Captain Marvel – An Old White Critic’s View

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is well placed in the verse to help build up the ever increasing frenzy of anticipation for “Endgame” and if one old white film critic may be so bold, it is a fine addition to the ever increasing list of Mar-vell films on offer for fans of the comic universe to view. (And yes, this is one hell of a long sentence …) Starring Brie Larson as the title character/Carol Danvers with computer ‘air-brushed’ versions of Samuel L Jackson and Clark Gregg and a pretty decent cameo by Annette Bening, the film; a jointly directed effort by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, is a bit of enjoyable, female empowering, fun.

Jude Law, complete with yellow coloured eyes, does a brilliant turn as fellow Kree warrior Yon-Rogg and it is difficult not to fall in love with Brit actress Lashana Lynch character Maria Rambeau. This final piece of the ‘Endgame’ puzzle fits in nicely with everything leading up to the final battle of The Avengers v. Thanos and gives us a feel good factor of 100.

One does not have to be a Captain Marvel fan to appreciate this new and improved version of the superhero and if the viewer was not a Brie Larson fan going into this installment, it is almost guaranteed that they will be by the time the end credits, and the final teaser trailer roll.

One melancholic note was the opening montage of Stan Lee Marvel cameos that reminded us of the heart of Marvel’s passing. Later in the film, Stan is reading the Mallrats script – circa 1995 – a fact pointed out in other reviews, and it is a bittersweet moment indeed.

The plot is a tad convoluted, it has to be though as it is a necessary addition to the verse (film-wise) thus far and it ties everything in very nicely to the overall story-arc. But as a standalone film, Captain Marvel overachieves in terms of powerful female role models. Everyone of the feminine gender is strong and self actualized, even the baddy – Gemma Chan as the Kree warrior who ‘has never liked’ Marvel, aka Vers…

Marvel looks stunning, the film, not the character – although Larson is beyond impressive as the title character. The set pieces and the scenery, which is most likely CG but looks brilliant in spite of its computer origins, are gorgeous and the characters all step out smartly to add a lot to the existing story.

(It has to be pointed that “Endgame” intrudes through the entire film, one cannot help but overthink the entire installment and wonder just how, or when, the timeline will marry up with the whole Thanos storyline. It takes the time-travel theory and stands it on its head but also makes one wonder if this is even a factor when the cinema airs the latest installment of the Spiderman franchise trailer after he “dies’ in “Infinity War.”)

At two hours and three minutes the film does drag a bit at the start, but, and this is a big but, it is necessary to set up the main character’s personality and to show what a prig Jude Law’s character is. (Without revealing too much about the plot, it is sufficient to say that Yon-Rogg is an insufferable arse…)

Captain Marvel takes a lot of nods and winks, not least of which is Nick Fury’s “Marvel” line, and one can literally see a load of homages in the film. Groot-like death dealing by the cat is only one of the nods given to other films in the verse. It is all good fun and while there are some extemporaneous and downright slow bits in the film, it is greater than the sum of its parts.

This is a full five star addition to the Marvel-verse and one that must be seen prior to the final installment of Infinity Wars – aka Endgame. Check it out before April 26 and the big battle between our Marvel heroes and Thanos…

SNL: Brie Larson/Alicia Keys With Dana Carvey Open (Review)

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

Saturday Night Live (SNL) got off to a pretty good start, to its four episode back-to-back run,  with Oscar winner Brie Larson and Alicia Keys. Although the cold open with a touch of nostalgia in the form of Dana Carvey and his Church Lady was funnier than Larson’s monologue but that can be blamed more on the writers than Larson herself.  Mother’s Day has never been so…bland in terms of comedy.

(To be fair, however, the Beck Bennett “look ma it’s my new girlfriend” gag with Larson was pretty funny.)

The skits this week were more on par with what one expects from this show. Clever, witty, a few laugh out loud moments and one very topical one, the “Slow Snow” gag.  It must have been hard to work something in about Jon Snow coming back to life in ‘Game of Thrones‘ but it all worked out despite a few cold spots.

Saturday Night Live - Season 41
Jon Snow is alive…Not yet!

The pre-taped faux commercial for President Barbie  was a shout out for feminism and a sly dig, possibly, at Hilary Clinton. With a “Hilary-do” the doll was a mini-me version of the real presidential hopeful and about as equally popular…

The first live sequence gave another look at a favorite skit, the AMA interviewing “survivors.” This time the near death experiences of three women who died in a car accident. Kate McKinnon was on a roll with her euphemisms for her nether regions: Fun bun and mud gun, drainer and stainer and so on. The real fun, apart from watching McKinnon mine comedy gold was seeing Bobby Moynihan and Aidy Bryant struggle to not completely corpse. This was, by far, the funniest skit of the evening.

This was followed by the “Stepford Wives” “mom cut” sketch. This was not the funniest gag in the episode but was by far the cleverest with its homage to the films. Guest star Larson was quite good as the newly pregnant mom who changes from her long hair to the mother cut of “soft in the front, iron throne in the back.”

Weekend Update was all about Donald Trump. Vanessa Bayer killed it with her Tomorrow’s News Caster Laura Parsons. (Seriously hysterical and impossible to watch without cracking up…More please.) Colin Jost’s Brazilian strip gag was beyond brilliant. Sasheer Zamata had a great time with her “McGriddle” analogy as did Jost with his “McGridda.” The “thinly-veiled” racist terms were a highlight of the skit: Thug, ghetto and athletic.

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

Sidenote: Sasheer Zamata got a lot of screen time in this episode and its about time. However, this may be a one-off, as it was Sasheer’s birthday.

Next up was the “Slow Snow” skit which made much of the Game of Throne’s resurrection plot:

The most socially relevant skit of the night was the Cruz Quiz sketch which was spot on with the end; disturbing and funny.

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

Another pre-taped segment poked fun at Kickstarter and indie productions with laughable reward systems for “investors.” Not as overly funny as the other sketches it was still spot on in terms of relevance.

The last “faux-advert” was the ‘Dead Bopz’ commercial with a “doobie, doobie dead Bing Crosby flogging dead singers doing new songs via holographic technology. This was another throwback to the good old days when those pretend commercials were seriously funny. Highlight of the gag had to be Jay Pharoah’s Tupac with Aidy Bryant’s glitchy Ethel Merman a close second.

This episode of SNL was a definite step up from the fiasco of Russell Crowe. With a Dana Carvey open and some clever gags and Alicia Keys how could this not be a win. Brie Larson did well, miles better than Crowe, and hopefully the ‘Room‘ star will be asked back. For those who really missed Carvey’s Church Lady, here is the show’s cold open courtesy of NBC SNL:

As a last note on SNL episode 20, Keys killed it and the cast having some of their mom’s turn up was a lovely touch.

Room: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay For the Win

Room, starring Brie Larson and busy little newcomer Jacob Tremblay is a film that defies all expectations and delivers a win of epic proportions. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (award winning Irish director of Garage and Frank) from the novel and screenplay by Emma Donoghue, Room is an intimate film.

Room: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay For the Win Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 13.41.41

Room, starring Brie Larson and busy little newcomer Jacob Tremblay is a film that defies all expectations and delivers a win of epic proportions. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (award winning Irish director  of Garage and Frank) from the novel and screenplay by Emma Donoghue, Room is an intimate film.

Even after leaving the shed where the film starts, the movie can be called intimate, with a focus on two main protagonists, Ma and Jack and minimal intrusion from secondary characters, even when they are plot specific. (Old Nick, played by Sean Bridgers,  for instance is only seen occasionally and after the escape not seen at all.)

Despite this intimacy both Larson and Tremblay deliver performances that should receive gongs.  As the parent and child who only have each other, in a “room” that Ma has made into a world for her first born, these two initially puzzle the viewer. With all the action taking place in a 10×10 room, one wonders if there has been some sort of disaster or war that makes staying in this tiny area a necessity.

Only after the introduction of Old Nick do things become clearer and more so on Jack’s birthday when Ma tells her now five year old son the truth about the room and she concocts a desperate plan of escape.  A dangerous ploy that will either result in their freedom, or just her son’s.

Ironically, Brie Larson has just been declared Hollywood’s new “It Girl” a somewhat shallow honor all about the “mystical” quality of attraction, first coined by high society hostess Elsa Maxwell back during the halcyon days of Tinseltown.  Watching this film it is apparent from the first time we see her that Larson has it, only in this case, “it” is talent in the form of massive acting chops.

There is nothing indefinable about the actress or her performance.  Sans makeup, or artifice,  and evoking a kind of truth rarely seen outside of a documentary, Larson looks and feels like the real deal. A teen who has grown up in a limited space with little contact with anyone apart from her son, Old Nick and a television.

Tremblay’s intermittent narration and his interaction with Brie works on many different levels.  The chemistry between the two actors is spot on and it is easy to get caught up in their isolated relationship.  The mother and son are touching and it is apparent that they are both growing up together in this small space.

Later, the film changes and while the scope is still intimate, the setting changes;  which will challenge the mother and son. Will this new place break them apart or will that closeness remain?

This Irish production, partly funded by UK’s Film 4 and the Irish Film Board, captures the simple complexity of a mother and son whose lives are intertwined intimately.  Larson convinces as the girl who became a woman in captivity who weaves a magical world for her son and then desperately risks his life so he can be free.

Joan Allan is Ma’s mother Nancy, Willam H. Macy is father Robert, divorced from Nancy. These two peripheral characters, Macy more so as his screen time is limited to mere seconds, are only used to help show the confusion and irrationality that Ma and Jack face in the real world.

The costumes and the sets all feel real. The outfits that both Ma and Jack wear look like they have been taken from second hand shops or out of the bargain bucket at Kmart or WalMart.  The shed looks like a self-help nightmare that “Old Nick” furnished with objects gleaned from garage sales and the local tip.

Production designs and costuming aside, it is Larson and Tremblay who sell Room. Abrahamson gives us the claustrophobic necessity of the shed and then elevates our adrenaline levels once we follow Jack outside. The agoraphobic buildup with that intense  overload of sensory input for both Jack and the viewer makes the scene in the back of the truck almost too difficult to view.

Room is a film that evokes emotions. Tissues may be required for all  but the most hard hearted and although this is not a “weepy” (a  film intended to cruelly manipulate our emotions) it is touching and, at times, hard to watch. The real power of this film is in its ability, via the work of the director, Larson and Tremblay, to make us love each of them; Ma and Jack,  and to care deeply about what happens to each character.

This is a cracking film which has suspense, drama, love and growth all in the space of 118 minutes. A24 (distributors), Element Pictures and No Space Camping have a winner here and one that should be watched by anyone who loves tales of the indomitable human spirit of a boy and his mother.

A full 5 stars.

 

 

The Gambler: Mark Wahlberg Leaves Audience Dumbfounded and Depressed

The Gambler: Mark Wahlberg Leaves Audience Dumbfounded and Depressed

Mark Wahlberg is Jim Bennett in this remake of the 1974 James Caan film The Gambler and as directed by Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) this version leaves the audience dumbfounded, depressed and not a little confused. Like the original film, Wahlberg’s gambler is a academic figure, a professor who teaches literature at an unidentified Los Angeles college. Jim Bennett is a published author who has given up writing to teach it, or rather to discourage others from participating as writers.