Tag Archives: Jude Law

Captain Marvel (2019, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)

Captain Marvel is difficult to encapsulate. Its successes are many, some of its achievements truly singular (the CG-de-aging of Sam Jackson, combined with Jackson’s “youthful” performance, is spectacular), and there’s always something else. Even when you get past all the major things—first female Marvel superhero movie, franchise prequel, “period piece,” inverted character arcs, big plot twists—there’s something else you can find in the plotting or how directors Boden and Fleck stick with a joke. If they make a joke work, they don’t let up on it. Ever. They turn it into character development. Even when it ought to be absurd, they make it work.

But most of all there’s lead Brie Larson, who gets some big moments in the film—sometimes through the grandiose handling, direction-wise, but also sometimes in her performance. Marvel is a fast movie—once Larson crash-lands on Earth, the present action is around a day. And Larson’s got a lot to do in those twenty-four hours. The film doesn’t start on Earth, it starts off on a highly advanced alien planet, where Larson is living and working for Jude Law in a kind of space special forces unit. Larson’s from somewhere else (Earth) but doesn’t remember it (Earth). Larson’s aliens are warring with a different species of alien; this other alien species can shape-shift, which is a problem because they invade planets and take them over and they’ve just followed Larson to Earth.

Where she fairly quickly realizes she’s from Earth, sending on her a quest to find herself, with sidekick Jackson in tow. Jackson’s simultaneously the comic relief and the audience’s view into the action, but only for tying in the latter (sorry, earlier) Marvel movies. Who knows what he actually looked like when acting the scenes, but Jackson’s performance is awesome. He does great with the “aliens are real” thing, he does great as the sidekick. He and Larson are wonderful together, even though it’s mostly just for the smiles and laughs. Boden and Fleck take all the smiles they can get. Not every laugh, but definitely all the smiles. Captain Marvel, even with its harshness, is fun.

Often that fun comes from Larson’s wiseass lead, who might not remember anything about her life on Earth but still remembers how to be a good Earth movie wiseass. The wiseass stuff is never to deflect from the emotion either. It informs the character and performance; there’s no avoidance, not even when the film could get away with it thanks to the amnesia angle. Marvel takes the right parts of itself seriously.

Like the friendship between Larson and Lashana Lynch. There’s a lot left unsaid in the film, which is fine as it’s an action-packed superhero movie with warring aliens and not a character drama, but Larson and Lynch quickly work up a great onscreen rapport. It’s not as fun as Larson’s interactions with Jackson, but it’s part of where the film finds its emotional sincerity. Captain Marvel never leverages the emotional sincerity; for example, when there’s danger, Boden and Fleck will defuse it (quickly) with a laugh instead. The defusing doesn’t get rid of the emotional sincerity either, though some of that emotional sincerity is the only way the filmmakers can get away with the plot twists. It helps Larson is, you know, a seemingly indestructible superhero.

Lynch has a daughter, Akira Akbar, who used to know Larson too. Lynch and Akbar come into the film in the middle, so it’s a surprise how much influence Akbar’s going to have on Larson’s character arc (and performance). Because until the big interstellar finale, there’s a lot of focus on Larson’s reaction to recent events. Often for laughs, sometimes for narrative, but her character is fairly static. Sure, she’s on a quest for information but she’s got no idea the relevance of that information. Just it has something to do with Annette Bening.

Bening is—for the most part—just the personification of this alien A.I. god when it communicates with Larson. Everyone sees something different when synced with the A.I. god. Larson sees a Bening avatar and eventually tracks down the real Bening. Bening is both clue and solution to Larson’s puzzle. Larson doesn’t have all the pieces or the box to guide her putting them together—and the puzzle’s fairly simple (again, it’s an action-packed superhero movie with space aliens) but Larson brings more than enough in the performance department. Pretty much everyone brings the necessary gravitas then takes it up a notch.

Marvel is always an effective film, in no small part thanks to its cast and the direction of that cast. Bening and Law are quite good (though Bening’s far better with even less “character” than Law), Lynch and Akbar are good, Ben Mendelsohn is awesome as the leader of the bad aliens (the shape-shifters). His performance—despite constant special effects and makeup—is understated, reserved. Even with the constant element of surprise—he’s a shape-shifter, after all—Mendelsohn’s performance is tight. Plus he gets some laughs, usually at Jackson’s expense.

Larson’s really good. Plot-wise, nothing Marvel throws at her slows her down. Larson’s able to find the sincerity in the broad dramatic strokes. Like the books, sincere performances… they do a lot. Larson’s particularly great with both Lynch and Akbar, implying a forgotten familiarity counter to her overt behaviors in a moment.

And the supporting cast of ragtag aliens and Men in Black (including a de-aged Clark Gregg in a fine shoe-in) is all effective. They don’t need to do much. Larson, Jackson, Mendelsohn, Lynch… they’ve got it covered.

Technically, the film’s just as strong. The CG is all excellent, the photography (from Ben Davis) is good, ditto Debbie Berman and Elliot Graham’s editing. Andy Nicholson’s production design—of nineties Earth in particular—is good. Basically everything except Pinar Toprak’s score, which often feels too small for such a big film. It’s not bad music, sometimes it’s really effective, but it’s also yet another indistinct Marvel superhero movie score. It’s all about accompanying the action, not guiding it, which is a whole other discussion. Occasionally it’s really spot on, but mostly it’s just there.

Kind of like the nineties pop music. It sort of works—having grunge-y songs for the 1994-set act—but it seems like a big miss Boden and Fleck never explore, you know, what kind of music Larson would’ve liked when she was on Earth and not just whatever is time-period appropriate.

Doesn’t Marvel czar and Marvel producer Kevin Feige like music?

Anyway.

Captain Marvel. It sets out to do a lot of things and succeeds in all of them. The film puts the galaxy on Larson’s shoulders; she deadlifts with it. Boden and Fleck have a wonderful way of making it fun for the audience when they take a moment to check a requisite plot point box. They—Larson, Boden, and Fleck–and the hundred animators who made Samuel L. Jackson, well, Sam Jackson again—do something special with Captain Marvel.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck; screenplay by Boden, Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, based on a story by Nicole Perlman, Meg LeFauve, Boden, Fleck, and Robertson-Dworet, and the Marvel Comics character created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Debbie Berman and Elliot Graham; music by Pinar Toprak; production designer, Andy Nicholson; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Brie Larson (Vers), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Ben Mendelsohn (Talos), Jude Law (Yon-Rogg), Lashana Lynch (Maria Rambeau), Akira Akbar (Monica Rambeau), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Gemma Chan (Minn-Erva), Djimon Hounsou (Korath), Lee Pace (Ronan), and Annette Bening (Supreme Intelligence).


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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, Guy Ritchie)

I think Guy Ritchie has to be the last blockbuster director who still likes bullet time. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has so much bullet time, one would think it’s from the late nineties. Sometimes Ritchie uses it pointlessly–there are some fight scenes with it and it doesn’t work so well. In contrast, Ritchie also does an action sequence in profile without bullet time and it works much better.

The one time the bullet time is awesome is when Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law (and their gypsy sidekicks) are on the run from some mechanized artillery. Ritchie and his effects people show the weapons working in (digitized) close detail, then zooming back (digitally) to show their effect. Sherlock is supposed to be a blockbuster… not sure having some amazing realization of historical weapons–for a limited audience–is the way to go.

The film’s a very long two hours. The story itself doesn’t fully get moving until about forty minutes into the picture, when Downey first meets arch villain Jared Harris. It gets boring at times, even showing signs subplots got the axe, but it’s always amiable.

Downey’s excellent, Law’s funny and Ritchie, except indulging a little much, does all right.

Noomi Rapace is nothing special as their sidekick, but Stephen Fry’s hilarious in a smaller role and Rachel McAdams is pleasant. Paul Anderson does well as another villain.

Once again, against the odds (and itself) a Sherlock outing proves to be a diverting motion picture experience.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guy Ritchie; screenplay by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by James Herbert; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Sarah Greenwood; produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey and Dan Lin; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes), Jude Law (Dr. John Watson), Noomi Rapace (Madam Simza Heron), Jared Harris (Professor James Moriarty), Eddie Marsan (Inspector Lestrade), Kelly Reilly (Mary Watson), Stephen Fry (Mycroft Holmes), Paul Anderson (Colonel Sebastian Moran), Thierry Neuvic (Claude Ravache), Geraldine James (Mrs. Hudson) and Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler).


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Sherlock Holmes (2009, Guy Ritchie)

Ok, so… is Robert Downey Jr. ever going to be in a serious movie again? He’s the new Johnny Depp (serious indie actor turned blockbuster star for hire). Anyway. Sherlock Holmes.

Let’s see. Guy Ritchie can direct. Who knew? Maybe he just needed Joel Silver to rein him in. Good Hans Zimmer music. Good Jude Law sidekick performance. Awful Rachel McAdams (I really wish they’d killed her off so she couldn’t come back). Mark Strong is one of the worst villain “heavies” I’ve ever seen. Love how he’s dressed like a Nazi with a Nazi hairdo and a plan to invade the States. But whatever, one doesn’t see Sherlock Holmes for the script (not when the script gives Strong’s bastard character a lordship).

Unfortunately, Downey’s performance, while engaging and charismatic, is really nothing more than an athletic aping of Jeremy Brett’s Holmes and Downey’s own Chaplin (for the accent). There’s never a moment one doesn’t think a British actor couldn’t have done a superior job.

The film’s pretty simple to describe: it’s a well-produced League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s also directly informed by “House,” which is inspired by Holmes‘s source material. It’s exceptionally unoriginal in its relationship between Downey and Law, but all the writing is pretty lame so it doesn’t matter much.

It’s a fine non-summer blockbuster. It discourages any intellectual involvement, it has a decent, “I hope there’s a sequel” ending. Too bad Downey’s become such a boring actor.

Hopefully it’ll get people to see Chaplin.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guy Ritchie; written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg, based on a story by Johnson and Lionel Wigram and characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by James Herbert; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Sarah Greenwood; produced by Wigram, Joel Silver, Susan Downey and Dan Lin; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes), Jude Law (Dr. John Watson), Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler), Mark Strong (Lord Blackwood), Eddie Marsan (Inspector Lestrade), Robert Maillet (Dredger), Geraldine James (Mrs. Hudson), Kelly Reilly (Mary Morstan), William Houston (Constable Clark), Hans Matheson (Lord Coward), James Fox (Sir Thomas) and William Hope (Ambassador Standish).


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My Blueberry Nights (2007, Wong Kar-wai)

I wonder what the reaction to My Blueberry Nights would have been if it were Wong Kar-wai’s first film instead of just his first English language film. Everything I’ve seen in way of critical reaction is polite, when it really ought to be anything but. My Blueberry Nights suggests a filmmaker for sale–nothing in Wong’s other work ever even suggested he’d write such an atrocious screenplay. He usually goes a long way to cast a film well, but here… Norah Jones is utterly incapable of acting. It’s more amateurish than a carpet commercial on a UHF station. The frequent use of her music is annoying as well–it makes the whole thing seem like nothing more than an advertisement for her.

It doesn’t help the opening also relies heavily on Jude Law. Law’s better than Jones, but his abject lack of character is a significant problem. Wong seems to want to imply character depth and apparently for no reason other than style. Even David Strathairn, spitting out the awkward dialogue, does nothing but remind of the superior filmmakers he’s worked with. Comparing this film to Sayles or–and I think this comparison is more intentional–Jarmusch reveals just what’s missing in My Blueberry Nights.

Wong’s always told these wonderfully subtle stories about people–even with all the style, they’re very quiet and reserved. Here, there isn’t even a story, there’s a blurb. An easy synopsis. Some catch phrases and keywords to describe the film.

Besides the awkward transitions, Wong’s composition is excellent. His use of Panavision is nice, Darius Khondji’s colors are lush and vibrant–especially the blues–the music, always something Wong uses to good effect, is poorly chosen. It’s kind of loud, rather obnoxious and definitely obvious.

It’s pretty clear what’s going on with the film. It’s hip. It’s Wong Kar-wai making a film for, I guess, what he perceives to be his English-speaking audience–a bunch of illiterate hipsters.

What’s particularly offending about the film is how much worse it gets as it goes. There’s voiceovers from Law and Jones–and if Jones can’t act a scene, listening her trying to narrate one is even worse. There’s some dumb title cards informing the viewer how long it’s been since the first scene in the present action. But the more interesting story is left untold (Jones hops from New York to Memphis after some long period of time). Wong has no sense of his characters here and he’s trying to make a movie about America, but somehow has almost no sense of it.

What Wong’s doing isn’t pretentious, it’s just bad. The acting’s bad, the plot’s bad, the dialogue’s bad, the music’s bad. If he had good actors, it’d still be bad. The creative impulse behind My Blueberry Nights decidedly lacks any artistry.

I don’t think any other director has ever had such a plummet in quality moving from one film market to another. I used to wait for Wong to make an American film… and now I’m left wondering if he’ll ever be able to make a good film again. My Blueberry Nights is so appalling, it’s hard to believe he ever will again–and I certainly hope he never does another English language project.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Wong Kar-wai; written by Wong and Lawrence Block, based on a story by Wong; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by William Chang; music by Ry Cooder; production designer, Chang; produced by Wong, Jacky Pang Yee Wah, Wei Wang, Stéphane Kooshmanian and Jean-Louis Piel; released by Studio Canal.

Starring Norah Jones (Elizabeth), Jude Law (Jeremy), David Strathairn (Arnie), Rachel Weisz (Sue Lynne), Natalie Portman (Leslie), Cat Power (Katya) and Frankie Faison (Travis).


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