Movie Review: Captain Marvel

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Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) suits up in Marvel’s Captain Marvel. (Source: Radio Times)

Last year was one helluva year for the MCU. Black Panther was history in the making upon its release. It became the highest-grossing film in the series as well as the highest-grossing film to feature a mostly African-American cast and directed by an African-American filmmaker. Not only that, it became the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture Oscar (but lost to the timely and old-fashioned Green Book). With Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp both ending on cliffhangers, audiences wait in anticipation on what will happen to our superheroes.

Captain Marvel comes into save the day. But first, here’s another film about the origins of the superhero.

Vers (Brie Larson) lives on the planet Hala, and is part of an alien race known as Kree. Suffering from dreams of another life on Earth as U.S. Air Force pilot Carol Danvers, she is caught in the middle of a war between her race and the Skrulls, who have shapeshifting abilities. Her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) wants Vers to control her emotions carefully. When her pod crash lands inside a Blockbuster video store in Los Angeles in 1995, she joins forces with a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to end the alien war before it’s too late.

It’s surprising to hear this movie receiving a mixed reception compared to the previous entries. Yes, it might have the familiar tropes of superhero origin stories of the past. And yes, it’s far from the best and the worst in the series. But–writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half-Nelson, Mississippi Grind) manage to bring in the fun and poignancy into this empowering tale of the means of being human.

Larson electrifies as the titular hero, whose superpowers include super-strength, endurance, stamina, and throwing fireballs with her fists. She has trouble remembering where she came from. Then, she reunites with her old friend Maria (Lashana Lynch), a single mother to 11-year-old Monica (Akira Akbar); looking through old pictures of herself trying to fit the pieces of the puzzles (in one emotional scene). As Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) tells her, “We don’t fight wars, we end them.”

The first act is sluggish than its predecessors. Once Danvers lands on Earth, the pace starts to pick up with its references to ‘90s nostalgia, witty dialogue, dazzling effects, and almost wall-to-wall action. Jackson’s Nick Fury provides plenty of good laughs, especially when he shows his soft side when he encounters a cat named Goose. The rest of the cast is fine although forgettable. Nevertheless, Captain Marvel is still a good time early in the year. Bring on, Avengers: Endgame!

8/10

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Movie Review: Ready Player One

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Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) escapes into the virtual reality in Steven Spielberg’s ’80s pop-culture saga, Ready Player One. (Source: IMDb)

Over the years, Steven Spielberg has directed some of the most imaginative movies ever made. From Jaws to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to E.T. to Indiana Jones to Jurassic Park to Minority Report, those blockbusters are what stand out the most. He never ceases to amaze when he captures history with movies such as War Horse, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, and last year’s The Post.

It’s obvious he has come a long way since the 1970s. This time, he gives ode to ‘80s culture in Ready Player One, based on Ernest Cline’s book of the same name. Set in a futuristic world where the only magical place on Earth is located beyond reality, this is what Pixels should have been.

The year is 2045. The real world is becoming a junkyard. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teen from Columbus, Ohio, lives with his aunt Alice (Susan Lynch). He spends most of his time in the OASIS, a virtual world where he can interact with other users and engage in numerous activities. After learning about the death of OASIS creator James Halliday (Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, becoming Spielberg’s frequent collaborator), Wade–as avatar Parzival–embarks on a dangerous treasure hunt to find three different keys left behind. Whoever picks them up first has complete control of the OASIS and possibly save the real world. He teams up with his friends–Art3mis (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki)–to help find them, or else the evil Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) will take over OASIS.

For someone who has never read the book, it’s hard to imagine how long it must have been to approve all of the copyrights. The amount of pop culture references is overwhelming; I’m definitely going to watch it again and again to catch all of them. Thanks to Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography, it’s easy to become immersed with the virtual reality more than the actual reality (not surprisingly, the least interesting part of the entire movie). The movie puts, as Halliday says, “the pedal to the medal” during the three climactic action sequences, which contains an amazing soundtrack featuring some popular songs of the ‘80s. With Alan Silvestri replacing John Williams (who decided to do the score for The Post instead), he provides another great score in his repertoire.

All of those qualities do overshadow its flaws. While it features likeable characters and a surprising amount of humor, their character development is limited. Mendelsohn’s Sorrento is, more or less, a stereotypical antagonist expecting to take over the world.

Nevertheless, Ready Player One is a treasure to behold! Step into the OASIS and see for yourself what ‘80s hijinks are thrown out there.

3.5/4

Movie Review: Darkest Hour

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Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) writes a little something on her typewriter for Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. (Source: Seattle Times)

Starring in about a hundred films, Gary Oldman is one of the greatest character actors working today. Ranging from Sid Vicious (Sid and Nancy), Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK),  Commissioner Gordon (The Dark Knight films), Sirius Black (Harry Potter), Dracula, Stansfield (Leon: The Professional), and Zorg (The Fifth Element), he has one impressive repertoire. Now–he takes part in delivering the most ambitious role of his entire career.

Hundreds of actors have played U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill; from Timothy Spall in The King’s Speech to John Lithgow–a surprising turn–in Netflix’s The Crown. After spending 200 hours in the makeup chair, Oldman is unrecognizable as Churchill in Joe Wright’s new film Darkest Hour. With a screenplay written by Anthony McCarten, it might be a romanticized portrait of Churchill’s first days as Prime Minister, but there is a lot to like here.

In May of 1940, World War II is in full steam. Nazi Germany has just invaded Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Churchill (Oldman) steps in to replace Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, who took John Hurt’s place after his death) as Prime Minister, accepted by King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). Right away, he must find a solution to a peace agreement with Germany. With the support of his secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) and wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), he does whatever he can to save British troops on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Darkest Hour makes a great triple feature with this year’s Their Finest and Dunkirk. Through the long, unbroken shots, the dramatic close-ups, and the gorgeous, vintage sets, this is pure Joe Wright. Oldman delivers his performance with enough wit and empathy that the audience forgets they are watching an actor. We laugh when we’re supposed to (“Will you stop interrupting me while I’m interrupting you!?” he sneers at his War Cabinet.), and we root for him every step of the way when he attempts to save the world.

While James and Mendelsohn are worth mentioning of their wonderful performances, Darkest Hour is Oldman’s show through and through. How can you not have the feeling of standing up and cheering after he delivers his famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech in Parliament? I would be shocked if he doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar. He is long overdue for one!

3.5/4