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It looks like somebody forgot to tell Brie Larson to have fun and let loose in Captain Marvel. Her turn as the title character, aka Carol Danvers, is laced with lethargy and bizarre line deliveries.

Samuel L. Jackson and an orange tabby fortunately seem to be enjoying themselves, but Larson is stiffer than Church the cat on the Creed’s front lawn after his unfortunate encounter with a speeding truck. (Say, is my excitement for the upcoming Pet Sematary reboot evident?)

A similar problem plagued Larson in Kong: Skull Island. The Academy Award-winning actress seems to be in her wheelhouse when the budget is low, but seems miscast when she shows up in a blockbuster. She gives off a detached vibe; it’s odd. The movie should be called Captain Meh: I Dunno … I Got Better Things to Do.

If the movie around her were really good, her seemingly bored disposition might’ve been forgiven—but Captain Marvel is also riddled with awful special effects and haphazard storytelling.

I went in hoping for a badass movie about Captain Marvel, but found myself more intrigued by the subplot involving an up-and-coming, low ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Nick Fury, played by Jackson. The de-aged Jackson, along with a returning Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who died in the first Avengers movie, are so good that you’ll wish they got their own film.

I’m not putting the blame solely on Larson; the character itself is a bust when it comes to superheroes. All she does is fly around and send out energy bursts from her hands. She has moments when she goes into full Marvel mode, bringing on some sort of light show where she glows and gets white eyes, as well as a goofy-looking mohawk. As for superpowers … they just don’t register as anything that exciting. The Marvel light show isn’t aided by the special effects, which look rushed and cartoonish. Captain Marvel in her full glory doesn’t integrate with the worlds around her; she looks animated and out of place.

As for the orange tabby named Goose, he’s your basic super-cute cat—with a few surprises under his fur. Again, the special effects are a letdown when Goose goes full Goose, another example of the visual team coming up short.

Part of the film is set on Earth in the 1990s, and Jackson’s Fury has a full head of hair and both eyes. It also lends to music by Nirvana and No Doubt, both of which are used in situations that feel awkward and forced. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck got a little carried away in their efforts to be cute with the tunes.

There’s a big supporting cast, including a strong Annette Bening as a scientist and murky memory in Carol’s dreams. Lashana Lynch does good work as Maria Rambeau (pronounced “Rambo!”), an earthly friend of Carol’s. Jude Law gets a change of pace with an action role as an alien named Yon-Rogg, while Ben Mendelsohn plays Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. boss, another character with a few surprises to offer.

The film isn’t completely devoid of fun; it’s just not on par with other Marvel offerings, although I concede that’s a high bar to hit. As for Captain Marvel, the end of Avengers: Infinity War hinted at some major participation for her, so this is just the start for the character. Let’s hope things get better.

As always, stay all the way through the credits. There are plenty of things happening that you won’t want to miss, even if you’ve had your fill with the events that happened before all those words splashed across the screen.

Captain Marvel is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Spy is yet another spoof of the James Bond/spy-movie genre—and it’s a good one, thanks to the presence of Melissa McCarthy.

It doesn’t hurt that the film is written and directed by Paul Feig, who gave McCarthy an Oscar-nominated role in Bridesmaids. The two followed up that piece of comic brilliance with fun police-buddy comedy The Heat.

Now comes Spy, in which McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA agent chained to a desk in service of her field partner, Bradley Fine (Jude Law). However, circumstances call for Susan to go into the field for the first time, and she must leave her bat-infested CIA basement behind.

While Susan is hoping for a cool spy name and awesome spy gadgets, her commander (an acerbic Allison Janney) insists upon cat-lady cover identities and gadgets disguised in rape whistles and hemorrhoid wipes.

In the field, Susan must do battle with an evil arms trader, Rayna (played by a deliciously nasty Rose Byrne), while contending with rogue agent Rick Ford (a surprisingly hilarious Jason Statham) who doesn’t believe she is up to the task. The mission takes her all over the world, to locales like Rome and Paris, and requires her to sport some embarrassing grandma wigs.

One of the film’s great running gags is how relatively unattractive the whole spy racket is. While James Bond gets to race around in an Aston Martin, Susan does her chasing on a clumsy scooter. While Bond had the best of hotel accommodations, Susan is put up in a hotel full of rats. While the CIA basement has awesome computers and high-tech gadgets, it is infested with bats and rodents that shit on birthday cakes.

Another great running gag: Susan, despite years of sitting behind a desk, turns out to be quite the badass in a fight. Some of the best scenes in the movie involve her in impressive knife and gun skills.

While McCarthy is impressive as a physical comedienne, McCarthy’s true strengths lie in her ability to shoot off rapid-fire insults at unsuspecting victims. She and Byrne have a couple of verbal square-offs in this film during which you have to believe the two actresses were given permission to just go at it and see what happens. Trust me: You don’t want to face off with McCarthy in an insult contest. The deck is stacked against you.

Speaking of “face off”: Statham’s boneheaded and extremely funny character firmly believes the CIA has a face-off machine like the one used in the classic Travolta-Cage showdown. Statham has never really been given a chance to show his comedic chops before. Not only does he rise to the occasion; he demonstrates that perhaps his career has been going in the wrong direction. Get this man into more comedies!

Next up for the Feig-McCarthy combo is Ghostbusters, a new film featuring a female roster. Fellow Bridesmaids alum Kristen Wiig is in the fold, as are Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong and Leslie Jones, all from Saturday Night Live.

I still think the best Melissa McCarthy movie moment is her outtake at the end of Judd Apatow’s This Is 40, but there’s no doubt that Feig gets the best film performances out of her. Spy gets credit for letting her show off her entire comedic arsenal rather than just having her fall down a lot.

Spy is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

While Black Sea is a submarine movie that’s not quite on par with Crimson Tide, Yellow Submarine and Das Boot, it is a decent thriller—and it’s a helluva lot better than Operation Petticoat and Down Periscope.

Jude Law, using a distracting Scottish accent, plays Robinson, a disgraced submarine captain who has just lost his job. A chain of events leads him into commanding a band of men in a broken-down submarine heading for a downed sub that contains millions in gold meant for Hitler during World War II.

The men, of course, deal with a lot of trouble along the way, especially when the gold winds up on their boat. Lucky for us, the cast includes Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn, two great character actors. They are each given roles that play to their best acting attributes (McNairy plays a paranoiac; Mendelsohn is a psycho), and they are always fun to watch.

The movie is a little overcooked in the end, but director Kevin Macdonald delivers a serviceable underwater thriller. Much of the movie was actually filmed aboard a decaying Russian sub, so it has an authentic feel.

Special Features: There’s a very short behind-the-scenes doc, and a director’s commentary. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Writer-director Wes Anderson does it again with The Grand Budapest Hotel, another unique, beautiful and quirky movie that could’ve only been made by him. The man has never made a bad movie—and this one stands as one of his best.

In a performance that must be remembered come awards time, Ralph Fiennes is magically hilarious as M. Gustave, the concierge at the fictional hotel named in the film’s title. Gustave has a penchant for older women—much older women—and his life takes a drastic turn when he is suspected in the murder of an elderly lover (Tilda Swinton in heavy makeup).

Stolen art, scary train rides and a high-speed chase on skis ensue, with Anderson even employing stop-motion animation at times, as he did with Fantastic Mr. Fox. The movie is often laugh-out-loud funny, largely thanks to Fiennes, who nails every piece of dialogue. His is the best performance by any actor so far in 2014.

Supporting performances by Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Saoirse Ronan and many others make this a-can’t miss film.

This is a remarkable, tremendously enjoyable achievement, and will stand as one of the year’s best films.

Special Features: Anderson films often get a rushed home-video release, which is later followed by a more-extensive package from the Criterion Collection. That seems to be the case here: This one features a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and little else.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The first half of Side Effects, director Steven Soderbergh’s alleged feature-film swan song, is excellent. Unfortunately, the second half is merely passable.

Jude Law stars as a doctor treating a depressed patient (Rooney Mara) who is given an experimental drug—with some nasty results. The film is at once a mystery and an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, and it hums along nicely for a good chunk its running time.

Then, it suddenly becomes mediocre, as the mysteries start getting solved.

Good things happen before it unravels, with Mara doing some nice work alongside Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Unfortunately, there’s a subplot with Zeta-Jones that stops the movie in its tracks whenever it’s playing out.

Soderbergh says this is it for him and feature films. (His excellent made-for-TV Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, is currently running on HBO, and he’s calling that his last film of any kind, period.) Hopefully, he just takes a couple of years off and finds himself back behind the camera someday. This movie is OK, but I would like to see him go out on a better note.

Special Features: You only get some fake commercials and a very short look behind-the-scenes. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing