Captain Marvel (2019)

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This superhero blockbuster marks the 21st entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first female-led hero to come from the studio. It is also something fans have come to expect as an electrifying set-up to ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and they’d be right, as this film is a blast and introduces a bold new figure to surely help out the remaining heroes come next month.

Kree solider Vers (Brie Larson) mentored by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) has continual flashes of a life she cannot remember. After a mission to rescue a fellow solider from the shape-shifting Skrulls, she crash lands on Earth and runs into pre-eye patched Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Together they hope to stop the Skrulls from invading this planet and along the way Vers aka Carol begins learning who she is and what power she has.

There is no doubt that Captain Marvel is now the most powerful character in the comic book movie franchise and though it does sometimes feel like a watch merely serving as a stepping stone to April’s mammoth ‘Infinity War’ follow up, this is a film that nicely deals with the might of women and Carol’s journey is a complicated one which leads us to face great moments of confusion, vulnerability and surging strength.

In terms of how the film sounds and looks, well we get the backdrop of a 90’s era so a soundtrack shuffles from the likes of Des’ree to Nirvana which is swell. Ben Davis’ cinematography is a gorgeous treat also because the audience get to flit from the sci-fi whizz of space to the 1995 grunge of our home turf. A late on dog-fight has stunning shots and brings a ‘Star Wars’ visual to the home-bound action.

‘Captain Marvel’ may not blow everyone away but the studio finally rising to the table, offering us a gutsy female hero and hiring a female director and composer for the first time are waves in the right direction and this is a movie that’ll no doubt inspire a lot of hopeful women and little girls to see that not all heroes are men. The core strength does emanate from the progress of the title character so it is a shame the movie doesn’t fully feel like it has its own identity. The space set antics and fight styles do borrow a tone most obviously associated with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and Nicole Perlman; writer behind that movie, being one voice behind the story is a factor to that. The echoes to this flashy sci-fi 2014 flick don’t harm the film, they just make it feel less its own product.

The Skrull element which utilises on a treacherous back and forth play of ideas marks the film as a fun and intriguing watch due to the doubt we, Carol and Nick share in not knowing who to trust at all times. The shape-shifting is used well and does tinge the whole film with a sort of political yet lively drama to who could be who.

Brie Larson is a great Carol Danvers; she has whip smart assurance in her Kree scenes wonderfully equalled by her literal crash to reality as she tries understanding her past. Larson is a Marvel-lous actor who knows how to blend subtleties into the broader parts of playing a big screen saviour. The comedic asides, her general wry looks or smirks and the heart fuelled moments especially felt in the scenes with her and pilot Maria, are emphasised greatly thanks to the glowing shooting star might of her performance. Also, to get the gift of a Fury and Coulson before the Avengers days is lovely. The de-ageing process can often be an uncanny thing to look upon but gladly it isn’t long at all until you accept the two eyed younger looking Jackson as normal. The buddy relationship between him and Larson flares through the screen with great warmth and adds a perfect lightness to the story.

Sure the film is slightly slow to kick off and the Marvel Guidebook to Making Origin Stories is pretty much followed to the letter but the nostalgia and the central performances do make ‘Captain Marvel’ a crackling, soaring entry to the MCU.

7.5/10

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Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

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This was a film that likely would have passed be my; I hadn’t seen a trailer or knew anything about this, but I’d call it a hidden gem because it’s just wonderfully made harking to the Hollywood of old.

After falling ill before a stage performance, former silver screen actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) wishes to stay at the house of Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) and his kin. Turner and Grahame had been in a relationship for the last two years or so and we see their up and down romance throughout the movie.

Based on a memoir from Peter Turner himself, this romantically themed drama is extremely engaging. Firstly I must comment on the utterly believable relationship between Bening and Bell. This old/young romance never feels wrong, strange or make believe, there’s a genuine affection and attraction built between the actors that helps the film along. The film delves back and forth between her at the house in 1981 and her meeting Turner in 1979, the transitions to and from these moments in time are quite clever and give it an almost one take theatrical vibe as if moving scenes forward on a stage.

For my sins, I had no clue that the glamorous performer in question was actually based on a real actress from the heyday of Hollywood. This only made the story more impacting as I came to realise the true account running through the narrative. I liked to think I know Oscars and actors but I obviously need to brush up on the glitz of 40’s/50’s stardom. It’s this pizzazz and studio based ideal of talent and fitting into a mould to sell pictures that gives Gloria real depth and vulnerability as you see her clinging on to youth and wanting to be loved.

There are some aspects in the film that are predictable and you know what someone may say or what characters will do and a sequence you see from one perspective gets re-shown from the other side with a healthy dose of melodramatic strings rising and clear emphasis on trying to make you emotional, almost cheesy I could say. There’s clear green screen in use for places like New York and beaches of California but they’re apt in a way for this film about acting, gifting the whole feature a movie look as if we’re seeing their memories as glances on a film reel.

Annette Bening better get recognised come awards season, if she’s not up for an Oscar then a Golden Globe at least because she is sublime in this. The mannerisms and the way she talks are an almost sweetly yet seductive Marilyn Monroe quality and she carries confidence and false confidence in equal measure. She completely buries herself into the role and I bought her turn as Grahame hook line and sinker. Jamie Bell gives Turner great care and love, you buy into this man that isn’t much of anything, a success or triumph but a funny, interesting and kind guy who cares deeply for this enigmatic presence in his life. He plays opposite Bening with convincing ease and they’re both fantastic together. It’s great seeing Bell reunite with Julie Walters who dons a Scouse accent rather well and brings that expected and needed heart and comedic touch. I also want to comment on the much too short but almost scene-stealing turn from Frances Barber who plays Gloria’s sister. The icy stares and sharp tongue were brilliant.

This is a film that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the intelligence of its audience with predictable moments and repeated scenes driving home points we’d already gathered but it’s a special movie with a fragile soul beautifully illustrated by the exceptional performances from Bening and Bell.

7/10

Ruby Sparks (2012)

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Movies about writing always interest me, so maybe I’m biased in saying this is a wonderful, warm and greatly interesting romantic/drama/comedy, but I’ve said it anyway because it’s true. There’s a lovely dose of heart, charm and quirky comedy to satisfy audiences, even if romance isn’t usually your bag…like it isn’t mine.

Calvin (Paul Dano) wrote a hugely successful novel when he was younger but now he struggles to type anything, has no love-life and visits a therapist. An exercise gets him visualising his perfect female who he begins writing about, strangely one day, this girl Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) steps into his home and is real. Calvin now has an apparently perfect relationship but can his creation always be that way?

There’s such joy to be had during this film, I found myself smiling along frequently as I watched the odd yet sparkling pairing deal with their lives. The romance is never sickly sweet and it’s dealt with in a clever and wholly charming way, that’s of course helped by the genuine partnership between Paul and Zoe. From the moment the made up girl comes into the real world, the movie has fun playing with ideas of what this could to do him, her and the people around them.

Zoe Kazan writes such a fantastic screenplay that truly gets into the head space of a writer, that lonely frustrating world and their fixations on characters. So, knowing what we know about Calvin, seeing Ruby manifest makes for a weird yet creative idea that is handled very well. It’s not just comedy in seeing them have fun and watch him play God at times, in fact the darker side of how she’s even there gets used and is quite upsetting as we see the miserable side of the relationship.

A sequence at a typewriter and Ruby facing Calvin is one of the stronger moments, an exploration of power and utilises on the whole writing to life idea in an engaging if not touching manner that may threaten everything. On the weaker side, the pacing is sporadic at times and a brief detour to a hippy-esque commune home feels a bit detached but even the vaguely expected ending isn’t bad, in fact it’s left as we don’t know how things will go on from there so I liked that sweet ambiguity. Oh, and also major points just for the name Ruby Sparks which is a great name for a character.

Dano provides that neurotic sense of unease and lovable worry that we all come to know when watching writer types on screen now! He provides a devastating set of self-indulgence as he thinks about the relationship for him and not both of them, which is played well by the actor. Kazan plays the unknowing dream gal in a sunshine way, her big eyes and infectious smile ensuring she’s someone we love just as much as Calvin does. When Kazan then begins displaying other sadder and confused emotions, it’s mildly comedic but then brilliantly emotional. Chris Messina plays a good character too, the necessary middle man with a guide to help his brother but also play around with what can be done to Ruby.

This is a film I adore, a flirty and dream-like notion that is played cleverly and acted superbly. The line between happiness and heartbreak is never thinner but never better from the writing to the performances. Bliss sparks to life.

8/10

Danny Collins (2015)

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Solidly delivering laughs in equal measure with more grounded thoughts on the topic of redemption, this comedy drama is great in taking into account; lessons of life, the big what if of how things may have been and Pacino with a thick tan.

A musical star now in his olden years without any original material recieves a possible life changing present on his birthday. Danny Collins (Al Pacino) cannot believe a letter penned by John Lennon was sent to him and now he starts trying to redo mistakes of his life, including his music and long lost son Tom (Bobby Cannavale).

This is a heartfelt movie more often than I expected, I knew the plot basis and guessed at it being a comedy, which it is with great success but it is rounded off with increased sentiment and emotion of rediscovery in a new chapter of someone’s life. The ageing figure is nothing fresh but this film gives it more heart and really gets you on Danny’s side that you will him to make these changes but still not lose who he is inside. It’s a clear note that this film packs a punch of family matters lessons of life, the central father-son bond is fraught but believable and it goes an obvious but nonetheless stirring way.

Dan Fogelman takes on directorial and scripting duties and succeeds in both departments. Considering this was his directing debut, Fogelman has a lot to be proud of. It’s a brilliant film with shine in all the right places and grounded character problems in between. The journey of the central mister is great, almost like a bio-pic of this Collins guy but with enough gloss that you know it isn’t. It’s a movie with heartfelt themes coursing through the veins, it may be leaning towards going down that road too much but I can forgive it for the fun it musters up too.

The script based on a real account of a folk singer named Steve Tilston getting the same positive type of letter from Lennon and Yoko Ono is fascinating and it really gets you thinking about what you yourself may have done differently if knowing something new. It’s obviously quite an important subject matter of how moments could have differed but on the flip side it shows how not to overthink things, change what you can now when your eyes are opened but don’t live in the past. Danny Collins is a flawed and broken man but his heart is present as Frank says to Tom.

The strongest aspect of this film was the appropriate balance between Danny’s new fixation in Hilton hotel manager Mary. The writing or perhaps improv between Pacino and Bening is spectacular. It’s involving patter that brings a genuine smile to the face. There’s smart one liners and funny back and forth material that gives depth and sparkle to this possible relationship.

The music, mostly songs by Lennon are apt for the certain scenes but ones actually concerning Collins as a movie character are a journey too. His style in the opening concert is rock and roll but dated like Daniel O’Donnell/Barry Manilow cheese suitable for the golden girls seen in the front row. By the time he’s changing his ways and living out of a hotel room, his first new song tinkling on the piano is gentle, poetic and beautiful. It also serves as a great musical cinematic tool of gripping the audience in a decision needed to be made by Collins.

Al Pacino is in fine form as the prominent figure, he moves about with hammy actions but has a cheeky grin and investing flirty manner that sucks you in. He can deliver those necessary flecks of worry and emotion too though, so it is a fantastic performance, one that is needed for Pacino’s run of latest films. Annette Bening soars as the fun and quick-witted partner of Pacino’s flirting. She also has the wonder of being a love interest without giving too much away and being easy to get. Jennifer Garner is the soft yet cool pregnant daughter in law and has sharp moments when first meeting Danny. Bobby Cannavale brings back ‘Boardwalk Empire’ levels of acting talent to his role as unsure Tom. The way he wants to do right but has a devastating secret makes for a quite powerful take on the distance he wants to give to his selfish father.

A fine watch with a winning set of performances. It’s a film that does light hearted fun well and then goes on a turn to serious redemption factors that can become heavy handed but still hold you in the palm of its hand like a Baby Doll singing Danny Collins.

7/10