Ep. 120 – Captain Marvel, Leaving Neverland

March 9, 2019 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the 21st Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, and first with a female lead, “Captain Marvel.” They also take a deep dive into the HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland” and what it means for the legacy of a dead entertainer now considered monstrous by part of the populace.

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Captain Marvel

March 8, 2019 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (“Half Nelson,” “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”)
Written by: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (“Half Nelson,” “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”)  & Geneva Robertson-Dworet (“Tomb Raider”)

The 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a milestone that’s been a long time coming—the first movie in the decade-old series with a female lead character. The idea that it’s taken nearly two dozen Marvel movies for that to happen—especially when struggling rival DC turned out the wonderful “Wonder Woman” two summers ago—is, seemingly, a point of embarrassment for the company, and they’ve worked to make it right with the lead up to “Captain Marvel.” The campaigns prominently feature the word “her” dissolving into the work “hero,” for example. The importance for representation in these films, especially as these comic-book movies have taken over the world and the audience becomes everyone alive, can’t be overstated. Alas, despite the best (yet belated) intentions of overlord Kevin Feige, the final product that is “Captain Marvel,” from the script to the pacing, do a disservice to what should have been a triumphant moment for the franchise.

Following in the footsteps of other cosmic adventures like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Thor: Ragnarok,” the film opens with Vers (Brie Larson) combat training with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) on the Kree home planet of Hala Yon-Rogg is attempting to teach Vers discipline in order to control the mysterious power she possesses to shoot beams of energy from her hands. Yes, the movie drops you right in to that. Anyway, both Vers and Yon-Rogg are part of Starforce, a group of elite warriors who battle the Skrull, shape-shifting goblin-looking creatures the Kree see as terrorists. When a mission to rescue a spy goes awry, Vers finds herself in the clutches of Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, who is great) who reactivates lost memories of a past life in her head. Vers manages to escape, and ends up crash landing in a Blockbuster Video on Earth, circa 1995. Her arrival is greeted by Agent of SHIELD Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson, having a blast), who Vers—a.k.a. Carol Danvers–teams up with to find a scientist who developed a light speed engine (Annette Benning) and discover who she really is.

Despite being Marvel’s most powerful superhero—and being portrayed by Oscar winner Larson—the screenplay never fully develops Carol as a character. We’re told she’s a badass fighter pilot, for example, but that part of her story cobbled together from mind-bending flashbacks that don’t offer a clear picture of her skill. Instead they just show she climbed into a plane and sometimes flew one. Also, as a member of Starforce, she’s apparently the only one with the power to fire energy beams—but how does this affect her relationship with, well, anyone?

The screenplay, credited in part to directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, seems to envision Carol as a female version of Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, only it doesn’t offer half of the characterization “GOTG” gave its lead. Instead, Carol is sort of an empty vessel, and the heavy lifting of the emotional beats—like her finally throwing off the oppression of strong men in her life—is left to female-driven ‘90s pop songs. Needle drops from No Doubt, Garbage and Elastica aren’t anything to complain about, but when that’s all the female empowerment you’re lending to your first female superhero star, then you’re letting your audience down.

Ready Player One

March 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jurassic Park”)
Written by: Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) & Ernest Cline (“Fanboys”)

One could fairly say I’m an easy mark for what “Ready Player One” brings to the table, at least on a surface level. A quick look at how I, a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, live my day-to-day life would certainly lead you to believe I’d be all the way down for a movie with references to “Back to the Future,” the Bigfoot monster truck, Pizza Hut’s old logo, “Jurassic Park,” and even its ill-fated summer of 1993 competition “Last Action Hero,” for crying out loud.

Yes, I have inflatable “Star Wars: Episode I” promotional Pepsi cans in my living room to go with several McDonald’s Happy Meal displays, so I clearly love bathing in consumerist nostalgia. But I still like a good, fun story to go with my warm fuzzies, and thankfully Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” delivers.

Set in 2045 Columbus, Ohio after some unknown near-apocalyptic event (something called “The Corn Syrup Riots” is mentioned), the population spends its free time inside the Oasis, a virtual world that doubles as a giant online multiplayer game and sort of the next evolution of social media. One of those is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teen who goes by the name Parzival while in the Oasis, his avatar a wispy, elven humanoid who drives a modified version of Doc Brown’s Delorean time machine. He and best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), a giant, tech-savvy ogre, are “Gunters,” short for “egg hunters,” which means they’re looking for a treasure left behind in the virtual world by its late creator, James Halliday (Spielberg’s frequent collaborator Mark Rylance). Whoever find’s Halliday’s Easter Egg gets control of the Oasis, which is why Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and his company IOI are eager to find it for themselves in order to infinitely monetize the user experience. It’s up to Parzival, Aech, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and their other Gunter friends to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Based on the best-selling (and highly divisive among nerds) novel by Ernest Cline (also a co-writer here), “Ready Player One” wisely broadens its horizons under Spielberg’s direction. Gone are the inside-baseball challenges that faced the characters in the book, esoterica like completing a level of “Dungeons & Dragons” or reenacting a scene from “WarGames,” instead replaced with huge race littered with recognizable vehicles from movies and video games and sequence inside a very famous haunted hotel where blood takes the elevator. Spielberg recognizes the appeal that filling the screen with pop culture artifacts brings, and even gets to play with some of the toys he first unleashed decades ago, like a ravenous T-rex that chomps at racers. But it’s far from the empty nostalgia that can make some recoil, instead a mondo-Spielbergian adventure in a future that it opines may not be as unlikely as it seems. Now, where can I get a Mayor Goldie Wilson re-election poster?

Rogue One

December 17, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”)
Written by: Chris Weitz (“About A Boy”) and Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Supremacy”)

Prequel is one of the dirtiest words in the English language to “Star Wars” fans, right up there with midichlorians and Jar Jar Binks. The increasingly negative reception to George Lucas’ prequel trilogy that unspooled from 1999 to 2005 has rendered the word toxic, which is why Disney’s marketing of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” has expressly avoided using the word at all—even though the movie is very much a direct prequel to the original “Star Wars” movie from 1977, known now as “A New Hope.”

This is the first live-action “Star Wars” theatrical adventure to deviate from the so-called saga of the Skywalker family being chronicled so far in Episodes I through VII (there was an animated “Clone Wars” film in theaters, as well as a pair of Ewok-centric TV movies in the ’80s and the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” from 1978) and represents the opening salvo in Disney’s mission to release a “Star Wars” movie every single year for the rest of all of our lives.

Opening around 15 years BBY (that’s Before the Battle of Yavin—the events of “A New Hope” and the super-geeky way in which the “Star Wars” timeline is sometimes parceled out), “Rogue One” focuses on Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), the reluctant brains behind the weapons tech in the Empire’s planet-killing Death Star. He and his family, including daughter Jyn, are in hiding from the Imperial officer heading up the Death Star project, Director Krennic (Ben Mendolsohn). When Krennic tracks them down, he kills Jyn’s mother and captures her father as she flees, taken in by militant Rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Fifteen years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is busted out of an Imperial prison by the Rebels and given the choice of helping Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droll, reprogrammed Imperial droid 2-KSO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) capture her father back from the Empire to find out how to stop the superweapon. When plans go awry after a test-firing of the Death Star levels a Rebel stronghold, Jyn and Andor must team up with a blind, Force-sensitive monk (Donnie Yen), his heavily-armed sidekick (Wen Jiang) and an Imperial defector (Riz Ahmed) to steal the plans for the Death Star, a monumental event that set in motion the entire franchise nearly 40 years ago.

Burdened with extensive reshoots and the unavoidable fact that we know how it all ends, “Rogue One” represented somewhat of a risk for Disney—albeit a risk that will, worst case scenario, not make quite as much money as “The Force Awakens” did last year and only sell 85% of the toys. Happily, though, the movie ends up killer, with a brutality of war featuring the troops on the ground we’ve never seen in a “Star Wars” film before. The scars of the reshoots show through here and there, though, with Whitaker’s character seemingly suffering the most, relegated to a plot device that goes nowhere—and the same goes for a mystical crystal Jyn wears around her neck. Neither of those, however, are likely to conjure up the negative conversations that one prominently featured CGI character will over his too-many scenes. For the record, I’m not talking about Jar Jar Binks, but a long-dead British actor resurrected to look like a Playstation 4 cutscene character—pretty good, but still off-putting and not quite right. Ultimately, we’re left with a thrilling “Star Wars” movie that dares to be different—for example: no opening crawl, no transitional wipes, and no Jedi—and ends up as a better film than the widely-beloved nostalgia hug that was “The Force Awakens.”

Slow West

May 22, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: John Maclean (debut)
Written by: John Maclean (debut)

In “Slow West,” Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a 16-year-old from Scotland, is making his way across America to track down the girl he loves. Along the way, Jay bumps into Silas (Michael Fassbender), a mysterious man of questionable morality. After being cornered, Jay agrees to pay Silas to get him across the country safely.

Despite it’s hasty 84-minute runtime, “Slow West” is surprisingly a slow burn. More character study than traditional Western, first-time writer and director John Maclean turns most of his focus on the unlikely relationship of Jay and Silas. It may be a stretch to call “Slow West” a coming-of-age story, but Smit-McPhee is able to bring a certain naivety to the character of Jay that juxtaposes nicely against the grit, “seen it all” quality of Fassbender’s Silas. Performances are great across the board, which is no surprise considering Fassbender’s track record.

As a snapshot into the late 1800s, “Slow West” is occasionally compelling, if not a little unmemorable. Though the plotline of the traveling love story never really develops, enough interest is mined from the interaction between Smit-McPhee and Fassbender and the evolving and forced transition into manhood to make the film worth a look. Maclean should be applauded for cramming solid characterization into the short amount of time he uses, and shows some definite promise as a filmmaker. If nothing else, “Slow West” succeeds as a cautionary glimpse into the perils of being in the friend zone, even in the old West.

Black Sea

January 30, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”)
Written by: Dennis Kelly (debut)

Director Kevin Macdonald is nothing if not versatile. As an Oscar winner for his 1999 documentary “One Day in September,” Macdonald has been alternating documentary and narrative films since 2003, releasing five of each, which also makes him prolific. For his latest narrative, Macdonald packs Jude Law and some character actors into a submarine in the treasure hunt film “Black Sea.”

After being let go from his job as a submarine captain, Capt. Robinson (Law) hears from a co-worker about a German World War II-era submarine sitting at the bottom of the ocean holding millions of dollars in gold. In an effort to get to the gold before anyone else can, Law meets with a mysterious funder and puts together a team of people (some with questionable backgrounds) to go on the dangerous mission of claiming the buried treasure.

As the crew plans to head to the depths of the ocean, Law’s character provides incentive to the crew members by telling them that all of the money will be shared equally. When one of the men on board (Scoot McNairy) tells Capt. Robinson that crew members killing other crew members could provide a larger cut to those who survive, the rest of the movie is foretold and disappointingly follows a series of tropes while, interestingly enough, becoming too twisty for its own good.

A lot of the fault for the failures of “Black Sea” can be put on the shoulders of character design. A diver played by the always-solid Ben Mendelsohn, for example, is introduced as a loose cannon that very early on makes a scene out of submarine food which is not only a cliché but has no real reason for it in the context of the movie. It becomes pretty obvious where his arc and where the story will take him. Law, who is good in the film, is not given very much to work with either. One of the biggest failures of the film is a subplot featuring Law acting as a paternal figure to a young member of the crew. It never feels earned or resonates, especially in an emotional payoff that feels entirely empty.

“Black Sea” is certainly not without its moments. There are some very tense ones when the hunt for the treasure becomes increasingly perilous and Macdonald is really able to create a claustrophobic atmosphere within the confines of the submarine. Beyond that, however, lies characters, a story and a screenplay that are deeply unsatisfying.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

December 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator,” “Prometheus”)
Written by:  Adam Cooper (“Accepted”), Bill Collage (“Accepted”), Jeffrey Caine (“GoldenEye”), Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”)

After the breakout success of “Gladiator” in 2000, director Ridley Scott seems determined to recapture the epic, action-packed period storytelling he and Russell Crowe delivered in the sword-and-sandals blockbuster, but with diminishing returns and emotionless digital matte paintings. From “Kingdom of Heaven” to “Robin Hood” to “Prometheus,” Scott has turned in some competent work buried in cold CGI to the indifference – or as with “Prometheus,” seething fanboy anger – of the movie-going public. “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” a big-budget retelling of the biblical story of Moses and his freeing the Jews from the control of Ramses, is ultimately another indifferent shrug.

Raised as brothers by the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro, first in a long list of WTF casting) the orphan Moses (Christian Bale) and heir to the crown Ramses (Joel Edgerton) fight battles for Egypt side by side. Before an upcoming battle, Seti tells the two men of a prophecy wherein one will save the other and become a leader. During the battle, Moses saves Ramses’ life, and is then sent to meet Viceroy Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn) of Pithom, who oversees the Hebrew slaves. Moses is appalled by the treatment the Hebrews receive and, during his visit, is informed by Nun (Ben Kingsley) of his true heritage: that he is a Hebrew sent to be raised as a child of Phararoh. Two Jews overhear this information and report it back to Hegep. As Moses returns to Memphis, Seti dies and Ramses becomes Pharaoh. Hegep arrives and reveals Moses’ true heritage and, rather than see his sister tortured, Moses admits to his lineage and leaves the kingdom. Years later, Moses is injured in a rock slide, after which a burning bush and a boy named Malak (Isaac Andrews) command Moses to free the Hebrews from Ramses.

If you’ve seen “The Ten Commandments” or even “The Prince of Egypt,” the spectacle of the story of Exodus will be nothing you haven’t seen on a movie screen before. While the plagues that decimate Egypt – from locusts to frogs to rivers of blood rendered in photo-realistic CGI – are thrilling and frightening, they can’t smooth over the lumpy storytelling and warmed-over battle scenes. The screenplay, credited to a quartet of writers, attempts to humanize Ramses and give a moderately convincing scientific explanation to the plagues. Some elements work better than others, such as Moses’ conversations with Malek being made ambiguous enough to paint Moses as either a conduit to God or a brain-injured mad man. But by the climax, featuring chariots charging at one another in a mysteriously parted Red Sea as ocean-borne tornadoes loom in the background, you’ll be exhausted after meandering through a snazzed-up version of a story you’ve seen before. Let my people go…to see a better movie.

Adore

September 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel
Directed by: Anne Fontaine (“Coco Before Chanel”)
Written by: Christopher Hampton (“A Dangerous Method”)

In what plays out like an awkward and erotic coming-of-age film where none of the central characters are written as more than vessels brimming with hormones, actresses Naomi Watts and Robin Wright star as two mothers who begin illicit affairs with each other’s sons in director Anne Fontaine’s self-absorbed drama “Adore.” It’s an emotionally complex albeit not very believable melodrama that teeters between hokey romance and incestuous nonsense, much like the miserable 2007 Julianne Moore vehicle “Savage Grace.”

Based on Doris Lessing’s novel of the same name, “Adore” introduces us to the foursome of the film: Lil (Watts) and her lifelong best friend Roz (Wright) and Lil’s son Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Roz’s son Harold (Ben Mendelsohn). For the first 45 minutes or so, Fontaine keeps us in the dark with the relationships of the characters. Not knowing who is who quickly spins the familial dynamic in a bizarre way, especially with the flirtatious tone that hovers over every scene.

When we finally become aware of which son belongs to which mother (or the fact that there are even two sons and two mothers), it’s already time to get the couples into bed without building on any kind of stable connection between parties. It might just be sex at first when Roz and Ian start fooling around, but Ian predictably ends up falling in love with her. For Harold, it almost seems like he only wants to see how far he can get with Lil when he finds out his mother and his best friend have been playing between the sheets.

All the bed hopping makes for a whole bunch of drivel as the couples spend their time running around on the Australian beach in hopes of finding something tangible in their relationship. They also manage to devote time staring deep into the ocean and contemplating the lack of morality of their sexual escapades.

Fontaine and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (“A Dangerous Method”) leave a lot of unanswered questions for audiences to decipher, but not many of them are interesting enough to want to discover with much assurance. For example, are the two people who desire each other in this scenario really Lil and Roz? Are they living vicariously through their sons to get to one another physically? Or maybe it’s the sons who want more out of their friendship. They sure do spend a lot of time  with each other shirtless in the water.

In all seriousness, “Adore” presents some contentious ideas that will probably make mainstream moviegoers wriggle in their seats uncomfortably, but art-house film devotees might not find much to keep them focused either. Without a grasp on any of the characters’ real intentions or thoughts, “Adore” is about as shallow as they come.

Animal Kingdom

September 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pierce
Directed by: David Michod (“Solo”)
Written by: David Michod (debut)

When Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville) finds himself alone after the death of his mother, there’s nowhere to go except into the welcoming arms of his estranged family, a collection of shady criminals his mom always tried to keep him away from but can’t any longer.

In “Animal Kingdom,” the Sundance Film Festival winner for Best Film in the World Dramatic category this past January, J must learn to acclimate to his new surroundings and become part of his inherited tribe. The metaphorical title is obvious. If J wants to survive, he has to match the uncompromising lifestyle of his three miscreant uncles (Ben Mendelsohn, Luke Ford, and Sullivan Stapleton) and his grandmother (Jaci Weaver) who plays the disturbing matriarch of the family who will do anything for her boys.

But despite his difficult upbringing by a heroin-addicted mother, J doesn’t necessarily want to be a part of the illicit family business. The tight grip his uncle Pope (Mendelsohn) has on the family, however, is too much to bear at times. With J exposed to all the drug-related dealings happening under his roof, it’s almost impossible not to get reeled into the criminal activity whether he wants to or not.

There to help J possibly escape the confines of his home life is Leckie (Guy Pierce), a concerned Melbourne detective who sees there is a slight chance to save J from a life he never intended to be a part of. Knowing this really is his only way out of his circumstance, it’s fascinating to watch J function on fear while keeping as emotionally distant as he can from the family who is slowly suffocating him.

Directed and written by David Michod, “Animal Kingdom” is an unnerving thriller that paces itself like a minimalist film, but pulsates with a gritty darkness. The performances, especially from Weaver, who gives a new face to evil mothers, are skillfully mastered as is Michod’s searing screenplay that takes the term “dysfunctional family” to an entirely new level.