Movie reviews: 'Captain Marvel' is convoluted, cluttered and as refreshing as it is unusual
Film critic and 'Pop Life' host Richard Crouse reviews three new movies this week:
superhero blockbuster 'Captain Marvel,' Netflix thriller 'Triple Frontier,' and the documentary 'Invisible Essence: The Little Prince.'
CAPTAIN MARVEL: 3 ½ STARS
The tagline for "Captain Marvel," the latest Marvel origin story, is "Higher. Further. Faster." but I would like to suggest another. "In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Scream Whee!" As Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) pierces our atmosphere, her banshee cry of sheer exhilaration pierces the soundtrack. "Whee!" She's having fun and so should fans of the high-flying character.
There's a bit of backstory. "Captain Marvel" begins, as all good superhero flicks do, on an alien planet. Hala is the home of the Kree, a race of powerful ETs ruled by an AI leader called the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Bening). Among the inhabitants of the planet are Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), mentor to Vers (Brie, not yet dubbed Captain Marvel). She is being trained as part of an elite band of space cops, who, shooting energy bolts from her wrists, tracks and hunts shapeshifting creatures called the Skrull. An insomniac, she is haunted by nightmares and mysterious images of another life.
To find context for her existence she travels to C-53 — Earth — during the Clinton years. There, while hunting down Skrulls who are searching for a weapon that would make them unstoppable in the universe, she meets Nick Fury, Agent of the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (Samuel L. Jackson), who becomes entangled in her hunt for the earthbound Skrulls — including the world-weary Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) — and her search for her true identity.
"Captain Marvel" begins with a trippy, time-warping introduction to Vers's past. It's an orgy of fast cuts and establishes the film's spirited tone. There's a lot going on here, maybe too much, but at least it rips along like a cheetah attacking its prey. Things slow down once the film lands in 1995 California and the "Terminator-esque" story of a benevolent alien with superpowers kicks in.
The high points are lofty.
Larson finds the right tone, playing someone grappling with two identities, otherworldly and stoic one moment, swaggering playfully the next. Vers is a total girl power hero, with no love interest, other than a female best friend, she kicks but while the soundtrack blares "I'm Just A Girl" and tell her male mentor, "I have nothing to prove to you." Larson keeps her interesting even though through much of the film Vers isn't quite sure who she is or where she belongs in the universe.
Further separating her from her superhero colleagues is a purpose driven mission not born out of revenge but by powerful emotions and a sense of loss. Those motivations alone give the film a slightly different feel from others in the Marvel family.
Visually Vers, harnessing all the hurt of all the times she was told she wasn't good enough or that girls shouldn't try to do boy stuff, is a powerful feminist statement that helps drive the story and define the character. That it's visually stunning is a bonus.
Supporting actors Jackson (we finally learn the unlikely reason why Fury wears an eye patch) and Mendelsohn find a balance between the film's dramatic, action and lighter scenes.
Co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, handle the character work with aplomb. Their previous films, indies like "Half Nelson" and "Mississippi Grind," are studies in nuance, a trait lost in "Captain Marvel's" larger set pieces. The action — and there is plenty of it, tends to be of a generic frenetically edited style. The convoluted origin story mixed with the cluttered action sequences suck some of the air out of the theatre but their take on the superhero character as both an outsider and one of us is as refreshing as it is unusual. "Whee!"
Read another take: 'Captain Marvel' gets an average introduction
TRIPLE FRONTIER: 3 ½ STARS
"Triple Frontier," a new thriller starring Oscar Isaac and Ben Affleck, is a "let's get the band back together for one last gig" movie given extra heft by its examination of the treatment of veterans.
Santiago Garcia (Isaac) has his sights set on reclusive South American drug lord Gabriel Lorea (Reynaldo Gallegos). After a failed attempt to infiltrate Lorea's circle he turns to his former comrades, a group of American Special Forces operatives, now retired. Dangling a huge pay cheque — $17,000 a week and 25 per cent of the $75 million in cash they seize — he lures MMA fighter Ironhead Miller (Charlie Hunnam), Ironhead's brother and gunslinger Ben (Garrett Hedlund), pilot 'Catfish' Morales (Pedro Pascal) and logistics genius turned failed real estate salesman Tom Davies (Affleck).
Each were hotshot Special Forces who have floundered in civilian life. "You've been shot five times for your country and you can barely afford to live," Garcia says to Davies. "That's the crime." Once recruited they become a gritty A-Team, who, with the help of an informant (Adria Arjona), plan on raiding Lorea's heavily fortified house — "The house is the safe." — killing the drug lord and pocketing millions in cash. "We finally get to use our skills for our own benefit and actually change something," says Garcia.
The carefully planned mission, however, turns into, some "full on cowboy s**t" when some of their intel proves incorrect. Hundreds of bullets later they make a hasty retreat with only their guns, their wits and hundreds of millions of dollars in duffle bags.
Question is, will they complete the mission or will greed get the best of them?
"Triple Frontier" is half heist, half get-away, each section filled with equal parts tension and clichés. Director J.C. Chandor knows how to let anxiety hang in the air, creating a sense of danger that permeates the heist section. The getaway is more contemplative, or at least as contemplative as a movie with this kind of body count can offer. A heavy mist of testosterone hangs over both sections making this tale of men, their guns and world weariness feel like something we've seen before. Clichéd dialogue — "We're dancing with the devil here!" — comes hard and fast and by the time the soundtrack blares "Masters of War" it feels as though Chandor is hitting the viewer with a metaphorical billy cub to get his message across.
Once the testosterone settles Chandor's message of how veterans are treated once they slip out of their uniforms becomes crystal clear. As each of these war scarred men question the way the choices they've made with their lives, they also realize it's the only way they know. They've been conditioned to behave a certain way and yet, when they retire they are left without the resources, personally or professionally, to deal with civilian life. It's a timely and heartfelt message deftly delivered.
INVISIBLE ESSENCE: THE LITTLE PRINCE: 4 STARS
First published in 1943 the novella "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is one of the bestselling books of all time. The short tale of a child — the little prince — who travels the universe gaining wisdom still sells almost 200 millions copies a year. "Invisible Essence: The Little Prince," a new film from director Charles Officer, attempts to dissect the books popularity from an academic, artistic and global perspective.
"Invisible Essence: The Little Prince" mixes talking heads, including The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, poet Rupi Kaur, filmmaker Mark Osborne, St-Exupéry biographer Stacy Schiff and the author's great nephew and nephew Olivier and François d'Agay, with the touching story of a seven year-old blind Pakistani-Canadian boy who learns about the fable's famous line, "what is essential is invisible to the eye" to grasp the book's fundamental message of respect for humanity.
The new documentary footage is underscored by excerpts from a 1974 audio adaptation of the story starring Richard Burton and Jonathan Winters, clips from Osborne's animated feature, a live action feature from director Stanley Donen and scenes from Guillaume Côté's 2016 production at the National Ballet of Canada.
The result is a deep dive not only into the book but, just as importantly, the influence the book has had on several generations of artists and readers. It essays how imagination and inspiration are inextricably linked, and how both, plus a love of aviation fuelled Saint-Exupéry's creation of "The Little Prince."
Richard Crouse shares a toast with celebrity guests and pundits on the talk show Pop Life on CTV NewsChannel and CTV. Catch up on all the entertainment news, reviews and interviews at the Pop Life website.
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