Friday, March 08, 2019

CAPTAIN MARVEL: Spectacularly Adequate But The Cat Steals The Show

Now playing everywhere:

(Dirs. Anna Boden & Ryan K. Fleck, 2018) 

The 21st movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduces a new character, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Actually, a new old character as she’s been around for 50 years, so she’s new to the MCU, and new to me. I’ve, of course, heard of Captain Marvel, but didn’t know about her back story, or powers, or, well, anything really.

But I’ve been here before. Whenever they put out a new movie featuring characters I wasn’t previously familiar with, I head to Wikipedia and learn the basics so I at least have an inkling of understanding going in.

In this origin story, we are introduced to the lead character played by Brie Larson as Vers, a member of Starforce (that’s Starforce, not Spaceforce) on the planet, Hala, which is inhabited by the alien race, Kree. We also meet Vers’ mentor, Yon Rogg (Jude Law) who is training her to fight the shape-shifting, green-skinned Skrulls, who have been endlessly warring with the Kree.

Larson’s Vers, who is plagued with visions involving Annette Bening as Supreme Intelligence (that’s her actual character name, well, one of her character names here), gets captured by the Skrulls, and escapes in a pod that crash lands in 1995 Los Angeles (through the roof of Blockbuster Video, mind you). From here on out, the movie’s soundtrack is all ‘90s hits – Nirvana’s “Come as You Are,” Salt-N-Pepa’s “Whatta Man,” Elastica’s “Connection,” Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains,” etc. (Larson even wears a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt at one point).

Soon after, S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and Phillip J. Coulson (Clark Gregg), show up on the scene, both digitally de-aged (there’s always gotta be some digital de-aging in these flicks, you know?). Then there is simultaneously a foot chase on the LA Metro, a car chase, and a bunch of furious fist fights. Fury and Vers team up to, you know, save the world from an alien threat, the twist being that the ones we thought were the good guys may not be. Not that that is much of a twist.

Danvers and Fury find one of her old friends, fellow fighter pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), who joins them on the adventure, and Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), who turns out to be not so bad, also comes along for the ride – oh, and to save his fellow Skrulls. Oh, and the McGuffin is once again the Tesseract (it’s been in around half of these Marvel movies), a cosmic, blue-glowing cube that can control matter and energy.

Vers begins to figure out something that most moviegoers will figure out right off that bat – she was an Airforce fighter pilot named Carol Danvers (the “Vers” come from her dogtag getting fractured in a plane crash that gave her her powers (I’m not going to explain anything more than that).

It’s a zippy adventure that fun to watch, even if you can pretty much guess everything right before it happens. The one element I didn’t expect was a cat named Goose who totally steals the show. 

The cat stows away on the military plane that Danvers and Fury commandeered, and even follows them up into space. That’s where we learn that Goose isn’t a cat, he’s a Flerkin, which are alien creatures that resemble ordinary earth cats except when they shoot masses of tentacles out of their mouths, or swallow whole objects or people.

Goose could be seen as an update of Jonesy from ALIEN - think orange cat on a spaceship – but if Jonesy could annihilate hoards of attackers. Now, Jackson is always really funny, but I’m not sure he’s ever been as funny as he is here talking cute and lovey to Goose.

I like Larson quite a bit, and think she won the Oscar for ROOM for good reason. She puts in a solidly stoical performance in the title role here, but sometimes I felt maybe she was taking it all a bit too seriously. No matter, the character still works despite than when I squint she looks like Supergirl. The plot is no great shakes, story beats can be seen way in advance, and some of the MCU tropes seem a little stale, but it’s still a fun superhero movie with enough cleverness to keep most entertained.

The audience I was in for this film were with it big-time because the regular roster of MCU characters that fill in the margins of the studio logo was replaced with a montage of images of Stan Lee’s many cameos throughout the franchise. It got big applause – the first time I’ve seen a logo get that kind of response. Of course, there was also his obligatory cameo later in the film (he had shot a bunch of cameos for upcoming films before he passed last November).

Except for Goose the Flerkin, CAPTAIN MARVEL is, at best, spectacularly adequate. That still means, like most Marvel movies, it’s well worth the price of ticket. Just make sure that, like always, you stay for the end credits stingers. But, of course, you know that; everybody knows that.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

Oscars 2019: My Worst Score Ever!

“I mean every time somebody's driving somebody, I lose. But they changed the seating arrangement!” – Spike Lee

I haven't gone back through all my Oscar scores over the years, but I'm pretty sure that this was my worst score ever. I got 13 out of 24, which is pathetic. I underestimated BLACK PANTHER (3 Oscars!), thought GREEN BOOK would only win one Academy Award® - Mahershala Ali. Ali did win, but the film also got Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, and the big one, BEST PICTURE, which shocked me and I bet a lot of folks since just about every list of predictions I saw had ROMA winning.

Anyway, here's the ones I got wrong:


Olivia Colman for THE FAVOURITE (I had gone with Glenn Close for THE WIFE) This was a shocker.


BLACK PANTHER (just like the last category I had THE FAVOURITE down for this - sigh) 

RBG had this in the bag) 


12. FILM EDITING: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (why did I think VICE would win this? I really can't remember)

BLACK PANTHER (IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK really felt like the no brainer for this category, but BLACK PANTHER-mania cancelled it out I guess) 

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (FIRST MAN didn't have a chance one can see in retrospect)

GREEN BOOK (another shocker - THE FAVOURITE seemed so much to be a  shoo-in.)

24. BEST FOREIGN FILM: ROMA (I didn't pick ROMA here because I thought it was going to win BEST PICTURE. COLD WAR, which I enjoyed much more than ROMA, looked to me like a surefire winner, but like just about every category this year I was way off.)

Okay, that's enough Oscars '19 for now (or ever). With hope, I'll do a lot better next year.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Hey Kids! Funtime 2019 Oscar® Predictions!

Yep, here we are again. The 91st Academy Awards® Ceremony is coming up this Sunday night, so, as I always do on the Friday beforehand, here's my predictions for who and what will win. Now, I have a feeling I'll do worse than last year when I got 17 out of the 24 categories right (my best score was in 2014: 21 out of 24), but we'll see. I just have the feeling that this year may be more full of upsets than any other Oscar race in recent memory.

Anyway, here are my picks/guesses:


2. BEST DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón


4. BEST ACTRESS: Glenn Close for THE WIFE




Alfonso Cuarón)




12. FILM EDITING: VICE (Hank Corwin)

13. MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: VICE (Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe,  Patricia Dehaney)

14. VISUAL EFFECTS: FIRST MAN (Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter,  Tristan Myles, J.D. Schwalm)


16. ORIGINAL SONG: “Shallow” from A STAR IS BORN



19. SOUND EDITING: FIRST MAN (Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou)

20. SOUND MIXING: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin, John Casali)

21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: THE FAVOURITE (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara)

22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: BLACKKKLANSMAN (Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee)



As I always say, tune in Monday to see how many I got wrong.

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Film Babble Blog's Top 10 Movies Of 2018 Part 2

And now Part 2 of Film Babble Blogs Top 10 Movies of 2018. Included are memorable lines, or exchanges from each film. For Part 1, featuring entries 10-6 click here.


Robert Shafran: “I guess I wouldn't believe the story if someone else were telling it, but , I'm telling it and it's true, every word of it.”

4. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (Dir. Boots Riley)

Langston (Danny Glover): “Let me give you a tip. You wanna make some money here? Use your white voice.”

3. COLD WAR (Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)

Zula (Joanna Kulig): “Are you interested in me, because I have a talent or in general?”

2. BLACKKKLANSMAN (Dir. Spike Lee)

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington): “Then why you acting like you ain’t got skin in the game, brother?”

1. FIRST REFORMED (Dir. Paul Schrader)

Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke): “The man who says nothing always seems more intelligent. Why couldn't I just keep silent?”

So that's 5-1 of my Top 10 of 2018. Next up, my Oscar predictions. Stay tuned to this space.

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Film Babble Blog's Top 10 Movies of 2018 Part 1

I’ve been a pretty bad Film Babble Blogger lately. Because of life shake-ups, and personal shit, I haven’t posted much over the last year. While I still saw a lot of movies, I felt less and less compelled to write about them, and some months went by with only one or two reviews.

But I’m trying to get back on track so here’s my Top 10 Movies of 2018 just a few days before the Oscars. Better late than never, huh?

No blurbs for each film (I’m not completely on track yet), but key quotes from each are included. Clicking on some of (not many) the titles link back to my reviews (otherwise they link to the films' IMDb page).

10. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (Dir. Barry Jenkins)

Clementine “Tish” Rivers (KiKi Layne): “I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass”

9. THE SISTERS BROTHERS (Dir. Jacques Audiard)

Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly): Charlie, when you kill a man, you end up with his father or his friends on your tail. It usually ends badly.

8. A STAR IS BORN (Dir. Bradley Cooper)

Ally (Lady Gaga): [singing] Tell me something, boy. Aren't you tired trying to fill that void? Or do you need more? Ain't it hard keeping it so hardcore?

7. PUZZLE (Dir. Marc Turtletaub)

Agnes (Kelly Macdonald)I guess we'll just have to pack our sins into neat monthly portions.

6. FIRST MAN (Damien Chazelle)

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling): “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” (How could I not use this quote?)

So that’s 10-6 of my favorite films. See 5-1 at Part 2, coming soon.

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Friday, February 01, 2019

FREE SOLO Returns To Marbles IMAX For A Week Long Run

FREE SOLO, which was nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars, is returning to Marbles IMAX for a week long run today.

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s film is one of those docs in which you think ‘That guy is crazy!’

In this case, that guy is rock climber Alex Honnold, who is way into free soloing without any ropes, protective gear, or anything. Honnold has climbed several major mountains in Yosemite National Park, he aspires to scale the tallest mountain in the park, El Capitan, which is taller than the tallest building in the world.

Honnold calls it “the most impressive wall on earth,” and his friend/climbing partner Tommy Caldwell says it’s “the center of the rock climbing universe.”

When the film begins, Honnold is living in a van, which he says he’s done for 9 years, but as the film progresses we learn that he has a new girlfriend named Sanni McCandless. McCandless is, of course, scared for her boyfriend every time he free solos up a mountain. “I’m not super stoked when he goes soloing because he’s already a big part of my life.”

Despite his passion and adventurous spirit, Hollond is shown to be an odd bird from an unemotional family. He tells us that when he was 23 he taught himself how to hug. Yep, an odd bird.

At various points, we get a sad montage of free solo climbers who fell to their deaths, and a history, with vintage photos, of the El Capitan mountaineers who’ve been tacking the granite monolith since the late ‘50s, but mostly we follow Holland’s dream to be the first one to scale the epic slab.

Most of the last half hour of FREE SOLO concerns Hollond’s climb, and it’s a breathtaking and heart pounding sequence full of amazing footage of the man and the vast mountain range around him that made me wonder repeatedly how they filmed him.

Turns out that the cinematographers, including co-director Jimmy Chin, Clair Popkin, and Mikey Schaefer, had climber cameramen, some of whom climbed (not free solo) ahead of Hollond to get primo shots of the action.

This documentary begs to be seen on the big screen, so the IMAX option is one that should really be taken advantage of – even though it wasn’t shot in IMAX.

Raleigh, N.C. residents who want to see FREE SOLO during its week long engagement at Marbles IMAX should visit for tickets, and show-times.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly Are Spot On As STAN & OLLIE

Opening today in the Triangle:

STAN & OLLIE (Dir. Jon S. Baird, 2018) 

Despite the critically lambasted commercial flop HOLMES & WATSON, John C. Reilly has had an interesting 2018 with THE SISTER BROTHERS, RALPH WRECKS THE INTERNET, and now this biopic of a legendary comic duo. In fact all his ’18 work has been about duos – Reilly partnered with Joaquin Phoenix in THE SISTER BROTHERS, he teamed up with Sarah Silverman again for the WRECK-IT-RALPH sequel, and he re-united with Will Farrell for HOLMES & WATSON, the only one of these films I haven’t seen. Hell, two of the movies even have ampersands in the title!

But STAN & OLLIE, in which Reilly is paired with Steve Coogan, who also appears in HOLMES & WATSON (sorry, I’ll stop mentioning that movie) is the best of the bunch as it’s an affectionate, touching, and extremely witty tribute to friendship and old timey showbiz charm.

As the film begins, opening titles tell us that “by the summer of 1937, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were the biggest comedy stars in Hollywood.” We meet Coogan as Stan, and Reilly as Ollie in their dressing room at MGM Studios where they are shooting WAY OUT WEST. As the camera follows them through the lot to the set, they discuss their divorces, their new relationships, and their want to own their own pictures.

Danny Houston pops up as legendary Film Producer and Director, Hal Roach, who clashes with Stan over his contract as it’s about to end. Roach tells him he won’t release Ollie from his contract – Stan: “You can’t have Hardy without Laurel.” Roach: “That’s wht you think.”

Shortly after that the film cuts to Newcastle, England in 1953 where Stan & Ollie have come to go on tour in order to set up funding for a new movie. But the duo’s fortunes have fallen and they find themselves in a shabby hotel playing for half-filled venues. We learn through flashbacks, that Ollie made a movie without Stan when he was fired by the studio – 1939’s ZENOPHOBIA, referred to here as “that elephant picture,” in which Ollie starred with Harry Langdon, a very Stan Laurel-ish comic actor.

Coogan and Reilly prove their chops are up to snuff as Laurel and Hardy onstage re-creating their bits. Their performances as the iconic duo are spot on; it’s obvious they studied every bit of film they could find of the famous funnymen.

As their wives, the wonderfully mousey Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy, and the sharp, acerbic Nina Arianda as Ida Kitaeva Laurel arrive in London as Stan and Ollie have graduated to a bigger concert halls with sold out shows. Their promoter/producer Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) achieved this by getting them to do publicity around the country.

But while the shows are successes, Stan learns that the movie can’t get backing and keeps it secret from Ollie, telling him it’s still a “go” and they rehearses routines from the screenplay together.

One of the most stirring, and impactful scenes involves the partners going at it at a party after one of their shows. They both say angry, and brutal things to each other; things that could destroy their friendship forever. Both actors are brilliant in this moment, as they are in the rest of the film.

STAN & OLLIE does just what it sets out to do: pay homage to two lovable talents from their Golden Age hayday to their twilight years as the fame and the funny gags fade. Coogan and Reilly’s terrific turns here is up there with their best work, and Director Baird’s unpretentious, spare stylizing frames their act and the scenery surrounding them superbly. There are lots of films worth seeing in our current Awards season, but despite that it didn’t get any Oscar nods, this little gem deserves more attention.

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

My Intro For BEING THERE At The NC Museum Of Art

Last night, I introduced one of my all-time favorite films at the N.C. Museum of Art. Since some friends and family were unable to attend, I decided to post my opening remarks here.

Now, it’s a clichéd thing to do at a screening of an older movie but – who here has never seen BEING THERE?

That many? Okay, hold on while I cross out the spoilers.

Okay, there used to be a saying – I don’t hear it much these days – that the book is always better than the movie. Now, I think we can all agree that it isn’t always true.

For example, Mario Puzo’s THE GODFATHER, by, is a pulpy airport novel with very little of the gravitas that Francis Ford Coppola and the amazing ensemble brought to the material and made an immortal classic out of it.

There are many movies that are better than the books, but to my mind Hal Ashby’s adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s 1970 novel BEING THERE makes for one of the best cases. Not that the book is bad, no it’s a fine, witty, well written narrative that shares much of its dialogue with the movie; it’s just that the lead character is so much of a blank slate that he’s difficult to visualize.

But in the hands of Peter Sellers, the character whose name is Chance became fully formed and thoroughly nuanced, despite that the guy is certainly a blank slate whose life is entirely informed by what he has seen on television.

Now, basically the film is a about a simple minded, illiterate gardener whose talk about planting and the seasons is mistaken by many Washington insiders for political wisdom about shifts in the economy. Without any effort of his own, and aided by others’ perceptions of his persona, Chance the gardener unwittingly becomes Chauncey Gardiner.

Sellers had wanted to play Chance since reading Kosinski’s novel in the early ‘70s – it was his dream role. It took him seven years, in which time he made three Pink Panther movies and a bunch of hit or miss comedies, before he could get the film greenlit.

What helped is that the great hippy filmmaker Hal Ashby when approached to direct the project said ‘Sure, I’m interested, but only with Peter Sellers.’ You see, the book’s author, Kosinski, wanted Ryan O’Neal to play Chance. That is a version I just can’t imagine.

Now Ashby was just perfect for BEING THERE. He was coming off a run of some of the best movies of the ‘70s. HAROLD AND MAUDE, THE LAST DETAIL, SHAMPOO, BOUND FOR GLORY, COMING HOME. If you haven’t seen these – get on it.

So Ashby and Sellers, along with a great supporting cast including Shirley Maclaine, Richard A. Dysart, Jack Warden, and most importantly former ‘30s matinee idol Melvyn Douglas, who won the Best Supporting actor Oscar here for his role as Ben Rand, the dying rich billionaire whose world Chance gets wrapped up in.

Now Melvyn Douglas’ character owns a lavish, ginormous mansion that we all know is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. The Biltmore could be considered a star of the movie itself as its exteriors and interiors dominate much of the movie.

But, it should be stressed that in BEING THERE, the Biltmore was the Rand Mansion and its location was in the outskirts of Washington DC. Movie magic!

Before BEING THERE, the Biltmore had only been in one film, a Grace Kelly film called THE SWAN which was made in 1956, so it wasn’t well known to most of the movie going public. But since BEING THERE, the house or the grounds (or both) have been in a bunch of movies including THE PRIVATE EYES, FOREST GUMP, RICHIE RICH, HANNIBAL, and LAST OF THE MOHICANS.

In a TV interview to promote BEING THERE, Gene Shallit asked Sellers to explain what BEING THERE is about. He said,“It’s Jerzy Kosinki’s comment on power and corruption, and the triumph of the innocent man, as Jesus Christ said, you know, the triumph of the simple man over power, over wealth, over corruption and it’s probably a comment on that because you can’t get a person more simple that Chance.”

Sellers’ masterful performance as Chance, which he said to Shalit was vaguely based on Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy for you kids) sadly didn’t win him a Best Actor Academy Award, which was something he really wanted. Damn you Dustin Hoffman!

Sorry, I like Dustin Hoffman. It’s just he has had decades since then to win Oscars! This was Seller’s last chance.

Now as for BEING THERE having more relevance now than in 1979, it’s tempting to see it as a cautionary tale about imbeciles rising into scary positions of power. Comparisons to BEING THERE started during the George W. Bush era, but op eds about how prescient the movie seem to appear daily.

Maybe Daily Show correspondent Lewis Black summed it up best when he said of the current political climate: 
It’s like BEING THERE, if the guy was an asshole!

Lastly, there is one controversial element of the movie I need to tell you about. The original theatrical version of this movie, which is what we’re showing, has some bloopers – you know, outtakes of actors flubbing their lines – during the end credits.

There is another version of the movie that we were hoping to get, that has the credits play with only TV fuzz behind them. This version happened because Sellers hated the bloopers – he even thought they ruined his Oscar chances. Again, damn you Dustin Hoffman!

Now these clips are funny on their own but after the beautiful final shot– they have been criticized as breaking the flow of the film. We debated whether or not to cut off the projector, but we’re gonna let them roll as they are a part of the original motion picture. You can leave and not see them – it’s up to you.

So here’s Hal Ashby’s best film, and Peter Sellers’ best too, BEING THERE.

Thanks to Laura Boyes, Jackson Cooper, and everyone at the N.C. Museum of Art for making this event happen.

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