Captain Marvel

Release: Friday, March 8, 2019

→Theater

Written by: Anna Boden; Ryan Fleck; Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Directed by: Anna Boden; Ryan Fleck

Captain Marvel figures to be a significant piece in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, acting as both a standalone origins story and a precursor to Jon Favreau’s standard-setting Iron Man; ipso facto it predates the entire MCU. That’s a pretty bold decision considering how much we are preoccupied with the present and the future of our favorite characters. Unfortunately the story this film tells isn’t quite so bold, the awkward way it ties into the overarching saga arguably a distraction more than it is an exciting talking point. Yet by force of personality Captain Marvel overcomes its weaknesses, and there is no denying the Avengers will be adding another nuke to their already impressive arsenal.

Unbeknownst to me, Captain Marvel is a generic name that actually refers to several characters, the very first appearing in 1967 as Captain Mar-Vell, a male (albeit an alien) military officer sent to our humble corner of the universe to spy on us and who, having grown sympathetic to the plight of mankind, ultimately switched allegiances, becoming a protector of Earth and a traitor to his own race. Multiple incarnations followed, with the character’s gender constantly changing (e.g. Phyla-Vell was female while Khn’nr and others were male) — justified by the episodic nature of comics and their need and ability to adapt.

That brings us to Carol Danvers, a half-human, half-alien super-being whose specific powers — supersonic flight, incredible strength, an ability to control and manipulate energy forms — identify her as one of the most powerful figures in the Marvel realm. As such, she wins the lottery to become the first female subject of a Marvel movie, its 21st overall. Captain Marvel is a reliably entertaining chapter that balances humor with heartache, becoming just as much about the struggle to find her real identity as it is about her discovering her powers and how she decides to wield them. It may not be winning many points in the original storytelling department, but it does have a winning cast of characters, fronted by Brie Larson and a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg and provided depth by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn, British actress Lashana Lynch . . . and one Hala of a cat.

Directing duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, known heretofore for indie fare like It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Sugar, keep their story pretty earthbound with only a few signature scenes sending us beyond our atmosphere. In terms of scale, it’s surely a bigger deal than Ant-Man, but if Guardians of the Galaxy gave us a tour of the cosmic town, Captain Marvel barely introduces us to our next-door neighbors. The relative intimacy certainly feels appropriate since the human side of the story manifests as a journey inward, into the heart and mind of a character unsure of herself. The superhero plot meanwhile draws elements from the Kree-Skrull War comic book storyline, setting up an intergalactic war between two alien races wherein we innocent earthlings get caught in the middle and need Captain Marvel to come to our defense.

Captain Marvel opens on an alien world known as Hala, the galactic capital of the Kree Empire. A young woman named Vers is awakening from a nightmare involving some older woman who looks a lot like Annette Bening, but that’s impossible since this kind of material is several fathoms beneath an actress of her caliber. But upon closer inspection I confirmed it is indeed Bening, playing a mystical figure referred to as the Supreme Intelligence, to whom Vers is sent at the behest of her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who is concerned about Vers’ inability to control her emotions. The Supreme Intelligence doubles down on that cautionary advice before sending the pair on a dangerous mission to rescue an undercover operative on a distant planet overrun by the enemy Skrulls. Naturally the mission goes awry when the team gets ambushed and Vers becomes separated from Yon-Rogg and her other Starforce colleagues, the former crash-landing on some scrap pile known as C-53 (a.k.a. Earth). Even worse, she’s a fish out of water in mid-90s L.A. and if fashion is anything to go by, it isn’t exactly our species’ finest hour (luckily she didn’t crash land a decade earlier).

Vers is soon intercepted by a couple of serious-looking, suit-wearing gentlemen who work for an agency whose name should never have been provided in this film for continuity’s sake. A two-eyed Nick Fury and a Just For Men advocate in young Phil Coulson witness something extraordinary when a Skrull invader crashes the scene. Because the Skrulls have this ability to change their appearance, identifying friend from foe becomes problematic, with a notable alien named Talos taking the form of Fury’s higher-up and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Keller (Mendelsohn) and another impersonating Agent Coulson. After shaking this shape-shifting shit off Fury, at the direction of Talos the predictable script, leads Vers to a U.S. Air Force Base place of thematic relevance where she finds clues to her past life — photographic evidence of her as a pilot and news clippings presuming her dead after a disastrous testing of an experimental new engine designed by a Dr. Wendy Lawson (played by Spoiler Spoilerson).

She also learns she had a close friend in Maria Rambeau (Lynch), an important link in the ole’ jogging-the-memory chain (not to mention in the realm of the MCU at large — her daughter Monica, played by an instantly lovable Akira Akbar, ostensibly set to play yet another version of Captain Marvel in the sequel — Ms. Marvel, perhaps?). The scene at the house in Louisiana is among the film’s best, the emotion that comes pouring out here no doubt a result of the indie flavor the directing tandem have brought to this much bigger project. Whether it is Lynch describing what it feels like to see her bestie return from the dead — hence the longevity of the MCU,  the human cost of being in the superhero biz has always been handled in an interesting way — or Mendelsohn getting a really juicy character whose intentions are not what they first seem, Captain Marvel soars in these more grounded moments.

Even as the action takes a turn for the surprisingly cooperative, the character work is ultimately what saves Captain Marvel from its own Negative Zone of mediocrity. While the action sequences are worthy of the big screen treatment they aren’t as integral to the personality of the film as Larson is in the title role. At one time considered too young to play the part of an Air Force pilot (this was before the filmmakers double-checked with members of the American Air Force who confirmed it is possible for a 26-year-old to be so accomplished), Larson acquits herself with the utmost confidence, maturing from reckless and unpredictable to every bit the noble warrior hero she so advertises her people as to her de facto partner in Agent Fury.

Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers is by far Larson’s most high-profile role to date and while the plight of the superhero is unfamiliar territory for someone who has developed herself through such intimate human dramas as Room and Short Term 12, you wouldn’t know it based on her confidence and how much fun she’s having here. And sorry to break it to the basement dwelling trolls who review-bombed her new movie, a perma-smile does not for a natural performance make. I personally don’t need to see someone smiling through every damn frame of the movie to know they’re enjoying themselves, or to know what this material and this role means to them.

What is this thing called The Oregon Trail?

Recommendation: While I didn’t think Captain Marvel is a game-changer — save for the first earthly encounter with the Skrulls the action scenes are pretty forgettable — it certainly has its strengths, namely the lead character and the friends she ends up making along the way. It might go without saying for most of these Important Marvel Movies but considering the way this one was seemingly preordained to fail by insecure men before it even opened, it really seems that ignoring the internet has never been more crucial in allowing you to experience the film on your own terms. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 124 mins.

Quoted: “You know anything about a lady blowing up a Blockbuster? Witnesses say she was dressed for laser tag.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

November Blindspot: The Usual Suspects (1995)

Release: Friday, September 15, 1995

→YouTube

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Before the X-Men made Bryan Singer a household name in the early 2000s, he had already achieved what the vast majority do not by directing an Oscar winner on his second try, the 1995 neo-noir mystery The Usual Suspects. He had help of course, with his regularly contributing screenwriter taking home one of the two statues for his talky and twisty original screenplay while Kevin Spacey snagged the other for his star-making role as a small-time con man suffering cerebral palsy. The director’s ambition has certainly grown over the years, as have his budgets, but the irony remains that some of his most inspired work resulted before he ever earned his seat at the big kids’ table.

Even if Singer failed to earn plaudits for himself that February night, his craftsmanship here is undeniable. The Usual Suspects is not only stylish without being affectatious, it offers its cast of brand-name actors plenty of room to stretch their legs and play off of one another’s unique energy. The film is not just a master class in obscuring the edges of morality but the cinematic sleight of hand is also really impressive. So often the frame is filled with smoke and mirrors figuring out what is actually going on can be a tall task. Patience (and a willingness to forego immediate comprehension of events) pays dividends. Singer makes you feel as if you’ve accomplished something by the end, something that cannot be said about his more blockbuster-friendly fare, fun as those adventures may have been.

Despite the peripheral blur, the premise remains simple. A major dope deal turns ugly aboard a boat moored in the San Pedro Bay, and a lone survivor, claiming immunity, recounts the details of his involvement and the events leading up to it through extended and potentially unreliable flashbacks. In the present tense, U.S. Customs Special Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) must decide on what level to trust his source. He knows as well as any thug he’s put behind bars that no one wants to be a rat.

The story begins with an explanation of an event that took place six weeks prior, an amusingly farcical police investigation into the disappearance of a truck carrying guns through New York. Although a group of five mangy suspects are brought in for questioning, no culprit is identified. While sequestered in a holding cell, one among them, Stephen Baldwin’s bad-boy hipster Michael McManus, hatches a scheme to screw with the boys in blue as a token of their gratitude for being pointlessly incarcerated. Everyone is on board except Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), a former dirty cop trying to turn over a new leaf by going into the restaurant biz.

The others — Benecio Del Toro‘s too-cool-for-proper-enunciation Fred Fenster; Kevin Pollak as angry guy Todd Hockney and the recently disgraced Spacey as the aforementioned Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint — have no compunction to leave this cell changed men. A series of profitable but small-time jobs eventually leads the gang to a big payday, when an opportunity arises to clear their names with an arch-criminal by the name of Keyser Söze, an almost mythological figure whom no one ever sees or hears from directly. Because their affinity for theft has struck a little too close to home, one of Söze’s representatives, a mysterious man played by the late, great Pete Postlethwaite informs them they can avoid certain death if they disrupt a major coke deal about to go down in the Bay, one that stands to net a competing drug lord $91 million.

Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay, which has curried so much favor with the Writer’s Guild of America over the years it’s now considered among the top 40 greatest screenplays of all time, creates a confluence of themes that include but are certainly not confined to: persuasion versus manipulation; virtue versus vice. Does crime really pay off all your debts? A scale of relativism emerges from the morass: the only thing worse than a career criminal is a career criminal who rats on his colleagues. And in The Usual Suspects, there’s sort of this poetic justice with the way snitches get their stitches.

Curious about what’s next? Check out my Blindspot List here.

Recommendation: This is a movie you’ll have to put some effort into but it’s so worth it you’ll very likely end up like me, embarrassed you decided to give up on the first 20 minutes in the first place. After those 20 very confusing and frustrating minutes, the nut eventually cracks. It’s milk comes spilling forth. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 106 mins.

Something better than another damn quote: The line-up scene was scripted as a serious scene, but after a full day of filming takes where the actors couldn’t keep a straight face, Singer decided to use the funniest takes. Behind the scenes footage reveals the director becoming furious at his actors for not being able to keep their shit together. In an interview, Kevin Pollak states that the hilarity came about when Benicio Del Toro “farted, like 12 takes in a row.” Del Toro himself said “somebody” farted, but no one knew who. 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

July Blindspot: Swingers (1996)

Release: Friday, October 18, 1996

→YouTube

Written by: Jon Favreau

Directed by: Doug Liman

It is all too easy to assume certain things about a movie titled Swingers. Oh, how does that expression go? The project that launched the careers of both its leads as well as the director is, yes, very much a “dude-flick” preoccupied with the pursuit of happiness via the pursuit of women, but the way in which it extracts genuine, honest emotion out of such simple ambitions is really impressive.

Steeped in the Swing Revival period that swept over America in the late ’90s — a curious echo of the 1930s and ’40s when Benny Goodman was King of Swing — Doug Liman’s break-out comedy is both an homage and a movie of its era. Sampling everything from contemporary revivalist groups like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to ’50s jump blues icons like Louis Jordan, Swingers builds much of its swagger through its eclectic soundtrack. Luckily there are performances to match the up-tempo musical stylings.

Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau are a comedic dream playing struggling actors in Tinseltown who spend their days looking for work and their nights for a good time. Trent (Vaughn) is the quintessential Ladies’ Man whose sense of connectedness to this earth is defined entirely by his gift of gab. He’s not the type to invest his energy into anything long-term, anything real. The only commitment he knows is to playing the field. His prototypical extrovert stands in stark contrast to Favreau’s Mikey who, six months after the fact, is still reeling from a break-up from a longtime girlfriend whom he left behind in New York in pursuit of his dreams out west.

Whereas Trent only looks forward to the future (and his next cocktail), Mikey can’t stop looking back. His obsession with the past has really done a number on his self-esteem and his ability to connect to others in the here and now. Favreau’s nuanced performance captures the pain of being socially graceless and, perhaps because his character is also uncannily me, should have received more than a Best Newcomer award. His A-list status today may somewhat belie his true talents. The role is proof that Favreau is an actor first and a director second. Who knew the guy could do awkward and repressed so convincingly?

After an impromptu trip to Las Vegas* fails to revive a heartbroken Mikey, Trent and a few other actor friends — Rob (Ron Livingston, also playing a version of himself as a fresh hopeful in the City of Broken Dreams), Charles (Alex Désert) and a boy named Sue (Patrick Van Horn) — decide that enough is enough. It’s time to rally around their fallen comrade. Famously the refrain becomes “You’re so money, baby, you don’t even know it.”

Though it is a collective effort, it’s really Trent who tries to instill in Mikey all that he knows about the “unwritten rules” of the social scene. However, when push comes to shove, none of the advice seems to help. His boy is too much of a “nice guy,” which concerns Trent because he knows nice guys finish last. But Swingers (Favreau‘s first screenplay) posits this is an outmoded attitude, even in the ’90s. “Finishing last” could mean meeting a Lorraine (Heather Graham, whose well-placed cameo suggests that timing is the only thing that really matters). Ever so subtly the tone shifts away from crassness and towards something approaching genteelism. It becomes apparent after awhile that there are actually drawbacks of being a Trent. It’s probably a stretch to call the film socially responsible, but its flirtation with romance is a wholly unexpected diversion.

Swingers is a movie of simple pleasures and it’s decidedly low-budget. On first watch you’ll probably notice some technical stuff like the shadow of the camera-man against the wall as he climbs stairs in pursuit of the actors. Visible boom mics in a number of shots. Some of the effects are badly dated. If you ask me, all of this adds to the purity of the experience. The movie has such a big heart it just barely manages to wear it on its sleeve. Its passion is persuasive. Its enthusiasm contagious. Swingers is a born winner. And the music ain’t bad either.

Curious about what’s next? Check out my Blindspot List here.

* Fun trivia: the scene that takes place on the side of the highway on the return trip wasn’t shot legally. Permits for shooting are required, and the production team neither could afford one nor would have ever been able to acquire one for this particular location for red-tape-related reasons. So Liman had to improvise and make it appear as though they weren’t working even though they were. Apparently as the undercover shoot took place local cops were standing by, just out of frame.

Recommendation: Fun, uplifting, unexpectedly wholesome. You won’t want to throw it on for family movie night, but if you’re going through a rough patch Swingers is one hell of an antidote. Whether you’re a Trent or a Mikey there’s a lot to be gained out of this treatise on social dynamics — and though times have definitely changed, our innate desire to find happiness in another person has not.

Rated: R

Running Time: 96 mins.

Quoted: “So how long do I wait to call?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.youtube.com 

May Blindspot: What About Bob? (1991)

Release: Friday, May 17, 1991

[YouTube]

Written by: Tom Schulman

Directed by: Frank Oz

Given the career Frank Oz has been able to enjoy over the span of some 40 years, a gentle comedy like What About Bob? tends to get lost in the shuffle. That’s a shame, because it’s quite funny. Wholesome in that 1990s PG-comedy kind of way; sentimental in the same.

Oz has directed Steve Martin twice and he’s kicked it with DeNiro once, so his collaboration with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss isn’t some crazy cosmic event. He’s put in the work to get here, having helped launch Jim Henson’s career in the early going with his development of both Sesame Street and The Muppets. He also curiously remade The Stepford Wives and brought chaos upon a British family in his 2007 farcical comedy Death at a Funeral. But his behind-the-scenes work didn’t become the stuff of cinematic legend until Henson repaid the favor by turning down the part of Yoda in Star Wars, recommending George Lucas cast his friend instead. And history, the rest is.

By comparison What About Bob? feels like a rather modest achievement. Modest, but not insignificant. It’s a film whose fixation upon mental health was taboo then and is, sadly, taboo now. It tries to define what sound mental health is through an exploration of an unorthodox relationship between Dr. Leo Marvin (Dreyfuss), an accomplished psychotherapist, and his high-maintenance, multi-phobic client, a neurotic New Yorker named Bob Wiley (Murray). Of course, that’s not to suggest this is a thorough interrogation of perpetually un-PC subject matter as what unfolds aims for entertainment rather than the provocation of thought and discussion. Think of it more as a friendly PSA urging us to be more tolerant of others’ quirks and mannerisms, regardless of whether they’re clinically diagnosable traits.

Dead Poets Society screenwriter Tom Schulman’s work is simply but effectively constructed, the farcical events forcing the pair of well-matched leads into comically and diametrically opposed character arcs, with Murray slowly regaining his dignity and Dreyfuss steadily going mad over the course of a fleeting hour and forty minutes. Murray is an ideal spokesperson for the quirky and off-kilter. Ostensibly, he’s bringing nothing new to his role, but that’s ironically what this overly familiar movie needs. It needs Bill Murray being Bill Murray. When Bob is first pawned off by his former counsel and onto Dr. Marvin, the actor’s eccentricities embrace you as a warm hug from a grandparent.

Meanwhile, Dreyfuss arguably outshines his costar in doing the dirty work, exuding a level of self-absorption that makes him an easy target. He comes across cold and clinical, a puffed-up, red-faced bureaucrat who cares not so much about the hippocratic oath (or maybe even his family) as he does earning more accolades and climbing further up the career ladder. Dreyfuss’s performance is outstanding, a controlled caricature of professional hubris that so perfectly culminates with a man drooling in a wheelchair.

The plot remains obvious and more than a little contrived in parts — it’s really difficult to believe a man as neurotic as Bob would actually board a public bus for New Hampshire, but we acknowledge the plot must move along somehow. You tend to get over those sorts of things, because there’s a lot of it to go round, and while the film relies mighty heavily on its star power, it’s frequent pit stopping into cliché is justified.

Dr. Marvin learns the hard way that “I’m on vacation” is a foreign concept to his oddball client. The story proper gets underway when Bob manages to track his impatient doctor down in his New Hampshire hideaway and begins the process of integrating himself into the family. Compounding Dr. Marvin’s discombobulation is the rapidly growing divide between himself and his family. He can’t comprehend the fact his wife Fay (Julie Hagerty) and children, Anna (Kathryn Erbe) and Sigmund (Charlie Korsmo), have taken a liking to this possible sociopath. Bob, who has justified his sudden appearance as him taking some of Dr. Marvin’s advice to heart (“take a vacation from your problems”), is viewed by the majority as the fun-loving drunk uncle rather than a pest who needs to be flushed out.

With all due respect to Murray, the genius that he is (and Bob is certifiably a great character), the schadenfreude that comes with Dreyfuss’ energetic, unhinged performance simply makes this experience what it is — granted, something of an echo of the trials endured by Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles four years earlier. In that film, a similarly obnoxious but well-meaning northerner effectively infiltrated the personal life of a gruff stranger, often to his own detriment, and ever-so-occasionally to surprisingly poignant effect. However, where that film truly satisfied with the way John Candy was able to finally win the other guy over, What About Bob? clumsily tries to contrive that same feeling in the final few seconds.

Curious about what’s next? Check out my Blindspot List here.

Recommendation: With two outstanding performances from Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss, What About Bob? becomes something I can easily suggest to viewers who are looking for another solid, perhaps overlooked Bill Murray comedy from the early ’90s. Funny, heartwarming, ultimately predictable but definitely worthwhile. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “Shit-eating son of a bitch! Bastard, douchebag, twat, numb-nuts, dickhead, BITCH!” [Editors note: I love the MPAA ratings of the ’90s.]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Decades Blogathon – Jackie Brown (1997)

Hey all, Natasha’s review of a refreshingly different Quentin Tarantino piece — Jackie Brown (1997) — is available for your reading pleasure over at Three Rows Back! Go check it out!

three rows back

Welcome to the penultimate day of the Decades Blogathon – ‘7’ edition – hosted by myself and my partner in crime Tom from Thomas J.For those who don’t know, the blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the seventh year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and today I’m very pleased to welcome Natasha from it’s the turn of the one and only Zoe from Life of this City Girl who is too-cool-for-school in her choice of QT’s Jackie Brown.

Jackie Brown PosterPlot: A middle-aged woman finds herself in the middle of a huge conflict that will either make her a profit or cost her life (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119396/)

A quick peek over at Tom’s blog alerted me to the fact that it was time for his and Mark’s annual Decades Blogathon. In the past…

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Decades Blogathon – L.A. Confidential (1997)

Hey everyone, the other ’90s throwback we have for Day Four in Decades is a review by Anand of Demanded Critical Reviews, which talks about the 1997 urban crime thriller L.A. Confidential. It’s good stuff, and you should check it out on Three Rows Back.

three rows back

Welcome to Day 4 of the Decades Blogathon – ‘7’ edition – hosted by myself and my blogging brother Tom from Thomas J.For those who don’t know, the blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the seventh year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and for today I’m welcoming Anand from Delighted Critical Reviews, who turns his sights on the 1997 neo-noir L.A. Confidential.

Curtis Hanson’s L.A.Confidential begins with an establishing sequence so rare in thrillers nowadays who want to dive head first into the action rather than utilize time for character development.

L.A. Confidential Poster

These establishing sequences are also a fitting introduction to the underbelly of Los Angeles, and three policemen who masquerade through it. The first is Officer Bud White, a righteous officer with utmost respect for women and who adheres to…

View original post 357 more words

Decades Blogathon — The Fifth Element (1997)

Welcome back around to Day Four of Decades ’17, and the end of the first week. It’s been a lot of fun so far, once again another eclectic collection of titles and years. Mark of Three Rows Back, who’s been my partner in crime here, and I have been running new reviews everyday and re-blogging the other’s featured review as well. Today we’re getting our ’90s nostalgia on with a pair of 1997 releases, and this review of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is brought to you by Mark Hobin of the inimitable Fast Film Reviews, whose work has been featured now in two straight ‘Decades’ events. 


Okay, so there’s this thing see, called the Great Evil, and it appears every 5000 years. It manifests itself as this huge amorphous orb of black fire the size of a planet and its solitary goal is to annihilate all life. It’s virtually unstoppable, but there’s hope. A weapon consisting of four stones, representing the basic elements – water, fire, earth and air – can be assembled to stop the threat. But to unlock this extraordinary power, a uniquely “perfect” human must be combined with these other four elements first. Flash forward to the year 2263 where the Great Evil has suddenly appeared and is approaching Earth with intent to destroy. Meanwhile, a divine visitor from another planet has been restored from DNA in a scientific lab, but she’s frightened by her unfamiliar surroundings. Upon escaping, she literally crashes through the roof of a cab driven by taxi driver Korben Dallas. Together they endeavor to find the missing stones before the wicked Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg can. Why? So they can save the world, of course.

If that plot description sounds loopy, you’d be right. And that’s what makes this French/American space adventure story so intoxicating. Apparently, writer/director Luc Besson began the script for The Fifth Element when he was only 16 years old. The naïve perspective benefits the material; the refreshingly straightforward conflict between good and evil is explored in a most satisfying way. Besson was influenced by the French comic books he read as a teenager and the production features all of the attributes of their stylish color and composition. Any frame of film could easily be frozen as a panel, completed with dialogue bubbles and the tableau would make a fine publication.

The production is ridiculously over the top. The incredibly detailed sets are visually stunning. From the futuristic 3-D highways of Brooklyn New York to the backdrop of planet Earth during the opera concert on Planet Fhloston, every scene is a feast for the eyes. But even that clichéd phrase simply does not do this display justice.

Of course none of this ridiculousness would even work if we didn’t have a flawlessly cast picture full of larger than life characters that truly engage. Bruce Willis is a retired elite Special Forces military hero who currently drives a taxi. He’s got confidence to spare but with a sarcastic world-weary demeanor. He grounds the movie as we identify with his detachment of the peculiar state of the world around him. Milla Jovovich is Leeloo an otherworldly being that captivates his interest. She’s sufficiently “exotic“, speaking a fictional language with a limited vocabulary. It’s worth mentioning the significant contributions of actors Gary Oldman and Ian Holm as well. Even former wrestler Tom Lister, Jr. appears as The President. Now that’s inspired casting. But the most memorable portrayal of all occurs roughly halfway in when popular radio talk show host DJ Ruby Rhod, played by comedian Chris Tucker, makes his entrance. Sashaying flamboyantly in a leopard print robe one moment, then making aggressive sexual advances toward pretty young stewardesses the next. Possessing a high pitched voice on helium, Ruby buzzes people away with a flick of his hand. He’s like Prince, Steve Urkel, Little Richard and Dennis Rodman all rolled up in the same person. It’s an admittedly polarizing performance, but an achievement that perfectly defines the utter outrageousness of the drama. Without question, among the most unforgettable entrances I’ve ever seen in a film. He should have been nominated for an Academy Award. Yeah, I said it.

The actors are complemented by a sensational array of costumes that were created by French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, each more bizarre than the next. His trademark nautical chic is evident in the sailor and captain suits of the resort workers, but we’ve also got ultra sexy stewardesses that would give a Las Vegas showgirl pause. Those uniforms at the Mc Donald’s are pretty revealing too. And don’t forget the carefully placed white tape of the barely-there “dress” that Leeloo sports after she’s first re-created from DNA. The tone is always tongue in cheek. The alien opera diva is a suitably mesmerizing marvel of silky powder blue skin and tentacles. Check out the amusing nod to Princess Leia on the stocky policewoman that shows up at Korben’s apartment. The personalities occasionally reference the past, but Besson ultimately makes the distinct vision all his own.

For me, The Fifth Element embodies the phrase “cinematically dazzling” more than any other picture. Production design, fashion, music, an international cast, all of it integrated to form a shining model of a sensory celebration. There have certainly been flicks that have been equally stylish, but none to surpass it. French director Luc Besson has been a highly successful force in movie making. One of the most ”Hollywood” of all French filmmakers, he has perhaps grown somewhat more mainstream and predictable as time has passed. The Fifth Element remains his transcendent combination of artistry and commerce. Besson’s delightful rumination on good vs. evil creates excitement. It’s uplifting in its naïveté, the triumph of love. Naturally these positives wouldn’t matter if we didn’t have individuals we actually cared about. There’s a palpable joie de vivre here, rarely this tangible in big budget science fiction. That feeling is underscored throughout the film concluding with the final shot.

Mark Hobin

Fast Film Reviews

https://fastfilmreviews.com/


Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.drafthouse.com; http://www.collider.com 

February Blindspot: Alive (1993)

alive-movie-poster

Release: Friday, January 15, 1993

[Netflix]

Written by: John Patrick Shanley

Directed by: Frank Marshall

I love a good survival story and while Alive certainly fits the description of survival story it’s neither a good movie nor one that I will ever love — a would-be toe-curling drama watered down by perhaps the softest R-rating in the history of cinema. And even though these sorts of films are never recognized for their achievement in performance, it is a surprisingly poorly acted affair.

It’s clear that for director Frank Marshall, striking the right tone was priority one, if not the only one. He crafts a fittingly solemn tribute to the Uruguayan rugby team whose charter plane crashed high in the Andes en route to a game in Chile on October 13, 1972, and who were ultimately forced to resort to cannibalism. Of the 45 passengers on board, only 16 lived to tell about it. Alive does champion the human spirit but it never manages to give the concept a face, and never allows the audience to identify on a more personal level with this account of individual and collective bravery.

The event has inspired a number of redressals, including the 1974 novel by award-winning English novelist Piers Paul Read, upon which John Patrick Shanley’s screenplay is based. His story wastes precious little time in acclimating the audience to team camaraderie as they anticipate the upcoming match on the flight over. After an admittedly harrowing crash sequence viewers come to experience over the course of two cinematic hours the same slow decay of flesh and hope for rescue the athletes endured for three brutal months.

Alive is a slow-going trudge through the psychological deterioration of youngsters caught in an unimaginable situation. It’s decidedly more suggestive than literal, failing to really dig beneath the surface of the social and philosophical dynamics at play. There’s something to be said about Marshall’s refusal to resort to gore, but the notion he would be exploiting these people by showing some visceral scenes of desperation is ridiculous. As it stands, the dramatization largely leaves the audience cold. Not unsympathetic, but uninvolved.

Alive employs a mostly unknown cast to portray the players — a decision that, in theory anyway, reinforces the notion that ordinary people are often capable of accomplishing extraordinary things in the face of life-altering circumstances. A young Ethan Hawke as Nando Parrado (one of the lucky 16 who served as a technical advisor on the production) stands out among the rest, not simply because he has more stuff to do but because he’s the only actor who convinces us that he is who he is playing.

In reality, the lack of experience in front of the camera does real damage to the film’s credibility. Low-rent acting and awkward dialogue are the main culprits but the use of some suspect, barbecue-chicken-looking props also make the cost-effective filmmaking strategies abundantly clear. The backdrop of the Andes, on the other hand, is quite convincing, with a number of atmospheric shots of a most hostile South American landscape in the grip of winter serving as a sobering reminder of our fragility.

Curious about what’s next? Check out my Blindspot List here.

alive

2-0Recommendation: Disappointingly generic and horribly acted, Alive is in some ways the film I have suspected it of being for some time now. I’m not sure why it made my Blindspot list but at least now I have seen it. And if you haven’t yet, may I recommend instead the documentary based on this. Or perhaps pick up the book. Ethan Hawke is better than the rest but he doesn’t exactly save this from mediocrity.

Rated: R

Running Time: 126 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.moviescounter.com 

Blindspot 2017

blindspot-logo

Peer pressure strikes again, people. I’m doing a Blindspot list this year. That’s right. Twelve films, one reviewed per month. I’ve seen so many fascinating lists over the past several years and finally I think I’m ready to tackle one of my own. It’s an inspired idea, and someone should get a sticker or something for conceptualizing this popular blog trend. What a great way to discipline yourself into tackling that ever-growing list of Movies I Should Have Watched, Like, Yesterday. It’s also a good way of diversifying your tastes. I’m not sure if any title on this list is a real stretch for me, many of them fall under genres I’m predisposed to enjoying anyway, but the vast majority of this list is comprised of things I know I absolutely should have seen by now — barring one or two curios I’ve been interested in ticking off even knowing they are going to be, in all likelihood, somewhat forgettable. The goal wasn’t to create a list of potentially life-changing films. No matter their relevance or durability, I’m motivated to get started here! I hope you all will follow along with me.

I present to you my Blindspot list for 2017*:


January 

defiance-movie-poster

Release: Friday, January 16, 2009

Plot Synopsis: Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests, where they join Russian resistance fighters and endeavor to build a village in order to protect themselves and about 1,000 Jewish non-combatants.  

Review now available here 


February

alive-movie-poster

Release: Friday, January 15, 1993

Plot Synopsis: A Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the snow swept Andes are forced to use desperate measures to survive after a plane crash.

Review now available here


March**

trainspotting-movie-poster

Release: Friday, August 9, 1996

Plot Synopsis: Renton, deeply immersed in the Edinburgh drug scene, tries to clean up and get out, despite the allure of the drugs and influence of friends.

Review now available here


April

metropolis-movie-poster

Release: Sunday, March 13, 1927

Plot Synopsis: In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city’s mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.

Review now available here


May

what-about-bob-movie-poster

Release: Friday, May 17, 1991

Plot Synopsis: A successful psychotherapist loses his mind after one of his most dependent patients, an obsessive-compulsive neurotic, tracks him down during his family vacation.

Review now available here


June

once-upon-a-time-in-the-west-movie-poster

Release: Friday, July 4, 1969

Plot Synopsis: A mysterious stranger with a harmonica joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad.


July

swingers-movie-poster

Release: Friday, October 18, 1996

Plot Synopsis: Wannabe actors become regulars in the stylish neo-lounge scene; Trent teaches his friend Mike the unwritten rules of the scene.

Review now available here


August

Imprimer

Release: Friday, January 7, 2011

Plot Synopsis: A cop turns con man once he comes out of the closet. Once imprisoned, he meets the second love of his life, whom he’ll stop at nothing to be with.


September

reservoir-dogs-movie-poster

Release: Friday, October 23, 1992

Plot Synopsis: After a simple jewelry heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.

Review now available here 


October

cujo-movie-poster

Release: Friday, August 12, 1983

Plot Synopsis: Cujo, a friendly St. Bernard, contracts rabies and conducts a reign of terror on a small American town.

Review now available here


November

the-usual-suspects-movie-poster

Release: Wednesday, August 16, 1995

Plot Synopsis: A sole survivor tells of the twisty events leading up to a horrific gun battle on a boat, which begin when five criminals meet at a seemingly random police lineup.

Review now available here


December

downfall-movie-poster

Release: Friday, December 31, 2004

Plot Synopsis: Traudl Junge, the final secretary for Adolf Hitler, tells of the Nazi dictator’s final days in his Berlin bunker at the end of WWII.

* subject to change based on availability 

** not original line-up; I have switched out March and May, in anticipation of the Trainspotting sequel  


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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com

Paul G — #5

Paul G logo

Last time we were here, Paul was rocking a sweet silver hairdo, the trademark of famed music producer Jerry Heller whom he portrayed in his second collaboration with director F. Gary Gray. Let’s actually take a look at his first experience working with him in the excellent crime/hostage thriller The Negotiator, where Paul takes on the role of a sniveling man caught up in the crisis as one of the hostages. I believe this was the first exposure I had to the actor, so there are two great reasons to check out this dramatic outing.

Paul G The Negotiator

Paul Giamatti as Rudy Timmons in F. Gary Gray’s The Negotiator

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Crime thriller/action/drama

Plot Synopsis: In a desperate attempt to prove his innocence, a skilled police negotiator accused of corruption and murder takes hostages in a government office to gain the time he needs to find the truth.

Character Profile: A two-bit con-man with a penchant for confrontation, Rudy Timmons finds himself amidst a tense stand-off between hostage negotiator Danny Roman (an excellent Samuel L. Jackson) who has been set-up by members within the Chicago Police Department, possibly within his own team, to look like a murder suspect. Rudy, a sniveling little dweeb, establishes himself quickly as among the more vocal of Roman’s hostages, insistent he be let free and get as far away from this  situation as possible. Roman, unable to trust anyone, counter-insists that he stay right where he is. And in spite of rising tensions between him and the armed man whose credentials remain dubious throughout, Rudy finds himself playing a crucial role in getting to the bottom of this conspiracy.

Why he’s the man: While Paul may not factor into proceedings physically as much as the likes of his talented costars in Jackson, Kevin Spacey and David Morse, he nevertheless makes his presence felt. Ever good at playing that “sniveling little dweeb” type, Rudy’s transition from thorn-in-the-side to quasi-sidekick is exhilarating and that largely comes down to Paul G’s fairly solid grasp on the situation at hand here.

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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Photo credits: http://www.watchesinmovies.info