Captain Marvel

As we sat through what felt like 73 coming attractions at tonight’s showing of Captain Marvel, it seemed that 64 of them were from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU.) Is there no limit to the imaginative stories and money being made by this enterprise? Perhaps eventually the entire cast of characters will become as impotent as The Hulk in Avengers: Infinity War, but all signs indicate that this will not be anytime soon.
The experience began with a very nice short video tribute to Stan Lee, whose passing just short of age 96 during November of 2018 came at the continuing zenith of his creative success. But that didn’t prevent him from appearing in his traditional cameo early in this film, grinning like a Cheshire Flerken (more on that later). One wonders how many features still in production were able to squeeze him in during his last days. Or maybe they’ll just create him in a digital studio.
There are plenty of explosions and battles between seemingly indestructible heroes and villains here. And unless I’m becoming numb to the violence, this isn’t the gory stuff of Deadpool. Sure, they get tossed around and shot with energy weapons, but they play dead nicely without being dismembered or tortured first. And much of the blood is blue – a hallmark of the alien Kree race we’re familiar with as fans of Agents of Shield. Comic book violence has evolved along with everything else, but a PG13 rating reigns in the graphic boundaries while expanding the potential audience to next generation fans.
There’s always an air of excitement in a theater prior to a Marvel feature. Yet it’s surprising how few hardcore fans there are. They’re the ones who stay for the teaser after the movie ends, and after an interminable wait, the sneak peak following the credits. The theater cleaning staff patiently waits for the small group of faithful to exit before beginning their rounds, but they show up a bit early just in case no one stays. It’s a geeky I-know-something-you-don’t few moments.
Brie Larson plays the title role nicely, balancing pretty with powerful, joking along the way, and handling some very physical action sequences. If not mistaken, I noticed that she appeared to be somewhat knock-kneed when filmed from behind while running, making for an awkward, sprinting Pee Wee Herman gait that was only seen once. She’s not able to run like Tom Cruise, nor does she need to, actually spending more time flying and doing the superhero fall-from-on-high, thundering touchdown that’s become so popular. I guess when you slam one leg and a fist into the ground it breaks your fall. I would just severely injure a knee, ankle and wrist.
To sum up Captain Marvel is to hum along with Gwen Stefani’s I’m Just a Girl, which accompanies a lengthy battle sequence. It’s a nice selection from 1995, the year being portrayed in the film. Brie (Carol, Vers or Captain Marvel) and former best-friend/test pilot Maria Rambeau, played by Lashana Lynch, relive their power-couple Top Gun days at the urging of Maria’s young daughter. She very cutely challenges, “You have a chance to fly into space and battle aliens and you’re gonna stay home and watch Fresh Prince with me? What kind of example is that?” Thankfully they didn’t dredge up Spice Girls for the soundtrack, also from the same pop music era, and also loaded with girl power. It was very clear that these are strong, capable women.
If you like coming of age stories of any kind, a mystery that requires unraveling, or a superhero origin story, this film elegantly intertwines genres through all three initially somewhat confusing subplots. Once we get that sorted out, it’s all good guys versus bad guys on a cosmic scale that eventually dovetails into the Marvel universe. Although the name of the title character required explaining, “It’s Mar-Vel,” we can overlook one clumsy moment in an otherwise well written journey.
Other actors of note include Annette Bening (married to Warren Beatty), who has been working steadily in a number of forgettable films, Jude Law, who effectively plays a good guy gone bad, and Ben Mendelsohn, who seems to be showing up just about everywhere since his role as the troubled son Danny on Netflix’s amazing Bloodline series, where he suppressed his Australian accent. After Captain Marvel was over, I found myself wondering why only some aliens have accents.
For fans that have been along for the ride for a while, there are lots of tasty treats (might that red Mustang fly at a later date?) and familiar faces, a couple of which were digitally made younger. Ever-loyal Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) hasn’t looked this good in years. Likewise for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), whose befriending of a cat (a Flerken if you’re a Kree) is adorable and gets some of the best laughs in the film. Oh, cats and their hairballs!
Captain Marvel was a quick two-hour prequel, a visually engaging trip with lots of color, cool tunes and non-stop action. It stands on its own if you’re just stepping into Marvel territory, but really delivers if you’ve been there many times before.
Captain Marvel (2019) runs 2 hours, 3 minutes and is rated PG13
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Vic’s Flix Movie Review: BlacKkKlansman

I feel the need to be cautious reviewing a movie by Spike Lee. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because I’m white and he is a resounding voice from within the African-American community. That takes me into sensitive territory these days. 
But a little research compels me to revisit some of Lee’s more noteworthy films, including She’s Gotta Have it (1986), which launched his career, Do The Right Thing (1989), Mo’ Better Blues (1990), Malcolm X (1992) and If God Is Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise (2010). If you’re a fan of Denzel Washington, he is frequently cast in Lee’s films, as is Samuel L. Jackson.
So here are a few things you might not know about Shelton Jackson (Spike) Lee: his background is one of arts and education – the son of a jazz musician father and a school teacher mother. He studied film making to the graduate level, and won a student Oscar for his first short called The Answer in 1980, a reworking of The Birth of a Nation, which features prominently in Oscar nominated (Best Director) BlacKkKlansman. He frequently teaches and lectures, and started his own production company with the money he made on his early work. 
His grandmother sent him to college and helped fund She’s Gotta Have It. As a man with a close relationship to my own grandmother, I have an affinity for others similarly blessed. While not entirely prolific, he has been a steady, busy, message-driven filmmaker for almost four decades, and he’s only 61. He is not without controversy, being vocal about his passions and visible as a sports enthusiast, sitting courtside at all New York Knicks games.
So, on to BlacKkKlansman, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Set in the early 1970s, the film draws its inspiration from the career of Ron Stallworth, the first black officer on the Colorado Springs police department. Like many other films “based on actual events” there are those who poke holes in Lee’s adherence to the literal sequence of events as portrayed on screen. Call it artistic license, but unlike others who leverage their creativity, Lee seems unfairly held to a standard others fail to meet. And that is called a double standard. There is enough actual footage drawn from recent events, and still photos from horrific chapters in our history, to qualify as near documentary.
In short, Stallworth (John David Washington) manages to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan over the telephone with the help of a fellow white officer (Adam Driver) who attends Klan meetings and earns his KKK membership card. Together they become embroiled in protests, cross-burnings, a bombing and the take-down of a racist officer, much of which never actually happened, but certainly adds excitement and a sense of redemption to the film.
Lee incorporates quite a few early 70s songs in the soundtrack, attempting to cement us into that strange turbulent/jubilant time, including the irresistibly funky Ball of Confusion by the Temptations, and Too Late to Turn Back Now by Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose. A couple of tracks jolted me out of the story line as misfits - Brandy by Looking Glass and Lucky Man by Emerson, Lake and Palmer are definitely period pieces, and I like both songs so I overlooked their intrusion. I guess they played on the radio at that time whether they “fit” or not.
The potpourri of 1970s nostalgia Lee pulled out of his hat (he also has a line of off-brand sports and other lids) is significant, primarily in capturing black culture during a period so rich in music (Motown), hairstyles (the Afro), language (can you dig it? Right on!) and dance (the Soul Train Line) and clothing (colorful and distinctive bells, disco leisure about to take off and many others.) Of course, cars that are now classics like the original VW Bug, Nova, Charger, Pinto and many more bring the streets of the 70s to life.
Several film production notes worth mentioning: Lee likes to use the “Dolly Zoom” effect in his films. This was a technique developed by Alfred Hitchcock that makes an actor appear to float forward independent of the background. It’s quite unsettling, as evidenced in Vertigo and later in Jaws and many others. Lee apparently really, really likes this effect and gives us a nice long zoom in this film.
When a mistake or an effect pulls me out of the film and returns me to my seat in a theater, it may as well be a cell phone ringing in the theater. One such instance was a distinct solar flare on the camera lens during an outdoor sequence. Another was Lee’s use of animated stills that swiped right and left from off screen during a conversation between characters to illustrate their points. It felt amateurish, like iMovie effects.
BlacKkKlansman is perhaps not a great movie, but it is a good movie worth seeing, if nothing else, as a reminder during a resurgence of racial tension in our country that there are profound and deeply rooted reasons for unresolved anger and hatred. That the KKK still exists and David Duke still speaks in public is astounding. That Spike Lee was able to incorporate humor into a film this meaningful is impressive. And a chilling series of high quality current news footage segments counters that emotion with one of horror as you leave the theater.

BlacKkKlansman (2018) runs 2 hours, 15 minutes and is rated R.

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Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Greta

It’s great when you see a movie that hasn’t been hyped to the point at which it’s almost guaranteed to be disappointing. Frankly, there aren’t a lot of movies out right now that are on “our list” to see as soon as possible. So it was doubly rewarding, given that we only saw one preview during the past few months, that we enjoyed Greta so much.
Greta has several key elements of suspense covered. A madwoman, stalking a trusting young girl with mommy AND daddy issues, not to mention a free-spirited roommate who’s bound to cause trouble; close-up camera shots that set your spine tingling with apprehension of the reveal – someone in the dark just off screen about to pounce; slow acting poison leading to sequences that make you feel as if you’ve been drugged along with the victim; and of course, bone-headed decision making in the face of certain doom. “You’re not seriously going into the dark basement, are you?”
The title role of Greta Hideg is played by little (5 foot 2) Isabelle Huppert, a French actress, who, interestingly, plays the part of a psychopath pretending to be French. If you find yourself wondering, “Where have I seen her before?” you’re not alone. Her resume is comprised mostly of French cinematic titles but she’s had a role on Law & Order: SVU and of all things Heaven’s Gate. Being mysterious helps her to…be mysterious.
Her victim is Frances McCullen, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, a very busy young actress who appeared in The Equalizer, the Carrie remake, and most recently, 2018's Suspiria. She has an innocent look that makes you cringe when she’s being stalked or doing stupid things. You want to give her parental advice, but remember, she has issues.
Fortunately for Frances, her roommate Erica, played by Maika Monroe turns out to be the best thing in her life, despite many early indications to the contrary. Throughout Greta, it seems Erica is going to wind up being an unintended victim.
Without getting too far into the weeds, Frances finds an abandoned purse on a subway train and decides to return it to its rightful owner, a seemingly nice French lady who invites her in for tea. Oh, the lost & found was conveniently closed, and apparently Frances doesn’t follow guidance we all know by now to alert the police about abandoned parcels or bags. The trap is set, sprung and the prey is easily captured.
And that’s where Greta ratchets up the suspense. Early in the film Frances becomes aware that she has been trapped, and she gets away! Repeatedly! She soon discovers, in the most glaring way that Greta is completely insane, but also very good at being a predator.
This nail-biting ride delivers multiple times, with unforeseen and completely satisfying results. And it’s interesting that Chloe Grace Moretz has Carrie in her portfolio. Unfortunately, her character doesn’t benefit from that experience, since the “Carrie Effect” is at work here as well. If you don’t know the reference, go see the movie.

Greta(2018) runs 1 hour, 39 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Marvel fans are pushing this film to huge box office receipts. I’m not sure it’s deserved.  I recommend that you see  Iron Man 3  before see...