Captain Marvel


Can Marvel make a successful comic book fantasy movie with a female lead? The answer is yes. Captain Marvel is a solid effort by all concerned. (Including the dozen or so digital effects companies I counted in the closing credits.)

Captain Marvel may not be the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie ever. And Captain Marvel may not be the greatest MCU superhero ever. But the new film starring Brie Larson accomplishes much in just over two hours.

It introduces and establishes a new movie franchise player and sets up future Captain Marvel stories. It delivers a cool backstory for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). The movie is set in the 1990s and dishes a bunch of fun nostalgia for that decade. And it features a cool cat (an actual feline) named Goose.

Action/fantasy films sometimes have pacing issues and often have effects overkills but co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck keep things moving ahead at a consistent clip, with occasional respites. And the many confrontations among characters tend to resolve within reasonable periods.

The story? Well, there’s a lot going on here. Of course, it’s always about good versus evil. But it is not always clear who is a good guy (or woman) and who is a bad egg. Captain Marvel works to solve a mystery about her own background (including her life as Air Force pilot Carol Danvers) and about a scientific discovery that Wendy Larson (Annette Bening) is developing. Carol/Captain Marvel’s time among the Kree aliens on the planet Hala is a key plot point.

Brie Larson handles all the physical tasks of playing a superhero well. She has a good head of hair, which is only reined in near the end of the movie. (Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman at least had a band across the front of her hairline when she was in action.)

The cast also includes Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn and (as Carol’s Air Force friend Maria) Lashana Lynch.

Captain Marvel should garner strong ticket sales and whet appetites for Avengers: Endgame whose release is just seven weeks away. As Black Panther showed last year, a superhero movie can be released in late winter and still attract a huge audience.

Of course, you should stay until the very end of the credits.








The Grand Budapest Hotel

If the Marx Brothers were still making movies, they might’ve made The Grand Budapest Hotel. “Zany” is not a word I often use, but it’s the best word I know to describe TGBH.

Like the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, The Grand Budapest Hotel is set mainly in the 1930’s in a fictional country with an oddly named lead character. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) ruled Freedonia; Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) works in the imaginary European country Zubrowka.

Director and co-writer Wes Anderson has given us another movie with visual treats galore. This was suggested by the film’s preview trailer, which is better than many actual movies. Seeing TGBH in all its glory proves the product is as good as its tease.

The story is told via a triple flashback. A young girl opens the movie by reading a book about the hotel. Anderson cuts to the author (Tom Wilkinson) who flashes back a few decades to a time where his younger self (Jude Law) gets the lowdown from Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham).  Moustafa recalls his early days as hotel lobby boy (Tony Revolori) and his adventures with hotel concierge Gustave.

When the hotel truly was grand, dowagers (older ladies with money/property) would visit the hotel where Gustave would service them sexually. Madame D (Tilda Swinton) was among his favorites.

Following her passing, Gustave and his lobby boy take a rail journey to the funeral where they manage to steal a valuable work of art (which was supposedly bequeathed to Gustave). This is followed by Gustave’s imprisonment, which leads to a daring breakout. Throw in a wonderful wintertime chase scene on skis and sleds and the ludicrous story becomes even more bizarre.

The film’s cast includes Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Willam DeFoe, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan and Jason Schwartzman. Of course, Bill Murray is there. Murray has become an Anderson “director’s trademark.”

In 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson seemed to have dialed down the quirk factor a notch or two. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s back up there. As he did with the young leads in Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson has cast an unknown in a pivotal role. The rookie Revolori does a more than decent job as the lobby boy.

The Grand Budapest Hotel may be too weird for those who prefer their comedy more direct. But if you are among the growing legion of Wes Anderson fans and/or you have a taste for something goofy, silly and, yes, zany, do not miss this movie! (Rated R.)

Side Effects

Looking for a great movie for grownups? Side Effects satisfies! It has a suspenseful story, well told, and compelling characters, well portrayed.

Rooney Mara is Emily Taylor, a twenty-something in NYC who meets Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) after she drives her car into a brick wall. He’s a shrink who begins treating her for depression. Channing Tatum plays her sympathetic husband who’s just been released from prison where he served time for insider trading.

One of the medications Dr. Banks prescribes for Emily appears to help but has a significant side effect: it causes sleepwalking. When Emily commits a crime, her meds and Dr. Banks are called into question. The situation is complicated by the fact that Dr. Banks is taking money from a drug company for consulting on medications.

Side Effects steps into many timely and topical areas, including mental illness and its treatments. Also within the film’s sights is the pharmaceutical industry, as well as doctors who are in cahoots with those companies. After Emily’s crime, the blame and the repercussions remain unresolved.

Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Dr. Victoria Siebert, a Connecticut psychologist who treated Emily for depression before Dr. Banks. As the story unfolds, her involvement with the drug companies becomes a key plot point.

While there is no doubt that psychotropic drugs have helped many people with mental illnesses function normally, we know that drug companies have marketed products with dangerous (sometimes lethal) side effects. It’s easy to throw stones at large organizations that have questionable practices, but not always so easy to determine which individuals should suffer the consequences.

That’s the case in Side Effects. Who’s the good guy? Who’s the bad guy? And who’s in that gray area in the middle? See the movie and find out.

Side Effects is directed by Steven Soderbergh, whose movies are always interesting, even when they’re not as good as Side Effects. And, as with all his movies, the soundtrack is excellent. Thomas Newman is the music composer.

For Jude Law, this is his best performance in years. His stubble, worn in many scenes, gives him a more mature look. Rooney Mara was excellent in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but that was more of a caricature. In this role, she hits it out of the park as a real woman with real problems. Bravo!

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”

I have read that Action/Comedy movies are hard to make because you don’t want to compromise one genre too much to accommodate the other. “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” covers both bases well with a good balance of action and comedy.

Robert Downey Jr., who plays Holmes, is always worth watching. He brings massive on-screen charm. The film crew brings the gimmickry, which provides much of the film’s fun.

The plot, however, is a bit of a mess. But the movie has action galore, clever disguises, explosions, deeds of derring-do, even some opera. Does it all add up? Well, sort of, yes.

“SH: AGOS” has some pacing issues. Some of the exposition takes long chunks of dialogue. Overall, though, the movie gets its job done. That job, of course, is to channel the highlights of the successful 2009 Holmes movie and add a few new wrinkles.

Jude Law returns as Watson, Holmes’ assistant, consultant, rescuer, foil and chronicler. Rachel McAdams is back, but only long enough to pick up a check and get her name on the credits. If you’re going just to see her, stay home. The new female player in this game is Noomi Rapace (who starred in the Swedish versions of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is a good, not great, holiday diversion.

Hugo—*Good News, Bad News*

Hey, it’s Martin Scorsese in the director’s chair. Is he capable of making a bad movie? Of course not! “Hugo” is good, but that judgment comes with a few caveats.

First the good news: “Hugo” is set inside an amazing Paris train station several years after World War I. The public spaces of the station and the “backstage” area where Hugo hangs out are fascinating places that have a great look on screen.

The effects in the movie are fun and entertaining, from the subjective camera shot that flies into the station at the film’s opening to the runaway train sequence. If you like 3-D, you’ll enjoy “Hugo’s” 3-D—effective, not gimmicky.

The kid actors are strong. Asa Butterfield, in the title role, resembles a baby James McAvoy with his blue eyes. Chloe Grace Moretz, who impressed in a “30 Rock” episode this year and in “Kick Ass” last year, is his friend Isabelle.

Ben Kingley’s character has a cool flashback to the early days of filmmaking, which caused me to flash back to Mr. Hartsook’s History of Cinema class at Alabama.

Now the bad news: “Hugo” has pacing issues. It starts with good energy, bogs down for a long while and then picks up steam (literally, in scenes with trains) in the last act.

“Hugo” may not be the movie you think it is if you have seen the preview trailer. The movie is not so kinetic as you might have expected and it brings in a major storyline that is barely referenced in the trailer. Jude Law’s screen time in the movie is not much more than in the preview.

Preteens and teens will, I think, like it. Grades from grownups may be mixed. Small children could get restless during segments of the movie, so leave your 5-year-old squirmer with the sitter.

“Hugo” is good. I had hoped it would be better.