It’s 1995 and the Earth is unaware of all the intelligent life in the galaxy. Vers (Brie Larson) is a Kree warrior in the fight against a shapeshifting race called Skrulls. Vers is part of a team led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and is sent on a mission to retrieve a Kree spy on another world that is being invaded by Skrulls. The mission is a trap and Vers is captured. Her brain is scanned by Skrulls and several memories are retrieved. The Skrulls are looking for an engineer and inventor on Earth named Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) they believe has invented a lightspeed engine. Vers can’t remember her life prior to arriving on the Kree home world and these recovered memories give her a glimpse into her mysterious early life. Vers breaks free and steals an escape pod, but it is damaged and disintegrates entering the atmosphere. Vers crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster video store. She manages to cobble together a communications device using parts from a Radio Shack and a pay phone to contact Yon-Rogg, letting him know she is on Earth. He tells her to stay put and a ship is on its way, but Vers tells him she needs to find Dr. Lawson and keep the Skrulls from getting her lightspeed engine. Agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson (Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg) from SHIELD arrive and attempt to take Vers into custody, but she runs off after a disguised Skrull attacks her with an energy weapon. During the chase, Fury discovers the Coulson riding in the car with him is a disguised Skrull, leading Fury to intentionally crash his car, killing the Skrull. At SHIELD headquarters, the Skrull is autopsied in the presence of Fury and his boss Director Keller (Ben Mendelsohn). Director Keller is actually the Skrull, Talos. Doing some research at an internet café, Vers searches for a restaurant she saw in one of her memories. When she arrives, Nick Fury is waiting for her and they talk about what she is and why she’s on Earth. He trusts what she’s telling him, so he takes her to the facility where Dr. Lawson’s engine is being developed. Skrull Keller arrives with other SHIELD agents to arrest Vers and Fury. The pair escape then go on the run to find Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) to try and help Vers recover more memories of her early life when she was known as Carol Danvers and was an Air Force pilot, while also looking for the lightspeed engine to keep it away from the Skrulls.
“Captain Marvel” is Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie. There’s a great deal of pressure to make more inclusive superhero movies. The majority of these films have both male leads and men playing the villain. The only female hero prior to “Captain Marvel” has been DC’s “Wonder Woman” and a shared lead position in Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” The only female antagonists I can think of are Ghost from “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and Hela in “Thor: Ragnarok.” While Black Widow, Pepper Potts, Nakia, Okoye, Shuri and other female characters have played important supporting roles in Marvel films, none have focused on a singular woman hero with power until now. This film has faced more scrutiny than most Marvel releases. It is the first MCU film following the death of Stan Lee. It has also been the focus of many internet trolls looking to make a point from their parent’s basements. They feel any woman with power (or powers) is an attack on all men. Their actions forced Rotten Tomatoes to change their audience score reporting, but apparently had no impact on the film’s power at the box office. With so much attention on “Captain Marvel,” and taking all the social/political nonsense out of the equation, is it an entertaining film?
The cast of “Captain Marvel” is terrific. Academy Award winner Brie Larson is perfect for the powerful, proud, capable, and confident Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Her playful banter with Jackson’s Nick Fury feels natural, not a script she learned for a job. Larson is also a natural action star, performing the complicated (granted, heavily edited) fight scenes early in the film with the grace of a dancer.
There’s a through-line in the film of Vers/Carol being stubborn and a “pain in the ass.” It’s a simple technique to show a perceived flaw as an actual strength. Larson handles all the aspects of the character’s personality as natural traits instead of showy actor flourishes. It’s a beautifully nuanced performance of a character that could have been a cliched “superhero,” hands-on-hips, wind-in-her-hair routine.
Ben Mendelsohn’s Skrull Talos is able to shapeshift into any person he sees. Mendelsohn also tailored his performance depending on how he looked. When he’s Director Keller, Mendelsohn is all business and speaks with an American accent. When he’s under all the latex appliances to become Talos, he uses his natural Australian accent and is more playful. While his speech is somewhat affected by the makeup and prosthetic teeth, Mendelsohn still manages to put a spark in Talos that implies there’s more to the character than a mindless killing machine. The Skrulls are an interesting race, with their abilities and exposed backstory later in the film. Perhaps Mendelsohn will return in a future project telling us more about the history of the Skrulls in a standalone film or Disney+ project. I’d see that because of Mendelsohn.
The Nick Fury of “Captain Marvel” is far different than the one we’ve seen in the MCU to date. This younger Fury is a bit more trusting and laughs easier. He takes Vers’ word for what her mission is after she doesn’t vaporize him with her photon blasts. She gets personal information out of Fury that we’d never get out of the one we’ve known for the last 10 years. Samuel L. Jackson looks like he’s having fun playing Fury, something I couldn’t say in his earlier appearances. Fury is also a bigger part of the story instead of a peripheral character. Jackson and Larson’s interactions are understandably tentative at first but become warmer and even familial as the story progresses.
While the performances are great, the story of “Captain Marvel” comes up a bit short. First, it’s repetitive. I’m sure an examination of all superhero movies would show similar repetition, but it really stands out in “Captain Marvel.” There’s a fight, a chase, a resolution, some chat, a fight, a chase, a resolution, some chat, etc. The series gets repeated at least five times. It would be different if something truly amazing happened in one or more of these series, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
For an origin story, there’s not much original in what happens until the last 15 minutes of the movie. Only then does the film come alive and impress us with a superpowered light show and something of a tutorial about how to manage Captain Marvel’s true abilities. All the back and forth with the Skrulls, learning about her past, being on the run with Fury, spending time in Louisiana with Maria, it all feels like filler. There is important story information in some parts of these scenes, but it’s padded and like busy work given to script writing interns. While the average superhero movie is two hours or more (sometimes much more, “Avengers: Endgame”), and this film clocks in at two hours, four minutes, it feels too long. While every film has stuff in it that could probably be trimmed, the best ones should feel like every frame is important and worth seeing. “Captain Marvel” doesn’t feel that way.
“Captain Marvel” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language. Punches are thrown, beatdowns are given (Fury comes out on the short end of one), energy beams are shot, stuff blows up. It’s standard superhero action. We get a look at a Skrull being autopsied. The suggestive language consists of a male Air Force pilot asking Danvers if she knows why it’s called a “cockpit.” Foul language is otherwise widely scattered and mild.
Returning to my original question, is the film entertaining, my answer is mostly. It feels too long and too repetitive with nothing special about the storytelling or what we learn about Carol Danvers. The film’s twist isn’t all that surprising given what we see about those involved in it. However, the performances by Larson, Jackson, Mendelsohn and the rest of the cast raise the entertainment value, along with the way Captain Marvel will be involved in the events of “Avengers: Endgame” (make sure you watch the mid-credits scene for a sneak preview), making “Captain Marvel” required viewing. It’s not the best MCU film and it isn’t the worst. It is squarely in the middle and does the job required of it.
“Captain Marvel” get three stars out of five.
Opening this week are films about oppression, teen romance during illness and the power of imagination. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Five Feet Apart—
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The 40th anniversary of Vianne and Anthony (Jen Harper and Derek Morgan) is a time for celebration and all their children are coming home to help them celebrate. Oldest son A.J. and his wife Carol (Courtney Burrell and KJ Smith) are hosting the party. Youngest son Jessie (Rome Flynn) and daughter Sylvia (Ciera Peyton) are on hand as well. A.J. and Carol are having problems in their marriage and A.J. is cheating on her with Jessie’s fiancé Gia (Aeriel Miranda). While A.J. and Gia are at a nearby motel, A.J. hears a familiar voice in the room next door. Barging in the door, A.J. finds his father Anthony in bed with Renee (Quin Walters), a family friend. Also showing up to see the sorted scene are Madea, Joe, Bryan (all played by Tyler Perry), Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) and Hattie (Patrice Lovely). Anthony and Renee are having a S&M scene when Anthony has a heart attack and later dies at the hospital. The anniversary party is now a funeral being planned by Madea. With all the secrets threatening to pull the family apart, Madea and the rest of the older mourners are trying to lighten the mood and keep the emotional volcano from exploding.
“Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral” (which I’m choosing to shorten to “Family Funeral” for most future references) is my first experience with a Madea film. I thought since Perry announced this would be the final Madea movie I should check it out and I’m half glad I did. Half glad as this film is really two movies: One is the family drama of cheating and lies and love. The second is every scene Madea and all the older characters are in. One is significantly better than the other.
The melodrama that makes up the bulk of the film is awful. A bit of trivia posted on the movie’s IMDb page, and repeated on the film’s Wikipedia page, says it was shot in about a week. I couldn’t find any other sources to verify that, but the threadbare script and soap opera-style acting would imply there weren’t many takes wasted to make the movie. Most of the dialog involving the family at the center of the story consists of one of the following: “Are you alright?” “What’s wrong?” “My daddy just died!” While Tyler Perry’s movies have never been accused of being complex or subtle, it feels like he has just given up in “Family Funeral.”
Perry was busy on the film as he plays four characters, directs, produces and wrote the script. Maybe he has finally taken on too many jobs in his film as “Family Funeral” is a schizophrenic mess, jumping from dealing with loss and betrayal to ribald comedy fast enough to cause audience-wide whiplash.
Yet the audience I saw it with, comprised mainly of African-Americans, loved ever second of it. There were raucous laughs at the antics of Madea, Bam and Hattie (often covering up the next joke), disapproving comments about revelations of infidelity, and appreciative nods to the impressive gospel singers shown at the funeral. The about-half-full theater with whom I saw the film was hanging on every word, ready to laugh or cry, depending on which direction the story went.
Should you decide to see “Family Funeral,” I suggest viewing it with a sizable crowd. The experience will be heightened if you are surrounded by people willing to forgive the film’s flaws and enjoy the final ride with Madea.
The best part of the film is Madea and the rest of the incorrigible senior citizens. There’s talk of pimpin’ ho’s, smoking weed, killing husbands with anti-freeze, peeing every mile on a car trip, geriatric sexuality, expressing religious beliefs by misquoting the Bible, and jokes at the expense of a man with no legs and using a voice modulator after cancer surgery. The humor in “Family Funeral” also comes from all those that know the circumstances of Anthony’s death not being able to keep their mouth’s shut, yet none of the younger family members or his wife ever asks any follow up questions when Madea or the others say something that screams for it. It’s the kind of slapstick silliness that doesn’t get made by Hollywood movies anymore. I believe the reason for that is no one really knows how to do it anymore. Tyler Perry is a kind of throwback filmmaker. He knows his audience and plays to their tastes: Family drama and old people punching each other in the face. It’s a formula that has made Perry a very wealthy man (estimated net worth of $600-million). Few have homed in on the likes and wants of their fans the way Perry has, and it has served him, and his bank account, well.
“Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral” is rated PG-13 for crude sexual content, language, and drug references throughout. There is much discussion of the erection Anthony has that persists after death. There is also talk of him choking on a ball gag. Various characters make sexual comments throughout the film. No drugs are shown being used, but there is a great deal of discussion about cannabis and its use. Foul language is scattered, but the film does use it’s one ratings-allowed “F-bomb.”
As I write this, “Family Funeral” had a 25% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 41 on Metacritic. I can’t argue with either score as the film as a whole is not very good. Wooden acting, a repetitive script and leaden pacing all add up to this being a bad film. However, seeing Perry in Madea drag, and all the other elderly characters, say incredibly inappropriate things at the most inappropriate times redeems the movie for me. I may have to go back into the Madea catalog and check out her other adventures while fast-forwarding through the parts that are supposed to be telling the story. Madea is what we all see these films for. The rest is just filler to reach a feature film’s run time.
“Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral” gets three stars out of five.
There’s only one new movie opening this week.
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Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is the chief of the Viking village of Berk, a haven for Vikings and dragons alike. Hiccup and his best friend Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera) lead a band of soldiers made up of Snotlout (voiced by Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut (voiced by Kristen Wiig and Justin Rupple) on raids against dragon hunters, freeing those captured and bringing them back to Berk. Hiccup’s friend and adviser Gobber (voiced by Craig Ferguson) warns that Berk is getting too crowded with dragons and the hunters are getting closer to discovering where all the freed dragons go. A group of dragon hunters looking to field an army on dragon-back, calls in Grimmel (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), a long-time dragon killer that hunted the Night Fury to extinction, or so he thought. Informed by the dragon hunters that there is one Night Fury left, Grimmel agrees to help them captured all the dragons of Berk and in exchange, he wants to kill the last Night Fury called Toothless. Grimmel has just the bait to bring Toothless in close for the kill: A female Night Fury. Seeing the female, Astrid calls her a Light Fury, Toothless is instantly smitten. Hiccup discovers a trap in the woods near where the Light Fury was seen and knows the hunters have found them. Eret (voiced by Kit Harington) recognizes a tranquilizer dart near the trap as belonging to Grimmel and warns Hiccup he is more dangerous than any other hunter he’s faced. Hiccup remembers a legend his father Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) told him as a child. A land from where the dragons all came he called the Hidden World. It was to the west where sailors feared to go as it was deemed the edge of the world. Hiccup convinces the citizens of Berk to leave their home and go west with their dragons to find the Hidden World so they could all live in peace and safety. There’s no guarantee the Hidden World actually exists, but they have no choice but to look for it and keep their dragons safe from Grimmel.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is the likely end of the “Dragon” story, and it goes out on a beautiful, emotional and exciting note. The visuals of the series have been impressive right from the start, but in this third film, I believe the animators and camera people (yes, they use cameras to shoot some scenes in animated films) have reached a pinnacle that will require a massive leap in technology to beat. It will likely be up for best animated feature at the 2020 Oscars. There are not enough nice things I can say about the film, but I’ll try.
First, as stated above, it looks amazing. There are shots in this film you would believe are live-action if they didn’t have a flying dragon with a couple of people on its back. The imagery is startlingly life-like in several scenes. The water, the hair on character’s heads, the trees, grass and flowers, all move in a believable fashion. The physics, the reactions of objects when thrown or bumped or whatever, is spot on. There is a substance to this world that feels real, despite it being impossible to touch and only existing in computer memory and digital code. I have been a fan of the “How to Train Your Dragon” films, but this may be the best looking of the bunch.
It also has a great story of what growing up and being responsible for yourself and others means. Hiccup was thrust into the job of chief after the untimely death of his father in the second film. He’s never been comfortable with being a leader and needs the support of Astrid and his recently returned mother Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett) to keep up his confidence. Their support has never been more important than in the fight with Grimmel. More than once, Hiccup makes a mistake that endangers his tribe and the dragons. He questions whether he’s up to being Berk’s chief, and if losing Toothless makes him less of a leader. He must learn that leading is done best with the help of a group of trusted friends and allies and can never be done alone. Hiccup also learns that no one is perfect and there will be mistakes along the way. It is important that he learns from these mistakes and doesn’t repeat them. These lessons he learns from his friends and advisors, discovering the experience of others can improve the leadership of the chief. In other words, those that don’t play well with others don’t necessarily make the best people to be in charge.
The voice cast is stellar, as always, and gives the film both the comedic and emotional punch it needs to appeal to both children and the adults bringing them to the theaters. Jay Baruchel has given Hiccup a believable evolution from teenager to young adult and from son of the chief to being the chief. Baruchel has a friendly-sounding voice and can deliver both the witty aside along with the heartfelt speech to the people of Berk and the kind and loving words to his friend Toothless.
The twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut also get bigger roles in this third chapter of the story. Kristen Wiig again plays the tomboy Ruffnut, while Justin Rupple replaces T.J. Miller as Tuffnut. The pair are annoying together, but nearly insufferable apart. Ruffnut is captured by Grimmel at one point, but is such an unstopping motormouth, he releases her. While there is a purpose in letting her go, it also ends her jabbering about how great she is and how her pigtails are her hand puppet dragon friends. Wiig gives Ruffnut enough femininity to differentiate her from Tuffnut while still showing us she’s as rough and tumble as her brother.
Perhaps the best acting job is by Justin Rupple. He was brought in after the film had been animated and the part voiced by T.J. Miller and had to recreate the role. Miller ran into a rough patch after finishing his voice acting. He was accused of a 2001 sexual assault and called in a drunken bomb threat while riding a commuter train in 2018. The studio decided to pull Miller from the cast and rerecord his part using comedian and impressionist Justin Rupple. There are times in the film when I believed I was listening to Miller, but there are times it clearly isn’t him. Rupple had to match his delivery to the animated mouth movements (called lip flap) and give a good performance. Rupple should be commended for performing well under difficult circumstances, given he was brought in to replace a well-known actor.
F. Murray Abraham is menacing as Grimmel. He gives the villain a quality showing this bad guy enjoys being a bad guy. Grimmel is very good at being evil. He is happy with his life and was a very good dragon hunter, feeling cheated that there is one Night Fury left. His determination and focus on capturing Toothless is daunting and he is prepared for whatever Hiccup and his crew plan. Abraham is a gifted performer, winning the Academy Award for best actor as Salieri in 1984’s “Amadeus,” and winning and being nominated for many other awards. Attracting this kind of talent to do voice work in an animated film says a great deal about how much respect the actor has for the project. “How to Train Your Dragon” has been a series of films that have delivered amazing visuals and performances and this third installment may be the best of the bunch.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is rated PG for some mild rude humor and adventure action. There may have been some belches and farts in the film, but I don’t recall there being much in the way of rude humor. There are fights between humans and between humans and dragons. Grimmel has dragons that spew acid instead of fire. Some people are shown being hit on the head and being knocked out. People and dragons are shot with a tranquilizer dart. Humans are chased by angry dragons. There is no foul language.
“How to Train Your Dragon” is one of my favorite films of the last 10 years. The mixture of humor, action and emotion was a surprise in what could have been a run-of-the-mill animated kids movie. While I wasn’t as enamored with the second film, it was still entertaining and visually stunning. Now with the third film wrapping up the trilogy, I find myself wanting more. Not because there’s something lacking in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” but because I want to spend more time with Hiccup and Toothless and a world filled with friendly, flying dragons. Alas, we will not likely revisit the world of Berk, Vikings and dragons…at least, until Dreamworks animation decides to reboot the franchise in a cynical cash grab. Fortunately, we will be able to look back on this original trilogy of films with fond memories, especially the last one.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” gets five dragon-flame stars.
Two new movies open this week. Maybe I’ll go crazy and see both, but I guarantee I will see at least one of the following:
Tyler Perry’s A Media Family Funeral—
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In the 26th Century, the world is still recovering from a war 300 years earlier called The Fall. The rich and powerful live in the floating city of Zalem, the last sky city left from The Fall. Under Zalem is Iron City where life is hard, and people do whatever is necessary to survive. One of the few good people living in Iron City is Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a physician that takes care of the many citizens with artificial limbs. Zalem’s trash is ejected from the bottom of the floating city and collects in a massive dump in Iron City Dr. Ido is searching the dump to scavenge spare parts for his patients when he finds the head, shoulders and part of the chest of a female cyborg. Dr. Ido takes her to his office and attaches her head to a cybernetic body he already had on hand. When the cyborg comes back on line, she has no memory of her past. Dr. Ido calls her Alita (Rosa Salazar). While showing her around his neighborhood in Iron City, Alita meets Hugo (Keean Johnson), a scavenger that finds parts for Dr. Ido. Alita and Hugo fall for each other and plan to meet the next day. As Alita is on her way to meet Hugo, she is stopped by Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) who looks closely at Alita’s hand. Chiren is Dr. Ido’s ex-wife. The two divorced after the death of their daughter, also named Alita. The body cyborg Alita is using was built for Ido and Chiren’s daughter who was confined to a wheelchair, but she died before she could be transferred to her new body. There’s a violent sport called Motorball where the participants replace parts of their human bodies with cybernetic parts to improve their game play. Chiren works for Vector (Mahershala Ali), an entrepreneur with Motorball teams who gambles on the outcome that he also controls. Roaming the streets of Iron City are part cybernetic bounty hunters. One of the most successful is Zapan (Ed Skrein), a bounty hunter who is almost entirely machine. Alita is seeing flashes of memory whenever she’s involved in a violent conflict. She sees herself fighting a battle on the moon along side another female cyborg named Gleda (Michelle Rodriguez). As Alita becomes more known in Iron City, she becomes the target of people wanting her technology as it is something that hasn’t been seen since The Fall. The most dangerous person hunting her is Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley), a massive cyborg that doesn’t care who is hurt when he hunts. All the while, there’s an unseen master that is directing everything from Zalem.
Does the above plot synopsis of “Alita: Battle Angel” sound confusing? It’s pretty easy to follow as you’re watching, but there’s far too much going on in this adaption of the Japanese manga called “Gunnm” and the animated movie “Battle Angel.” Writers Laeta Kalogridis and James Cameron (yes, THAT James Cameron, who is also a producer) apparently wanted to stick in every subplot and side quest from the source material, overwhelming the audience and the plot, and making a scattershot film without a satisfying ending. It looks great, the action scenes are frequently impressive and the performance of Rosa Salazar is affecting, however “Alita: Battle Angel” is nothing more than a two-hour preview for “Alita: Battle Angel 2.”
As the movie was coming to an end, I got angry. I’ve been angry at characters and their actions, but few movies are able to create that feeling in me just for existing. “Alita: Battle Angel” is a rare exception as it caused me to question if I wanted to ask for my money back. Director Robert Rodriguez has crafted half a good movie out of a script containing enough material for at least three films and yet, there’s no ending. The movie concludes, but what happens is anti-climactic. As the credits begin to roll, it is clear the film is nothing but a long trailer for movies yet to come. It is infuriating that $170-million was spent to create a coming attraction for a film that may never start production as this entry probably won’t break even.
There’s something especially cynical about a movie, all of which are released with the hope and expectation that they’ll make money, that appears to only be a cursory introduction to characters so the audience will know them in the next movie when something will actually happen. Lots of things happen in “Alita: Battle Angel,” but none of them amount to anything by the end of the film. The audience is left with the knowledge that there’s more to come and, if we see it at all, it is several years from coming out. It’s like being promised a Christmas present, then that gets moved to Valentine’s Day, then your birthday and so on, until you just don’t care anymore.
The problem is I do care. I want to see a good story with these characters in this world. The world of manga and anime is one where great battles and epic stories are promised, and started, but we rarely get a real, definite conclusion. One need only watch an episode of any of the Dragonball series on Adult Swim to see what I’m talking about. Perhaps our patience will eventually be rewarded with a final showdown between Alita and the shadowy overseer that’s guiding everything from Zalem, but I don’t plan on holding my breath for a satisfying conclusion.
Despite my disappointment in “Alita: Battle Angel,” there are some nice elements in the film. First, Rosa Salazar is able to deliver a moving and believable performance via the facial motion-capture dots and cameras. Salazar squeezes empathy for Alita out of nearly every scene. Her caring for Dr. Ido and Hugo, and anyone who finds trouble on the streets of Iron City, including a stray dog, shines through the digital manipulation of her face to create the oversized eyes of Alita. The effects used to make her unique face don’t stick out like a sore thumb and, after a few minutes, you don’t notice much difference. Some of the action takes on the quality of a cut scene between segments of a video game, but those moments are brief and scattered. Some of the action is breathtaking and the violence is jarring as cyborgs are ripped apart, but the human head is still alive. That happens more than once in the film and it gets a little creepy on occasion.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and some language. There are numerous battle scenes, mostly involving cyborgs, and mechanical limbs go flying. Humans get hurt and killed as well. There isn’t much blood and no gore. Foul language is mild, but there is an “F-bomb.”
“Alita: Battle Angel” has some good points and, if it had a better ending, it might have gotten a higher rating from me. Since the likelihood of a sequel is fairly low, I guess we’ll have to make due with this version of the manga and anime. It’s too bad, as director Robert Rodriguez and writer/producer James Cameron have produced some amazing cinema over the last 30 years. Perhaps they have too many projects on their plates to provide a complete story and a satisfying ending. What we have here is most of a movie and a fair one at that, but it feels incomplete and more than a little cynical.
“Alita: Battle Angel” gets two stars out of five.
Opening this week are two new films with family at their cores. I’ll see and review one of the following:
Fighting with My Family—
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World—
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Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) has a great number of regrets, starting with an undercover operation she worked with an FBI agent named Chris (Sebastian Stan). Seventeen years earlier, she and Chris infiltrated a gang of bank robbers led by the charismatic Silas (Toby Kebbell) just as they are preparing a big job that could net them millions of dollars. In the present, Det. Bell arrives at the scene of a murder being worked by city detectives. They tell her it’s out of her jurisdiction, but she checks out the body and sees three oval tattoos on the victims’ neck and hundred-dollar bills stained with purple dye scattered around the body. Erin knows something about the case, but she’s not sharing the information with her colleagues. Erin’s memories about her time with the gang, with Chris, with Silas, with Silas’ girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany) and the decisions at the time that have ruled her life since come flooding back as she considers what her next move must be.
“Destroyer” is a dark, dark movie. It doesn’t waste time with characters that are either black or white and focuses on all the varying shades of grey, most of the on the darker end, that make up the inhabitants of Los Angeles populating this universe. It’s a film that plays with perceptions, time and morality and is anchored by a breathtaking performance from Nicole Kidman who at times is unrecognizable. The glamourous Kidman disappears under layers of grime and time to become the title character in “Destroyer.”
Kidman’s performance is what makes “Destroyer” a great film as there are some issues with the characters and the plot. While no character, besides Erin, has a huge amount of screen time, Toby Kebbell’s Silas is a ghost that haunts scenes despite not being seen. Silas is shown in flashbacks as a messianic figure, able to control his followers and make them do things against their better judgement. I would have liked to see more of Silas, but at the same time, I don’t think the character would have worked as the all-knowing, all-seeing villain he is portrayed to be if he appeared in bigger chunks of the film. Silas comes off as a Manson-type leader, able to get his crew to take stupid chances and punishing anyone that lies to or betrays him, but we never see his tactics, only his long dark hair, penetrating stare and too calm demeanor. Silas instills loyalty and fear in his crew, even nearly two decades after they last saw each other. Why? The movie never answers that question.
The non-linear narrative also distracts from the storytelling. The film jumps back and forth in time so much, the only way you can tell what part of the story you are in is by what Kidman’s Erin looks like. The past has her looking recognizable, while the present shows Erin as if she’s been sandblasted. While we get all the details about the story in these scenes, it makes it difficult to keep up and easy to miss important plot points. An event late in the film makes all this jumping around make more sense and provides something of an “ah-ha” moment. Still, all the time jumps create some confusion.
“Destroyer” is rated R for language throughout, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use. There are a couple of beatings shown with blood coming from facial injuries along with one beating causing vomit. There are also some bullet wounds shown in a couple of shootings. A game of Russian Roulette is shown as well. A powder is shown being snorted. There is an uncomfortable sex scene that involves no nudity but is just gross. Foul language is common throughout the film.
Nicole Kidman turns “Destroyer” from a standard, dark crime drama into an event. Her performance is both painful and mesmerizing as a cop haunted by a past she can’t live with and a future she doesn’t care about. Every bad decision is etched on her face and her efforts to make things as right as she can are likely to fail. It is a story of greed and envy, and the road to Hell and redemption. I can’t say you’ll love “Destroyer,” but I bet you won’t be able to forget it.
“Destroyer” gets five stars.
This week, I’ll be reviewing Liam Neeson in “Cold Pursuit” for WIMZ.com.
Other movies coming out this week are:
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part—
What Men Want—
Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming news, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) are the targets of bullies in their school. Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris) target the younger and smaller kids, stealing their money and punching them. Alex stands up to them and is facing expulsion for tackling Lance. Alex and his single mom Mary (Denise Gough) have been going it alone since Alex’s dad left. Mary tells Alex he was fighting his demons and couldn’t be around them. Running from Lance and Kaye after school, Alex hides in a construction site of a building being demolished. There he finds a sword stuck in a partially demolished column and pulls it out. He shows it to Bedders and they put the writing on the hilt into Google translate, discovering it says “Sword of Arthur.” Believing it is the legendary sword Excalibur, Alex hides it in his closet, so his mother doesn’t take it away. Meanwhile, the evil sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), imprisoned deep in the earth centuries earlier, is aware the sword has been found and begins gathering her strength to return to a world that is lost in darkness, despair and anger. The wizard Merlin (as a young man, Angus Imrie/as an old man, Patrick Stewart) has also felt the discovery of Excalibur and has returned through a portal located at Stonehenge. He pretends to be a student at Alex’s school to keep an eye on him. When Merlin discovers there are only four days to a total solar eclipse, he announces to everyone that Morgana and her army of undead skeleton soldiers will return to take over Britain and the world and that Alex is the Once and Future King. Soon, Alex, Bedders and the reluctant Lance and Kaye begin an adventure to fight off evil and save the world.
“The Kid Who Would Be King” is the ultimate fantasy kid’s movie. The hero is a child of meager means, not physically imposing, with few friends and missing his absent father. His best friend is a fat kid that is afraid of everything and doesn’t like breaking rules. The other kids on the quest are his enemies that he reluctantly takes on as allies so they can see the threat they face. There’s also a loopy wizard that changes into an owl when he sneezes and can’t be out after dark as it weakens him. It’s up to Alex, the kid with no leg up in life, to save the world whether he wants to or not. It stretches credibility and runs on a bit too long, but “The Kid Who Would Be King” deserves your patronage and loyalty.
Louis Ashbourne Serkis is the son of motion-capture king and actor Andy Serkis, best known as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films, Caesar in “The Planet of the Apes” trilogy, King Kong in Peter Jackson’s film of the same name and as the Marvel villain Ulysses Klaue in the MCU. He comes from a very active acting family and young Serkis clearly has inherited the performance gene. Serkis is an emotive young actor, his performance coming as much from his facial expressions as from his voice. Alex is dealing with a great deal of pain and loss and Serkis shows that without it being too melancholy or melodramatic. Serkis is a natural performer and is relatable to the target audience of children while not being annoying to the adults that brought them. It is a pleasing performance that works well within the insanity of the story.
The rest of the cast is great with Dean Chaumoo as a standout as Bedders. The insecure child constantly questioning whether what they are doing is the right thing borders on being annoying, but the story is guiding us down that path, leading to a confrontation between the two best friends that reshapes their relationship. It’s a simple and wide-eyed performance that is the only credit on his IMDb page. I thought he probably had done live theater in Britain, but a Google search of his name only turns up a page from King’s College School in Wimbledon announcing his getting the part with no reference to any other acting. If this is his first ever role, he should be congratulated for giving such a good performance.
Another great performance is Angus Imrie as the young Merlin. He’s all enthusiasm and energy as the wizard that gets younger as he ages (Patrick Stewart appears a few times as an elderly version of Merlin). Merlin is the comic relief of the film. His wild hand gestures as he’s performing a spell seem like an opportunity for anyone wanting to stop him to punch him in the face. No one does as that would bring an unwelcome bit of reality to the story. Since the movie is about knights and demons and wizards and sorceresses, no one wants the real world to interfere. Imrie is a joy when he’s on screen. His apparent love for the role (possibly acting in general) shines through the screen and he adds just a little bit of extra spark to a film that is already filled with energy.
While is said no one wants reality to interfere with the film, sadly my middle-aged brain wouldn’t let some things go. For instance, when Morgana sends her evil undead soldiers to attack the kids at night, only the people Alex has knighted can see them and the rest of the people in the world disappear, leaving all their possessions where they were, including their cars. A scene in the film finds the kids fighting the undead knights using a car then, when the last one is beaten, all the people return, including the people in the car the kids were using. It’s a reality-bending bit of world building that ignores the real-world consequences. The film does that a great deal, including for Alex to succeed, he must kill Morgana. That’s a heavy burden to put on a kid who isn’t old enough to drive. The children of Alex’s school must battle the undead army. No consideration is given to if any of them will be hurt or killed. It’s a minor issue I have with the film, but it feels like something that could have added a bit of depth to what is otherwise a light kids adventure story.
“The Kid Who Would Be King” is rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language. The kids battle the undead army, trees that come to life, underground roots and a couple of fire-breathing dragons. Lance and Kaye are shown bullying Alex and Bedders on a couple of occasions. The reality of an absentee father and the reasons for his being gone are briefly explored. Foul language is mild and very scattered.
The movie takes its time in guiding Alex and his knights through their adventure. The missing dad is revisited one time too many and the consequences of abandonment are hammered into the audience unabated. We get it! Stay and raise you kids! Otherwise, “The Kid Who Would Be King” is a fun and lighthearted romp that children will love, and their parents will find entertaining enough. It’s silly and funny with likable characters and a good message. And remember: Always follow the chivalric code! It will see you through life and serve you well.
“The Kid Who Would Be King” gets five stars.
With only one new wide release, I’ll also possibly check out some new arthouse films. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
In Like Flynn—
Stan and Ollie—
Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to email@example.com.