“Captain Marvel” Film Review

Written by guest contributor and one of the hosts of the Minorities Report Podcast The Raul Navedo

We’ve all, at least once in our lives, crushed on someone much like Carol Danvers. Someone cool, fun, has a good sense of humor that’s easy on the eyes, and is a total bad ass that can shoot photon lasers from their arms… Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel has all of these in spades. Likable from the jump, Carol yearns to be the best Kree “Noble Warrior Hero” in all of Hala. The only problem is that she can’t shake the dreams that haunt her. Dreams of a past she can’t be sure is her own; and furthermore, slow her progress to becoming a true Kree.

The hate is real, people! Critics are coming after this delightful performance by Larson viciously, and without reason. Don’t get me wrong, Captain Marvel has many flaws; but very few, if any, can be blamed on our star. I was as concerned as anyone when I heard Larson was casted as our glowing heroine whom would be flying freely through space, and whom would be kicking some serious Skrull ass. After Room,I was convinced that she was a great actress, but being a superhero doesn’t require incredible acting chops as much as it requires a certain charisma that I just couldn’t see in her. If you recall, though our superstar Avengers cast is beloved NOW, there were some serious concerns after most of them had their debut films (RDJ being the exception). Most of them had to grow into their respective roles, so it wasn’t until the second films that they became the heroes they were working to portray in our hearts. Not the case with Larson’s CM. She is fun, complex and dynamic, spanning the spectrum of emotions in a single scene.

Let me tell you guys something, a character being likable/unlikable does not a great/bad movie make. Harley Quinn is extremely likable in Suicide Squad and yet… And our lead in Manchester by the Sea is unlikeable and yet it is an incredible film. The art of writing real and complex characters is the ability to write them as they truly are. Angry, funny, sad, charismatic, annoying, reclusive, broken. Stop bashing films because YOU didn’t understand the characters as they were depicted. The Kree train their “noble warrior heroes” to think and not feel. Emotions are the enemy of sound thinking and are therefore a detriment to being a great warrior. Carol wants so badly to be this way–to prove she is a true Kree, but it is against her nature so she is conflicted. Her desire to not feel makes her unlikable because people without emotions are sociopaths, are un-relatable and therefore are not likable! She was written this way, people. And it is her inability to follow through with this Kree “noble warrior hero” prerequisite that makes her so damn likable!

But enough about her. I believe that what truly hurts this film is the same thing that hurt me when I was a young lad in the throws of passion for the very first time. Lack of experience. Our directing duo, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, have worked together on a number of projects that pale in comparison to the endeavor that is an MCU film. The writing suffered from poor dialogue and pacing at times. There were lines that just didn’t need to be there that provided information that the audience had already gathered. Action sequences that felt rushed because the rest of the script wasn’t as tight as it should be. Carol’s very first mission is so oddly paced and executed that you can’t enjoy it.

It takes a trained mind to know what needs to be trimmed and what needs to be expanded, whether in the script or in the editing room. It takes a trained ear to hear a line during a table read or on set that you know needs to be changed or taken out. These are things that not all audience members can catch or express but that most can feel. Some might just say it wasn’t good. Some might say it was fun but lacked heart. I say it was a great effort that lacked refinement. Wonder Woman had many flaws but most people were able to overlook it because it had so much heart it was tangible. It wasn’t just because Gal Gadot did a great job, it’s because Patty Jenkins has developed her skills over the years to make her a very gifted storyteller. We can forgive flat cinematography and lighting. We’ve been doing it for years with many of these MCU films who’s visuals lack depth. We can forgive a great many things that contribute to making great film. What we cannot forgive is lack of heart and emotional depth. Captain Marvel has all the building blocks, but it fell just short of being great. Fleck and Boden are well on their way there and I am excited to see their next project.

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure the blame does not solely land on their shoulders but as a great director once said “When a film does very poorly the director gets all of the blame and when a it does exceptionally well the director gets too much credit.” It comes with the territory, unfortunately.

I still highly recommend that people go see Captain Marvel. Just lower your expectations a bit and you’ll definitely enjoy it!

(From Ryan)

I hope you enjoyed this review from Raul. He is one of my longest and best friends, and spends much time watching and talking about movies as he manages a high traffic AMC Movie Theatre in North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“The LEGO Batman Movie” movie review

legobatmanNonstop antics, action, and thrills! Warner Bros. and Ratpac Dune present a movie that is equally one-hundred percent Batman whilst still completely LEGO. From the moment the opening title sequence of logos appears under the voiceover of a self-aware Batman, this brilliant animated film will take captive your attention and draw you in with a batarang of perfectly choreographed fight scenes and incredibly well timed self-reflexive humor. The LEGO Batman Movie is an entertaining combination of a contemporary story on the backdrop of Batman nostalgia. Whether you are a fan of the show from the 1960s, the Burton universe (as I am), the dark world of Nolan, or Snyder’s, you will find strategically placed references that fit exceptionally well into this LEGO universe. While the film is aimed at a younger audience, there are humor, easter eggs, and allusions to the various Batman shows and movies for adults to appreciate. Underscoring the over-the-top high concept plot, is a heartwarming story of love, family, and friends. This Batman movie pulls out all the stops as most, if not all, Batman’s villains receive screen time as well as other members of the Justice League with Batgirl and Robin. Oh yeah, the Joker IS actually in this Batman movie! With a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.1 on IMDb, this film is sure to be a huge success this weekend.

When after a failed attempt at a takeover of Gotham by the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and his henchmen, Batman (Will Arnett) is all too happy to accept all the credit for stopping the squad of villains. However, this time is different. The Joker and his henchmen give themselves up to the new Commissioner [Barbara] Gordon (Rosario Dawson). When the law enforcement and people of Gotham conclude that there is no longer a need for a masked vigilante, Batman finds himself having an identity crisis. Meanwhile, at a party, Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts young Richard Greyson (Michael Cera), and now is faced with the challenge of balancing his newfound role as a parent with Batman’s penchant for crime fighting. With pressures from Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and Barbara Gordon mourning in Batman’s personal and professional lives, he must work through these challenges in order to save the city. Only this time, he may not be able to do it on his own.

What’s not to like??? The LEGO Batman Movie is one of those animated films that is perfect for (1) the whole family and groups of friends, as well as (2) legacy and new Batman fans. Just the animation and production design are positively mind blowing. With few exceptions, every design in the film from people to buildings and vehicles can be created with those iconic plastic building blocks. Much like with the previous LEGO movie, other LEGO universes get screen time as well (some of which are mentioned by name and others are implied), such as Lord of the RingsHarry PotterJurassic ParkKing Kong and more. With all the characters in the film, the focus is never shifted from Batman and Joker. There are many rabbit trails the film could have gone down, but it always stays true to the central characters. Overstimulation is another risk in a film like this one; but, for all the action sequences and ensemble casts, never once does the film feel that it is way too much to take in and enjoy. On top of the brilliant animation and design, is solid writing with excellent character development. Crafting the vision is director Chris McKay. Selecting the right director to handle all the elements of a LEGO movie is no short order. And Warner Bros and Ratpac Dune made a killer choice in McKay who brought us Robot Chicken: Star Wars: Episode III.

One of my personal favorite elements from the movie is the nostalgia meticulously and strategically woven into the plot. If you grew up watching the show from the 1960s or even reruns with your parents, you will be surprised with the echoes of the past and how they fit in perfectly with this Batman world written by Seth Grahame-Smith et al. Even the pow, bam, zap sound effect bubbles make a cameo appearance. The LEGO Batman Movie offers the best of all the Batman stories over the years. As I am not familiar with the Batman comics, I imagine that there are comic book references in the film for the enjoyment of that audience as well. Not as self-aware as Deadpool, this film does contain a hint of self-awareness, but never takes the place of the foreground action; however, it supports the main story nicely. Even the costumes are representative of many Batman universes. For the most part, Batman’s costume is rooted in the one worn by Michael Keaton in Batman and Batman Returns, but Batgirl and Robin’s costumes, respectively, are more reminiscent of the show from the 1960s. Joker is an excellent combination of the, in my opinion, definitive Joker: Jack Nicholson but hints of the more recent Jared Leto and Heath Ledger Jokers are in his costume, makeup, and behavior. We even get a more accurate representation of Harley Quinn in this film. There is quite literally something for everyone in LEGO Batman.

Looking for a great film to watch this weekend that doesn’t involve some sappy victimized Stockholm Syndrome-esque warped love story? Then head to your local theatre to catch The LEGO Batman Movie on the big screen! What better way to spend the weekend leading up to Valentine’s Day than laughing with your date??? Even if you’re spending Valentine’s Batman style–flying solo–you will still have a great time at this movie.

“Doctor Strange” movie review

drstrangeA perfect blend of stunning visual effects, character development, and even a hint of the avant-garde in this strange superhero film of East-meets-West. Unpredictable. That is definitely not a word typically associated with superhero genre movies. Not that the plot was entirely unpredictable, but Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a very Patrick Stewart-esque performance as the neurosurgeon turned mystic Dr. Strange in the film that bares his name. This is a superhero film that strikes a strategic balance between traditional superhero storytelling and social commentary. Not without the trademark explosions and dynamic action sequences, Doctor Strange is clearly concerned with and focusses on the character development of Dr. Strange. In a film that could have so easily rested its laurels upon the innovative, intriguing, and exquisite visual effects, it chose to place more emphasis on the drama between characters. Ordinarily, if you follow my blog, you know that I do not typically write positively about superhero films, with some exceptions such as: Batman ReturnsDeadpoolX-Men: Days of Future Past, or Guardians of the Galaxy; however, Marvel/Disney’s Doctor Strange was incredibly enjoyable as both a movie AND film (and yes, there is a difference). For those in the audience who perhaps struggle with being self-centered, the plot and character development in Doctor Strange will likely ring true and act as a mirror of how you may actually come across to people; and furthermore, how to break the cycle. Although this is clearly a typical blockbuster movie, there are trace-amounts of many elements often found in art house films in the stylistic way some of the sequences are shot. Doctor Strange, a truly multidimensional experience.

From Italian sports cars, European watches, and Armani suits to a rundown far eastern temple, famous neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange’s life radically changes after a severe car accident leaves him without full use of his hands. As an expert in the field of bio-medical science, Dr. Strange seeks assistance from traditional western medicine. Convinced that no one except he alone can repair the nerve damage in his hands, Dr. Strange turns to eastern medicine following an encounter with someone who now walks who was paralyzed. Learning that the mysterious enclave of monk-like mystics is a front to a battle beyond the plains of normal existence, Dr. Strange is faced with the decision to use his newly acquired abilities to help fight against the evil seeking to rip the fabric-work of the earth from beneath the feet of millions of innocent citizens or use his powers to regain full use of his hands. With such a deep desire to go back to his successful life in western medicine and to repair a relationship he squandered (Rachel McAdams), he is faced with a monumental decision.

No slow wind up here. Doctor Strange‘s prologue is a breathtaking array of choreography and a dizzying spectacle of Inception-like folding of matter and energy visual effects. Instead of wondering why or who, the audience will be in sheer amazement at the beauty of it all. Opening with a prologue like this was critically important for this comic book icon that many had not heard of prior to the announcement of the movie (‘many’ as in those who are unfamiliar with the comics). Director Scott Derrickson (Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister) has clearly approached the Marvel universe from a different direction that most others, and it shows just how perfect a decision it was of Marvel/Disney to select him for the job. Although I was greatly impressed with the visual effects and fight choreography, I was worried that I was going to need to take a dramamine to make it through the majority of the movie. But then, it happened. A veritable bait-and-switch. From an action-packed Matrix-y sequence through a view of Manhattan as seen through a kaleidoscope of shapes and distortions to an operating table, I did not know the direction this film was going. Perfect. So often superhero movies are basic–fun–but basic. I also appreciated the humorous juxtaposition between the seriousness of surgery against the backdrop of late 1970’s rock music. Just within the first few minutes of this film, I was convince that this movie was going to be unconventional but strangely enjoyable.

Such a great cast! Part of the success of any movie is the cast and the respective roles they deliver. Not merely selected for their respective appearances, the main cast of Doctor Strange each brings a unique blend of talent into the mix. Cumberbatch plays an eccentric ego-maniacal self-centered high on himself doctor extremely well. So well that his development was quite convincing on his journey from selfishness to selflessness. Playing opposite him most of the movie is Tilda Swinton (Wes Anderson veteran actress seen in movies such as The Grand Budapest HotelMoonrise Kingdom, and more recently in the Cohen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!) as the Ancient One. She provides the ideal counterbalance to Strange’s over-inflated ego. Difficult to read, I was never quite sure which team she was on, and you’ll have to watch the movie to find out. Her performance was dynamic and convincing. Cast in the role of spurned lover Dr. Christine Palmer, Rachel McAdams does her McAdams thing so incredibly well. I also greatly appreciate how even when dressed in hospital scrubs she still graces the screen with her beauty. She may have bet spurned by Strange, but she gives it right back to him. Each and every member of the principle and supporting cast truly contributed to the success of the storytelling in this film.

At the core of this film is solid writing. The characters are multidimensional and the writing contains a bountiful buffet of bright, brisk entertainment that typically seems to do justice to the feel of the comics. Not saying the all the Marvel Movies (whether Disney or Fox) are better comic book adaptations than D.C. (Warner Bros), but they operate on a tried and true method of delivering a visually driven story that appeals to general audiences. Due to the fact that Doctor Strange and other Marvel movies DO rely upon tried and true methods of cinematic storytelling, there is little to no risk for the production and distribution companies. On that note, the D.C. movies are typically more edgy and riskier. Despite the rather dark plot of Doctor Strange, there is sufficient humor here and there to keep the audience from entering into a stagnate emotional state.

Whether you are familiar with the comic book series Doctor Strange or not, this is definitely a movie and film worth watching. Even if you have not seen the other Marvel movies (which is doubtful but possible), you can watch this one and not feel lost at all. That is likely due to the fact that Disney/Marvel knew that most people were unfamiliar with this character and needed to be introduced to him and his universe. If you’re into innovative visual effects, then you will be in awe at the effects and editing of Doctor Strange as well.

“Batman v Superman” movie review

BMvSMBetter brush up on your comics before watching this movie. If DC set out to produce a movie that was completely different than the Marvel movies, then they succeeded. Batman v Superman leaves you feeling like you are watching a sequel without an original movie. And no, Man of Steel does not sufficiently set up this “sequel.” Imagine if you will, opening a book and starting to read. You are a few pages in, and you realize that there are situations, characters, settings that are unfamiliar or seem out of step. Oh, duh, you started on chapter two by mistake. Just as you flip back to find chapter one, you discover that the pages are missing. DC’s attempt to setup an entire comic universe (Justice League), in one movie, failed miserably. However, you will be hard pressed to find another superhero action movie that is more cinematic than this one. The sound and visual effects blew my mind–exponentially more impressive than anything that Marvel (Disney or Fox) has produced; but that’s Zack Snyder for you. Unfortunately, the man should have assisted a director in crafting a visual story, not attempted to tell it himself. If DC was fighting a losing battle up a hill, now it is fighting that same battle up a mountainside.

Look! Up in the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a box-office bomb. Two years following the epic battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod, Metropolis is still recovering from the mass devastation. Affected by this infamous battle, crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is fully convinced that Superman is a threat to humanity and must be contained or destroyed. Although he is not as young as he used to be, Affleck once again dawns the Batman uniform and sets out on his personal vendetta against the god-like Kryptonian. Feeling the growing threat of Batman, Superman will stop at nothing to defeat Batman and save the city. In an effort to save their respective cities from destruction, Batman and Superman vow to kill one another. While each superhero has it in for the other, Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) is cooking up something in his research park that can defeat gods and titans. It’s a good thing that Metropolis and Gotham are closer together than Tampa and St. Petersburg are (LOL).

Film is a visual storytelling medium, but storytelling nevertheless. The only other more visual medium, one could argue, is comics. And, you better have studied your Justice League universe comics before buying your ticket to this attempt at a Springtime/Easter blockbuster. But unfortunately, that’s all that this movie has going for it–its unparalleled use of phenomenal visual and sound effects to create a fantastically stimulating experience. One problem: where’s the story??? I thought that this was (to borrow from Star Wars: the Force Awakens) “supposed to make things right“? Ironic how Easter is a holiday and season which represents rebirth; and as hard as DC Comics and Zack Snyder tried to rebirth this struggling universe, it still remains in the ground. All the water and fertilizer in the world could not help this Easter lily, for the farmer forgot to plant the bulb. There is little to no exposition in the entire movie. If you are unfamiliar with the story from the comics, you will most certainly feel dazed and confused. DC really needed this movie to tell an excellent story in order to continue to compete with the Marvel movies that are coming from Disney and Fox. After this travesty, there is almost no competition any longer. One can only hope that the next installment fixes things. But, it’s highly unlikely at this point.

Sometimes poor writing can be covered and masked by flashy graphics and stunning cinematography, other times, it can be assisted by an excellent cast. Well, fail once again. The casting only aided in highlighting the fallacies in the plot structure and nearly non-existent, poorly setup story. Before I negatively criticize the majority of the cast, I need to point out what worked for the film in terms of cast. Although I have been informed that he did not portray the Lex Luther from the comics, I firmly hold to that Jesse Eisenberg played the Lex Luther that this film needed and benefitted from. The quirky, psychopathy, childlike, socially awkward, intellectual Lex Luther works for this universe. He was probably my favorite part of the whole movie. He was quite the juxtaposition to other villains that have been in Marvel and DC movies–a refreshing new take. Amy Adams also plays a great Lois Lane. Since I am not familiar with the comics, I am not going to try to compare and contrast her portrayal to that of past Lois Lanes or the ones from the comics. Still, Adams brought about a fantastic charm to the character and she fit in well with Henry Cavill’s Superman.

Sadly, the rest of the principle cast was terrible. Since when did Alfred (Jeremy Irons) become nearly Bruce’s age??? Maybe he is ten years his senior, but that’s pushing it. Alfred is supposed to be a lovable and endearing old man, and Batman’s Jiminy Cricket, so to speak. Neither does Irons fit the age nor the personality traits of Alfred. I sure missed Michael Caine and Michael Gough’s Alfreds. There was a lot of concern when Affleck was chosen to become the caped crusader; and as it turns out, these concerns were valid. He has demonstrated that he cannot fill the cape in the manner in which Michael Keaton and Christian Bale were so successfully able to do. It’s entirely possible that Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman/Diana Prince could have been the much-needed support that the film lacked, but their respective characters were severely under-developed. Also, not so much cast as he is character but where did the Kryptonian deformed creature come from??? I think the film tried to explain, but again, it failed. Who cares, though? He made the climax shocking and exciting. A solid match for Superman.

If you want to have your eyes and ears stimulated beyond what you have likely experienced in superhero action movies in the past, then this is the movie for you. Just don’t expect much beyond the mesmerizing surface. Already having a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, most likely the grade will continue to drop. That being said, I DO believe that if you are a follower of the comics and know your stuff, then you will most likely thoroughly enjoy this film. I warn you; be prepared to be your group’s personal Wikipedia after the movie.