians get some of the funniest lines in the film, like this sequence with Thor:

THOR: There are six stones out there. Thanos already has the Power Stone because he stole it last week when he decimated Xandar. He stole the Space Stone from me when he destroyed my ship and slaughtered half my people. The Time and Mind Stones are safe on Earth, they’re with the Avengers.

PETER QUILL: The Avengers?

THOR: The Earth’s mightiest heroes.

MANTIS: Like Kevin Bacon?

THOR: He may be on the team. I don’t know, I haven’t been there in a while.

 

And here with Tony Stark and Peter Parker:

TONY STARK: We gotta coalesce. Because if all we come out is with a plucky attitude—.

PETER QUILL: Dude, don’t call us plucky. We don’t know what it means. We’re more optimistic, yes. I like your plan. Except, it sucks. So let me do the plan and that way it might be really good.

DRAX: Tell him about the dance-off to save the Universe.

TONY STARK: What dance-off?

PETER QUILL: It’s not a thing.

PETER PARKER: Like in Footloose, the movie?

PETER QUILL: Exactly like Footloose. Is it still the greatest movie in history?

PETER PARKER: It never was.

TONY STARK: Don’t encourage Flash Gordon.

PETER QUILL: Flash Gordon? That’s a compliment. Don’t forget, I’m half human. So that 50% of me that’s stupid. That’s 100% you.

 

Another reason AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR works so well is because Thanos is one of the best Marvel movie villains of all time, and the movie gives him depth and plenty of key scenes. One could make the argument that INFINITY WAR is really Thanos’ story, as it follows his quest to obtain the Infinity Stones and make good on his promise to wipe out half the population of the universe all in the interest of saving it. Thanos gets a lot of memorable lines, like in this dramatic exchange with his daughter and current Guardian of the Galaxy, Gamora:

GAMORA: I was a child when you took me.

THANOS: I saved you.

GAMORA; No. We were happy on my home planet.

THANOS: You were going to bed hungry, scrounging for scraps. Your planet was on the brink of collapse. I’m the one who stopped that. You know what’s happened since then? The children born have known nothing but full bellies and clear skies. It’s a paradise.

GAMORA: Because you murdered half the planet.

THANOS: A small price to pay for salvation.

GAMORA: You’re insane.

THANOS: Little one, it’s a simple calculus. This universe is finite, its resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.

GAMORA: You don’t know that!

THANOS: I’m the only one who knows that. At least, I’m the only one with the will to act on it.

And in one of the more dramatic sequences in the film, here with Gamora again, and Red Skull, when Thanos realizes that in order to secure this particular Stone he has to sacrifice someone he loves.

GAMORA: All my life I dreamed of a day, a moment, when you got what you deserved. And I was always so disappointed. But now, you kill and torture and you call it mercy. The universe has judged you. You asked it for a prize and it told you no. You failed. And do you wanna know why? Because you love nothing. No one.

(Thanos sheds tears.)

GAMORA: Really? Tears?

RED SKULL: They are not for him.

And at the moment, the audience realizes what’s going to happen next, what Thanos is about to do. I can still feel the shivers. Heck, nearly every time Thanos speaks I feel shivers. Just listen:

THANOS: I know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail nonetheless. It’s frightening, turns the legs to jelly. I ask you to what end? Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same. And now it’s here. Or should I say, I am.

I just have to say, in addition to the screenplay, Josh Brolin’s performance as Thanos really deserves a shout out.  Brolin nailed it as Thanos throughout.

Okay, time to lighten things up again.

Two other characters who met for the first time in INFINITY WAR, Thor and Rocket Raccoon, enjoyed a lot of lively exchanges:

ROCKET: You speak Groot?

THOR: Yes, they taught it on Asgard. It was an elective.

 

ROCKET: This is Thanos we’re talking about. He’s the toughest there is.

THOR:  Well, he’s never fought me.

ROCKET: Yeah, he has.

THOR: He’s never fought me twice.

 

Then there’s this humorous exchange between Tony Stark and Doctor Strange:

TONY STARK: If Thanos needs all six, why don’t we just stick this one down a garbage disposal?

DOCTOR STRANGE: No can do.

WONG: We swore an oath to protect the Time Stone with our lives.

TONY STARK: And I swore off dairy… but then Ben & Jerry’s named a flavor after me, so…

DOCTOR STRANGE: Stark Raving Hazelnuts.

TONY STARK: Not bad.

DOCTOR STRANGE: A bit chalky.

WONG: A Hunk of Hulk of Burning Fudge is our favorite.

 

INFINITY WAR also featured old friends reuniting after being separated for a long time. Here, Captain American and Thor meet up for the final battle and comment on each other’s appearances:

CAPTAIN AMERICA: New haircut?

THOR: Noticed you’ve copied my beard.

 

And this exchange between Tony Stark and Peter Parker:

PETER PARKER: Let me just say, if aliens wind up implanting eggs in my chest or something and I eat one of you, I’m sorry.

TONY STARK: I don’t want another single pop culture reference out of you for the rest of the trip. You understand?

And on and on we could go, but we’ll finish here, with, fittingly enough, the final line in the movie. It’s Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury:

NICK FURY: Oh, no… Motherf…!

And on that note, we’ll call it a column. Hope you enjoyed this look at memorable quotes from AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and join me again next time for another Memorable Movie Quotes column.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

MOVIE LISTS: SCARLETT JOHANSSON – 2019

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MOVIE LISTS:  Scarlett Johansson

One of my favorite parts of AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) was Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Black Widow and the character’s story arc. So, with that in mind, I thought I would bring this column (originally from 2014) up to date.

Here’s the updated partial list of Johansson’s movie credits through April 2019:

 

EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS (2002) – frightened by giant spiders in this horror movie starring David Arquette.

LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) – hanging out with Bill Murray in Japan in this quirky film by writer/director Sofia Coppola.

THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE (2004) – lends her voice to this big screen adventure featuring SpongeBob, Patrick, and their undersea buddies.

MATCH POINT (2005) – really shines in this Woody Allen drama starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

THE PRESTIGE (2006) – Part of the rivalry between magicians Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in this Christopher Nolan thriller.

VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA (2008) – Another Woody Allen drama, this time with Javier Bardem.

IRON MAN 2 (2010) – Hello Black Widow!  Johansson is the best part of this underwhelming IRON MAN sequel.

THE AVENGERS (2012) – Johansson’s Black Widow is the sexiest crime fighting heroine since Diana Rigg in the other THE AVENGERS, the 1960s TV show with Patrick MacNee.

HITCHCOCK (2012) – Playing Janet Leigh to Anthony Hopkins’ Hitch.

DON JON (2013) – Loses her boyfriend first to porn and then to older woman Julianne Moore in this quirky innovative movie by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

UNDER THE SKIN (2013) – sexy alien who has the bad habit of killing those she seduces. Offbeat and weird, definitely worth a look.

HER (2013) – seduces Joaquin Phoenix with only her voice in this Oscar-nominated movie.

CHEF (2014) – has too small a role in this comedy drama by actor/director Jon Favreau.

CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – Black Widow is back and she’s still kicking butt and looking incredibly sexy doing it in this superior CAPTAIN AMERICA sequel.

LUCY (2014) – She’s the best part of this science fiction thriller about a woman who suddenly finds herself able to access her full brain capacity.

AVENGERS:  AGE OF ULTRON (2015) – fourth appearance as Black Widow in this AVENGERS sequel, which is not as good as the first.

HAIL, CAESAR! (2016) – has one of the best scenes in the movie, a hilariously sexy sequence with Jonah Hill, in this otherwise underwhelming misfire by the Coen Brothers.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016) – provides the voice for the snake Kaa in this impressive Disney remake of the Rudyard Kipling tale, well-directed by Jon Favreau.

CAPTAIN AMERICA:  CIVIL WAR (2016):  fifth turn as the sexy Black Widow in the third CAPTAIN AMERICA movie and one of Marvel’s all time best.  This rousing superhero film plays like THE AVENGERS 2.5 and contains some of the most entertaining sequences in the Marvel movie universe thus far.

GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) – plays the lead role of the Major, a cyborg crime fighter, in this disappointing remake of the classic Japanese animated film.

ROUGH NIGHT (2017) –  it’s a girl’s night out gone wrong as Johansson plays a woman enjoying a reunion with her college friends when they accidentally kill a male stripper.

ISLE OF THE DOGS (2018) – lends her voice to this Oscar-nominated animated film which also features voice work from Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum.

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) – back as Black Widow again in what for my money is the best AVENGERS film yet. Nonstop entertaining, and a gut-wrenching emotional finale, thanks to the unstoppable cosmic villain Thanos who will not be denied.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) – while I liked INFINITY WAR better than ENDGAME, Johansson enjoys some of her finest moments in the entire series as Black Widow right here in this movie. Indeed, Black Widow’s story and Johansson’s performance are some of the best parts of this film, which wraps up the AVENGERS saga as the Avengers go after Thanos and attempt to undo what he did in the previous film.

There you have it, a partial list of some notable Scarlett Johansson movies, updated for 2019.  Previously, I had written about looking forward to the rumored standalone movie for Black Widow, and supposedly, that film even though it’s been rumored for years, is in pre-production, which is interesting, considering what ultimately happened to Black Widow in AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Anyway, I would still be incredibly excited to see that standalone movie for Black Widow, and I do hope it still happens.

Okay, that’s it for now.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) – Final Chapter in Current Marvel Saga A Good One

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The best of the AVENGERS movies was the previous one, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018). In that film, the Avengers had their tails handed to them by the cosmic supervillian Thanos, who succeeded in wiping out half the population of the Universe, including many of our favorite Marvel superheroes. INFINITY WAR was the perfect balance of rousing action-adventure, lighthearted comical quips, and gut-wrenching emotional scenes, especially its now infamous ending.

Marvel fans have waited a whole year to find out what happens next, and now we know, as the final chapter of Marvel’s Avengers saga has arrived, AVENGERS: ENDGAME.

And that’s exactly what AVENGERS: ENDGAME is, a final chapter. Sure, there will still be other Marvel superhero movies going forward, but the current saga, which began with IRON MAN (2008) and continued with films for Captain America and Thor and eventually the Avengers comes to a close with AVENGERS: ENDGAME.

So, not only is this movie dealing with the aftermath of Thanos but also the legacy of the Avengers themselves. Yup, it has a lot on its plate. How, then, does it perform?

Well, let’s just say I don’t think there will be too many people who will leave the theater disappointed. That being said, my favorite AVENGERS movie remains the previous one, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME begins with a chilling scene as Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), absent from the previous movie, experiences firsthand the horror of Thanos, as his family is wiped out by the infamous cosmic cleansing. The remaining Avengers, still reeling from both their overwhelming defeat and its aftermath, decide they have no choice but to pursue and track down Thanos, but then what? They can’t undo what Thanos has done.

Or can they?

I’m going to stop right there, because the less known about the plot the better.

I liked AVENGERS: ENDGAME well enough. Heck, I’m a huge Marvel fan, and so there was going to be very little chance I wouldn’t like this one.  The cast of characters alone are worth the price of admission, and as always in a Marvel movie, the cast of actors is second to none. We’ll get to that in a minute.

But there were some things I didn’t like. Take that cast of characters. One of the things I thought the previous movie AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR did extraordinarily well was giving all its characters equal screen time. While this may not have translated into equal minutes, it certainly meant nearly every character in the film enjoyed key moments and scenes.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME wasn’t as successful in that department this time around. Some of the Marvel characters get short-changed here. There were also far fewer key moments for the major characters. So, whereas directors Anthony and Joe Russo created a perfectly seamless and well-paced story in the previous entry, they weren’t as successful doing so in this movie. In terms of giving characters their due, things were a bit uneven.

The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely was not as sharp, tight, or as comical as the one they wrote for INFINITY WAR. Things simply didn’t flow as well here.

There’s also a somber tone throughout, understandably, since Thanos has wiped out half the universe, but the film doesn’t shed this tone till its final reel, and even then, it’s not really gone.

I also didn’t completely enjoy the method of the Avengers’ endgame. While it was fun to watch what they were doing, it didn’t always make the most sense, and the film really didn’t go out of its way to try to have it make sense. I wanted more from the story in this department.

The story arcs for Iron Man and Captain America really are the two main ones in this movie, and neither one disappoints.

Robert Downey Jr. has been the face of the franchise as Tony Stark/Iron Man since his first Iron Man movie in 2008, and AVENGERS: ENDGAME provides a fitting conclusion for the character. Once again, Downey Jr. delivers a top-notch performance.

Some of the most satisfying scenes in the film are between Tony Stark and Captain America. They had spent the majority of the past few movies arguing and fighting with each other, and now they have finally put their differences aside.

Captain America also gets a fitting conclusion in the film, and Chris Evans once again does an admirable job as the Captain. While I’ve liked Robert Downey Jr. from the get-go, Chris Evans has only gotten better with each successive film. He has made Captain America one of the best parts of these movies.

Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor, and he’s largely reduced to comic relief here, although he does get one moving scene with his mother back on Asgard.

While I like Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/the Hulk, I was disappointed with the interpretation of the Hulk this time around. We didn’t see much of the Hulk in the previous film either, as strangely, he retreated into the deepest parts of Bruce Banner’s subconscious, refusing to re-emerge after getting his butt kicked by Thanos. That doesn’t sound like the Hulk. This time, he’s a Hulk/Bruce Banner hybrid— “Professor Hulk”— which pretty much means he’s Hulk-lite. I think Hulk fans have been cheated in these past two films.

On the other hand, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow enjoys some of her finest moments in the entire series. The same can be said for Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. In fact, the two share one of the best scenes in the film, certainly the most emotionally riveting.

But no one else really has any key moments. Even Ant Man (Paul Rudd) who has a lot of screen time doesn’t have his usual comical presence. It’s not for a lack of trying. I just think the screenplay wasn’t as sharp.

When Josh Brolin played Thanos in the previous film, he was easily one of the best Marvel movie villains ever. You can’t say the same thing about him in this film. His screen time is drastically reduced, as is his impact.

The film really relies on the emotions from the previous movie, and it probably does this a little too much. I wanted more out of ENDGAME that was new.

And while I was glad to see the addition of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) here, she doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot either.

But the cast you can’t beat. In addition to the actors already mentioned, the cast of AVENGERS: ENDGAME also includes Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Karen Gillan, Zoe Saldana, Evangeline Lilly, Rene Russo, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Danai Gurira, Dave Bautista, John Slattery, Jon Favreau, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Marisa Tomei, Angela Basset, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, William Hurt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Redford, Chris Pratt, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Wow.

As I said, just the cast itself is worth the price of a ticket.

The action scenes are well-done and the build-up to the second confrontation with Thanos is a good one. The conclusion does what it sets out to do, wrapping things up neat and tidy and restoring order to the universe.

Again, I believe fans will be pleased.

That being said, while I enjoyed ENDGAME a lot, I liked INFINITY WAR more. Maybe it’s because I prefer darker stories. Or maybe it’s just the better movie.

And perhaps to reinforce the notion that ENDGAME is a final chapter in this part of the Marvel saga, there is no after credit scene here. Say what? Yup, it’s true. No comical lunch gathering for the Avengers. No teaser for what’s coming next. Nothing.

Fitting for a movie called ENDGAME.

—-END—-

 

 

 

 

 

 

US (2019) – Ambitious Horror Movie Never Seems Real

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I was really looking forward to seeing US (2019).

Written and directed by Jordan Peele, the man who gave us GET OUT (2017), one of my favorite movies from that year, US boasted creepy trailers and advanced critical acclaim.

Imagine my disappointment when the end credits rolled and I found myself realizing I had just sat through— a dud.

Yep, I didn’t like US all that much. Didn’t like it at all.

The film opens creepily enough. It’s 1986, and a young girl is with her family at a beach boardwalk amusement park. The girl walks away and enters a house of mirrors on her own, where she has a bizarre and frightening experience. The film switches to present day where the girl Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is now an adult with her own family: husband Gabe (Winston Duke), teenage daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and younger son Jason (Evan Alex).

They’re a normal enough family and early on they’re fun to watch. On vacation, they decide to go to the same beach boardwalk where Adelaide had her traumatic experience as a kid. How weird is that? I don’t think I’d take my kids to a place that held such haunting memories for me, but anyway, throughout the vacation Adelaide can’t help but feel that something bad is going to happen to her family. Of course she feels this!  She’s at the same place where she had her childhood trauma! Duh!

Her fears become reality when at night four mysterious figures show up outside their door, figures that look like another family.  Young Jason nails it when he says “They’re us.”  Because that’s who they are, strange zombielike doppelgängers of the four family members.

And it’s at this point in the film, where it introduces its horrific elements, where it should take off and soar, where for me, it simply all unravels, and I lost interest.

Why?

Not for reasons usually associated with a bad horror movie.

For starters, US is a very ambitious movie, in terms of theme and symbolic images. It plays like a college thesis. There’s a lot going on, but for me, its undoing is a lack of believability and ultimately a lack of emotion. It’s a rare thing for me to like a movie that doesn’t move me emotionally, and US didn’t move me one iota, mostly because the threat never seemed real to me, and so I never was full on board with the plight of these characters.

Sure, I appreciated what the film was saying, I understood why it was saying it, but I didn’t believe the way it was saying it. Basically, there are two versions of this family, and as the film later shows, two versions of a lot of families, and when the alternate Adelaide responds to the question of who is she with the answer, “We’re Americans,” you get the point of the two Americas. The alternate Americans are dressed in red, not a friendly color these days. I get the symbolism.

But the story as told in US made little sense to me. The story of these people’s origins never resonated with me as anything other than a symbolic treatise on our modern-day culture. As such, it distracted me from the proceedings and took away from the horror elements. The entire time the family was fighting for their lives I felt disconnected from them because their story played out less like the events in a movie and more like the pages of a college thesis paper.

So, there’s a lot to digest here, and for people who like to analyze movies, US is the film for them. For people who enjoy horror movies, I’d wager to guess those folks might be a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that the only good horror movie is a dumb horror movie. I love smart movies. But US tries too hard to be intellectual at the expense of being emotional.

The acting is excellent. Lupita Nyong’o excels as both Adelaide and the very chilling alternate version of her. Elizabeth Moss is equally as good as family friend Kitty and her evil doppelgänger.

Winston Duke is fun to watch as the relaxed amiable dad Gabe, although his “twin” is less effective as he lumbers around like a zombie and isn’t as frightening as some of the others. Duke and Nyong’o, who both co-starred in BLACK PANTHER (2018), make for a realistic couple, one of the few parts of this movie I found believable.

Shahadi Wright Joseph is very good as daughter Zora, as is Evan Alex as son Jason.

One of the reasons I liked GET OUT so much was it was both a scary horror movie and an incisive commentary on race. Here, Jordan Peele is working with a much broader canvas. He’s covering much more ground, but while US is a more ambitious film than GET OUT, it doesn’t work nearly as well. For starters, its story just seemed way too convoluted to be credible.

And since it wasn’t believable, I didn’t feel for the characters, and as a result ultimately didn’t care all that much for the movie.

And while there are plenty of creepy parts, I didn’t find US all that scary either.

I predict that I may like US more with subsequent viewings, because there is a lot to absorb. But my initial reaction to it was akin to reading a poem ripe with figurative language that told a story so unreal it distracted from its metaphors. In short, the ambitious US never convinced me that what it was saying was real.

—END–

 

 

 

 

 

CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019) – Exciting Character, Mediocre Movie

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The best part of CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019) is Brie Larson’s performance as the title character, a female superhero who kicks butt and takes guff from no man. The worst part is her origin story as told in this movie simply isn’t all that interesting. In fact, it’s all rather—dare I say it?— dull.

On the faraway planet of Hala, Vers (Brie Larson) is being trained by a member of the Kree race, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) to combat terrorists, known as the Skrulls, but she is too emotional, and she continually fails in her training. As a result, she’s sent to see the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Bening), a being who appears differently to everyone who sees her, taking the shape of someone important in the lives of the visiting individual, but Vers doesn’t recognize the face of the Supreme Intelligence at all, and that’s because she has a problem with her memory and cannot remember her past.

When she is captured by the Skrulls terrorists, they probe her mind, which allows Vers to see images of her past, and she realizes she was once on Earth. Both she and the Skrulls make their way to Earth during the 1990s, and it’s here where she meets a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and together they take on the alien threat.

Meh.

Captain Marvel, as played by Brie Larson, is clearly the best part of CAPTAIN MARVEL She personifies confidence and resilience, standing up to the insults and catcalls of men, pretty much stamping them out. Of course, since this is a Marvel superhero movie, she’s also about defeating the bad guys, and she does that well too. A little too well actually. No one in this film really stands up to her all that well, and that’s because once she figures out who she is, she’s pretty much unstoppable.

Larson is relaxed and confident in the lead role, and I enjoyed watching her throughout this movie. Sadly, she’s the one bright spot in an otherwise dull vehicle. Even the girl power aspect isn’t completely successful. Empowering women is a prominent theme here, and it works, but compared to a film like BLACK PANTHER (2018), which, thanks largely to Michael B. Jordan’s performance, I thought had the most powerful message on race relations of all the films I saw in 2018, the theme here is only window dressing. It’s clear what the film is trying to say, but it just doesn’t say it with much conviction.

Likewise, the plight of the Skrulls, which ties in to today’s current immigration crisis, fails to resonate. It’s too superficial to make a serious impact.

Samuel L. Jackson returns yet again as Nick Fury, this time with a CGI face to make him look much younger, and to be honest, there was just something off-putting about his appearance. In short, it didn’t work for me.

Jude Law makes for a very boring villain, while Ben Mendelson fares better as the shapeshifting Skrull Talos. Mendelson does a nice job imbuing the character with sympathy, and I have to say Talos was my favorite character in this movie other than Captain Marvel herself

And strangely, the liveliest character in the film is a cat named Goose. That’s not saying a whole lot.

The screenplay by directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and by Geneva Robertson-Dworet contains the signature Marvel humor, which works well throughout, and there are plenty of tie-ins to other Marvel movies, specifically the upcoming AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019). Again, no problems here.

And it was fun to have the film set in the 1990s, which set up a lot of jokes, like Blockbuster Video stores, slow running computers, and very slow downloads.

But the story as a whole really did nothing for me. It also wasn’t told all that clearly. The film suffers from a sloppy opening, and it takes a good twenty minutes or so for this one to truly get started.

I enjoyed DC’s WONDER WOMAN  (2017) more than I did CAPTAIN MARVEL. It told a better story, and did a better job presenting its lead character.

Directors Boden and Fleck struggle a bit at the helm of CAPTAIN MARVEL. In terms of visual satisfaction there aren’t any complaints here. The film looks great. But I was not impressed at how this one told its story, and that’s a combination of both the writing and the direction. I found the jumping around during the film’s early moments, between dreams, memories, reality, flashbacks, planets, times, was all over the place and made for a very distracting beginning.

I also wasn’t impressed by the pacing. There were far too many slow parts in this one.

CAPTAIN MARVEL is nowhere near as good or as fun as the Marvel films from 2018, BLACK PANTHER, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP. It’s also not as good as the CAPTAIN AMERICA films. I did like it better than the first two THOR movies, and while Captain Marvel is certainly a far more likeable character than Doctor Strange, I preferred the Doctor’s film to this one as well.

Which is too bad because Captain Marvel is an important character, a female superhero who uses the negative experiences from her youth to empower her to be the strongest hero she can be. I liked her a lot, and I’m looking forward to seeing her again soon in the upcoming AVENGERS: ENDGAME which opens in April.

I also enjoyed the Stan Lee homage at the beginning of the movie.

And like all the Marvel superhero movies, there’s an after-credit scene, and once more there are two of these. The first one is the more important one, with a tie-in to the next AVENGERS film, while the last one is the silly one, good for a laugh only. Stay only if you want that one last chuckle.

CAPTAIN MARVEL introduces an exciting new superhero to the Marvel cinematic universe, but does it in a movie that is not on par with their better films.

While I loved the character, I can’t place the movie in Marvel’s upper echelon of superhero films. It’s one of their lesser entries for sure.

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Best Movies 2018

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Here’s my list of the Top 10 Movies from 2018:

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10. BOOK CLUB – I really enjoyed this comedy starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen about four friends who decide to read 50 Shades of Grey for their monthly book club, and it changes the way they think about sex and relationships during their senior years. Also starring Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfus, and Craig T. Nelson. My favorite comedy of the year.

9. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?  – in a banner yeary for documentaries, this one was my favorite. Its recounting of the life of Fred Rogers, TV’s Mister Rogers from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, resonates deeply today, as Rogers’ message of inclusion and gentle understanding is sorely missed in today’s antagonistic and deeply divided society.

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8. ANT-MAN AND THE WASP – I enjoyed this Ant-Man sequel more than the original. Story is better, jokes and situations are funnier, and Evangeline Lily adds a lot as the Wasp and is a nice complement to Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man. Oh, and then there’s that after-credits tie-in with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR which produced audible gasps from the audience.

7.BOY ERASED – Joel Edgerton wrote and directed this film which exposes gay conversion theory for the dangerous procedure that it is. Fine performances by Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe, and by Edgerton himself as an unqualified leader of the conversion camp.

6. THE FRONT RUNNER – Sure, I’m partial to political movies, but this tale of Gary Hart’s fall from being the Democratic front runner in the 1988 presidential election to dropping out of the race entirely due to an exposed extra-marital affair pushed all the right buttons for me. The film asks relevant questions which are still being asked today. Hugh Jackman is terrific as Gary Hart, as is Vera Farmiga as his suffering wife Lee.

5. EIGHTH GRADE – Awesome film which completely captures what it is like to be an eighth grader. On target writing and directing by Bo Burnham, especially the dialogue, and a fantastic lead performance by Elsie Fisher as eighth grader Kayla Day.

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Elsie Fisher in EIGHTH GRADE (2018)

4. THE GUILTY – From Denmark, this claustrophobic intense police drama is as compelling as they come, the type of film Alfred Hitchcock would have made. All of the action takes place inside a police dispatch office as an officer relegated to the emergency dispatch receives a call from a woman being kidnapped, and he has to deal with the situation in real time. You’ll swear you’ve seen all the action scenes, but that will be your mind playing tricks on you, as the camera remains focused on the police officer throughout. Excellent movie, and lean, as it clocks in at a swift 85 minutes.

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3. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – It was an outstanding year for Marvel, as three of my top ten films this year come from the Marvel Universe. This was the biggie, the ultimate showdown between the Avengers and their most dangerous adversary yet, Thanos. Amazing superhero movie, with a big bold ending which is no longer a spoiler, which is, the bad guy wins in this one. One of the most emotional endings to any superhero movie, causing audible gasps and groans multiple times as the film races to its inevitable conclusion.

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2. ROMA – An extraordinary movie, ROMA was unlike any other film I saw this year. Unassuming simple tale of a maid working for a family in Mexico in 1970-71. Features some of the best camerawork of the year, all of it in mesmerizing black and white. Slow at first, but stick with it. The final 45 minutes is among the most emotional moments on film I saw all year.

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1. BLACK PANTHER –  My pick for the best movie of the year is another Marvel gem. This one takes the superhero movie to a whole other level, dealing with racial issues as well as any mainstream drama. My favorite superhero film since THE DARK KNIGHT (2018). I loved the conflict between hero Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and villain Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan),and one of the rare times in a superhero movie where the hero admits he’s wrong and the villain is right.  Outstanding in every way, easily my favorite movie of 2018.

So, there you have it, my picks for the Best Films of 2018.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael